Relationships can be so delicate, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and life giving all at the same time.
Perhaps I should unveil a bit of personal history: I met my husband, Ryan, when we were 13. We met at church and both were quite involved in youth group. We noticed one another – that was no secret. All of the adult leaders realized we noticed one another, too. We began to cultivate a friendship around age 14. We never went to the same school and, though we lived in a small town, rarely saw one another during the week. I still remember waking up in the morning 30 minutes earlier than required so that I could write him a morning e-mail. I also promptly wrote one after school. He did the same thing. We corresponded this way for several years. Neither of us took dating lightly. Even at a young age, we didn’t really understand the point of dating apart from courtship and preparing for marriage. It just seemed a little painful to emotionally invest in romantic relationships that were going to be temporary.
I still remember our first kiss, on the back of the church bus. I still remember when we began courting, in the park I drove my barbie jeep to every day as a child. These memories will never leave. We began to kindle a deep friendship and, dare I say, a very intimate relationship. We were a bit naive, but not really. I firmly believe we both just knew what we wanted and God gave us the tools we needed to make it work. We are both blessed in that our parents modeled healthy marriages – and our expectations were formed accordingly.
Nonetheless, at age 18 I heard The Maker say, “breakup with him.” I was devastated. And so confused. But, I had laid my life down and given it back to God and committed myself to taking risks, even the confusing ones.
So Ryan and I broke up. I figured it was over and honestly began preparing myself for a life of celibacy. Jesus was my husband, and I began to understand that on a level I had not before. He was my intimate partner. My Enough. I took off for another country and shared Love with people and returned to the states. Ryan and I remained apart. I remember the day I rolled over in bed for the first time and said “I’m so glad to wake up with Jesus, my Husband.” It was that same day I heard Him say, “you are going to be asked to re-enter this relationship. I want you to say yes.” My heart was even more confused, and nervous. I had finally become settled and happy in dating Jesus!
That night, Ryan invited me over to talk. He “had something important to say.” I drove out into the country where he lived and sunk into his hammock that he had anchored to two trees in his front yard. He began to tell me what he had learned during our break-up. That he, too, had originally thought it was forever. But felt God unexpectedly drawing him back to me. I said yes. He laid down some pretty firm physical boundaries in an effort to guard our hearts and protect our future together. He felt our calling was to refrain from kissing and physical passion before marriage. I said okay.
Only 3 months later, I began to pray about how and where to do college. I did not want to leave Ryan and my family. And, of course, I heard God say, “Texas.” I was so bummed. again. I do remember feeling a sense of peace beyond my understanding, though. I told Ryan and he said “do what your told.”
I left for Texas and he left for a college in NC. Thus began a long and difficult journey of our long distance relationship. I will tell you first and foremost, long distance relationships are not intended for everyone. And we would not have made it had it not been for the foundation of our friendship. We went into the relationship giving each other permission to call it quits at any time. We also gave each other permission to grow and change (PS – you might as well go ahead and accept the inevitable nature of your partner’s changing now.) Furthermore, we trusted each other immensely. We extended grace to engage deeply in friendships and culture on campus without judgement. The foundation of any long distance relationship must be friendship, trust, grace, and permission to end it.
My time away from him was not easy. All of my roommates will tell you. I cried myself to sleep almost every night. There were days that I contemplated dropping out of school. It was so painful. I had no choice but to drop to my knees instead. I sought comfort in food, in friendships, in church, in exercise, in school performance, you name it! I prayed that my Maker would open my eyes to discover what He had for me in that little pocket of life that was unbearably painful.
I’m a firm believer that the Father does not allow pain without redemption and lessons learned. I also know that He called me to Texas for a reason. I was hungry to understand the purpose of the season, the reason for the pain.
I learned so much about myself throughout college. Every year of separation drove me deeper into the heart of God, Love Himself. I realized that it is all about perspective and seeing the big-picture. It is so easy to get tunnel vision when we are experiencing the pressure/pain of separation. It’s so hard to not “live for the count-down” to our next time together.
I would find myself so distracted by my future with him that I was not even paying attention to what God had given me in the moment. Ryan was the one who stopped and challenged me on this. I had to choose contentment (Philippines 4:10-13). I had to have eyes for the beauty of today and embrace it to the fullest of my ability.
I had to discover Jesus as my Intimate Partner in life as never before. He held me at night, he wrote me love songs, we sang the phantom of the Opera theme song to one another (haha) and watched sunsets, and went on treasure hunts, and reflected on our past together. This season allowed me to develop and solidify a history of adventure with this King, my God. And it set me up for future adventures with Him as well. He carried me into a deeper place of security and a greater sense of identity in Him. He reminded me of the great purpose of life. I felt more secure in this unpredictable world than ever before.
I asked Jesus to awaken my heart to true romance so that I could one day experience authentic romance with my future husband. Jesus and I read books together and I learned that Jesus flirts with me through flowers, candles, rain storms, and sunrises. I used the pain to lean into God’s heart and asked myself “what need do I have right now that I want my Ryan to fulfill?” and then I asked Jesus, “How do you plan to fulfill this need for me?”
He came through. Every time. It was that place of desperation that I let God find me and put his finger on my pain. It gave me a position before this King that I had not yet discovered before, and I do not think I would have discovered had I not entered that scary place of brokenness and vulnerability.
I knew my husband and I were made for one another. I had to ask my God of Love to come be my missing piece and make me whole where I was broken. I learned to be loved outrageously, honest with myself, and aware of my vulnerability. The things I discovered during the season of separation set a foundation for my marriage that I needed!
Our approach to relationship might be a little out of ordinary for our world, and maybe for you. But, it worked for us! We are now happily married and actually live in the same zip code for the first time in our lives. I look forward to blogging more on our marriage and tools we continue to gather on our imperfect journey. In no way have we arrived. We continue to be challenged and learn more every day. The most important element of our relationship has been and continues to be that We have both always known that our relationship was intended to reveal the Glory of God and His Love toward each other and the world around us.
10 Ways to Enhance Long Distance Relationships:
1) Have one video chat date a week and allow it to last for at least one hour. This time is exclusively for you two. Do not do work on anything else during the date, just ask each other good questions and enjoy one another’s company – if there is one thing you will learn in a long distance relationship, it is the treasure and skill of good communication.
2) Learn from your partner’s culture. He or she is being exposed to a culture that you are supposed to learn from! Make sure to impart wisdom from your culture to the other individual too! Truly valuing his or her life apart from yours is a practice that will enrich your relationship for years to come.
3) When you cry (or feel a breakdown coming), sit down in a quiet place by yourself and ask God “what does my heart need right now?” and let Him answer. Then ask “How are you going to meet that need?” Learning this self-awareness and how to allow God to meet your every need will be invaluable in marriage.
4) Have one date a week with Jesus and allow it to last for at least one hour. If you aren’t a believer and this freaks you out, that’s okay! Perhaps just try it? I provided some ideas in the “You Hear Him?” entry. This is essential for building intimacy with the King and understanding true romance.
5) Ask God what you are supposed to be learning in this season. Focus on what you have right now that you will never have again (a group of friends as roommates, freedom to workout/stay up late/wander campus at odd hours,etc.) Choose to embrace those things and thank God for them daily!
6) Remember that separation can be helpful for physical boundaries!! But it can be equally as difficult when you finally get to see each other – so be on guard and plan accordingly. I realize not everyone agrees with saving sex for marriage. I do. There is no better sex than that with someone who has laid down their life for you and has committed their forever to you. And God’s not a fan of lame sex – He wants you to have good sex.
7) Fast each other. (Like Biblical, Scriptural fast). This sounds crazy – I know! My husband and I occasionally felt God calling us to fast one another. This simply meant that we didn’t communicate via phone, text, social media, e-mail, etc. for a period of time. The longest one we did was 18 days (the most painful/beautiful/healing 18 days of my life). This helped me lock eyes with the King and embrace the gifts He had given me in that season. *SO IMPORTANT to have vision if you are going to fast one another. Be sure that each of you understands the purpose, are in agreement, and have some prayer points/personal goals for that time.
8) You become what you behold – Behold the King; not your boyfriend/girlfriend or the future. “All these things will be added to you…” (Matthew 6:33)
9) Authentically and outrageously love the people God has put physically before you right now – that is your calling! Your long term relationship is no excuse to isolate yourself. In fact, it’s an excuse to develop more relationships!
10) Rejoicing is a weapon. Verbally and honestly stating your gratitude fights off weird negative energy.
Book recommendation: Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot