It’s been almost a year since I began asking myself the questions, “What does it means to ‘love well’?”. How does one do it?
If I'm being honest with you, I thought that if I asked enough questions, read the right books, traveled to beautiful places, found the truest relationships...that somehow, I would just naturally love better, deeper...easier.
So, I began my own personal investigation on this topic. I asked a LOT of questions, read books, and studied relationship. I prioritized the healthy from the harmful. I ended the hurtful and invested in the good.
I committed a month of my life to doing things that scared me. I packed a suitcase and traveled around spending time with people, to have meaningful conversations face to face.
Other than photography, I can't think of anything in my life that I committed as much learning energy to as I have on this topic. No, no, wait...horses. When I was little. Oooooh wait, I'd also have to include Christian Bale in Newsies and perfecting the orange juice pour like Michael J. Fox in “Family Ties”.
But I digress…
At the end of this year of investigating, do you know what I learned about "loving well”?
It’s that I’m really bad at it. I fail 1,000 times more than I’d ever imagined…and I could imagine my failure quite a lot. I had it in my mind that at the end of this year, I could check “learned to love well” off my life’s to-do list…yep...I’m laughing too.
Do you know what “loving well” isn’t?!
Natural or Easy.
At least for me…it’s hard…I mean reeeeeaaaally hard at times. Embarrassingly difficult. Learning to love well is completely different from the picture I’d hung in my mind.
Let me explain…
A few years ago, I was a student at the Illinois State University about to begin my final semester. I was so excited to be finishing and looking forward to the future as a young professional! Everything was lined up with my classes with the exception of being short 1 credit hour required for graduation.
I remember sitting in my advisor’s office scrolling through possible electives I could take. Women’s chorale…no. thanks. They make you audition and I’m not about to sing a solo. Bowling…yeah right. Photography…I don’t have a camera.Running…hmm…running…I HAVE always wanted to be a runner. Sure! Why not?
…and running it was.
I honestly thought the hardest thing about the class would be signing up for it. I went and bought an orange pair of running shoes…you know, the “that girl knows what’s up” kind of running shoes. The ones so bright, you can’t miss me…perfect. ‘Cause I was now a runner, my syllabus said so.
I can still hear the echo of the basketball bouncing and the sound of the player’s shoes squeaking as I walked into the gym…textbook in hand. I’d tried to walk through a couple shallow puddles on my way in, I wouldn’t want people thinking this was the first time I’d worn these shoes. I wanted them to think I was experienced at this after-all.
I walked to the center of the track where there were several students sitting. Some were looking at the schedule, one was lunging, while another was reaching for her toes. I began scoping out the class as I fake stretched…’cause let’s be honest, I didn’t really know how to stretch. As long as it hurt, I was stretching.
Hmmm…that guy is wearing an ISU football sweatshirt. He looks like he could be a player…yikes. And that girl looks like she actually knows how to stretch…why do I suddenly feel nervous? Oh wait, that girl that just walked in only has Keds on. Good. She’s got to be worse than me. I’m glad she’s in this class…maybe she’ll want to run with me. Okay, and what is up with the girl in the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie-shorts with the big ol’ I-S-U letters on the rear end that dance up and down with every step she takes? I bet she’s not a runner either…I’m glad she’s in this class too.
It was about that time when the teacher walked up and dropped her clipboard to the ground. She was definitely a runner. No question about that. As we gathered in closer at her request she said, “I’m going to make it easy for you. You’ll have one final. That’s it. Other than that, your entire grade is based on attendance and participation. Each time you miss a class, you drop a letter grade. Just show up and run, and you’ll pass…no problem. Okay, let’s warm up with a mile.”
Wait, whaaaaaat?!?! We’re WARMING UP with a MILE?!?! I’m serious when I say that I thought running the mile would be our semester final.
Suddenly, I was sweating. I started looking around…where’s Keds? Okay, there she is. I was trying to formulate a plan of action as fast as my mind could move as I walked to the starting line…but panic and nerves were jumbling up my thoughts and all I could think of was, “Just finish this warm up.” Where’s Ms. ISU on the rear? Right behind me…good.
“On your mark”…wait, what mark?
“Get set”…pace yourself Tami. Slow and steady wins the race…or is it “finishes the race”…what does it do?
I hadn’t even thought about moving when I suddenly felt the shove of those around and behind me take off. It wasn’t 5 seconds when I saw the gap between my new orange shoes and the heels of the pack widen so quickly it made me dizzy. I was moving, but they were running…pretty soon, I wasn’t as worried that I was so far behind them as I was that I wasn’t that far in front of them. They lapped me 8 times…even Keds. Every time I saw Ms. ISU bounce past me, I was even more embarrassed…and disliked her shorts even more.
I was on lap 7 when class had already completed their mile, had split into groups, and were running sprints. My teacher stopped me and said I could join the group.
I was no runner.
This, my friends, was 3 days a week for my last semester of college. I couldn’t drop it…I had to graduate. All it took to pass was to show up and participate.
It was a long semester. I think I had a nervous stomach ache every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I blacked out twice after a run, stumbling into my teacher at the finish line. I’m sure I was SUCH a delight. Ha!! Poor lady. I was always the last…always. I found out that I was the only non-college athlete in that class. It didn’t matter, I was terrible compared to the average…but that just put the exclamation point on my inadequacies as a runner.
Somehow, I passed that class. Slowly…painfully…humiliatingly…but I passed because all that was required was showing up and participating.
Loving well, is so often like that, isn’t it? I thought that by reading the right book, asking the best question, or studying the right relationship, it’d result in me loving easily and naturally. But more often than not, it’s hard. I find myself trailing, at best, in the dust of others who seem to do it so well, who have it figured out. I want to be like that…but watching doesn’t equal participating.
This past year, I enrolled myself in this class of learning what it means to Love Well. At times, it’s felt slow, painful, and humiliating. But I’m convinced God just wants me to show up…to participate. I think He doesn't mind if I'm not good at it...He just wants me to keep trying. I stumble and fall a lot...there are so many days when I don't think I can run that last lap. I feel like a failure...I messed up again. But it's not the mile that matters...it's the showing up. There's a better lesson than the new shoes or textbook has to offer. It's getting the nervous stomach ache and still showing up. It's knowing that I'm going to come in last every time, but still participating.
I'm so very far from mastering this class. There have been days, weeks, and months where I gave up...don't think I didn't. I did. I keep running in circles but I can't help but think God says to me each time I show up what my professor wrote on my final she handed back to me for that class...circled in red it said, "You kept showing up...and I'm proud of you."