Growing up, my family was small enough to fit into a minivan with one unlucky relative squeezed into the trunk–not that we ever tried. One mom. One brother. Two uncles. An aunt. Four cousins. My last surviving grandparent died when I was ten. Relatives–though dearly beloved–lived across the country or deep in the woods, leading to a somewhat lonely childhood–one reason I was so eager to slip into a creamy silk dress two weeks after graduating from college and walk down a church aisle to take the hand of the man who would be my husband.

Finally, the chance to expand my family’s small circle of faces. Dana’s bow-tied nephew, Ben, carried our bands of gold. His round-glasses-rimmed niece, Patty, a basket from which she flung rose petals as if welcoming me to the family. All four of his grandparents were there to kiss my cheeks.

Eighteen years and five children later, Dana’s and my own minivan bursts at the rivets. As I write, our older boys, Judah and Gabriel, are off to summer camp. Our daughter Lydia and youngest son, Asher, play in the green-turtle swimming pool/sandbox Dana bought last night for five bucks from a neighbor. And our youngest daughter, Ruth, is resting in the arms of Christ.

On our way to Richmond yesterday to visit Dana’s father at church, we drove past the sun-bright cemetery in which our youngest daughter’s body lays. I held my breath and tried not to look as Dana folded his middle and ring fingers against his palm, forming the sign for “I love you” and pressed it against the van window. A few minutes later, we filled his family’s pew in the little Nazarene church across from a field of waving grass and buttercups. Only once did I look to the empty aisle space where Ruth should have been in her wheelchair. For the rest of our lives Father’s Day will be bittersweet knowing one home-made card with wobbly letters will always be missing from the table.

After the service, Dana’s mom warmed hot dogs and baked beans. His father, the pastor, played saxophone in the sanctuary while I brought out ice-cold boxes of Newman’s lemonade and a fresh garden salad. Soon we sat around the Sunday School tables enjoying a family picnic.

“Do you know how I remember my father looking at me?” Dana’s ninety-four-year-old grandmother Josephine, the church organist, raised her hands to her pink creased cheeks as we began to eat. “With love,” she said. “He always looked at me with love.”

I blinked back tears, seeing this same love in the eyes of Dana’s family. It fills the eyes of my husband who often asks, “Do you know how much I love you?” And I hope it will continue to shine through the eyes of our children. So, on this day as Dana and I celebrate eighteen years of marriage I am grateful to be part of this heritage of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails,” I Corinthians 13: 4-7.

Who shared this kind of love with you?