When I was a teenager and friends described love as this intense physical sensation of heart-fluttering warm and fuzziness I just didn’t get it. I had never felt it. I knew that my parents loved me because they were always there for me. They worked hard, provided for my needs, talked with me about my problems, and told me they loved me no matter what. When I was a teenager and started having romantic interests, we would both profess our love. But, when I think back on the physical sensations it was just a mix of nausea, anxiety, and hormones increasing circulation to certain areas of the body. I didn’t connect with these high school romantic interests on a spiritual or emotional level capable of making me feel intensely beautiful sensations in my body. I never felt my heart swell and almost explode.
I moved in with my college boyfriend (who became the father of my children and then my husband) out of mutual financial necessity. We were compatible. He was intelligent, tall, handsome with long hair, he worked for a living, went to college, he wasn’t a liar, we were both a bit wild but introverted…I could go on and on, but I’ll just stop right there to avoid giving other women reasons to come after my man. He was in love with me. Heart-pounding, shaky knees, swooning, crazy love. He got into a fist fight with an ex of mine over me. He was a keeper. But, I had been through some traumatic things as a teenager that had made me build some really big stone walls around my heart that no man or therapist could break down no matter how hard he fought for me. A girl I went to camp with told me she would pray that God would soften my heart. I wasn’t too happy with her. But now I realize she saw a need in me for healing. A need for freedom. A need for those walls to come crashing down.
It took a tiny baby to shatter these walls, bust my life and my heart wide open, revive something in me that had died, and finally…finally…help me feel these elusive physical sensations people call love. Because of my trauma history, I didn’t feel safe giving birth anywhere but at my home, on my terms, where I was in control of my body, with my wise and loving midwife holding that space sacred and telling me I was doing just fine. What she did for me helped heal me. I love her for that. She believed in me and she empowered me. I labored for 20 hours with my oldest son. Blood, sweat, and tears. I wanted to give up, but I knew I couldn’t. My man wouldn’t see weakness in me, he kept telling me that I was the strongest woman he had ever known and that he knew I could do this. I was so scared. But in that place of vulnerability and ugly crying, I found my strength. My son emerged and my heart filled with this love everyone had talked about, but I had never felt before. He started wailing and I cried, “Oh Grey, I know, it was so hard baby, I know. I’m here, its ok” and I latched him onto my breast instinctively. He found comfort and nourishment. I found out what love felt like. Heart chakra wide open and swelling to the point I worried my heart would explode, holding my son and smelling his tiny head. I looked into my man’s tear-filled blue eyes and felt visceral love for him for the first time. I think I had always loved him, but my body and mind had just been too numb to fully feel it. Suddenly, I had come alive. My body is powerful and I brought life into this world in a sacred space of love and respect.
My heart burst open again 2 years later when we welcomed our second son. He taught me different things, namely to trust my intuition, to surrender and to have faith. I wasn’t scared when I birthed him. He didn’t cry when he was born. He just looked around surveying the room calmly. The same midwife who had been present at his brother’s birth placed him in my arms. My man was so in awe that his whole body froze. The midwife had to tell him it was ok to touch his son. My best friend was right there with me. I called over all of my family members. That bedroom was so filled with love you could feel it. Love for this little baby who had come at the “wrong” time when we were broke and young and had just received an autism diagnosis for our oldest son. But, none of that mattered in that moment as our newborn baby looked around at all the people who loved him no matter what.
I learned later that year that love isn’t all fuzzy warm butterflies and swelling heart sensations when my man was laid off from work, my Dad was laid off from work and both my parents and my own young little family lost our homes. The economy was crashing and decent work was scarce. I learned that love is using whatever you have, doing whatever you have to do, facing fears, trudging on together, it is pulling together as a family and each member doing whatever they can to help the others. Love is ferocious. Love does what it has to do. Love feeds its babies first and goes hungry sometimes. Love is my husband taking the first job he could find and going to do back-breaking manual labor overnight for $8.50/hr. Love is me waking up at 5am getting my special needs 3-year-old and my infant son ready for daycare so that I can make it to my 8am college class and then going to work until late that night fueled by coffee and the fact that I refuse to fail my children. Love is crying so hard my body shook when I pulled away from daycare knowing my babies should be with me, but I had to make money to feed them. Love is my Mama picking my boys up from daycare and taking good care of them until I finally finished working for the night. Love is my Daddy getting laid-off after busting his ass for 25 years and getting right back up and back to work. I learned love can still grow in a tiny, falling apart rental house. Love is sitting up all night with a sick baby in the ER when you can barely keep your eyes open and your head is throbbing. Love is coming home and writing that paper and waking up with my face on the keyboard. Love is making a better life for my kids. Love is the courage I see everyday working with survivors of domestic violence who refuse to be abused any longer and will do anything to keep themselves and their kids safe. Love is giving to those who have less and struggle more than I have. Love is the sweet church ladies who bring food to shelters feeding abused women and children, the homeless, and making sure all bellies in need are full. Love is being there for someone who feels alone.
Love is a verb. Love is a noun. It is a feeling and it is also something we put into action. If we only look for the feeling, it will elude us. If we put it into action, it can change the world. Love is what Jesus taught. Not judgment. Love. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” John 13:34