I feel the need to begin with a disclaimer. Sometimes, I feel the need to write things out, the sentences keep carrying on in my head, and I can’t seem to quiet them until I get them outside my head in some way. It’s not that I necessarily believe them to be important or poignant. They’re just there, making noise and distracting me.
And sometimes those things are personal. And more often than not, they are buried inside a journal or draft that no one will ever see. But sometimes, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I don’t feel satisfied to leave them there. And I agonize then, a bit. But I have, occasionally, found comfort in the vulnerability of other people’s words. And I don’t know why we’re scared to share the hard things, especially the hard things that end up making room for really beautiful things.
So I’m sharing this with you. And here’s the disclaimer: it is not a perfect accounting. It isn’t particularly factual or carefully edited. It is by no means a complete retelling, and it’s definitely not a “look how hard my life is” thing. Because there are few things more boring and universal than a break-up. But they don’t feel boring or universal; they feel raw and deeply personal, in my experience.
After David and I got engaged, a friend of ours came up to me at church, and said, “I’m so happy you two got back together, what a sweet testimony.” And I’ve thought about that quite a bit, and I’m not sure I’ve worked out what that is, exactly.
But here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s emotional and biased, but it’s honest.
It started, really started on April 28th, 2011.
I know because I woke up the next morning at 5 a.m., and I drove to the tiny, silent room where I worked as a desk manager. And I watched a prince marry a princess, for $7.25 an hour.
That morning was a cold, stale numbness, as mornings often were. It was also the start of a long year, full of stories and reasons and questions and love and confusion and grace. And always, alongside, there were tears, hot and stinging and unbidden.
The night before, I’d given him his sweatshirt, the big white one I used to steal whenever I got the chance. And he sat on my bed. And I put my arms around his neck, and he wrapped his around my waist. I sobbed into the top of his head and he cried into my neck. And “I didn’t think it would end like this” and “Neither did I”. And both of our voices were breaking.
It was couple weeks later, on a warmish night in early May that we all went to the drive-in: our church, that boy, and me. And it got midnight dark as we gathered out in that field, in the backs of SUV’s and on folding chairs, watching a super hero movie that I might have liked another night. But he was there, and I was so aware of him. And I felt invisible. I lay in the bed of that truck and I prayed, prayed, prayed. And I willed myself to sleep to escape the fist that was tightening, hard, inside my chest. And I woke up to explosions and alien planets and nonsense. And the fist was closing my windpipe. And the great big sky wasn’t enough room. And I was holding my breath to stop the tears. And I had to get out, but I didn’t have a car. So I called one of my dear friends, who also happened to be that boy’s roommate. And I heard him pick up the keys before I’d even finished asking. And I wandered around, away, anywhere but back toward that boy I loved with everything, sitting in a folding chair, watching a movie, next to friends who were not me. He arrived, and I collapsed into his car, sobbing into my knees. And he drove me home like that. And he sat with me outside my house and held me with those guy arms that I needed like an anchor. And he told me “I love you, kid”.
And later, my boy was on his way to my house. He missed me and he loved me, and God knows I missed him. I knelt on my floor and cried to God, praying through my tears, asking for peace, for wisdom, for answers, for something solid that I could hold onto.
A month after that, I was visiting family in Austin. We’d been talking again, skyping late into the morning. And he texted me while Aunt Holly and I strolled around a summer farmer’s markets. He was sorry, he was sure this time, sure sure. And Holly and I sat in her warm garage and cried grateful tears while she shared stories about my parents and marriage and relationships and grace.
And six months later, a lifetime later, we were [almost] broken up again, and I sat on the bank of a canyon river, in the pitch black night. I gasped with tears that would not stop, pouring from a black emptiness I had never known, felt ill-equipped to fight. And I knew I was making things worse, but I was drowning, the currents holding me under, while the rain kept falling. And I screamed for help, choking my lungs. And the only one I wanted was nowhere. And I prayed. But the words were gone. There was nothing I could ask. God wouldn’t make that boy love me, and he wouldn’t give me an easy way out. But still I cried to him, under the stars, on the banks of that river. “God, please, God, help, God, it hurts so much, God, I don’t want to be here anymore, God, please, God, God, Abba”, my cries screaming to be heard over the deafening roar of the flood.
It was a year marked in sobbing cries and whispered tears. Sometimes I hated myself for those tears, for the lack of will that couldn’t shove them back. But I learned to welcome them, to be thankful for them. Because I couldn’t figure out happiness exactly. So those tears, that mourning, became my defense against the hardness, the bitterness. And I could feel it, an ugly knot settling itself on the right side of my chest, a counter-weight to my aching heart. It sat there, tightening in on itself, feeding on self-righteous anger. So I chose grief; I chose tears that soaked through the knot, loosened it just a little, just enough.
And all throughout that year, I cried in church and in chapel and in fields and on mountains and beside canyon rivers. And any time that there were songs that connected me to God, to that ancient, true, and constant something.
Because I sang those words, the ones I know deeper than by heart, and everything was there – upfront, gaping and laid-out and known. I felt the deep pain of reconciling yourself to the knowledge that you’ve hurt someone you love, and to the pain of being hurt and to the feeling that again you hadn’t been enough. And I knew that God loved me, regardless, and that God loved him, regardless. And I cried because I didn’t know how to love like that.
And Jonathan preached forgiveness, and it rang so true. He painted a picture of heaven, and I was overcome with the knowledge that everyone I was angry with would be there, was already, now, a part of this kingdom that I desperately wanted. I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that I had a part in bringing there here. That to do so meant to forgive, to really let it go, to welcome grace. And I cried because I didn’t even know where to start. And those tears brought healing; embracing the heart-breaking reality that I didn’t know how to begin, opened my heart a bit more.
And somehow, by some grace that I can’t understand or thank or deserve, on April 27th, 2012, that boy got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. And wouldn’t you know, I cried then, too. Because we were changed, blessed, redeemed – Hallelujah, grace like rain.