Ten years ago today, my best friend took me on a date for the first time. Last week, I had the privilege of sharing my dating story with college students in my town. In honor of our date-iversary today, it seems appropriate to share my story here. Full disclosure—I am no dating expert. But I offer my messy story in hopes of giving you eyes to see God’s pursuit in yours.
My story is one of longing to be loved, aching to be seen, desiring to be pursued, wanted, chosen. It is a story about hoping for the best possible love story but settling for the one I thought I deserved—and how God came in and rescued me for more than I hoped was possible.
From a young age, I learned I learned how to perform and perform well. I learned how to avoid disappointment by anticipating any potential disapproval and doing whatever I could to keep others happy. I learned how to perform—at home, in school, on the volleyball court, even with friends—I became what I thought others wanted me to be. I thought that keeping others happy was the same thing as being loved by them.
The truth was, behind a façade of overachievement, I was wearing myself out. Thinking constantly about what everyone else is thinking about you is exhausting. I didn’t know how to receive love, because I didn’t let anyone know who I really was. I feared that at my core, if I stopped striving to be the perfect daughter, teammate, student, friend, there wouldn’t be anything in me worth loving. I believed that I had to earn the love of others by making myself into someone that deserved to be loved.
Growing up, I always struggled with the way that I looked. Being the tallest kid in all my classes throughout elementary school didn’t exactly make me feel feminine. As an athlete, I’ve always been strong—but as I compared myself to my thinner friends, I believed that I would never be beautiful because I would never be petite. Almost in rebellion from the constant pressure I felt to lose weight, I found myself sneaking food, binging and purging at times, but mostly just binging. I hated my body, I hated the way I looked, and therefore I hated myself.
A writer named Anne Lamont talks about the God-shaped hole we all have inside of us. The one that only God can fill. I tried to fill mine with a lot of other things for a lot of years—in fact, my greatest struggle is still to let God be the one to fill the God-shaped hole. I filled mine up with good behavior, academic and athletic success, other people’s approval, popularity, food, exercise, and eventually boys, alcohol, sex. At different points, I have even tried filling it with self-made righteousness—spiritual discipline and churchyness. I learned the hard way: anything you try to put in your God-shaped hole besides God Himself always leaves you feeling disappointed and aching for more.
To say I was insecure might be the biggest understatement of the century. When a boy in my math class asked me to homecoming my junior year, I was shocked and delighted and couldn’t believe it was happening. For the first time, I felt special. Worthy of attention. He told me nice things that no guy had ever said. He thought I was pretty.
So when the boundary lines got blurry after a few months, I didn’t put up much of a fight. I felt attractive because he wanted me. And in those moments, I cared more about feeling wanted, desired, pursued than I cared about preserving my self-respect. But when I lost my virginity in the back of his mom’s car on the side of a road, I couldn’t stop crying. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. I never wanted to have sex before marriage. I had never planned on letting things go so far—and now there was no going back.
The way I saw myself changed after that. We broke up a couple months later. The pure sweetness of what we had together had been tainted. It felt like our physical relationship had taken the place of all the fun we’d used to have just being together. But in my mind, the line had been crossed and there was no point of pretending it hadn’t.
The next several years I struggled with compromising who I wanted to be—an authentic follower of Jesus—for my desire to feel wanted. Over and over I traded my sense of self worth and respectability for a moment of attention from a guy I didn’t really even like. I didn’t have sex every time I fooled around, but the effect was the same. I felt used, gross, and unworthy of the type of man my heart yearned to know existed. Part of me thought if I was physically vulnerable, the guy would want to guard and cherish what I gave them. They didn’t. It felt like I throwing my heart against a brick wall, over and over again.
I was a sophomore in college when I met Corey. We were both volunteer Young Life leaders in different towns but we met at a monthly ministry training we both attended. I never laughed so hard in my life as I did when we would hang out. His kindness, genuine love for Jesus, commitment to really living out the gospel, and light-hearted approach to life was so attractive. Just realizing that men like him actually existed gave me hope that I should hold out for more than I thought I deserved.
The year I graduated from college, Corey moved to my town. I knew if I ever had a chance with him (which I truly didn’t think I did), I had to put as much distance between myself and my unhealthy past relationships as possible. I remember sitting on the kitchen floor of my apartment, sobbing and broken over the ways I had given my heart and body away again and again and begging God to rescue me for Himself.
It’s funny how the times in my life I’ve most experienced God’s power intervening on my behalf often involve tears on the kitchen floor. Something about bringing our raw need and brokenness to Him, fully admitting our powerlessness to change or help ourselves opens a door for His Spirit to rush in.
God hit me over the head during that season of broken surrender with the words of Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” All of a sudden, it was like my heart and mind clicked together and I believed that His way really was worth waiting for—my way of finding love certainly wasn’t working.
WAITING IS HARD. I can still remember the longing, the almost physical aching for the future I hoped would become a reality. I wanted to meet “the one” SO BADLY. I poured myself into getting to know Jesus more deeply than ever, asking Him to help me desire Him more than anything else.
I learned in those years of waiting that having a boyfriend isn’t the goal—knowing Jesus is. That’s true no matter if we’re in a relationship or waiting for one, married or single. Our heart’s deepest longing is to know God and experience the completeness that only He can offer.
A couple years later, my mind was blown when my best friend, Corey, looked me in the eye and told me he was attracted to me. The man who had become my high bar for what a man should be. HE was attracted to me. To ME. My face contorted into a smile so big that my cheeks started to convulse a bit.
As we walked through the journey of risking our dearest friendship for the potential of a lifetime together, I learned what God really thought of me through this man who cherished my heart. It was slow—painfully slow at times—but slow enough for God to redeem the fast-talking, fast-acting men I’d dated before. Corey was the first man to ever ask me permission to give me a kiss. And it took him two months to get to that point. I was dying. But I had never felt so respected. Nothing had ever felt more worth the wait.
I had to tell him the heartbreaking news that, even though he had waited for marriage, hoping the woman he married to do the same, I hadn’t waited. That was hard. Excruciatingly hard. But God healed my heart as I received Corey’s genuine forgiveness for my past sin, and as we hashed out the painful consequences of both of our imperfect past relationships.
Corey treated me so differently from anyone I had ever dated. He wouldn’t kiss me in his hot tub. He made sure not to tell me things he didn’t mean—he didn’t want my heart to get ahead of his. Sometimes I would wonder if he was even attracted to me because he didn’t try to push boundaries the way every other guy had. But my definition of love was distorted. Jesus was using Corey to show me that love actually is patient and kind, not self-seeking, and it always PROTECTS, trusts, hopes, perseveres. Corey protected my heart every step of the way.
When we celebrated the one-year anniversary of our first date, I was caught completely off-guard by what turned out to be the most well-thought out, creative, romantic marriage proposal I’d ever imagined. He told me he loved me for the first time and asked me to marry him in the same breath. And I knew he meant both.
God has used my relationship with Corey to let me experience a taste of His perfect love for me. But let me make one thing very clear: Corey is not God. There is only one God who is worthy of our worship. We will be sorely disappointed if we try to make the men or women in our lives fulfill the role that only God is capable of fulfilling. This is true in singleness, in dating, and in marriage. No one but God Himself can handle our whole-hearted devotion. No one but God can fill our God-shaped hole.
I am living proof there is no story God can’t redeem. He can take the ashes of our broken hearts—the remnants of our broken relationships, betrayal, heartache, failure, sin, shame, disappointment, longing—and transform those ashes into beauty. May we have eyes to see the only perfect Love pursuing us at every turn.