Something happened to me the other day as I was washing my hands.
I looked up into the mirror and I realized something. The face I saw staring back at me was no longer a child.
Who I beheld in the mirror was a wise, discerning woman. Gone were the soft edges of childhood and the wild eyes of adolescence.
The eyes that stared back at me held knowledge and wisdom gained by a short lifetime of experiences. The angles of the face were crafted by countless struggles and unending perseverance. The expression on the woman’s face was one that conveyed strength, joy, and a determination to overcome the mountains placed before her.
As I regarded the woman in the mirror, she began to smile as I did. The laugh lines etched deep into her young skin told stories of laughter through the pain, and joy in the midst of sorrow. Our smile grew as the realization dawned on me: I am that woman.
I am strong. I am wise. I am joyous and determined. I have overcome trials and persevered through hardships. I have grown immensely and lived boldly. I have made it my mission to love God’s people and prayerfully follow His leading in my life. I have failed and I have been victorious. But above all, I have lived and I have loved and I have learned from it all.
I smiled at the woman in the mirror one last time as I dried my hands, curiously wondering who I would see there in the coming years and expectantly awaiting the experiences and growth that would further shape who that woman becomes.
Who I become.
I look at my watch. Again. Five minutes. I only have five more minutes until he has to leave. Again…
This happens every single time. He comes to visit for a weekend and it’s absolutely wonderful. But at some point the weekend ends. At some point our time runs out. At some point he has to leave. Again…
I wrap my arms around his waist and lean close into his chest. I’ve learned that if I grit my teeth and look away, I’m less likely to cry… He wraps his arms around my back and leans his cheek against the top of my head. I grit my teeth harder and will the tears farther back.
This is how it always ends.
This is how every goodbye begins.
Standing beside his car, still trying not to cry, I decide that talking might help me change my pattern of thinking. If I can get my mind off of the inevitable goodbye, off of the negative time between, and onto the next visit, the next time I’ll see him, maybe I can get through this with a little more grace than I typically do.
“It’s only three weeks this time until I get to see you again!” I say in what I hope is a light, happy tone. Of course, in my head I’m thinking, Three weeks. Three weeks of long distance. Three weeks of feeling like half of me is missing. Three weeks… “That’s only 21 days and that’s shorter than our normal four weeks apart.” Sigh. 21 days is so short until it’s the 21 days he’s not here…
“I know,” he responds as he hugs me tighter.
He’s always so much more positive than I am. It’s like I have this root of negativity in my mind that pops up whenever it pleases, which is often. I’ve been praying about it…
“I’m gonna miss you, Brandon. A whole heck of a lot.” There they are. I feel the tears stinging the backs of my eyes, begging to be loosed. Deep breath.
“I’m gonna miss you too. A whole, whole heck of a lot.” He pulls away and looks at me. He’s so serious, but a smile is playing at the corners of his mouth.
I smile up at him as a tear finally falls down my cheek. How swiftly he wipes it away and another follows. Dang it. I was going to be good this time. I wasn’t going to cry! I think to myself. Granted, I think those things to myself every time. It only rarely works.
“I love you,” I say, trying to smile and keep the wobble out of my voice.
The answering gleam in his eyes is enough to pull me over the edge. I tuck my head back into his shoulder and squeeze tight. “I’ll see you in three weeks. Not long at all. You’ll be back before we know it.” Even I’m not convinced… The wobble in my voice gives me away even when my face is hidden.
I look at my watch. Again. Two minutes…
“You need to go,” I say against his chest.
“I don’t want to leave.” He squeezes tighter again.
“I know. I don’t want you to leave either but we’ll be together again soon. And one day I’m not gonna have to miss you so much. One day you won’t have to leave me and I won’t have to leave you.” Please let that day come soon, I silently pray.
He pulls my chin up and forces me to look at him as he says, “236 days.”
“236 days,” I echo. “Then I’ll be your wife. Then I’ll be able to see you everyday. Then when we say ‘goodbye’ it’ll just mean that I’ll see you later that day. I can’t wait to marry you. 236 days.” So. Far. Away…
“I can’t wait to marry you either,” he says as he puts a hand on my cheek and wipes away the tears that are quickly replaced by new ones. “I have to go.” His words are so at odds with what I can see so plainly in his eyes: I want to stay. He kisses me one last time and pulls away. “I love you.”
It’s strange. The moment he pulls away it truly feels as if a piece of me is left there, with him. “I love you too,” I whisper as he turns away for the millionth time to get into his car to drive away for the millionth time. I wipe at my tears.
I’ve endured five years of this. Five years of waiting a month to see him for a weekend. Five years of making the most of the time we have together and trying not to fall to pieces when we’re apart. Five years filled with so many goodbyes…
I hate goodbyes. Hate them. Especially when they happen so often. Especially when they are filled with so much emotion that you can’t even think straight. Especially when they mean so much.
He turns his car on, rolls his window down, and tells me again that he loves me and will see me soon. I return the sentiment and give him one last kiss before he pulls out of the driveway.
I stand on the porch, tears streaming down my face, as I watch him back away. Just before he leaves, he holds up the “I love you” sign and smiles through his window. I sign and smile back through my tears as he drives forward… Away from me… Again…
Every single time he leaves, I watch until I can’t see him anymore. Until he rounds a corner or gets too far for me to see. Sometimes I wait there for a while. Sometimes minutes, sometimes longer. Most times there are tears. Most times the tears come more quickly and forcefully after he is out of sight… But there’s something about watching him leave me. Again. And again. And again…
Sometimes I catch myself thinking, This isn’t fair! What did I do wrong? Why does everyone around me get to enjoy their relationship all the time and I only get monthly visits? Why do we have to suffer this over and over again? For years! Why didn’t my friends have to wait this long? Why do they get to love each other so easily while we suffer again and again?
No! I would NEVER wish this on anyone. It sucks. A lot. Knowing that someone is your husband and knowing that you have to keep waiting and keep being apart is awful. I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through this. I’m thrilled my friends didn’t have to wait 6 years like I will. I’m so happy that they are able to love their people as often as they can. And I know that I also have friends who haven’t yet found their person and I know that is extremely difficult: to watch everyone else experience what you are dreaming or praying or hoping for while you still can’t or aren’t. And I know that there are so many other people out there waiting longer and traveling farther. No, it isn’t fair, but as a wise woman once told me, “Life isn’t fair. Fair only comes once a year.”
No one’s life is easy. No one’s life is perfect. If you think that it is, you’re either wrong or blind to the imperfections in your own life. Sometimes it’s just harder than others…
I have to remind myself each time Brandon leaves that God has a plan for us. And not only does God have a plan for us, but that this is His plan for US, not other people. That God wants us to be in this exact situation at this exact moment for this exact amount of time. I have to remind myself that the Lord is the only one who can help me get through the negativity, and the depression that comes with it if I don’t surrender my negativity to the Lord, when we are apart. That may sound dramatic, but it’s the honest truth. When we are apart, Satan uses any bit of negativity and turns it into something I fixate on if I am not careful to keep my eyes on God. It is in those moments that I have to remember that regardless of what I want or think I need, God knows best and He has it all under control.
So, here’s to 230 days until our monthly goodbyes become a thing of the past and something we thank the Lord for teaching and guiding us through. Here’s to 230 more days of learning through the distance and loving across the miles.
It is a beautiful spring evening. The sun is slowly setting along the horizon, located on your right. A small river runs soundlessly on your left, hidden by some trees with faces carved in them. The sky is still a brilliant blue and the clouds are starting to shift from white and gray to warmer shades of pink and orange with the coming sunset. There is the sound of children’s laughter from the nearby playground. A very slight breeze sets the leaves of the surrounding trees into just enough motion to draw your eye.
You are sitting on a playground swing. The black stretch of seating beneath you feels smaller than you remember, but it still holds your weight. The chains in your hands are dark and weathered and in your mind you hear your mother’s voice saying, “be careful not to pinch your fingers in the chains!” You take a deep breath of evening air and push off, setting yourself into motion. The air whisks past you as you begin to pump your legs. The wind in your face is familiar and a smile begins to form as you slowly push yourself higher and higher.
Your hair shrouds your face and then is driven back as you swing back and forth. Joy bubbles up within you and you realize that your smile has broken into laughter, music to your ears. You remember a time when you never thought you could reach this height and relish the rush of wind in your ears. Your legs ache from the too small seat beneath you being pulled tighter in by the chains at your sides, but it is not enough to drown out the feeling of absolute exhilaration.
You cease striving to swing higher, and instead rest in the movement until it becomes a gentle sway to and fro. The pounding of your heart and rapid breathing slow as the swing does, until everything is once more at peace.
This is where my joy is found.
This is where I find Jesus. This is where I talk to the Lord and praise Him through my laughter. This is where I listen to His voice in the rushing wind and the peace that follows. This is where the chaos of the world around me turns into the rushing of the wind in my hair. This is where the anxieties and stresses of my life are released and I find peace in the movement and in the stillness. This is where I am free and the only chains that hold me are the ones I cling to, keeping me in my seat.
This is where my joy is found.
Where is yours?