what love is: when our family numbers three

one day, many years from now, one of our children will ask what love is. it may come after a heartbreak, when she’s trying to understand the crushing feeling inside her chest. or maybe later. when he’s trying to figure out if she’s ‘the one.’ the question will likely come as a surprise. and i’ll struggle to find the words, as my thoughts hurry to catch up with my mouth.

i’ve learned so much about love since i was a few months away from my high school graduation, when i first told jen i loved her. i’d be lying if, 10 years later, i said i now know what love is. but i am learning. and every so often a memory seems to stand up in my mind and says, “this, this is what love is.”

and so, many years from now, when our son or our daughter asks what love is, there are a few memories i’ll likely mention.

a handful of memories

i’ll mention the time my wife, ‘your mother,’ agreed to move to england. i’ll look into our daughter’s eyes and tell her that, long before we made that move, her mother dreamt of starting a family. i’ll tell her how her mother wanted that more than anything else. i’ll tell her how her mother dreamed of becoming pregnant, and looking forward to the day of her birth. since she first said ‘i do’. and even before then. and i’ll tell her how her mother put those dreams on hold. for mine. and i’ll mention how that felt like love to me.

many years from now, when our son asks, i’ll mention the sunday morning in may we floated in a punt along the river cherwell in oxford, ‘your mother and i’, when we remembered ‘aunt’ hayley. one year after we said ‘goodbye.’ on that day when red roses raced our tears along the river’s surface. i’ll tell him, as much as it hurt, that felt like love to me. and when he asks, i’ll mention the fact that the word ‘grief’ doesn’t have any meaning without the word ‘love.’

and, as i struggle to put my finger on just what love means, i’ll likely remember the time ‘your mom’ called to tell me our family would soon number three. early that morning when i felt my stomach fill with a confusing blend of fear and joy, as my mind raced to catch up with this news. i’ll mention how i remember feeling the edges of my lips turning upwards in an uncontrollable smile. i’ll tell her, there, right there, when i first heard we would soon be parents, i’ll tell her there was love in that. even in the fear and anxiety, there was a river of joy that flowed from your mother’s joy-filled words to my ears, and it played over the pictures in my mind of our family coming together around this new life, like a soundtrack to a movie.

i’ll bring up the time i first saw him, reclining in his mother’s womb, with his heart fluttering like a butterfly and his limbs making gentle swimming movements in his liquid-filled home. i’ll describe to him how it was then that i knew, for the first time, what it meant to be truly speechless. when tears painted lines of joy down my face with warm brush strokes. and i’ll tell him, in that moment, when there were no words, i was pretty sure i knew what love is.

beyond words

when he asks, i’ll tell him he came from it. and he was born into it.

when she asks, i’ll put my head close to hers, so she knows she’s not alone, and i’ll tell her it’s scary and confusing and the most brilliant, radiant thing she’s ever experienced. i’ll tell her it will be the source of her richest memories, even when it hurts.

i’ll tell him we know what love means only because He chose to take on flesh, enter into our story, and lay down His life, on our behalf, in an infinitely beautiful sacrifice. in that, we’re told, is love. and i’ll point to these pale reflections of love, reflections i’ve been fortunate enough to experience along the way. and i’ll say, there, right there, that’s what love has looked like in my life. it has looked like sacrifice and loss and being made speechless.

and i’ll hope that, in these examples, he’ll see a reflection of what love is. as i lean my head back and smile, eyes looking skyward, with one arm stretched out across his back, and the other bracing the back of my head. i’ll smile faintly, laugh softly and pat his back gently. knowing this world, love included, is far greater than we will ever be able to put into words, no matter how many we use to paint its portrait.

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