Here at home, Seth and I have a routine of waking up early on Sunday mornings to volunteer with the children’s ministry at our local church. But during our California trip in mid-October, Seth and I found ourselves without a church home for Sunday morning.
Seth’s friends had planned their wedding for 4PM on Sunday afternoon, so Seth and I agreed we would spend Sunday morning reading the bible together in a coffee shop in lieu of going to some random church out in Cali. We had just nailed down a time of 8AM for driving to the coffee shop when Seth got a text from the groom.
The groom evidently wanted to go to breakfast with a bunch of people at 9AM the morning of his wedding day. No problem. Seth and I bumped our coffee date to 7AM. Then Seth’s friend Steve invited us to go biking along the beach at 11AM. We agreed to join him as well. So, as of Saturday night, our plans for Sunday were:
- 7AM – Read the bible at a coffee shop
- 9AM – Breakfast with the groom and friends
- 11AM – Bike ride along the beach with Steve
- 1PM – Head back to the hotel to shower and get ready for the wedding
- 4PM – Wedding ceremony
And Sunday morning started perfectly. When the day dawned, Seth and I were already enjoying a quiet morning together reading one of the gospels. We asked questions of one another and dug into some bible commentaries to gain a deeper understanding of our selected reading passage. And Seth, who is not a coffee drinker, loved his coffee shop blueberry smoothie because – unlike the smoothie from Cali Day 1 – this one was chock full of sugar additives. We were both content and satisfied. For me, it was one of the best parts of the whole trip.
But then the rest of the world woke up for the day. Around 8:45AM when we prepared to leave the coffee shop, Seth got a text from the bridal party saying breakfast was pushed back to 10AM because the brothers of the bride were running late. So at 10AM, Seth and I rolled into IHOP only to discover that no one in the wedding party of fourteen people had bothered to make reservations for a Sunday morning breakfast at IHOP.
IHOP had an hour-long wait, so we all drove 15 minutes to another restaurant with only a 20 minute wait and finally got our “breakfast” around 11AM. I ended up being the only woman in the group (all the wives had been invited to a spa day), so I got stuck on the end next to the two brothers of the bride.
After two hours of entertaining the aspiring screenwriters, I escaped the man brunch, and Seth suggested a quick walk along the beach rather than trying to squeeze in a bike ride with Steve before the wedding. Then an hour before the ceremony, I found out the wedding was going to be on the beach itself and that footwear was discouraged. So I slipped out of my black heels and went barefoot in my cocktail dress. Oh yeah. I’m rocking this whole spontaneity thing.
The wedding ceremony was fine – I knew no one; had never met the bride or groom prior to this day – and the reception started out pretty standard: drinks and appetizers while we waited for the bridal party to finish photos. Seth and I stood around making small talk for about an hour before the bridal party showed up and we were all seated for dinner.
Over dinner was more small talk (with strangers for me; college friends for Seth). Then the cake cutting and more small talk. Then the first dance; everyone dancing; more small talk.
Around 10PM I started to fade. My body was saying it was 12 midnight from my home time zone, I’d hiked for 6 hours the day prior, and I’d woken up at 6AM that morning to do a morning devotional with my beau. Besides that, my introverted self was emotionally exhausted from the six straight hours of making small talk with strangers. People I didn’t know. People I’d never see again. People with whom I did not share any common interests or even the same life stage.
I was so miserable by 10:30PM that I excused myself to go to the bathroom and just sat down in a stall in the women’s bathroom even though I didn’t need to go. I just needed some alone time – some time away from the loud music and crowded reception hall and clusters of strangers asking me the same surface-level questions over and over again.
When I re-emerged at 10:45PM, one of Seth’s more distasteful acquaintances (who’d shown me a photo of an erection an hour earlier) came up to me and said loudly, “Why are you so quiet?!” My automatic response was to crinkle my nose in distaste and ask sourly, “Why are you so loud?”
Seth immediately pulled me aside and asked what was wrong. “I’m fine,” I told him. And I would be fine. I could buck up and stick it out. We’d flown all the way to California for this wedding, and I didn’t want to be the reason we left the reception early.
“We can go if you want,” Seth told me, trying to be considerate. But I knew he didn’t want to leave, so I told him we could stay as long as he wanted.
“Are you tired?” he asked me, trying to understand. He’s a man and, sweet man that he is, he sensed a problem and just couldn’t stop himself from trying to fix it.
“I’m not physically tired,” I explained, “But I’m emotionally exhausted. It’s been seven straight hours of making small talk with strangers, and that is draining for me.”
Just then, someone came up to talk to Seth, so I snuck away to a corner to read articles on my phone. I was past the point of caring if I seemed anti-social.
Fifteen minutes later, the wedding planner announced that the bride and groom weren’t planning to do a formal exit, so we were free to leave at any time. Seth and I were out the door in minutes – I think mostly because he was conscious of my mental and emotional state. We didn’t speak before bed other than to agree to set our alarms for 4AM in order to catch our 7AM LA flight an hour’s drive away.
At the airport in the morning, Seth and I hashed out the tension from the prior evening. After getting through security and sitting at our gate, Seth commented, “You seemed really irritable last night, and I don’t understand why you behaved that way. Honestly, I’m pretty concerned by your behavior. You seemed miserable. I mean, are we even compatible?”
“Are you breaking up with me?” I asked candidly.
“No,” he said slowly; cautiously. “I just – well, I want to be with someone who enjoys parties like I do; who values people like I do.”
“Seth. I was pleasant and sociable for the first five hours. I do enjoy parties, and I do value people. But I think it’s understandable that seven hours of making small talk with strangers is emotionally draining.”
“No. No, it’s not understandable. I had a great time last night until you started getting so grumpy.”
“I wasn’t grumpy. I was reserved,” I told him. He didn’t seem to understand, so I tried to give an example he – in all his extroversion – could relate to. “Remember yesterday morning when we were at the coffee shop reading together?”
“I could have done that all day,” I told him. “I LOVE that kind of thing. But how would you have felt around hour 7 of sitting at a quiet coffee shop?”
Seth’s eyes grew wide in horror. “I would have wanted to die.”
I nodded emphatically. “Yes! And that’s how the wedding reception felt for me after seven hours of small talk.”
Seth looked thoughtful. “So… Do we exhaust each other?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, the things I enjoy seem to drain you. And vice versa. Are we just not good for each other?” He looked sad.
I chose my words carefully. “I think introverts and extroverts make great couples. They are able to complement one another in ways that like pairs cannot. I like that you get me out of my shell, and hopefully you appreciate that I help you settle down and be still from time to time.”
“I don’t want us to break up,” he said quietly.
“I don’t want us to break up, either,” I echoed softly.
“I want to try to make it work,” he told me.
“I do, too,” I responded. “And I think we can,” I added encouragingly. “I mean, think about how much friction we used to have about planning versus flexibility. And I think we’ve done great with that this trip! We just had to find a way to compromise; a way of working that fit our relationship. And I think we can do that for our introversion/extroversion conflict, too.” I paused. “I’m willing to try if you are.”
“Yeah,” Seth finally smiled. “I want to make it work.”
He took my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Our flight had started boarding. It was time to go home.
Seth pulled me up, and we walked to our gate hand-in-hand. We had some work ahead of us – some compromise and conflict resolution – but we both recognized that the best things in life are worth fighting for.
Things have not been great with Seth lately. We’ve hit that six month mile marker where the messiness of life starts to creep into the relationship – sickness and time apart and stressors at work and all manner of things – and we are each having to make the determination of whether we believe this relationship is worth fighting for or not.
It was a scary weekend of realizing how much power Seth has to hurt me now. We’ve spent a lot of time together investing in this relationship, and at this stage, it’s either going to result in marriage or a painful breakup.
As a result, I spent a lot of time alone this weekend, reflecting and praying. I really want – really need – to ensure I keep God as my First Love. I want to ensure I maintain that my identity is in the fact that I am a daughter of the King… and not that I am a girlfriend of Seth.
On Saturday, we went to a fall festival where we went through a corn maze and got to pick some homegrown flowers. My favorites were beautiful peachy-pink chrysanthemums, and Seth helped me fill a vase with them back at my apartment. And then we fought. And fought. And fought some more.
I thought we were okay on Sunday at church until Seth made a passive-aggressive comment after the service. I went home and cried most of the afternoon. But when I left my apartment in the evening to meet some friends, I turned on some music and heard David Crowder singing “Come As You Are“. Then I turned the corner out of my parking garage, and the sky opened up before me.
My eyes welled with tears. Bright pink and orange hues lit up the sky, and I felt God speak to my heart, “This is for you. Peachy-pink. Your favorite.”
The chorus of the song picked up, and I sang along in a broken voice:
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are
Just hours before, I’d written in my journal: “God, please woo me to yourself. I want you to be my First Love.” Sometimes the Lover of our Souls is quick to respond. He delights to heal the brokenhearted, turn ashes to beauty and give good gifts to his children.
Cory called me the next day, nonchalant as ever. I cut the call short, not feeling up for absorbing the hurt that his perpetual impassive demeanor caused me. Later that night, I received a text from him:
Hey Aurora, is everything okay? I’m picking up on something; I don’t know what to call it. It was in your voice earlier. I didn’t get to ask because I didn’t want you to be late to your dinner.
A smiley face?
Haha… if you think something is wrong, text usually isn’t the best forum to talk it out 😉
I can take a hint.
And then my phone rang. I answered, unsure what I was going to say. Ultimately, what came out of my mouth was that I didn’t think we could be even friends anymore. “I don’t know how to be just friends with you. It doesn’t seem to affect you at all, but it’s not healthy for me to keep spending time with you,” I told him.
Cory was devastated. “I don’t want to lose your friendship,” he told me. For the first time since I’d met him, a tinge of urgency crept into his voice. “Being with you was the first sense of normalcy I’ve had in years.” He pleaded with me not to cut all ties with him.
“It hurts me too much to be with you without being with you,” I told him. And then I started crying, speaking my deepest hurts into the air between us. “Was it all just physical? Was that the extent of your attraction to and interest in me?”
“No! You’re definitely a beautiful woman, but – do you know what my favorite physical aspect of you is?”
“No…” My voice was a whimper.
“Your eyes,” Cory told me. “Your eyes are so full of depth and wisdom and light. They were the first thing I noticed about you, and they are my favorite part of you. Then your mouth. Your mouth is so expressive. Then your hands – they are so delicate and strong at the same time. Then, just, your entire face. Only then, in fifth place, are your hips. My life is messy and complicated and full of darkness, but being around you showed me how different things can be. That is why I like being around you.”
As he described his favorite parts of me, Cory started crying, too. “I don’t want to lose you. I care about you, and I hate that I hurt you.”
I was feeling comforted until he said that last portion. A part of me wished that he hurt more at the thought of losing me and not just because he felt badly about hurting me. His statement was just another reminder of why I needed to let him go.
When, painful as it was, I stayed firm on the fact that we needed to cut ties for the sake of my sanity and emotional wellbeing, Cory continued crying, sobbing over the phone, “Then…all of the grace and wisdom you’ve given me, and all of the compassion you’ve deemed me deserving of… Can you also give that to yourself?”
He continued, “You are a phenomenal woman. It’s apparent that I’m not the right guy nor is it the right time, but I can definitely say you are as much, if not ten times the catch that you credit me for being. You deserve your godly, kind, romantic leader of men. He is out there waiting to find you, and he will be so lucky when he does. Settle for nothing less than greatness. You deserve as much and more. I have been so blessed for knowing you.”
I wasn’t sure how to end the call, but I shut myself down emotionally and started to say, “Well, have a good rest of the year and enjoy your Christmas break.”
Cory could tell I was starting to end the conversation and interrupted in an anxious voice, “Wait. Could we pray together before we hang up?”
“What?” I was dumbfounded.
“I want to pray with you before we say goodbye.”
“Why?” My heart was hard. In months past, I would have loved – absolutely jumped at the chance! – to pray with Cory. But I was wounded, limping along, and I had already decided to shut down my emotions and shut off my heart.
“I just… I want to pray with you. I feel like we should,” Cory pleaded again.
“Fine,” I conceded brusquely. “But you should know, if I’m going to be talking to the God of the Universe, I’m going to speak truth and say things you may not want to hear. Are you going to be okay with that?”
“Yes. I would expect no different from you.”
“Okay.” I sighed deeply, paused – trying to get myself in the right frame of mind to boldly approach the Throne of Grace – and began.
“Daddy, thank you for Cory. Thank you for the divine crossing of our paths. I know that You had purpose in our meeting, and I pray that your purposes would come to fruition. We confess our sinfulness, Lord. Our relationship has been so full of lust, and we confess that to you, God. Please forgive us. What Satan intends for evil, You intend for good, God, and so I pray that You would bring beauty from the ashes of our interactions. God, Cory has been asking a lot of questions about You and is searching for Truth. I pray You would powerfully reveal Yourself to him, God, and that he would know You; that Cory would come to saving faith in You.”
I prayed a few more sentences, wrapping up; then I paused and asked Cory if he would like to say anything. I heard Cory sniffling on the other end of the phone. “Um…” his voice came softly over the line between quiet sobs. “I hadn’t planned to say anything, but yeah, I have a few things to say.”
“Okay,” I said, more gently now that I had quieted my spirit in prayer. I waited for Cory to start praying when he was ready, and when he did, I was astonished by the broken-hearted pain and soul-bearing honesty in his words.
He began tentatively, with a few introductory sentences; then he started sobbing, crying from the depths of his heart, “God, I’ve been searching for you for so long. Please rescue me from the darkness. I’ve been trapped in the darkness for so long. Please -” his voice broke, “-please bring me out of the darkness and into the light.”
He sobbed again. “Help me, God.”
Taking a quavering breath, he continued, “Save me from the darkness and my fear. I have so much fear – for my mom, my dad, Mimi, Mary… Please protect my mommy- ” his voice cracked, and my heart broke for him.
“I’m not there to protect her…” Cory’s voice rose in pitch as he tried not to cry harder. “She’s all alone in New Orleans with a bad man…”
And then Cory began a time of confession, honoring me with his words. “Please forgive me, God. I’ve hurt so many people, using them to try to self-medicate for my own pain…”
By the end of his prayer, my heart was soft again, malleable and broken for him. I loved this man, though not in the way I had come to expect. When Cory finished praying and we both said, “Amen” together, I echoed words we had come to say to one another.
“I phileo you.”
I heard the sad smile in his voice. “I love you, too.”
And we hung up.
I’m not the kind to try to tell you lies
But the truth is you’ve been hiding from it too
I see the end sneaking in behind your eyes
Saying things no words could ever do
If we were written in reverse, and the end was our beginning
Our love would be rehearsed, and the pain would turn to healing
If we were written in reverse then maybe we could make it, you and I
Does anybody know how to hold my heart
‘Cause I don’t want to let go too soon
I want to tell you so before the sun goes dark
How to hold my heart, ’cause I don’t want to let go of you
Is anybody listening? ‘Cause I’m crying
Is anybody listening? Does anybody know how to hold my heart?
‘Cause I don’t want to let go, let go, let go of you
For anyone who is so inclined, I am openly asking for prayer over my relationship with Bryan. I really, really like this guy a lot – he is a smart, talented, attractive, godly man with a kind heart and generous spirit – but we are really struggling with communication.
We have the same fight constantly, only over different subjects. At its core, the theme always remains the same: I will be discussing some part of my life (past, present, or future), and Bryan will offer an alternate perspective, but instead of couching it as simply an alternate perspective, he has a way of making me feel like he is scornful of my decision.
For example, tonight I was telling him about how I have chosen to continue working in my job at an oil company while attending school part time for graphic design. It seemed like the wise, prudent, responsible choice to test the waters of graphic design to see if it’s a career path I would actually enjoy before completely quitting my stable, lucrative job at an oil company.
Instead of saying something like, “Did you ever consider just quitting work completely and going to school full time?”, his response was:
“Sometimes the only thing to do is to just DO something. Imagine the opportunities you would have had if you’d just moved to San Francisco to do graphic design full time. Imagine the people you would have met; the experiences you could have had. You could have had such an adventure!”
His chosen wording and tone made me feel like I had to justify my safer, more responsible decision as opposed to his clearly preferred option of having the grand adventure. Only, it wasn’t necessarily his preferred option. He was just stating a counterpoint.
But, regardless of the subject, Bryan never makes it sound like just an alternate perspective; his word choices make me feel like he thinks this alternate perspective is the RIGHT perspective. Then, in my insecurity, I get defensive and lash out, which causes him to withdraw from me, which only deepens my lack of security in his affection for me. We are in a vicious downward spiral, and I think I see where it’s headed. Only, neither one of us wants it to go that way.
We had a long conversation about this tonight after yet another disagreement. He said that he really likes me a lot but is concerned about my defensive behavior. I really like him a lot but feel insecure in his affection because I often don’t know where we stand and, as a result of this insecurity, exhibit the defensive behavior that is then his reason for not investing further in me.
This is the way my engagement started down the path toward a broken engagement. Bryan has asked me why I always have such a pessimistic view; why can’t I expect good things? But I think I see the writing on the wall, and life has a way of delivering self-fulfilling prophesies on a silver platter.
So again I state: Prayers appreciated.