A day after the fast of tammuz.
7 years ago, this was the day I met my husband.
Except, at the time, I did not know he was my husband-to-be. He was bachur #26 that I dated. I was not sure if I'll need to see bachur #27, bachur #28, or bachur #100 (though I sure hoped not). I felt like I was living a secret life that nobody, even the closest friends, knew about.
Prior to meeting him, it was a year of so many nisyonot. On the outside, I was a typical looking modern-yeshivish-sefardi (if that's even a proper label) BT learning at Touro College. Everything looked nice and peachy. But nobody except HaShem knew how difficult my life really was:
-My parents were divorced and not exactly fond of each other.
-My mother was ill. Nothing life threatening, thank G-d, but she did have some severe health issues.
-I was living at home alone with my mother. A not religious home. Home at the time was not a kosher place - I could not use the oven, the pots, the microwave, etc. though I did have my own pots and some of my own dishes. But of course it was not the most convenient situation.
For years I ate cereal or sandwiches as meals. Thank G-d, my parents were generous with giving me money (I did not work at the time) to buy food, so I ate take out food often.
Shabbat was at home, but there was TV in the background. Which of course, minimized the Shabbat feeling. If at home with my mother, I was the one making the kiddush and hamotzi. I would often stay in my room and learn Sefarim and with much emuna in my heart, hope that I will be out of this home soon and build my own holy home with my own frum husband and children. Many times that is how I would put myself to sleep - I would close my eyes and picture a faceless man in a suit holding a kiddush cup. A crib with a baby, girls with dresses and shells underneath, boys with suits and tzizit and small peyot.
Seuda shlishit, if not at shul, was done alone in my room...the only room where the light was untouched throughout Shabbat, and therefore, permissible for me to benefit from the light.
-Thank G-d my father was shomer Shabbat but lived 19 flights up the stairs, which was not always an easy or safe mission to do (for example, a man once saw me walking up the desolated stairs and tried to follow me. I ran for my life). I usually would go for at least one meal by him, but I also would feel guilty that if I was not home with my mother,she would not hear kiddush which is a mitzvah d'orita.
-On top of all the above issues of trying to balance a life of shalom and respecting my parents while still being a dedicated Baalat Teshuva and Eved HaShem and growing spiritually, I had a tense relationship with a few of my siblings - one of which is an active reform Jew and feminist and was disrespectful of my lifestyle. This sibling got married the month of my finals.
-This sibling's wedding was not pashut. The chuppa was done by a reform female rabbi, and my father was not invited to this wedding, and this of course caused him a lot of pain. The food was not kosher. I had to ask a Rabbi if I am even allowed to attend.
On top of that, I was completing my 2nd to last semester of college and had final exams and final papers waiting me that week, as well as two close friends weddings.
And of course, I was active in shidduchim. Seeing shadchanim, receiving offers, accepting offers, rejecting offers, etc.
I had an active social life - often going to shiurim and events and had many close friends. But there were things I just could not bring myself to share due to embarrassment or fear of pity. I never, ever wanted to be pitied.
I was drowning.
If it wasn't for the gift of emuna and tefillot and shiurim, I would not have survived those years, and that year in particular. G-d really helped me.
I completed finals in the end of may 2011. My sister's wedding was over.
I needed to flee.
Not to anywhere. But to Eretz Hakodesh. The Kotel - the only place I felt truly calm. I went nearly every day for 2 months and just enjoyed feeling close to Shechina. I poured out my heart. I did not want to go back to the US. I did not want to deal with my family. I did not want to be single anymore.
It was at that point that I met my husband.
Meeting your zivug is not the main thing. Because we met. And yes, he was nice. But we met. That's all. A relationship needed to be developed.
And once the relationship was in its growing stage...well, it was time to open up. It was time to be vulnerable and reveal the skeletons in my closet that nobody really knew about.
I still find it amazing how understanding he was. He was (and is) my savior, sent to me personally by Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Now, 14 years into my "teshuva" and nearly 7 years into marriage, I realize what a bracha all those years of nisyonot were. How strong those nisyonot have made me, and how much spiritual energy they have given me.
I look at my 3 children around the Shabbat table - so similar to the fantasy I used to put myself to sleep on those lonely, difficult Shabbats...baruch HaShem! The baby in the crib. The boy with the suit and tzitzit and peyot. The girl with the shell and dress (and stockings - that was not part of the fantasy. I did not realize I would be haredi!)
Thank you G-d. Only You knew how possible it all really was, and only You made it happen.
I hope this can give chizzuk to all those who have baggage. Yes, you have baggage - but it is designer baggage. It might never leave you. But G-d willing, that baggage will only benefit you to be a better wife/husband, mother/father, and eved HaShem.
Keep pushing through, keep growing closer to HaShem and His holy mitzvot, and never give up.