2017: a goodbye letter

Dear 2017,

I met you on the beach in Tybee Island, giddy for my first New Year’s Eve kiss with a boyfriend. I missed the countdown, though, so when fireworks started going off I was confused. Was it midnight? Justin reached for me and tried to kiss me, but I was still trying to figure out what happened.

2017, you took me by surprise.

When I think about the beginning of our relationship it feels like another lifetime. I can’t believe we’ve been through so much together. Thankfully, you’ve been kinder to me than the last few years have been.

I’d go as far to say you may have been the best year of my life.

In February you took me to the Dominican Republic for work. I knew it was likely my only work trip of the year. I was right. I didn’t mind because I knew my season was changing. It was time to start making space for other things.

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In March you took me to South America with Justin and Daniel. On the third day, Justin got down on one knee. It was weeks before it felt real.

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A few weeks later I experienced my most intense moment with God out of the whole year – it still makes me tear up thinking about it. He gave me the wedding venue of my dreams. It was so much more than the venue, though. It was that deep place in my heart he reached down and touched with his grace.

In April you whisked me away to Texas for a women’s retreat. It was amazing; I was undeserving. When they washed my feet I wept.

A week later I found my dream wedding dress and couldn’t stop smiling. This was probably my second favorite day of the year (after my wedding day.) It was just all too good to be true.

I turned 31 in May. It was rainy. Justin took me to Atlanta for the day and I had dinner with my girlfriends. A simple birthday.

Summer brought lots of work – training camps and debriefs and new hires. It wore me out more than I realized. My mom took me to Alaska at the end of July – it was there I felt the beginning of burnout.

Alaska was incredible.

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August brought 2 wedding showers and a bachelorette weekend.

September. The month I got married. The week leading up to my wedding was a disaster – Hurricane Irma hit, resulting in a loss of power (and my sanity), I was on my period, and I was moving. This was easily my least favorite week of the entire year. I cried like the world was ending. God bless a fiancé who comforted me and roommates who continued to celebrate me amidst my tears.

My wedding day was as everyone says – the happiest day of my life. I always thought it would be the happiest because you are getting married, duh. After living it I know it’s because all my friends and family were together in one place. Friends from high school, college, Adventures in Missions. Family from Ohio, Boston, New York. All together to eat, drink, and dance. It was heaven on earth.

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Soon after getting married I felt the weight of my burnout. Getting out of bed to go to work took all my energy. I had very little drive; I didn’t feel like myself. My biggest dream in life was to sleep in and have no responsibilities.

In October I flew to New York City to see Anna. We got lost in Central Park, wandered through the Met, slurped up tasty ramen from Ippudo, saw Anastasia on Broadway, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, and waited in line for lox bagels from Russ & Daughters. New York City always makes me feel alive.

I signed up for counseling in November and cried my way through the first half of the session. I realized the night before just how much stress I had been carrying from working at a nonprofit the last few years. My counselor told me I needed to lean into my husband, to allow him to shepherd me where I used to shepherd myself.

The next day I left for my honeymoon. Honeymooning in New Zealand had been a dream of mine since I was in high school. 15 years later, that dream was fulfilled. I’ll never forget the joy I felt when swimming with wild dolphins.

December brought my first Christmas as a married woman. I loved everything about it. At the end of the month I flew to Texas for a reunion with C squad at the Floyd’s ranch. We talked and worshiped, played games and ate good food.

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2017, you’ve outdone yourself. I started the year with a boyfriend and ended with a husband. I still can’t wrap my mind around that. I had the privilege of standing as a bridesmaid in 3 weddings. I traveled to outstanding places. I got a kitten. I could go on and on and on…

But now it’s time to say goodbye.

Please know I will never forget you – you are the year my dreams came true.

Love,
Hope.

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on desire, disappointment, and christmas eve:

Every year since 2012 I wholeheartedly believed I would get married that year. Without a doubt, January 1st would roll around and I would be like THIS IS IT!

12 months later, I would sit through a Christmas Eve service with tears streaming down my cheeks. There I was, single, surrounded by songs of pining and rejoicing, longing and hope. I only felt the longing, though. Longing and another year of disappointment.

Somehow I was always able to bounce back by New Year’s and believe, yet again, this was going to be my year.

5 times out of 5 I was wrong.

Then 2017 happened. The clock struck midnight and for the first time in my life I knew I would be getting married.

As I write this, I’ve been married for 3 months. It still doesn’t feel real. Tomorrow I’ll sit through my first Christmas Eve service as a married woman. No more tears of disappointment and deferred hope. It will be a holy moment indeed.

I still remember the pain though. It taught me. Stretched me. Strengthened me. Waiting on the Lord is a nice idea, but it takes on an entirely different meaning when you find yourself waiting and WAITING on something your heart desires.

This much I can say: the pain makes the promise so much better.

I can only imagine what it felt like when Jesus was born after all those years of longing…

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

If you are someone who finds yourself wracked with longing and desire, I pray this season strengthens you with ‘a thrill of hope.’ May your pain turn into your biggest blessing, even if you have to wait (and wait) for it.

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on being 31 and engaged:

I was 21 when my best friend’s older cousin got engaged. I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m glad it happened for her… because she’s old.”

After getting engaged this year I called that friend up and asked her how old her cousin actually was during that time. “31,” was her response.

Exactly my age now.

It’s funny, I don’t feel old, but I work with college-age students and I know I probably seem like a grandma to them. At least that’s how I viewed 30-year-olds back then.

I’ve always known I didn’t want to get married young (too much life to live!!) but as I inched closer to 30 and everyone around me was walking down the aisle & popping out kids, I started to wonder if my happily ever after might actually end with a feline instead of a fairy tale.

On one hand, I 100% believed I would get married.
On the other hand, I feared it would never happen.

Some days were fun, leaving my number on restaurant receipts and having the waiter text me later that night.

Other nights I cried myself to sleep.

The ache can’t be explained. It was always there.

I started dating Justin 2 months before my 30th birthday. It was nice to be dating someone when I turned 30, but I was so unsure about him at the time.

Marriage still felt light years away.

Our dating relationship wasn’t exactly rainbows and butterflies. One time, a few months in, I asked if we should break up. It seemed pretty obvious that we should. Justin laughed. “Of course not!” He responded like that was the silliest question in the world.

This is how he won me over. Through all our fights and all my fears, he never stopped loving me.

When he got down on one knee in March, I had already made the decision in my heart to marry him. All I had to do was say yes and BOOM. I was engaged. Closer to marriage than ever before.

The first 2 weeks of being engaged didn’t feel real. Eight days in I wrote,

Wearing a ring on my finger almost feels like I’m a little girl playing house. Getting engaged has always been something *other people* experience. It was something I hoped, dreamed, and longed for… but it was always out of reach.

Until now.

I will always remember that feeling of “who, me??” the first few weeks after getting engaged.

Soon after getting engaged I felt something I didn’t necessarily expect to feel – sadness. I felt sad for my single friends who wanted to be married. I kind of felt like I was betraying them. I know what it feels like when yet another friend gets engaged – a mixture of ‘yay I’m so happy for you’ but also like you are dying inside and forgotten by God. Like HELLO HAVE YOU HEARD ALL MY PRAYERS AND SEEN ALL MY TEARS? GUESS NOT…

{I still don’t understand why all these funny, wonderful, beautiful women remain single. I know this post will be hard for many of them to read. I’m sorry.}

I quickly learned I LOVEDDD wedding planning. For the first time in my life I was no longer just dreaming of a wedding ‘one day’ – I was actually planning my wedding. All those times I had been to weddings and thought ohhhh I like that or ehhhh not for me could actually be taken seriously.

It wasn’t stressful. It was magical.

When Justin and I visited a venue 2 weeks after getting engaged, I knew it was the one. It was the first venue we visited, but I couldn’t imagine getting married anywhere else.

I left that venue sad, frustrated and confused because we couldn’t afford it.

30 minutes later I sobbed in the parking lot of a bbq restaurant because my parents made it possible for us to book the venue. I couldn’t believe God was giving me the wedding of my dreams.

It brings tears to my eyes now, that feeling of being so tangibly touched by His grace.

For years it like God was torturing me by giving me the desire for marriage only to not fulfill it.

Little did I know the abundance he had in store.

I went wedding dress shopping a month after getting engaged. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find the dress I had in mind (and in my price range!)

I picked three dresses to try on. When I put the first one on I couldn’t stop smiling. In a blur I tried on the other two, but before I knew it I was back in the first dress, smiling like an idiot. That’s how I knew. When I said I was getting it a few ladies cheered, as they had been watching the whole thing. The dress was everything I dreamed of (and more!), in my price range, and would be ready in a few months.

That smile was stuck on my face the rest of the day.

The first 3 months of being engaged I stayed up waaaaay too late – I was giddy over Justin and Googling everything wedding related. I showed up to work with bags under my eyes, happier than I’ve ever been.

The ache had vanished.

Being engaged has made me experience what I call ‘spiritual shock.’

7 years ago I was in Kenya, heartbroken over a boy when God promised me a great man. I’ve been waiting for him ever since.

In 17 days I marry that great man at the venue of my dreams in a dress that makes me feel like a princess. My spirit is like WHATTTT ARE YOU SERIOUS!?! It happened. It happened and it’s better than I could have ever imagined. There are so many ways God has come through in this season leading up to my wedding – if I wrote about all the ways I would bore you, so instead they are tucked away in my heart, never to be forgotten.

Getting engaged at 30 and married at 31 has given me a deep, deep appreciation for what I’ve waited for.

As painful as it was all those years, I would do it all over again.

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on being really, really happy:

Two years ago one of my friends made a comment about how my blogs were always about me struggling or going through a hard time.

I was offended.

But I knew he was right.

The last few years have been tough. I thought 2015 was bad, but then 2016 happened. There were times I thought the pain would swallow me whole.

Amidst my suffering I wrote, “Jesus told me I will experience the same amount of joy as pain I have felt; to the depth of pain I will feel the height of joy.”

That was August.

Less than a year later those words have come to pass – I’m currently experiencing so much joy I could drown in it. I used to cry myself to sleep, now I can’t fall asleep because I’m so happy.

Yes, it’s because I’m engaged. But it’s also so much more.

My soul has made it through the dark of night. As Streams in the Desert says, “The person who may appear to be blessed, having been untouched by sorrow, is typically not one who is strong and at peace.”

I truly believe the joy I am experiencing has come at the expense of my tear-stained journals. It is only because I have weathered the storm that I am able to bask in the warmth of morning.

It’s better than I could have ever imagined.

Everything inside me that was shaky and aching is now secure and whole. The desires that haunted me are now fulfilled and overflowing.

There is a time and season for everything indeed.

A little over a month ago I attended a small women’s conference in Texas. Upon arrival, I was given a word in a picture frame, chosen just for me.

The word?

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on being 30 and falling in love for the first time:

Every year around this time I write a post on what it’s like being whatever age I am and single (26, 27, 28, 29). This year I bring you a post about what it’s like being 30 and in love.

Slow. Clap.

For 29 years I couldn’t imagine being in a relationship. It was always this far off, foreign concept. I liked boys, dated boys, kissed boys (…not always in that order) but never jumped in enough to develop a long-term relationship. I was fiercely protective of my heart and had incredibly high standards.

At the end of March, two months before my 30th birthday, Justin asked me out. I was surprised because we had unsuccessfully dated before (see previous post.)

I said yes, unaware of the journey in front of me.

It didn’t take long for me to discover I was riddled with fear. Worse case scenario meant finding myself heartbroken, unable to get out of bed, eating only Wendy’s. (Aka Lorelai in season 5 of Gilmore Girls.)

I knew I needed to risk my heart on the line, but how much of my heart, and at what pace? Where was the formula?

Somewhere along the way, between April and September, my heart fell into Justin’s hands.

It was the Saturday we went blueberry picking. The summer heat soaked my clothes despite it being 9am. When we kissed it was sweaty and gross. He picked most of the blueberries; eventually I stood in the shade because I was so hot. He was supposed to take me home so I could clean the house for my birthday party that night, but instead we spent the day running errands and making out in the car, the AC blasting.

It was a month later when we were on the red couch, navigating a difficult situation. Turns out I was in the wrong. I falsely accused him because of a misunderstanding, yet he didn’t throw a punch back. He listened, he cried, he kissed me. I’ll never forget that feeling of my heart dropping in my ribcage and my chest warming my body. Falling in love is an actual feeling.

It was the countless hours he listened to me verbally process. The book he gave me for my birthday. Trips to the airport. Flowers left in my room. That time he picked me for his cornhole partner, even though I’m no good. It was him sitting on my bed, reading scripture or The New York Times to help distract me from the panic I faced.

It was him saying “I love you” for six months with no return.

I didn’t realize my heart had slipped out of my control until October when I was in Ecuador on a bus from Mindo to Quito. I was typing out a note to him on my phone (to email later) when I found myself writing, “Do you know what you’re holding? My heart is dangling between your fingers…”

I was afraid for most of our relationship, and that slowed me down, but I never let fear stop me completely. I just inched into the water instead of cannonballing. I’m sure I could have handled things more smoothly, more maturely, but as my married friend Holli says, “When it comes to this stuff we all act like 6th graders.” (Can I get an amen??)

Falling in love with Justin is a love story between me and him, but even more than that I consider it a love story between me and God. More than trusting Justin with my heart, I had to trust God with it. I wanted God to tell me what to do (or what would happen), but He didn’t. He gently guided me with wisdom, but the moves were always mine to make.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about love, it’s that it plays out differently for everyone. As much as I wanted a rulebook, or a formula, it doesn’t exist.

In December, on the same red couch where my heart first dropped, I said those three words for the first time.

I love you.

anas24

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thoughts on dating & pornography: part 2

Written from the point of view of Justin, my boyfriend! 

I first “met” Hope right after I got home from the World Race in June 2013. I came down to Georgia for an event at Adventures where she was the emcee. I don’t remember much but I do remember she made a couple of inappropriate jokes on stage. Our first interaction happened four months later as we were on a team together, training a squad to launch on the World Race. I thought she was funny, attractive and down to earth. She probably thought I was quiet, reserved and Asian. I chalked it just hormones and attraction since I was preparing to leave the country for five months.

Fast forward 8 months later: June 2014. I had returned from my five month stint on the field and was back down in Georgia for a wedding. Later that night, I stopped by a friend’s house to drop off a few things. Her house happened to be Hope’s house. There Hope was, squeezing shampoo into travel sized bottles and gathering ziplock bags to put her miscellaneous items in. We ended up talking for over an hour – Pride and Prejudice, her gingivitis, squad leading, travel. Something jittery had grown inside of me.

I left the next day for North Carolina and a month later I was back in Georgia to once again, train another World Race squad. This time I was heading out for 11 months (I know right?) Hope had somehow managed to secure herself in my thoughts over the last month and I couldn’t shake her out of my head.  We had texted here and there, me telling her of my Pride and Prejudice progress, her about her gingivitis (hubba hubba) but in my opinion, it hadn’t amount to much of anything.

That week in Georgia, my coleader said matter of factly, You should ask her out on a date. And that Thursday, I called her up and did exactly that. Much to my surprise (and nerves), she said yes and on a cloudy Saturday morning, we were off to lunch. I was nervous and spoke too little. She (apparently) had food falling out of her mouth and (definitely) talked a lot. It didn’t matter. I was swooning.

I went back to North Carolina; a month passed before I was back in Georgia. It was a Tuesday, our fourth date. We had finished a walk around the park. The warm summer air kept us outside, sitting on her front porch (I think looking up videos of streakers – her idea), when she suddenly turned to me and asked, “When was the last time you looked at pornography?” Talk about rainbows and butterflies.

“Sooo we’re going there. Uhhhhh – I don’t remember exactly but it’s been in the last couple of months.”

“Hmmm. Okay.”

We went back to watching streaker videos.

I slept soundly that night, my conscience soothed by my openness and vulnerability. The next day, I found out the wheels had been turning in her head all night. Hope explained her standard – she wouldn’t date anyone who had looked at pornography within the last year.

This was a serious setback in our otherwise whimsical and romantic relationship. Up until this point, we had stayed in touch when we were apart and went on dates when I was in Georgia. We were still in the ‘get to know you’ phase (aka you’re cute but I don’t know anything about you). Our conversations suddenly turned more serious about this checkered past I had. I assured her that I hadn’t yet found victory but I believed there would be a time I found freedom. It just wasn’t here yet.

Three days before I flew out for that 11 month trip, she ended things. Yes, it was the length of time but it was also because of the pornography. I left on a plane, teary eyed and with a hurting heart.

The first couple of months on the field were difficult to say the least. Leading my squad was a welcomed distraction. A year porn free wasn’t impossible but it definitely seemed daunting. There were few to no men in my life that had successfully overcome such a hurdle in their own walk for any significant period of time, let alone indefinitely. What if I’ll always struggle with this? constantly surfaced my thoughts.

For the longest time, I didn’t understand. Or rather I couldn’t bring myself to understand Hope’s rationale. It’s not like I wanted to look at pornography or that I was embracing it or giving up and resigning to it. Pornography was a shameful thing I had worked hard to overcome. I just hadn’t… yet. And a year was a freaking long time. Wouldn’t 6 or 8 months be enough? Wasn’t there grace? Instead it felt judgmental and I felt slighted, unheard, unhelped and left to figure out things in my own turmoil. If she liked me enough wouldn’t she walk alongside of me?

All these thoughts poured through my mind.

It wasn’t a huge struggle on the field, just here and there. But every ‘here’ and every ‘there’ was a reset – back to square one. It’s a difficult thing to find yourself in the same position a dozen, fifty, a hundred times. Starting over can be viewed as a blank slate but in this case, starting over perpetuated the uncertainty of ever moving beyond.

But one day, I stopped starting over and continued moving forward. There wasn’t a black and white ‘aha’ moment, even though I wished and tried for one many times. One of the biggest transitions happened when I began to reassess my mindset. The idea of a perpetual struggle with pornography had burrowed its way into my thoughts. I began to reason it out: If I believe I will always struggle with pornography, that means what Jesus did on the cross is null – that Jesus is less than pornography. And I know Jesus isn’t less than.

Yes, my freedom was a stroke of grace. It was also a choice. That choice turned itself into an everyday decision that soon became 5 months of freedom under my belt by the time I came off the field.

Along the way a lot of people asked me if I was doing this for Hope or if I was doing it for God. I know now the answer was ‘both’ and even more than that – it was for myself. But during those questions, I had to wade through thoughts of ‘impure motives’. Was my fight for freedom from pornography actually… selfish? In the end, I accepted that the answer is multilayered and put the nagging thoughts to rest. On this side of things, it’s quite easy to see the answers and reasons are never ‘either or’ but really are ‘both and more’.

The remaining seven months were messy with Hope – me still wanting a relationship, her still saying no, both of us being hurt. But in March 2016, on that 12 month mark, hanging on to just a thread of hope, I asked her out.

She said yes and we’ve been dating for the last 10 months.

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Let me say something. Pornography is slow poison and a deceitful beast. It promises all the pleasures and in return, gives you emptiness. It’s by all rights and definitions, addictive. It creates a false and degrading reality of women, sex and relationships. It sets you up for failure. It gives you a jaded lens to look through. It’s one dimensional as you miss out on the joys of emotional, spiritual and intellectual connection within a true relationship.

These are thoughts and conclusions from my own process and experience. But there are hundreds of articles that back these ideas up (and they’re not Buzzfeed articles either). Here’s one explaining how it literally rewires pathways in your brain, reducing decision making and giving way to more compulsivity and impulsivity. Scientifically, your brain looks no different if you’re engaging with porn or doing drugs. 

A lot of people disagreed with Hope’s conviction for a year of freedom from someone she’s dating. I’m included in that group of people. Regardless of what I thought was ‘fair,’ I wanted Hope and I wanted to be free in my own right, so I fought. Only along the journey, even before we started dating, did more understanding come. It’s true that sin affects more than just yourself, even when sin looks like yourself alone in a dark room. What stains in the dark is still evident in the light.

The Lord slowly unraveled my knot of ignorance and allowed me a glimpse of how much this grieved Lord’s heart and Hope’s heart, how pornography had shaped my field of vision and my thinking, how it distorted my perception with women. I remember sitting at my parents’ dining room table weeping because I could feel the sorrow weighing on my heart. 

I believe the best thing for both of us was her standard. Yes it is my struggle but it definitely affects the person I’m dating, especially as our hearts grow closer together. For me personally, I didn’t need more grace – I needed a higher and holier calling. Hope didn’t welcome that kind of baggage in a relationship because she was protecting her heart.

Here’s some food for thought: If we agree the effects of pornography are similar to drugs, then we must also agree the consequences of pornography are similar to drugs. Would you date a current alcoholic? Or gambler? Or drug addict?

It’s been almost two years since I’ve engaged with pornography. Let me tell you it hasn’t exactly been easy street either. The devil still prowls around like roaring lion looking for a time to devour me. Temptation dangles in front of me. Truthfully, I’ve come close more than once. But it’s like night and day from years ago to now. Rolland Baker says, ‘Doesn’t it feel great to wake up with a clean conscience?’ It’s true – there’s such an ease and lightness to life I almost forgot was there.

Vulnerability and openness are key. They not only limit shame’s ability to thrive and grow but they also create more accountability and give you more power over your life. The light will snuff out the darkness. There IS freedom from pornography.

Because Jesus isn’t less than.

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thoughts on dating & pornography: part 1

It was the summer of 2014 and a boy asked me to lunch. Lunch turned into late night phone calls and romantic emails. He lived in another state, but there were flowers waiting for me when I came back from a trip to Peru.

For the first time in my life I found myself open to giving someone a shot. A few weeks in I wrote, “I don’t know what I think about this boy. We can talk on the phone for hours, and I actually kind of enjoy it.”

He intrigued me and I wanted to know more.

Nearly a month after our lunch date, he came to visit. I was worried it would be weird. I also wondered if he would kiss me.

He took me to a baseball game. I was tired, he was quiet. We both thought the other person was bored. We talked about it on the drive home and realized we actually both enjoyed our time, we just had a trouble reading each other.

The next day we went to the movies. I put my head on his shoulder; he held my hand. I could barely focus on the movie because of the butterflies in my stomach.

We went for walks and talked for hours.

One night we sat on my porch when I asked him a question that changed everything.

I asked about his history with porn.

He was honest about his story, including the part where he looked at porn two months earlier.

The next morning I called my mentor and told her what happened. “I’m so angry at him!” I said and burst into tears. I also was angry at myself for being so surprised. I believed that because he was a responsible person, porn would be a thing of the past for him. I was shocked to discover I was wrong.

He didn’t know it at the time, but I had made a commitment to not from date anyone who had looked at porn in the last year of his life. Porn wasn’t something I wanted to bring into marriage, which meant I didn’t want to begin a relationship with someone who was still struggling with it. The reasons?

Research has found that after men are exposed to pornography, they rate themselves as less in love with their partner than men who didn’t see any porn.

The more pornography a person consumes the harder it becomes for them to be aroused by a real person or a real relationship.

Research has found that marriages in which one person has a porn problem or sexual compulsion are often plagued by less intimacy and sensitivity, as well as more anxiety, secrecy, isolation, and dysfunction in the relationship.

A study of the most popular porn videos found that nine scenes out of 10 showed women being verbally or physically abused, yet the female victims almost always responded with either pleasure or appeared to be neutral. 

The more porn a person looks at, the more severe the damage to their brain becomes and the more difficult it is to break free.

Porn fuels the demand for sex trafficking.

(Read more here.)

That night we went for a walk by the lake. The air was thick, I was nervous. We sat down under a gazebo and I brought the porn discussion back up, letting him know about my commitment to not start a relationship with someone who currently struggles with pornography.

“So what does this mean?” he asked.

“I… I don’t know. I’ve never run into this before.”

According to my conviction, I should cut it off. But my heart was already involved. I was torn. I told him I wouldn’t make a decision in that moment.

The next night he kissed me. “So many sensations,” I wrote. “I was nervous and excited and felt alive all over.”

He left the following morning. I was worried kissing overshadowed the concerns I had about porn, so I wrote him an email letting him know how I felt:

…I’m worried I care more about this than you do, I’m worried it will always be in the back of my mind (do I ask you if you’ve looked at it recently, or wait until you tell me? Will I always be wondering?) I’m worried if I continue to bring it up we will both grow to resent each other. I like you and I want to kiss you again, but I must be honest with you about where I am / what I’m thinking.

He responded with a long email and ended it by saying, “I’m thankful you are a person who doesn’t stand for something to avoid hard and uncomfortable conversations. I like you and, while this isn’t exactly what I imagined, I’m grateful to be able to walk through this with you.”

We saw each other again a few weeks later. We kissed in the rain and lay in the street like they do in The Notebook.

All the while I couldn’t shake my conviction. Hesitation surrounded my heart like a cloud.

We sat in my car, the sticky air nearly suffocating us, when I ended it. He was leaving for a year, so that was part of it. It was also the porn.

10 months passed.

He emailed me in June, asking if he could take me on a date in August when he was back in town. I said yes, and we started emailing back and forth. At one point I wrote, “With you, I’m curious. And hesitant. We haven’t seen each other in almost a year. I don’t know where you stand with porn right now. That’s not exactly a conversation starter. But it’s still a standard I have.”

In August he walked in my front door while I was painting my fingernails. It was such a normal moment after not seeing each other for a year. We walked to get ice cream. I got winded and had to stop to catch my breath. He offered me water. We sat on a bench at the ice cream place and I told him about how messed up I was after a hard year.

We hung out the next two nights. On that third night we sat on a couch. I was tired and said I needed to go to bed. But I didn’t move. Finally he asked, slightly annoyed, “can I kiss you already?” And then he did.

The next day we sat on my bed and I asked him where he stood with porn. March had been the last time. 5 months earlier.

Again, I was surprised.

Again, I burst into tears.

Again, my heart was torn.

Because I was so emotional (aka sobbing) I decided to hold off making a decision. We stayed in limbo for a few weeks, before I finally, painfully, cut if off.

Then he moved here.

It was awkward. We avoided each other.

Four months later (January 2016) he asked me out. It still hadn’t been a year since he last looked at porn. I was confused, calling mentors and friends and begging for their advice. The idea of saying no to him gave me anxiety, but I didn’t want that to be reason I said yes.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the commitment I made was actually a vow before God. Which is why I couldn’t break it.

In the end, I told him no.

More awkwardness.

March rolled around — the year mark since he last looked at porn. I felt my heart change. The veil of confusion and cloudiness began to lift. I was surprised by the way I felt and wondered if I should let him know. I was cautious, however, about opening the door because of the mess behind us.

The last Sunday in March he stopped by, which was unusual. We chatted in the kitchen for a few hours before he said, “Will you go on a date with me?”

I couldn’t believe he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

He couldn’t believe I said yes.

We’ve been dating ever since.

I felt compelled to write about this for because I think porn needs to be talked about more, especially when people date. Also to show that freedom is possible!

I know women look at porn too, but overall I believe it’s a bigger struggle for men. I personally only know one man who has never looked at porn. (If there are more of you out there, AWESOME.)

Pornography is layered with shame, secrets, lust, longing, loneliness, fear, fantasy, lack of intimacy, insecurity, aggression, submission, objectification, violence, and abuse (almost always toward women.) To overlook or ignore this conversation is a huge miss in building a relationship… especially one headed toward marriage.

I don’t think everyone needs to hold my standard of waiting a year to date someone, but I do think woman need to know what they’re worth and men need to rise to the challenge.

Men, I encourage you to bring up your history with porn or your current struggles with the woman you’re dating. Yes, it will be awkward. But you can do this!

Women, I encourage you to ask the man you’re dating about his history with porn (and share your own story if you have one.) Make sure your heart is in a good place to extend compassion and grace.

Some questions to consider:

How did you become exposed to porn?
How old were you when you started looking at porn?

When was the last time you looked at porn?
Do you tell anyone when you look at porn? Who?
Do you know what your triggers are? What about the root issue?
What steps have you taken to overcome this addiction?
Do you believe freedom is possible?

One counselor I know says you should ask about the kind of porn your significant other has looked at. (I’ve asked him this!)

I think it’s wise to invite an older, healthy married couple into this conversation if necessary. Every person and every story is different, so they can help you navigate whatever your specific situation may be.

No, there’s no rule book for this. When is the right time to talk about this? First date? Second? (Joking…) I’m sure the answer is different for everyone. I wanted to have the conversation before I fell for someone, more toward the beginning of a relationship. It was around a month in when I asked.

In March it will be two years since Justin has looked at porn. I am proud of him for overcoming this addiction and continuing to walk in freedom. He did it for himself. He did it for me. This is a huge deal, and makes me feel safe. He isn’t free from temptation, however; he still has to resist. I asked him to write about his side of this journey, so you can expect that in my next post!

In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to leave a comment with any insight or questions you may have… no shaming please!

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