In the spirit of Valentines Day, I want to share a love story with you. Is it filled with the goopy, dripping romance that saturates movies? Not exactly. It’s actually filled with true love, the love of Christ, love that crosses boundaries and breaks down walls. It’s how I found the love of my husband.
Stephen and I had attended the same church for over four years by the time I was nearly twenty. We knew each other well enough, but he was one of the “older boys” (older than me by a whopping two and a half years), and neither of us had ever really dated, so we weren’t on the fast track to getting hooked by any means.
The year I turned twenty was a big year for me. I’d changed my degree focus from secondary education to elementary education, and my tics and anxiety had taken off like they were being fueled by a rocket. Although my family had told me my whole life that one day, I would find my best friend, a man who valued and adored me, I was somewhat doubtful. I’d tried to pretend my disorders didn’t exist for years, but with their new surge in strength, I couldn’t ignore them anymore.
A small mean voice whispered over and over again that the best I could hope for was a man who tolerated my tics, who didn’t really mind my anxiety attacks. I mean, honestly, I could sometimes barely tolerate my Tourettes, and I loathed my anxiety attacks. How could I expect any man to accept them more than I did?
That year, however, Stephen began to pay attention to me. I noticed, but wasn’t sure what I thought about it. Our peer group from church was extremely close, and I saw Stephen more like a brother. He wasn’t the Type A guy with a commanding presence I (for some crazy reason) had always assumed I’d marry. Instead, he was easy-going, loved to tell cheesey jokes, and was often quiet in large groups. When I told my mom he was paying more attention to me,and I didn’t know what to think about that, my mom offered me the best advice she’s ever given me.
“I wouldn’t count him out yet, Sweetie. He might surprise you.”
Needless to say, he gave me the surprise of my life a few months later. His attempts to pursue me had started to pay off, and cautiously, I began to respond. (And I had to admit that he was really cute.) Though we weren’t officially dating, we were instant messaging one another nightly on Facebook, and everyone at church would chuckle because wherever I went, Stephen was sure to follow.
One night, while we were messaging back and forth, he typed,
“Tell me something.”
“Tell you what?” I wrote back.
I froze, my heart pounding in my stomach. I knew exactly what I wanted to tell him. Lord, I prayed with tears in my eyes, Let me know what to do! I heard no audible voice, but I felt a nudge to my fluttering heart. You’ll have to tell him sometime, I felt God gently remind me. So with a breath and tears streaming down my face, I wrote back.
“Have you ever heard of Tourettes? Well, I have it.”
There was a long pause before wrote back. The tears that had been trickling down my face started to flood. I knew this was the end. He probably thought I was just vying for attention, that I just wanted pity. He might not even believe Tourettes existed, as I’d already met people who thought neurological disorders were just excuses for bad behavior. He’d probably start to ignore me, and I didn’t know if I could handle that. He was already my best friend, the one with whom I told everything.
Finally, his response came.
“Oh wow, you do? Yeah, I know what that is. Thank you for sharing with me. It’s important that you trust me enough to tell me.”
If I hadn’t already been in love with him, my heart was his after that. Since I was a child, I hadn’t been able to imagine a man accepting me exactly the way I was. And he didn’t just accept me. He didn’t love me despite my disorders; he loved me for who I was as a whole.
Photo Note: Our second date
And he continues to love me wholly. Sure, we have our squabbles, but he’s never, ever degraded me or made me feel ashamed of my differences. Instead, he comforts me when I’m afraid, he prays with me when I have anxiety attacks. He holds my hand when I tic anxiously in church, and he’s never acted embarrassed when I tic in public. I can trust Him completely with who I am. His devotion to me is a beautiful picture of the love of Christ.
Today, Stephen’s love, and even more, the love of God, fill me with a confidence I’ve never had before. I feel beautiful. I feel strong. I feel worthy as a person, like I have something God meant for me to contribute to the world. Stephen’s gentle love opened the door to a world I’d never known before.
Unfortunately, so many people with mental illnesses don’t know this kind of love. Because of the unusual habits or behaviors their disorder prompt them to, others around them don’t understand, and often push them away, or they push themselves away. Believe me, I know it’s tempting to chase after anyone who’s willing to show any sort of affection, but it’s dangerous, and will hurt more than it will help!
*Photography done by my extremely talented friend, Dulcia, who owns Roaming Reflections Photography.
There are 2 pieces of wisdom I received that I pass on in hopes they give you hope and courage:
1) Love God first, and experience His love before anyone else’s. It wasn’t until I quit trying to find myself a man and turned to focus on God’s love that God really brought Stephen into my life as more than a friend. And as much as my husband loves me, it will always come in second to the love of God, who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live, die, and rise again for my sins, who loves me eternally, with perfect patience eternally. It is this love that sustains me from day to day forever.
2) Don’t fall for someone who puts up with you. I know it’s easy to feel desperate, hungry for love, but please, just don’t do it. No matter who you are, no matter what baggage you have, if you give your life to God, you can know that He has a plan just for you. You’ll have His love no matter what. And He will bring the right people into your life to love you the way you need to be loved. Stephen wasn’t the person I foolishly created as a future husband for myself in my teenage mind; he’s much better. I knew the kind of person I wanted to love. God knew the person I needed to love, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
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