A book that greatly altered my thinking and perspective as a young person was "Love Comes Softly". It was a story of two people - a man and woman - forced together through tragic circumstances, who ultimately found love through the sorrow and pain and in the most unexpected places. They did not "fall in love" and choose each other. They chose each other (by their forced circumstances) and love found them.
I think understanding love in this light has been pivotal to staying in forward motion in my walk through this life, fraught with all it's adventures, tragedies, wonderful surprises and inexplicable disappointments (and subsequent heartbreak). We may "fall in love" with the idea of something, but we most often find that reality transfigures into something quite different than our original notion may have convinced us to believe.
The first love of my life, I believe, was my father. I have little actual memories of him, but one memory is clear. The memory of the full expression of love, of being held in arms that were large enough to hold all of me. I didn't know it in my 3 year old cognition, but all of me included my heart. I have to believe that that full expression of love that required no merits from me changed me forever. It changed me beyond his death, beyond the lonely, black nights that followed his disappearance wondering if he was going to come home again. It prepared me for the void that remained forever. It prepared me for future love that was found, love that was taken away through tragedy or through my own choices, love that was unexpected, love that was discovered through pain, love that has been unmerited. It prepared me to love in marriage and all it's broken fault lines. It has given me strength and courage even through my weakness/failures to face parenting with all it's unknown turns, impossible mountains, prodigious joy, in the awe of what is and in anticipation (if not also terror) for what will be.
Love doesn't always come softly. Sometimes it does, catching us completely by surprise. Dreams sometimes come true (many of mine have!), but often we are asked to see them for what they are and embrace the stuff of life in all it's gross glory. I will face the reality of tomorrow and all it holds with hope because I know that love has found me in all the least expected places. I will fight for the love that doesn't come softly, for love that is tough and painful and even heartbreaking. For the child of mine who is still locked inside himself. For the friend who is trapped in a broken body, but who's heart is whole and ready to meet her maker. For the broken dreams I will see my children reckon with. I will fight to give unmerited love.
Love is beautiful and amazing and incomplete in this deeply broken world.