"I'm just not there right now."
To this day, those words still make me cringe. On the day those words pierced my heart -- I looked lovely, my hair curled and my makeup soft and feminine. I was wearing my Sunday pearls and I looked the part of a romantic heroine. It was Easter Sunday and I had waited all semester... invested myself fully into a deep friendship with a handsome gentleman. A man who had rearranged the landscapes of my internal future. He taught me to walk in confidence. He looked into my eyes and respected me for who I was... he was a great conversationalist... He loved other cultures and I was convinced we would go places ... together. I knew him. I was ok with his idiosyncracies and I knew it might be a long journey, but I was ready to go the distance. For the first time in my life I was in love-- and certifiably insane. My entire world revolved around him. And it was time to verify that we were on the same page. I went to meet him and we walked and talked for a while. Finally, I worked up the nerve and told him... my feelings were stronger than friendship. He looked at me with all the compassion he could muster and he said the words I had known all along but my heart had not allowed me to process...
"I'm just not there right now." He then preceeded to remind me that he did not plan to seriously date anyone, let alone marry until he was 27. He apologized for leading me on in any way. We talked for another five minutes, agreeing that we would still be friends... Then I excused myself, went back to my dorm and cried for the rest of the semester. I wrote him letters but never sent them. I mourned the loss... And yet, somewhere I held out hope... after all he had said "...not there...right now." I clung to them in false hope.
Needless to say, our friendship slowly and painfully unravelled into the abyss of unrequited love and after about a year of prolonged hope...I closed the door of my heart... never again would I be so stupid to love someone who doesn't love me back... I realized that I didn't even know myself anymore. I had allowed giddy passion to slowly wrap all of my identity, all of my hopes and dreams...around the existence of another. Never again.
"This is not 'Goodbye,' but it is."
After that, somewhere in my heart, I convinced myself that I was only good enough to offer friendship. I was not attractive enough. I was not talented enough. I was not thin enough. I was not, I was not, I was not. ..enough. Love was not in my future. I learned to be a good, safe friend. I learned to listen. I learned to enjoy what a man offered. I learned to offer my best and not to expect anything in return.
I soon found a friend that had been there all along. I can't say I was incapable of having romantic feelings for him. But I knew... he felt sorry for me...he appreciated me for who I was, but I was not enough to fulfiill that desire in his heart... he did not see me as a woman, but as a neutral gendered friend. I was someone who could help him grow and heal and process. I was someone who would pray for him. I would be on the other end of the phone. I would be his Sunday night dinner buddy. I would be there to encourage him and offer him wisdom when he needed it. But, that was all. That was our unspoken arrangement...and I guess it worked. Until, the first time someone asked me how long we had been married. Yes, they did. Of course, I could not tell him... he would run away...he would spook like a wild stallion and be gone... and my comfortable friendship would be gone. That was the beginning of the end... the beginning of my defending our friendship as "just a friendship."
After years of this, I finally told him. Although we were just friends, it was getting very difficult to constantly defend our friendship. I was tired. I cared deeply for him and his life, but I didn't want to keep this up. I told him that people thought we were married... And the next day, years of friendship ended in an email that began with "This is not 'goodbye,' but it is..." I did not want anything more than friendship... but I cannot tell you how painful it was to lose our friendship. I had anticipated change. And, at some level, it was a relief. But I had not anticipated the sudden jolt of loss when we were suddenly no longer friends. His friendship was different than most... and when it ended, I began to expect one thing from men... rejection.
"I do not trust you."
Years passed and I became a strong, independent woman. I had dreams, goals, purpose...a calling. I did not need a man in my life... Of course, I dreamed about marriage and children like the next woman. But, I never seriously engaged men...I hid.
Enter my third life-changing male friendship. This time was different. I was not looking, God brought him to me. It was an unexpected encounter that seemed to organically unfold into a God-friendship. This friend valued me and respected me. He protected me and loved me. God blessed us through one another's lives. We enjoyed a give and take friendship. We saw God do some awesome things through our obedience to Him... And somewhere along the way, I began to care more for him than I wanted...more than I wanted to admit.
I truly believe this friendship was meant to only be a friendship, but it was still hard when I introduced him to his wife... :-/ Yes, I did. AND I am very glad with the outcome today! I could not have made a better match for him...God has blessed him with a beautiful life-mate who complements and enriches his life in SO many ways... AND the difference this time... I am better friends with both of them than ever before... God reconciled that friendship... I had a choice to make to overcome my pain and to be a friend...
However, my intial reaction was not so good. I felt completely rejected...again. I withdrew SO fast... I needed to. I had let my heart hope again in a strange way... I needed to regroup. For a long time, I hurt... This time, I found myself angry with God and angry with myself -- for not guarding my heart!
It was not until recently that I realized that my friend had never rejected me. I, in fact, had rejected him. I had held him at bay...and even told him that I did not trust him. Whether or not, that had anything to do with anything is a moot point... the point is that God used it to do something deep in my life.
Above All Things Guard Your Heart for it is the Wellspring of life." Proverbs 4:23
Over the next year, God began to unravel my pain. He began to answer my questions. I kept asking Him why I was never good enough...for anyone!! I felt like He had led me into a trap... yes, I did... I just accused God of playing games with my heart. I asked God questions like, "Who am I?" and "Why in the world do I exist?" and "Please, tell me why you bothered to create me?!" I was someone who should know better by now...but NOTHING made sense... nothing!
I felt a two-fold response... God kept reminding me that beauty is vulnerable. At the same time, EVERYWHERE I went I would run into Proverbs 4:23. This caused deep-seated anger in me... I hated the concept of guarding my heart!! God, how does this work? How do I be vulnerable and still guard my heart??!!
Then, He began to respond...
One day, He asked me what the word heart meant ... to me and in that passage. My first thought was Valentine's day... and mushy stuff. Then, it went to physical body... you know the vital, central organ. Finally, I looked it up. The transliterated Hebrew word is lev which is two word pictures put together. The first word picture is a shepherd's staff, which means "authority." The second word picture is the inner layout or blueprint of a nomadic tent, which means "that which resides within." When put together, the word lev is roughly translated, "the authority that resides within." (DISCLAIMER: I am not a Hebrew scholar, but this is the consensus of others' findings).
What is this "authority that resides within"?
So, at the end of that little study, I had this phrase... " the authority that resides within." It kept rolling around in my head and I was like...what does it mean? I felt the Lord say to me...your heart is your identity. Cool... so God, who am I?
He began to speak to me about my unique identity. He, the One who had created me...
First of all, my identity begins and ends in Christ.
Jesus made a way for me to be free from my sinful nature, to BE completely His and to BE fully myself.
One day, I felt God ask me what my name was...
I was like... really?
Yes, just go with it...
Ok, my name is Rachel Michelle Leonard.
Yes. But who are you?
Ok... I just told you...
Rachel, you ARE your name...
Oh! That's great...what?! Then it began to sink in... Ever since I was a kid, I was that "uncool" kid... the oldest of three...always mothering and nurturing... the one that was teased with statements like, "Ok, Mom." I hated it!! But that day, something dawned on me...
Rachel means "Mother Lamb".
Michelle means "Who is like God?"...it is a question and a proclamation of worship and authority. Leonard means "Lion-hearted"... I love with a fierceness...
I am created to nurture souls, to worship God and to fiercely defend and protect His people through prayer. This moment was defining for me! I suddenly felt like my clothes fit!!
I realized that I had spent my life wrapping my identity around the expectations of others...allowing others to dictate who I was.
So, how/why do I guard my heart?
Well, for a few weeks, I just had this freedom I'd never known before... but I still didn't know how/why I guard it... The why came pretty obviously... we only guard those things that we value...we don't pay someone to guard our dumpster... We guard our heart/identity because we value it.
But the deeper question in my soul was ... how do I keep this from happening again?
Then one night I had a dream. In the dream, I saw this beautiful painting... I don't even remember what it looked like... but it was magnificent. All kinds of people were standing around admiring it. But the painting was roped off and had a sign in from of it that said, "Please do NOT touch."
I began to ponder the sign. Why do you not touch an oil painting? Because the oil from your skin...and everyone else's skin...slowly deteriorates the initial work and changes the entire look of the original painting. I felt impressed that, just like the painting, I could live with my life on display for all to see...but that I was not to let others touch and change His design...
This season was transformational in my life!! I suddenly felt a sense of purpose that I had never experienced. I was free to be myself and to serve the Lord... as me :-)