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"The Power of Three"

I'm going to share a little secret with you. Only some of my closest friends know this but I guess after I tell you, it won't be a secret anymore, will it? I want to share this with you because I believe it will be of value to you. But before I share it, let me give you some of the background as to how this secret came about.

I was an undergraduate student studying clinical psychology at the time. Since my field focuses on people, including the relationships between others, it's only natural that you examine yourself through what you learn. As I got more specific in my area of study, the courses became more interesting. And the discussions - both within and outside the classroom - were always lively and quite thought-provoking.

One area of interests for me was the whole notion of relationships, especially how men an women communicate with each other. As most know, men don't naturally communicate their inner feelings well and I would say that at that time, I fell into that grouping. It's not too often that you see a man express in words, "You know, I'm feeling a little sad today." or, "What you shared hurt?" It's not the normal thing you here from a man. If he does share, it's usually couched in the language of work. So his form of language uses words such as "stress," "deadlines," and other business-like connotations. Women, on the other hand, naturally gravitate toward meaningful relationships. Most can openly share their feelings and feel comfortable expressing their most intimate emotions and thoughts.

I'm not here to identify where these differences got their genesis. I'm only pointing out an already known fact. However, as a student who studied relationships, I couldn't help but assess how well (or better yet, how poorly) I connected with my inner life and then articulate it with others. I knew I had to work on this particular area and that it wouldn't be easy. Yet I was committed to tapping into that side most men struggle to access. I wanted to improve on my ability to communicate and maybe gain a "new language." I was stepping into a foreign area; nevertheless, I didn't care what others thought. I knew this exploration would benefit me and others, especially when I was in a significant relationship.

With my very first significant relationship, I resolved to work on my ability to communicate better using both verbal and non-verbal forms of expression. Traditionally, men express themselves by doing or buying things to express their love for someone. Often this manifests itself in gifts and activities, and these are great things. However, I didn't want to limit myself to just these things. So I had to think of innovative ways to show how much she meant to me. One thing I did was locate a few special hallmark cards and then sat down and wrote, as best as I could, my feelings for her. I even began reading poetry and examining the style and structure of authors who could express their inner emotions. As sappy as this may seem, it pushed me out of a comfortable environment and into a place of new opportunities. I must confess that writing by itself was already a great struggle for me. Having a learning disability always made me feel quite insecure not only how I wrote (structure) but with what I shared (content). So I was stepping onto shaky ground. Because of this, it often took me 2-3 hours to express my heart on paper, let alone write down feelings and not facts. And quite often, after completing my letter and noticing the many omissions I had made, I would tear it up our of sheer frustration and embarrassment, leaving me to start from scratch. As you can imagine, this was quite frustrating, but a clear reminder that I was far from perfect.

Besides writing, this process helped me explore other creative expressions. Wherever I went, I began seeing my surroundings and circumstances as opportunities to communicate. Ideas began to emerge, one after the other. Thus, dating became a fun experience, from simple activities to some very elaborate ideas. It really was an enjoyable experience and something I still appreciate. As a result, I discovered a new side of me. Where some men would find this exhausting, I find it energizing. I realize now that God built this into me; it was part of my purpose (that being, the ability to see things differently and then communicate them in a fresh and unique way). But I'm not sure I would have recognized this if I hadn't taken a risk in the first place.

Learning how to communicate was very much like a re-birthing experience. It was a process of learning, un-learning, and then re-learning. With the limited communication tools I had at my disposal, a learning disability which defined who I was, and a limited understanding of how men and women communicate, I had a lot to work through. Since then, I've learned that communication is far beyond words. The movement of our bodies, our mannerisms, our reactions to something, our emotional responses (e.g., laughter, tears, anger), including our lack of response to something speak volumes. As I thought about this, I began to wonder about those who have hearing or seeing impairments. Unfortunately, these individuals have vital organs that don't work as well as ours do, yet they communicate. In fact, I would even go as far to say that where they're weak in one area, they overcompensate in other areas; and, in many cases, they can communicate much better than the rest of us who can hear or see clearly.

I wondered what would happen if I lost my ability to speak. What would I do? How would I live my life? Could I still live out my life purpose and still be effective? And then, it came closer to home - how would I communicate to the person I loved very dearly? How could I express to her that I loved her if I couldn't speak anymore? It was there that I began to understand how limited my understanding of communication was and that was why I was on this journey of understanding. It was out of this experience that this secret was birthed.

I shared with my girlfriend (at the time) that there would be times where wouldn't be able to communicate in words how we felt about each other. For example, if we were at a party, there would be times where I couldn't tell her that I loved her. But I believed, we should still have the ability to express. Therefore, I suggested when those times arose, that we express ourselves using what I call - "The power of three." So if we were in a group setting and we couldn't talk, I would still grab her hand and squeeze it three times, almost like a pulsating behavior to express: I-LOVE- YOU. I remember the glances I got from her after doing that and I remember the feelings I felt when she did that to me. Even when she could say it verbally, I could still hear her voice say those three wonderful words. I might add that that expression of "three" wasn't limited to just the squeezing of our hands. We came up with other unique ways to express our love using that same concept.

Little did I know that this "power of three" would carry over into the situation with my father. During my father's illness, one of his most notable behaviors was his distinct ability to communicate and encourage others whenever someone came to visit him. He was very specific with his words and each one was moved - often to tears - as he spoke directly to their hearts. Unfortunately, shortly after his illness was discovered, they had to perform a tracheotomy, which took away his ability to express in words. As a son, it was devastating to see him lose this ability and, I can only imagine the loss this was for him. It was already sad to see him lose many of the freedoms he once enjoyed and now, he lost yet another part of him. Optimistic with every medical procedure, he would always look at me with a smile and raise his hand with his thumb upright, implying that he was ok. Here was a perfect example of where the spoken language was non-existent with my father, yet his non-verbal cues spoke so much to me.

Since he could no longer verbally talk, I decided to share with him this secret. We were alone in the room so I walked over to his side of the bed. I began to tell him that what he was going through wasn't easy, yet I assured him that I wasn't going to leave him. I would be by his side as much as possible and that we would go through this journey together. Trying to at least recognize some of his struggles, I let him know that I was aware that his inability to speak and express in words had to be very difficult and a great loss. I also shared how much he meant to me. Where I was rebellious, he was faithful. Where I was selfish, he was self-less. Where I was inconsistent, he was constant. And where I didn't love well, his love overflowed into my areas of weakness. He was so much more than I ever deserved, and yet, I was fortunate to have such a man in my life. I then told him that since he couldn't talk any longer, I always wanted him to know how much I loved him. And that, if for some reason he could no longer see me or hear my words any longer, I still wanted to communicate my love through my touch. I then grabbed his hand and squeezed it three times, emphasizing the words, " I LOVE YOU."

Little did I know that I would have to use this the last day he was alive. When he was no longer conscious, I recall standing by his side and telling him how great a father he was to me. With tears flooding my eyes, I expressed to him like I never had in my life how significant he was and that his very life was a legacy. I committed to living a life that was honoring as he once lived, although I clearly shared that I doubted I would ever be the full extent of him as he was to me. That day, as I stood there, I fully recognized (perhaps for the first time) that I was in the presence of a great man, one who was so extra-ordinary, and yet, I didn't deserve him nor the love he so richly gave away to me.

That was the hardest day of my life. I don't know what he heard as I poured my heart out to him. And maybe this journey into learning how to communicate better had some fruit that day. But there was certainly one thing I wanted my father to know and that was how much I loved him. In response, I grabbed his lifeless hand - the hand that picked me up and held me close to his heart countless times - and slowly squeezed it three times for the very last time. And if that wasn't enough, I leaned over and whispered into his ear,"I love you dad," with my hand squeezing his.