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.