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I could write a lot about my mother: That her phone calls and e-mails provide advice and encouragement on everything from missing my college-aged son to middle-school research papers and prom dress decisions; that she was present at the birth of all three of our babies, even the one born in Guam.

For love, a mom can endure 15 hours on a plane — one way, not including layovers, without complaint — to welcome a new grandbaby.

But there are harder things for love to endure, as well we know.

When I was nine or ten, my mother wrote me a letter. I don’t remember when she gave it to me. I just remember having it when I was a little girl. It was short, only a few sentences, telling me she loved me, was proud of me, and encouraging me to hold on to my faith.

For a long time, I kept the letter in a secret compartment in the bottom of an old jewelry box. As a child, I had a habit of creating a hideout, under my bed or in a corner of the attic, depending on where we lived. The jewelry box, my favorite books and a flashlight were usually among the treasures found there.

I would take the letter out occasionally and — with the aid of said flashlight — read it and even shed tears over it, especially when one of us was angry. I knew that whatever punishment was meted out, whatever words passed between us, Mom loved me. Her words on the page reminded me.

When I was in high school, my parents’ divorce precipitated a move to another house. I’ve made nearly 20 moves in my life as a military child and wife, but none as painful as that one.

Hurt and angry, I refused to help pack up my life for a move I bitterly resented. The treasure box was neglected, perhaps left behind in the attic, perhaps thrown away.

The letter was gone and forgotten, and after the dissolution of my family, the certainty that Mom’s decisions were made out of love for me was gone too. Our relationship was changed, tread-marked by the long procession of circumstances that follow a divorce like slow-moving cars follow a hearse.

Years went by before I knew exactly what I had lost.

In fact, I was the mother of three young children when one day I suddenly remembered the jewelry box and its hidden contents. With bitter clarity, I also realized when it was lost and how. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten it for so long, and I wished then that I could read the letter again.

Now I’m the mother of three teenagers. My mother has written me many letters in the years since that difficult chapter of my family’s history. She tells me often that she loves me, in words, deeds and trans-oceanic flights.

I gave up the letter for lost, but rediscovered the certainty of my mother’s love for me. Our relationship has been restored — not instantly, nor easily — but still miraculously.

Last year, I was looking through my old journals. Behind the very last page of the very oldest volume — my life as a13-year-old — I found the letter, yellowed by years and creased from many readings. I don’t know how it got there or how the old pink diary kept its secret for so long. But it did.

Like the assurance of my mother’s love, it was not truly lost, only misplaced, waiting to be found, read and believed again.

Terri Barnes is a military wife living Germany. Contact her at spousecalls@stripes.com or on the Spouse Calls blog at http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls.

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