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Celebrating the forthcoming release of the new book, The Storyteller, today is Day Two of the Book Giveaway! Each day for ten days (until October 7), I will post a question and response from the book’s Discussion Guide . Anyone who posts a response with h/her thoughts either on WordPress or Facebook (“Stories That Matter”) will be automatically entered to win a copy of the book when it is released! I will give away 3 copies.

Day’s 2 Question:

Cole says love is too soft a word, too overused. Do you agree?  Define love and discuss what it is capable of.

Discussion Guide

People describe love a million ways: Love changes lives. Love conquers all. Love defies all the odds. These are clichés I’ve grown up hearing all my life. As a little girl, I vividly remember planning my wedding. There’d be a white farmhouse with a porch swing or two, a bay window with a bench, and horses (Cole owns all of this; where was he all my life?!). A bushel of kids swinging from the branches of aged oak trees filled the days with laughter while heartfelt, fireside conversations fueled dreams by night. Real problems like night terrors, fear of intimacy, bills, and other annoying “real-life” concerns didn’t stand a chance; love moved mountains.

Age brings wisdom, perspective, and the understanding that dreams are not fairy tales. Also, love isn’t really a dream; it’s a conscious choice to commit to hard work, forever. Those nightmares kept me from dating until I was in college; fear of intimacy both cost me deeply treasured relationships and proved too massive a hurdle to overcome. While I wasn’t the only one who owned part of the responsibility for the relationship disintegration, the fear of not measuring up and of being inadequate contributed to real, lasting heartbreak. There are “love scenes” in a couple of my books not for gratuitous reasons but because I am intimately aware that in order to really heal from sexual abuse, coming to peace with, confronting and learning to trust intimacy is a must. In other, age taught me that baggage is real and it can, does, and will attack Cupid.

Still, I have refused to give up on love. Part of this is because it’s not all fiction. I have experienced the out-of-this-world, shoot-for-the-stars, head-over-heels butterflies that make you think you’re flying. The feeling of confidence, respect and care that can be conveyed by a simple look is a heady, addictive wonder. Beyond infatuation or a “crush,” romantic love can uplift and inspire. When you love someone enough to trust them with something so precious and intimate as a kiss or a touch, magic can happen. I’ve felt it. So, because of this, I grew older, clinging to the idea that love was real.

Secretly, I hoped to find someone who wasn’t afraid of me or my past, someone who wouldn’t want anything except for me to be me. Secretly, I dreamed of finding someone who enjoyed my presence, who didn’t care that I was an inept social clown, or that weird things trigger debilitating memories, someone with whom I didn’t have to try. Secretly, I dreamed of a safe place to give full reign to the many, many sides of me I keep deliberately reigned in: the silly side who might throw a handful of flour at you just because, the slightly competitive side who won’t back down from a playfully issued challenge, the weird Tiffini who needs both the assurance of safety but who will also dance in freezing rain, ride practically wild horses barefoot and who has a secret wish to skydive. The Tiffini who shakes when she is scared, who sometimes can’t sleep because of what she might see in dreamland, who sometimes doesn’t understand sarcasm, who over analyzes everything, who can be irritatingly stubborn, and who harbors complicated self narratives that ultimately devalue important things (like herself). Creating heroes like Cole and Clayton Cunningham who didn’t flinch in the face of such baggage fed my belief in romantic love for a little too long.

In my life, though, romantic love hasn’t, and probably won’t, find a place. If romantic love were the only kind of love, then I would answer this question by asking if love was really true or if it were merely a fairy tale. Luckily, I’m not that cynical or skeptical. I believe romantic love exists — I’ve seen evidence of it within my family and, also, a couple years ago, I saw an article about a couple celebrating 82 years of marriage (Mr. Williams died this year in July; they were married for 83 years and he was 104 years old; his wife still lives; she is 102). 83 years is an entire lifetime. It’s an unfathomable; it’s longer than forever for a lot of people. So, I believe in romantic love, I just don’t believe in it for me. This is just fine, though, before it’s not the only kind of love.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman, 23 years old, who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. That baby girl was joined three years later by an auburn-haired beauty. Seventeen years later, I’m still in a state of constant awe and surprise that they are my daughters. I have no idea why I was given the gift of being their mother, but it is a gift that has taught me more about what real love is than anything I could have ever dreamed of creating. When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I was also scared. My father was up for parole that year (non violent crime that had nothing to do with me), and that meant he would come home. If he came home, he’d have access to my daughter. I knew too well what he was capable of and I couldn’t risk it. The idea of someone deliberately harming a baby girl that had been entrusted to my care was quite literally the scariest thing I had ever felt; it was also the most unimaginable. Whatever hurdle or obstacle I had to cross to prevent that from becoming a reality was worth it because, suddenly, it wasn’t about me anymore. So, I told my mother, and my sister. They took immediate steps to help make sure my little girl couldn’t be hurt with a divorce, going before a parole board, and, mostly, just being there for me.

Nowadays, love means something different than romance to me. To answer the question, yes, I agree with Cole that the word love is overused and we have become desensitized to what it really means. The idea of an arrow is closer — love pierces the heart, and makes it burn with a blazing confetti of passion that overshadows all else. Once pierced with arrows of confetti, love is capable of prodding you to doing things you truly didn’t think you were capable of. Things like breaking silence, and sharing that which causes you the most shame because doing so adds a layer of protection to the other person. Things like willingly, consciously giving up relationships because, if you don’t, you can’t assure their safety. Things like exchanging dreams you thought mattered for others because seeing them happy is the biggest dream of all. The definition of passion is :

“a strong and barely controllable emotion”

Oxford Languages

and this is a truer representation of what it means to really love someone. It isn’t really love itself that changes lives but the passion that it inspires. Love does change lives but in more than the ring-on-the-finger kind of way. Love changes the very core of who we are and, at its best, inspires us to change the parts of ourselves cause sadness or unhappiness. The word “love” doesn’t capture the essence of what it means: to more accurately do that, it should make us a little uncomfortable (because it’s an arrow that pierced our hearts!), curious and enchanted all at the same time. Love makes the colors of the world brighter and more vibrant (because confetti is flying everywhere in our hearts; it’s an explosion of color!), the mundane days special and the hard days worth it.

As a bonus, his vows to Daphne tell how Cole sees love:

From the moment you stepped into my world, I knew you were going to hold a piece of it forever. I wish I were a poet, I wish I had the words to explain what I feel inside, but I didn’t know this kind of love existed. Frankly, I don’t think anyone here has ever felt it. It’s the kind of love that blurs self and entanglement with another heart.

The word love is too soft; it’s too overused. It can’t capture the fierce, infinite, blazing flame that my soul holds for you. You are a million dreams come true. I’m telling you this in front of all of these people because I want to shout it from the rooftops; I want everyone to know – I don’t want or need anything but you.  You are my tomorrow, and I promise to dream with you, to make up constellations with you, to celebrate you, and walk beside you no matter what this world brings. I will laugh with you, but I will also comfort you, stay with and cry with you when there is sorrow. We’ll ride horses, fly lanterns, and spend all night talking for the next fifty or sixty years. I swear to you, Cinderella, you are my future, regardless of what that is. You have my whole heart, my friendship, my passion, my love, and my hand forever

What do you think? How would you describe love? Commenting = entry for free book!