You would think that after seven years of marriage and the two children that have followed, the luster would wear a bit thin on love.

And if I’m honest, there are days when it does.

Days when we’ve stepped on one too many tiaras in the living room or Noelle is waving scissors suspiciously close to Elise’s eyes or both girls have seemingly forgotten how to do anything but whine piteously. Days like this past Friday, when we are scrambling to rid the Hoarders-like mess from our mudroom in preparation for a party and Tim tells me, “That’s it! No more online shopping! We have TOO MUCH MAIL!”

But in a lot of ways, I’m more comfortable at 31 than I ever was at 22, the age I was when Tim and I first met.

Sure, I probably fit our culture’s definition of beauty a little better at 22. I could still squeeze into a bikini without (mostly) flinching, yet I still worried endlessly about my chubby legs and squishy arms. Which seems funny to me now, considering I had no idea how much worse it would get: I didn’t know that chin hairs weren’t just something Grandma Jo got in her final years. I didn’t know that weird wrinkles on my face would make me wonder what kind of expressions I consistently make to achieve them. I hadn’t experienced a Muffin Top, and I still knew what my original hair color was. My arms didn’t have a second wave, my belly didn’t have stretchmarks, my legs didn’t show a fine tracery of veins underneath.

And yet, it was so easy for me to fall into the trap of striving to look “better,” and my confidence and self-esteem wavered depending on my circumstances.

When I think about all that now — about how my belly is growing larger by the day, and it’s hard to even see beyond it to shave my legs (which seems pointless in the winter, anyway) — I’m so thankful that I’m not 22 anymore.

Because it’s so much easier to feel comfortable with this life, this body, these foibles and faults that I have, now that I’m finally hearing the right messages from those close to me. Not that life-giving words weren’t being spoken to me at 22, I just don’t think I really listened. There were too many days that I let positive words get drowned out by the expectations that our culture shouted at me.

Because in the ups and downs of marriage and parenting and friendship and faith, when it comes down to what matters in life, here’s the message I hear at 31 that I ignored at 22: Love Wins.  

And so tonight, when Noelle sobs for 30 minutes straight because she has to go potty for the third time and I’m so frustrated that I just want to turn off the monitor and bury my head under a pillow, I pause and take a deep breath.

And instead of issuing threats for her to get back into bed or angry words to make her hurry up in the bathroom, I gather her in my arms and sit in the little-used, forgotten rocker in her bedroom corner. As her small body stops thrashing, as she sighs and curls her hands into my sweatshirt, I feel profoundly grateful. Thankful that, for once, I got it right.

Because when it comes to parenting and discipline, Love Wins.

And earlier today, I was reminded of how profound the message really is during a conversation with Elise.

Elise: “You know what Papa says he loves about me?”

Me: “What?”

Elise: “Everything.” And then she smiles.

Because when it comes to feeling accepted, Love Wins.

And I’m once again profoundly grateful that, for once, we got it right.