People tell me things — acts and stories of love. I have learned so much from others about what love is, especially in my roles as priest and hospice worker. I am blessed that so many have confided in my trust and have told me the dearest of realities.

We don’t live our lives in our heads or in theology and theories. We live our lives in our families: the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends. This is where we create our lives, this is where we find meaning, and this is where our purpose becomes clear.

Family is where we first experience love and where we first give it. It’s probably the first place where we’ve been hurt by someone we love, and if we’re fortunate, it’s the place where we learn that love can overcome even the most painful rejection. Family is where we start to ask those big spiritual questions, and ultimately it’s where they end.

I have witnessed so many expressions of love. A husband who gently wipes his wife’s face with a cool washcloth, cupping the back of her bald head in his hand to get to the nape of her neck because she is too weak to lift it from the pillow. A daughter spooning pudding into her mother’s mouth, a Mom who has not recognized her for years. A wife arranging the pillow under the head of her husband’s expired body before she helps the undertaker lift him onto the waiting stretcher.

The purpose of our lives cannot be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues. It’s discovered through acts of pure love.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a fully functional family. There is always some dysfunction going on no matter who it is. The remarkable thing about love is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can’t be perfect, because none of us is perfect.

People have told me what it feels like when the person they love beats them or rapes them. They tell me what it feels like to know that they’re utterly unwanted by their parents. They tell what it feels like to be the target of someone’s anger. They tell me what it feels like to know that they abandoned their children, or that their drinking and/or drugs destroyed their family, or that they failed to care for those who needed them the most.

I am especially amazed at the strength of the human soul. Even the people who did not know love know that they should have been loved. They somehow know love by its absence. They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved to receive.

There is little in this world people long for more than to be loved and to be forgiven by other family members.

It is always a powerful moment of love when families share their stories of love at the memorial service. Every person who shares has a tale of love about their loved one that relates to everyone in the crowd and uniquely to themselves.

Albert Einstein said it best, “Life is not about atoms, but about stories.”