And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God… Romans 8:28
To preface this, let me just say I grew up far from the church. So this is not the story of one protected by the guardrails God intended. I made several– dozens, actually– mistakes before I found the one man I was always meant for, my husband Ronnie Cecil. But what I hope you get from what I share is this: if you, like me, have a less than pure past in the realm of love, God can still redeem your story. I adore Romans 8:28 because it has been so true in my own life: The Lord can truly work all the things for good…all things, including a divorce; including getting pregnant outside of marriage…
It was Christmas day, 2007. I sent him a poem. We were not close enough friends for me to share all that was on my heart, but in the poem I hoped he would here me saying: “I get you; I get where you’ve been.”
His Christmas letter, sent out in an email, confessed the pain of his divorce and the chaotic experience of wandering through life unsure of who you are. It also shared a hint of Spring returning- a deep gratitude for days spent less miserable than before. I had never been divorced because I had never been married. But, I knew the dark pit he was talking about, because I had landed there too, my womb full of unexpected life by a man who had no intention of loving me or fathering the life within me. I also knew the glory, the relief, and the great gratitude of days not confined to pain and misery anymore. Single motherhood is awkward, the way divorce is akward: no one knows how to talk to you about it, especially religious people. But in living life as a pariah, after you go through a season of incredible darkness and self-destruction, you gain a certain character strength, humility, and intimate awareness of your own deep brokenness, and the reality that despite all the muck and mire of your life, some beauty within still remains.
In our shared social imperfections we soon found comfort and freedom in a rekindled friendship. We also saw glimpses of God’s mercy.
The poem I sent was from T.S Eliot’s East Cocker, with the infamous last line that says, “In the end is my beginning.” I didn’t know that T.S. Eliot was a Christian or that later I would become one too, or that what he was pointing to in his poem was the miracle of God’s redemptive work; that when we come to the end of ourselves, God can and does act to work all things for good.
I also was wonderfully unaware that indeed a new beginning was unfolding in both our lives: the beginning of us.
Flash back to 2004: We met on a blue-sky morning near a building made of adobe in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was starting my year as a Grad student in the Eastern Classics Master’s program. My hair was strawberry blonde, and in a few shorts weeks I would experiment with dying it barbie doll white. I was 24, six years away from knowing God, ready to learn Sankskrit and drink a lot of beer with interesting, worldly, and good-looking people.
Ronnie was the husband of a girl he had met at church camp when he was 19 years old. He wasn’t a student at St. Johns, but his wife was, and all of us became part of the same dear circle of friends.
A year later, as soon as I had graduated, I moved to California. Ronnie and I gradually lost touch. My life started to unravel when I found out I was pregnant and the father of the child was heavily into drugs. I didn’t know his life had begun to unravel too. The very first love of his life, his wife of 6 years, didn’t want to be married anymore.
Flash to 2007: When Ronnie and I reconnected, thanks to a rouge invite email from Linked-In, life had dramatically reshaped us both. He, who along with his wife used to drag me to church and read me the bible, had now lost his religion and his trust in God’s goodness and was desperately seeking to regain some faith while climbing the corporate ladder in Birmingham, England. The bottle blonde he once knew, the one who bubbled and bounced and lived for the party, had grown out her roots and was now managing life as a single mother in Portland, Oregon.
As imperfect people painfully aware of the folly of being human and hungry for God, we bonded. Immediately we knew each other as kindred spirits, both having been thrown crazy curve balls by life.
Despite the 4,287 miles of continent and ocean between us, our connection and friendship grew. We began to notice something dear in one another we had not noticed before, and then one day—on opposite sides of the globe—we both woke-up, utterly in love.
In the time between that poem I sent him in December of 2007, to his response of a simple ‘thank you’ 4 months later, in April of 2008, God was patiently preparing in each of our heart’s room for the other. Both of us had experienced the end of “life as we knew it”. In that great desert, in that Land Between, we walked side by side, unaware of how our paths were colliding. As if overnight, our lonely deserts merged and came to their end in each other, at the fertile soil of a shared, new beginning.
That Spring, the whirlwind began. Falling in love long distance was very literally a poetic experience: nearly every hour we spent awake and without one another, a love note was written. From May 2008 until September we exchanged more than 1,500 e-mails, hitting “send” 500 times a month, 125 times per week, 17.5 times per day. When we were married less than a year later at a bar in Kentucky, it seemed long overdue.
Even though married life started out quite unideal (we were poor, without family or community, thrust into a new house in a new state, suddenly parents trying our best to raise a 2 year old together, just beginning to learn each other’s intimacies and love languages, inching closer, but still far, from God) we were doing okay.
At the beginning of our marriage, we were consumed by the goodness of an abstract God through our burning love for one another. Both of us recognized personally we had been given amazing grace, but neither of us knew or lived to follow Jesus. For sure in the the way our hearts broke with gratitude for the redemptive love we now shared, we felt the power of redemption. But standing near the Lord of Redemption– even being immensely blessed by Him–is not the same as surrendering your life to Him. And a marriage without Jesus, even when two people are ridiculously in love and devoted to one another as we were, is not a marriage that stays strong for long.
As quickly as our love ignited, our marriage began to crumble. I say a deep thank you now for just how horrible our 1 year anniversary was. The conditions in our life in those days made our need for Jesus as newlyweds undeniably plain. Mercy it was that we could not lean entirely on our fairytale love to make it. Mercy it was that my husband’s start-up business failed magnificently and we could not afford the distraction of material comforts. Mercy it was we had no family to run home too and take shelter in. And mercy perhaps even it was that the depression I had struggled with on and off for years, began to return. The hopelessness of our poverty, our loneliness, and my husband’s joblessness, compiled with my own darkness within, brought to light the biggest obstacle we faced in our relationship.
Neither of us knew the absolute, the protective, the all-things-are-possible love of God. We worshipped each other until we learned that human love in and of itself was never meant to be worshipped.
Fear crept in that life was too much; that our love, our marriage, would eventually break under the relentless weight of being human. Deep down I feared that I was too much. The baggage of all my past brokenness– the sexual abuse that held my body in shame, the seasons of drug addiction and eating disorders that still terrorized my mind, my unshakable bent toward self-destruction– the residue of all of it began to show up at the door of our marriage and the lies the Enemy fed me on who I was and what I was worth, I believed. Instead of trusting in my husband and the vow he gave me to love me for better or for worse, I shut him out and pulled away.
The hardest part about marriage for me was not learning how to pour love out, but learning how to receive love being poured in; to let myself be loved not just for a theoretical brokenness, but for an actual brokenness. The learning how to let my husband sit with me when I am consumed by an inner ugliness, the darkest hallow: this was my needed education. We have been married now 2 and half years…and here I am still learning how not to resist him when he dares to pick the mess of me up and hold me in his arms.
To let go and let yourself be loved in the midst of stomaching a present and vulnerable brokenness, is extremely difficult. But God on the cross calls us to this. When we stand painfully undeserving in the presence of so much grace, our most natural reaction is to run. He begs us, though, to stay. As a woman deeply afraid of the scandalous love of God and the reflection of that love in her husband, I also wanted to run. But He and he has taught me to remain.
The hardest part of marriage, at first, was allowing myself to experience God’s love through my spouse. This, though, is now what I find to be the absolute best part of marriage. It is bewildering and magnifiscent to be someone’s wife and to experience daily the truth that we can never be perfect, but we can, in fact, be loved. This is the profound gift of matrimony and christianity: to arrive at the holy place of surrendering all to be rescued by someone who sees my flaws and wants me anyways….this is what I am learning it means to be both a child of God, and a wife.
My life today, two and half years into marriage is incredibly blessed. In February of 2010, my husband and I both gave our life to Christ. Two Septembers ago my husband officially adopted my son Lucca, so he is now truly ours. This past September we learned we are pregnant with a baby girl, due January, 2012. In one another my husband and I found amazing grace from God, and the story of His redemption in our lives continues to unfold…
My one piece of advice for you who are falling in love and dream of marriage is this… Seek, know, and let the gift of God’s love be real to you now. Stop trying to fix yourself into the perfect person and stop trying to hide your flaws. Accept that broken and lovable are two traits that are intimately yours as a human being. Jesus does not see them as mutually exclusive and neither should you. Love your man in the fullness of his imperfection and let him love you in yours. All of it is made perfect at the foot of the cross. Remember: No matter what your past history, all things can be made good, for those that love the Lord.
Morgan Day Cecil and her growing family live in Portland, Oregon. She is a monthly contributor to Transformed Magazine, an online Christian’s women’s magazine. Right now some of her favorite things are ice-cream dates with her son and eating breakfast burritos with her husband. She is currently writing her first book, a guide for single moms on how to create a beautiful life. You can connect with her via Twitter and Facebook or (her new favorite) Pinterest.