Love... It's A Big Deal!

Here we are again. Another February is here, and we all have love on the brain. But what is love exactly? Love is a word with a thousand meanings, and we use it a hundred times a week. We love our families. We love pizza. We love that certain smell or the new iPhone. Technically, it is the same word, but “love” is the vocabulary equivalent of a costume which has a variety of masks. In one sentence, love’s mask is emotional and declares devotion. In another sentence, love’s mask simply identifies preference and guides our daily choices. In some cases, love has depth, but in others, it can be shallow and self-centered, and assigning “love” to something today does not guarantee your devotion to it forever. Love is fickle. Love is loyal. Love is painful. Love is vital. Love is ours to give, to receive, to cherish, or to neglect. It is the thing we seek above all else in life, but it can also be the thing that terrifies us the most.

I suspect it is our parents who teach us the most about love. It is their example we either get to spend our lifetime emulating, or it is their example we must spend a lifetime trying to recover from. I have been one of the lucky ones who has known unconditional love my whole life. I have never (and I mean not one time) wondered about the love of my parents. It has always been a sure thing. I have felt it every day, and I believe with all my heart there is nothing I could do that would shake it.

“My life was not complete until the day you came into it,” is a statement my mom has said to me on every birthday for all my 45 years. I believe she means it when she says it. She has always shown me she loves me through her affection, her presence, her discipline, encouraging words and through the works of her hands. She shows up with a homemade banana bread and I know what she is really saying is, “I love you.”

My dad’s love has always been expressed to me most through the loyalty, security, and protection I have felt anytime I have been in his presence. I have always felt the safest with him. My dad may be five feet six inches tall, but he has always been the biggest man in any room in my eyes. He is the standard by which I have judged what a good man ought to be. He has always been gentle and supportive, and I knew he was always there to stand guard between the scary outside world and my mom and sister and me.

Speaking of my sister… I do not even know how to describe the love between us. It feels like simply loving myself when I talk about loving her. Sometimes it is hard to know where she stops, and I start. We often joke that we share a brain, but I’m not even sure we are joking. Her love grounds me somehow. I think that is what you get when you have that person who knows it all, from day one, and loves you anyway. Our shared experiences have made our perception of the world very similar. She understands me… even the super weird stuff… like nobody else. I know she will tell me the truth about things, hold me accountable when I’m in the wrong, but NEVER let anyone else in the world think she ever disagrees with me. I never have to be guarded with her because she is safe, 100 percent.

Another life-changing source of love for me came out of nowhere. Hunter and Reba Leftwich were just a couple who went to church with my family when I was a baby. However, they became immeasurably more than “just a couple” to me. I have always had a hard time describing this relationship to others. It wasn’t the obvious ties of family kinship that brought their love into my life, but a different love all together. As a matter of fact, I was always jealous of their real family members because they could call them “mom and dad” or “Papa and Granny.” I didn’t have a title like that to use for them that could validate who they were to me, but there is no doubt they were MINE. They became the bonus family that showed me an example of an entirely different aspect of love. It was a freely-given-without-any-responsibility and deeply-devoted-without-any-genetic-connection kind of love. Hunter took me fishing, worked on school projects with me, and sang me ridiculous songs and told ridiculous jokes that made me laugh more than almost anyone else. Reba took me shopping and let me spend the night at their house no matter how many times I asked. I know I am not alone when I confess that even when babysitting my own family members, by the end of the night I’m thinking, “they need to hurry and come get these kids.” Hunter and Reba may have felt that way, but I sure never knew it. As far as I knew as a five-year-old, they were as happy to have me as I was to be with them. They spoiled me. I have often tried to figure out why they let me intrude so fully into their lives. It has never made sense to me, but I’m so incredibly grateful they did. There is no question in my mind that I became a different person because of their love for me. They are both gone now, but believe me, after Jesus, they are at the top of the list of people I will be looking for the second I step into Heaven.

Obviously, you cannot consider love without first thinking about romantic love or the love parents have for their children. I had just turned 16 when I met my husband. There was always something special about him. I was one of those little girls who didn’t have many dreams about a career. Inevitably, my joy would be wrapped up in my family, so I was in a hurry, and we got married very young. People tell you marriage can be hard, but I was so in love with John at 18 years old, I just knew we would be the exception. Of course, in the last 26 years, I have grown up and realized two imperfect people living in an imperfect world have no road to travel except a bumpy one, regardless of age. But for every bump, pothole, and flat tire, there have been twice as many moments full of unspeakable joy, enduring friendship, and moments so precious I wouldn’t change a thing. He is my partner. He is my person. He is my choice, over and over. And I believe that’s what love in a marriage is all about. It is a choice you make every day, especially on the difficult ones.

One of the reasons I love John most is because he gave me the family I always wanted. I remember as a child saying, “I want four kids when I grow up and I want them to all be boys.” I have no idea what made me decide that is what I needed, but God must have agreed. He gave me four of the most wonderful boys a mama could hope for. I remember the moment my first son was born. I know it is cliche, but I really thought my heart might explode. It was the most intense emotion I had ever experienced. I guess that is why we decided to do it three more times. The love of a parent is deep, sacrificial, and all-consuming. It requires patience, endurance, faith, and hours and hours of prayer. It is everything I wanted it to be and more. It was the most important dream I had for my life, and it has been a dream come true.

So back to the question, “What is love?” The Bible answers in 1 John 4:8 when it tells us, “God is love.” In The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer explains, “Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being Himself.” But what does all that mean exactly? Does that mean every time I have experienced a true representation of love in my life, I was actually experiencing God? When I felt the affection, discipline, and encouraging words of my mom as expressions of her love, was that God making Himself known to me? When I experienced the safety and security my dad provided in my life, wasn’t he just expressing God’s safe and secure nature? And the joy and friendship, provided in sacrificial, and all-consuming ways, freely given and undeserved by the other people who have loved me so well… wasn’t that just God introducing me to Himself and to different parts of His loving character, through them?

I think that is the key. God has put all these amazing people with unique personalities in our lives because He understands people cannot love as completely as He can, and sometimes we mess it up all together. It takes moms, dads, siblings, churches, husbands, wives, children, and a lifetime of other loving relationships for God to fully and correctly express His perfect love to us. Understanding that is mind blowing to me. It is also an enormous responsibility. “Love one another” wasn’t just a suggestion God made. It was His instruction to us because it is our responsibility to introduce Him to the world. Our love for others, when we do it right, does just that.

So this Valentine’s Day, remember to love people well. It is kind of a big deal.


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