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We each have many types of love relationships — parents, children, spouses, friends. And they’re not always with people; you may love an animal, or a place. Is there a single idea or definition that runs through all the varieties of “love”?

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” Victor Hugo

When I had my first child, I was totally unsure about parenthood. I was thirty, had a super job, and didn’t have great role models as parents — or did my husband. When I saw that little girl, my heart grew in ways I didn’t know existed. I had not felt that kind of love before, and it happened three more times, and each time my heart grew more. It wasn’t the same as the love I felt for my husband, because there was a protectiveness in it that I don’t think another adult requires.

The way I love my children and my spouse has continually changed; the love is implicit, sealed by the first kiss. Love is continually redefined by changes in the people you love. What do they need, how do you best express your caring, when does love dictate that you hug, or push away? Love is not always being kind; it is deeply caring for what’s best for the other person and fulfilling their needs, so it doesn’t always make the lover happy. Self-love is essential, too, and it’s much like knowing oneself honestly, seeing the flaws and faults, the good and the striving. God did not create us perfectly, and so we have to continually be assessing ourselves and be open to change.

I agree with Victor Hugo. Love brings a dimension to life that opens our hearts, souls, and minds that sometimes defies reason. As I grow older, I find I want to surround myself more with people I care for and love; people who have a place in my heart, and whose lives I can affect with my presence. I try to treat all people with respect and an open heart — each person is God’s creation — though some don’t know or show it! But in family and close friends I find that comfort zone of love that “surpasses all understanding.” Perhaps it is God’s love sent through us to others.

I love places, too. They’re usually ones that touch my soul in some way. In the perfection of nature God’s plan can be seen more easily. clearly, and beautifully than in the actions of mankind. The world is a muddled place displaying both good and bad, and the in-between where it seems impossible to discern what’s right and wrong. In some aspects of nature, or in landscapes that have existed forever, there is a glimpse of what God intended for us: Pure love given freely without selfishness, desire for control, or expectations. A gift.