‘It’s definitely too soon,’ I thought. ‘No one would approve.’ I met K at the wrong time. At 26 years old, I had already been married 6 years, parented 7 children and miscarried 2 babies.’

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“I met K at the wrong time.

I have never been on any of those hot dating apps or websites; the two times I went to a club dancing was with girlfriends and I denied any male coming near me: I was not looking for someone like K to drop into my life anytime soon.

To be completely honest, I didn’t know that I would ever want to look for another long-term relationship, let alone in the next year or two.

At 26 years old I had already been married 6 years, parented 7 children — through birth, adoption, and foster care — and miscarried 2 babies. We had helped plant a church, mentored dozens of people, looked the part of what even myself would consider a ‘Goals Couple.’ Hell, we fooled even ourselves.

I was never going to be a divorcee. Divorce was for weak people who didn’t understand the sacredness of the vow. The word wasn’t even in my marriage’s vocabulary; it was never a threat, it was never discussed, it was not considered. It simply was not an option. There was even a saying in his family, ‘Divorce is not an option, but murder is,’ ensuring that we all knew divorce was the end all, unforgiveable sin.

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The destruction of our marriage is a sad one, a story I continue to grieve and process. I worked so hard to live a certain life, to paint the picture of family that I wanted to emulate, to be true. Dysfunction was birthed early on in our marriage and slowly grew into toxicity, turning into a deep and perpetual woundedness.

I came to a point of seeing: some lines shouldn’t be crossed, and some things cannot be undone within a marriage while on earth. Restoration and redemption are always possible, but sometimes those things happen through divorce; I have learned grace and healing are just as prevalent and available in that space too.

Over the last year of digging into myself and trying to understand how we got to here, I discovered I am a master at creating a fantasy, so real to fool even myself. I saw what only I could handle seeing, justifying and explaining away the rest…because if I woke up to the truth, then what? Since divorce is not an option, but murder is, what was left?

We both woke up to our dysfunction and separated immediately. I found an unexpected peace in dissolving our marriage and seeking healing and health through divorce, a peace I cannot explain but am grateful for.

We are a culture of boxes: we like things to look a certain way, fit into boxes, processes to go along the path we deem worthy and acceptable. One of those boxes I quickly grabbed ahold of was dating after divorce: I would not jump into a relationship. I would not be another person’s person in the next year, if ever.

2019 was going to be all about learning how to be in my body, healing my heart, therapy for my body and soul. Healing. Health. Self-love. Self-discovery. Falling more in love with Jesus and deepening my bonds with my children.

Maybe after a year or two I would magically meet someone (who was at least 30 years old and a single dad, that much I knew).

And then I met K.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Only 7 months after my children’s father and I separated, I walked into the nearest wireless store looking to swap out my iPhone for a pixel. The plan for the night was to hit the club for the very first time in my life, because what better time than when you have 4 kids and are in the middle of a divorce and have never danced a day in your life?

I walked my butt into that store and see this man working with a family and hear my head pray, ‘Lord, match me up with that man.’ I sign in to the queue and sit down on a bench, hoping he’d look over and see me. He moves to the other side of the store with his customers and I awkwardly flip onto another bench, hoping I am still in his line of view like a desperate single woman.

‘Natalie.’ I look over to the man who called my name. ‘I can help you over here.’

I walk over there and tell Jason I want a Google phone. It’s close to closing time so he doesn’t try to upsell me and hops into the back of the store to grab my phone. I’m playing around with the Google phone when K walks over and says to me, ‘I want to know why you are switching from an iPhone to an Android?’

I ended up walking out of that store spending a lot of money on a new iPhone and bought an expensive case and screen protector. K even talked me into paying for insurance which is ridiculous because I have gone seven years without paying for phone insurance. Phone insurance is for paranoid people. I am not paranoid.

Never have I once offered my phone number to a male, so I didn’t know how that sort of thing was supposed to go. Do I write it on a sticky note? Also, this isn’t the right time, it’s not the right time to be handing out my phone number. It is only March and I need to wait until at least January 2020 to be giving out my number or even opening my eyes to such beautiful men.

I packed up my bag of cell phone goodies as the last customer in a store with at least 10 employees watching K and I be whatever we were being, and slowly turned to leave.

A nagging voice in my head said to turn around and tell him he should take my number, but the insecure part of me said I was being stupid and would make a fool of myself. I walked slowly to my car, hoping he’d bust out of there looking for me, which he didn’t.

This was the first night I was going to step foot into a club, at the young age of almost 27 years old, after having parented all these children of trauma and lived an appearingly perfectly-cliche-Christian life. But all I could think about was the tall handsome dude at the wireless store, whom I didn’t even catch the name of.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

I texted my friend Danielle, asked her if I should just walk back into the store the next day, or is it too soon, or should I call the store? ‘It’s definitely too soon,’ I thought. ‘No one would approve.’

My phone vibrates in the middle of my text to Danielle. It’s an unsaved number.

‘Hey, it’s K (the black dude from the wireless store). Sorry if my coworker was being a jerk to you…’

I just stared at my phone. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, for all I knew, he was just as smooth as the rest of the men trying to get something I wasn’t about to offer.

‘Hey! He wasn’t a jerk that I noticed. Funny, I was just trying to figure out how to give you my number…,’ I replied, while freaking out.

So we began texting and chatting and asking each other questions. He was 30, a dad to two boys; he sent photos of them.

I wiped up my drool and reminded myself we are all our best selves at the beginning and no one is perfect. I reminded myself where I had been the last few years and where I was never going again. I reminded myself of my worth and value, that I was not going to settle, my standards are higher than ever, but this man was at least worth getting to know. I could say goodbye at anytime because I was not about to dive back into dysfunction.

We started with lunch dates during his work breaks. He lived an hour out of town and worked until 7 p.m., making it so he’d leave right after work to drive back to his kids.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

We both had a lot of our own reasons as to why we shouldn’t even try to be together, why we shouldn’t enter a relationship, why it was simply not the right time. The time frame didn’t fit into the box.

Each of us have wounds running through us we felt we needed to deal with alone before ever trying to be someone else’s person.

Plus, there was this thing of me just having ended a 6-year marriage.

All of our first conversations were intense. We skipped all the small talk fluff and went straight into the deep, talking about suffering and loss and death and divorce and abuse and where we’ve gone so terribly wrong in our decades of living.

On day two of talking I asked him what he thought about Jesus and I will never forget how big my heart swelled when he said, ‘I have a relationship with Him,’ and we talked for an hour on a lunch break about grace and Jesus and all the best things.

Within the first two months of meeting, we fell hard. But we also both tried to say goodbye a number of times.

By all the boxes and timelines, this was not the right time for us.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

K kept saying, ‘I met Miss Right at the wrong time,’ and I would say, ‘Love is worth the risk, isn’t it?’ shocking even myself, as someone who was freshly and deeply wounded by loving with all of herself.

There was a lot of push and pull happening; we wanted to become each other’s but we were both terrified.

‘We could be each other’s greatest blessing or greatest heartbreak,’ K would say as we walked around the block during one of his many lunch breaks. He was right. He is still right.

I went to Mexico by myself in two months after we met for my birthday — a trip I had planned and purchased the month after I and my kids’ father separated. During that time, K and I didn’t talk. I was so tired of the back and forth, wanting me but not wanting me, and I was beginning to think he maybe didn’t know how freaking amazing I was. I was not about to say ‘yes’ to someone who couldn’t see me and cherish me for all the uniqueness I bring to the table.

The week after I got back from Mexico was my 27th birthday: my first birthday not officially belonging to or with someone in over a decade.

I took my two toddler boys to the beach, we stayed the night, and drove home early in the morning. When we pulled into the driveway I saw there was a red teddy bear, a bottle of wine, roses, and some chocolate. With heart pounding and face beaming, I texted all my girls bragging about my doorstep gifts.

Three times that week K brought me flowers, surprised me on my doorstep with wine and sweets, and showed up to my work just because. At the end of the week he let his whole heart out, he told me all the ways he feels about and sees me, said he wants to cherish me like he knows I was made to be cherished.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Since my birthday week, we have been all in, doing this thing — the dance of dating after divorce.

It was sooner than I expected, but it is also better than I expected.

K is a dream in all the ways my teenage and college self dreamed up of a man.

He dances in the kitchen, he plays basketball with me, he dads so freaking hard, he lifts me up for hugs, he opens the door for me. He stares me in the eyes and tells me all the ways he cherishes me, prays over our kids, bar-b-ques like a boss. K communicates with me, ensures I am being honest and calls me out when I need to be called out.

He pushes me to be better, to love better, to see better. And I believe I do the same for him.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

I don’t know what’s in store for K and I. I don’t know if we will be each other’s forever — the idea terrifies and exhilarates me. That I might get a second chance at forever with someone so beautiful on the inside and outside makes me want to weep gratitude.

I don’t want to mess this up.

At the end of the day, even if K and I don’t end up together forever, I am still grateful for this time we’ve spent together. He has shown me that I am not only worth loving, but able to be loved in the ways I have always dreamt and desired to be loved. He has taught me to laugh, to dance, to be in my body more than I ever have.

This man fell through a crack from heaven and landed right into my life. I wasn’t out looking, I didn’t think I’d become someone’s person anytime soon (if ever), and some people simply don’t approve.

But man, he is being used to begin healing really broken and scarred pieces of my soul in the few months I’ve been privileged to have him in my life. Pieces I was confident would remain scarred and dysfunctional until heaven, and I simply assumed that was that!

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

There’s no right way to walk through healing and grief — there are no timelines or formulas — no matter how badly we or others want there to be. We love putting people and processes into boxes, but boxes are suffocating. I want to help abolish boxes.

I don’t know what the future holds for either of us or how long we’ll be each other’s person…but I’m grateful to him for the hope restored in me, for the bits of deep healing happening, for the friendship within what we have together and all the laughing too. So. Much. Laughing.

There’s so much I could say and share, a whole books worth, but for now I’ll just publicly thank Jesus for this moment and this man.

Thank you for making me smile + laugh so much, K.  I didn’t even know a relationship could have so much laughter and dancing.

I’m so grateful you fell thru a crack of heaven, walked into my crazy, complicated, chaotic life and continue to cherish me in all my broken glory.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

I am seen by you in a way I’ve never felt seen.

Maybe it was the wrong time, or maybe it was just the right time. Either way, I’m humbled to say ‘yes’ to you and have you say ‘yes’ to me.”

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natalie Brenner of Portland, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram, her website and learn more about her book hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read Natalie’s adoption backstories here:

‘She said, ‘That’s them. That’s my son’s parents. That’s who I’ve been looking for.’ And then, I told her you were pregnant.’

‘I just have to ask, do you love Sage as much as you love Ira? I know you say you do, but is it true?’ We sat on my living room floor when she asked me this. I nodded. ‘I absolutely do.’

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