I was terrified when I moved to New Zealand.
I wasn’t 100% convinced that it was the right thing to do, but the people I trusted around me seemed to be, so I was doing it with the faith that they knew what they were talking about.
3 years earlier I had joined a gap-year program in Toronto, where I had been living and working for the past year, feeling lost, in way over my head and struggling to make ends meet.
There were 6 other people on this program from USA, Canada and New Zealand.
Over the years, I developed a deep friendship with the guy from NZ. We spent a lot of time together and were given more responsibility in the organisation, culminating in the request for us to return the following year as team leaders for the program.
By the end of the first year, this boy professed his love for me. But, I just wasn’t feeling it. He was like a brother to me and when he started to be at all romantic towards me, I felt like I would puke. It just felt wrong. I loved his friendship, but was not attracted to him or interested in him in that way.
After 3 years in the country, he decided it was time to return to Aotearoa-the land of the long, white, cloud. However, the leadership of the church did not want him to leave, as they still had plans for what we could do together. I was sent-in to talk to him because they all thought I would be able to convince him to stay.
But, even I could not persuade him to stay.
My minister pulled me aside and told me that she thought I was making a huge mistake by letting him go. She told me that she thought I had been blinded to my real feelings for him by feelings I had for someone else, the focus I had on the ministry I had been doing in the community and even a fear of commitment.
I trusted that she knew what she was talking about, especially since she wasn’t the only one saying that we were meant to be together. Everyone in that community had been pushing me to be with him and expressing the belief that it was what God wanted.
So, clearly, I was missing something. I began to feel as though I couldn’t trust my own mind or my own emotions, so I had to trust that everyone else knew what was right. And, so, I did what she told me to do and I went to this friend and suggested to him that we should give “us” a real chance.
It didn’t change his mind about going home, but he did agree to come to my hometown for a few days and meet my family.
It was a horrible week for me. I felt uncomfortable, nervous, odd, sick to my stomach, miserable and confused for most of our time together.
I just kept telling myself that I couldn’t trust my thoughts and that my “real”, romantic, loving feelings would eventually come to the surface. They never did.
Despite all of this uncertainty, I found myself in Toronto, saying my farewells and crying to everyone I trusted that I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. I shared that I didn’t think I had feelings for him, that I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to be with him and I was afraid I was making a horrible mistake. I was hoping someone would hear me and tell me that I shouldn’t go.
But, time and time again these friends and mentors made me feel like I was silly, confused, and didn’t really know what I wanted.
I sobbed the day I left the city, my chest heaving with every breathe as though it had the weight of a thousand bricks on it. My other best friend was with me at the airport and I sobbed and clung to her for dear life, hoping she wouldn’t let go of me. I didn’t want to go. I really didn’t.
The next 5 years would be the hardest, most miserable, most terrifying, troublesome, difficult and challenging of my life. There would be many, many, many times I would be seconds away from packing my bags and disappearing. I had never been so sad, so depressed and felt so lost and helpless.
Those people, all of them who thought they were speaking for God, were wrong. Totally, absolutely, 100% wrong.
I felt like a victim for years about this. I felt that they were all to blame for this horrible life I found myself stuck in. They were responsible for making me be with this person to whom I wasn’t attracted, leaving everything I loved to follow God’s plan for my life.
This all changed when, 7 years after she had left me at the airport, my friend visited me and said words that made me so angry because they were filled with undeniable truth. I wasn’t a victim. I had made the choices all along. I made the choice to go. I could make the choice to leave. I couldn’t blame anyone but myself for staying and feeling trapped.
She spoke frankly with me and for the first time in my life, I actually felt like someone was talking to me adult-to-adult.
This year will mark the 10 year anniversary of that flight and as I sit here, writing this tale, the guy from New Zealand is in my kitchen cooking himself some eggs and watching “Dancing with the Stars” and we are happy.
We are happy because I made a choice. We are happy because he made a choice. We decided, together, that we were going to make this work, no matter what.
It’s true that we never had the “head over heels” romantic phase that most people do before they get engaged. We never went on dates. We didn’t get giddy over texts. We didn’t giggle with friends and chat about stolen kisses or the silly things being done during the wooing stage. We skipped all of that and went straight to the ‘married for 20 years, romance is dead, have to work on it’ phase.
And so, that’s what we did. We worked on it.
And, the most incredible thing happened-the further we got from the church, the healthier our relationship became. When we removed all of that unhealthy, outside influence, the added guilt and pressure to be something we’re not, and the expectation to fit into roles that didn’t suit us, we found that we really could enjoy being together. We went to counselling and with the guidance of someone who actually knew what she was doing, we worked on things together.
As I said before, I have spent years doing what others wanted me to do and believing that other people knew what was best for me-even more than I could know for myself until that autumn day, while walking the streets of Toronto my friend put me straight.
Today, I take great pride in my marriage because it has been forged with fire. Tested with tears and fights and moments where the desire to run hung as heavy in the air as an elephant would hang from a weeping willow.
This is our marriage. Our relationship. Our friendship. Our victory. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. It doesn’t belong to the church. It doesn’t belong to God. It doesn’t even belong to our counsellor. It is ours.
And, just as I couldn’t blame anyone else for where I found myself back then, I get to take the credit for where I am now.
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” –(Hamlet Act-1, Scene-III, 78–81)
I am in charge of my own life.