I am not always great at asking for care. I think some of that lingers from childhood, growing up in a house where not making a mess or being a mess was considered a strength. I also moved too often as a child for friends to really get to know me. Somewhere along the way, I began to determine love according to the people who noticed me even though I was quiet: the people who remembered, who caught my subtle hints, who relentlessly pressed in when something felt off to them.
Persistence and attention to detail made me feel like I really mattered, and I was worth extra effort. Coming out and asking for exactly what I wanted came much later in my life. Learning to live with disappointment in the middle of naming what I want continues to be a work in progress.
I have started to realize it’s not just the way I experience care that’s been shaped by my story: it’s also the way I give care. I study the people I care about. I remember…or I try really hard to. I notice and commemorate. I press in.
Those traits can be lovely. However if I’m not aware, they can also feel like pressure or expectation. I am learning that the people whom I love are different—they each need different things from me.
I had a day last week when offering care meant showing up for someone in a way I don’t often ask for myself: with space. I spent the day praying, and rifling through my own memories of times I’ve needed space. I kept thinking about my music director who was killed when I was in high school. It felt impossibly hard that summer to be with people who wanted to feel with me… I was angry with God and rocked by the hopelessness that something I loved would never feel happy again…how on earth would I ever sing without thinking about Mr. Rehrer?
No one could get inside that feeling with me. No one could understand. People came up to hug me and I stiffened like a board. “Please step back,” I thought.
I needed time, and I needed solitude. Most of the healing I did happened alone, and when it was time to heal in community, I healed with people who had quietly walked near me over the course of a couple of years, never deciding what I needed. They showed love through their waiting and their laughter, and their permission for me to be myself.
Since then, I have learned a lot about love.
When I say “I love you,” I’m making a promise to honor you, exactly as you are—with patience and kindness, without comparison, without self-promotion, without assumption.
I help create laughter when that is what your heart aches for.
Or I do my best to make room for your tears on my couch.
Love is treating the day like normal if I know rhythm makes your world feel less overwhelming, or treating the day differently if you need to know you are seen via Starbucks order, a bottle of wine and some reminiscing, or celebration and a birthday surprise.
For one friend, love means asking the question she dreads, and for another it means waiting for him to tell me in his own way and his own time. Both actions require my presence, my tenderness, and my hope.
For my sister, love means taking her out to dinner and for my dad it means letting him off the hook for keeping our plans. One needs the connection; one needs the freedom to disconnect. Both take up space inside of me as I hold my own hopes next to theirs.
Love doesn’t mean I forfeit the past or pretend the present is some alternate reality. It doesn’t mean I bury my own needs and longings. Love means I share my true self bravely while continuing to listen for your heart.
When I think about the people who matter most in my world and the unknowns that await us, I want you to know that I care. More than you can imagine. Sometimes I will communicate that precisely in the ways you long for, and sometimes I will communicate that poorly. Sometimes, I will be very broken and not attempt to communicate that love at all.
I promise to keep walking the road ahead of us. I promise to try and love you like you, with all of my being.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 27 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.