Quick Disclaimer: You may have noticed that specific stories of relationships are largely ignored on my blog. I have lots and lots of stories of mistakes, lessons learned the hard way and broken hearts- and they’re stories I love to share over coffee, allowing my past to hopefully encourage the present of others.
However- for the sake of these gentleman and for the sake of maintaining some semblance of privacy- I have decided to generally avoid this topic. Hopefully one day I can share all of these stories with you. However- I will reference them vaguely, so you can do your own detective work. And sometimes- just sometimes- I’ll share specific stories.
… This is one of those times.
Click here for part 1.
A year before I left for the World Race, I met a boy.
He was blonde and a surfer and lived in Southern California- oh- and He loved Jesus. I thought I had won the lottery.
We began dating immediately- traveling back and forth to see each other- going on extravagant dates that always somehow ended up at the beach.
Every time I’d arrive at an airport, he’d show up wearing some sort of ridiculous costume. The first time it was a Lakers jersey (gross), the last time, a full Viking outfit- complete with a wig and a beard.
Our relationship was prayerful and romantic and we both walked into it a bit like Bambi, testing our brand new legs and what it looks like to love someone like Jesus does.
But from our very first date, our relationship was growing in the shadow of a really big mountain.
I was leaving the country in 11 months.
Our relationship had a built-in expiration date that we could not avoid. Believe me, we tried.
11 months, 16 plane rides and countless hours on Skype later- the day finally came.
We drove to the airport in silence- tears streaming down our faces. I wanted to turn around, I wanted to forget the whole thing, but some invisible force kept us going- driving towards the moment when we were going to say our worst ‘goodbye’ yet.
When we arrived, he kissed me on my forehead and that was it.
I cried for days.
We waited until I had landed in Romania to officially end our relationship- deciding that we really wanted to hand the year- and each other- over to God, praying over and over again “your will be done”- but hoping that His will included each other.
I prayed for him constantly- every day begging God to let me have him back- to let him be there at the airport when I got home. My feelings hadn’t changed at all. I was set- I was sold- I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t shy about keeping God informed.
But that was only my side of the story.
Somehow, in our last few conversations and the months that followed, our communication and understanding completely fell apart.
Somehow- while I was sitting on African buses, dreaming about the moment when I’d get to see him again, he was at home, nursing a very broken heart, having thought that I was done with the relationship and had moved on.
And I had no idea.
At the end of the year- after months and months of being on completely different pages- we finally exchanged a few excruciating emails. Too much has happened, he told me, there has been too much hurt, too much distance.
He had moved on.
I got home and in the bustle of reunions, best friends and warm showers, had almost convinced myself that I had moved on- when my phone rang.
It was him.
My eyes were wide as I listened to him tell me that he knew this wasn’t over- as he asked for another chance to pursue me.
And two weeks later, I was driving to the airport to pick him up.
It was every bit the reunion I had imagined so many times on those bus rides. It was perfect and romantic and full of understanding and apologies- I’m convinced that part of it was even in slow motion. I was living the perfect story I’d written in my head so many times.
And for about a week, we were in it- fighting hard against the long-distance and for each other.
And then the bottom dropped out.
We fought for a week straight until we finally admitted that as much as we cared for each other, our lives were heading in completely different directions. No matter how much we wanted it- we knew that this was a battle that we weren’t going to win.
And that was it- for real this time.
I was hurt, absolutely, but mostly I was angry. Not at him, but at God.
This just wasn’t the way that the story was supposed to end. This was not at all the story that God and I had written for the last year- this was not at all what I had prayed for.
I felt tricked and betrayed- like God had taken my most heartfelt prayers and laughed at them as He tore them up and tossed them aside, discarded like pieces of junk mail.
I wondered if I had done something wrong- if I hadn’t listened closely enough, if I had been disobedient in some way. I figured that there must be a reason that He so carelessly ignored the deepest prayers I’d ever sent His way.
And without realizing it, I became angry and distrusting- unconsciously deciding that there were certain things that I just wasn’t going to let God touch anymore- relationships topping that list.
The worst part about all of this is that it didn’t take long for that mistrust to multiply. It split and divided, becoming a cancerous monster that began to eat away at my heart.
Mistrust turned into distance, which morphed into doubt- and those three gnashed their teeth and clawed at me until my insides were dripping with the worst of them all- fear.
I was being eaten alive. I was afraid to take a step, I was afraid to stay still. I was afraid to bring anything to God, and afraid not to. I was afraid that I’d step off of His path, and I was afraid that He’d let me. I was doing everything I could to perform my way into His love- terrified that if I didn’t read my Bible long enough, or if I had one unkind thought, that this terrifying God was going to zap me again.
The woman that had become so tall and confident in her Daddy’s love over the last year was reduced to a pale, shaky version of herself- the kind that cowers in corners, afraid of her own shadow.
I had lost trust in the One Thing that made me tall and strong and able to walk so confidently.
But I wasn’t aware of any of this- at least not in a way that I could put words to.
And then I went to church that day.
I didn’t want to fast, and to be honest I didn’t think I needed to.
But I did- only because I felt like as a ‘professional missionary’ it was probably bad that there were spiritual disciplines that I’d ignored entirely.
And it was rough. I spent 36 hours in a place of dark, heavy mourning- stumbling around like a cranky zombie in a world that was devoid of color- and having absolutely no idea why.
And then something changed.
I sat there that Wednesday morning on my bed, indulging in my newly formed routine of complaining about all of the food that I was missing and how hungry I was… when something miraculous happened.
My brain got quiet and my hands began to type something that my whiny brain hadn’t had time to approve.
“God, I forgive you for taking him away.”
I froze, completely astounded at the depth of those words.
It was the deepest prayer I’d said in months- so deep that my brain didn’t even know that it needed to be prayed.
But there it was- in black and white on the screen- the key to unlocking everything I’d been wound in since that last, final goodbye.
I waited for a moment, letting the words sink in, and then my fingers began to fly.
Words and prayers and apologies and forgiveness began pouring from my heart onto the page- as I realized for the first time just how angry, just how locked up I’d been.
I realized, the color rising to my cheeks, that I’d been praying prayers like “God, your will be done” without actually fully meaning them.
I meant them- in some ways- but I never imagined that God’s will would be different from mine. I was open to Him answering my prayers, as long as His answers fit inside the story that I was writing for myself.
But on that Wednesday morning, for the first time in a long time, I began to remember what a loving Dad our God is.
He saw a relationship that was good- two of His kiddos giving it everything they had. He let us play and laugh and learn about each other, about ourselves and about Him and it was good. But at some point He stepped in- lovingly telling us that He just has something better in mind.
I was just so wrapped up in the ‘yes’ I had so carefully chosen- that I wasn’t open to any other answer- even if that answer was better.
I’m not out of the woods yet- I still find myself scared sometimes – afraid of a harsh ‘no’ of a form letter sliding across my desk. But it’s getting better.
More and more I’m able to see that God is a God of the extravagant ‘yes.’ He’s the God who writes the best stories and crafts the best endings.
He’s the God who works for our good in all things and who gives us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.
He’s a God who is just not satisfied with giving His kids less than miraculous endings- and so when we give Him the reigns, He’s going to say a loving ‘not yet’ until it’s time for His perfectly chosen ‘yes.’
Now- if this wasn’t enough- with the conclusion of my prayer that morning He gave a little laugh and said some pretty magical words:
“You can break the fast Steph.”
And He could have been talking to anybody, because I didn’t even wait for Him to finish my name.
I was off my bed in a flash and into the kitchen, nearly begging my roommate to take me out to Starbucks- where I ordered not one, but three food items- to the complete amazement of the guy behind the counter.
But I didn’t care- I smiled at him as a popped another bite of banana bread into my mouth- knowing that for the first time in a long time- I was really free.
I’d call that a success. Andi Anderson would be proud.