Since Friday, Ike has been out of town serving at our church’s annual summer youth retreat. It has been a little lonely around here without him, but I have also enjoyed the time to myself. On this particular quiet morning, I am sitting in bed and nibbling on some breakfast as the little boy inside my belly begins to stir and kick. I have the window in the bedroom cracked, and somewhere nearby a bird is cooing against a backdrop of soft wind, swishing trees, and delicately chirping cicadas. It is so peaceful, and so wonderful.
The sound of cicadas during the summer has always made me feel a little nostalgic. It reminds me of summers in North Carolina, and it also reminds me of the summer that Ike and I dated. That particular summer, Ike was gone for 10 weeks doing his seminary field education in Charleston, SC, so every few weeks I would hop in my car and drive the stretch of road between Durham and the South Carolina coast.
I loved that drive, and I love Charleston with its salty smell, Spanish moss, and antebellum architecture. Charleston is, I am convinced, one of the most romantic cities in America. Between its delicious Southern food, gorgeous churches, historical homes, riverside walks, and horse-drawn carriage rides, there is no end for creative date options. As Ike and I were falling in love, I could not have picked a better setting.
When we still lived in North Carolina we tried to visit Charleston each year. Ike also proposed in Charleston, so it is a truly special place to us that we love to return to. Since we’ve moved to the Chicago area we have been unable to go back, so I find myself missing Charleston a lot. Especially during the summer when I hear the cicadas chirping and I remember the romance of that summer in 2008.
Part of my nostalgia is a longing to return. I want to revisit the sites or our courtship, and more importantly, those feelings. After all, the first months and year of dating are so magical! Everything is new and every time you see one another you get butterflies in your stomach. Those early days are marked by little romantic gestures, love letters, surprises, and sentimental gifts. You walk around on a cloud, and when you’re apart the minutes seem like hours.
This summer, as I have logged hours in the classroom and the library, as my belly has continued to grow and my movement has become more labored, and as Ike has buried himself in studying for his comprehensive exams, I have occasionally paused and remembered the romance from our first summer together. And to be honest, I have missed it. Don’t get my wrong–Ike is still incredibly romantic and we adore our time together. Every day I look at him and wonder at how handsome he is and thank God for giving me such a good man. But the wonderment of those early days has certainly changed. Everything isn’t beautiful all the time.
A part of my nostalgia is tinged with sadness as I yearn to have those early experiences and feelings again. When you date, become engaged, and marry, you don’t usually understand–not really, anyway–the way that things will change. Your body will change and his body will change, life will get complicated, you’ll move away from family and friends, and not every day will be like a summer evening in Charleston. Some days are just plain unglamorous.
And sometimes, it’s easy to feel disappointed. When not every day is like the grand romance of your younger dreams, it’s easy to feel a little let down.
That is why I have a message for my 27 year-old self, my self from those dating years. If I had the chance to go back and tell her about the journey to come, I would encourage her to absorb every bit of the romance and treasure it in her heart. I would tell her to remember those feelings and hold onto them as a precious chapter in her love story.
But also, I would tell her to embrace the change. I would warn her against making romance into an idol that fosters discontent and stunts her spiritual growth. Do not, like Lot’s wife, spend so much time looking backward that your life in the present turns to ashes.
Romance is lovely and I am grateful that I married a romantic man, but romance is not my purpose. Life is not a movie. Even the Christian life–as much as authors and speakers might tell you otherwise–is not about the romance between you and God. At least not to the extent that you are the center of the story. Life is not a film in which you are the heroine and God or a husband are the supporting actors.
Earthly romance and spiritual romance are all signs of God’s great love for you, yes. But the journey of the Christian life and the journey of Christian marriage are about journeys toward God. It can be hard and painful as God prunes you of those elements that would keep you distant from Him. It can be painful as He disciplines and teaches you. Not every day is romantic. But those seasons are all essential for growth. They mark the path to becoming a mature woman of God.
My younger self preferred romance to maturity. In fact, I still do. So if I could sit down with my younger self over a cup of coffee, I would encourage her with the knowledge that the romance does not go away entirely, but neither is it the goal. God desires a richer kind of love relationship, both with me and in my marriage, and I choose to embrace that deeper place. I would encourage my 27 year-old self to do the same.