The first instance was while I was still living in Oak Park. My roommates and I lived a few blocks away from the church and on that particular night our friend Jenn, who worked at the church and had a set of keys, had invited us to go spend some time in prayer in the dark, empty sanctuary while she played the piano. I found a spot near the back and attempted to quiet my busy heart.
I had a lot swirling around in my head those days and, of course, Nick was taking up a good deal of my mental bandwidth. He had taken a job out in Fresno and we had been emailing and talking on the phone all summer. I really liked him, but being a bit gun-shy from previous failed relationships, I was very hesitant to admit to myself that our friendship might be more than just that-- a friendship. He had even started writing me letters (yes, with actual paper and envelopes) and I still wondered if I was just a "good friend" to him. Later he would tease me about my naiveté, saying "How could you not know I was interested?!"
After doing the best I could to clear my mind and focus on the Lord I started to fall asleep. Whoops! Not exactly what I had set out to do that night. Suddenly I heard a voice say, "He loves you." Huh? Again I heard, "He loves you." Really Lord? I feel as if it's possible he might like me, but he doesn't know me well enough yet to-- "He loves you." I sat with those words for a while. Then what I heard next broke me. "He loves you because he loves me and I love you."
Whoa. I hurried home that night and could not stop thinking about that statement. I had always known God's love for us is expressed through his people, but I never thought about it with regards to a potential mate. Oddly, as much as I could have focused on the part about Nick loving me, I couldn't stop thinking about how much God loved me. Whether or not Nick loved me almost ceased mattering. I had heard, so clearly, that God loved me. It wasn't the first time I had heard this, but it was the first time it hit home in such a personal way.
Fast forward a few months. We had finally had "the talk" and things were at a junction in our relationship. Would we pursue dating or heed the the horror stories of long-distance heartbreak and call it quits. I was about to go to Mozambique for three weeks and conveniently would have very little internet access. So, we decided to take up the conversation upon my return. As much as I was brave on the phone that night, I was extremely scared of losing him. I had put it all out on the line and feared my heart would be broken.
Things were busy in Africa. There was a lot of need, many sobering sights and much work to be done. At night, under my mosquito net in the sweltering heat, I tried to pray, but couldn't find words. I was fully expecting to return home and be faced with his decision to end things. Three weeks later, I touched back down on American soil. While in line for customs I turned on my cell and was floored to find he had filled my voicemail box. They were messages like, "Hi, I miss you... Just calling to remind you it's Thursday and you should take your malaria meds..." or "Hey, I read this really interesting verse and thought it might speak to you too..." My heart was filled with hope.
Needless to say, things ended up working out for us. Not even three months later he surprised me and got on my flight out to Seattle to spend Christmas with my family. He proposed on Christmas morning-- the first white Christmas Seattle had seen in 40 years. Of course I said yes.
But you know what? God wasn't done speaking to me about Nick. One day, while we were engaged, I was driving down the highway. I think I might have been in Indiana on a work trip. I was humming along to the radio and I heard the Lord say, "Nick is just a boy." Again, my response was "huh?" (I mean I knew I was a year and half older, so yes I could technically be robbing the cradle, but he was 25...). Again the Lord said, "Nick is just a boy." but this time it was followed with "I am the man of your life."
Yes, Lord you are the man of my life. I agreed. Cool God, what a nice thought. That was pretty much the end of that conversation with the Lord. It wasn't until we had been married a few months that it all started to mean something.
No, I did not discover I had married a man-child. If anything, Nick was, and is, the sweetest, most responsible, giving, loving, wise MAN I could ever ask for. But when you have been uprooted, because at this point we had moved to Atlanta for his job, and you know no one in your new city and being newly married and learning to do life together is hard (especially that first year), the awesome MAN that you once gazed upon with starry eyes, starts to look a little less awesome. In one argument I even hurled a block of cheese at him. Poor guy.
I found myself continually taking a victim stance with him-- assuming every suggestion or comment on his part was a dig or an attack. He was never comforting enough, never affirming enough, he never took my needs into consideration enough, cracked down too hard on my spending habits, forgot Valentines Day, only got me socks for Christmas, yada, yada, yada...
But you know what? It finally dawned on me. I was holding him to a standard he could never reach. I was looking for him to meet needs he was never meant to meet. He could never fully satisfy my heart because that was God's job. He took care of that on the cross. God needed to be first. I needed to find my fulfillment in the Lord. Only then could I even begin to accept the love of my husband. Only then could I bring something of value to the table of our marriage.
I was faced with the decision-- I can be a whiny, griping, nagging wife who relies on her husband for constant affirming words and temporary fixes of affection OR I could find my satisfaction in the Lord and enjoy the amazing husband he has given me without the stupid, silly strings attached.
Now I'm not saying I always abide by this, nor does this mean I don't call my man on the carpet from time to time. Heavens, no. I mean, he drops the ball. I drop the ball. Mostly he is just all-around amazing and loving and sacrificial, but we are normal people and I have to remind myself that God is the man of my life. So, when I start to get that dissatisfied, angsty feeling I try to ask myself "When was the last time you read the Bible or spent time in prayer?" or "How can you better love your husband?" instead of keeping a tally of all the ways he could better love me.
The truth is (and I am preaching to myself here), we are so wildly and deeply loved by our Father. He is our first love. We cannot forget that love or fail to keep Him in the number one space in our hearts. When things get reversed and our spouse or our job or material things take the number one spot, things fall apart. I speak from major experience! When things are in their rightful place, there is beauty and fruitfulness and limitless joy and maybe just a tad bit more grace for the wonderfully imperfect human being He placed in your life to love.