(Sometimes I feel like past-Bryce was much wiser than current-Bryce. While cleaning out some folders on my computer I stumbled upon this, dated December, 2012. Color me encouraged. Thanks, past-Bryce.)
“And though I… understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” I was immersed in the innocent days of pigtails and princesses when I first heard those words. At the time the concept of “love” meant nothing more to me than an inherent need for the familiar: bedtime kisses from mommy, snuggles with daddy, baking cookies with grandma, and the ever-present phrase “I love you” spoken to me and by me without comprehension. Soon time passed and I entered the age of discovery. No longer was I concerned with the world of make-believe, instead my obsession revolved around the artificial bandwagon that is the epitome of adolescence. I bought make-up to cover my acne and earned friends by adhering to a new form of make-believe, inviting me to suppress my dreams instead of pursue them if I hoped to be accepted. It was during this precarious time in my life when I first began to realize what it truly means to love. By loving others I learned how to love myself, and I discovered the truth behind 1 Corinthians 13. There is no greater cure for the mundane existence than selfless love.
When I entered the 9th grade, and the pinnacle of my adolescent confusion, I was coerced into joining a local speech and debate club. Despite my initial resistance, it didn’t take me long to become an integral part of the group. During my first year I stretched myself by teaching classes for the elementary aged speakers and utilizing my passion for writing by creating group presentations. However, the most influential element of the group wasn’t the affairs of our weekly meetings, instead it was the moments when we took what we had created out into our local community. Whether it was the tear-filled eyes at the local veterans club, the quavering smiles at the nursing homes, or the vicarious laughter at the schools – I lived for that moment when my efforts joined with those of my friends and caused the people of our community to shine. Through these simple moments I began to see for the first time what it means to love others without expecting anything in return.
As I entered a new stage in my life, an age of confidence and contentment, I volunteered to work with the children at my church. Soon I found myself answering to “teacher” as once a week I corralled my classroom of 4 year olds for Bible stories and songs. Their mischievous faces and impish antics soon reminded me I still had much to learn about selfless love, and they were ready and willing to act as my teachers. When verse time arrived and we all gathered in a circle, I would ask who had memorized their verse, and for the first time I would receive their full attention as a chorus of voices joined together in a childlike rendition of God’s Holy Word. Tears would fill my eyes, and yet I would find myself smiling. I learned more about love through a few hours each week spent in that classroom of children than I ever previously imagined I’d discover in a lifetime.
Throughout high school I participated in other events sponsored by my friends or my church, including monthly visits to an impoverished area of our city to deliver meals to families and volunteering in a weekly afterschool outreach program at the local elementary school, all which served to solidify the meaning and importance of selfless love to me. Nothing, however, prepared me for the epitome of the “love lesson” that had been shaping me throughout my adolescence. My high school graduation was mere months away when I made the decision that would forever imprint the love of 1 Corinthians 13 on my heart. I traveled to Ethiopia and spent two weeks completely immersed in the lives of the people there. When I held an orphan girl’s emaciated body in my arms, I realized just how little I understood love. When a leprous child smiled at me and showed me the garbage heap he called “home,” I cried in my confusion. Yet, when the homeless gathered around me and placed their many sooty hands firmly in my own pale ones, raising our joined hands in praise, I saw love more clearly than I ever had before. As missionary Katie Davis so eloquently expresses in her book Kisses from Katie, “The truth is, I saw myself in them. I looked at them and felt this love that was unimaginable and knew that this is the way God sees me.” Without love we truly are nothing. Without love life has no meaning. With love, however, every life can be one full of joy, purpose, and abundance.
When I look at those around me whom I cherish and speak the words “I love you.” it is no longer a simple habit or a meaningless phrase. Though there is still much I do not understand, I have learned the lesson of love and the power it holds. With love lives can be altered, fulfilled, and restored. My journey toward understanding selfless love took me from serving at venues throughout my community, to a leadership position in the children’s ministry at my church, and finally to the continent of Africa. I started my odyssey as a whiny adolescent, and by the end I was given the opportunity to assist in changing lives by loving the people of Ethiopia, though none was so altered as my own. Even with all that I have discovered about love I find that everyday I learn something new. As I observe the smiling children in my class at church, the selflessness of my parents and every other adoptive parent I know, and the joy in the eyes of my friend as she prepares to move to Uganda as a fulltime missionary, my understanding of what it means to love grows. For the rest of my life I will continue to evolve in my knowledge of love, but of one thing I am already certain – selfless love is the greatest gift that you could ever give or receive.