On my twenty-first birthday I did a very sentimental thing. I wrote a letter to myself on my best stationery, sealed it solemnly, and dated the envelope July 27, 2005. Ten years later. With a fluttery feeling about my heart I laid it reverently on the bottom of my new hope chest and piled on top all the lovely birthday gifts my friends and family had given me with which to feather my future nest. And there it lay amid sandalwood-scented treasures, a gentle taunt from time to time when the search of some item would send me rifling through to the farthest reaches. That is, until a few of weeks ago.
I remembered it with a start the morning of my birthday. It hardly seemed possible that ten years could have passed since that sweet starry night when I had knelt on my bedroom floor with a heart full of happy memories and maiden hopes and composed a missive to the self I was yet to be.
I made quite an event of unearthing the letter, perusing each item in the chest with a tender eye: hand-painted slippers that had danced at my best friend’s wedding; baby clothes and unfinished bonnets; retired gowns laid lovingly by; my bridal veil; cards of lace bought on our honeymoon. At the bottom was the letter, just as I had left it, and I lifted it out with a trembling sigh. A preserved moment of my girlhood set by to shed its stolen fragrance upon a ‘wise old lady’ of 31! It may as well have been from one of my ancestors, so great was my awe of it. I almost hated to open it and break the charm.
I don’t know exactly what I expected, a bit more longing, perhaps, more speculation about my future. But with tears raining down my cheeks, I read of contentment and joy, of my love of my home and my dear family. And the references to my future husband rang with a matter-of-fact confidence in the one man in all the world I knew that God would bring into my life one day.
There were some rather pert questions, and, to my surprise, a goodly portion of advice. I hope that you know that nothing and no one can give you what Jesus can. I pray that you have allowed Him to do as He pleases with your life. And now I wept with joy at God’s mercy, for if the intervening years have shown me anything, it is that my relationship with Christ is the most precious treasure there is.
I have always had very high ideals about love and romance. As a little girl they were more of the ‘knight and lady fair’ variety; I am not ashamed to admit that by God’s grace such dear notions carried themselves over into my teenage years. When I came to know Christ, and began to understand how much He loved me, it seemed the natural thing to ask Him to guide me and have His will in all areas of my life—including matters of the heart. But as much as I wanted romance, as eager as I was to give my heart to the right man, I didn’t like what I saw in most of the typical dating relationships around me. There was no commitment, no assurance that there was a serious end being considered. I wanted to be wooed, courted, sought after. I wanted my heart to be protected, and I wanted to go to my husband having saved every sweet thing for him, without a lot of scars from previous relationships. And so, with a deep desire to live pleasing to God and with a loving thought of the man that was somewhere waiting for me, I made a choice. I decided not to date until I was at an age and in a situation where marriage was a real possibility.
I asked my father to be involved, counting on his experience and wisdom to screen potential suitors, a task which he was only too willing to undertake. I wanted his counsel, his blessing on any young man that tried to win my heart. And in the years that lay between maidenhood and marriage, I enjoyed the safety of a watchful love that made a fence of itself about the green pasture of my youth.
As I approached my twenties, however, I began to wonder if Daddy would ever have a chance to render his services. To be sure, the mere fact of his looming presence, genial as it was, had served to scare off young men I wouldn’t have considered anyway, but at nineteen I couldn’t fathom what the big holdup was. I was ready. I knew how to plan meals and cook and sew. On the top shelf of my closet was a tidy stash of china and linens. My journal fairly ran over with longing. I could not see any reason under heaven why God would delay.
Another four years would pass before the man I already loved came into my life. But they were good years, rich and full and overflowing with tokens of God’s love. I really believe that beneath that sweet burden of desire I learned to live as I never had before. Life was an adventure and waiting on God a calling that was ripe with opportunity in and of itself. I can honestly say that if my journal had not caught every tear and sigh I would find it hard to recall the anguish and doubt of unfulfilled hopes; when I look back on those days it is with a sense of tender awe at the companionship of God.
“So Lanier, do you have a boyfriend?” a well-meaning lady at church asked one morning.
“No, she’s ‘waitin’ for her dearie’,” quoth my mother in breezy incomprehensibility.
I gave the woman an uneasy smile and explained, “It’s a song.”
“Ohhh.” She never asked me again.
It was a song, one I very nearly wore out in those days. But it voiced my desires with such happy confidence:
Waitin’ for my dearie, an’ happy am I
to hold my heart till he comes strollin’ by.
When he comes, my dearie, one look an’ I’ll know
That he’s the dearie I’ve been wantin’ so.
Though I’ll live forty lives till the day he arrives,
I’ll not ever, ever grieve.
For my hopes will be hi
gh that he’ll come strollin’ by;
For ye see, I believe
That there’s a laddie weary, and wanderin’ free,
Who’s waitin’ for his dearie:
I will never forget the night that I met Philip. A mutual friend had invited him to a gathering of my crowd, and as I walked in the room all I saw was a tall, dark-haired young man in a blue oxford shirt. Our friendship began that night—and my battle. For falling in love was harder than the waiting had ever been; and so beautiful, even in its perplexity, that I’d not change the slightest detail. Over the next nine months, within the context of my very lively and high spirited crowd, I got to know this wonderful man that would eventually be my husband—but it was under a torment of uncertainty. For Philip was such a gentleman, so careful in his manner towards all of the girls, that I had not the slightest reason to suspect that he regarded me with any special favor.
“He’s like Mr. Knightley,” my mother said over tea one day, always eager to draw a literary allusion. “‘The last man in the world who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really did.’”
I nodded miserably, for I had already made the connection in my own mind to Jane Austen’s impeccable hero. And I was as heart sore as Emma Wodehouse ever had the romantic imagination to be.
I went to England with my best friend and thought about Philip every day. I relished the Inklings’ haunt in Oxford because of the talks we’d had about C. S. Lewis. I saved up vignettes that I hoped he would laugh over. And on top of the Wallace Monument one wind-swept Scottish afternoon I told Rachel that I thought I was in love. It was as much a confession to myself as a confidence in my friend, and it made things both easier and harder. I had drawn a line in the sand. But I was more vulnerable than ever to what lay on the other side.
A brief previous experience had erased any fanciful notions I had that relationships were easy. Along the way, it seems, I had added the experiences of friends, the books I had read, the speakers I had heard to the original simplicity of the ideals God had given me. I had subtly shifted my confidence from the unfailing, if bewildering, providence of God to my own ability to keep myself pure, thinking naively that if I did things a certain way and followed a few rules that everything would unfold easily and naturally and without pain. I knew now that the main thing, the only thing in all of life, was whether I was willing to pursue God through heartache and joy alike, or if I was going to take my life in my own hands and try to shield myself from any hurt that God knew would make me better. For we can take the reins just as surely by following rules as we can by doing whatever we please. A passage in C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves issued a daring challenge:
“We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.”
The pain of this love was a merciful tool of God that spring. Amid picnics and bonfires and snatches of conversation at the coffee shop my heart was sifted to its very depths. Leaning hard on God in utter weakness my hopes were laid before Him one by one. But by the first of the summer I could bear it no longer.
Take him away, Lord, I prayed, just take him out my life if he’s not the one You have for me. If the answer is ‘no’, just go ahead and tell me.
But the answer was ‘yes’, a ‘yes’ that resounded through my little world with a shout of triumph and joy; that fills my days yet with a song whose beauties I am only beginning to discover. Six years ago the dearest man on earth made me his wife, and God made us one. The desert of waiting became a fruitful field; the wilderness blossomed as the rose. And I can only say in praise of the Lord that ‘they will never be ashamed that wait for Him’.
Before I opened the birthday letter I had smiled to myself at the astonishment with which the 21 year-old Lanier would view my present abundance and blessing. But now I’m not so sure that she would be all that surprised. This, this beautiful love that I share with Philip and the home we have been blessed to build together is precisely what she saw in her girlhood visions. This is what God Himself had given her the heart to hope for.