Dear reader: I started writing this piece back in 2014 (almost 2 years ago) as a little story with mini chapters, chronicling my “love life” from my youth up until the present day, in my mid 30’s. For some reason, I just felt compelled to have my story “out there” in the interweb of digital humanity. Who knows if this will be read by others, or if this is mainly for me but, either way, it’s here for you to read if you so desire, and maybe it will encourage you in your own unique journey. Since I wrote this a while back, a lot has changed in my heart and spiritual practice, but generally I decided to keep it as it was written, since that was where I was at in those stages of my life. My 36-year old self has let go of a lot of the definitive spiritual lingo I previously used with such gusto, while still maintaining a faith-walk (but one that I believe is gentler and more compassionate to the human heart). –Valentine’s Day 2016.
Life never turns out as you had planned.
Reality never matches your expectations (like the illustration above which perfectly describes my life)! The story that gets written in real life never matches the script we’ve written ahead of time in our hearts. The published version looks NOTHING like the rough draft!
As a young girl, I daydreamed of a handsome prince coming to rescue me and sweep me off my feet as I entered adulthood.
Supposedly, a relative of mine told me a few years ago of a memory she had of me from when I was a young teeny bopper. She mentioned one summer conversation we had whilst hanging out on the cottage dock, I told her of my sincere desire to move out of my family’s home and be married by the age of 18. I don’t recall ever saying that, but I guess I did! I don’t think I really ever expected to be married at 18, but I guess I wished it at one stage!
I did move out of the family home at 18. I certainly didn’t get married. I didn’t even go on a single date! I did turn down one blind date invitation in my last year of high school. Maybe he was the one…
I went off to college at 19 and got involved with a few guys (not at the same time! I’m a one-at-a-time girl). These college boys were definitely NOT good for me, but hey, sometimes those bad boy catastrophes catapult you into making some drastic changes for the best… In this case, I went off to Africa for a few months on a summer break from college, nursing a broken heart, and had the most amazing experience — I bumped into the Heart of all Hearts, Jesus Christ, while tucked away in Uganda. This is where I turned 20, and entered a new and exciting decade — my 20’s.
With a new and beautiful relationship with the Lover of my Soul, I had fresh vision for a godly marriage and a godly family, and I was so excited for this chapter of my life to start! For the most part, I mainly believed I’d be married between the ages of 23 and 25. The age of 24 seemed ideal. That seemed to be the “right” age for me; I was out of college, educated, having some sense of calling and profession, had a car, an apartment full of furniture, good friends and an enjoyment of life. I had walked out some significant inner healing in my heart and was walking in growing consistency with God.
I thought I was ready — But God seemed to have other plans.
I passed 24, and one potential possibility came along. I was smitten. I thought he was the one. Boy, did I ever. But he wasn’t. It took me quite a while to recover from that one… because it deeply shook some of my core beliefs about hearing the voice of God. Through it all, though, I came out better and stronger and more full of love and hope than before. What can I say… my heart is one stubborn dreamer.
I hit 25. I liked the age. I was fairly content in where I was in life, and felt a lot of joy in my walk with God. Many of my friends were marrying at this time and I also had a lot of other friends who were really struggling with this age and their singleness. I think I did fairly well navigating this stage… It didn’t feel awesome to be single because I really wanted to be married — but I was happy. I enjoyed life. I felt like I was in a good place in my heart.
Then I hit 26. It was a turning point for me. On the other side of 25, it felt like a completely new season of entering the latter half of my 20’s. The sobriety of it hit me. The responsibility of it. The expectation (but in a good way) of realizing that I’m not a kid anymore. I am really an adult, and I want to make something fruitful of my life. I don’t want to sit around and just let life pass me by. This was my life, and it wasn’t something I had to wait to happen to me. Life was already happening and what would I do with the life I’d been given? Life could be fun but it was not to be played with. I was to take hold of life and not take it for granted.
So, at 26 I began to seriously wrestle with my identity, my calling and my destiny. What was I really on this earth to do? To be? To become? To give to the world? This wasn’t a dress rehearsal. This was the real thing.
So, I did something crazy. I threw out the Canadian Dream (the Canadianized version of the American Dream). I did something unexpected and unplanned…
…at the age of 26, I went off on a world adventure with God. I joined the mission organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM) starting out in Kona, Hawaii, USA. Neither had ever really been significant dreams of mine. I had always wanted to travel at some point in my life, but I wasn’t one of those obsessed adventuring souls that was itchin’ to travel the world at all times and make it my oyster. I also had never really dreamed of doing overseas missions; I had been fairly content living in Ontario, Canada. But I just knew that something drastic had to change in my life. There was an invitation from God to experience a side of His heart I could only see if I said “yes” to this daring adventure of letting go of all my safe and tidy life plans. So, off I went, with my hand in God’s, into the unknown. And boy, did it change my life drastically and set me on a course in my life to minister with God in bringing His good news into the nations of the world.
At that time (I was 26), I entered into my first serious dating relationship.
We met on a Christian online dating service, after I returned to Canada from my first YWAM training school. He was the Australian bloke I ‘ministered to’ and ‘encouraged’ (choke, ugh, gulp) on MSN Messenger (remember that ancient thing?) while I was looking for the right guy. But, whoops, I got emotionally attached to that Australian bloke. And oops, I moved down under for him too.
Let’s just say it was messy. Chronicles of the fast and furious. My painful childhood, dysfunctional relational patterns caught up with me! And even though I knew it was unhealthy, I was determined to see this guy made whole through my salvific love for him, to the point where I even contemplated marrying him to see him through to wholeness. Talk about a really warped view of myself as the saviour of mankind! I (painfully) learned (big time) about a woman’s inability to save or rescue any man (or human being at that), and somehow I had enough sense in my gut (and the support of loved ones) to get myself out of a very bad thing.
Enter 27, and after the wondrous deliverance out of that very bad thing, I was blessed to be living in New Zealand with YWAM Oxford. I humbly accepted my need to grow in relational maturity, and just walk out my life and ministry to the Lord in a loving community in a little town of 1400 people, surrounded by mountains and fields of sheep and cows. Just what I needed!
27, 28 and 29. Single, but living life to the full! I was experiencing the most amazing things and living out the craziest, coolest life. More than I’d ever dreamed of! I was doing what I loved… and loving it! Living in a diverse community, worshiping and loving God together, discipling young people from multiple nations, exploring beautiful places in a glorious nation, travelling to multiple nations and having the time of my life. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. I was given so many rich, rich experiences and met so many amazing people and my heart was enlarged to live and love with a greater capacity and depth. God’s global family came alive to me, and God placed the nations of the earth into my heart where they still live and breathe to this day.
In this extended season, I met many amazing men of God. Godly AND fun men. I may have liked a few of ’em but none of these friendships progressed into romance. Overall, I was grateful to find solid friendships with men in this season of my life, and I learned that not all great friendships with the opposite sex have to lead to exclusive relationships. You really can have guy friends…
And then I turned 30…
I turned 30 in New Zealand on this YWAM base. A bunch of the female leaders and moms and friends of mine, hosted a lovely birthday celebration for me to welcome me into my 30’s. It was wonderful. I even got given some sexy lingerie that made me blush. It was a landmark birthday. It surprised me how WONDERFUL it felt. I thought it would feel bad, but it didn’t! I felt like I entered my 30’s with so much more joy and confidence in my identity in God and in my life. I felt a grand excitement for this new decade. This shocked me! I felt a whole new fellowship with Jesus Christ, as His 30’s were the time of His wonderful years of ministry. His glory years! I felt this same sense of coming into “my prime” and I loved it! I didn’t think I would feel this way, but I did. Shocker! Thirty was the new sexy!
At this time, my whole life was transitioning as well. I finished up a few wonderful years of directing Discipleship training schools and globe-trotting, and was sensing a transition and desire to plant roots, create a more sustainable life of worship and prayer and settle into a more established home life. I didn’t want to keep doing short term things. I wanted long term. I thought this would be overseas in another nation, living with a new people group. That was stopped. I did move. But to another city in New Zealand. And I did plant… for a couple years, hidden away in a prayer room, praying and singing and worshiping full time and falling in love with Jesus in a deeper and more focused way. I would have loved to have met a man in this time. I was 31 and 32.
I was in a great place with God. It was about time, I thought.
I felt such joy and satisfaction in God. All that was missing was a man and some kids, I thought. But it was not to be. The man didn’t happen, no matter how much I hoped and prayed and believed and inwardly kicked and screamed (while outwardly looking all holy in a prayer room)!
If anything, things looked worse than ever.
In this hidden season, I didn’t really even have any good guy friends! It was like I’d been put in a convent and exiled to the existence of a nun. Don’t get me wrong, if you know me at all, you’ll know that I find MANY things attractive about the monastic way of life, but during this time, I just really wanted to get married. I felt like I was in the prime of my life and more ready than I’d ever been for marriage. And in THAT season of readiness, it looked more like a relational desert.
I didn’t choose this! This was the very opposite of what I wanted!
Surely, God had accidentally fallen asleep and had missed this very important appointment on His schedule. But somehow, God was not asleep. He was wide awake, and by His good leading, I was in this very place, this very desert, where guys wouldn’t even talk to me for more than a minute or so. That was His doing, somehow. It created a vacuum of longing and desire in my heart for GOD HIMSELF.
So, I hung out with my girlfriends and I hung out with the God-Man, and fixed my eyes on His beautiful Face. I got consumed with the beautiful Face of my God. I was lost (and found) in His beauty. If I couldn’t have my human man, I would have The Man, God Himself, in all His perfection and glory. I would see Him face to face if it was the last thing I did! I was consumed. A woman consumed by Love.
Yet… my heart still longed.
My heart longed for human companionship. For a total donation of myself to another. To see this love multiplied in the hearts and faces of little ones.
But even with these longings, I knew I had to continue on. Keep going forward into all that God had for me.
I started to feel the urge again, not to put my life on hold, not to just wait around, which can happen so subtly in the heart of a Christian woman, well, any woman for that matter. We start to think that as a single woman we are hindered from fulfilling our life purpose as a wife and mother, and so we start to slow down, and start to hold back. We stop reaching out. We stop showing up to life. We just start sitting around and waiting. Expecting. Hoping. Waiting. Getting frustrated. Feeling hindered. Feeling jipped. Feeling empty. Feeling lonely. Feeling incapable of going forward on our own for one more day, let alone another year! We start to shut down in very subtle ways. We begin to entertain the temptation of living with jilted resignation, discontentment and this subtle, hidden envy of anyone living with what we feel we should rightfully have for ourselves. It’s a recipe for an unhappy, bitter life.
But the Spirit’s call to absolute surrender and complete trust in God is incessant! He won’t let up! The Spirit of God is stubborn in His little nudges to our hearts!
The Spirit of God within me would not let me stay in this funk for long! The call was so strong to just lay all these unmet longings before the altar of God, and give Him my all once again, trusting Him completely with my future, whatever may happen (or not happen). I handed Him my singleness (even though I had just had a SIGNIFICANT encounter with God where I believe He spoke a promise of future marriage). I handed Him all possibilities and dreams of that marriage and family, and I gave them up to Him. I entrusted them to Him. Essentially, these promises were crucified with Christ at the Cross, uncertain if they would ever be resurrected.
I faced the reality that my dreams may never be resurrected. I came face to face with that pain.
And in that time, I decided that Philippians 3:7-11 was true. Absolutely true.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. (Phil 3:7-8)
And this is how I let go of my clinging-expectations and my desperate grasping to the dream of marriage and family. I felt it had been promised to me by God Himself. But I realized I could not hold onto it myself. I needed to hand it back to God. I can’t make His dreams come true. I can be available to partner with Him, but no human can force the hand of God. We cannot rush God. We cannot change His timing. So instead of getting mad at God for why He wasn’t fulfilling His own promise, I decided He must have some good reason for the delay. So, the dream went into the ground. I let the future man go. I let the future children go. Like seeds being buried in the soil of God’s heart.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
And this is how I ended up letting go of my adopted homeland, New Zealand at 32. I began to make plans to set off in the direction of a certain frontier nation, the same one I tried to move to when I was 30. If I was not to marry and have children (“at all” or “yet”), I desired to give myself fully to a people group. Be a mother to a nation. I knew I could not hold back. I knew I could not withhold this love that had to be released and given to others. So, with my hand in the hand of God, I set off in this direction. I’d had my commissioning from my mission base and I was ready to book my one-way flight.
In the midst of this massive season of transition and a global-move, I “bumped into” the Father heart of God and His massively tender, kind love for me. I came into the revelation of being a son and daughter of God. I’d heard the teaching for years, but somehow it hadn’t penetrated into the deepest parts of my heart, where I held onto my deep beliefs about myself, God and my life. I didn’t realize how much of an orphan I was!
And the Father, in His kindness, blocked my way to this frontier nation. He would not let me go.
I was determined to go there, alone. Like an orphan. I was going to do the most drastic, radical thing I could do. I don’t know what I was trying to prove? It was sincerity mixed with a lot of orphan-thinking. Surely, this would satisfy my unmet needs. Surely this would replace the ache in my heart for a husband and a family of my own. Surely, if I just adopted a whole nation, I would feel like my life finally mattered and counted for something? Surely, if I did the most radical thing I could think of, God would reward me with what I really wanted? Surely, I’d garner the praises and admiration of mankind for how severe and radical I was in my devotion to God, that I would go out as a single woman, dying to all my earthly hopes and dreams and sacrificially laying my life down for this frontier nation and people!
I shudder now at the mixed motivations behind why I was doing some things in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely loved the people of that nation. I genuinely wanted to see them come into relationship with their Heavenly Father, but I was hurting and dying inside (and I didn’t even know it). I had given up all my hopes and dreams and desires, and essentially my heart was numb.
God interrupted all my plans (yet again), and brought me home.
To Canada. My home land. The place I never wanted to come back to. It was too tame. Too normal. It was complicated with family stuff. Certainly, it was the devil leading me back there. I’d even been told this by some well-meaning people. But deep down, I knew it was God calling me HOME.
By now, I realized that if there was such thing as a “Plan A”, I was certainly onto Plan X, Y or Z! Time to throw out the old manuscript! Houston, we have a problem! The story has definitely gone off the page!
I lost my compass at this point. Any sense of “due north” was gone. Obliterated.
None of this was a part of the plan at all! Everything was messed up! What’s a girl to do when she feels she is “called” to cross-cultural missions and she goes back to her home region, and is now living back with her relatives at the age of 33?
The only thing that had been holding me up, and giving me any purpose, was the “call” to go to this people group and give them my everything. And now that plan had been thwarted. I had given up all my other earthly hopes and dreams, so what was I to do now that I was back in the very place I’d said I was not called to and not able to do the thing I’d felt called to do?
At 33, I crashed.
From my vantage point, it was devastating.
Hopes and dreams. Gone.
Sense of direction. Gone.
Sense of purpose and calling and daily ministry. Gone.
Sense of significance. Gone.
It sucked, big time! It really did. There were other things thrown in the mix that made it uber uber sucky. And I’m not one to say things suck very much (I don’t even like the sound of the word). So, I hesitate in even using it, but it would be the most honest word I could use to describe how I felt at the time. Here I was, 33 and single and without a sense that my life was going anywhere anymore. It wasn’t even like I was just stuck. If anything, I felt I had fallen backwards. It felt like such a huge fall after such a momentous build-up to taking the craziest leap of faith to move to a foreign nation.
Well, God did begin a new chapter of my life, but in the most surprising way.
In the very place I felt I would have no life, God gave me a life. It was in His goodness that He brought me home to Canada. God surprised me big time.
I was able to reconnect with many childhood friends who have become a real source of normalcy and encouragement and fun.
I have met many new people and attended some great churches in a couple towns I’ve lived in. At one point I even thought I’d met a guy… but alas, it was not to be. Yet again, I learned more about myself. I learned…
I was also able to get connected to a good therapist, to process the things going on in my heart and life.
I also came home to my family, getting to know them in a more local way again, and having the time of my life with my dear little niece.
Because of these things, my heart began to come alive again. My joy began to return. In the very place I’d labelled hopeless, hope returned.
God began a good work of restoring my compass and my sense of my direction. Slowly but surely, (and still to this day), hope and vision is being restored, renewed and in many ways totally revamped. My sense of purpose and significance and identity is being restored, little by little. One by one, God is resurrecting hopes and dreams and breathing life back into my weary heart.
But, since my return to Canada, the longing for marriage has increased, and it’s painful!
The promise of marriage and family has returned in all its glorious beauty. It’s somehow enlarged and expanded beyond my ability to contain it any longer. My capacity and desire to love and to give my all is greater than ever. The huge dream stands before me and I don’t know what to do with it. It’s not even something I can hold in my hands. It’s too big for that. I can’t shake it off. It’s just there, enveloping me and I can’t do anything about it.
Some days I contemplate crucifying it again and going back into the comfort (?!) of crucified numbness. Yes, I got depressed when I killed my hopes and dreams, but somehow I might prefer that to the pain of unmet desires and longings?
How am I to carry these unfulfilled promises in my heart?
How am I to carry my heart in this prolonged season?
How does one accept the resurrection of these hopes and dreams and yet not die from the pain of holding the very things that promise life?
These are questions in my heart that I don’t have a single answer for.
To let you in on a secret, by the time I hit 30, I had believed that marriage (or a relationship) would happen at the perfect age of 33, the age of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The hardest year of His life, but definitely the most glorious. So worth the wait of the 32 years of His life leading up to His 33rd.
33 would be perfect. I’ll take it!
But my 34th birthday came and went a couple years ago and I was still very much a single woman. I definitely never thought I’d still be single at 34. In the same way that Jesus did not live on earth beyond His 33rd year, so I never had a paradigm for being single beyond 33.
And then I turned 34.
And then 35.
And now 36.
I kind of laugh now about the fact that I ever thought I had a plan for being married at a young age. It almost seems laughable now. Life has a life of its own and I can barely figure it out! Reality is nothing like what I expected! It’s almost like I have to throw out all of my expectations. Throw out all the plans!
The grid on which my plans were made no longer exists. It really doesn’t exist. It was an illusion that carried me wistfully along for many, many years, but sometimes you just have to let go of things that just don’t work for you anymore.
And expectations just don’t seem to work for me anymore.
It put this pressure on me that just wasn’t helpful. And it’s still not helpful. It doesn’t help me live life to the full today and find a contentment to trust the ways, the timing and the leading of the Lord…. but to be honest, it’s kind of odd now for me to even use the phrase “the leading of the Lord.” I’m just not as certain as I used to be about what I believe about God and “His ways” and “His timing” and “His will”. I just don’t know what He thinks on the matter anymore. And that’s okay. I’ve discovered that demanding certainty is more of a trait found in the immature than the mature.
I would say that my faith in recent years (not just in the area of my “love life” but in all areas of my life) has undergone quite a metamorphosis, through many harrowing transitions and diversions of thought and opinion and belief.
I really just don’t know anymore.
If I could use an illustration, my faith would be more like swiss cheese now. I have many questions which create holes and crevices, but I know the cheese still exists. I know the cheese is good. But what is the essence of this cheese? That aspect I find more puzzling now.
I’ve come to a place in my life where I just have to carry God and all my ideas of God and His ways very, very lightly. I just have to have a simple, unanalyzed trust. It’s just too heavy to try and figure God out. It’s exhausting. I just need to live easier day by day, with more peace in my heart, more innate trust in the flow of life and what is in my future, and acceptance of whatever state I happen to be in now. I have so many questions, but instead of analyzing the theology of God’s will in my relationships (or lack there of), I just need to have a healthy curiosity for whatever the future holds.
I have to continue to surrender fears and anxieties of never marrying, or never having biological children (tick tock goes the clock) and hold on to a simple trust that life will give me what I need to receive. And to have grace not to grasp for things that are not on my path. And who knows what this path is, other than what I can see right in front of me right now. Who the heck knows? I sure don’t!
So, with all that said, even though I still have a strong desire to be a wife and a mother, what I am right now is a daughter, a sister, a friend and an aunt. This is who I can be right now, right in front of me. I will not reject the identity and role I have been given in this season just because I would prefer to add the title of wife and mother to the list… There are many amazing things I can create with my life with the ingredients I have right here on the platter in front of me.
I hesitate writing this next part because my opinions and beliefs have changed so much. But, yes, deep down in my heart I still hold on to what I believe is a promise from God, that I will be married one day and a mother (of some sort, whether biologically or through adoption). In a certain part of my heart, I still carry hope in that promise. But more and more these days, I’m not turning that hope into my own personal expectations. I can’t force a promise’s fulfillment. I can’t force God’s hand, if it is indeed His hand that is orchestrating this whole thing.
Who knows if these desires and longings will be fulfilled. Who knows how and why God is doing what He is doing. Who knows how the promises will come to pass. Who knows if I have prevented the fulfillment because of my own actions or inactions. Who knows.
So, since I can’t even begin to solve the mystery and figure out His timing (or life’s timing, however you want to put it), I guess I will just embrace today. Embrace the mystery.
And I will pray. For grace and patience, but especially for new eyes to see the gift of today, the unexpected, surprising gifts that are given to me every time I awake to live a new day.
And I will trust. I will rest with a trusting heart, that goodness will seek me out and follow me all the days of my life.
And I will embrace (not reject) the ache of a longing heart.
And I will enjoy all the gifts God has given me already. I will love the people God has given me. I will give them my heart and let them give their heart to me. I will let my heart grow and expand and be filled with more and more love, and more and more people.
And I won’t kill the longing. I won’t kill the ache. I won’t kill my heart. I will let my heart love. I will let my heart live. In this case, to guard my heart means to let the walls down and let it live!
Who knows where all this will go. I guess I have no expectations and no plan! The story’s gone off the grid and I have no manuscript for what’s ahead. I guess I’m completely out of control, and maybe one day I’ll learn to love that (?!)
So, let this unexpected, unplanned, surprising story continue…
*Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Shena Pamella [with edits by Alison Lam]