on long distance

A heart’s desire can tear apart worlds; can build them. A heart’s desire is no small thing.

Today is our four year anniversary! Four years since Dickson sweetly met me with coffee on a cold winter morning, walked with me by flower fields and the sea and asked me to embark on this adventure with him; loving each other, upholding each other and pursuing marriage. I was eighteen. He was twenty-two. Now, at twenty-two and twenty-six, we’re engaged – eagerly looking forward to November 17th, when we’ll be getting married in Sydney, surrounded by all those we love.

The last four years have been a stunning canvas of knowing and being known. In sharing and uncovering the mundane, the beautiful, the scars and all the joy, the rhythm of life together has come to feel as familiar as walking home. For us, love – in dating and soon in marriage – has been a journey of coming home. To each other. With each other. Sustained and anchored by the hope and promise of our eternal Home.

It hasn’t always been easy though. As many of you know, we spent the second year of our relationship living 16,950 kilometres apart; a whole twelve months spent without the opportunity to visit each other. That year grew us and stretched us in ways that I’m sometimes at a loss for words to adequately describe. I went to live and study in Paris for twelve months, while Dickson continued living and working here in Sydney. I had just turned nineteen and the majority of our friends in relationships had either never spent extended amounts of time geographically separated from each other, or had done so and experienced serious struggle and heartbreak as a result. We were undeterred though. Our commitment to making it through that season was the stuff of storms, and in God’s kindness, we not only ‘survived’, but we learned to thrive in our relationship despite the distance. Learning how to truly know and love each other from opposite sides of the world was enormous in teaching us how to find our way home to each other and ultimately to Jesus, always. We’re so thankful that we’ll be carrying those heart lessons into our marriage.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but we’d encourage all couples to be willing to be stretched, whether through long distance or another kind of season where love costs you and demands that you both fight for it. There is so much growth and healing to be found in that place of longing and grit, and we love talking and sharing about it all. It’s worth noting that our experience was and is profoundly shaped by our Christian faith, so the way we tell our story may resonate with you entirely or only in parts. No matter what your story is, we have so much respect for you and hope that this, in some way, encourages your heart.  Our heart is for people to thrive in their relationships, to know the beauty of truly loving and truly being loved even through the sacrifice and heartache, and in all of it, to ultimately come to know and marvel at the love of God.

The greatest longing

Perhaps the most obvious aspect of long distance is the heartache that comes with living life completely apart from your partner; your person. During our year of long distance, we came to experience longing in a degree of clarity and intensity that we had never known before. In some ways, it was the welcome fingerprint of our love for each other. After all, to be in a romantic relationship and to be pursuing marriage with someone is to embark on a journey of emotional intimacy with them, and that’s such a good and beautiful thing.

And so, I missed Dickson. I ached and longed for his presence, even as I wandered from Paris to Vienna to Florence to London, and on and on. For both of us, the longing often threatened to become overwhelming, and we had to constantly and intentionally choose to live where we were; to really be present in our opposite corners of the world, rather than mentally and emotionally dwelling with each other. This sounds bizarre, but Elizabeth Elliot puts it like this:

‘Two lovers who are separated geographically can dwell mentally in the past and the future, reliving the happiness of having been together and anticipating the joy of reunion. It is quite possible to waste the present altogether.’

It was a daily fight to lay down our longings and to really believe in the goodness of God and in the goodness of His timing. To trust God that each day He chose for us to be apart had good purposes and that He was doing the greatest things in and through us in our completely distinct spaces and contexts.

For me, that meant learning to be fully invested in my French community, friends and church family and to wholeheartedly develop God-honouring and joy-flourishing rhythms of life in Paris, rather than simply living as an empty shell in Paris while dwelling mentally and emotionally with Dickson and the life I had left behind in Sydney. In His kindness, God blessed me with the most incredible university friends and beautiful church family in Paris and I had so much to be thankful for (you can read more about my time overseas here). But it was still hard; it was still a struggle.

In that struggle, I truly felt that God was challenging me to put my money where my mouth was; to hold my delight in Dickson tangibly secondary to my love for Jesus, who first welcomed me as His bride when He laid down His life for me at the cross. As God challenged my heart to really believe that His presence was sufficient for me and His intimacy was enough, He simultaneously sang songs over me that proclaimed His relentless, reckless love over my life, with or without Dickson by my side. In Jesus, I learnt to find a pleasure, comfort and intimacy that would, in turn, allow Dickson and I to flourish, rather than to suffocate each other with misplaced hopes and expectations.

The greatest growth

Together, in that year, we grew in perspective and emotional intimacy with each other and God in ways that some couples don’t experience until they’ve been together for years and years and years. We don’t say that as a boast, but as a testimony to the kindness of God and to His power to refine and strengthen His children by walking with them through heartache.

We are so convinced that long distance has the power to magnify any tension or struggle that already exists in a relationship, while also magnifying some of its greatest strengths. Dickson is the most loyal and committed person I’ve ever met. Months before I even left Sydney, he often turned to me and told me how sure he was about me, how much he loved me and how willing he was to wait for me to come home. So, I’d already seen glimpses of his kindness and strength throughout that first year that we were together for in Sydney. Over the course of my exchange, however, his commitment and love for me only grew and intensified, even in the face of my emotional ups and downs, homesickness, tear-stained nights and anxiety. Dickson’s kindness and relentless care broke me in the best way possible that year; showing me the devoted love of the Father who called me righteous and beautiful even in the messiest of my sin.

Along a similar vein, long distance gave us a space to become more vulnerable with one another and trusting of each other. Things weren’t always good. Sometimes, he was sad. Sometimes (read: most of the time), I missed home. But we bore with one another and came to tell each another the stories and emotions of the every day and the mundane in a depth that we hadn’t necessarily needed before. We saw with such clarity the way in which sharing a healthy, deep vulnerability with your person inevitably deepens the bond you share and allows you to know and accept yourself that little bit more which, in turn, allows you to love them better too.

And so, being reunited after growing and persevering through a year of long-distance was one of the sweetest seasons of our relationship. We made it through because of the all-satisfying goodness, comfort and grace of God. Sure, we had changed as people. When we spoke to friends in Sydney before I left, people often voiced their fear that the extreme degree of personal change made possible in a long distance relationship would be the inevitable catalyst for a break up. For us though, we saw every change in the other person as evidence that God had refined us, sharpened us and strengthened us in the mountains and valleys; in the joyful moments and the hard moments filled with longing alike. No matter where we were, we knew that Christ would always be the greatest delight of our hearts and we couldn’t have been more thankful for the gift of doing life, ministry and community together.

The greatest Lover

In all of this, long distance was the most beautiful, tangible reminder that we were made for a much greater Love than this. For all of our strengths and even our most likeable characteristics, we remained weak and imperfect people; incapable of perfectly loving and caring for each other. When life was comfortable, when our relationship was convenient, it was easy to delude ourselves into believing that we could be the source and sustenance of each other’s joy and growth. Even now, we’ll fail each other, we’ll disappoint each other, we’ll change. But long distance drew us back, in the the most profound way, to the perfect love of Jesus, because the greater our longing for each other, the deeper we pressed into the heart of God.

23738004_10155947097442334_1826099426769945767_o

Thanks so much for reading, sweet friend. As I said before, we hope that our story encourages your heart and that it’s a window into the love and grace of God. There were moments and truths that we lived in that year which I don’t think words will ever sufficiently capture, but it’s a privilege to try. If you’re based in Sydney or happen to be in our corner of the world and want to get to know us and/or chat about long distance, we’d love to meet you and have coffee/chai/wine/your chosen beverage with you :) We love spending time with people and talking all about love, community, faith and life!

Photos 1 + 2: Lynn Chang Lewis
Photo 3: Jonathan Tan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.