Childish laughter is the music. One child is splashing in the pool while the other’s tossing water balloons by the handfuls at the nearby ancient oak tree. I alternate: one moment, I find myself performing the wackiest dance you’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing (since becoming a mother, I have discovered I possess very unique styles of dance and song!); the next, I find my fully clothed self demonstrating the proper way to enjoy a slip and slide, then laugh with the girls at the fact that my clothes are soaked for all the interested neighbors to see. The sun beats down, our cheeks are overly warm, my eyes squint — ah, but then! A slight slight wind rushes by, making me sigh as I enjoy its refreshing breath. The yard that could have been mowed two days ago is dotted with yellow flowers, in front of me there are three rolling hills that God positioned in exactly the right spot  for the last rays of the day’s sun to shine upon, there’s the most beautiful and delightful red bird whose nest happens to be in our back yard: these images are the art for my eyes on this unusually warm Spring day.  In fact, the whole day is a work of art, one that not even Michelangelo could have recreated, because any painting would lack the main ingredient that makes my heart so full: love.

In the midst of the magical day that wasn’t spent galavanting around the very large zoo (as was yesterday), nor engaged in some messy Barney-like craft (as are most days), I realized that the only thing that I truly did not want was for someone, anyone, to interrupt our day. I hoped the mailman forgot our house, all the people who might call me forgot their reasons and the outside world just tended itself today: that was my mid-day prayer. I just wanted to remain isolated at home, with the girls, so we could continue to enjoy the trampoline, the water activities, the sandbox. It occurred to me that moments such as this define that indefinable word: love.

Love is being able to admire something or someone without even the slightest trace of envy. When I stood in front of amazing pieces of original art (even the Mona Lisa) at the Louvre, I admired it – but a part of me wished that I could recreate it. When I see someone do something extraordinarily well—say, dress beautifully or give a passionate speech, or go to Afganistan and start a school for remote villages—I admire them, I praise them, but my very flawed self usually thinks, even if in the tiniest whisper: “why can’t I _________”?  That may be admiration, but it’s not love.

Love is genuine praise and admiration — simply because something or someone is beautiful and important. I watch my daughters do something well, and I just about burst with pride. My six year old reads at better than some eight or nine year olds that I have worked with.  But, when she reads to me, I don’t think, “man, why couldn’t I have started reading at such an early age?”  No, I am just proud. My three year old, Alight, is very funny. Humor has always been difficult for me: it’s a trait I’ve always openly admired but one that I’m only rarely able to pull off successfully. Yet, I laugh the hardest when Alight does something funny.  It’s because I love both of them and am so glad that they have been given such beautiful gifts of intelligence and humor. I will take no part of their beauty. Love is admiration without envy.

But its also more. Love is the essence of gratitude. When I’m surrounded by the people and places I love, all I find myself wanting, besides more time to enjoy  them, is to drop to my knees and thank God for the gift of someone so beautiful to love. Love is wanting to go that extra mile — just because its important to make each moment reach its potential for the ones you love. It’s about wanting to give rather than receive—giving, expecting nothing.

This evening, my nose filled with the aroma of honey pecan pork chops and sweet potatoes I made for supper. While we ate, Breathe told me I could not eat mac and cheese because  it’s not a “grown up food” and Alight reached over, grabbed my nose and said gleefully, “squishy!” We all laughed.  Beautiful art.

The future looms ahead with scary visions. The past looms behind with its host of terrors. But we have not been forgotten. One of God’s greatest gifts is the ability to open our hearts and love other people. When we love whole-heartedly, when we give of ourselves with abandonment and joy, what we’re given in return are glimpses of the first, and most perfect, Garden.  When we realize what an enormous  gift it is to have someone whose happiness is our  joyful and delightful goal, we receive days like  today, in which lie tranquility and hope, the slow but inevitable by-products of love.

The present is beaming with opportunities for us to feel alive.  Offering a smile to a down-trodden stranger, meeting the eye of the cashier at the gas station (you’d be surprised by how many times I’ve been rewarded with out-right appreciation simply because of this action), allowing yourself to look like a total idiot for the chance to hear your child laugh out loud: these are moments given to us, moments for us to decide how to treat each other, moments for us to accept or reject the opportunity to reap the benefits of giving undeserved love.

The secret of life, of happiness, of joy, is to interact with others and open our hearts and our eyes to see the significant in the insignificant, the special in the ordinary and the priceless in the simple.  Mother Teresa once explained that she saw every person she came across as the image of Christ and thus she treated that person as she might Him. What would happen, I wonder, if we did the same, even if just for one day?

Early this morning, before the girls awoke, I sat for awhile in the porch swing and I listened to a couple of birds chirping. Instead of just listening, though, I tried to imagine what this particular chirp meant.  I tried to decipher it. I came back inside with a quiet smile and a full heart. Their language is beautiful but it is beautiful because I cannot understand it.

Love is like that. You know its beautiful because you want more of whatever (or whoever) you’re with when the feeling hits you. But you can’t fully understand it–even when we try. Love isn’t something you can learn, it’s just something you find yourself needing to give.

Sometimes I struggle with perfectionism (I always have).  But, on days like today, when its clear God is displaying all that I have, I realize that the gift of love, in its most natural form, is not something we earn. It’s something we’re given. I didn’t do anything to earn the honor of being Alight and Breathe’s mom, or of having peaceful hills decorate my backyard or feeling God’s presence when I need Him most.  I didn’t earn any of this:  it’s just precious and beautiful gifts that I’ve been given. What I do with the love that has been bestowed upon me is my choice: I can wrap it within the confines of my heart, relish it in the quiet moments of my day. Or I can share it, most importantly with those I love and care about, but  also with strangers. If I choose to accept the love, then pass it on,  I end up doubling love’s gift: not only with those I choose to shower with it but also with myself for it’s usually when I have been actively loving someone else that I am most easily able to see all that’s good around me.

Love is special when we receive it: it’s perfect when we  give it.