Finding Strength in Love

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu

If you are anything like me, in the past you have probably heard this famous quote and thought “Aw, that’s adorable” and moved on with your day. You didn’t give it much thought. You didn’t think how it might apply to your own love life. Perhaps your love life was in the shallow end, just testing the waters before you dive deep, head over heels. Perhaps your love life was imaginary at the time, dreaming of a Prince Charming that had yet to knock on your door with the missing glass slipper. Or perhaps you were hurt deeply before in a past relationship, causing you to tread quietly and slowly in the new, or not so new, relationship. Whatever your reasoning, whatever your situation, you were not in a place to be able to analyze and apply this quote to your relationship. Then one day, things start to come into focus.

Many years ago, I found myself in a long term, long distance relationship. I was young and madly in love. I had felt butterflies like never before. I had a constant yearning to be with my other half. We kept our relationship for 2.5 years, until my freshman year in college. Looking back, I am sure part of the charm revolving around this relationship was the unending disapproval from my parents. We started dating when I was 16 and he was 19. He was going away to college and I was just rounding into my Junior year of high school. I didn’t understand where the disapproval came from at the time, but as the years progressed, so did my understanding. The relationship I was in was not a healthy one. I didn’t realize this until after we broke it off. The situation became unsettling for quite some time. He became desperate to rekindle the relationship, while I was ready to move on with my life. I was determined to put this relationship to bed and move on. As the fog cleared, and my life began to settle, a kind-hearted, patient young man became my friend. We talked nearly every day. When I came home for the Spring and Summer, we started to hang out. We got to know each other more and more with each passing day. I enjoyed his company, but there was something holding me back from going all in.

I realized not long after my prior relationship ended, that I was a very damaged person. My emotions, my mental state, were abused through to the end. I was always made to feel what I wanted was selfish, what I was doing was wrong. I felt the need to always get approval for my plans from him. If I didn’t answer a text or phone call in the appropriate time-frame, I was shamed. At the time, I thought it was all me. I thought I wasn’t being considerate enough. I believed I was in the wrong. By the end of the relationship, I considered myself damaged goods. I was not emotionally or mentally capable of committing myself to another human being. I had a erected a wall comparable to the Great Wall of China.

Yet, along came this man. He was patient. He was as understanding as he could be. He started to teach me how a healthy relationship should be. I began to realize it was not necessary to get approval for all my plans. If I didn’t answer a text right away and apologized profusely, I was genuinely reassured it was not a big deal. Then it hit me. Trust. He trusted me. Soon, this trust started to disassemble my wall, piece by piece.

Then one day, he said it. Those. Three. Words. I froze. I couldn’t reciprocate. I was embarrassed. Three simple words, and I couldn’t even say them. I told looked up at him, and before I could explain myself, he told me he understood completely if I wasn’t ready. I started to cry, naturally, with a flood of emotions. I did NOT deserve this guy. He had already stood by me through so much, just poured his heart out, and had his girlfriend basically reject him.

After some time, my wall became smaller, and I was finally able to reciprocate.

Through the years, we continued our relationship. I graduated college. We moved into our first apartment. We went on trips. We got a joint bank account. We started to plan for the future-together. Then one Christmas morning, he got down on one knee and pulled a ring out of my stocking. Again, I cried. There was no doubt in my mind, this man was sent directly to me from God, in His perfect timing. I said yes, of course. We “planned” for nearly 2 years, and one crisp October afternoon, we became man and wife.

As I look back on that day, and all the days leading up to that moment, I sometimes think Lao Tzu had us in mind when he spoke those famous words. When we first started dating, I was a person so damaged, I believed I was incapable of being loved or loving someone. That all changed over time, with patience and persistence. My husband has stood by me through thick and thin. He has taught me unconditional love and patience. I felt the deep love he had for me. A girl who believed herself to be so damaged she could never love again finally received the courage she needed to try one more time and find the strength in her, to give her heart away.

-Carrie Farrell