The Hopeful Romantic


words and images: Jessica Sowards

“… It was in the season that I could not feel the thing, when I came to the place of choosing to love when it’s hard, that I uncovered the greatest romance I’d ever had.”

From my earliest memories, I was what you could call a hopeless romantic. Not just in a love story sense but in a loving life sense. I imagine for some people, it is a learned trait. However, I’m pretty sure I was born with a wide-eyed draw to what is lovely and wonderful and unexplainable.


Even as a child, I would be moved to tears every year when we decorated the Christmas tree, and every summer when the fireflies blinked and bobbed through the thick night air. I would be wooed day after day by the million tiny bits of beauty most people walked right by. All of it stirred me. It still does. I love to feel. When a song moves me, I listen to it on repeat for hours. I sit in silence daily and drink in my farm and my sons and the wild loveliness that surrounds me. I fight to hold the extraordinary nature of life in high esteem so that it might never lose its power.


For the most part, this has provided great enrichment. But it is a double-edged sword. A hopeless romantic can be swept away by Christmas lights and lightning bugs but can find great frustration in the monotony of things like marriage, in the relationships that require steadfastness when they stop feeling.


When I began dating my husband, I was only twenty-four, a broken divorcee and a package deal with two small boys and a large load of baggage in tow. I was numb. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d really felt much at all except a dull ache. In the midst of that confusing time, I think I’d been lamenting the lack of feeling most of all. I carried a composition book in my purse, full of beautifully painful words, poems and ramblings about the love story that had ended so much differently than I had envisioned when I said vows at eighteen. I didn’t even cry anymore.


Then Jeremiah stepped in. He was gentle, as broken as me and when he told me I was lovely, somewhere deep down, the quickly cooling embers of my heart began to burn again. The nature of my poetry took a turn, and in one short year, I went from one husband to another. It was a whirlwind love story, the reckless kind, full of unthinkable beauty and plot twists and hastily made decisions. It was during that year I got the romance back. It was the season where I learned to cry again, and where I learned to awe at creation again.


We got married on a random Tuesday. I was wearing red jeans. The Maggie Sottero wedding gown I’d scraped together with my substitute teacher salary hung in my bedroom closet. We didn’t tell anyone we were eloping. Spring was in the air, and our planned wedding date of October was just too far away. Romantic.


It didn’t take long for routine to take the reins and for the reckless love to subside. The earth traveled around the sun. We added to our blended family, one boy and then another. We worked in ministry. We cooked meals, took road trips, walked the kids to school. We played at the park, grilled in the backyard, threw birthday parties, fought and went to bed angry, woke up and made up. We went to church, went to college, spent weekends in hotel rooms, went to concerts and tried to find passion. We talked late at night, missed the alarm in the morning, laughed, cried. We read the Bible, kind of understood it, worked as a photographer and a youth pastor. We loved each other, hurt each other, tried our best, and realized we were ill-equipped. We went to counseling, learned how hard it is to blend a family. So, we put on our happy faces and resolved that sometimes marriage means feeling far away from the person that sleeps in your bed. And the earth traveled around the sun, again and again.


It was then that a murky gray area crept its way into my line of sight. It wasn’t black and white. It wasn’t hot or cold. It was just survival. I lived in fear that the numbness would come back if we settled into boredom. I picked fights just to make sure I could still feel. Monotony ushered in a certain melancholy, and I came to a fork in the road, a wall, a ceiling, whatever you want to call it. I felt stuck.


Romance is a funny thing. I thought I understood it, back when I knew everything. I thought I understood passion and I thought I had an idea about love. But it was in the season that I could not feel the thing, when I came to the place of choosing to love when it’s hard, that I uncovered the greatest romance I’d ever had.


I chose, in that season, to love my husband even when I didn’t like him. I chose to love him even when he didn’t love me back. I chose to think of him, to be patient with him, to be kind to him. I chose to forgive him when he messed up, and I chose to pray for him until I had God’s heart for him in place of my own.


It worked. It actually worked. I stopped seeing his shortcomings as deficiencies and began to see them as brokenness. Grace washed in, and though I no longer felt swept away by enchantment, I felt anchored by hope. I leaned into God to make up the slack that existed in my marriage. You know, I was altogether romanced in that season. I wasn’t romanced by the man in my bed, but by my sweet God. That was the season I got my farm. That was the season I welcomed my smallest boy Benjamin, the gift I didn’t know I needed. That was the season that I learned I had a voice and that God wanted to use my gifts to express His love to people. When I traded cheap romance for unconditional love, I became able to understand how truly unconditionally lovingly and kindly God had handled me.


Then, after much longer than I had hoped, but in exactly the right time, my precious husband caught up. On a day as fateful and random as the Tuesday we said vows, he came to realize how intentionally I’d loved him all along. And he made the choice to intentionally love me back.


Every evening, Jeremiah and I walk our farm. It is my favorite date. Our blended family is a melded and hodgepodge thing healed smooth with scars where the wounds used to be. In the mornings, we pray. We make plans. We work hard. He is my very best friend. He picks me wildflowers and taught our sons to do the same. I cook his favorite breakfast. He lets me name all the baby goats, and I love to watch him work in the garden when he thinks I’m not looking.


I may be a little biased, but I am altogether wooed by this beautiful life. It is a real-life love story. And though I am, categorically, a romantic, I have stopped calling myself a hopeless one. It is because of hope that I really know romance at all.



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