When I was in the fourth grade, I sold enough Girl Scout cookies to win the custom-made, sterling silver, James Avery, puppy dog charm. This was back when the awards were special enough to motivate the selling of a ridiculous number of cookies. Turns out the hours of door-to-door selling followed by more hours of door-to-door deliveries were well worth it. That year my mom, your Nana, made significant sacrifices to buy me my very own James Avery charm bracelet, which as you know I still wear with pride.
When your older sister was born, Nana was given her own James Avery charm bracelet by her best friend Lonnie, which she added to upon the birth of each of her grandchildren as a way to brag about them everywhere she went. When her first granddaughter turned six years old, Nana deemed her ready for a charm bracelet of her own, and so continues the family tradition of charm bracelets.
You were only four years old when your nana was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so not yet old enough to have received a bracelet of your own. The ten months that followed her diagnosis remain to this day some of the most challenging of my entire life. But those days of juggling four young children amid hospital visits, chemo treatments, and watching my own mother wither and fade were eventually replaced with days, months, and years of grieving her death.
Before her final breath, your Nana found things to pass on to each of her four grandchildren. To you she passed on the charm bracelet she wore on her own wrist. Some of the charms were removed and given to the rest of us- each of us graciously accepted the charms eager to carry pieces of her with us everywhere we went. But to you she left her bracelet, and on it a single letter H molded in beautiful cursive script.
H- for Hallie- a name that the both of you share. Of course, your name and your bracelet are not the only things that you got from your Nana- you also got your stubbornness, your playfulness, your strength, and your unique ability to mesmerize and delight young children.
On your sixth birthday (instead of the customary bracelet) you received your second charm. It was a little sculpture of the American Sign Language sign for “I Love You,” and it was given to you by Daddy’s mom- your Mamaw.
As you know, Mamaw was born deaf, but what you likely do not remember is that she spent every minute of the last 8 years of her life pouring herself into her grandchildren and finding ways to speak love to them without ever speaking a single word out loud. That was right up until one month after your sixth birthday when your Mamaw joined your Nana in heaven.
The next few years saw the addition of more charms. Uncle Randy (your Mamaw’s brother) supported your love of sports by adding a basketball. Your older brother wanted you to know that you were the princess of the family, and he gifted you a castle charm. Your sister thought it should be made clear that she was the oldest among you, so she gave you a charm that declared you the middle sister.
In second grade you befriended a little boy in the medically fragile class at your school named Beau. Although Beau is nonverbal and wheelchair bound, you managed to learn his language and grow a beautiful friendship with him that continues to this day. His mother has become one of my dearest friends, and she never ceases to remind me of the forever impact you have had on her and her amazing son, simply by becoming his first and his best friend. As 5th grade ended, and you and Beau would no longer be attending the same school, his mother gifted you a charm that depicts a young boy and girl with clasped hands to be a forever reminder of your special friendship.
A couple months later, Hurricane Harvey dumped 51 inches of rain on our city. Since you rarely took your bracelet off, you knew exactly where it had been left the night of the storm. We’d intended to make a trip to the mall that day to have your new charm soldered on, but instead found ourselves stocking up on bottled water and non-perishable food items in anticipation of the storm’s landfall. So, after canoeing to safety the following morning, you quickly recognized that your charm bracelet was still in our car under 6 feet of water. After the floods subsided 14 days later, we sported face masks and held our breaths as we crawled around the soggy slimy suburban in search of your bracelet which was never found.
Of all the many, many material things that you lost in the flood, this one hurt you the most. It hurt me too, and when Beau’s mom heard about the bracelet, she set out to make it right. She penned a letter to Mr. Avery himself telling your story- the story that your bracelet used to tell. The story of two grandmas that you only vaguely remember, the story of your friendship with her son and the story of all that Harvey had stolen from you. And in response to your story, Mr. Avery replaced not only your bracelet, but also every one of your lost charms. Beau’s mom decided that your bracelet needed to tell this part of your story as well, so she added a tiny canoe charm to your collection.
Last month your cousin Emilie turned six. While Nana was not here to celebrate the birth of any of Aunt Kellie’s babies, I was determined to continue the charm bracelet tradition in her memory. This is when I first noticed that you were not wearing your bracelet. Your cousin Emilie was on her way over, and I wanted to make sure she understood the significance of this right of passage so I told everyone to get their bracelets on.
Immediately I knew. I wish I could say that I responded with grace as you fell apart right in front of my eyes, but I was so upset. So as the story that you had been holding inside for more than a month came bursting forth, complete with tears and trembling, so did my own frustration. How could you lose your bracelet again? How could you not tell me? Why suffer alone bearing this burden by yourself when I may have been able to fix it had you just told me when it happened? Am I really that scary? Can I not be trusted?
Without a plan, you assured me that you were going to fix it. Perhaps you were still determined to find it at school despite the strong evidence that it had been stolen. Or perhaps you were going to take odd jobs or sell some of your things to try to replace it yourself. More than likely you were trying to push the thought of it as far out of your mind as possible, and just hope that the problem would simply go away.
I finally calmed down, and then just assumed that you would be getting a new charm bracelet for some future birthday. We would start a new collection, which of course would never include the charms or the meaning that your other TWO bracelets held.
That was until last week when I had to stop by your school to return your brother’s laptop. Ms. Julie greeted me at the front desk with her usual enthusiasm and infectious smile. As we were saying our last goodbyes for the summer, she asked if I needed anything else. Here is the conversation that followed:
“Oh yes, I just remembered- any chance Hallie’s bracelet turned up?”
“Oh Ms. Spaulding, I’m so glad she finally told you! She showed up in tears the day it was stolen, and we spent the rest of the afternoon and the weeks that followed playing detective together. She told me how special it was to her! She told me about her grandmas, and about the flood. I kept encouraging her to tell you it was missing, but I think she was just so certain she could fix it on her own.”
And just like that I understood. In a moment I knew exactly why you did not come to me for help! And before I could even think about what I was saying, these words tumbled out of my mouth, and landed on the front desk lady-
“Isn’t that what I do every day!” I blurted out. “I am so determined to fix my own problems…to fix myself, that I refuse to go to the One who has all the fixes and answers I will ever need. I hide from the One who knows me best and loves me most.”
Hallie, you hid it from me because you cannot possibly comprehend how much I love you, or how much I want to help you. You hid it from me because you overestimate your own strength, and you underestimate how much you still need your mom. You hid it from me because you want my approval, and somehow think that I could not love you despite all your imperfections. You hid it because you cannot comprehend the fact that I know you better than anyone, and yet I love you more than anyone- bracelet or no bracelet!
Ms. Julie and I shared a moment and a tear. And then she reminded me that it happened to be the last day of James Avery’s annual “buy two charms get a bracelet free” sale.
I got into the car and drove straight home eager to replace your stolen charm bracelet with a brand spankin’ new shiny one!
I will never forget the look of confusion on your face when I told you where we were going. I will never forget your insistence that you would pay me back no matter how many times I told you that it was a gift- that you owed me nothing- that it brought me such joy to do this for you. And I will never forget the tear in your eye when you asked me why I was doing this for you?
It’s because you are my child Hallie, and I love you. I’ve always loved you, and nothing you do is going to make me stop loving you. I want what is best for you, and I delight in giving you good gifts, tending to your wounds, and meeting your needs. I want you to trust me, and next time you face something hard I want you to come to me with it.
And may the tiny sterling silver cross that we added to your newest charm bracelet last week serve as a reminder that His grace is truly free and that He can always be trusted. And I pray that you will fully understand now (as a twelve year old girl) what it took you losing two charm bracelets for me to fully understand- because we are His children, He delights in giving us good gifts, tending to our wounds, and meeting our deepest needs.
Third times a charm!