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What Is Love?

Another Valentine's Day has come and gone. People posted their messages of love, their declarations of love, and their tokens of love in the form of lovely floral bouquets, candy hearts, romantic dinner dates, smiles, hugs, shared kisses and more. While all of that is sweet and brings warm fuzzies and tears to the eyes of everyone who reads the posts, the truth is love is so much more than what we try to portray for all eyes on social media to see.

Love isn't always wrapped up in a pretty package. Sometimes it is messy - like when parent's argue or even divorce, and their children are in the middle. Love has to find a way to cover a multitude of sins and come together to protect its most precious treasures. Love sometimes has to put aside differences to join hands with family whom we don't agree with and help those we mutually love in need. It is also messy when a wayward child, angry sibling or broken parent takes the road of the prodigal and allows their hurt turn against the ones who love them most. Tough love steps in and refuses to condone, while still trying to find a way to rescue and lead them back home. Love gets its hands dirty when we don't agree with a life decision a grown child or loved one makes. It requires embracing people we would not normally embrace, cleaning the bad thoughts out of our heads and even washing the unkind words out of our mouths. Yes it is messy!

Sometimes love is inconvenient - like when an elderly parent needs constant care and schedules must be rearranged or often life permanently changed to be the hands and feet, voice and touch of love to the ones who spent their whole lives loving us. It is inconvenient when the ones we love are sick and need extra care for awhile. Juggling work, home, chores and care-giving never comes at the most opportune time.

Love is challenging - especially when it doesn't go the way we plan. Its exit from our lives leaves a huge hole in our hearts and soul. Though love doesn't leave our hearts, the object of our love does and that is hard - plain and simple. If they left voluntarily, it is especially hard once we've opened ourselves wide with total vulnerability only to be rejected - once the safe place is no longer safe then overcoming the gut-wrenching loss, coupled with anger, fear, despair and hurt is daunting. When the object of our love leaves us through death, the challenge - though much different, still produces similar emotions. The whole irony of the absence of love i.e. loneliness, loss, rejection, grief and more, is that love is the only thing that can ease the hurt and pain that is in one's heart. The challenge, then, is holding on to the beauty of love while releasing the pain the absence brings. Sometimes it means finding the courage to let the love of someone new or of others already in our lives bring healing from the pain. It is just plain challenging to keep going and even more to try again.

In its purest form, love is selfless. That is perhaps the most difficult of all. It means jumping in a ditch to rescue the wounded, helping someone in need we don't even know, feeding a stranger or nursing a wounded soul back to health. Selfless love, finds a way to conquer the fear of dark places in storm ravaged areas, poverty stricken communities, war torn countries and lonely places of isolation, then stepping in when, where and how needed no matter what. Selfless love might mean saying "I forgive you" to the person who has hurt us most, or "I'm sorry" to the one who despises us most if we have not responded kindly to them. Selfless love desires the happiness of the object of our love even if we are not the chosen source of their happiness.

Finally, love has no guarantees - well at least beyond what we can control. We have a choice given that. We can shut ourselves off to the possibility of love in its many forms or we can open up to all that love brings - both the beauty and the burden, the bliss and the bereavement, the blessing and the battle. We can allow it to grow, or we can smother it out. That choice makes or breaks us invariably because no matter the risk involved, love is the answer to the pain that life sometimes brings to us. In all of its magnificence, ironically love is quite simple. It is the people we choose to love or deny love that are sometimes complex. Through it all though, love is still the answer.

For me, I choose love. Even at this moment where the not so bright shades of love paint my hurting heart - a hurt over things beyond my control, I still choose love. Who do I choose to love? Those needing my love, those refusing my love, those longing to shower me with love and the woman that stares back at me in the mirror each day. I choose love because of the One who started it all and divinely prayed "Father forgive them because they don't know what they are doing." He embodied what it means to love because His essence was and is love. Yes, love is, and always has been the answer.

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