Day 7 – The story of us (Part 1)

“‘I’ll wait” I said, on a bright, cool winter’s day.

I was on the cusp of 17, he about to turn 18, and we loved each other.  But he was trying to sort out where to go in life, this boy who was not made for school, and wanted us to wait until high school was over to start a relationship.  So I said I’d wait.

We could never have known then that it would take 20 years for our picture of love and life together to really become real.

I loved him, and I knew he loved me, and that was all that mattered, right?

At 16, what did I know of love?  What did I know of waiting, of patience?

I was living through my parent’s divorce, one that had taken nearly my whole life to eventually happen, so I thought I knew what love and marriage wasn’t.  I knew what I didn’t want our marriage to be.

And I knew I was going to marry this boy.  That was as true to me as knowing that the sun rose in the morning and set at night, because even though I didn’t know it then, they were words God had spoken into my heart.

A few days after our conversation, we started ‘going out’, as dating was called in our part of the world in the 1990’s, and I thought I had everything I wanted.  A boyfriend, great friends, the end of high school and the start of becoming an adult in sight.  I had an on-and-off relationship with God, having been raised in church with my mum and my sister, and never questioning that God was real.  But I didn’t know Him, didn’t know that He was as real and present in my life as the people around me, and that above everything, He loved me.

Fast forward 10 years, and the dream life I had pictured was falling apart.  After high school I had gone to uni (university) for a year, and hated it so I came home, and he started working.  We moved in together, and I got a job, eventually moving to a town an hour away for work.  We got engaged, and then a few months later life took a turn for the unexpected.

I became pregnant.  So not a part of the plan, but a very welcome surprise nonetheless.

Our eldest son was born, and at 21 my heart’s deepest desire came true – I was a mum, and I was going to be a wife.  I didn’t think I could be any happier, but even then, our life together wasn’t all sunshine and roses.  On the surface we looked happy enough, but you didn’t have to dig very far to see the discontent, the struggle, the wounding and the damage caused by words spoken in anger.

Our son was nearly two years old when we got married, we bought a house the next year, and our daughter came along 8 months later.  Our youngest child, another son, joined us when our daughter was 21 months old, deciding to arrive 6 weeks early and throwing life into a tailspin.  But we managed, and eventually settled into life with 3 kids, me a stay-at-home mum and he a shift-worker in a local factory.  I thought I was living the life I wanted, the life we had dreamed of having – simple, hard work, and time to enjoy our completed family.

If only.

When our youngest son was about 4 months old, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression, and I can honestly say that that was the worst time of my life – of our lives – and it was all downhill from there.  The cracks in our marriage became wider and deeper, and neither of us had the energy that we really needed to try and fix things, try and make it work.  We became two people struggling for survival, almost completely unable to help the other, despite knowing we had to for us to stay together.  We were beyond exhausted, and just existed in the same house together, doing our best to raise our kids and trying not to fail in the process.

There was only so long we could keep going like that, and in January 2004, the day before our youngest son’s birthday, we had an argument that was a repeat of the thousand we’d had before, and in that moment, I knew that was it.  I had a moment of pure clarity where I realised that I couldn’t change him, despite how hard I’d tried, and that I couldn’t keep living the way we were.  We couldn’t keep living the way we were.

It was then that I knew I had to leave, and the relief was overwhelming.

I had thought of leaving before, but had always dismissed the idea, because as far as I was concerned, that wasn’t an option.  I was never going to repeat what happened to my parents, I was never going to put my kids through what I had experienced (even though I had always thought that my parents had a ‘good’ divorce), and so to me, a broken marriage would mean that I had failed, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.

But it did.

And it was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Of course, that wasn’t what I was thinking at the time.  Our world as we knew it had been blown up, and we sat stunned amongst the debris of our life together, barely knowing where to start, what to do, where to go.  The dream I had so desperately tried to live had been completely destroyed.

Back then I had no idea of the concept that for God to truly be able to do His work in us, for His plans and purposes for us to be realised, that which we create and hold dear in place of Him  – our idols – has to be broken and torn down and destroyed so that He can work in us, work for us, building in us the real dreams and hopes that He had planned for us all along.

God created me to be a wife and a mum, it was my picture-perfect expectations of marriage and motherhood that became my idol, one that I could never live up to.  We both know now that we didn’t really know what it meant to be married, the true purpose of marriage – to love and respect and serve your spouse above yourself, not to seek to be fulfilled by what they can do for you.

Structures with shaky foundations never last, they need to be torn down and a new foundation laid, so they can be rebuilt as something strong that will last forever.  That’s what happened to us, to our marriage, we were built on a shaky foundation, and now after the tearing down, we’re living in a construction zone of being rebuilt into something that will last forever.

Our broken marriage and the subsequent journey I’ve lived over the last 10 years has taught me what real love is, what it means to truly love someone – not just my husband, but everyone in my life.  If that was the sole purpose of that experience in life, to learn true love, God-style, then it was totally worth it.  It is a challenging lesson I live and learn every. single. day, and every day I learn a little bit more about how to love, how to be loved, how much God loves me.

Love never fails, despite what we think,  and I thank God for that truth every day of my life.

To catch up on our story, follow the links below:

Introduction

Day 6: Love is a risk

quote Henri Nouwen, Inner Voice of Love

via darcie nicholson

“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.

Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving.  And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”

―     Henri J.M. Nouwen

Day 5: Let me tell you a story

All the words are whirling around in my head, and I’m having trouble catching them and forming them into something that will tell the story.

My story.

The story that God has gifted me with, one that I could never have written, one that has taught me real love.

I’ve been struggling to articulate how Paul’s words – God’s words – to the Corinthians have come to show me the true meaning of love, and I’ve realised it’s because when I try to explain things, I generally use an example, a lived experience, a story.  I tell stories to try and explain life, it’s what I do.  I’m learning that it’s how God has made me.  To be a storyteller.

We all have stories, we all have a voice, and I love Jeff Goins’ words regarding how we all need to tell our stories:

Stories are written to be shared, and it is our responsibility to retell those that we witness — not only for our own sake, but for the benefit of others. Stories change people. They shape entire cultures.

I have believed this for as long as I can remember, and I encourage everyone I know to tell what has shaped their lives, encouraged them to believe that their story is worth telling.  But I haven’t practised what I’ve been preaching, not entirely, and it’s been because of fear.  Fear that my story isn’t important enough, interesting enough, that it’s not worth telling because it’s already been told (by someone who did it better), that I won’t tell it well enough, and perhaps more than anything, that once I write the words, it’s out there, and I can’t take it back.

Fear.  It’s a killer.  Well, it would be if we didn’t love, because there is no fear in love, and perfect love – God’s love – drives out fear.  So with that in mind, I’m going to tell you my story, and how it made real the words of love for me in my life.  If you were to pick up a book and read the blurb on the back, curious about what’s inside, this is what you might read:

Once upon a time, there was a girl.  And a boy (I’m sure you already know where this is going…).

High-school sweethearts, they thought they knew what love was, and just assumed that it would last forever.

But it didn’t.  Not how they thought it would, anyway.

Life just happened, as it does, and eventually, the walls fell down, and everything fell apart, ending in the pain of divorce.  3 kids, a marriage, a house, dreams and hope – all wounded and terribly broken by, well, two people who didn’t know how to really love one another.

But that’s not the end of the story.  Because the love they thought would last forever?  It did. They discovered that real love never dies, it doesn’t give up, it keeps going to the end.

This is the story of loss and restoration, of renovated hearts and lives, and how love always, always wins.

Day 4: Love is hard

No, that’s not part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, but as much as I know that love is good, I know without doubt that it is hard.

I couldn’t work out what to write today – it’s late Friday night here in Australia, and I’m very tired after a particularly trying day at work, and a few days of dealing with a child’s trying behaviour (which is nothing unusual around here).  Both situations have required conscious acts of love, the kind that don’t fit the warm, fuzzy version, rather the ‘this takes a lot of me and is really hard’ version.  Patience.  Laying down pride.  Turning away from anger.  Speaking truth, with kindness.  I’m feeling a bit raw around the edges as a result.

That the last few days have been rather challenging is no surprise to me – writing about a particular topic involves rather a lot of time thinking about it, and I’m finding that I’m constantly measuring my thoughts and actions against Paul’s words describing love.  As a result, I’m feeling pretty vulnerable, which is not an unfamiliar state of being for me, but one that I’m still not ‘at home’ in.  I’m learning more and more about vulnerability, why it is so important in our culture and why we need to embrace it – why I need to embrace it.

I found this quote tonight, one I’ve come across before and is particularly relevant right now, to this series.  To truly know love, we need to be vulnerable – the alternative is to be hard-hearted and unfeeling, and love cannot live in a place like that. Take these words with you into your weekend and ask yourself (as I will be), what are you wrapping carefully around your heart?   What is your casket or coffin, your I-can’t-be-hurt-here safe place?

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”  – C. S. Lewis

Day 3: Love is a good thing.

Today I had planned to start writing about and discussing the tangibles of love as Paul writes them, the first of which is patience.

But this morning, I woke up with a hangover of regret.  And too much sugar.  Regret from my less-than-stellar parenting efforts last night, and sugar from my coping mechanism of choice, resulting from said parenting actions (and yes, I know, it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to link the two).  In the early hours of the morning, while I tried to focus in the fog that seemed to envelop my thoughts, I felt like I was the last person qualified to talk about patience, and patience in the context of love.

So I didn’t.  I will, but not today, not until I let that piece of scripture further marinate and form the words that I know God has for me.

Love is patient.  God is patient.

I’m not.  Not by nature, anyway.

Fortunately for me, and everyone around me, God reassures us that His love is enough, He is enough, and when we lose it, when we don’t have it altogether, He is only made bigger.  And I can always do with a big God.

I love music.  Love it to the point that I wonder if I could truly live without it.  A few years ago I came across a song by Andrew Peterson that spoke words into my heart when I was ready to hear them.  It was the song that kept coming to me today as I thought about how I’d behaved with my kids last night, when I had no reserves to draw on with my youngest son and his behaviour issues, when there was zero patience in sight.  I’m still learning about the wonder, the nitty-gritty of love, but I do know one thing – it is infinitely good.

Enjoy.

It knocked me down, it dragged me out, it left me there for dead.
It took all the freedom I wanted and gave me something else instead.
It blew my mind, it bled me dry, it hit me like a long goodbye,
And nobody here knows better than I that it’s a good thing.

Love is a good thing.
It’ll fall like rain on your parade,
Laugh at the plans that you tried to make,
It’ll wear you down till your heart just breaks
And it’s a good thing.
Love is a good thing.

It’ll wake you up in the middle of the night, it’ll take just a little too much.
It’ll burn you like a cinder till you’re tender to the touch.
It’ll chase you down, and swallow you whole, it’ll make your blood run hot and cold.
Like a thief in the night it’ll steal your soul, and that’s a good thing.
Love is a good thing.

It’ll follow you down to the ruin of your great divide,
Open the wounds that you tried to hide.
And there in the rubble of the heart that died
You’ll find a good thing.
Cause love is a good thing.
Oh love is a good thing.

Ooo, take cover,
Ooo, the end is near.
Ooo, take cover,
But do not fear,
Do not fear.

Cause it’ll break your will, it’ll change your mind,
Loose all the chains of the ties that bind.
If you’re lucky you’ll never make it out alive, and that’s a good thing.
Love is a good thing.

It can hurt like a blast from a hand grenade
When all that used to matter is blown away.
There in the middle of the mess it made you’ll find a good thing.
Yes, it’s worth every penny of the price you pay. It’s a good thing.

Day 2: Without love, what do we have?

Paul kicks off 1 Corinthians 13 with a pretty heavy-duty statement – we can do anything we like, we can even do it with great power and do ‘big’ things, but if we do them without love, it is completely and utterly worthless.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Bankruptwithoutlove

via dribble.com

I don’t think there’s any mistaking what Paul is telling us – life without love = nothing.  Pretty simple concept, really, as in if we live life that’s missing a vital ingredient, we’re not really living.  But it becomes not-so-simple when we start to look at what that vital ingredient really is.

Love.

A little word that means so much more than we really, truly understand.  Our concepts and understanding of love are shaped by our life, by our lived experiences, and that’s different for everyone. Fortunately for us, God didn’t just give Paul words to tell us the truth of living a life without love, but goes on to explain what love really is.  We’re not left hanging with the thought ‘ok, so to truly live, I need to do everything I do with love, but what does that actually mean?  What does that actually look like on a daily basis?’

And there, my friends, lies the ‘meat’ of this verse, the get-down-and-dirty, dig in deep, step-out- of-out- comfort-zones reality of God’s words.  The truth is found in a few short verses, but they’re words that hold the key to life.  So over the next few weeks, we’ll sit here and work out this instruction manual for life, the ultimate renovation guide, that most certainly isn’t a DIY project.

As we venture into what can be challenging, unfamiliar territory, I would really encourage you to start journaling your way through this process – whether it’s in a written journal, here in the comments, on your own blog, wherever – my experience has been that learning about true love is a game-changer, and writing has been my way of making sense of it all.

I’m still trying to make sense of it all.  Every. Single. Day.

31 days of Love. For Real.

Anyone who knows me knows I love to talk.  And share.  And tell stories.  And listen to stories.  And drink coffee.  There’s always time for coffee.

Blogging is the ultimate avenue for sharing stories, and there is such beauty in the listening and the telling.  Everyone has a story, and everyone has something to share with the world.  I love this about people.

The Nester hosts a 31 Days writing challenge each year, and this will be the second year I’ve joined in.  I can’t link you to the series I wrote last year, as that blog is no longer, but no matter, it’s time for a fresh start.  So what better way to kick-off a new blog than committing to write every day for a month?  Deciding to take part was easy, choosing a topic….. not so much.  Not that it mattered, because the decision was made for me.  Reading the word of God can do that for you.

If there’s one thing I am constantly learning about, it’s love.  Real love.  Not the Hollywood-ised, romanticised, sanitised version of love, but love as God intended.  The kind of love that teaches you what it is to really live, that turns your world on its’ head, that seems to turn your whole being inside out.  The kind of love that you know you don’t deserve, but God fills you with anyway.  The kind of love that shows us what it is to sacrifice ourselves for someone else.

The kind of love that just plain hurts, but leaves us wanting for more.

We get it wrong all the time.  But God doesn’t, and He gives us a step-by-step guide to the reality of love and how to love in the words He’s breathed upon us.

1 Corinthians 13 by jaime.byrd.16

via indulgy.com

Pretty simple, really,  But it’s not.  Love is hard work, and it doesn’t always come easy.  So for the next 31 days, we’re going to delve into the Words of love, and make them real.

lovebuttonlarge

31 days of writing, sharing and learning.  A lifetime of making it real.

Will you join me?   I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with you, please pop in to the comments and tell me what ‘Love is …………’ for you.