As of last Sunday, December 6th, Luke and I have been engaged for a full year.
The plan was to be engaged for less than a year.
The plan was that wedding prep would go oh-so-smoothly.
The plan was for me to live in my current apartment for less than six months.
The plan was to have a beautiful fall wedding where everything would be perfect.
The plan was to be happily settled into married life by Christmas 2015.
But right now, I sit in my little apartment almost ten months after I moved into it, and it’s decorated for Christmas. Just this morning I renewed my lease to live here for another term. Clearly, it’s December, and that means fall has come and gone.
And, as you may have noticed, we are not married.
The funny thing is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In late February, right after I moved to Tennessee, Luke brought up the possibility of postponing our wedding. He felt that we weren’t as ready for marriage as we’d thought, and he wanted to slow down and take more time before we made such a huge commitment. I was extremely concerned with how that would look to other people, and the thought of deviating from “the plan” that we had already set in motion was absolutely terrifying to my anxious, control freak self.
I’m ashamed to admit that in my efforts to maintain that control, I failed to acknowledge that he was right. In fact, I was downright disrespectful to him, pushing back and invalidating his feelings every time we would discuss it. How could he not consider what other people would think? I’d already chosen my bridesmaids, told my extended family the wedding date, booked a venue and asked a dear friend and mentor of mine to be the officiant. What would all those people say when they found out we were throwing on the brakes? What will they assume? Will they see us differently? In my type A, perfectionistic, self-centered world, those thoughts were enough to keep me up at night– literally.
Eventually, I gave in. We postponed our wedding, and the phone calls I had to make to friends and family to let them know were probably some of the most difficult I’ve ever made. I was so buried in shame, I had to do some intense deep breathing before every phone call to keep from folding into the fetal position on the floor. But to my surprise, every single person I told responded with such love and grace. My MeeMaw was the last person I called that night, and she told me that she loved me and she loved Luke, no matter what. She was certain that if we put Christ first, that he would bring healing and bring us to a place of being ready for marriage, if that was his will.
I remember hanging up the phone with her, and I sat on my couch for an hour or more, crying until I couldn’t anymore. Oddly enough, they were tears more of relief that my loved ones had offered to walk alongside us in this journey, rather than judging and condemning. I had expected the worst, but those closest to me demonstrated grace. And that night, I believe, was the beginning of my own journey to understanding grace.
Throughout college, and especially as I transitioned to living life as an independent adult, I had grown to function out of a place of black-and-white, no-room-for-gray perfectionism– to the point of carrying around very real anxiety and overwhelming shame and self-criticism in every part of my soul. I had no grace for myself. I was either perfect at everything, all the time, or I was worthless. And in reality, perfection is just not attainable, so I lived in a state of believing I was worthless. At everything. All the time.
Throughout the last year, though, the Lord has been merciful to me, and He’s used every circumstance in my life to bring that to light, and to change it. In all honesty, it’s been an incredibly difficult year of examining my heart as Jesus sees it.
Postponing our wedding was big, yes, and the time that Luke and I have shared getting to know each other’s hearts has been nothing short of a huge blessing. We’ve both learned so much about each other and about ourselves, and it’s truly incredible to see where we are now as compared to where we were as a couple earlier this year. Starting my first full time job brought its own dose of humility, and my spending habits and bedtime have certainly changed as I’ve learned to take better care of my body and the resources God has blessed me with.
But I think the biggest transformation I’ve seen in myself is that I am now aware of the importance of grace.
The Lord has shown me how loving I can be just by extending grace to others (and to myself). And you know what? That’s really hard to do. It’s something I’ll be learning how to do for the rest of my life.
I’ve learned that I don’t have to live life in fear. I don’t have to make everyone like me, all the time, every day. I no longer see life as either perfect, or completely worthless. I don’t have to control everything in order for it to be a good thing. I don’t see everything as either black or white– I’m learning how much joy comes from living in the gray and choosing to accept and extend grace.
Nothing in my life has gone according to how I’ve planned it over the last year. But I look back on the past year, and I realize that God has used my relationship with this loving man in my life to put “sandpaper to my heart,” as a new friend of mine put it (read that here). I was perfectly fine to sweep all of these things in my heart under the rug and never deal with them.
But God had other plans. He wanted to smooth them out and change my hear to be more like His. So I’m learning to let go of “the plan,” relinquish control, and live in the scary, weird, thrilling, joyous place that is the gray.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21