The greatest love poem ever written, or How to say "I love you" so they won't forget

the girlsElizabeth Barrett Browning wrote one of the most beautiful, transcendent, enduring love poems in all of human history:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

But when I think of the best, most effective, most endearing love poem I ever heard, I think of Donya holding one of our girls (any one, take your pick) in her arms, back when the girl was carrying size. I think of her hand hovering over the little cutie, fingers flexing in and out like spider legs. I think of the wide eyes of our little girl, watching the fingers. I think of breath held in anticipation. I think of Donya's quoting a rather shortened version of love's sentiments, not as eloquent perhaps as Barrett's, but unforgettable nonetheless.

"I love you little
I love you big
I love you like a little pig"

donya and hollyThen, quick as a flash, as she said the last line in a more shrill tone, her hand would dart to the child's tummy or under the chin and tickle, tickle, tickle and torment. It was met by gleeful squeals and laughter...and you can bet that child would never live a day that she had to doubt whether she was loved.

As I write this, Donya is away with Holly, Lacey, Donya's sister Felicia and her two girls, and Donya's mom. They are in Austin, where Holly is trying on her wedding dress. I just got word that it was a perfect fit and there was much thanksgiving and joy.

Perhaps that dress fitting thing would mean more to you if you had been there through the long, hard nights in her teen and young adult life when she doubted she would find her soul's mate. Perhaps you had to see her mom fight back her own tears while she brushed away her daughter's. Perhaps it would mean more if you were a shade over 4' tall yourself and had a birth defect that made finding things that fit and flattered a difficult task at the least.

Holly has found the man she loves. He found her. And he loves her entirely. I am convinced.

But she was always loved. Every second of her life.

Lacey knows that love full well, too. Through some dark struggles transitioning from youth to adulthood, times that ended with what could have been a fatal car accident, she was loved. She will tell you in no uncertain terms that her best friend, her hero, her Mom loved her through it, would not let her go, would not yield her to the forces that tried so hard to steal her away.

Ashley, my oldest, found herself replaced by another. Her husband decided he wanted her friend and didn't want her anymore. I won't dwell on what I think that makes him. I will tell you that she endured and emerged stronger, brighter, better than ever.

my girls2I will tell you she found that her mother's love would not let her hit the unforgiving pavement where broken dreams become irreparably shattered lives. Instead, she found comfort, consolation, shelter, She found it right where she first discovered it.

That's why Donya's quirky recitations of "I love You Little" is the greatest citation of a love poem I ever heard.

It was meant by the one who said it. And through all the intervening years, that has mattered most to the ones who heard it.