The Wedding Story

Most girls spend the months (or years) leading up to their wedding date furiously planning flowers, dresses, tuxedos, music, venues, themes, color schemes, bridesmaids, groomsmen, receptions, food, guests, invitations, and honeymoons. All I wanted was to be his wife. All those other details just seemed like white noise. Marrying him was truly my only focus. So much so, in fact, that the week leading up to the big day, my sister lovingly looked at me and said, “This really is just kind of a ‘by the seat of your pants’ kind of wedding, isn’t it?!” I’m sure my lack of planning made some a bit nervous, but I knew that with as smoothly as God has allowed each step we’d taken thus far to fall, this wedding wouldn’t be any different. Just one short year earlier, a 24-year hiatus from our college dating and any type of communication, had surprisingly coming to an halt. This relationship reignited quickly and urgently, and truthfully neither one of us quite knew what to do with it at the start.

He and I have both been pleasantly shocked and thankful at the direction this relationship quickly took. Within probably 2 weeks of us initially reconnecting, I said to him, “You’re totally going to marry me!” I just knew. Something in my spirit knew that neither of us would be satisfied with simply continuing a long distance dating relationship. Although I’m not sure he’d admit it, I’m certain that deep down this initially scared the pants off him. We went from, “Hi, Jeff, we’ve not spoken in 24 years. How are you doing?” to a very sudden, practically innate, discussion of where this relationship was going. It was just undeniable. I love our story. I love the grace God poured down upon us. It was truly a welcome, unexpected gift. Someday I’ll write our story in its completion, and include it in one place, but today isn’t that day.

When we knew that marriage was our next step, we started talking about how that would look. Would we just elope, and then tell everyone after the fact? We knew we wanted it quick, simple, inexpensive, and reflective of who we are. We quickly came to the realization that our two sweet mothers would most likely kill us if we tried to run off and do this alone. We knew our families were happy for us, and would want to be present for whatever type of ceremony we had. So, that much was decided. Parents definitely. Then, the children. If our children wanted to be present, and we hoped they would, we wanted them to be a part of the big day. I’m fortunate that I live in a small town, and I have a talented family. It was soon realized that my sister could be the photographer, while my brother in law could be the officiant. So now, we have my sis, her hubby, and of course her girls coming; so it was only fitting that we invite Jeff’s beautiful sisters as well. Our plan was never to make anyone feel excluded, while also realizing that an unintentional/intentional line would have to be drawn somewhere. Fifteen. Our attendance count was now fifteen.

Jeff had been looking for months for employment in TN, so he could move here and we could begin our lives together. The call came on Monday, January 8. He had been hired, and he would be starting work on January 22. We had much to do in a very short amount of time. Twelve days. It was agreed that we would get married in twelve days. We want to be married and living in our house together before he starts work. Now, I don’t know how many people have ever planned and pulled off a wedding in less than two weeks, but I must say, the whole thing pretty much went off without a hitch. As with all other things in the Jeff and Amanda story, I attribute that fact to one thing only. Fully Jesus. Jeff and I were listening to the will of God in our lives, and He was blessing us for it. Just as He had been doing all the months prior.

He and I discussed where would be a good place to get married. We talked about our house. Truth is, fitting fifteen people in the living room for a ceremony would have resembled a bunch of nicely dressed people packed in like commuters on a New York subway at rush hour, so we quickly scrapped that idea. We still wanted it to be a place that was meaningful to us. Then Jeff said, “What about your mom’s?” It was perfect. Of course, I love my mother’s home. Jeff had visited it when we dated back in college. It was a place I had spent much time during the past 27 years. Most importantly, it was last place I saw my father alive. I love that space. We asked Mom, and she was quick to agree. I told Carolynn that we wanted her to go to no extra trouble. I told her we would come to her house in the days before the wedding, and do all necessary cleaning/arranging. Before I was even off the phone with her from asking permission to get married in her house, that woman was painting baseboards in her living room. Truth.

I realized that with 15 people being present at our ceremony, and the time of day we would be holding the wedding (sometime between 3-4 p.m.), we would need to feed everyone. I wanted something light, because Jeff’s family had generously offered to take everyone to dinner at The General Morgan Inn in Greeneville after the wedding. So, I texted my sweet friend Mandy Royston from the middle of Walmart. Mandy and I had been friends for years. My daughter swam on her swim team. She consigned with me at Clothing Carousel. She used to have her own catering business. Her husband had been our preacher, and years ago, during a particularly difficult day I was having, Mandy told me that God had a special man out there for me. She told me I just needed to pray and be patient. I assured her that while I loved her tremendously, God most certainly did NOT have someone for me, because there weren’t any good men left. Mandy told me that day that she’d begin praying with me for God to move, and to bring “him” (whoever that was) to me. I appreciated her gesture, but I was certain I’d be an old woman with a hundred cats. I just wasn’t cut out for relationships. My track record wasn’t pretty. Now, at the time of this text from Walmart, Mandy knew that God had already brought Jeff into my life, and we’d already had our big cry of thankfulness over it when it first happened. So, today’s text was to ask her if she still catered. Mandy’s family had recently moved, and she had begun a new job. I wasn’t sure if she’d even have time. When I told her what it was for, she immediately called me, and said she’d be happy to do our food. I ordered some of her famous Mandy cupcakes- almond- and she agreed to do individual peanut butter pies for our guests. I was so grateful she agreed. At the end of our call, she told me that she was so happy that God had worked this out for my life, and she wanted the food from her to be her gift to me and Jeff. Any of you who know me will know that I immediately burst into tears in the middle of the deli section at Walmart. How was this even possible? God had completely provided our venue, our photographer, our officiant, and now our food. Just amazing.

In the next few days, we secured a marriage license, and began making lists of what still needed to be done. His family would arrive the Friday evening before the wedding. There was much to be done at the house to prepare. We’d invited Jeff’s sisters and children to stay at our house on Main Street, and my kids and I would make mom’s house our base camp for the weekend. We were off from school that Monday for MLK day, but I was scheduled to work the rest of the week. I did put in to be off that Friday to get final touches ready for our guest before they arrived. Then, just as perfectly scripted by God as ALL the rest of everything has been, our town has below freezing temperatures and snowfall which was enough to allow for school to be canceled for the entire week. Jeff and I were not only able to get ready for our company, we were able to integrate his furniture and things into the house, clean everything we could get our hands on, and organize everything down to the bathroom drawers. We were ready!

Everything was ticking along perfectly, and then- as life sometimes goes- a problem snuck up on us. The water pressure in the downstairs shower had recently become nonexistent. We’d have to have the issue fixed before his family came into town. Five people trying to get ready with only one functioning shower would be a bit tricky, so I started by calling the water department. The sweet gal on the other end of the line informed me that they’d noticed a jump in my water usage. I asked her how big a jump. She informed me that in a typical month my household uses somewhere around 3,000 gallons of water. She said that for this month ALONE, we were sitting in the range of about 66,000 gallons!!!! Holy WHAT?!?! These are those moments in life where you have mere seconds to make a choice about how you will react to something. I was certain the top of my head was going to blow off! We’d basically used enough water to fill several swimming pools full in less than a month’s time. All I could hear in my mind was the cha-ching of dollar signs floating over my head. Ugh. Then, I remembered, God has been so gracious and good to me through everything, this had to be the devil trying to rain on my parade. It was a 66,000 gallon rain, but nonetheless… I wasn’t going to give him the victory of stealing my joy. No way! So, I thanked the lady on the phone, she offered to send someone out to reread our meter, and we hung up. To make a long story short(ish), both the water department guy AND a plumber came out, and told us that it was going to be “bad.” There was no standing water inside the house, nor in the basement, nor anywhere outside that we could see. That most likely during the recent freezes, a pipe had burst underground, and the driveway AND yard would have to be dug up to find/fix the problem. I was expecting six of Jeff’s family members at my house in two days. We were getting married in three days. NO WAY could we have this level of destruction happening at this house. Still, we tried to stay positive. I went into the house. A short time later, Jeff walks into the house, and he’s beaming! He and the plumber had discovered a secret room underneath the front porch that I never even knew existed! It was in this hidden space that a two foot section of PVC pipe had sprung a leak, and was the root of our problem! Our major problem and yard-gutting situation turned into a $175 problem which was fixed in less than an hour. Total God moment. Without a doubt. Crisis averted.

When Friday finally arrived, Jeff and I were so excited to see his family! His sisters and children had traveled from Virginia, and his parents had driven up from Florida. We had dinner at our house, and my family and his all had the opportunity to meet one another for the first time. It was a special night. Everyone instantly got along, there was talking and laughter nonstop for several hours. Then, everyone said goodnight, and we all got ready for bed. Tomorrow was the big day!

My Saturday morning was busy and amazing. There was much to do in a short amount of time. Jeff and I were exchanging sweet texts during the morning. I had spent the night at my mom’s, and realized that the skirt I had decided to wear (still wasn’t sure about my top) was back at my house. Now, you need to know that this skirt is one I had purchased about 14 years ago. It had been worn once, and then hung in a closet. That morning I snuck back to my house, pulled the skirt out of the closet, and got quite a shock. This skirt appeared to have had a drink of some sort spilled down the front of it. Fourteen years ago. So, to reiterate, I’m just discovering that the skirt I’m wanting to wear to my wedding in about 5 hours has a 14-year-old stain on it. Not only that, it is- of course- dry clean only. I had asked Jessica to pick me up at the house, so I could go back to moms without a vehicle. When she pulled up, I hesitantly told her my dilemma with the skirt. We drove by the local dry cleaners, and I jumped out. I carried my skirt in with me, and showed the owner my problem. She apologetically told me that they don’t clean on Saturdays, and offered suggestions on how I might could pin my skirt, so the stain wouldn’t show. Jess and I drove back to moms house, where Jess immediately began googling how to wash dry clean only garments at home. My mind started to panic just a bit. In retrospect, perhaps waiting until 5 hours before I’m getting married to finalize my outfit wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done, but here we were. I heard Jess say something about cold water and Ivory soap. I start filling the tub with cold water, and grab a bar of soap. We submerge the skirt in the water, and the most amazing thing happened… the stain… it just disappeared! We didn’t even have to touch the soap to it. It was like the water melted it completely away. Jess and I just stared in amazement, and then cracked up. Again, total God. No way was that more-than-a-decade old stain just going to vanish, but it surely did! Gone! Like magic!

The rest of the morning was peaceful and precious. My daughter had asked if she could do my makeup. Considering she’s better at it at age 14 than I am at age 47, I easily agreed to it. My niece, Neely, agreed to do my hair; and my sister ran around all day with a camera documenting the preparations. Emma, my other niece, helped out with my kids and running any and all errands that needed to be run. All the while, an 80’s soundtrack quietly played in the background compliments of Neely who understands my love of all things from my high school era.

At three o’clock family starts arriving at my mom’s house. We had fantastic food, and all I could think about was wanting to go ahead and get married. We had planned to start our ceremony at four, but almost as soon as people started arriving, I knew I’d never make it until then. Jeff came in, looking as handsome as ever, and looked at me and said, “There’s my wife!” We hugged and quickly kissed. We greeted everyone, and shortly thereafter took our places in the living room. I don’t really know how to verbalize what took place in that room the afternoon of January 20. It was the same sort of other-worldly sweetness that was present the night my dad died in the next room over. You just knew God was in your midst. Jeff had suggested that we write our own vows. You may think that because I love to write so much, this would be an easy task for me. Not so. I experienced the same writer’s block now as I had when I tried to write what I would say at my dad’s service. A life moment this big required my BEST words. How could I possibly do it justice? I just prayed, and asked God for His help. I knew if I were left on my own, I’d fall over myself trying to speak. We had everyone to gather in the living room. We faced our family, and Jeff Millard (our acting officiant) stood right beside us. No one was having to look at anyone’s back. Jeff M. began by welcoming everyone and saying the beautiful message he had written about how God loved Jesus, how Jesus loved us, and how husbands and wives are called to love one another. It was perfect. During one part of his talk he mentions that he knows our story and after talking to us and others there is no doubt that God has ordained this. Then, the most amazing thing happened. My sweet brother in law (the same brother in law who shamelessly mocks the Elder women for crying so easily) began to get choked up. It was just precious. He continued to speak his wonderful words, and then Jeff and I said our vows. We cried and laughed and even kissed before we were supposed to, but it was just perfect. It was exactly what we wanted that day to be for us. Our family was there. That room was literally bursting at the seams with love. Tears flowed, and hearts were filled. I wouldn’t change one single second of that day. Not even the skirt incident. Everything was exactly how it was meant to be. After the ceremony ended, without any rehearsal beforehand, Jeff and I just started making our rounds hugging our family. My sweet Ava was in a pool of tears. It warmed my heart. I don’t think anyone in that room could deny that this union was anything but the complete will of God. My heart just burst with thankfulness. I never knew I would ever experience such blessings. I had a new husband. I added wonderful people, whom I genuinely love, to my family. Life is just beautiful.

I’ll tell you something else… and I didn’t really realize this until I started going through the amazing pictures that Jessica took of us that day. Her pictures are exquisite. However, I can be quite critical of myself at times. I’m not still 21, as I was when he and I first met. I don’t still have a stomach you could bounce quarters off of like I did when we first dated. This gal, this body, has experienced a lot of life in the time we’ve been apart. Jeff Crawford loves me just the same. He really, truly loves me. Just as I am. In a perfect world, I may have been several pounds lighter and perhaps all of this would have happened many years sooner, but the truth is- I’ve never felt more perfectly myself than I did that day, in that room, with that man. THIS is God’s will for my life. It has happened exactly when and how HE wanted it. I am humbled, and eternally grateful. I’m blessed to be Mrs. Jeffrey Alexander Crawford. He is my greatest love.

Advertisements

A Reflection on “The Shack”

More

The Trouble with the Politically Correct Church

May I be honest with you? I’ve sat on this one for a few days because our nation is such a hotbed of violent political banter and demonstrations in this time leading up to the election, that I don’t want to appear as the online equivalent of lighter fluid. I do think, however, a comment made by an Arkansas friend sheds so much light on the issue that it deserves to be shared. 

Barbara Conrady is the mother of a school mate from our time in Arkansas. My sister, Jessica, and her son Elton were in the same grade. In an online discussion the other night, Mrs. Conrady said, “It is time for followers of Jesus to stand up and speak. The Church has been deceived by political correctness.” Wow. There was so much truth packed into those two sentences that I knew immediately I’d have to blog this. It was too good to keep to myself. Let me share with you what I appreciate about her insightful comment.

First, notice the capitalization of the word, “Church.” This was done intentionally, I’m most certain, as a reference to the “Church” as the body of Christ. It doesn’t mean a building with a steeple, filled with pews. The Church is the living, breathing body of Christian believers, who are called by God to be set apart from the rest of the world. 

Romans 12:2 ESV~ “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

John 17:15-18 ESV~ “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Let me repeat this… we are called by God to be set apart from the rest of the world. Why then are we so afraid to do this? Why are we so scared of hurting feeling or ruffling feathers that we would rather sit in silent acceptance of the world as it is? 

I think her comment explains it perfectly.  Not only society, but also our churches (brick and mortar buildings) encourage us to be politically correct. We can’t possibly say THAT to THIS group of people, because it just wouldn’t be right. It might upset someone. I’m thinking back to all of the lessons we are taught in the Bible. Times when Jesus, or even the disciples, spoke to people about turning from their sins. I don’t remember one time that they failed to deliver a message of truth to a group of people out of fear that someone might get their feelings hurt. These men were willing to risk their very lives to speak the truth about God’s commandments. Today, are we to be more concerned about people’s FEELINGS or about their ETERNITY? 

I know there are certain “hot topics” that many churches steer clear of mentioning. Mind you, I didn’t say all churches, but many. Race, religion, money, sexuality (homosexuality, adultery), abortion, divorce, politics… I’m sure there are more. These are the issues that will literally split a church. I’ve seen it happen. 

In my lifetime, I’ve attended several amazing churches, and I can attest that the ones in which my spirit has been fed the most are the churches where the pastor is strong in his faith, and speaks words of truth from the Scripture. I admire a pastor who is brave in his beliefs, and doesn’t water down the message he’s called to bring to the Church body. If your pastor has rooted his belief system in the Word of God, and can back it up with such, how can we as the Body of Christ disagree? If the Bible is our guidebook, and our church structures itself on Biblical principles, how can we object? Seems logical, but free will (our opportunity to chose right or wrong, righteousness or sin) comes into play, and this is where the disconnect begins.

You may have met those Believers who tell you they agree with “parts” of the Bible. I’ve never really understood how that works. Do they think that God put these commands and instructions in there as a multiple choice, and we are somehow granted the power to chose “none of the above” as an acceptable answer? I don’t believe that’s how my God works. I think His Word is His Word. I think if He didn’t mean it, He wouldn’t have said it. Surely, as imperfect as we are on a daily basis, we don’t somehow think we know better than God Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. 

I had a friend last week who decided we could no longer be friends because he didn’t agree with the way I was voting in this election. Aside from being incredibly shocked, I did have one moment of thinking that just maybe I was doing something right. I’m standing firm in my beliefs- beliefs that I can back up with Scripture- and I’m doing what I know in my heart is the right thing. It’s not my place to condemn you for disagreeing with me, but if I’m being called to be set apart, and the rest of the world seems fine with glossing over what is nothing more than pure sin, then it’s okay for me to speak what I know is truth. Not just in a political arena, either. Sin is sin is sin. Period. We all know when we do it. It’s not our job to placate the world, and tell them that their sin is fine, because HEAVEN FORBID we upset someone! What we are told is not to judge. I can disagree with you without judging and condemning you. The manner in which the message is delivered is 99.9% of the task. 

I’ll give you an example. I have a friend I simply adore. We truly have a Spirit bond with one from the moment we met. We’ve prayed together, cried together, and had some really tough discussions. One of the reasons I love her so dearly is that she is a straight shooter with me. There’s no sugar-coating of anything. Life is very black and white. In one sinful period of my life I was about to enter into something that my friend saw as dangerous to me. She came to me, not in judgement, hatred, or anger; but in sincerity, discernment, and love. The human side of me didn’t like the message she brought in that moment, because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. My Spirit, on the other hand, knew it was exactly what I needed to hear. She’s loved me through mistakes, and she’s loved me through my successes. I think that is the example Christ wants us to follow as the Church body. 

If we see a brother or sister falter in sin, sin as defined by Biblical principles, we are called to love them. This does not mean we are called to encourage them in their sin. There is a difference. The Bible doesn’t call us to political correctness. That’s an instruction from the world. Did you catch that? The world. The sinful, ego-driven, self-absorbed, destructive world that we live in is giving us this instruction, not Jesus. 

I pray for our country, and my prayer is primarily this- that each member of the Church body would demonstrate the love and kindness to all humans that we are called to by our Heavenly Father. He created us all. There are no perfect people on this planet. We are all imperfect sinners, and can only find redemption through His unfailing grace and mercy. He’s been so generous to us. It’s a shame we don’t do that for one another.

Our churches need to have the courage to preach the truth. Our pastors should pray to God for the perfect words to speak to His Body. I know many of them do. We, as a collective whole, should be praying and lifting up our pastors and churches now more than ever. Christians have to embrace what we are called to do. It isn’t always an easy thing, but for the brief time we are in this planet, don’t you want to experience the fulfillment that can only be achieved when we are living FULLY in the will of God? I know I do. If it causes me to lose a few friends in the process, I’m so sorry they would chose that route. I can only speak for myself. That’s who I’m accountable for, after all. I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here, and I’m loving everyone- every single person, regardless.

Our job is not to encourage the world to do whatever makes them happy. Many sinful things can make people “happy.” As Christians, we aren’t called to happiness, we are called to righteousness. 

We have to have the courage to make that stand. It’s time for His people to speak. Speak.

Let Me Introduce You To My Jesus- a reblog from May 25, 2010

Let Me Introduce You To My Jesus- a reblog from May 25, 2010.

Let Me Introduce You To My Jesus- a reblog from May 25, 2010

I am thrilled beyond words that I’ve been asked to contribute to this purposeful blog. Thank you so much for the invitation and honor. I feel I should give a brief background to offer a little insight into my relationship with Christ. I spent fourteen years of my life being a staff kid. My father was the business administrator at one of the largest Baptist churches in Arkansas. I came to accept Jesus as my personal Saviour when I was ten and have grown up with an understanding of the responsibility we all share when it comes to leading others to Christ.

Mark 16:15 ESV
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation…”

As Christians we are created to serve two primary purposes. The first being to worship and give praise to our Lord Jesus. The second being to lead others to Christ. Evangelism was an integral part of our church’s foundation and many classes were offered to help teach Christians effective witnessing techniques. I remember many nights overhearing my parents and their friends practicing and studying their “Evangelism Explosion” notebooks in preparation for the door-to-door visitations which would start upon completion of training. My parents and their friends memorized verses, knocked on doors, and presented the Gospel to any and all who would listen. My most vivid childhood memory, however, of my mother telling someone about Jesus had nothing to do with a planned presentation. It happened instead at our local grocery store. I was about nine years old and standing in the checkout line with her. A young mother with her two children was standing in front of us frantically trying to count out change for her milk as one of her children was crying inconsolably. Even I picked up on her distress. She was coming up short and the cashier was being neither kind nor patient with her. My mother quietly stepped forward and said, “Let me buy your milk for you in the name of Jesus. It’s what He wants us to do for one another.” That tiny snippet in life made a lasting impression and taught me that even in our gestures and actions we are given the opportunity to tell others about our God. It doesn’t have to be a perfectly-scripted scene and we don’t have to be Biblical scholars to do the task which is set before us.

In my teenage and adult years I’ve been blessed by having the experience of getting to pray with several people as they accept Christ. Sometimes it has been a situation where I feel God telling me very clearly to speak to someone and other times it is more subtle, quiet. About five years ago I was feeling very convicted that I hadn’t lead anyone to the Lord in such a long time. I told God that morning that if He would open the door for me to speak to someone I’d be more than happy to do so. I was having a yard sale that particular day and spoke to all of the visitors who came into my yard. A girl I had never seen before came up to discuss a picture of mine she was wanting to buy and I noticed cuts and scrapes on her arm. I asked if she was okay and she went into a lengthy story about a car accident she and her child had been in just a few days earlier. She said to me (and I PROMISE this is exactly how she said it), “It’s a good thing we didn’t die cause you know I’m not a Christian and all…” My mouth literally fell open. Are you kidding me, God?! I get the message loud and clear! I asked her to wait for a second, turned around and marched into my house, came back outside with my Bible, and read John 3:16 to her. Sitting right there on my white porch swing this sweet girl prayed to receive Christ. I was so happy for her and thrilled that God had so clearly set this up. As Christians we are happiest and have the most joy when are living in the fullness of His plan for us. I was so thankful to know that in that moment the fullness of His plan for me that day was being accomplished.

Several years ago I was praying for a friend who was very ill, dying in fact. In an effort to coordinate her friends and family from across the country I decided to start a Facebook prayer group for her. Through no reason other than the amazing power of Jesus this prayer group in less than a week grew to over 800 members. People my friend didn’t even know from all over the world were praying for her. God healed my friend and allowed this wonderful prayer group to become the foundation for “Church Without Walls (the not-so-small small group)” on Facebook. I described it as an “uncommon common ground for people to meet on Facebook” and encouraged people to “check their denominations at the door”. It serves as a place to meet and leave prayer requests and share testimonies of what God is doing in their lives. After seeing God move through the prayer group in such a palpable way it was obvious that His work needed to continue. This group has been life changing for me in ways that I never even expected. I realized a new-found accountability to the people I was writing to through the devotions and songs on that site. When Jesus is speaking through us and using us as a tool we must be sure that we are living up to that privilege. I’ve had days of struggle with this, days I didn’t feel “worthy”, but the beauty of the Lord is that He is always loving, always accepting. He died for us and wants to spend eternity with us. That’s the Jesus I want people to get to know. In the age of social media we are able to reach miles beyond where our legs could carry us. That’s one reason I get so amped up about groups like Kingdom Bloggers. I can’t imagine a more productive use of the Internet than bringing people into His kingdom.

We are called to share the good news of our Lord through our word and our actions. Whether it be face to face, on the phone, or through the computer God wants to use each of us as His mouthpiece. Pray that He will provide the opportunity. I promise He will bring it to you.

%d bloggers like this: