To Hell and Back

In less than a month, Charlie and I will celebrate three years of marriage. It has been a beautiful unravelling and weaving for me, learning how to build a life with another person. Here’s a glimpse into what made me fall for him in the first place.

On our road trip to Philadelphia this summer, Chapman and I wore out some of our favorite albums. From Thomas Rhett and John Mayer to Maren Morris and everything in between, by the end of the six-day experience, we had a road trip soundtrack that was GOLD.

While driving through farmland and hillsides in Pennsylvania that week, a song came on that quite literally took my breath away and nearly forced me to pull the car over.

Smoke was coming off my jacket and you didn’t seem to mind. I left a long trail of ashes and you said, “I like your style.” Now, heartbreak ain’t a competition but I took it in a landslide. The skeletons I wanted to bury, you liked out in the light.

As the words faded in and soaked into my mind, gratefulness and grief simultaneously rushed over me. You see, when I met Charlie, I was coming out of a season of real heartbreak and loss. Because of choices I’d made – some not-so-wise and others best-decision-evers – much of what I’d known life to be as an adult was smoldering, and there were parts of me that felt as if they’d been burnt straight to the bone.

My heart was bruised and sore. But my Rescuer had pulled me out of the fire and I was fighting my way back to the kind of life I wanted to build for my kids and me. But life was really tough, y’all. I’m sure you’ve had times in your life like this, too. Those nights when you bawl yourself to sleep out of sheer exhaustion or loneliness or fear or a mix of all of the aforementioned and plus some. It’s heart-wrenching, right?

You didn’t save me, you didn’t think I needed saving. You didn’t change me, you didn’t think I needed changing.┬áMy wings are frayed and what’s left of my halo’s black.┬áLucky for me, your kind of heaven’s been to hell and back, to hell and back.

Sitting across the table from Charlie on our first date, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that he was deeply religious and came from a strong family, that he loved his kids and was devoted to important relationships in his life.

At least that’s what he told me.

I was ready to find the lies and run for the hills. So many people before had stretched the truth or failed to hold up their end of the relationship or ghosted me altogether, and I was ready to add his name to the list.

But that never happened.

Day after day, week after week, this handsome man kept showing up for me and serving me and just loving me. And I came to believe – after years of pain and doubting – that love like that really is out there for us.

Charlie saw me – and still sees me – as a whole person. He embraced – and still embraces – those parts of me that I don’t want anyone to see.

I don’t have to hide myself from him. I don’t have to worry if my past or my brokenness is too much for him. When my demons come calling, because they do and probably always will, he really doesn’t bat an eye. He stands with me in that fight and reminds me of things that are true.

The safety and acceptance and home that I’ve found in Charlie is something I’d never thought I’d find. And even though life is still tough in many ways, I’m so thankful that I get to walk side by side through it all with this man.

Lucky for me, his kind of heaven has been to hell and back.

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Photo courtesy Erin Alaine Photography

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Ellie Talley

Ellie is a writer and teacher. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and children.

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