I ran across some items recently that I had stored away for many years. It reminded me of how important my relationship with my nieces has always been in my life.
As a rule, I wasn’t overly sentimental about leaving my family and returning to wherever I was living overseas at any given time. My mind was already on the airplane, thinking of the stops I had to make, and when I could relax and get back to “my real life.”
But I have to admit that it was always somewhat difficult to leave my nieces behind. They had me at my heartstrings sometimes.
The first memento I found was “Amy’s Hotel List.”
“Aunt Amy, why d’ ya haf’ to keep going away all the time? I miss you.” This, from honey-haired Rachel. She was seated cross-legged on my bed watching me finish pack. She fidgeted with some little purse I’d given her from Guatemala.
“Ya, Aunt Amy. You’re s’possed t’ live here! We like it when you read books to us ‘n’ stuff,” Emily chimed in. She frowned at me.
“You know, guys, what about if you come over to the house … maybe on some Friday or Saturday nights to visit Grandma and Grandpa, and then sleep in my room? There are two beds here, one for each of you!”
Rachel’s eyes lit up. “Can we really?”
“Sure, and … uh, it’ll be just like a hotel…whenever I go to a hotel, I have to write my name and all kinds of information!” I added, ad-libbing as I went along. “It’ll be like you are traveling too.”
“Ya, that’ll be fun!” Rachel shouted.
“No, it won’t. Aunt Amy won’t be here! She’ll be … I can’t ‘member where you’re goin’…” Emily looked as if she might burst into tears.
“It will be lotsa fun. You’ll have to sign in and write the date you stayed, and say what you thought of your stay. I do that when I travel. We can sit down and talk about it when I come home again. That’ll help you remember. And to pay for staying over night, you’ll have to help grandma with the dishes or make the beds. Or maybe grandpa, you can help him do some fun jobs!” I encouraged.
“Like plant some stuff, or pick strawberries!” added Rachel, already imagining the fun she’d have. “Maybe he’ll give us a ride in his old truck!”
“That’s not work!” Emily scoffed, “but I guess so…okay, it’s a deal. But what if I want to stay and Rachel doesn’t? Or what if our dad doesn’t let her ’cause she does something bad?” Emily always thought everything out. She was a very practical young girl.
“I wanna stay, too. I’m allowed, can’t I, Aunt Amy?”
“Yep, you can both stay but ya gotta sign the list. An’ ya gotta be good and help grandma.”
They agreed and we made the list right then and there. We taped it to my desk blotter and got it ready for their first visit.
“Hmm. Remember just write your first name.”
“C’mon girls,” their mother called upstairs to us, “Daddy’s ready to go now.”
“Bye, Aunt Amy” they chorused, and hugged me tightly. Then they ran to tell their mom about the hotel list and our agreement.
Now as I look at the list, a lump forms in my throat. I put it back next to the construction paper ice cream cones they made for me one time when I left. It has their good-byes written in childish print. I place that on the chalkboard with a set of school photos, glued to it and the message “To Aunt Amy: World’s Best Aunt” written in glitter-glue.
I find that I’m getting emotional; the tears are coming as I write.
I guess when you cultivate a relationship, it becomes such a big part of you that even the moments of separation become mementos of your life.
Though I was gone so frequently, I nurtured our relationship through letters with word pictures and stick-figures of the people I met. I punctuated my letters with funny stories and sent cassettes for them to listen to for nights when they stayed “in the hotel.” I bought them typical dolls from everywhere I traveled. They consisted of straw, felt, clay, rope, cloth, cones … you get the picture. The most basic elements. I sent them traditional clothing of some of the countries I lived in and explained what the styles and colors meant. I taught them to look into their hearts and reach out to those who have different lifestyles and languages. So, while leaving them was always difficult, I shared as much of my foreign life with them as I could back then.
When I was pregnant, I dreamed of having daughters just like Rachel and Emily. When God took my twins to heaven, He lovingly reminded me of the connection that I still had with these two precious nieces who had grown up in my shadow – and that comforted me. Now when I spend time, and observe them nurture their own families, my heart overflows with gratitude and love for the women they’ve become.
They have both done some overseas mission work, and I like to think I opened their hearts just a little bit to doing that through my own love for missions and life abroad.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for teaching me how to nurture this relationship throughout all the separations, and reunions. Thank you for loving me enough to allow my life to be enriched by them. Thank you for allowing them to step in and fill the place my twin daughters would have taken up in my life had they lived. I’m so grateful, Father, for your etermal provisions.