My favorite love stories are true ones.
At age 24, my sister Rachel was anything but looking for romance. Previously disappointed by a long-distance relationship, she longed for patient strength, laughter and bear hugs. "I guess what I'm asking," she wrote, "is for pigs to fly."
Last Christmas, my entire family spent a few weeks together in Jerusalem. Whether the 10 of us piled into two tiny rental cars, went on walking tours or decorated the house, I kept busy snapping pictures. And somehow, Rachel figured in more photos than anyone else, always with a megawatt smile on her face.
It wasn't hard to guess that she had found someone special.
When Rachel met Gabe, she did her best to scare him away. He should have been scared: After all, he had weathered his own heartbreak. But somehow, he just couldn't resist finding out what would happen if he took the time and effort to break through the defenses Rachel had built around her heart. And in spite of herself, Rachel let Gabe hang around because he was endearing: just an ordinary guy who embarrassed himself sometimes — but courageously insisted on being open with her, anyway. Oh, and the patient strength, laughter and bear hugs? Gabe spoke that love language fluently.
Before long, they fell in love. Past heartbreaks vivid in their minds, they were, quite frankly, scared. What gave them the courage to go forward? They looked for providences — and found them.
In Rachel's view, rather than a big thundering yes from heaven, it was more of a step-by-step being led. Gabe agrees:
In all our talking, and getting to know each other and her family ... every time I have asked God if it's His will to let it happen, He has [made it happen]. Somehow, there has always been a way.
Even a way to get engaged, when Gabe's job kept him anywhere but where Rachel was. Instead of fighting their circumstances, they allowed God to write a unique twist in their story. Inspired by her grandfather, who had to pop the question in a letter, he asked Rachel to marry him over the phone — and arranged for her best friend to deliver the ring. There was joy, laughter, tears.
Recently, I spoke about Rachel's engagement with a lady I had just met. After we savored all the girly details, she asked, "Do you have a boyfriend?" Good question. I am, after all, the older sister. Shy and unsure of where she was with God, I decided to go with the short answer. "No," I said. "Maybe someday."
Now I wish I'd had the courage to tell her the truth: God's goodness to Rachel does not leave me crushed or jealous, just hope-filled!
The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Word made flesh. I like to think that, in a small way, each of us is also the Word made flesh; that each of us has a story in which the kindness of God is made visible to the world. Think how clear His kindness is in your salvation story. And when you listen to the salvation stories of others, don't you see how unique is the way He captures each of our hearts?
That's why my favorite love stories are true ones. In fact, I've probably read or heard the stories of nearly 150 Christian couples, each one as unique as a fingerprint. Some couples called it "courtship," some called it "dating," and some met and married long before the terms acquired their present meanings. God's kindness is evident in them all.
Jason and Heather
Jason and Heather had been inseparable for a year. Not surprising, considering the fact that they taught in adjacent classrooms, attended the same church, and worked with the same youth group. But it wasn't until Jason left for a three-month mission trip that Heather realized she was in love with him.
Not wanting to lose their friendship, she chose not to mention or even show her feelings. Instead, she began praying — hard — and leaning hard on Jesus.
A second year went by. Prompted by a big decision he had to make about his job, Jason embarked on a three-day fast, and Heather joined him. As they compared notes over the phone, Jason asked, "Is this a good time to talk about us?" He knew, he said, that they'd be perfect together, but he didn't know why he just didn't have any feelings for her.
Once she recovered from her shock, Heather replied, "Well, if you ever do get feelings for me, you might as well just propose, because dating wouldn't look any different from the way we are right now." Knowing that Jason had made a commitment not to date until it could end in marriage, she suggested that he "try to think of her 'in that way.' After all, it had been seven years since he'd had a girlfriend, and he was used to not thinking of women 'in that way.'" Heather had no idea if she'd been crazy, or Spirit-led! But three and a half weeks later, Jason celebrated her 25th birthday by calling her to the front of the church — and asking her to be his wife.
Jeremy and Trina
At 19 years old and 5'9" tall, Trina had just two things she wanted her future husband to be: godly and taller. However, the man who came knocking on her door was godly ... and shorter. Encouraged by God's reminder that while "man looks on the outward appearance ... the LORD looks on the heart," Trina grew to love him for his heart.
After a few months, however, the relationship came to an unexpected end. Despite her pain, Trina felt the time had not been wasted. "I was now more convinced than ever that whoever the Lord brought for me as a mate, He would also provide the grace for me to love and respect him — no matter what his age, height, background, or personality."
Time passed. When her pastor's son began working closely with her dad, she discovered that Jeremy was talented, personable, and funny ... as well as shorter. You guessed it: They fell in love and were married.
Trina writes, "My experience has been that as I was open to the Lord's leading, making His will my deepest desire, He led me into a relationship with more compatibility and fulfillment than I could have ever dreamed." It's true that she once believed this stand would also protect her from a broken heart. She learned that "sometimes God's perfect plan includes heartbreak.... When Jeremy and I look back, we see how God shaped our hearts for each other through the trials we went through."
Anthony and Tracy
As a cancer survivor, Anthony agonized over this question: Was it fair for him to pursue marriage?
When he learned that Tracy had lost her boyfriend to cancer, he had to know what she thought. Grieved to think he was questioning his "right" to love, Tracy felt compelled to reassure him that the right woman would think it a risk worth taking! As they talked about the deeply painful lessons they had learned, their friendship grew.
Anthony was the first to say "I love you." Though she felt the same, love had meant pain to Tracy, and at first she simply could not respond. Anthony patiently waited for her, and soon God changed her fear into deep peace that He had brought them together.
"It just seemed more clear than ever," she says, "that God was reigning in every single moment of our relationship." Anthony felt the same.
Eager to share their news, they met with all four parents, and there they learned that Anthony was an answer to Tracy's parents' prayers, and she to the prayers of his parents. Tracy writes, "Our relationship has shown us more than ever how God delights in us and in doing wonderful things in our lives, and how He gives us his peace and rejoices in our happiness."
Telling His Stories
I could tell you so many more stories! Stories about people I know and love. There's Michael, who waited for Bethany five years. When she finally realized she was in love with her best friend, she flew to Israel to find out if it could work. (It did!)
There's my grandma Connie, who couldn't decide whether or not to marry John, who was 10 years her senior. They ended up being the kind of married couple whose kids hear them late at night, talking and talking.
There's Everett, who needed his sister's help to even notice Liz ... but fell in love with her all by himself.
There's Jonathon, the older widower who had to ask never-married Dorothy three times — but persisted until she said yes.
And Nathan, who told God he had given up on marriage, unless He brought someone to his doorstep. This is just how Julia came into his life, when she arrived to care for his elderly parents.
Before My Story Begins
In my house is a small pottery jar imprinted with two potentially life-changing sentences:
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future."
I say "potentially life-changing" because there is a choice involved. First, to believe that my Heavenly Father is the source of all that's good. Second, to believe that His plans for me are good. And third, "to present my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God ... that by testing I may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
If there is one Biblical way to "do" relationships, this is where it always begins.
I may be willing to risk my time, my affections and my emotional well-being with a reckless approach to relationships — but if I have given myself to Jesus, I don't have that right. I am not my own; I am His. Conversely, I may not be willing to risk my time, my affections, and my emotional well-being by committing to a relationship with a fallible human being. But these are not my own to hoard; I belong to Jesus.
I give the control to Him, not because it will make things easier, but because He has won my heart.
It was only because of the mercies of God that, after years of wrestling, I finally relinquished control of my love life to Him. Contrary to my expectations, it had nothing to do with ceasing to care about marriage. Instead I learned to become a living sacrifice: regularly, trustfully pouring out all my longings before Him.
And I am certain He hears. After all, God is "the best maker of all marriages," and I'm convinced that He loves to do it! He brought Eve to Adam. He prompted Eliezer's prayer for guidance, and then answered it by matching Rebekah with Isaac. He arranged for Ruth to "accidentally" bump into Boaz, inspired Naomi when she counseled Ruth to consider this man who seemed so beyond her grasp, and fueled Boaz's determination to finish the matter that very day.
This is a picture of God's heart. This is what He wants to do for all His children. This is what He wants to do for me.
If someday I live out my love story in light of the gospel, who can help seeing the pure and unconditional love of Jesus? That's an exciting thought!
But regardless of whether I marry or stay single, I deeply desire to make the kindness of God visible to the world. And I can, because the One who lives inside me now is the source of all that's good.
Copyright 2008 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.