As I sit next to my husband on the leather sofa, his fair-skinned hand entwined with my black one, I am overcome anew with the wonder of us. I am dark. He is light. The contrast of our clasped fingers is almost startling, yet together we create something of extraordinary loveliness—a rich, deep beauty to be celebrated.
But it wasn’t always so embraced.
I rub a thumb over Paul’s, marveling at the blond little hairs that grow there—at how their whiteness stands out against my own night skin. As I caress the top of his hand, my mind returns to the day we put a stop to our four year dating relationship. The love we share now has taken the sting out of the painful memory, but when it happened it was like a searing iron scorching my soul. There were lots of surface reasons for the break-up, but at the heart of things we both knew we deserved more.
I deserved more.
As a child of God, created in His image, the color of my skin and the difference in my upbringing shouldn’t have made me less of an option for Paul or his family.
But it had.
Our early days had been glorious. We both chose to study abroad through Pepperdine’s international program. We’d been friends before traveling overseas, but during our time in Germany we were increasingly attracted to each other. I could converse with Paul as I had with no other man. Our conversations ran deep, probing all the big issues and a million insignificant ones. Our little differences seemed immaterial as spiritual oneness drew me to him and him to me.
In the early years of our relationship, my dark skin and brown eyes didn’t seem to matter to his family. They saw my character; trusted my heart. I was a good friend for their son. But as our relationship deepened and they had to look at me as a permanent fixture, the problems started. I could sense when it happened—the first time Paul’s sister couldn’t look me in the eye—the day his parents shuffled uncomfortably before me.
Looking back, I don’t think it was racial hatred that came between us. I think there was a letting go period. Paul’s family had to come to accept a different future than they’d imagined for him. If Paul married me they wouldn’t have little blue-eyed, blond-haired Paul look-a-likes for grandchildren. They had to release their dreams.
As they dealt with the difference in skin color, they also needed to navigate relationship with a family from a different culture. I was born in Nigeria and my family moved to America when I was small. Paul’s ancestry is Norwegian and German. His parents struggled with the idea of bringing these two cultures together because they are so different. As Paul’s family pulled away from me, my family became concerned. They wanted to be sure I would be accepted if Paul and I married.
Because Paul’s family knew me, the rejection I felt was especially troubling. They had accepted me as a person, but couldn’t accept me as a daughter. I struggled to reconcile their treatment of me with the kindness they had initially extended.
Paul and I reeled from the hurt of their disapproval and turned in desperation to the only One who could show us how to navigate our relationship in such difficult circumstances. Over and over, we prayed for our parents, not only that they would accept our relationship, but that God would truly be the Lord of their lives. We believe that when God is in control of people’s hearts, they see things differently, put importance on different things, make different decisions—spiritual unity is paramount, dwarfing anything else. So we prayed our families would experience Christ at a deeper level, discovering His heart for our relationship, learning to value the things He values.
As we prayed over the next several months, I was humbled before God. He kept putting a tender finger upon my wounds and massaging them—rubbing away the hardness creeping into my heart, revealing to me my own prejudices.
After over four years of relationship, Paul and I weren’t able to take the next step into marriage and broke up.
Even today my stomach tenses as I relive the pain. For the millionth time I ask God to keep my heart tender, to help me focus on the gift of my life now, not the rejection of the past. I glance at Paul, relaxing next to me. He responds to my attention with a tender smile—his blue eyes twinkling. I whisper another prayer that I will believe in love—the love of God, my husband, and the family I joined when I married.
As his gaze deepens, I am overwhelmed by Paul’s devotion. In his eyes shine the same commitment I saw the day he came after me, the day I ran the San Diego Marathon.
Paul and I had been together when I began training for the race and though we had been separated for three months, he came to cheer me on. He drove me to the race and sent me off with his encouragement. I started strong, but after running 20 miles, I hit a wall and began walking. Fatigue overwhelmed me and I wondered if I could finish. Paul saw my struggle and decided to join me. I couldn’t believe this man, who didn’t even like to run, would come alongside of me and help me see my dream to the finish. We ran the last five miles together.
Paul and I were a team. We both felt it. I ran in absolute joy, embracing the knowledge that Paul had truly come beside me, that he was willing to fight for me despite the obstacles that cluttered our pathway. Together, we would discover a way to let our love live on.
A month after the marathon, Paul proposed. After the race, without my knowledge, Paul had gone to his family, told them I was the woman he wanted to marry, and asked for their blessing. When they gave it, he met with my parents and received their blessing as well. After four long years of navigating the complications brought on by our skin color, we could finally embrace the fullness of who we were together.
Our wedding day was like experiencing a few hours in heaven, when all God’s children will celebrate together—worshipping God in perfect unity despite differences in culture, social class, nationality, or skin color. I could feel God’s smile as my dark African relatives in their colorful Yoruba attire intermingled with Paul’s very light, very European family in their traditional dresses and suit. We celebrated together—dancing, praying, laughing, eating, and weeping as one. And that day they all surrounded us and prayed us into our new life together.
Tonight as I reflect on these things, Paul slips his arm around me and I lean against his strong shoulder, reveling in the beauty—the exquisite picture of unity that our wedding day embodied.
The padding of little feet interrupts my thoughts. "Daddy!" squeals Maya. She runs to where Paul sits, throws her little arms around his legs, and smiles up at him, adoring brown eyes full of the wonder of her daddy’s love. He picks her up and she snuggles into his chest, her curly, mussed-up brown hair tickling his fair cheek.
Our toddler cries. I rush to his room and gather him into my arms, marveling at how even with brown eyes and dark hair, my son looks just like his daddy. Cradling Cole, I rejoin Paul and Maya. We cuddle together on the couch as Maya recounts sleepy time dreams and Cole makes sure to glean his share of attention.
As we sit together, I know I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. Our children’s complexion is the perfect blend of Paul and me. The four of us enjoy our oneness. We delight in all the tiny differences that combine to create such a rich picture of our Creator. We are a family. Made in His image. Brought together by love and prayer.
Abi, a birth instructor, lives in Colorado with her husband, Paul, and children, Maya and Cole. Visit her blog at www.Justabitee.blogspot.com
Writer and homeschooling mom, Paula Moldenhauer, is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at [email protected] or visit her blog at www.gracereign.blogspot.com for personal reflections, book reviews, and interviews with authors.