If you had told me at 22 that I would be grateful that I wasn’t married at 30, I would’ve sworn you were a liar. However, a couple of weeks ago as I lay in bed talking to God, I found myself doing just that. I began thanking Him for making me wait. As genuine as my desire to be married was at 22, I can honestly say I wasn’t ready.  Over the past eight years, life’s journey has taken me on a roller coaster ride that has ensured I learned lessons and gained the characteristics I needed to make me a better person and ultimately a better wife.

Lesson One: Love Is…
As much as the “L word” is thrown around, few of us can define it. Love is not an emotion or a feeling that comes and goes. It’s not something that you fall in and out of. Love is actually a decision you make to care for and commit to another person. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Love isn’t just about the butterflies, the attraction and the mushy looks; love is also about sacrificing. My pastor once summed love up in five words, “Lust takes while love gives.” If you can’t grasp this concept, how is it possible to promise anyone til death do us part?

Understanding the true, biblical definition of love has forced me to step my love game up. I’m more intentional with my love. If I am going to commit myself to someone in marriage, I must make sure that the love we share is just as capable of enduring the tough times as it is enjoying the good ones. I don’t want our love to just be an emotion and feeling that makes us warm and fuzzy inside. It has to be an action, a verb, deciding to do the “loving” thing even when we don’t feel like it.

Lesson Two: I am Awesome as Is!
Low self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence is the silent killer of most women. I suffered from all three for awhile, and as a result, I spent my teens and some of my twenties seeking out relationships as a means to validate who I was as a person. While many women won’t admit this, I believe a majority of us go through this stage. We find our self-worth in the man’s hand we hold, what he looks like, the rank of his social status and how much money is in his bank account. This is why so many women put up with the manipulations of men in relationships. We believe that being attached to a piece of a man, someone else’s man, or a boy playing the role of a man is better than having no man at all. We are better than this, ladies, and before we can become involved in healthy relationships, we must overcome our esteem struggles and learn our intrinsic value and self-worth.

Too many women parade faux confidence. We pretend to be self-assured and content, but in reality we are faking it until we make it. At 22, I walked with my head held high like my stuff didn’t stank, but at the end of the day I didn’t value my own self. The evidence is clear. If I believed the hype I was portraying, I never would have sold myself short in relationships, friendships and professional ventures. I never would’ve allowed people to take advantage of me. I never would’ve undersold myself to anyone.

Throughout the years, I have learned that I am pretty freaking amazing…just as I am. I may not know everything, but I’m smart enough. I may not be Halle Berry, but I’m pretty enough. I may not be Megan Good, but I’m sexy enough. I may not be Oprah Winfrey, but I’m rich enough. Because I now know how God undoubtedly and irrevocably feels about me, I’ve learned to love myself unconditionally.  I now understand who I am, and more importantly Whose I am. If I’m good enough for God, I’m good enough for anyone. Knowing my intrinsic value has increased my self-confidence and enabled me to walk in any room and command the respect I deserve. I’m no longer begging for someone to see my greatness or attaching myself to others so that I may appear great. I am great with a man or without one. And if the people in my life can’t recognize my greatness, they are simply getting left behind. There is absolutely no time available for me to hang with or convince those who don’t believe what both me and God know: that I am pretty freaking awesome!

Lesson Three: Your Voice Matters
On so many occasions I have allowed my significant others, friends and employers to invalidate my feelings and quiet my voice. When I knew I was being mistreated, manipulated or misused, I refrained from speaking out. I didn’t speak up because I wanted to avoid confrontation, I didn’t want anyone to doubt my commitment or I simply didn’t believe my voice mattered.

This is a deadly trait in both life and marriage. It sets you up to be abused and disregarded. No matter who you are, where you come from or what you’ve done, your voice is valid; you deserve to be heard and your story should be told. Learning my worth in God’s eyes and being able to acknowledge it in my own mind, now gives me the ability to use my voice to speak out on my behalf and on the behalf of others. Our voices matter and they deserves to be heard. Speak up, speak out and speak clearly.

Had God not forced me (because it wasn’t a choice and I didn’t go easy) to wait on marriage, I wouldn’t be the focused and confident woman you see today. I would still be a broken shell of myself who was afraid to open her mouth in fear of judgment and condemnation. No man deserves that type of woman as his life partner. Had God answered my prayers at 22, I would have ended up imprisoned to a boy who was pretending to be a man. If I had married before I learned these lessons, I’m 95% sure I would’ve ended up a divorce statistic, even more broken and desperate than I was before.

The greatest lesson that I’ve learned on this journey: life is much more than being some foolish man’s wife.