It had become routine. The way I would look into my rearview mirror and see him swerving in and out of the lanes. The way he would wait for me in the breezeway up at our University. The way I would leave notes on his car with scribbled down jokes and encouragements, and he’d text me a quick and thoughtless, “Thank you.”
Two years makes for that sort of comfortability, though. And the thing with comfortability: it’s a mirage. It makes you see things that aren’t really there. It makes you feel like you’re owed something, leaves you with a sense of entitlement.
Still, it was the comfortability, the routine, that found me standing behind his car that last day of fall semester during our senior year. I stood there, studying his license plate, blinking — remembering.
Just a few weeks earlier, he had offered to take me to a party I had been invited to as a part of this interview process for a marketing position with this nonprofit. The invitation said “Date strongly encouraged” in big red letters, and I suddenly was very aware of my very real singleness. In the midst of complaining to him about it, he had offered to go with me. Even though he told me I could count on him to be there, a part of me remembered all the times he hadn’t shown up before. So, I waited to buy his ticket.
Sure enough, I was sitting all dressed up in the middle of taking a final the afternoon of the party when I got the text from him saying that he’d forgotten a friend was going to be in town that night — there were “I’m sorry” texts and “I’ll pay you back,” texts, and a heavy disappointment that settled in.
Stood up, only an hour before I was supposed to make my grand entrance and make a great first impression. My nerves were rattled, and I was sure I would fail without the safety net of a familiar face. It was the last straw for me. If I told you everything that had happened in those two years leading up to that night, you would’ve thought I was crazy for not putting my foot down sooner. But him bailing on me was the icing on the cake, and I swore I was done showing up.
I cried the whole way to the party. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the guy at the door with the guest list couldn’t find my name and decidedly wasn’t going to let me in. It was a tall guy in a purple striped dress shirt and suspenders that ended up letting me in that evening, and I nailed the interview.
In the days that followed the party, my heart hardened toward the past two years I had spent being the late night bail-out call, the early morning shotgun rider when life wasn’t going right, the girl who dropped everything to buy, drive, listen, show up for anything — all for someone who never noticed.
Back at school, I ignored him. He’d shout after me in the hallways, wait in the parking lot by my car, call me late at night. I walked faster, got rides from friends, and put my phone on silent.
What I could have never known was that the night after the party he was supposed to take me to, his best friend overdosed on drugs. That weekend, he had to carry the casket at the funeral.
I had shown up for two years but had missed the mark when it really counted.
So there I stood, that last fall day of senior year, staring at his car with shaking hands. I pulled the note out of my pocket and placed it underneath one of his windshield wipers.
It didn’t matter how I thought the whole thing should have gone. Did I deserve to be the girl he brought home to his parents? Did I think I had earned the right to be the one he took to church every Sunday? Did I wish I could have gotten more in return than what he had left me with over those two years? Sure. But it didn’t matter.
When I pulled out of the parking lot that day, I stopped at a gas station to cry. I cried and I wrote one of the most important things I’ve ever written: “Sometimes you can be the one who claps the loudest, the one who shows up the most, the one who stays the longest, and you still won’t be heard, won’t be seen, won’t be kept; sometimes, they still won’t choose you.
Leave notes on their car, anyway.”
At the end of the day, the truth is that I needed to write that letter more than that boy needed to read it. Sure, I told him I believed in him and that I always would, that he still had time to be all the things he said he wanted to be, and maybe he turned around and did a lot of changing. But when I look back at who I was when I left that last letter on his car, I see a girl who had spent the better half of that year picking up the pieces of herself that she had single-handedly broken and scattered everywhere; I see a girl who had fought tooth-and-nail to climb out of the darkness; a girl who was both learning to apologize and to forgive; a girl who had learned that sometimes brave looks like speaking secrets out loud and had done a lot of healing since she had shed the light on some dark corners.
Still, there was that wall: the resentment that stood between me and living fully in Jesus.
That letter was my reminder to stay soft. To stay soft regardless. To say soft in spite of.
It’s been over a year since I left that last note on that car; it was the last thing I ever said to him. It was also the hammer I took to a wall that separated me from God.
And remember the boy in the purple striped dress shirt and the suspenders that let me into the party? We met that night for the first time, and we’ve been married for seven months, now.
Funny how some things work out, huh?
The other day, I was reading in Matthew when I came across a commandment directly from Jesus: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12).
The love of most will grow cold.
Jesus asks a lot of us: don’t be afraid, be selfless, do not lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, give, love Him and our neighbors. He even asks us to carry our crosses just as He did.
But that — that was the first time that I ever read anything about Him commanding us to be soft.
We are called to a holy softness.
So much of my life has been spent harboring bitterness towards people for my own choices. But it’s not really showing up if you do it in hopes that someone will clap for you.
The heart of the Father is soft. His heart is forgiving, and He is fluent in the art of second chances. He is the designer of selflessness, and He has mastered bottomless-giving.
He yearns to shower us in gifts and provisions–not because He expects something in return, but because it’s the core of His character.
That’s not to say He isn’t a just Father, not to say that He does not judge. He is not weak, and He will not be taken advantage of, and He is a Father who doesn’t want to see His children trampled on in their softness.
But He never says, “You owe me.”
And He doesn’t turn away when we don’t praise Him for it. He doesn’t hold back or run empty or let His bitterness come between us and Him. He keeps at it, relentlessly.
Don’t let the world steal your love. Don’t let it make you hard. Don’t let it put your fire out.
Be the one who shows up first. Believe in someone the loudest. Stand clapping in the front row. Send the text, buy the gift, drive the miles, leave the note anyway. It’s the closest we’ll get to being like Jesus.