Last weekend, John and I got away for a quick trip to Kansas City for our seventeenth anniversary. As we spoke softly in the low-lit restaurant, I looked at this man who I have called mine for most of our adult life. His eyes are a little more lined, gray is beginning to appear and our children are creeping up to the age we were when we first met. We have done a lot of life together. Our story, filled with many chapters now, started in March of ’99.
On a hot and humid August day in 1997, my dad helped me pack up my few belongings in my white Pontiac. The previous two years had been difficult ones for me. Having gone through a devastating break up that left me brokenhearted, I had floundered and found myself with a difficult start to adulthood. Nothing looked like I had hoped it would and college had done nothing to calm the storm inside of me. It’s in places like those that God decides to show up. When we are brokenhearted and in a place where we can’t find our footing, it seems that God loves to demonstrate who He is. The raging storm had dulled to an ache and one night as I lay on my bed, I had an encounter with the God who loves us relentlessly and sees the deepest places in our hearts. I had known Him and been in church for most of my life, but that night everything changed for me. My parents had gone to the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, FL for the weekend and asked a pastor to pray for our family. As it turns out, the exact time that he prayed for them was the same time God showed up. He showed me who I am and who He is. I was overcome by the smallness of who I am and the vastness of who He is. With that perspective, His love seemed enormous and for a moment I glimpsed that His love is too large to begin to comprehend. Just like that, He changed my life. I knew that I couldn’t do life without Him or with Him as simply part of my life. I wanted Him to BE my life.
I knew Pensacola was where I needed to be and so I decided to attend the ministry school there. Driving on the interstate on the many hour drive, my dad seemed quiet and thoughtful. He broke the silence with, “You know, I think I am going to move the family down and go to ministry school too.” I didn’t believe him at first, but I soon learned that he was very serious and a few months later, my dad had quit his job of fifteen years. My parents and seven siblings made their way to the Gulf Coast and that is how my Nebraska family became Floridians for a few years.
My first semester was an incredible time of growing and learning about who God is and the powerful things He will do in our lives if we let Him. It seemed I couldn’t get enough of Him or hear enough stories about all He was doing. The days were filled with school and the evenings were filled with revival meetings. People would wait entire days just to be able to come in and get a seat. At one of these meetings, I didn’t notice the dark haired guy sitting two people down from me, nor did I notice his sisters eyeing him and eyeing me. As the story goes, they were teasing him that he should meet me, but he did his best not to look interested. As it turns out, he is really good at that. His family was there to check out the school because he was thinking of attending the next semester.
John’s family had recently moved back to Nebraska from Spain. They had moved to Spain as missionaries, but his youngest sister was born with a brain tumor and the family had to be flown back to the States quickly. Their whole life changed in a matter of days. He had his own experiences with God and that led him to the decision to move to Pensacola to go to ministry school.
After moving to Pensacola, John noticed me rather quickly. He was a quiet guy who liked to stay behind the scenes so I didn’t notice him right away. I didn’t really see him all that often since we were in different classes, but my parents were in his class. He usually sat near where my parents sat and my mom, always looking for someone to mother, felt sorry for him on his birthday since he was away from home. She went and bought him a cupcake for his nineteenth birthday. The missionaries his family had been with in Spain knew my family and had told him he should meet my family. It didn’t take him long to realize I was part of the family he should meet. John thought this was a very good turn of events.
About that time, I began dating a guy with a red sports car. John could tell you what kind it was, but I honestly have no idea. He gave up on me and went on his way and I went on mine.
The next fall, the family from Spain we both knew came to visit my family in Pensacola. John’s dad and sisters came from Nebraska to visit them and that is how everyone ended up at my family’s house. John figured out the guy with the red sports car was out of the picture and started getting some ideas about how things should go. Since he was on the quiet side, I truly thought that he was years from even thinking about dating. Not to mention, he was young. He was two years younger than me and when you are early twenties, that’s a lot. The guy didn’t have a flirtatious bone in his body. Not one. I noticed that I kind of liked being around him, but knew it would get no farther than that. Not one single person knew that John had his sights set on me. He’s good like that, but I’ve learned over the years how to get stuff out of him. I found out later his dad went home and told his mom that he had found the girl he hoped John would marry. His whole family came in December and his mom felt the same way. She was getting upset with John because he was showing no interest in me whatsoever, but knew better than to say something to him about it. I’m telling you, he was really good. He should have been in the CIA.
As it ended up, John and his mom ended up fasting the same week about me. John was fasting and praying about if he should proceed and take things another step and his mom was fasting and praying that he would notice me. It’s a bummer because she could have eaten that week, but she didn’t know.
In the meantime, God was really doing a lot in my heart. He was teaching me to be confident in who I was apart from who I was dating. Previously, I had found my value in things other than Him and He was teaching me that my identity is in Him. That’s basic and important for a life with Him. He also spoke to me about my dating patterns and that for me, He really wanted me to follow the courtship principles. I was really angry about it because I honestly didn’t even agree with a lot of it. I didn’t think it is the only way or the ‘right’ way for people to get together and I still don’t. Specifically, for me, God wanted me to give Him my dating life because mine was unhealthy. I know now that God wanted me to be relentlessly pursued. It’s been a gift to my heart and healing for my soul. I had no idea that John had been already talking to my parents.
John felt a peace about moving forward and invited my parents out to eat to ask them how they felt about him asking me if I would be interested in a relationship with him. Knowing that God was doing some very specific work in my heart, my parents asked him to wait for a while. They could see that what was happening in me was important for my life going forward.
During this time, I began to feel a trust for John that I couldn’t explain. I told my best friend, “John’s family is the exact kind of family I want to marry into.” I also told her that John was the kind of guy that I felt I could trust with my heart. I was still looking at him as the ‘kind of guy.’ Not ‘THE guy.’ I had noticed that he seemed to be watching me more closely than before. I also thought he needed a lot of counseling because whenever I was with my parents, he always walked up to talk. I was careful to politely leave every single time so that he could talk to them about whatever he needed to. People always wanted their advice and needed to talk privately. I didn’t know he was coming to talk to me. You have to give it to him, he was pretty persistent and I was pretty clueless.
After a few months, my parents took me out to eat and gave me a letter that John had written to me about all that he saw in me and what his intentions were. Suddenly everything made sense. The trust I had begun to feel, God asking me to do the courtship thing, the love I had for his family the moment I met them – God had been working in me and preparing my heart. It didn’t take very long before I fell hard for him and we were married one year later on March 18, 2000.
He is God’s gift to my life. He really is. I asked God once to show me His love for me and He told me to look at how John treats me and I will glimpse it. It is true. He helps me to be a better woman, he helps me to see clearly when I can’t, he is kind when I do things like pull into the garage with the tailgate up and ruin the car and the house in one second flat, he loves God and pursues Him with everything that he is, he is so many things that I didn’t even know I needed. Knowing him has made my life better. I have become more of who I was created to be because he draws me out. So much of who he is I aspire to be. John, I am thankful for the gift of you.