This post is a part of an ongoing series. To read the rest of the series, click here to check out the list on my about page.
In the fall of 2009, I knew my 30th birthday was approaching, and I felt like I was slowly sliding down an incline that was going to send me off a cliff into the unknown. I know that may sound overly dramatic, but my 30th birthday ended up being quite a crisis point for me. I couldn’t even decide if or how I wanted to celebrate, so my sister and friends said they’d take care of it and surprise me. And they ended up throwing a huge, super fun party for me that was beautifully decorated and thoughtfully planned. I turned to Debbie as soon as I walked in the door and said, “This is exactly what I wanted even though I didn’t know it!” I felt known and loved, and blown away by the kind people God had placed in my life.
I also felt like I was in shock. Can you see it on my face in the pictures above? I look a little glazed over. I remember being at the party and having thoughts run through my head like, “I’m 30. I can’t even believe it. 30.” Though I hadn’t specifically verbalized it, somewhere inside I expected God to provide a husband (or at least a serious boyfriend) for me by the time I was 30. I’d been working so hard at making wise decisions and being proactive in my dating life for the past three years- surely God would say yes to my request.
But it turned out that he said no. And my heart didn’t quite know what to do.
Life went on the same as it had been, but I could tell I wasn’t doing well. Normally, I loved journaling and reflecting about the past and dreaming about the future. But my birthday had triggered something inside that made me completely unwilling to look back on my past or forward to my future. And in my head, I knew my twenties had been amazing! Seriously great! I had a successful teaching career, meaningful ministry at church, and an amazing community of friends. I bought a condo and did some renovations. I’d grown a lot as a person. I traveled to incredible places- Israel! Austria! Thailand! New Zealand! But did I want to think about or write about or look back on pictures of any of it? No. Not even for a second.
And then there was the future. Bleh. I couldn’t even imagine being happy. I didn’t want to be single in my thirties and I didn’t want to get married in my thirties- neither of those options were what I’d planned or wanted. So, I froze. And that’s when I knew I needed help. In the spring of 2010 (a few months after my birthday), I decided that it would be wise to start seeing a counselor.
Through a recommendation from a friend, I ended up seeing a therapist named Melissa at the Center for Individual and Family Therapy. I’ve been trying to figure out how to sum up my experience, and I decided that the best way to tell you about it would be to copy some of my journal entry from the day of my last session on May 25, 2011. My journaling from that day is in italic quotes, and I’ve interspersed some notes I wrote today. I started my blog around the same time I started therapy, so you’ll see some links to posts that correlate. I saw Melissa for a year and a half, and throughout that time I still kept working on dating according to Dr. Cloud’s program. I’d gone on a number of dates (and taken some big risks that I’ll tell you about next time), but I wasn’t seriously dating anyone at the time of my last session.
I just went to my final therapy session with Melissa. It was a really lovely time. I’m kind of sitting here amazed at all God has done and what he will do.
It’s incredible to think of what he’s brought me out of- despair and complete hopelessness about my future. Now I find myself in a place of abundance… hopeful for life, even as I continue to experience sadness and pain in the waiting for desires to be fulfilled. The lessons I’ve learned and the growth I’ve experienced are immense, but here are some thoughts:
My heart needs to express itself. Shutting it down may seem to avoid pain, but that only works temporarily. A neglected, stifled heart leads to numbness, distrust in God, and joylessness. A heart that is heard experiences pain AND gladness, and it is able to be truly grateful. Like incredibly, overwhelmingly grateful.
This was probably the big, over-arching lesson for me. I had often lived life letting my head win every time. My feelings were considered second class. Melissa helped me treat my heart with kindness, as God does, and to live with my head and my heart in balance. A book called The Voice of the Heart by Chip Dodd was very instrumental in my understanding of why God created us with emotions. I highly recommend it. I also learned that I need to regularly ask myself, “How are you doing?” and then really listen to what comes out of my heart.
It is possible to find new dreams, when an old dream has passed or is no longer possible. The old desires must be grieved over first, before trying to move on to a new dream. Sometimes a new dream will feel really risky, but when my strength is renewed, hope can be found in turning on my imagination and just dreaming.
Melissa helped me put words to the fact that I had dreamed of getting married and starting a family in my twenties. And that dream never came true. And a valid, totally reasonable response was to be sad. Very sad. So I grieved. For me, grieving meant remembering moments that were hard or hurtful and then letting myself cry. I cried All The Time during my first year of therapy. I had cried before of course, but I took it to a whole new level. And through all of it, I learned to be honest with myself and with God and with my friends. It was so freeing. I also started dreaming again.
God is a gracious, loving Father who is bent down, hand cupped over his ear, listening and wanting to bless his beloved children. He wants us to ask him for help. He says, “Let me bless you.”
I now think the phrase “unanswered prayer” is super dumb. It implies that God is silent or not listening. God always hears and answers the prayers of his people. I had to learn to receive a no from him, and to trust that it was a no coming from a good and wise Father. Trusting in his goodness and wisdom when he said no also allowed me to see the many ways he was already saying “Yes!” to so many wonderful things in my life.
I deeply desire to marry a man who is my best friend. Someone who makes me laugh, points me to Jesus and his love, and who I love being around. Someone who I feel like myself with. A man who loves to serve others and who loves to host, both in his home and in his life. And if I don’t find a man that fits that description (or who does not pursue me), then I will be happier and more able to live an abundant life as a single person. I honestly believe that.
I knew I would still carry a sadness with me if I never got married or became a mother, but I also knew I could be big-picture happy. I realized that I live in an amazing time for women- I didn’t have to get married (poor Charlotte Lucas!) or have babies in order to survive or have a meaningful life. I remembered that being single is awesome. It was still hard, but it was awesome. I still hoped to get married and be a mommy (even while knowing that marriage is awesome but hard, and babies are awesome but hard), but I felt excited about either option. Win-win.
Lord, your love towards me is beyond my comprehension. Thank you for your design in making me to depend on you, to question and ask you things, to enjoy life and your creation, to love people a lot. You made us to experience life abundantly, and it is really lovely. Not pain or hurt free, but you use that suffering to enhance joy. Your will and love are a wide, open, spacious place, and I’m glad for the lesson in how to enjoy it.
God used lots of things to teach me about his abundant love that year, but two things stand out. I read John 15 over and over and over again that year. I knew God was lovingly pruning me- taking away what needed to be removed in order for me to grow. In verse 9, Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” This verse left me in awe (and still does) and was something I meditated on often that year.
I also went on a trip to Europe with my sister in the summer of 2010. You can read about my mixed feelings as I left in this post and you can read the posts I wrote while on the trip by clicking the Europe tag in the sidebar. God used that trip in remarkable ways. I had fun. I saw beautiful places and things. I ate delicious food. I practiced just being instead of doing. I took risks that helped me find my confidence. I remembered that I loved my life and I was thankful for it.
My lack of dating relationships does not mean there is something wrong with me or completely unattractive to men. My story is just a little different than others. It is amazing to me that at my core, I truly believe that I’m normal, attractive (beautiful, even!) and capable and deserving of a great relationship. Thank you, Lord for this truth!
I like being me. To God be the glory.
This picture is from my 31st birthday party. I was about 8 months into therapy, and I was already seeing some fruit from the hard emotional work I was doing. For me, this picture says a lot. I see a new sparkle in my eyes that had been missing the previous year at my 30th birthday party. I look happy. And I remember feeling happy.
So, this brings us to the first happy ending of my dating story. I had come to such a lovely place. God had filled me with joy again, although my external circumstances hadn’t really changed. Although one other noteworthy thing did happen the year I was 30…
In September of 2010, I met a guy named Travis Austin.
And things started to get interesting.
Click here to go to post 5 in this series.