There’s only ever been one perfect love; only one that didn’t come out all lopsided, with smudges all over the edges.
Time races up behind me and I have no choice but to microwave the butter I forgot to take out ahead. I need it to cream, and ice-cold butter doesn’t cream. I unfold the thin paper and the butter thunks to the bottom of the blue glass bowl. That bowl is the exact shade of my favorite color of beach glass before the ocean rounds and glazes it. Must be…it would need to be that rich at first to end up so rare and elegant. I push the microwave closed and imagine myself leaning out over the bow of a ship, sprinkling shattered fragments into the deep, asking God to once again make a jewel out of something broken. Make a jewel out of me.
So, Mom, Mom it says this—it says, ‘You are the apple of my eye.’
The butter is a third melted into luscious, golden soup. Soup doesn’t cream either. These cookies will spread like puddles in the oven—I know that already—but there’s no time left even to chill the dough.
Riley smooths the paper against the counter with her hands, and I notice that the rumpled thing has a Hershey’s kiss affixed crookedly to the corner.
“Is that a candy-gram?” I ask her, sighing a little over the butter as I gently coax every drop into the mixing bowl with a silicone spatula.
“Yes, and Mom—it says, ‘You are the apple of my eye.'”
“Do you know what that means?” I ask because she often doesn’t know, but she’ll pretend that she does rather than ask. It’s a Bible phrase, actually, and a beautiful one. It describes God’s feelings about His people. “He shielded him and cared for him, he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” Sometimes I have to remember that’s who I am, that whoever touches [me] touches the apple of his eye, that this truth about me shatters a thousand criticisms. Sometimes I have to remember it’s who you are too, whenever I feel tempted to offer more negativity than grace.
“No,” she says it simply, still smoothing the edges, still touching the tip of that chocolate with her fingers. She doesn’t even understand it and yet she accepts that it’s love.
I add the sugar, the eggs, the vanilla to the buttery mess in my mixer, determined that I will yet have cookies to place carefully in my friend’s hands, something sweet to cover over the weary, the suddenly empty.
“It means that you’re special, like a treasure, or a favorite.”
“Oh—yes, I am special. I am his favorite.” She says it as though it’s a matter of course, in much the way that she so easily accepts that she’s beautiful and significant and loved. “Well of course I am,” she always says, breathing certainty the way we all should. Maybe to give and accept imperfect love we first have to understand that we are truly, perfectly Loved.
Well, of course I am.
I can’t help but smile, stirring bits of intense chocolate into the dough, which of course is a little too thin. I wanted to make a different cookie, one I know she really likes, but I didn’t have the right things in my pantry. I scoop sticky spoonfuls onto a baking sheet, wondering how much space to leave between them. These are going to spread, I keep thinking, clicking my tongue against my teeth. There’s just no help for it this time. They should at least taste good, but they’ll be lopsided and all-different shapes and sizes too, not the fine round ones my mother-in-love perfected. And yet, somehow in this case, that’s oddly appropriate. The very last time I made cookies, we friends made three double-batches of the same kind, and her butter was a little too soft. When her cookies spread, she turned that tiny mistake into an opportunity to make me feel like I had a special talent for baking. So, in a way, the thin cookies will only serve to celebrate her kindness, her grace.
“This one has M&M’s with it,” Riley says, and from where I stand, I can see that the note with it is just a red heart, colored in with purple crayon. And yet, there’s something beautiful about the way the wax strokes can’t be contained inside those marker lines, something excellent about the tiny bumps in the letters of her friend’s name. She sits at the bar gathering up all this imperfect love, all these awkward, run-on sentences—“Mom, this one says, ‘I like you at school and your funny jokes that make me laugh and you’re the best best….” She can’t read the last line at all, but she tilts her head and softly repeats a few of the phrases. Your funny jokes, she murmurs, not looking at me, and then lifts her gaze and giggles. “Mom, she says I make her laugh.”
My cookie spatula gets clogged with melted chocolate when I go to lift the cookies from the baking sheet. Since the cookies are a bit too thin, some of the chocolate turned into glue against the pan. The cookies crack before I can remove them, landing on the cooling rack in gooey halves. Will I even have any I can give her? Dismayed, I lift a melty cookie to Adam’s lips and he smiles, and it doesn’t matter at all that it’s a broken, misshapen thing. Instead, he seems just delighted that I realized he wanted a bite without making him ask for it. And then all the sudden I snatch up an echo of something another friend posted once not too long ago about kicking perfectionism to the curb. All this time, I’ve been watching my daughter gather up love with smudges and wrinkles and run-ons, and all I can think about is how I can’t quite manage to deliver my own love perfectly. But not once has Riley commented about the imperfections in her friends or their affection. Instead, she delights in what is, without even noticing what isn’t. And suddenly, I realize that my friend will feel exactly the same way about my crazy, crispy cookies. The chocolate on her tongue will still taste just like friendship. Fortunately for me, she’s actually always been the sort of person with affection for a little roughness about the edges.
And God, well. He loved me well before I even figured out that I needed Him. He loves me still, crooked and mistaken and not making sense, because His Love has never been a reward for doing things perfectly. I don’t live to earn His love, I Live because He loves by grace, because I—thin-spreading, over-gooey, sticky, messy me–am the apple of his eye, even though it makes no good sense that I should be.