I was driving east on Saturday when it started to rain. The sun was fighting clouds when I’d left Charming’s house two hours before. Now, the sunset was clear in the rear view mirror as I plunged into a twilight summer storm, leaving the light behind me. I’d said goodbye to Charming, maybe for the last time.
I wasn’t planning on breaking up with him. We’d just ordered Chinese food, and the rain had cleared so we could walk to pick it up, but a simple, “What’s wrong?” from Charming had us stumbling into another Relationship Defining Talk, the RDT as we’d called it in our Wheaton days. Orange chicken shifted to the back burner as we revisited the question of timing in our relationship.
As I recall the conversation here on my own front porch days later, I’m sipping wine out of a glass from the Wine on the Waterfront festival in June… also the site of our last RDT where I’d tried to break up with him because I was further along in emotions than he… also the night he finally came to the logical and systematic conclusion that he loves me. My breath still catches. That had been worth the wait.
My evening glories were blooming when I got back, seeming not to note my week and a half absence. I’d wanted Charming to see them. When I left, he’d asked if he could come down and see me in three weeks. I said no, but I was already rethinking my answer. Like the evening glories’ white blossoms, there are still things I want to share with him. I’d broken it off, but I hadn’t meant to. There wasn’t an ultimatum, just the issue of timing.
I started crying as soon as my wheels left the curb. On our road trip, I’d played him a song from a playlist I made when I was going through my divorce. The iPod started automatically where it had left off. While I wept, wondering how I was going to see the next 175 miles, Casting Crowns drowned out my thoughts: “We were made to be courageous, and it starts with us tonight. The only way we’ll ever stand is on our knees with lifted hands.”
I couldn’t drive on my knees, but I could choose to let God minister to me through worship music instead of falling apart, hurtling forward into a future without Charming in it. My inner voice was looped, and every song in sequence seemed to combat my current hopeless train of thought even as the hours fell away, losing the light completely, the storm intensifying such that I could barely see a hundred feet in front of me.
My first thought was that this is the first thing about Charming that has made sense. Happily ever after didn’t fit the story of my life. No sooner had I processed the thought than Third Day broke in with, “After all that I’ve been through, now, I realize the truth that I must go through the valley to stand upon the mountain of God.” I’ve had valleys before. In one, I abandoned faith while listening to this playlist. I left the door open to God, believing He existed but unsure to what capacity He was actively involved in my life. In essence, I didn’t turn from God, but rather retreated to a waiting room, willing Him to show up.
Then, Charming showed up more than two years later, and he brought the Lord back with him. I always said I would be better for having shared this time with him, no matter where our roads eventually brought us. Charming was an act of God’s providence. I’m not the same girl I was in our Wheaton days. She would have despaired and abandoned faith after yet another failed relationship. I would do the things I knew to do… tend the garden, go to church, and hear Pastor Grant say, “If you listen to the wrong voices, you’ll make the wrong choices.”
As I drove away from Charming, God interceded for every pessimistic thought. When I was thinking that I’d ruined too much to wind up with a dream guy like Charming, Matthew West interjected, “There’s only grace … and believe me it’s enough. Your sins are gone without a trace.” When I aked, what was all of it for? Why meet him again only to have wasted another year of my life? Jason Gray answered, “In the hands of our Redeemer, nothing is wasted. From the ruins, from the ashes, beauty will rise.”
But we were always too good to be true, I postured, weaving around Richmond and the question: why would God have made this a part of our story? Laura Story countered with, “’Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?” God would make it pour the rest of the drive just to reassure me that He’s got the road ahead covered, much farther in my future journey than I can see in the storm.
Honestly, I heard precious little of the sermon after I opened my Bible and found his Valentine’s Day card, signed “Adoringly” as if to remind me of our timing conflict of interests. It was tucked inside Deuteronomy, Chapter 8, with versus 7-9 underlined. I’d just finished coaxing my hoarse, teary voice through, “I will not fear, His promise is true”, and now before me was the promise I’d rejected in my time in New York, when I listened to these same songs and decided to close off my heart to trusting God.
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills… and you will lack nothing,” the passage affirmed. My narrative has changed. I will hold God to that promise. I won’t lose hope this time. God intervened personally in a practically ordained playlist. I believe there’s a good land in my future. So I keep doing what I know to do.
I’d spent some time in the garden before church and still had dirt under my nails from fussing with the bell pepper plants I’d sowed as seeds that were finally beginning to flower. In fact, they look a lot like the seedlings I planted at the same time, a gentle suggestion from my gym mentor Chuck so that I would be see fruit faster. I saw Charming in this. We’ve always been in different stages in the growth process; I’m further along in the pursuit of marriage and kids, and so much time with families on our Wheaton road trip had armed my biological clock with a protective trigger.
I saw my fear in the spinach plants, or lack thereof. I’d waited too long to harvest them. They’d fully formed and would not grow new leaves. I’d planted seeds after the stems withered and died, but it was too late in the season for them to germinate. I returned Charming’s house key in the very physical fear that if I wait too long to get married, I won’t be able to have children. It’s a question of timing: how long? How long until he’s ready, and how long can I wait for him to be? We don’t have the answers.
When I came inside after gardening, I saw his dried roses on the dining room table, resisted the urge to call this déjà vu, and focused my gaze instead to the birthday card at its base. I didn’t need to open it to know that’s when he told me he hoped we’d have many more years together. I’m not ready to move that card or those flowers. We’ve been the evening glories climbing up around the hanging baskets half dead from heat exhaustion. Beside me as I write, they cover the ugliness of loss with beauty, blossoming vines growing together.
I’ve considered it for a few days, and I still don’t have any answers to our timing issue. Over the next twenty-four hours, I would create and order our Shutterfly road trip memory book, a hybrid scrapbook with space where I can add ticket stubs and other memorabilia, just doing what I knew to do. I would finish what I started with the album, all the while anticipating the sequel to Walt Whitman’s “The Road Not Taken” where our paths converge again.
I keep doing what I know to do. I went to the beach this afternoon, but there was no delight in the heat of the sun on my skin. I missed Charming. I wanted to give him my take on the book he bought me last week. I go through the motions, but without him, they lack joy. There wasn’t an ultimatum. There’s a question of timing. He’s not ready for the white picket fence. I’m scared I’ll never have one. What I can uphold, with certainty, is that Charming and I are better together. The goal of every union is to glorify God, and I believe we bring him more honor as a couple than either of us would apart.
Charming brought God back into my life with him. I’m still hopeful God can direct our timelines into harmony, if not a melody to speak to every doubt like an iPod playlist in the storm. And I’m still holding Him to the promise that there are good lands in store for me. Once again, I’m leaving the door open.
I might be further along, but we grow better together. We can’t answer the question: how long? Only God can see that far down our paths. In four days without Charming, I’ve realized I need to start asking different questions. I waited on my Prince Charming for over thirty years. Now that I’ve found him, I don’t know how long is right to wait for him to be ready for marriage.
But is he worth the wait, worth the risk of waiting too long?
That’s the question I should be asking. That’s the answer I’m still trying to find in the evening glories and the vegetable garden and in scriptures of promise. He’s certainly been worth the wait before.