Love and the counterfeit

I was sixteen when I landed my first job as a waitress at Friendly's.  My entire career in that field lasted a total of 3 months, but the benefits of working there have stayed with me far longer.

I remember one particular evening shift in July of that summer.  It was an ordinary day with waiting tables, cleaning them off and doing it all over again.  A group of guys slightly older than myself, sat themselves in  my section while I did my best to play it cool.  I served ice cream and milkshakes and tried to be charming without embarrassing myself or revealing the awkwardness I felt inside.  They left a decent tip.

A call came to the restaurant later that night from a guy that asked for me.  I finished wiping down my tables then grabbed the phone with more than a little curiosity.  My cheeks burned red when the voice on the other end asked me to go on a date.  I was hesitant and suspicious even after he reminded me that he was the one who sat in my section earlier that night while visiting his friend who worked the kitchen.  It took some convincing, but I eventually said yes to the date.  My sister joined us a few days later, just in case.

That summer was a whirlwind of love and romance, you know the surface kind where you have sweaty palms and a nervous stomach?  He was older than me and knew more of what he wanted, but I still wasn't sure.  I strung him along, not ready to commit to "going steady" but not willing to let him go.  I was starting a new high school in the fall, and I wanted to keep my options open.  For me, it was far easier to not commit than to have to break it off when I lost interest or something better came along.

But that didn't happen, the losing interest part.  A few months into that school year I signed the unwritten contract to be a girlfriend even though there were still parts of me that were not committed.  You see, there were letters.  Shoe boxes full of little love notes from the other boys in my past that had some level of interest in me.  They were folded in a special way, all tucked inside of themselves so they could fit easily into a pocket.  I didn't care so much for the authors of the letters any more, but their words helped me to remember that someone liked me, someone thought I was pretty, someone found me special.  And so I kept them.

They stayed in the box for a long time, packed up with other memories that I only held onto for the sake of holding onto something that I might want to be reminded of.  One day I found them again, all tucked away.  I leafed through the papers, a few of them marred with squirts of cologne that had long ago evaporated into the space of nothing.  I'm so grateful that Axe wasn't invented yet, or the scent might have still lingered.  I read words of boys trying to impress and win the heart of a girl who didn't even know what love was.  I smiled at the naivety of it all, and wondered how I could have been so fulfilled by the counterfeit.

One by one I threw them away.  They no longer held any part of my heart, for I had taken all of it back and given it to the boy I met at Friendly's.  I didn't need reminders of the easy words that flow when there is no commitment behind them.  I had, at that point, learned in some part what it meant to truly love and be loved.

I see stories in my life that parallel these thoughts.  I see things that I hold on to because they make me feel important, they make me feel like I belong.  I sometimes accept the counterfeit because it is easy.  I accept the surface because it doesn't take time and effort.  But as a believer and follower of Christ I am called to something deeper.  I am promised more than what has fulfilled me in the past.  I am finding that I am no longer satisfied with the cheap imitation, now that I have experienced the truth.  He has written me a book of love letters, and I have practiced writing his name on my heart.  I have chosen to be a lover of Jesus and that takes work, sacrifice, and respect.

He gave his life for me, and I want to lay mine down for him.   That means I sometimes have to make choices that keep me from fitting in with the crowd.  I have to make decisions that deny my desires to be affirmed and loved and accepted.  But I am learning again and again that his love is worth it.  He has been faithful to remind me that I am chosen by him and I am a treasure worth fighting for.

I never regretted the day I cleaned out the shoe box.  I never looked back at that moment and thought that I should have kept a few just in case things didn't work out.  Once I said I don't need them anymore, I was free to say I do to the guy I met at Friendly's.  And after 15 years of marriage, I can honestly say that I would do it all over again.


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