Ghosts of Boyfriends Past

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Recently I went to my last apartment to pick up a few lingering bits and bobs. I came across an old and faded box labeled ‘Important School Stuff.’ After lugging said box home and opening it, I stumbled not only upon long-forgotten college papers, but also a photographic trail of the loves I’d had from the past decade.

This was very strange for me – to see the photos I’d carefully selected and taken the time to upload to a website, order prints, pick up from a store, purchase a frame, and assemble so that I could have a physical reminder of the relationship I was in. It was especially weird as I had just written and mailed a forgiveness letter to my ex-fiancé not 2 weeks ago. I tend to remember the worst parts of my relationships – the fights, the annoyances, the endings – and writing my forgiveness letter made me realize just how much I’ve focused on the negative over the past decade.

Although these ‘ghosts’ are all from the past, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the impact they’ve had on my present (and future) by being thankful for each one.

Ross (2006).* Ross was my First Love. Ross and I dated when I was a senior in high school, and we got engaged the summer after I graduated. For better or for worse, this relationship has had the biggest and most lasting impact on my dating life. I’m thankful for my relationship with Ross because it was exhilarating. The drives in his fast car. The pride I felt when we held hands knowing (at the time) that he was ‘mine.’ The goofiness we had (because we were basically kids). The vulnerability. The promise of love everlasting, even though we were only 18 and 19. I’m thankful that I got to experience both the very good and the very bad with him.

Joey (2011).* I’m thankful to Joey for opening my eyes to new cultures. Joey grew up in another country and had a very different view of the world than I did. Joey was smart. He had big ideas and big plans for the changes he wanted to make in how students learned soft skills and critical thinking. I’m thankful for Joey living in Boston and giving me a reason to come back to visit time and again. This gave me the chance to fall in love with the city so much that even when we broke up, I still wanted to take the risk of leaving behind life as I’d known it in North Carolina and move to New England. I’m thankful for his help in landing my first job in Boston, which gave me the financial ability to make the move. My life is so full and I love this city!

Chandler (2015).* Chandler gave me a peek into what Godly dating can look like, and for that I am thankful. While our relationship’s ending was like the punch-line-opening-scene of a romantic comedy (he broke up with me at my best friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve 40 minutes before midnight), I think that of all my relationships, we had the healthiest boundaries and most God-centered relationship, and for these things I am grateful.

I’m not sure why the turning of a year brings so much hope and promise. January 1st of one year is no more sacred or meaningful than December 31st of the previous. But as the craziness that was 2016 comes to a close and the light of 2017 shines through the darkness, I’m thankful for having the opportunity to reflect on the romantic relationships that have taught me so much. None of these relationships were perfect – all of them had many bad and un-Godly elements. I know that while none of these men were God’s best for me, I was certainly not God’s best for them. Even with the tears cried and the heartbreak endured, I’m still thankful for each of these men and the lessons I was able to learn from them and the time we spent together. I pray that they feel the same.

I have hope that the wisdom I’ve gained and the lessons I’ve learned will help me be a better partner for the next man I date (and -hopefully- eventually the man I marry). Above all, while I may not always understand it, I’m thankful for the plan that God has had for my past, the plan He has ordained for me now, and the plan He is orchestrating for my future.

*names have been changed

An Open Letter

An Open Letter About My Ugly Heart.

I snapped today. I snapped last week, too. And days before that. I feel like I’ve been constantly at the end of my rope for the past year.

I always go ‘balls to the wall’ until I can’t anymore. And then I snap, I withdraw, I take ‘me time’ and veg out and do nothing for a day or a weekend.

Right now I’m struggling really, really hard with singleness. For the past decade of my life I’ve been mostly single. I’ve dated a few people, but nothing panned out, which I know is for the best. “God’s Plan.” I’ve just finished listening to a sermon series on Godly relationships – Godly dating, Godly marriage, and Godly singleness. My biggest takeaway on Godly singleness was that singleness is a gift and God gives it to us to use as a time to serve His ultimate purpose – going and making disciples. The last podcast I listened to talked about how much single people can bless others around them. How much they can be great employees and awesome aunts/uncles and whatnot. Easy for you to say, Mr. Preacher Man. You’ve been married for 12 years and have 3 kids. You haven’t had to deal with singleness since you were 19. You don’t know what it’s like to be on the edge of 30, with no promise or hope that anything will change, knowing that your life could ultimately be spent constantly serving others.

I know what you’re going to say, Married People: Marriage is hard. Marriage is nothing but dying to self and serving someone else every. single. day. Em, you obviously don’t ‘get’ marriage. Oh I know…as much as a never-married woman of almost 30 could know. But at least in marriage – a Godly marriage – that dying to self is done for someone who has pledged in covenant to do the same thing for you. There’s a comfort in knowing that in dying to yourself and serving others, you have a partner who has promised to love and cherish you til death do you part.

How do I reconcile seeing singleness as a gift and an opportunity to serve others with no promise of ever being thanked, valued, or (sometimes) served in return? I know, I know, but Em, you’re missing the point! You can’t have a servant’s heart and expect to get something in return! Exactly. EXACTLY. How do I live the next year, five years, 10 years, rest of my life seeing singleness as this awesome gift of serving God and his people without getting frustrated and burnt out? How do I keep giving of myself knowing full well I have no right to expect any sort of love or thanks or reciprocity in return?

I’ve been a Christian for awhile. Several years. I know the ‘answer.’ I know that God is the only One who can love me, value me, and desire me in the way my soul craves. But, if I’m being honest, right now He just isn’t good enough. He’s just not cutting it. I don’t trust Him. I don’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He’s a Good Father and wants good things for me. I don’t know that He loves me.

So what do I do? How do I seek out and press into the one thing I want nothing to do with at this moment? How do I stop wallowing in self-pity? How do I die to myself and not hold grudges against those who owe me nothing? How do I get to a place where I’m right with God?

I don’t have an inspirational answer to wrap all this up in a neat bow. I don’t know the answer. I mean, I “know” in the sense that I’ve been going to church my whole life and recite the answer I’m supposed to say in response to all of this frustration. But I don’t know. And that, dear friends, is the most open and honest this ugly heart has been in a good long while.