True love gives. True love showers itself generously, because it regards the other ahead of self. True love does not hold back; by definition it must be expressed in fullness. True love gifts every last drop of capacity in service of the special ones around. True love chooses to lay down personal gain, ambition and agenda to the benefit of the beloved.
I have been blessed to have known love in many of its forms, and I am looking forward to throwing myself at many more. One of the truest expressions of love I have ever known is the love that Alec had for my two children, Zac and Isabelle.
Alec and I were both 26 when we married. With Isabelle at 4 and Zac at 7, we were all young enough to assume that Alec and I would have biological children of our own at some point. With fresh, wide-eyes we looked forward to everything that marriage had to offer. For years, this anticipation involved the hope of having children.
Both of us lived to support the other in every ambition. At the end of every semester of my Primary Teaching degree I checked in with Alec, to confirm that he was still on board with my study, and to ensure that the support he extended to me didn’t conflict with his own goals. For four years he supported me through university, and then I returned the favour by earning an income that supported him through the start up years of his businesses. The love we shared made us want to build the other’s priorities into our everyday lifestyle. That is love.
A few years into my study, my friend Gemma posed a question that stopped me in my tracks: “So Nelso, are you and Alec gonna have kids or not?”
Alec and I had not specifically decided, so I couldn’t provide a definitive response. I took the question home and opened a conversation that would become increasingly robust over the following three years. We looked at the topic from every angle. Our journey to date, our goals for the future, our budget and finances, our time and other commitments, our blended family dynamics. We even looked at the calendar of our next twenty years to weigh longer term implications. We realised that my 40th birthday would commence the most festive year of our life. My big day in July would be followed by Isabelle’s 18th in November, then Alec’s 40th in February the next year, then Zac’s 21st a few days later. This realisation was certainly not the final straw in the decision, but it did stand out!
The conversation lead us to explore the depths of love that bound our family. My love for my children is defining to me, but I already had that, so I personally realised that I didn’t need any more. However, my love for Alec would never have allowed me to make a choice that would rob him of the bliss of loving his own children. Patience is not a natural virtue to me, but the love I had for Alec couldn’t rush the process that this question required. I wanted to give him everything I could to advance his happiness.
Alec’s love for my children extended beyond that of removed step-parent. His investment was evident in everything he did and said, to the point that he actually became that love. People would often comment that Isabelle looked “just like her dad”, but neither of them ever corrected the misunderstanding, because the love they shared made up for its surface level inaccuracies. Alec taught both kids how to ride a bike. He sat with them and did their readers, made their meals, washed their clothes, cheered from the sidelines of their weekend sports, and offered standing ovations at their school performances. He gave them nick names, built them a tree house, saw them through surgeries, and like all of us parents, sacrificed himself to endless taxi duty. He delighted in the good times of movies, camping, holidays, bike rides, turtle races and river swims, but also stood as a pillar of stability in the tough times of groundings, punishments, lectures, coaching sessions and even the odd smack. He fulfilled his wedding vows to them, “with the heart of a loving father”. He was their step-in dad.
It was from this foundation of love that he finally decided that he didn’t want biological children of his own. Over the years of our conversation, he constantly returned to the same resolution: “I already have children”. It really was that simple. Everything of the investment he had in Zac and Isabelle fulfilled every gift of love he ever wanted to express as a father. His love gave to them selflessly, prioritising their needs over his own, in a way that completed who he was as a person. His love showed me that true love fuels itself on selfless service.
Life is a journey that offers us a never ending flow of opportunities to refine the purity of our hearts. Each moment has the potential to reveal a new insight that true love is compelled to extend beyond its own gain. True love is not self seeking, but it does stand out. It doesn’t arrogantly shout “Look at me!”, but it does want to be found. It is not demanding, yet it requires expression. It never dies, because it refuses to surrender its last breath. Spotting true love is like a Where’s Wally picture. Those red and white stripes do stand out from the rest, but to find it, you really do have to search past the busy, over-crowded world we live in.
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