We found each other when life felt carefree, untainted, and we forged a sisterhood over late-night daydreams of changing the world — and sugar. A decade-plus spanned the distance between those high school nights and when we were later reacquainted. As we caught up over phone calls, and, eventually, in-person visits, time revealed that we also shared scars.
I didn’t pray by her bedside when she lost her first baby and she wasn’t there to cry with me when we hit our first year of expectation, childless.
It didn’t take long through the reacquainting to realize that we understood the other’s road, intimately. We shared parallel tracks that ranged from chasing paper for Ethiopian adoptions to giving our bridesmaids the exact same gift. (We always did share a similar love for gift giving.) God wove our stories together in the big and the small.
And after finding her again, I was stuck in a rut in my marriage. I had lost vision. We ran in circles with our issues, Nate and I. Though we’d made great progress, some of the deepest wounds were still left festering. I spent many days frustrated with what he wasn’t, while he graciously bore-up under the weight of a lifetime of my flesh-formed expectations pent-up, but unmistakably leaking all over him in my immaturity.
Something was off, but couldn’t put my finger on it. And when you share a sink with someone, it’s subtle but easy to shift blame. I was willing to concede myself as a portion of the problem, but (BUT), in my mind’s eye, his role in our issues was the real problem. When he wakes up to his issues, we’ll move to a better place was my argument.
I lived in the study of what he wasn’t. And the gap between our differences felt large.
I couldn’t fully wrap my life around this: the Maker of Marriage never intended two to be same, but to be one.
So I built a case and he spent his days climbing walls around my heart to reach me.
Enter my friend, Beth. Friendship as God intended it, not to pacify, but to push, and call out.
“Let’s call it the Love Project,” I said, as any good co-founder would do. She had given the concept and I was bone-dry enough to only have energy for the name. If you’ve been there before, you know that weak place, where a marriage with issues untended to can take you. When a marriage is sick, every part of the world around you can look cloudy. I had grown despondent, wondering if I just needed to settle for this union as one that would never quite hit a stride.
Had I considered the implications of how a year attached to this project, with accountability, nonetheless, might stretch me I am certain I would have declined. But God, in His merciful way, had given me just enough hope to do something crazy.
Desperation has a beautiful way of opening our hearts to the “I will never do that’s” we’ve declared.
So January 1st kicked off our project. We had loose parameters, but the end goal was this: we would love. And we would love well. Despite their response, despite our measured outcome, despite all the resistance that was sure to arise around something so determinedly set towards Him, we would love.
We would not seek to change them, but to be changed. We would take eyes off of where they lacked and celebrate where they won. We would look for where they won. We would camp around the men He was making them into, not in the static place of wallowing in the dreams not yet fulfilled in them.
We would be slow to nag and quick to praise.
We would fight our flesh.
We would ask Him how He saw them and expect to find His secrets. We would call forth what was hidden deep. We would study them and be students of our God inside of them.
And we would do it so that our men never suspected a thing.
One year of conspiratorial love.
Because there was another, hundreds of miles away and sipping from this same crazy Kool-Aid, we would submit to this project and the Man behind it, even when it hurt. (It helped that, beyond bridesmaids gifts, Beth and I shared a competitive streak which added spice to this game).
“He wants hot dogs for dinner,” read her text. Yuck. But I knew that by the time I got it, she was off to the store. “He forgot to unload the dishwasher like he said he would,” my reply, “but I didn’t mention it and thanked him for his servant’s heart. And I really meant it.”
She surprised his law-school students with cupcakes — his favorite — interrupting his class. The ante was upped for me. I arranged for an overnight of skiing with Nate and his close friends and ignored that our recreation budget was thereby wiped for months.
We did things they noticed and loved in subtle ways that spoke more to our own hearts than theirs. We sowed into who they were becoming and against their “not yets.” She pushed me more than I pushed her. This friend of mine was clearly made for this and I was only learning to walk by following her footsteps. We loved in ways that were easy for us and submitted to the project — to the initiator of the project — when our flesh hurt.
“It was really his fault,” I said. “Clear as day to me, Beth,” I sought consolation. “But I asked God to show me my sin and all of a sudden it felt easy to be the first man down. What would have sent us spiraling for days launched us at least a step forward. Maybe two.” The reserves started to build, in each of our marriages.
It was as if having a reason to love — this silly project — forced us into a freedom that years of habits in the opposite direction had led us to believe was impossible.
It’s no surprise that the stories we shared in secret conversations, months into The Love Project, included movements in our husbands’ hearts about which we’d long dreamed. There was a goldmine in Nate’s frame that was waiting for me to discover.
All these years, and I thought I needed to feel it first before I called it out.
I had been misled into believing that he needed a coach, not a lover. And I believed that if I spoke to his fears, my words would become a crutch. Little did I know that most of the treasures within a person lay hidden below the surface, waiting for a voice to call them forth.
Beauty in another requires participation.
As women, we fall prey to the lie that we either “won” in one category or another, or that we “lost” — as if marriage is really a lottery, and husbands are born not made. The 24 year-old mold that I married was never meant to be static, yet when I live with eyes on what he wasn’t yet, and where he failed, he’s bound to stay there. There are pieces of latent dreams, desires and callings in our husbands which are waiting for a God-touch from human fingers.
I was made to participate with God in the making of Nate Hagerty. And the water that softens clay is love.
One year later, our assessments were both the same. These men had changed. They really changed. They grew stronger, more confident, their hearts showed signs of even more hunger for Him. But the greatest change was in us. Me and Beth, we changed.
We knew Him more.
We got the choice prize.
The Love Project wasn’t about me and Nate. I had an encounter with Love, counter to my human construct of love. That’s what God initiated with me, when Beth initiated The Love Project. My natural-self is the least likely in a line-up to search out beauty. My flesh, prone to impatience, doesn’t do well with “not yets” in another. I have worn the disposition of distrust and scrutiny like a uniform. But God knew that we could do it — He in me.
He called forth the deep rest of a woman who’s safe in love from me, and enabled me to help call forth great strength out of a man who leads in Nate.
And He gave me a girlfriend with whom to do it.
Is February your month to link arms with a sister and sign up for your own Love Project?
(note: if reading this in an email reader, this sign-up form will not work. You’ll need to go to this post itself to sign up.)
First, second, and forth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Third and sixth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography. Fifth photo compliments of Lucy O Photo.
[Post edited from the archives.]