As I looked around at the thousands of students who filled the huge astro-dome during chapel at Liberty University (a Christian college) where I attended, I sighed loudly as Dr. Jerry Falwell (the Chancellor) exclaimed, once again:
“All you students, look around! Find your husband or wife here at Liberty! There are many opportunities to get to know other young people here! Look around and start dating! Young men, find your wives here! Young women, find your husbands here! Take advantage of this time!”
I scowled and looked around. I was half way through my senior year, and I could feel the pressure mounting to “find my husband.” Seated next to me were my college besties: all beautiful young women, happily dating, all well on their way to marrying their boyfriends soon after college. I kept looking around and noticed several good-looking young men that were certainly date-able material, some of whom I knew personally. The only problem was that they were not asking me out.
I looked around some more, and spotted the guy I had my heart set on. When our eyes met he averted my gaze, which painfully reminded me that he was still not moving past the “let’s hang out all the time and I will take all the same classes as you and be study partners and great friends with you, and come over to your house all the time and study until midnight with our knees touching under the table” phase of our relationship.
“But what if I am not meant to find my husband at college?” I whispered, probably too loudly, to one of my friends. “What if I am supposed to meet him later?”
“I don’t know Heather,” my friend said kindly. “But I know God has someone for you.”
I had asked one version or another of this question since I became teenager, and had been subconsciously asking it for several years now. The question that constantly churned deep down in the pit of my soul, was this:
Will there ever be someone for me?
Before I tell you how my time at college ended and whether or not I “found my husband at Liberty,” (spoiler alert: I did not), I need to briefly tell you my back story as it relates to dating and men.
And trust me, it will be brief.
Did you know that the way a girl dates a boy ties directly back to the relationship she has with her father? Yep, it does. Unfortunately for me, I did not have a very close relationship with my dad and had also been sexually abused by two other men (one a member of my own family) which left me with the following reality:
I struggled with low-level feelings of rejection as it related to men and also distrusted them on many levels (and also had a low-level anger thing going on as well), thus creating “walls” and a “guardedness” with most men I encountered (except for older, fatherly men with kind eyes). I was also very insecure inside (but hid it skillfully) and was hyper-vigilant about finding a boyfriend. And to top it off, I depended heavily on the approval of others to make me feel good about myself.
Another negative contributing factor in all of this was that I was (and still am) a natural born tom-boy with a low voice (think Lauren Becall) and I have a very blunt, direct personality (that has tamed a bit since I’ve matured). I am also very tall.
So between my internal issues of rejection/walls combined with my lovely external masculine vibe, I didn’t get asked out very much, either in high school or all through college.
Many of my girlfriends would encourage me with the following: “Heather, you’re very pretty and you have a really cool personality, but all the guys are intimidated by you! And they’re shorter than you, too.”
So that’s what I told myself through high school when I never had a flower delivered to my desk when they were passing out carnations for various holidays (like Valentine’s Day) or school fundraisers. That’s what I told myself when my date for the prom rejected me two days before the actual prom and lied and said he couldn’t attend, but then I saw him later that night with a group of friends, driving around. That’s what I told myself and all the way up through my senior year in college as one by one, my friends all met their husbands and began planning out the rest of their lives. That’s the reason, I reassured myself, that the guy I was majorly crushing my senior year was keeping me squarely in the friend zone.
“He’s intimidated by me. I’m too much of a woman for him,” I justified to myself many times.
But underneath the whole “will there ever be anyone for me” question was a much deeper query the sat like a hot potato on top of that one. The question was this:
What’s wrong with me, that nobody ever chooses me?
That question stayed with me as I moved to the DC area to “start my whole career thing” after college (you can read about it here). I was waitressing at the time, and for reasons I cannot explain, things started to shift in the atmosphere for me with the opposite sex, in a good way.
Suddenly, it was like a light turned on and all the guys began to notice me.
Many of the men I worked with (fellow waiters) started to crush me, ask me out, or just make innocent comments. One day I noticed two of them chatting and staring at me. One them said dreamily “everyday!” while looking directly at me. I asked him what “everyday” meant. The other one chimed in with a goofy smile and said: “we both agreed that you get more beautiful everyday, Heather.”
Yeeks. Male customers would even make comments and told me many times that I looked like Madonna or Sharon Stone (or a combination thereof). I found it funny when men would look at me quizzically and say “you look like someone, a movie star, but I can’t place it.” I would say bluntly (because, remember, I’m blunt):
“I look like a younger combination of Madonna and Sharon Stone.” And they would say excitedly: “Yes! That’s it!”
Even the men I worked with at GOPAC (as an intern) in DC started to notice me and ask me out. So while something changed and all of the sudden I began to be noticed and yes, even asked out on dates, I was not super excited about the guys who were asking me out. I would often remark to my friends: “Why can’t I meet a good, cute, nice, smart Christian guy who will ask me out?” They didn’t understand it and neither did I. The other challenge was that although I must have been changing on the outside because I could see the evidence of it, I was the same insecure girl on the inside who feared rejection and put up walls of distrust around men.
I was in a bind. What to do?
How do you change a girl from deep within? How do you take a deeply insecure girl who fears rejection and turn her into a confident woman who doesn’t need the approval of anyone to feel good about herself? How do you change a girl who thinks she needs a boyfriend to complete herself or to prove that she is worthy to be loved?
And how does this same girl ever find a good guy? Someone maybe she can marry?
These were the questions that I took into my mid twenties. So, I took these questions to the only Person I knew who could actually answer them. I took them to God.
God began to answer them with His gift of deep inner healing, but like all good things, it was was a process that took some time.
First, God started a healing work in my mind. I listened to a bunch of cassette tapes by Dr. Charles Stanley about rejection. The basic gist is that many people are rejected as children (think funky family or absent/abusive father/parent) or adults (think divorce, affairs) and it changes them in bad ways. He explained that rejected people have a whole slew of issues that they need to be healed and set free from. Not only that, they have a “rejection vibe” that can negatively impact other people.
I listened with rapt attention to all of his cassette tapes. It was like he was describing me to a freaking TEE while he lobbed one truth-bomb after another into my brain. The bottom line, he said, is that we need to get our identity (the core of who we are, the core of how we feel about ourselves) NOT from anyone else in this world, but from GOD. And that we need to truly believe what HE says about us in this written word, the Scriptures.
So what does God have to say about me? God says I am chosen, dearly loved, bought with a price, his beloved daughter, his creation, I have a purpose, he is with me, he loves me, and my eternity is secure in him. He will never leave me, never forsake me, and will always love me. He loves me so much he sent his Son to die on the cross to effectively pay for my sin. And he is in control of all aspects of my life, including whether I meet a man to marry (or not). Once those truths started to sink in, I began to be more set free in my mind and in my way of thinking.
After my mind began to transform, God promptly set out to heal my heart.
Ironically, it started with a phone conversation with my mother. I was telling her about an upcoming Christian weekend retreat I was about to go on. Sadly, because of all of my issues, I often combined my spiritual growth and development with the hope of finding a boyfriend at these events. As I was musing about the retreat, I wondered aloud to her: “I wonder if I will meet a good guy on this retreat?”
She said the following to me: “Heather, I believe you are too dependent on finding a boyfriend. You are looking to a boyfriend to make you feel complete, and worthy to be loved. I think you need deep inner healing. I will pray that God heals you this weekend.”
Drop the mic.
I was stunned for a moment as her words landed like a missile in my soul. I said goodbye to her and sat quietly on my bed.
“Fine,” I said with a bit of an attitude (I forgot to mention that I also had a snarky attitude back in those days). “Fine. Ok Lord. If my mom is right, and I need to be healed, then fine, heal me. Amen.”
I went on the retreat, and to make a long story short, there was a time when the Pastor prayed for healing and for the Lord to do a work among us. As I sat there singing “Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me,” the weirdest thing happened. It was like there was a HUGE tear drop hovering above my head, filled with gallons and gallons of water (from years of supressed hurt and pain) and all the sudden, it was like God took a little pin to it, POPPED it, and it completely burst all over me and spilled into the room.
I started crying, and I couldn’t stop.
I was so embarrassed.
Now if you know me, you know that I am one strong girl.
I am like Margaret Thatcher strong. I do not cry and I barely get misty-eyed, especially back in those days.
Well, all of my “I am so strong” b.s. was flushed down the toilet in that moment as I sat slobbering all over the ground. I hastily left the room found an empty stairwell outside and cried my guts out for about 40 minutes. I cried for my lost relationship with my father. That experience alone I can only describe as supernatural. It was like my life was flashing before me as it pertained to my dad, and all of the hurt and disappointment I had suppressed over the years came out in a flood.
I cried for the abuse I’d received at the hands of two men. I cried for all the rejection I had ever felt from men (and women). I cried for never being chosen.
I cried a very, very ugly cry. It was not attractive.
I was a hot mess.
After I settled down, I got up and went to bed.
The next day, I felt FREE.
All I can say to you, My Dear Reader, is that for whatever reason I was completely healed from all the hurt and pain I had experienced up until that point.
I felt happy, confident, set free, sure of myself, deeply loved by God, and fulfilled.
It was amazing!! God had answered my prayer (and my mom’s prayer). I was healed!
Well, pretty much at least. I have come to learn that if you are born and raised in an environment where you experience ongoing feelings of rejection, it’s pretty hard to get 100% healed. I still walk with a limp. But I’m about 95% there.
Back to the story.
I headed into my 25th birthday still very much a single young lady. Sadly, back in those days I thought 25 was old (it’s not) and I began to feel that pressure mounting once again.
So on the night of my birthday I prayed a simple prayer, and here it is, word for word:
“Dear Lord. Today is my birthday. I am now 25 years old. Honestly, Lord…from 0 to 25 has been pretty shitty. Can you please make it better from here on out. Please, Lord? In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
(Yes, I used a bad word in my prayer. What can I say? And hindsight is 20/20 and I had a lot of great things happen to me from 0-25, and it wasn’t all that bad, and some parts were very good. But I was having a hard time turning 25, so that was the prayer I prayed that night.)
Well, for whatever reason unknown to mankind, God decided to say a resounding YES to that simple, eloquent prayer. Because not three weeks later I was talking to a girlfriend who told me that she had a GREAT guy she thought I should meet.
I asked her to describe him to me and everything she said clicked with the “list” I had developed in my head (and on paper too. Yes, I made a very long list of things I wanted in a husband, which I will briefly talk about later.) She told me he already had a great job as a statistician, he was super nice, a God-fearing man, deep, and kind.
“What is a statician?” I asked her with confusion, not even knowing how to properly pronounce the title of his job.
“You know…statistics. He is super smart and has his PhD in statistics. And He’s cute too! He has the most beautiful green eyes!”
She asked if I wanted to meet up with him on blind date and I found myself saying yes!
So a few days later this same guy named Erik called me up one night and we talked easily for about an hour. I noticed right away he was a great conversationalist, was funny, and had a sexy phone voice. But what I loved most about him was that he seemed to be a completely normal guy. He asked me out on a date and…drum roll please…we went!
So here we are on our first official (blind) date and I found myself doing the “check list” thing. You know the check list thing. Is he polite to the waitress and not oogling her and does he leave her a good tip or is he a cheap bastard (cuz there ain’t no way I’m marrying a guy who isn’t a good tipper as a waitress myself)?
Thank God, Erik passed all of those “checks.”
Here’s another one: does he look directly into my eyes and do the ping pong thing with conversation or does he only talk about himself? Thank goodness he was a great conversationalist and kept the conversation mostly on me.
And the list went on. And honestly, he was passing “my list test” with flying colors.
About mid way through the meal I began to think that, although he seemed like a great guy, and a solid Christian, and had his stuff together, that he wasn’t my “type.” And that maybe we could be great friends. Maybe a best friend, big-brother type of thing.
But then something weird happened. I asked him an innocent question. I asked: “So, do you think you will get married one day?”
And he looked straight at me, straight into my soul actually, with his kind and beautiful green eyes, and said with such conviction and confidence:
“Absolutely. I’m built for marriage.”
We just stared into each other’s eyes for a moment. That’s when it happened: a tiny little spark of attraction tingled in my heart and formed a brand new synapse in my brain.
We had a great first date and went out on our second date. But then while we were driving he said the following to me:
“Heather. I want to tell you something. If I ever, ever say anything that hurts your feelings or is rude or unkind, I want you to tell me, because I want to apologize to you, and I want to make it right with you. So please always be honest with me.”
I immediately looked out the window and mouthed “Oh My God” silently out the window.
I turned to him accusingly and said: “how did you know to say that? Have you been listening to Focus on the Family? Did you read a book about what to say?’
He looked at me strangely. “Ummmmmm, no. I don’t listen to James Dobson but I hear he’s great. And no, I didn’t read a book. It’s just the way I am. Because it’s normal and the right way to be.”
So that’s how our relationship started. As I began to get to know Erik, I began to see what an overall great guy he really was. And he kept saying and doing all the right things. Things that were very kind, generous, and good. Things that healed my heart some more and started to renew my confidence in the male species.
Case in point: I took Erik home to meet my parents for Christmas. He hit it off with everyone and was great with my entire family. My little brother Joe (who was nine or ten at the time) asked him to please come into the basement with him to play laser tag, and sure enough, 40 minutes later, Erik was still in our unfinished musty basement playing with my little brother. Finally they came up all sweaty and tired and plopped on the couch. My little brother sat on his lap and hugged him with his legs opened up in a long bear hug. Erik hugged him right back.
Joe then said something so sweet: “Erik — I love you!!”
My little sister was within earshot and hotly retorted: “Josiah, you have only known him for three days.”
“I know.” Joe said simply. “Even though it’s only been three days, it feels like love.”
And… that pretty much sums up my dating relationship with Erik.
It felt like love.
He showed me love when he paid off the rest of my school loan after we had only been dating a short time. (I had worked my butt off through school and paid for the whole thing all by myself, but he paid off the last chunk.)
He showed me love when he bought me a car because he was sick of me driving around old “crap cars” that weren’t safe.
He showed me love by supporting my career on Capitol Hill and telling me things like: “Heather whatever you want to be later, if you ever want to run for Congress, I will support you!”
He showed me love by paying for all of the dates we ever went on and taking me fun places that I never could afford or would even consider had I not known him.
He showed me love by hearing my rejection stories and accepting me and healing all of the wounds that weren’t quite healed. Although God laid the foundation and put up the beams of healing in the home of my heart, I felt like Erik was the drywall and paint and decor. God used an imperfect tool, Erik, to continue the healing work that God wanted to complete through a human agent.
And then one hot and sunny Saturday in May, with all of our friends and family surrounding us, he showed me love by making a commitment to spend the rest of his life with me.
We were married on May 6, 2000 and we will celebrate 18 years together this coming year!
And Erik still continues to show me love.
First, he is an amazing dad. This was something I deeply wanted in a husband and had to have. I told the Lord many times to “not bother” sending me a husband unless he was also going to be a fantastic father. And Erik is a fantastic father! Sometimes I actually have a feeling of relief wash over me I see him interact with our kids.
As he loves our kids, he is also loving me.
He continues to show me love by being ridiculously generous with me. Once a year he sends me away on a “mommy vacation.” And he doesn’t send me to a Motel 6 in a random place. He sends me to the Caribbean. He sends me to Colorado to go skiing. He sends me to Vegas to see all of the sights. He goes a little cray cray in the area of generosity. Sometimes I feel like it’s God’s lavish, Kingly, outlandish love that he shows me through Erik. It doesn’t seem fair. I feel bad and never put that stuff on Facebook because I don’t want to seem like a braggart or make others feel bad. But he is very generous with me and always has been.
And finally, he continues to show me love by being the same man I married years ago. He never changed into what I feared the guy I married would change into: a psycho. He is the same good, laid-back, kind, steady, loving, smart, God-fearing man I married 18 years ago. He only gets better. A bit more soft around the middle perhaps, 🙂 but he is the same great guy I met over 20 years ago.
Do you remember how I told you I had made a long list of things I wanted in a spouse? Years after marrying Erik, I was digging through old papers and came across the list. As I read through the list my first thought was how anal and weird I was back then to have to write such an exhaustive list of “what I had to have in a husband.”
I also laughed at some of the things that were on the list. Things such as “He can’t be cheap, or be a cheap tipper.” And “he can’t be a perv.”
But then, as I read through the list in its entirety, I sat there in stunned silence. Literally 95% of that list described Erik. Erik made all of the “Top 10 Most Important Things” portion of the list, and had none of the “25 things he can’t be” portion of the list. And he made 50 out of 55 of the other things on the list too! (I told you I had issues back in the day.)
As I looked at the list, and then looked at Erik as he played with my daughter Claire on the floor one day, I started to cry. I thanked the Good Lord in Heaven for providing me with a wonderful husband and father in Erik. And yes, Erik is like a father to me too. In fact, he is a father to almost everyone he meets. He is just built like that.
So the one thing that needed to happen before I could find love is that I had to be healed of my fear of rejection. That fear consciously and subconsciously blocked me from finding love. The most awesome part about this story, though, is that through my journey of deep inner healing I was able to receive not one, but two kinds of love: the genuine, kind, steady, generous love of a good man. And the rock-solid, never changing, unconditional, sacrificial, all-encompassing love of God.
I am thankful beyond words to have received both kinds of love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Closing note: one of the reasons I write, and am so open about all of my issues, is to help other people. If you think you might struggle with feelings of rejection, here is a Youtube video which is a summary of Dr. Stanley’s series on overcoming feelings of rejection: here. Also, here is the Father’s Love Letter. It really helped me to process through some of my feelings of rejection and to believe the truth about myself. Thanks for reading!