I’ve been a bride three times, but with only two proposals. And only one of the proposals involved a ring. With the first, I responded to the care and attention he offered me in the beginning, hoping it would erase years of rejection. The care quickly shifted to control and ended up being cruel.
With the second, I felt safe and protected from what happened with the first and from many other fears I nurtured over the years. That is, until we endured emotional distance from growing resentment, plus physical distance due to military service, sometimes for months at a time. I went from safe and protected to suffering alone in silence. Years passed before I understood the investment required for who I would become. During that time, I wore masks and make-up, living as the Great Pretender.
Finally, in the midst of one of my most heart-wrenching performances, I walked off stage. Going against everything I believed in, I packed up and moved out of our home five years into my second marriage. Broken and ashamed, I hoped to regroup and return as the girl he asked to marry him six years prior. That would erase the feelings of failure, right? Wrong.
I needed an intervention in my soul.
Determined to find the right fit in a man, I’d lived my entire life trying to become irresistible so that my relationship investments wouldn’t be returned to me again. I strove to engage my audience while avoiding the mirror. Failure accompanied a belief that grew up with me and lived with me throughout my adulthood: I’m not good enough.
In my world, I shared my all in relationships with men, but settled for pieces in return. I didn’t demand much, and any requirements I had were coupled with low expectations. With the bar set so low and my personal investment so high, it would seem that I could experience an enduring relationship, no matter how unfulfilling. However, the problem was I hadn’t uncovered the root of my unhealthy habits.
Why did I sabotage romance with handsome, attentive guys only to welcome the chase and uncertainty of spending time with the aloof ones? If he was attractive and smart, why didn’t I believe he could really care for me?
Turns out I couldn’t see my way to loving others in a healthy way until the girl in the mirror was healthy.
So, what do you do when you realize you’re emotionally bankrupt, going through life giving your version of love from an empty well? Perhaps a better question is how to know when you’re emotionally bankrupt.
I thought I had it all together, spending much of my down time learning and practicing ways to become a better package for the people in my life, especially the men. I wanted to feel the warm, fuzzy type of love everyone seemed to have, except me. I wanted what every love song on the radio, every movie and television show had. I wanted the Huxtable family dynamic and The Facts of Life friendships. Instead, I had my life, which was trending in the opposite direction of a happy ending.
When I moved out after five years of marriage, our dog Hershey went with me. At the time, I worked from home and was Hershey’s primary caregiver, so it only made sense. Plus, Hershey was the object of most of my affection since joining our family a year prior.
As I learned about Hershey and he learned about me, our interaction began to rehabilitate my heart. My first lesson was how I wasn’t as great of a communicator as I thought; I realized that some of my relationship breaks were due to miscommunication, not malice. Hershey showed me how to embrace differences and not hold onto mistakes. Since he couldn’t ask questions or apologize, I learned not to read too much into Hershey’s messes. There was no benefit to rubbing his face in it, no matter what people suggested. Translating the ability to give similar benefit of the doubt to my human interactions changed my narrative about friends. Rather than walk around with my tail between my legs feeling defeated, I could assume they were loving me their way, taking assumptions of malice off the table.
After more than 10 years of ups, downs, and transitions, I’m still learning from Hershey. He made it easy to say “yes” when my now-husband, Jeffrey, asked me to marry him. Accepting my ring during his proposal meant more than changing my name and giving “it” another try. Finally, I was ready to make a sober decision rooted in a commitment to continue saying “yes,” day after day, year after year, no matter what.
I know dog people get it. And I understand those who think I’m nuts since I wasn’t always a dog person. Though I’m okay disagreeing with you, I wrote this book for you as much as for dog lovers. I’ve been getting the comments and looks for over 10 years, so I’m aware of how strange this bond seems. Before, I didn’t have the words to explain. I do now.
In the coming chapters, I walk you through the journey of how Hershey helped me to see “me” so that I could understand my needs and prioritize them to ensure my love came from a full well. Each of our souls is made up of our emotions, intellect, and will. Therefore, broken souls affect everything we do, including how we speak to and care for ourselves. When we don’t properly care for ourselves — inside and out — we are prone to destructive behaviors that affect us and others. Prioritizing our personal needs as part of soul training is a service to God as much as to self; this process opens the door to true love.
Soul training is a process meant to:
- Prepare you for radical change in your thoughts and emotions
- Push you beyond your comfort zone and fear levels
- Promote you to a higher level in the way you operate in life and relationships
Soul training is about repair and restoration of brokenness and soul wounds. It is making an intentional, focused effort to renew our minds to the truth of what love is and allow that truth to govern our motives and actions. Love begins with God, then us, so loving others comes out of how we love ourselves. When I make the effort to invest in myself, I won’t let someone wreck my investment. But, when I’m more concerned about someone else than me, I’m likely to mistreat me for that person…and inevitably, at some point, I mistreat the other person.
Soul training isn’t about self-glorification. It’s about prioritizing ourselves properly for God’s purpose. According to Ephesians 2:10, He has a purpose for each of us. Neglecting ourselves is like putting the child’s mask on first in a flight emergency. Our ability to fulfill our purpose diminishes every time we misinterpret what we should do first. When we allow our souls (feelings, emotions) to drive us, we don’t allow the Spirit to flow through us freely, hindering God’s purpose from being fulfilled in our lives.
While your struggles may not mirror mine, I hope you’ll join me on this journey, chronicling my emotional growth and relational success after engaging in soul training with Hershey. While I don’t have all the answers and have made mistakes on the journey, I know how to course correct now. This training helped me learn to identify when I get off-balance and need to get back to basics.
Are you ready to get onboard?