Relationships

Photo by Mahkeo on Unsplash

My wife and I celebrated our nine year anniversary last week. Undoubtedly, the best years of our marriage have been the most recent ones. But, you may not suspect the reason why.

It’s not because we were just joined by our firstborn, Ember. Nor is it because we’ve resolved all of our disagreements and harmonized all of our differences. And, it’s certainly not because we’ve settled into comfort; in fact, quite the opposite, we recently quit our jobs, sold everything, and moved to Hawaii.

The reason is, well, each of us fell in love with someone else.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we still love one other, very much. Arguably, more than ever. But, that’s a direct result of the other person each of us fell in love with: ourselves.


One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I am hurt. Specifically, in the season that I met Erin, I was hurting, deeply, about a lot.


Erin, that’s my wife, and I, met and married in our early twenties. While I know that our affections and desire to commit were sincere, I also know, now more than ever, that we were young. Ignorant to the realities we would face in the years to come and what we would discover, with one another, and about ourselves.

One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I am hurt. Specifically, in the season that I met Erin, I was hurting, deeply, about a lot.

I was hurt by my broken home; hurt that I had been kicked out of my Mom’s house (deserved), then my Dad’s (debatable), hurt that those explosions were expressions of relationships that were stunted and severed. Hurt that I had been neglected and all but forgotten. I was hurt by countless choices I had made, choices that I thought would help and heal my hurts, but only made them worse. And I was hurting from the elongated absence of my brother, Scott. He was my best friend and my functional father, but he was also an addict; worsening in his addiction, so he’d been gone for years.

But all of that hurt was a drop in an ocean of devastation when Scott died of an overdose.


I was just so conditioned to being hurt that I became numb. Consciously and unconsciously, I worked to not feel. That was my coping mechanism.


Just a month before his death I had confessed my love to Erin. Like a Catholic priest, she received my confession in silence and responded by sending me away.

She just wasn’t there and felt it would be best for us to let it breathe. So, it breathed as she went away to work at a summer camp. A month into that summer break, an emergency phone call summoned her to our unexpected reunion.

Hours after Scott died, I called Erin. We had only known one another for a year at that point, but I called because I knew she cared. I knew she would listen and help, be there for me, and feel. After all, we had spent the better part of that year getting to know one another, primarily on the phone. Separated by some 400 miles, with social media in it’s infancy, our foundation was built on late night calls, Gmail chats, and endless 160 character texts. We were firmly in the friend zone and that buffer helped us build a relationship that has yielded quite a harvest over the years. Although, at that point, the harvest was looking like slim pickings. Still, I called.

Through that conversation, summer silence was ceased. And for more than a decade, in and out of season, Erin has continued to care, listen, help, be there, and feel. And she’s teaching me to do the same; specifically, to feel. See, in hindsight, I wasn’t aware of all of my hurts. I was just so conditioned to being hurt that I became numb. Consciously and unconsciously, I worked to not feel. That was my coping mechanism. Sadly, Scott’s (coping mechanism) was lethal, but I know his pain and I carry it still. I carried it into my marriage and burdened Erin with it’s weight, until it almost buried us.

Nearing divorce, we found ourselves in couples counseling. Couples counseling led to individual counseling and years of both have lead to my second love: myself.

In any relationship that is healthy and life-giving, truth and love are united. Love never relinquishes itself to lies and truth never yields itself as a weapon. Truth, on the lips of love, is aloe to burn, a beautiful balm to brokenness, a soothing salve on the sting of selfishness and self-sabotage. Love speaks the truth, to it’s beloved, to allow the beloved to begin to love himself, or herself, as love does. For, not until we love ourselves can we love anyone. After all, that is the appeal being made through the old sage words: “love your neighbor as yourself.


But loving myself also includes not allowing myself, and my relationships, to remain restrained by my hurts. Loving myself means mourning and grieving, yes, but also moving and growing.


Loving myself, in this season, includes an intentional effort to excavate experiences, unearth emotions, and feel feelings that I’ve long suppressed. To mourn for a much younger Sean, a boy whose childhood was stolen, whose innocence was robbed, whose security was sacrificed. To face the fears of feeling. Feeling love, trust, and respect for someone. Feeling vulnerable and open to them. Realizing that I’m afraid to feel all of that because people fail, and disappoint, and when I’ve opened myself to them, and they inevitably do, it hurts.

But, loving myself also includes not allowing myself, and my relationships, to remain restrained by my hurts. Loving myself means mourning and grieving, yes, but also moving and growing.

Erin and I have been moving and growing for more than nine years now. I can’t fathom who I would be without her. Erin is my first love and the entirety of my existence has been redefined by her and because of her. I wonder who I’ll be when I celebrate my nine year anniversary with my second love; myself.

 

 

 

Sean Little’s love for language was conceived by early 90’s rap and cultivated by hip-hop culture. In the traditions of both, narrative is the nucleus of his writing. Sean recently sold everything to leave his life in Indiana and moved to Hawaii with his wife and daughter. Sean has toured nationally/internationally as a rapper and speaker, pastored in a local church, and is a featured Second in an I Am Second white chair film.

 

 

Follow On Second Thought Blog

1. You are the only one who thinks you have weird elbows

Yup. You read that right. I had issues with my elbows. I used to wear oversize t-shirts to ensure that no one caught glimpse of my knobby elbows. I avoided shorts for the same reason. I’d suck in my bottom lip so people wouldn’t notice how fat it was. I huddled along the edges of rooms to hide my backside. My hands never knew where to go. And whenever I walked, I knew everyone secretly snickered at my funny stride. Turns out, the only people who ever really think these things of others are those who think even worse about themselves. Knowing how insecure we all are, somehow, gives me security in knowing that I’m not so bad and neither are you. Maybe I could have said that to people a bit more back then.

 

 

2. Even the cool kids need a friend

I was lonely. Deeply and severely. I just wanted a friend. I remember even buying a book one time entitled, “How to Make Friends.” There’s my nerdy side coming out. I’ve since learned that everyone is lonely. Everyone wants a friend. Our coping mechanisms look different, but we’re all lonely. The shy kid (me) coped by withdrawal, the popular kid by overconfidence or people pleasing. But we all did what we did with the sole hope that someone would like us for it. But the best way to make a friend is to be a friend because we’re all looking for one. Knowing this about the people I meet has turned everyone into a potential new friend. And that’s a lesson, I wish I knew a lot sooner in life.

 

3. You’ll miss your family

Someone once told me that when we are young, our parents know everything. Then, in our teenage years they seem to forget it all. But somewhere around our mid-twenties they remember it all again, and we are amazed at all our parents did for us. That’s how it seems looking back. But I now live a thousand miles from much of my family and there’s no going back to when we’d play football in the back yard or make cheesy popcorn for movie night. I just wished I’d appreciated my family more before we all moved away and learned the hard way that our parents weren’t so bad after all.

 

4. Grades are good, people are better

I never got straight A’s, but I tried. I worried about grades, tests, and college applications. But success, in all its forms, has always overpromised and underdelivered. I wrote a national bestselling book once, and I had a lot of old classmates call up to congratulate me. They asked me to come speak at their schools, make a video for their organizations, or post something on behalf of their causes. I made it to the top, I’m a bestselling author. But I’m no happier. I found some cheap friendships along the way, made some money, but, in the end, none of it really mattered. It’s not what makes me happy. Knowing I’m loved is all I need to be happy. Knowing that God loves me, my wife loves me, my friends and family love me, this is what gives meaning to life. Grades, career, and money never earned me any love.

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.


More from Doug Bender

Why your life motto can’t just be a wristband It’s a thing, nowadays, to wear your cause on your wrist. It’s a way to define yourself, to differentiate, and express yourself. It’s a way to shout to the world your life motto. But I want to push you to go beyond inspiration and interest.

13 Reasons Why NOT: an Open Letter to My Friend Who Committed Suicide- I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you.

The Sad Reason I Only Wear Brand Name T-Shirts– I find myself leaning on money and stuff for happiness. I haven’t learned to beat it yet. I’d like to be perfectly content with any financial situation. I’m not.

Lynsi Snyder, Owner and President of In-N-Out Burger

I’m currently the president at In-N-Out Burger, which was a little mom and pop burger stand that started in 1948 and grew to be pretty big.

It’s been a part of my life since I was born, being close with different people that work there. You know, it really got introduced into my life when my dad died. Both my parents were very loving. I remember being pretty cheerful little girl that was a little bit spoiled because my siblings were 12 and 16 years older than me.

My dad was really funny. He was a little bit eccentric. He loved to make people laugh, loved to laugh himself. He used to explain songs to me. We had this connection with music. We loved music. He spoke to me like I was an adult when I was 4 years old. He had this wisdom and discernment that I was going to be exposed to so many different things in life; that I was going to need that straightforwardness and that honesty.


And that’s when I really started longing for that attention and that love because my dad was the greatest source for that.


Probably around age five or six we were going to visit my dad in the hospital. And, I thought it was just the hospital he was staying at, but it turned out to be a rehab. My mom explained it that he was just sick. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized he had a drug addiction, from different surgeries he’d had and a lot of pain he’d had in his past. Pain that he didn’t know what to do with.

It was really hard for me to see him fail and be weak because I knew how bad he wanted to be a good husband and a good father. It was a matter of time before the drugs and another woman, and then that was pretty much it. They got divorced when I was twelve.

And that’s when I really started longing for that attention and that love because my dad was the greatest source for that. One day, I was on my way to school and he’d called in the morning. I talked to him and I was rushing him off the phone because I had my hands full and that was the last time I talked to him. My world shattered.

After my dad died there was no way I was going to be alone. He’s gone, so I had even greater reason to fill the void. I got married at 18. I had graduated a few months before that. It wasn’t right. I knew that. That small still voice had told me don’t do this. And I did it. And I paid the price with a divorce.


Another divorce. Another affair. I couldn’t feel like a bigger failure at that point. I just couldn’t recover who I was.


And jumped right into the arms of someone else. At that point, I realized I’m pretty much the outcast in the family. Now, I’m divorced and I figured I might as well just embrace this. Started smoking pot, drinking, which were things I really wanted to stay away from after watching my dad. I realized that I’m going to follow the footsteps of my father and I’m going to meet an early death if I do not get right with God and follow him, because the enemy just wanted to wipe me out.

I could let go of the pot and the alcohol, but letting go of the guy was different, because being alone…I just didn’t want to be alone. I just was praying and asking God to give me the strength to do what was right. I knew that I couldn’t go back home that night and sleep with my boyfriend. I had to tell him, ‘Hey this isn’t happening. If you are going to do those things, don’t do them around me.”

He ended up getting saved, so I then I’m like “Okay, now we can get married.” It was the fast track. We got married in November. Was it really the right thing? I can’t say because I have two precious children from that marriage, but 6 years later, another divorce, another affair.

I couldn’t feel like a bigger failure at that point. I just couldn’t recover who I was. I was so alone. Didn’t last long. I ended up in another relationship. We ended up having a child together. We got married. And I married him because I didn’t want to be alone. He married me because of money. I was cheated on off and on for three and a half years.

The first time I found out he cheated on me I was like, “Well I deserve it. I’m paying for it.” He cheated on my while I was pregnant. Disrespected, never had I been talked to like he talked to me. Treated like trash. It was the worst time of my life.


God took me to a place that I’ve never been before and he showed me that in that time where I felt more alone than ever, more of a piece of trash than ever, more of a failure, that he was there. And he was ready to love me.


You can see how someone who just wants that love and appreciation was just getting further and further from what she wanted. Started believing the lies that I deserved that, that God’s punishing me. The things that can be said can cut you very deeply and can change who you believe you think you are.

I just continued to put up with it. No way could I get divorced again. I mean how old am I and I’ve been divorced a handful of times, really? It was terrible. It really pushed me. God took me to a place that I’ve never been before and he showed me that in that time where I felt more alone than ever, more of a piece of trash than ever, more of a failure, that he was there. And he was ready to love me and fill that void.

And he’d been there all along wanting that, but he needed me to let go of that tangible person. It was my dad first, then it was the next guy, the next guy. I was never willing to just let go to see that God had something better.

I was forced to this time because this was someone who was just throwing me to the curb. I was divorced again. And I knew it was time to just take time away. That time alone was some of my greatest memories with God. It was an alone that was okay because I wasn’t completely alone because I had the Jesus that walked on water, healed the sick. I had that Jesus filling that void, touching my heart, pouring into who I’m called to be and who he sees me as, rather than who I’d believed I was because of the things I’d done.

I really value the love and good times I had with my dad but even that can’t compare to the love that God has for me. It likes you’re a little kid riding a bike for the first time and your dad is proud cheering you on because he helped you ride that bike. And God got me back up after all of these failures and he can lift me up and see me go forward and I know that he can be glorified.

And riding a bike and a proud dad and the Creator of the niverse being able to use you is like… wow.

My name is Lynsi Snyder and I Am Second.

Katy Perry’s new album “Witness”

Say what you will about Katy Perry, but I love her honesty. The title track for her latest album, Witness, is a soliloquy of doubt and loneliness. I won’t name names, but these dark themes fail to surface on the “positive and encouraging” genre of radio stations that are out there. And it’s why you’ll find me listening to some of the less “encouraging” musical artists on occasion.

See, great music, great lyrics puts sound and words to feelings. Sometimes, I doubt. I have fear and anxiety. I wonder if I’m alone in the world, if anybody cares. And I crave music that can put words to those parts of my soul. Words like Katy Perry’s:


If I lost it all today, would you stay?
Could my love be enough to stimulate?
If s*^t hit the fan, grenades got thrown
Would you still show, oh?
Could you go down with me to the mat?
Could we get back up and eventually laugh?
Roll eyes at highs, cheers in the lows, and stay in the flow.


There is a song in the Bible by the Sons of Korah called Psalm 88 that’s a pure cry into the darkness. It says things like:


You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.


And other lines like:


From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.


 

And if that wasn’t dim enough, the song ends with this:


You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.


You read this song and you keep waiting for God to show up, for the ending to turn happy, but it never does. The song ends with a God that didn’t show up. It ends in darkness and loneliness. But that’s why I love it so much.

I’m a believer. I know that in the end God is going to be there for me. I know that. But when I can’t pay my bills, a friend betrays me, or I lose a child, I don’t feel like he’s going to show up. I feel alone. I feel that “darkness is my closest friend.” And for some reason, knowing that someone, anyone, has also felt this despair makes it all a little less despairing. In some strange way, I find the dark and lonely songs by Katy Perry and the Sons of Korah oddly encouraging, precisely because they offer no encouragement.

Now, some of you are already crafting an angry comment about why I shouldn’t write about Katy Perry. So, I’ll just end with this: she’s looking for a connection, someone to get her through whatever she is going through, maybe you can be a witness instead. Besides, who doesn’t need a witness?

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

(Photo source: pexels.com)

In the Friends” episode, The One That Could Have Been, Fat Monica is sitting at her kitchen table with Chandler, upset that her boyfriend ran out on their date because of work. In her frustration, she blurts out, “Chandler, I’m going to die a virgin!” As if such a fate was actually worse than death.

Monica’s disappointment and embarrassment about being a 30-year-old virgin reflects how our society views those who are sexually abstinent in adulthood whether by choice or lack of opportunity.

I can’t speak for society, but I can speak for myself. I laughed at that scene, not because I thought it was funny, but because I identified with Monica. In fact, I exclaimed, “Me too!”

Now, sex in and of itself would be a horrible reason to get married. So let me be clear, that is not the only reason I would like to be married one day.

I know marriage is more than sex, and that marriage is beautiful and hard and all that. I know it doesn’t complete me. I know marriage will not make me happier. I get it.

But sometimes I fall prey to the belief that in our society, it would be easier to be married and Christian than single and Christian.

If I were a married Christian lady, nobody would think twice about me staying faithful to my husband. If I did sleep around, the world would actually look down on me.

Case in point: In that same “Friends” episode, Rachel has the opportunity to cheat on her husband with Joey Tribbiani, the Soap Opera star, but she doesn’t. She feels overwhelmed with guilt for even entertaining the idea because cheating on her husband would make her a horrible person.

However, as a single Christian lady, I still believe the only man I should sleep with is my husband. God just hasn’t revealed the identity of that lucky man yet. The world thinks I’m crazy for wanting to be faithful to a man who may very well not even exist.

I’ll be 29 this year, and I can count on one hand the amount of dates I’ve been on in my life. I’ve never been on a date with a man where I’ve enjoyed myself and wanted to continue the relationship. They’ve all been awkward, and then I had to do the whole “I don’t really like you that way. Let’s pretend like we’re going to stay friends, but I’m actually going to avoid you like the plague from here on out because I feel guilty for possibly hurting your feelings” thing.

Let me share with you a list of some situations I’d rather not go through again:

  • Being told by a guy I like he’s not that interested in me
  • Telling a guy I’m not that interested in him
  • Kidney stones

So after one painfully awkward date, I told God I would prefer not to be asked out at all than to be asked out by a man whom I’d have to reject.

God is faithful, and I have not been asked out since August 2012.

I’m telling you this because I need you to know I’m not some super holy person who has resisted so much temptation in an effort to stay faithful to my future husband; I’ve had no opportunity to be unfaithful. (At least not physically… emotionally unfaithful? Well that’s a story for another day.)

I’m just a girl who somedays feels like the biggest loser in the world and who sometimes believes no man will ever find her beautiful or love her. A girl who struggles with loneliness and feeling unwanted.

But those are my feelings; they are not my reality.

My reality is a Father who has beautifully protected me from the pain and destruction of sexual sin thus far in my life, but whose affection is not contingent upon my perfection. I am loved.

My reality is a Savior who loved me at my worst and who continues to recklessly pursue my heart. I am wanted.

My reality is a Great Comforter who guides and guards me as I navigate the trials and joys of this world. I am never alone.

Feelings often take awhile to catch up to God’s truth. They also forget easily. I have to remind my heart daily of the truth, so my feelings can be rooted in God’s Word and not fear.

My fear of being single forever and dying a virgin finds its root in the fear of being an outsider and misunderstood and ridiculed. Ironically enough, God’s Word promises exactly those things for those who follow Jesus.

We were never meant to “fit in” in this world; we were meant to change it. And in our weakness and struggles, God shines brightest.

“…I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ might rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV

I’m not implying that the single life is all calamity and hardship. For the most part, I’ve greatly enjoyed my twenties and God has taken me on many adventures that would not have been possible if I was married. Marriage would have provided its own set of hardships.

But singleness does provide a unique opportunity to live counter culturally and proclaim that God’s way is better–even if in my weakness, I still feel a tinge of embarrassment when asked about my abstinence.

Will living a chaste life while single change the world? Maybe not.

But living in obedience to God in every area of my life–big and small–certainly will.

I may very well die a virgin, but please, God, don’t let me die without changing the world.

This originally appeared on Sarah Stinson’s blog, with my whole heart. Republished with permission.