A few days after Christmas last year, I wrote a short blog post entitled “Love and Being Single During the Holidays.” In it, I critiqued the high priority that our culture places on romantic love or, more particularly, a specific brand of Hollywood love that delegitimizes other types of love and deemphasizes how we love. I believe God’s priorities lie elsewhere. From Jesus’ perspective, I wrote, “love wasn't finding ‘the one person waiting for you,’ (as a recent eHarmony ad claims), or even going to Zales to show your spouse how much she means to you. In his mind, there was no greater love than laying down his life for his friends, than dying for us while we were still sinners.” I urged that we trust in God’s definition of love instead of Hallmark’s. What I regretted most about 2013 wasn't that I hadn’t found my “soulmate,” but that I hadn’t loved as selflessly as God wanted me to. I ended the post with the wish that in 2014 I would be able to show love in deed and truth to family, friends, strangers, and (God willing) that special someone.
As sincere I was in writing about that hope, though, I actually thought that the odds of meeting someone that would love me in a non-plutonic way were quite small. It had been so long since I had had a girlfriend, and I had had so many disappointments in the romance department, that I had resigned myself to the likelihood that I would be single for the rest of my life. Much of the time, I convinced myself that I was okay with that idea. For the times when I was sad or envious of the relationships I saw my friends enjoying, I came up with a sort of three-pronged mantra: God is going to make sure that you have a life full of love, regardless of whether or not you ever have a significant other; what matters more than your romantic life is that God’s word of love and joy continues to go out into the world, i.e. you are not the center of the universe; and that God often brings about what we think of as impossible or unlikely for God’s glory. As helpful as this mantra was occasionally, I usually had a difficult time really believing that they were true. I was even going to write an article about these three points with the goal of not feeling so down about my long-held status as a bachelor.
As it turned out, I never got a chance to write that post. Before I could, I met Alina, and everything changed. Inexplicably, this gorgeous, brilliant, amazing girl loves me, and brings out the very best that I have. What I so foolishly and shortsightedly thought was impossible happened. She happened, and I thank God every day for allowing someone like her to be in my life.
The beautiful, raw truth is that she came into my life just when I needed her. Two thousand fourteen was a difficult year for me. I lost my mom in April at the age of 54. I was her best friend, and I wasn’t able to do a thing to stop her from slipping away. She always had my back; she was always on my side; I could always go to her for advice or for someone to listen to my problems. More than anyone else I knew, she taught me what God is like, modeling in her words and actions towards me how I believe God loves: fiercely and unconditionally. Months later, I still feel her loss, as well as the tragic way that she passed, quite strongly.
I have struggled with my relationship with God as a result. I haven’t been angry at God for taking my mom away. Rather, it’s been hard for me to truly believe in or sense a god that has promised so much life and love, when death and despair have often seemed so much more like a reality. I would pray to God to comfort me, to put peace into my heart, to strengthen my faith, and remind me of a hope that seemed so distant. For a long time, it seemed like God was doing absolutely nothing to answer those prayers. Only recently did I realize that God was listening to me. God was so concerned for me that God allowed that comfort and peace and hope to be embodied in this beautiful woman who has loved me better than I ever could have deserved. My expectations that God’s love would come to me through a disembodied Spirit almost prevented me from seeing that it was right in front of me. As usual, God’s plans were grander than my own.
My first holiday season without my mom was difficult, especially since they coincided with the stress of final exams and papers. I thought about her a lot in the weeks before Christmas, and her absence while exchanging presents with my family was palpable. Nonetheless, not being single during the holidays made all the difference for me. Because of Alina, 2014 didn’t end with regret or loss or despair. It ended with the persistent call of hope. It ended with her beautiful face in front of me. It ended with her love reflecting God’s own. This year, I can only pray that I will be able to pay back even a tiny bit of the grace that has been shown to me, and that 2015 ends the exact same way.