This is Not the Man I Fell in Love With

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Fairy Tale Beginning

Today feels strangely significant.  A silent “anniversary” of sorts.
I was 19 years old.
And I met him 19 years ago today.
Today signifies knowing him longer than I havent known him.
Today I have spent more of my life with him than apart from him.
Today Im struck by the fact that, this is not the man I fell in love with….

The guy I met the first day of bible college, strode up to me with unabashed confidence and and a firm handshake and an engaging, extroverted personality.  He was tall, handsome, charming, and for heaven sake, we met in a castle in England!  I found myself caught off guard by how quickly my strong resolves began to unravel and my heart began to flutter.    The day after our meeting in the entry way of the massive college hall, we bumped into each other again and he asked me if I wanted to go on a walk during the afternoon break from studies.

I agreed.

The first weeks of our friendship still carry vivid memories nearly two decades later.  That one mile loop became a path that we frequented.  Trudging through cold English countryside pastures, sidestepping puddles and sheep manure, scaling rock fences and summiting the hill to watch the afternoon thunderclouds roll in.  Our friendship began to grow and bud in the dead of the bitterly cold British winter.  Time wasn’t wasted on superficial conversations of casual friendship.  Neither of us were interested in recreational dating.  We dove into the deep end of discussions on families of origin…life calling and a shared passion for missions in our futures….theology….faith….and Greek!
(yes, Im embarrassed to say he talked me into being a study partner in an optional Greek class, in which I had no interest other than time with him).

He pursued me.
He listened intently.
He asked intentional questions and gave me space to respond.
He was a safe place.
I felt cherished.
The center of his world.

And then our year at bible college ended.  A beautiful year that cloistered us away in a fairy tale alter-universe protecting from a reality that we collided into shortly thereafter.


The Plot Thickens

The stage was set for Act II of our relationship to look very different than the dreamy happily-ever-after I imagined when our story began in a castle.

Constant unsettling moves.  A husband who traveled 50-70% of the time for work.  Isolation at home with small children in an unfamiliar country.  Culture shock living in cold Eastern Europe.  Baggage we’d both brought into marriage.  Loneliness.
Demands on our time left us little space to cultivate our relationship and we discovered, the language barrier wasn’t only with the foreigners.  Our conversations were often soured by expectations, complaints and ungraciousness.   Our commitment was steadfast, but we were both just surviving.
Striving, but not thriving.

I woke up one day and discovered this wasn’t what I signed up for when I married him.
I no longer felt cherished and adored, and I was certain I was a chronic disappointment to him too.  My heart felt it had been exposed and discarded and my immature perception fueled a sense of betrayal.  I convinced myself he’d done it intentionally.  Lured me in with the charm and charisma, only to be cast aside as he pursued the next “damsel in distress”….work that required all his time and emotional energy and focus.

So I retreated.  Bitterly.

This is not the man I fell in love with.

Id be surprised if this realization isn’t a common one in any marriage that has withstood the onslaught of time, trials or transitions.
But the true tragedy is that I began to buy the lie that it would always be this way.  That we’d just follow the pattern of other marriages we’d watched simultaneously working, raising kids and getting by, with no spark or shared passion.

A dear older couple came to visit us overseas about 5 years into marriage and took us out to dinner.  They began asking hard questions.  How was our marriage?  How were we managing overseas with small children?
I poured out my unmet expectations and crippling fear of failure as a wife.  Then bit my lip and mustered up a profound resolve that I needed to toughen up and stop being such a hopeless romantic and get it together!
Grow up.
Shape up.
Suck it up!
Our friend looked at me across the table and corrected me, “Dont ever stop dreaming.  When you stop dreaming, the marriage starts to die“.

The words stuck with me. Gritting your teeth and sticking it out in marriage sounds noble, but apathy in relational growth is an infection.  An infection that untreated, will poison a marriage.  C and I both wanted a vibrant marriage, but life was getting in the way….. good things…ministry, family, work….but poor substitutes for the oneness we knew was Gods design for marriage.  We renewed a resolve that we would not become another marriage like that.
That we would not settle.
That we would fight for it and keep dreaming!

Pursuing Happily Ever After

Change didn’t take place overnight.
There were no quick fixes.
Resorting to old patterns came naturally and for years it felt like two steps forward, one step back.  But we began a long journey of re-learning how to put the marriage first.  How to communicate openly and how to listen again.  We began to dream together about what Gods design was in putting two people together who were so vastly different.  We purposed to understand each other instead of correct each other.  We started to ask God to change us instead of begging Him to change the other.  We haven’t “arrived”, but I can say today with great joy that that this is not the man I fell in love with.
The change has been transformational.
I love this guy even more than the man I started to fall for 19 years ago.

Today as I launch Glittering Grace Magazine, Im humbled by the man God has given as my life partner.  A man who has sought God.  Who has mellowed over the years and whom God has used to shape and refine me.  In the past months of preparing for the launch, he has been my biggest advocate, my champion, my encourager when Ive doubted, my technical troubleshooter, my rock.  Ive been absolutely awed by the sacrifices he’s made, meals he’s prepared, childcare he’s offered, time he’s gifted me and encouragement he’s bestowed in this endeavor.  My prayer is that this magazine will encourage other women who feel their marriage is lifeless.  If God can breathe life into dry bones, (Ezekiel 37:14) he can spark hope in stagnant marriages and redeem what has been lost!

I hope in another 19 years….or when we celebrate our 50th anniversary, that we will be different people still then.
That our love will continue to mature as we change, conform, submit, understand, compromise and grow in grace for one another.

This is not the man I fell in love with.
He’s even better!

Glittering Grace

Take a moment to visit Glittering Grace.  Ive just launched this new online Womens Subscription Magazine endeavoring to be a source of strength, encouragement, and extension of grace to women in the throes of marriage in parenting.  To celebrate women and inspire beauty for the home and heart!
This outreach to women additionally helps to support our family and ministry overseas.  Thank you for considering subscribing!

  • Judy Neff says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful one! These are life words for me and I am sure…he is not the one I married and I am not the one he married either…praying for some sort of new from that change that has resulted from our shared lives! Thank you for sharing this piece of your journey!

    Cheering you on! Love, Judy

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