As I flung open the door, my childhood best friend stood before me, handcuffed to a chair. The man who had captured her shouted for me to leave, or else. I left. Immediately, I entered a large, open parking lot. A stranger standing beside the only truck around flagged me down. Cautiously, I approached. He explained there were more in similar troubles. “People everywhere are being taken captive under heavy guard,” he said. I spent the remainder of the night barging into churches, grocery stores, shopping malls, and camping trailers locating these captives, but I had no way to set them free.
Finally, I woke up.
The smell of sweat had stained my night clothes, but I was thankful it was just a dream. I tried to forget about it and get on with my morning. I hadn’t even finished breakfast before I realized: that first captive may have looked like my best friend, but it was really me.
God was about to knock on the door of my heart with a trash can, a broom, and a mop, ready to come in and do some major cleaning. What happened over the next twelve months changed me forever. The days ran together. The nights were long. Sometimes I couldn’t eat. It may look neat and tidy written on paper, all properly spaced and edited beneath a chapter title, but believe me—in real time, it was messy.
Before we get started in the main story, let me catch you up a bit, since we are brand new friends.
I grew up in a Christian home. We attended a small, country Bible church regularly where I sat in comfy maroon chairs and heard the straight forward message of Grace. As a teenager I actually started listening to what the pastor said instead of watching the minutes tick by on my watch. By the time I left my parents’ house, I understood that my salvation didn’t depend on anything I did or didn’t do, but only on believing in Jesus.
It sounds so simple and easy.
Yet the working out of that gospel can often be a long road, as this book will describe.
If you were to ask me my favorite movie, I would immediately reply, “Anne of Green Gables.” I always identified with Anne: “Anne with an E.” Anne loves a good story, dreams big dreams, is passionate about life, has a fiery red independence, but is full of courage and love for others. She stands out in a crowd. She’s not afraid to plow full force ahead in life.
I even had a childhood friend, Bethany, who reminds me of her kindred spirit Diana. One day Bethany asked me if I would come over while her husband was out of town and watch Anne with her. She didn’t have to ask me twice!
I remember watching the movie for the first time with my mom. I was on the edge of my seat when Anne slammed her blackboard on top of Gil’s head. I giggled when she refused to forgive Gil for calling her “carrots” after her red hair.
I stood up to dance into her place when she left Gil’s embrace when they were alone in the open field. He wanted to ask for her hand in marriage, and she walked away. He chased after her and still asked that question on one knee. But she refused. I wanted to scream at her!
In fact, I think I did yell, “No! Anne, don’t you see he loves you? He loves all of you! He doesn’t want any other girl. He wants YOU!”
I remember needing to fast forward to the end just so I could know if they ever stopped playing this stupid game and actually got married. If I could just know, my heart would stop racing in wonder.
Just like Anne, I imagine myself in every good story I read. I always wanted a love story that went something like hers—although I told myself not to keep him waiting as she did. He might just move on.
I met my husband at age sixteen on the edge of the local trailer-park swimming pool. Actually, first, I met his stunningly beautiful sister and wondered if she had any brothers that could have inherited one-fourth of the good looks that she did. Little did I know then, but she had four brothers, only one home and available.
A couple days later, this guy shows up to the pool wearing blue jeans, steeltoed boots, and a white tee-shirt. Clearly, he was ready to jump in.
After initial introductions, his first “line” to me was about my keychain, lying on the table, with the initials JCF on it. He pointed to the J. “What does that stand for?”
“Julie” I said.
And on down the line it went.
Apparently he tried to find my phone number that night, because the next day the other neighborhood kids who liked to gather around the pool attendant told me he called them looking for my number. The what-does-this-letter-stand-for charade was his way of finding out my last name so he could look it up in the phone book later.
Too bad for him, my phone number wasn’t listed by my last name. Due to a re-marriage, my last name was different than my parents. And now I was on to him. He was interested in me for sure!
About a month later, he asked me out in a very similar, roundabout way.
We laugh about it now, but he was still in driver’s ed when we met—three weeks away from his sixteenth birthday. And he happened to be in the same class with a longtime friend of mine, LaTosha. When they put the pieces together that they both knew me, she innocently asked, “So are you two going out?”
To which he had no reply. He hadn’t asked yet.
So, we’re sitting at the round poolside table together, looking out at the sea of people, and he’s telling me that LaTosha is in his driver’s ed class, and she asked him if we were going out.
“What should I have told her?” he innocently asked.
“Hmmm,” I said. “What would you like to tell her?” I inquired, raising my eyebrows.
“That we’re going out!” he said.
“Okay,” I said, “I’d like that, too.”
So that’s how it all started. For our first date, I drove us to Grandy’s and a movie. Later he finally reached sixteen and could come pick me up. I liked being older when we were teenagers, but I’m afraid as the years tick by, it will become less and less amusing.
I noticed early on that Adam was gifted in building. He would come visit me by the pool with graph paper and a pencil. He spent hours drawing out a house he wanted to build for his mom, and another hour on a house for himself.
Even then, at only sixteen years old, I loved his passion and focus. I loved how he cared for his mom and seemed to have his head on straight. He wasn’t your normal sixteen-year-old.
I know we scared the pants off my parents, but that story is for another book. We dated the remaining two years of high school and knew this was serious: serious enough to consider where to go from here once we graduated.
We wanted to go through pre-marital counseling but didn’t know when that would work. I was looking at going away to college, so it needed to be before high school graduation. We decided that January of 1999 would be a good time to begin talking with my pastor.
Pastor Craig sat down weekly with us for a couple months, while my parents were at home, chewing off their fingernails as they awaited the final verdict. He made us talk about serious stuff, like “Can you live with Adam as he is right now, today, for the rest of your life? Think of the one thing you would like to change and imagine that never changing. Can you live with it? Because it probably won’t change!” By the end, we still wanted to get married. So he told my parents his verdict: They’re young, and it’s going to be tough, but they’ll make it.
He approved our marriage, and we thought we’d wait about two years to give each of us time to at least get our Associate’s Degree. I had decided to stay at the local junior college, so that made sense. Except for one thing. Now that the engagement was official and we were all counseled up, why wait two years? It seemed so long. So, we made another appointment with Craig the next week to bring it up. What if we just waited one year?
We talked about it awhile, and he agreed. So we went on our way with those plans.
But on the drive home, I kept rolling it around in my head. If we knew we wanted to get married, and we were all counseled up, why wait twelve whole months? That’s still agony!
So we scheduled another appointment and brought it up again. Again, the date was moved. In a matter of two weeks, the wedding went from two years away, to one, until we finally decided—in January—that the date would be July 31 of that year (1999).
My mom is reeling now. “It was all the pastor’s fault,” she still says, with a grin.
So, I graduated high school in May, Adam turned eighteen in June, and we married in July. What a summer!
I don’t regret a thing. I will say, getting married young isn’t for everyone, but it was for us. Our pastor said, “Better to be married than burn with desire.” There was definitely a fire of desire lit between the two of us.
In 2003, Adam and I started our own business. A company that manufactures metal panels for steel buildings, roofs, and barns. That’s the boring, technical way of saying we have the privilege of building people’s dreams. We literally get to put up the frames of a house or barn someone has saved for years to build.
Business is something my husband is passionate about, and building is something he’s truly gifted at. Adam has worked in the construction industry since I met him at the pool. Even then he was working for one of his older brothers who ran a construction team, building and remodeling houses.
He continued working with this brother even after we married. About three years into our marriage, they ventured into installing metal roofs. Business was rockin’ and rollin’ until the sales guy from their supplier kept repeatedly dropping the ball. Either the metal wasn’t there when he said it would be, or it wasn’t right, or the paint was chipped, and they couldn’t get in touch with the sales guy. They were stuck. After a while, you grow tired of being stuck. Being the entrepreneur that my husband is, he said, “I can do this.” Two months later we were leasing a shop, thanks to a friend of a friend, and the equipment to roll our own metal panels was on its way from Germany.
We were in the metal supply business! And that’s what we’re still doing today.
So what about kids? Well, twenty-nine days before our fourth anniversary and four months before the equipment rolled into the shop, our first son, Caleb, was born. Caleb is one of those classic firstborns you read about. You know those parents who have angels for first children, only to be shocked when their second one rocks their world? That wasn’t me. I only considered having more children because I knew the next one couldn’t possibly be as hard as my first! I like to tell myself that the Apostle Paul would have been a strong-willed child too.
Two and a half years later, our little elf Mackenzie blessed our family two days after Christmas. She taught me about bilirubin count and ear infections. But her smile adds sunshine to my life every day.
When our third child, Zach, was born, life felt new and complete all at the same time. After three C-sections, my doctor suggested adoption if we wanted more children. My scar line was wearing thin.
Our life has never been a smooth ride, but somehow, through it all, our marriage has stayed strong. We have grown up together. Adam often reminds me we’re a team. For each other, not against.
I would love to say the formula to a great marriage is to read XYZ book and follow these five simple steps. I may have even said that, seriously, before this year hit. After going through this year you’re about to read about, our marriage is still standing strong because of God’s amazing grace—and nothing else. For that I am most grateful.
Prior to the dream about my best friend being held captive, the Lord gave me another dream which actually started out this year. I saw a person I knew standing beside a large, old, rusty trunk lodged beneath a lovely garden. He opened the lid without having the combination and looked inside. The Lord spoke to me, saying, “It’s time to open this trunk and straighten it up a bit.”
“No!” I countered and slammed the lid shut.
“I’ve planted a beautiful masquerade garden on top of it, and I don’t want to mess it up. I’ll have to start all over!”
“Yes, you will, but I’m asking you to open it up,” replied the Lord, “If you don’t, what’s inside here will come out in a way that you don’t want. It will seek to destroy you.”
When I woke up and processed these words, I pictured that trunk, buried in the depths of my soul. A place that I hid all the ugly stuff I didn’t want anyone to know about. Stuff I was scared of, ashamed of, and wanted control over.
When the Lord gave me that second dream about the captives, I knew He meant me. I was held captive to fear, shame, and control. I thought I had neatly and completely buried those dirty rags in that locked trunk at the bottom of my soul and covered up the lid with fresh soil. I didn’t bother it; it didn’t bother me. Until one day, my love of an Anne of Green Gables love story, mixed with my fear of the whatifs and my shame of the what-i-have-dones, overwhelmed me—and I was captured.
I didn’t realize the power of what lived (lurked, rather) deep in my soul. Thankfully, God did, and He wouldn’t let me stay blinded any longer. I learned about His true grace—His unending supply for my unending need. I needed some of this underserved grace. I was used to thinking I deserved it. And I wanted desperately to be set free.
It began that January, with those two dreams. On a cold afternoon walk, with some of last autumn’s leaves still clinging to the roadsides, I knew He was about to do something—and I was afraid of it.
The words “Come as you are” washed over me as a car passed me, stirring up the leaves as it drove by. I thought of the changing seasons and how that parallels to so much of life. What if the trees stubbornly resisted the impending dropping of leaves? Or what if they decided they would not grow new ones this year because they love the winter too much? Sometimes, honestly, that’s how I feel. I don’t want to grow. It’s hard. I don’t want to change seasons, for that requires changing out clothes, and I just got used to everything. Why can’t things just stay the way they are?
But if the leaves don’t drop from the branches in fall, the tree would die in winter for lack of food. If no bud appears in spring, that tree is future firewood. Change is ordained by God and good for us, that we may grow and thrive.
There are many seasons in life: Times when our leaves are brightly colored, but falling quickly. Times when our branches are bare and cold, yet surviving the winter months. And then there are times we experience the first buds of spring with the hope of many green days ahead.
This was a year filled with bare branches, yet that’s how I survived the cold winter months. Winter went on longer than I hoped. As spring approached and the first buds of new leaves appeared, God laid on my heart the desire to capture this bleak year on paper. I hope you see His sovereignty and redemption weaved all throughout the words and stories. I hope, by the end, you have a closer relationship with the One who loves you and gave His life for you.
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