The Expectations of Love and Getting Married

I’ll never really know what people expected of me, I think that’s where I have to start. Some probably thought I’d be the calculated type to spend years evaluating the ins and outs of a relationship, examining the nooks and crannies of every part. Sometimes I think that’s what I expected of myself—to logically pick apart every single piece until there was no question unanswered and no mystery unsolved.

But if I’m honest, I think I always knew that God would have another plan. Because I’ve always known that God is not a puzzle to be solved or love a code to be cracked. So when the right thing finally came, I knew the goal wasn’t to figure every equation out, solve the man in front of me and explain all the things inside of myself. 

As much as I wanted to reason and untangle my way through it, add it up, subtract it down, and understand all of the pieces of every single part of the reality of what it our relationship would mean—love is not a formula. When God gives it to us, it’s a gift, and having God forever in that process is the only successful factor to it. 

I knew quickly Matthew was who I wanted to marry, it was that simple.

Not because it sounded easy, or just plain fun, but because he looks at me and loves me how Jesus has my entire life—selflessly and with grace. And I want to do the same for him.

It didn’t mean that I wasn’t terrified, didn’t have questions, wasn’t asking God for direction. Because I felt and did all of those things, but Jesus being the source of love is what changes everything.

There are a million other factors that will enter into the equation, but none of them will cancel out reality, none of them will equal to or overpower the truth that Jesus came first, comes first, and will come first. It made all the difference, makes all the difference, changes all of the questions and answers. No matter the timeline, past, future, present, or expectation of things—that changes everything.

That’s the thing I would’ve told myself years ago, prepared myself with before I got to this stage. That you can’t examine and talk yourself into anything and you can’t set different expectations up because Jesus changes everything. When God shows up with the love He wants to give, just open your hands and receive it, go with it and whisper prayers of gratitude because it’s better than all the years you spent trying to grab onto your own other things.

All the years I spent trying to examine, understand, solve equations, make sure that person loved me, pray for clarity, make sure something was right, when the truth has always been: when God shows up, your own expectations and plans seem like sand castles because you’re finally standing inside of the real thing. 

The real thing…how did I begin to unravel that mystery? I guess the truth is, it didn’t take much unwinding. Because when love shows up, it doesn’t hide. It makes itself known and it isn’t hard to see. Love has never been a shy thing, never been one to bury itself and not resurrect quickly. The big questions it answers boldly. The ones that it has to take its time on, love is committed to the process, it doesn’t bail, doesn’t take off running. That was all I needed to see. Love like that sat front of me, inside of a man wearing a blue button down shirt, offering me truth and a cup of coffee, and I didn’t have to question the big things. That’s the real thing–thats why I could let go of people’s expectations, my own expectations, and lay down the formulas, equations, and how to make love be everything people, movies and songs told us it should be.

I’ve never really know what people expected of me, never fully known what I’ve expected of myself when it came to finally finding the real thing. But what God knew was coming was joy, forgetting the equations, open hands, prayers of gratitude—and someone so much better than I was ever expecting.

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All The King’s Horses and Men: Lessons In Grief

I learned strength from a woman whose falls from grief would have made Humpty Dumpty himself marvel that she ever got back up. Born into a family of blue eyes, I got mine from the hazel-eyed woman who was put back together again and again. My grandmother sang me this nursery rhyme in the same red room where she taught me to pray. She knew what it meant to be broken and rebuilt, but she would never once tell you that she was put back together exactly the same. All the King’s horses, all the King’s men, try as they might, they were not the King. They didn’t make her and she became well aware they couldn’t save her. She wove this into me when we road tripped through the mountains or picked cotton on the sides of the South Carolina highway. I heard it in her drawn-out sighs when she laid flowers on the graves of her sons and cleaned the picture frame of her father in a casket, the one she lost at six years old. 

She used to wake up in the middle of the night and piggyback me into the kitchen for peanut butter and crackers. She never met a secret she couldn’t keep for me and sometimes I carry them now with a wish that she could be here to help bear them again. But I hear her in the syllables of “all the King’s horses, all the King’s men”. She would tell me now that she was just the King’s woman. That even she couldn’t put me back together again.

She died when I was just twelve years old, but by then she’d somehow taught me more than most I’ll ever know.

She raised me up to show up, even when the breath leaves your lungs and your heart threatens to never beat again, you still get up.

I watched her do it. She re-learned the melody of laughter and the joy of children, though she’d once lost both. When we buried her, I became determined to never let grief be her legacy to me, because it had not been her life. But it could have been, might have been, if she’d chosen to stay at the bottom of the wall the pain had thrown her from time and time again. 

What life might have been if she had given up when all the King’s horses and all the King’s men had shown up only to shake their heads and walk away with bloody and empty hands. But instead, I learned from the strength of a woman who used to wrap me up in her soft white sheet, carry me to the breakfast table, serve me something to eat, and read her Bible next to me. Seventy-one years broken and rebuilt: the loss of a father, sons, sisters, brothers and she laughed more than us all. Yet somehow, I’m still learning how to stand, how to breathe, and I’ve lost much less. But now grief is now held in these similar green eyes, having often depended on the King’s horses and the King’s men. Wishing she could tell me what and how long it takes to be put together by this King again.

I still eat peanut butter crackers in the late hours of the night and audibly count the hours if I hear the chime of the Grandfather clock. I love a road trip, repeating a good song, dancing in the shower. I slowly learn that these are the things the King uses to mend again. The life He gives when you let Him come in instead of pushing Him away when war, pain, grief, tell you He left you broken and never to be fixed, never as okay as when it all began.

Grief is something you may have to carry, but it doesn’t have to be your legacy. The King’s horses and the King’s men cannot fix you or save you. And this too, no matter what it is or how broken, can also be redeemed.

To: My Future Daughter // A Letter on Love Stories.

Love is not finite.

I imagine you’ve heard me say those words about a million times by now. I’ve prayed you would be knit together with that truth. I’ve determined, here and now, before you’re ever born to say those words to you often and with the strongest conviction. Because there was a time in my life when I did not know them to be true.

I’m sure you know the story. I am confident you know all about the woman who changed everything when she looked at me with wide eyes and said those four little words that cracked open my chest and caused everything to finally come spilling out.

Because I had been holding it all in. I was convinced that I had just one good love story in me and I had to save it all up for then. I thought I had to save up all my best words and fight for that day.

You’re going to have a lot of good love stories.

If life allows, I truly and sincerely hope that you only ever have one person that you marry and spend a big chunk of your life with. But before that story, before you find the story that tops all other stories, you’re going to have a lot of other really good stories. I say that carefully, but also knowing that you’re wise. I know you’re not just picking up crazies off the street. Still, they probably won’t ever go the way you planned, and if you’re anything like me, you will have some wild tales to tell.

Love is not a finite thing. Something about this freed me from the years I spent in silence so terrified that I was going to get “the” story wrong. That I was going to waste my best words and my best try on someone who didn’t deserve it.

Believe me when I tell you that I have wasted a lot of good words, good days, good tries on plenty of people who did not deserve it. Granted, I did not know this at the time, but there’s something about leaving it all on the floor and “going big” that reveals the heart of the person standing across from you in a way that I will never be able to fully express. Only experience can give you this gold.

When you give someone your heart, the way they handle it tells you everything you didn’t know but would have needed to know if it was ever going to fully be theirs. I’ve learned this the hard and best way, by being the person who speaks her mind and heart without hesitation. Because love is not a finite thing, and thankfully, we get more than one love story.

There was the manipulator, the serial dater, the sweet barista, the Chinese buffet guy, the I-am-not-called-to-ministry guy, the peanut guy, the narcissist, the sweater guy, the guy with the dog, and probably others I’m forgetting. Please know I did not do incredibly crazy things for all of these people. But some of them, and I regret none of them. Because when I finally showed up to say the things I needed to say, I ended up with a good story of what it means to let someone hold the truth of what my heart needed to say. And I walked away with one truth that never left me: love is not a finite thing. I’ve got more than one love story. That’s not to say that we fall in love with all these people the same way, but we love them, care for them, go big for them in some beautiful kind of way. 

I want you to go big. 

I want you to love people exactly as you do. Love them hard, selflessly, wildly. Be both rowdy and embarrassingly bold when the moment calls for it. I want you to say the things you need to say. If you need to chase someone through an airport, I’ll drive you there. If you need to jump on that plane, I’m not paying for it, but I’ll cheer you on from the drop-off lane.

The point is, I want you to learn how to give your heart away. Because you can get it back. You will get it back. Love is not a finite thing.

I wish I’d learned this sooner because I spent so long thinking that handing people my heart was some kind of weakness that would someday leave me empty. I held it back from some really good people. I never want that for you. Because the truth is, even if you hand it to people who crush it, you’re a smart girl and you will know and learn how to walk away. You will take it to the One who heals and makes broken things mended and right again.

Love is not a finite thing. Love is not a lost and never to be found again thing. It’s not a once it’s broken, it can never be fixed again thing. It’s a “go big”, get broken, get down on your knees, get up again kind of thing.

My words, my fight, my days are better now than they were before. The best I have to give hasn’t even shown up yet. I’ve got more love inside these bones than I did when that woman and that truth showed up and shook me and broke me. Love is not a finite thing and the more I’ve given it, the more I’ve found it knocking on my door.

There’s no doubt you know a lot of my stories, that you hear me in the kitchen often telling one of my crazy tales. I hope you someday come to me with some of your own. That you learn what it is to stand with shaky knees and say things people think only a character on screen would say. That you show up on a doorstep with a folded letter and don’t run away. I hope you take all the chances you want or need. That you know you won’t run out of love, even when you get it wrong, even when they’re not who you thought they’d turn out to be. 

Love is not a finite thing, you’ve got a lot of love stories you’re meant to live, a lot of good things you should say. How it all ends up, that part isn’t up to you, you’re only responsible for how you carry the love you have today.

The Miracle of Staying

I used to think miracles were only instantaneous, a supernatural phenomenon that God performed in a split second.

I believe in those kinds of miracles, but this morning as I drove home, I whispered prayers of gratitude for a different kind. I gave thanks for the miracles that come only with time, process, and things that seem perfectly ordinary.

I cried as the state lines of Virginia kissed North Carolina and the road led into my hometown. My heart aches because home now feels scattered across continents and states. The girl who grew up in a small town, who thought she’d never leave and never know another world, fell in love with a group of a people in a small house in Georgia and saw God do a miracle.

In the ordinary, everyday routine of life, He used a wild group of girls and some guys down the street to unfurl her fists and teach her how to hope and laugh again.

This weekend, my roommate who always packs the snacks, loves a spontaneous trip, taught me how to shout for joy, and is always up for splitting an ice cream cake got married.

As we all parted ways this morning, nothing in me wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to go back. I wanted my house with the swing back, our nights on the kitchen floor, our Sunday mornings in the living room.

I wanted Christmas parties and late night dancing in our pajamas. I wanted breakfast with the guys, locking each other in the pantry for laughs.

But something inside of me also knew that God made this moment for something else.

We can’t go back.

Because the miracle of what God did was strengthen our knees to help us stand in other places.

And God knows that I couldn’t stand anywhere else if not for that house of girls and the guys down the street. Through them, He gave me the miracle of learning how to stay, how to yell prayers on Saturday mornings. How to keep waking up in the same place and make strong coffee with people who also didn’t know why seasons of loneliness sometimes feel so long.

Someday, you might show up to grassy fields and flower covered gardens to celebrate the season’s change. And if so, you will find out that the one that was labeled “single” might have been the one when you met the people who taught you how to stand and how to stay. That it was actually the season that brought you people who would later celebrate you best, shout with you when God would bring you something new.

I think sometimes my favorite miracles are ones that look like God spitting in the dirt, over and over again, making mud to wipe on your eyes and asking “Can you see yet?”  (Mark 8, John 9).

I think some of my favorite miracles are the ones that take years, miles, pain, and ordinary things to usher in the sacred and Holy moment where I finally open my eyes and say “I see it! It took some time, but I finally see!”

These things and people taught me how to stay, how to plant, how to enjoy and savor coffee in the kitchen. It was there I learned that lingering at the breakfast table teaches you to love in a way that few other things can. They taught me how to cry, how to laugh, how to dance (how to laugh at your own bad dancing). They taught me miracles are big and small, they’re instantaneous and also process. They taught me that it’s worth giving up the sleep to show up, to cry on the porch together, to say prayers around the coffee table late again because it’s going to matter. God knows, this weekend we saw how much it mattered.

Here’s to all the coffee table prayers we prayed, and the years I didn’t know were being made into miracles. To the miles driven and flown, the phone calls we still make. To the truth that God loves the process, uses mud, is okay with trying things out a few times. To weddings and dancing, for shouting and coffee. To breakfast and ice cream on the kitchen floor.

Here’s to the miracle of a house on a little street in Georgia and a God who whispered our names and invited us in.

To the reality that miracles don’t have to always look the way we hoped, expected, begged. Sometimes you just have to keep showing up and the miracle is in that. Here’s to seeing that the miracle is in finding people who learn how to choose to stay, and in the miracle of learning the same.