Marriage

Choosing love (when you’re falling in love)

img_5220Seven years ago I sat in a coffee shop, looking across the table at a handsome man named Eddie. He was not quite a stranger to me, due to weeks of long phone conversations and shared group activities—but he was a huge risk. And I was scared.

Please don’t hurt me, my tender heart silently cried.

But from what I knew of him already, I couldn’t help but get excited when Eddie stated his intentions that night. He wanted to pursue a serious, marriage-minded relationship with me.

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By the time you’re 33 and still unmarried, you’ve mourned the death of a thousand dreams and you have just as many reasons why you should never risk your heart with another man again, why you should run when you see weakness in him, why dating can feel like a prelude to devastation.

So while I was completely enamored with Eddie and couldn’t wait to spend every possible minute with him, I was also ready to bolt at any given moment.

Surely God would say “no” to this one too, right?

Well, I’d be ready. With my running shoes on.

I begged God to let me get it right this time. I wanted a “yes” or “no”—sooner rather than later. I’d already risked my heart with several great guys before. Each time it had seemed so promising, so right. What made this scenario any different? Was I just setting myself up for another heartbreak?

I had a shelf full of waiting-and-dating books but deep down I knew there was no course of action that would guarantee a safe and blissful trip to the altar. God was not asking me to get it all right—He was asking me for my heart. He wanted me to cling to Him and hold my relationship with Eddie in open, surrendered hands.

And that’s as hard as it sounds.

So I asked Him to teach me. Show me how to love and be loved in the midst of my fears, Lord. I had to close my eyes to the “what-ifs” and worst-case scenarios that played like a film festival in my heart—and instead look long at Him, staying in His Word and pouring out my heart to Him in prayer.

But I was a slow, awkward learner.

I remember calling one of my best friends in a frenzy over another “red flag” I saw in my relationship with Eddie. (I’d put those running shoes on again.) She listened patiently and then said in her characteristically truth-telling way, “You keep looking for red flags in this guy, but you’re the mess.”

And she was right. I was. I was a bundle of nerves and misgivings, and I needed a big God to walk me through heart-rending places. In those months I learned a new way to apply Elisabeth Elliot’s advice to “do the next thing.” I would enjoy the next date and leave the next year—with all its uncertainties and unknowns—in God’s strong hands.

img_5221Growing to love and trust Eddie was, in a strange sense, a beautiful discipline. I was facing some of my long-standing fears, opening up my heart in the very places it was most tender, and learning it was okay to enjoy what God was giving me.

Have you ever been terrified of a good gift God is giving you?

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We girls tend to think of falling in love with “the one” as something that will be obvious and chick-flick-worthy. But for me it was a season of tenacious trust. Right alongside the butterflies in my stomach and the new sparkle in my eyes was a sobering awareness that only God Himself could give me the grace to love past my fears, to love without knowing what tomorrow looked like.

And only He could get me ready for a covenant love—a love so supernatural that two sinners with a ton of baggage, living in an anti-marriage culture, could commit their lives to each other “till death do us part.”

In the end, I chose to love more than I fell in love. And that ushered me into a beautiful marriage where we continue to choose to keep loving each other every day, in our best and our worst. We’re only six years into this lifelong covenant, but I have a hunch we’ll be choosing love to our very last day.