“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” -CS Lewis
Just saw this quote while I’m digging into all of me to wrap up this manuscript and man. This hit. (Yep. My book comes out in six weeks and I’m still rewriting because, well, I’m me and it didn’t feel done yet. #stressfordays). This quote could easily be the foundation of everything God’s done in my life, specifically through Chasing Dandelions.
I woke up from a nightmare last spring where I’d had to watch the man I felt I was half in love with find someone. I’d woken up from the dream fighting feelings of anger and jealousy. “Please God don’t make me watch him find someone else,” I’d prayed, desperately. “Please don’t let him introduce me to someone or me introduce him to someone. Please, please be fair to me, God. Not again.” That was by far my worst fear, nearly two months after having shared my feelings with him. I was anything but over it.
The lies I was telling myself?
“If you could’ve been more mature, he would’ve fallen for you.”
“If you could’ve been skinnier, he would’ve fallen for you.”
“If it had been (fill in the blank) going for him, she would’ve won him because she’s pretty and skinny and smart.”
“If you were less emotional, more sportsy, more domestic, you would’ve been able to win him over.”
I was so steeped in lies that they were all I could see of myself and it was exhausting, trying to anticipate why someone wouldn’t want me when, as my best friend would explain over and over again, there were multiple variables and no way to know what he had possibly been thinking. I would just mumble under my breath that she didn’t understand and resort back to my standard, “Well if it had been you he would’ve said yes because you’re gorgeous.”
And she would calmly say, “Mandie. That’s not true.”
Rinse and repeat, folks. I was a lot of fun at parties. Half of the battle of knowing your worth is having someone in your corner who knows your worth and repeats it to you when you can’t do that for yourself.
Over the course of the summer every time I had to interact with someone who was gorgeous and seemed down-to-earth and logical, rather than the antsy, cellulite-filled, anxiety-ridden woman I saw in the mirror every day, I’d sit and begin to spiral into, “See? She’s this and that and this and I’m no one. No one’s ever going to want me because this, this, and this.”
But one night while I was feeling like a troll and having to interact with a bunch of other women at a graduation party, I chose to try connecting instead. Instead of writing a narrative for her, I chose to ask questions to get to know her better. And instead of comparing myself to her all night, I noticed that she was a little awkward too–she was even a little bit nervous–and I started seeing what we had in common, over what I felt I was lacking.
That was good practice because in the next few months following that graduation party my worst fear from the spring came to fruition and I had to face it head-on.
We reconnected with an old friend late in summer 2019. When I saw her for the first time, my knee jerk reaction was to be jealous because she was gorgeous and she seemed so chill and logical and I wished I could be like that. My fear automatically turned to him wanting her because I saw how much they’d have in common. With that, I wanted to disconnect, to judge from afar to protect myself but I didn’t. I reached across the aisle and told myself a new story that would change my perspective forever. I told myself that her being beautiful didn’t take away from me being beautiful too. I asked her questions about her education, her goals, her ambitions, and tried to connect as best I could.
I have a friend at work who I ask for advice when I’m being completely irrational. The week after my birthday, after having seen this new friend interact with him for a short period of time, I’d written a narrative in my head about them riding off into the sunset, having a love story knit with adventure and laughter, and being married within the year. (Because hello, I’m me and my stories go 0-100 real fast.)
“Wait, so you’ve just made this whole thing up in your head?” He put a hand up, stopping me mid-sentence.
“Well who the hell does she think she is? She thinks she can just walk in and snatch him up? The nerve. You need to go tell her, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?'”
I laughed. “You’re right, you’re right. I’ve just like married them off in my head and I probably shouldn’t do that.”
“Yeah, don’t do that.”
A month later when I heard that there was in fact a flame sparking between her and the guy I’d wanted so badly, I let myself cry and I let myself tell my closest friends how I was feeling, but then dried my eyes and told God, “There is a bigger story you’re telling here and I trust you.” My trust faltered, I cried a bit more, and I told God through gritted teeth, “I don’t know why you’re seemingly doing the two things I asked you specifically not to do last spring…but I trust you.”
I made a point of congratulating both of them because I wanted them to know it was going to be a nonissue with me and I wanted to remind myself that my feelings of insecurity would not take more ground here, in this moment, than what they already had. With all the times I’ve been overlooked in love, that moment is the one moment I’m proudest of because it’s the only moment where I haven’t seen myself as lesser than because someone else got what I wanted. It’s the one time I chose to believe that there’s good out there for me too, despite what was happening around me.
If you were to ask me what it’s cost me to write this novel…I would have to say that it’s cost everything. It’s cost everything I thought I knew, trusted in, and clung to. I have been allowed to keep nothing in this process that I wanted to keep. I have been stripped of my faulty faith, my feelings of certainty, and my expectations of life. But in place of all I’ve lost is something good and real and certain and that’s my faith in God, though still very shaky, and a thin, but unwavering knowledge that He’s good, He loves me, and there’s always a bigger story being written than what I can see or understand.
While what I lost in this process felt excessive at the time my belief systems were crumbling around me, what I gained was worth far more. And what I gained was my self-worth and self-respect and an accurate picture of how God really sees me, no matter what my feelings tell me about myself. That has been everything.