I married my wife Lyn 44 years ago.
It was a quiet wedding with no frills, attended only by immediate relatives and the closest of friends.
Marriage for me then was not the natural conclusion of a great romance but the beginning of a search for love that lasts. After endless nights hopping from bar to bar, listening to Alfie trying to figure out what life was all about, it was hopefully the next best thing to what Johnny Walker could offer.
My wife and I hardly knew each other then because we belonged to two different worlds. She was North to my South. I was the rough stone to the polished gem that she was. It took years of prayers and tears on her part to smoothen the jagged edges of my tough struggle to rise from the bottom up.
Sheltered, secure, serene and spiritual, she was what I was not.
So I took my chances. I bet my freedom and my future with no guarantee of success or happiness.
It took the birth of my first born Anna, and each child that came after her, for me to finally realise that true love does not come with a guarantee. It is a gift from God given freely with no condition, without risk of losing if valued, cared and shared.
Anna came to my world like the first breath of life in Paradise. She was this tiny little thing after delivery whose face was fussy, had not given or done anything for me, but with such an overwhelming magnificence that I would do anything and willingly give up my life for her.
It was an experience of God's love that I finally understood for the first time in my life. If an imperfect human like me could love purely a being so frail and powerless, instantly and unconditionally, how much more could God love me in all my frailties and the sinfulness of the rest of humanity he parented.
It was also my moment of awakening to the amazing reality of the gift that my wife was to me as my life-time co-creator in this miracle of life.
How did two unprepared, disparate and disconnected souls raise 5 uniquely amazing children in the complex and challenging world of parenting?
Our complimentarity allowed us to take on a wider and wiser sphere of knowledge beyond the narrow borders of beliefs, biases and insecurities to which we were raised.
She was not in the slums with me building shelter for the homeless, but heroically attending to household chores, seeing to it that our faucets did not leak and our children were fed well, were in good health and came home safe.
Imperfect as any wife may be, it is the unconditional love for her of an imperfect husband that will make her more perfect in his heart every day.
Knowing this, the petty little irritants that come our way would dissipate and eventually go away and not grow into monster arguments where hurtful words and abusive language that we do not mean are hurled and are difficult to take back when pride intervenes.
More love was the only solution when more problems came to pull us apart.
"Till death" becomes real when we bridle our temper and die to our pride for love to live and thrive.
To love is to be a disciple of Christ all the way to the cross.
Loving Christ was my basic lesson in learning how to care for my family, my country and the poor with patience and perseverance beyond self-interest and self-preservation. Raising my children as Christ's shepherd and steward taught me how to care for the sons and daughters of the less fortunate with determination.
But first I had to expand my definition of family in the way that God clearly defined it for Abraham—family is not about blood ties but kinship of the heart and spirit.
All those we cared for in Kids for Christ, Youth for Christ, Singles for Christ and Gawad Kalinga worldwide are my descendants and heirs, who have in turn built God-centered families and communities of their own.
All children deserve equally the best that our love can offer, particularly the difficult and dangerous who have been dehumanized by material, social and spiritual poverty.
That conviction sent me to Bagong Silang, the biggest crime-infested slum in the Philippines in 1995.
I could not find in my heart the will to accumulate wealth excessively for my Isaacs while many children from the slums around me were deprived of basic food, shelter, education and health care for a dignified human life.
I did not need political power or great wealth to serve the underserved—just a sincere desire to love the less loved.
I walked in faith that love moves in small acts of kindness, and will eventually come back to the giver.
When the Delta strain of COVID hit me September last year and kept me in the hospital for 5 days, I was not gripped by fear, but by awe in the power of God to lavish me with kindness. He demonstrated to me in the clearest way possible that the kindness we sow will harvest an abundance of goodness, generosity and peace. I was cared for by the best doctors and nurses who were formerly members of YFC and volunteers in GK.
Love rules with kindness.
Kindness is the healing hand of love.
Kindness heals the deepest wounds inflicted by the world's meanness.
Kindness fills our heart with delight when we make the sad and lonely happy and makes us transcend our own pain and forget our unhappy memories.
A lady executive from the top communications company in our country now lives in Paraiso Village Farm after losing to COVID her husband, mother-in-law and brother-in-law within a month a year ago, while fighting for her own life for 21 days.
She read about Paraiso as a healing farm and decided to live there after her first visit in March 2022 by renting a villa for 10 months while her home was being built.
She now lives in her beautiful farm home, drives to work in Makati every day for 3 hours in the morning and another 3 hours back to San Jose Batangas at night. She found her peace in the Serenity Chapel and her healing by treating the farmers as her family and serving over 5,000 Senior Citizens who joined our program and events last year to help them find value and happiness in the remaining years of their life.
She found her laughter again when she learned to care for others with greater pain.
Love can soften the hard-hearted over time and free them from vengefulness and unforgiveness.
This is what Paraiso has done to me.
I also appreciate my wife's unconditional love over the years more now by serving widows who lost their husbands without showing them how much they cared.
Joy comes in the evening when we see that the love we shared has given us descendants who are as bright and numerous as the stars in heaven.
Love not shared is love lost.
ANTONIO MELOTO is the founder of Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine-based poverty alleviation movement. In 2006, MELOTO received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's premier prize and highest honor, for "his inspiring Filipinos to believe with pride that theirs can be a nation without slums."