What Love Is


With my loves in Hawaii last week–it’s easier to be in love in Hawaii

On this day, 19 years ago, I got engaged to a 22-year-old dude with no job. Four months after that I married him.

I was 21, he was still 22, we had $1,800 total dollars between the two of us, and no income. And despite how sketchy that sounds on paper, it was the best decision of my adult life.

I sometimes look at our pictures from our wedding or rehearsal dinner and think, “how in the world did our parents let these children get married?” We look so very young (and stupid) and full of nothing but hope and optimism (and 1800 bucks).


On our wedding day. Without wrinkles. Or fat.

To be fair, I suppose it’s not all that surprising that my parents were totally supportive. My mom and dad got engaged (for the 2nd time) on a Wednesday during my mom’s teacher planning period. They then got married on that Sunday.

My mom had given my dad his ring back, but my dad refused to return it even though he could use the money. For 10 months. When my dad, ever brave, asked my mom to marry him (again) she said, “let’s just do it this weekend.” I guess she was afraid of backing out.

So in 1971, they got married in a church on a Sunday afternoon while my mom wore a miniskirt and, at the reception, asked my dad if they could “get the hell out of Dodge.”

My parents are hilarious, somewhat unconventional, and fiercely in love. They are, still, living out what love is every single day.


My Rebellious Parents

Their lives have not been easy, but their love has been obvious throughout illness and money pain and the loss of family and friends. I am a better human being because they love so well.

Thus, I found my 21-year-old self calling my mom from Athens, Georgia (where I was in school), and asking her opinion on whether or not I should marry Jay.

She asked me to tell her about Jay, saying “don’t worry about marrying him right now, just tell me about him as a person.”

“Well,” I said, “he’s patient with me and he’s not all that patient of a person. But he listens to what is important to me and it matters to him. And he’s kind. He thinks of other people and does things for his mom and sister. He’s confident in himself…he’s not one of those guys who is always talking about what he doesn’t have. But he’s also humble, he doesn’t try to outdo or one-up people in conversations. I’ve never seen him lose his temper. He doesn’t hold grudges or keep score. He’s steady. And he always believes everything is going to be o.k.”

I could hear the smile in my mom’s voice when she said, “well, those all seem like really important qualities.”

I realized then that I had heard a list like that before.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1Corinthians 13:4-8

These are Bible verses that are read at almost every Christian wedding I’ve ever been to, and with good reason. It’s a good description of love…and it’s a good description of how Jay loves me.

We have lived a lot more life since that conversation with my mom in February, 1998. We have had houses and apartments and children and broken cars and broken hearts and worries and fears and a bunch of jobs.

As with most of life’s lessons (if you’re paying attention), my understanding of love has grown with time and experience. The number of people I love has also grown, rather exponentially.


Jay holding our first newborn baby

What is love?

Love is scary because it makes me vulnerable to hurt. Love is intimidating because it makes me more able to see you and less willing to focus on me.

Love is not reserved for song lyrics and lovers and people who bring me flowers and candy. Love is bigger than just my Valentine.

Love is a commitment. Love is dedication boiled down, sifted through, and replanted into the human beings in front of you. Love is building up the gifts of others and gently smoothing the rough edges of the heart away.

Love gains ground.

Love is the thing that covers our souls in the terror, holds us fast in despair, and lifts us high in the joy of living.

True love makes others better at loving.

Love is choosing, day after day, to help YOU (my mother, my father, my brother, my sons, my daughter, my husband, my in-laws, my friends, my students, my volunteers, my family, my neighbors, my life) be better and stronger and braver and more able to love with abandon. All of us could use more of that love.

Love, real love, only ever grows–it cannot be killed.

Share the love.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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