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Love is not a piece of cake.

That’s the lesson I am learning these days. The other lesson I am learning these days is this: when life has a lesson you are clearly meant to learn, the whole entire world shows up to teach it to you. You get reminders of the lesson in songs. In traffic signs. In conversations. In strangers. Everywhere, through everything, the world shows up to teach you good. And it seems as though life beats that little lesson into you until you hold up your hands in exasperation and say, “Okay. I get it. I’ll learn this. I won’t ignore it any longer. We good? We good?”

Love is not a piece of cake.

Yea, that’s the lesson. And I don’t even mean that to play on a metaphor. I just mean, love is not some sugary, empty thing that looks surface-level pretty but fails to keep you full. If you keep meeting that sort of love then I think maybe you’re meeting an imposter. Some other thing dressed up and pretending to be love. Take caution, I'm no expert. I’m not someone who is going to yell in your face and tell you about the love you deserve. I’m just going to take off my own mask and finally admit it: I’ve worshipped the wrong definition of love for far too long. There was a strange kind of comfort in worshipping my own definition of love— it meant it could never hurt me, control me, surprise me or wreck me. My own definition of love let me be in charge of hurting, controlling, surprising and wrecking myself first.

Love, to me, was this script on repeat:

"Win people. Be worthwhile. Be the one that people want to love. Do what it takes to please them."

And if someone came to me and said, “Listen, we need to borrow your definition of love. We want to print it in all the dictionaries,” then I would need to pity the world who would have to try to live inside my definition. Because love, to me, was blues eyes that stopped looking in my direction. Love, to me, was begging to my own strength to try to get it all right. Love to me was hearing scriptures like “love your neighbor as yourself” and laughing as I whispered, “That’s so funny. I barely even like myself.”

Love was promises we could not keep. Love was disappointment. And walls built up to keep me safe. Love was moats around castles. It was writing notes to ghosts. It was hinging my worth on being chosen. Love is all I ever wanted and the one thing I still feel too insecure to admit: I don't want it. I need it. 

When my friend asked me to attend the church with her on Sunday, I was hesitant.

Like, really hesitant. It’s not that I hadn’t heard good things about the church. I just heard it was “traditional.” Simple. And the part of me that likes big, flashy church productions seems to naturally rebel against the idea of “simple.” To be honest, I think sometimes I like the flashy productions and poppy music because it makes gives me more layers of distraction to put between myself and God. Music. Trendy clothing. Attractive people who will surely mate and make even more attractive babies (though that’s everywhere). I’ve gotten used to going to church for people, not God.

So when I walked into the church, placed next to a super market I’ve driven past a dozen times before, I’d already scratched the hope for said-church off my list. I’d already given up on the church.

The lights weren’t low. The sanctuary wasn’t grand. We pursed cups of coffee in our hands as we waited for the music to start. I felt a bit like Lorelai Gilmore just because I am watching that show too much on Netflix these days. There was no flash. No opening. Just two guys and their guitars on stage. The whole hymn sat on the screen in simple white letters. They sang a song you only hear at funerals. The words pelted against my skin like rain in the moment you remember you like feeling it:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, 

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I stood in that church as the funeral song played and I thought to myself: I add so much excess to my own life. To my definitions of love. To my relationships. To God. And people. I still am stuck believing that if I just give you all my excess and all my barriers then you’ll be too afraid to love me. And you will leave me. And love will stay this “empty” thing. The “need to win” thing it’s only ever been to me.

Fittingly, the pastor spoke on love. She spoke on that overused verse: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul.” I always read that verse as: Love God and love people in the ways you know how to. But no, I never heard: love God and love people with your whole entire person. With all your doubts and all your fears. With the things you understand and things you’ve never understood. Love someone, even when you think you hate them. Love God, even when nothing is moving the way you wanted it to be moving. Love someone, even though you were never promised forever. Love people and God as if love were the kind of thing that has layers. Layers that let you go deeper and deeper, past whatever you think you are capable of.

To be completely honest and unscripted, I stood in that church and wrestled with God, saying: I only want love if it has more layers for me. I don't want emptiness. I don't want something that keeps me full for five minutes. But I don't want to front it. I don't want to fake it, either. If you're real, then be real. Wash over me. Wreck me. Make me feel weak and woozy. I only want this thing if it's real. I only want love if its the kind of love I can go ahead and stop trying to understand. Make this dance too exhausting for me that all I can do, in my own strength, is step on your toes and let you lead.  

I got an email just the other day from a girl who finally got the guy.

She got him. He finally said, “I am all in. We are doing this. No games. No hesitation.” Nike should maybe sponsor their newfound relationship because the two are about to hustle and do and jump the hurdles to make this precious love of theirs work. 

But anyway, she was emailing me, of all people, to say she was afraid. She got exactly what she wanted and now she was afraid to fail him. She wrote, “I’m scared. I’m scared that I won’t learn to actually let him in. That I’ll be so afraid & so guarded for so long that we’ll just hit a ceiling & never get better. I don’t want that for myself & I really, really don’t want that for him.”

Love is not a piece of cake. The lesson rears its annoying little head again as I start to type back to her.

It’s not a piece of cake. Love is not some sugary, empty thing that looks surface-level pretty but fails to keep you full. It’s not run by your own insecurities. It’s not susceptible to your own nasty thoughts.

Love is not a piece of cake.  If anything, love is a seven-layer dip and we just really comfortable with sticking to the surface with all those crunchy Fritos. We think, we'll just stick to the surface and keep all our barriers up so that we can never get hurt.

Love is not a piece of cake. It's a fist fighter. It’s a wrecking ball. It’s more than blue eyes and ghosts and slow dances that never became yours. It’s deeper than your own perceptions. It’s things you can’t see or touch.

It's anything, anything but a piece of cake. I’m learning that old definitions must die hard. They either die hard or they swallow you whole. And me? I need a definition of love that feeds me more than a piece of cake with inflated frosting falling off the edges of it.

And so my request these days becomes: Show me love that is bigger than my brain, my bullies, my ballads and my bruises. I want a love so rich and so foreign that when it comes in my direction I think that I must give it a new name to make up for all the years I never knew what to call it.

I think I need a name for this thing called “love” so when it comes to knock at my door— to rearrange my heart like furniture I’ve grown fine with seeing sit in one place— I’ll know to let it in. I’ll know to let it in and wreck me good with its layers.

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