Radiant Joy Blog

Unconditional Love: What’s That Like?

When I was 15, I applied to be an AFS exchange student. I was exceedingly blessed to be selected and sent to live with the Duarte family in Brazil, where I learned Portuguese  . . . and experienced something altogether new to me, unconditional love!  After having been the oldest of five with a lot of domestic responsibilities, high expectations I was always striving to meet, and having moved to a new high school where I’d had a hard time breaking into “the crowd” (though I ended up very happy with the friends I made after a little while), this family was certainly a godsend — and we are still in touch regularly! 

Though it took weeks before I could understand enough of the language to communicate more than the basics, my Brazilian mom, Mamãe, would embrace me, wrapping me in her ample arms and warm smile, and would speak to me so softly and lovingly in French (which I’d studied for three years). She noticed my favorite foods and served them often. Papai, my Brazilian dad, loved trying out on me the English he’d taught himself from books, and he loved teaching me about the culture with his unique sense of humor. My Brazilian siblings, older and younger than I, sisters and brothers, would include me in their circles of friends. They loved teaching me (to the extent I could get it) to samba and sing along to Brazilian folk songs of the ’60s. They took me visit the hipppie fair with them in Ipanema, taught me the slang, and even took me shopping to show me how to dress, wear a bikini, and do my hair and makeup for a more feminine look than I arrived with! In that family, I was never criticized, they seemed delighted to have me there, and they teased me good-naturedly for my language mistakes and sometimes silly questions. I knew I’d had the best experience of my life. 

Back home, I realized later that what I’d experienced was unconditional love: acceptance, loving embraces, genuine interest in what made me tick or pleased me, desire to know those closest to me, generosity with their time, talents, treasures, especially the treasure of loving and enduring relationships. When in need, I can always count on them for prayer or encouragement.

Four years later, I returned to live with the Duartes another summer while taking courses to accelerate my graduation from college with a Portuguese major and International Business minor. My first job after graduation was with a Brazilian textile importer in Brazil, and after that with GTE International’s Sylvania Division, which sent me to Brazil to do market research on the introduction of color TV in Brazil–another chance to reunite.

Over the years, my Brazilian siblings have visited me in college, stayed with my American family, and attended my wedding. I’ve brought my husband and kids to spend Christmas with the huge extended Duarte family, and have joined family reunions with them. The children of my closest Brazilian sister have stayed with us, Diogo for an extended stay while the kids were teens. I’ve attended the weddings of three Brazilian nieces and nephew Diogo, and my daughter has visited Diogo and his wife and children who now live in Spain. Three of my siblings visited me in California with their spouses. When Mamãe has a birthday or it’s Mother’s Day, I get to see the special books or videos compiled for her. Clearly, this was a meant-to-be divine connection for life.

This photo shows a whimsical (surreal) art quilt I made to express the importance of that part of my life. I arrived with glasses and braces and there’s Mamãe offering me love. The setting is Leblon beach in Rio de Janeiro with Dois Irmãos, the mountains, in the background. I went home more confident, with a yellow bikini, pierced ears, longer hair, and got contact lenses! My earring was my attempt to include the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado in the quilt. 


The question is: how can I make a return to the Lord and to my loved ones for what he has given to me through the Duartes? We are all called love others unconditionally, as best we can. I feel called to love from the heart like Mamãe and her family did for me. This is a challenge and a blessing! As I see that love, it includes:

accepting others without criticism;
demonstrating love through appropriate touch and gifts of your time, talent, or treasure;
listening well, with genuine interest, respect, admiration, wonder, and awe;
noticing and celebrating others’ best qualities and their important times;
maintaining a mutually honest and open-hearted relationship;
speaking the truth to them in love when appropriate;
noticing, caring and lending support when they face challenges and are open to it;
forgiving any slights or even big hurts, 70 times 7 times, if necessary;
encouraging others; and
and praying with them (if they like) and for them as well.

As I aim to put on the mind and heart of Christ, it is my heart’s desire to enjoy showing unconditional love to as many people as the Lord puts in my path, certainly including all my family members. Would you join me in praying, “Come, Loving Lord, would you please help me grow in unconditional love for everyone I encounter in this journey of life, to love with my whole heart, inspired as much as possible by Your love? Would You please help me to grow in knowledge of You, in Your love, and to pass it on?  Would you please reveal to me the ways You would like me to love and pray for others? Today I open my heart to receive your wisdom, counsel, and love.”

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