Saturday, April 24, 2010

Love and timelines

When I was sixteen, I could have sworn I’d be married by twenty one. It’s the perfect age, my friends and I agreed. A mature age. But when I reached that perfect age and the very real possibility of marriage was staring me in the face, something in me freaked. I bolted, leaving the poor guy heartbroken and confused. I’m sure he’s thanked me quietly again and again, however, since he’s now happily married with two kids. Life has a way of working out for the good in the area of love, if we’re willing to wait and navigate the obstacle course. At least I tell myself that, since I’m still in the process of navigation.

I was really particular about the next two guys who came along. And they came along with years separating their season in my life. Very driven, ambitious, intelligent and disciplined guys. I admired them, but it took them awhile to win my heart. I know this will sound arrogant, but I convinced myself it was in my best interest to be with someone like myself, so after some time, I fancied myself in love with them. Perhaps I was mostly in love with myself. It’s possible they, too, were in love with themselves because they both ended up choosing themselves over me. Each guy broke my heart, my first bitter tastes of heartbeak. I grew a lot from this. I learned a great deal about love and myself and the love of God. But I also grew disillusioned with love. I threw myself into my passions and pursuits in life, becoming more and more picky about the “type” of guy I needed and more and more convinced he didn’t actually exist.

Another several years went by, and time stopped, then started over. Experiencing the death of a loved one will do that, or so I’ve found. When my Papa died, it was like starting the calendar back at 1 AD, and time now proceeds from this new point of reference. That is how much his death rocked my world: turned it completely upside down, inside out, and then blew it up for good measure, starting over from square one. At this same time, a new love entered my life. He offered me strength and comfort, joy in the midst of grief, acceptance and companionship, and something to look forward to in the future. I fell deeply in love with him as he walked with me through the darkest time of my life. Strangely, he was nothing like the other guys I’d fallen for. He was almost nothing like me, except we shared a similar goofiness and childlikeness to life. Unlike the others, he did not share my particular (and at the time, former) passions in life, though we shared a love for God. At first this was a major source of tension in me. But over time, I surrendered to the longing to love and be loved, and I laid those passions to rest, beside my Papa. I was a new person, I assured him. He needn’t be intimidated by the kind of life I used to want to live and how he didn’t fit into that life. I would be happy enough in the suburbs with a nice house and a nice car and several kids and a couple of dogs. I would be happy with a nice marriage and a nice ministry together at church. As long as we could travel, just a little. And as long as I wasn’t bound to the house forever in the role of wife and mom, but was free to pursue whatever God laid on my heart. And so, over time, we came to a sort of agreement that we could see ourselves doing life together. I was utterly convinced this is what I wanted; after all, I really loved this guy.

In the year 2 AD, however, things began to quake underneath the surface of our relationship. I can’t speak for what was beneath his heart, only mine. I couldn’t see it at the time, all I could see is that something else I loved - someone else - was about to erupt and possibly die, and I was scared of the potential loss. I thought I was happy, that this eruption came out of the blue and threatened the life of love I had found. I hated this eruption for happening. What I couldn’t see is that the things I thought I’d laid to rest back in 1 AD when Papa died, well, they were beginning to fight back. Quietly at first, but then with a dogged persistence. Apparently they didn’t think it was their time to die. Apparently, I still wanted more in life than I thought.

It’s taken me several months to convince my heart that this eruption, this loss, is a good thing. When you love someone, really love them for them, whether or not it’s the “best” fit for you, it can be a long, painful process of evicting that love from your heart. There is no switch for turning love on and off, not real love. But over time, I’ve found that as the romantic love has left the building, there’s been room in my heart for a different kind of love. I still care for this man, but the love has changed. My heart used to resist this, but now it breathes a sigh of relief. It’s free, and that feels nice. Real nice.

In the wake of this eruption, as the dust settles, I’ve been able to see a few things more clearly, too. I can see that I was willing to exchange parts of me that seemed inconvenient to love - the Unknowns of life that I embraced, the adventurous, artistic, not-fitting-the-mold types of things - for the comfort and security of the Known. I began to believe that this exchange was necessary, that I had to choose between the comfort of love and the fulfillment of a life lived in the ways God designed me to express it. It’s pretty sobering now to look back and see how fatal a mistake that could have been. Fatal, that is, to my heart; and therefore, fatal to the relationship. God was doing us both a favor, I just needed the dust to settle before my eyes adjusted to the change. In the meantime, I’ve learned an awful lot about the unfailing love of Jesus, of my identity as His beloved. You could say I’ve fallen so much more in love with Him since this big messy eruption, and I wouldn’t trade the mess for anything in the world. I don’t know what that means for the future, if I’ll have a love to do life with or not. But I’m learning, day by day, to embrace life and to live it where I’m at. To tread lightly in each day, hold delicately the moments, give fully of myself, and love deeply the ones who are in my life now.

Yeah, I look back and the twenty-one marker hangs back far in the distance. And it’s a strange sensation, being this far in life, how quickly it’s passed and how vastly different it is from how I pictured it to be years ago. I think of how much I’ve experienced, how much I’ve grown into my own skin as a person, as a woman. And I’m thankful, deeply thankful, that I’m not alone in navigating this obstacle course of life. My heart is grateful to have had this time, up to this point, to know Jesus more deeply each year, and in that reflection of Him, to know myself. I am better for it.

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