My Life

Undeserved Grace: Our Love Story

I know, I know. This time of year, everyone is sharing their love story, and all the single ladies are probably sick of hearing them.

I get it.

But, I’ve been married just under six months and still haven’t shared my story, so what better time than now?

If you’re a single woman who just doesn’t want to hear another story right now, feel free to go read this instead, but I hope you’ll stick around. Because this story isn’t about butterflies and happily ever after. It involves the real, hard work of healing and heaps and heaps of grace.

So many women who struggle with pornography believe they are now damaged goods and could never be married.

They believe their singleness is some curse from God (I thought that once too) and it’s their permanent penance for their sin. They believe they can never tell a future Mr. Maybe about their past because he will leave.

My hope in sharing our story is to give hope to every woman who struggles; none of those fears are founded in truth.

To understand our story fully, I need to take you back to 2016, where my book, Beggar’s Daughter, ends.

(This is going to be a long one, but hopefully I can tell it in a way that keeps your interest. When I tell it in person, it tends to get a few good laughs and “you need to write a book on this!” )

In the Spring of 2016, I ended a year-long long-distance relationship with a guy I met online. He was the primary motivation behind me writing Beggar’s Daughter. I had always believed that sharing my story would forever curse me. So, I had basically said in my heart, “God, I’m not going to write this book until you promise me a future beyond it.”

When this guy came along, I was convinced God had answered that prayer. So, with his support, I began writing. We had talked about marriage the previous December (2015). Not long after that discussion, and unbeknownst to me, he started seeing another woman. I found out three months later, just before finishing Beggar’s Daughter and wrote about it in one of the final chapters.

I was absolutely devastated and terrified. 

My book was weeks away from being released into the wild and I had no one. As I finalized the book for publication, I was convinced that I was, signing a death certificate for any hopes of marriage. There was no way, I thought, that any man worth his salt would want me after what they read in that book.

Weeks later, I stood on a stage at the Set Free Summit and shared my story with a room full of pastors. My book sold out and speaking engagements started pouring in.

Fast forward to Summer 2017. 

In the year after speaking at the Set Free Summit, I had literally traveled around the world speaking. Some months, I spoke every weekend. In the summer of 2017, I did a four-week stint in New Zealand and Australia.

It was my “dream” but at the same time, my heart ached. I was burning out, faking it till I made it, trying to keep it all together.

This job is draining, and at the very beginning of my time on that tour, I remember going back to my hotel room, feeling so alone. I stood in the doorway and thought, “God, I would give anything right now for there to be a man in that bed just to hold me because my heart hurts.” It wasn’t about the sex. I needed the emotional support.

There was a woman in New Zealand, I can’t remember her name. She came to one of my events and then actually followed to the next one. She had a beautiful baby girl with her and during one of the tea breaks, I went over, sat by her and asked to hold her baby.

I don’t remember much of our conversation, but I do remember her looking at me and saying, “You have a mother’s heart. So while everyone else may be praying for book deals and more speaking engagements, I’m going to be praying that God grants you the desires of your heart.”

When I got to my hotel room that night, I bawled. She was seeing what I couldn’t tell anyone else. I was living “the dream” but it wasn’t my dream.

In my mind, I had deadened the desires of my heart. It felt like what I wanted didn’t matter any more. God wanted what He wanted and I just needed to suck it up and deal with it.

There were different things that happened during my tour that were exploitive and inappropriate. I started to feel like a circus side show instead of someone carrying the message of grace.

As the tour went on, I began to pray, “God, if you want me to do this full time, I cannot do it without a husband. I just can’t.”

By the end of my time in New Zealand, I was completely empty. I went on family vacation the next week and realized I was actually depressed. There was no joy. I hated my calling. I hated my life.

So I tried to run from it.

Over the next several weeks, I struggled with feeling exploited and abused by God. Why would He let this happen to me?

In July of 2017, I had a bizarre dream about oars and arguing with my future husband about going on some expedition. I shared it on my Facebook.

I found it amusing, but someone else felt it prophetic and shared with me to be on the look out because my future husband was coming soon and it would happen faster than I expected. When it did, I could know that it was ok.

Me: Yeah right.

As Summer turned to Fall, I began to contemplate moving back to the Midwest. I told my friends I was moving, and said, “When I look at all the options for where I can be in five years, none of them start here.”

I determined to go visit my grandparents in Ohio and my best friend in Indiana, all the while scoping out possible housing and jobs. My landlords announced they were planning on moving so, for me, it was all very clear “open doors” that I no longer was where I was supposed to be.

I signed up for a writing retreat in Switzerland and made plans to go to Ohio. If I was going to go all in on writing, I needed some extra training, and I needed to be somewhere with a lower cost of living (because Maryland is ridiculous).

Days before I left for Ohio (August 23, 2017), I got an e-mail.

It was sent through the contact page here with the subject line “Thank you.”

Jessica,
That is one incredible book! Praise the Lord for your obedience in writing it, as difficult as it must have been. He will use you mightily and I believe only wants a willing heart. With a willing heart, He can change the world (or at least our small part of it). I wonder if you’re willing to talk. And if you are, what mode of talking would you like? I can send email/number/ even address, but I think a small email in return saying what is best for you, will work out fine. I have no doubt God can use your story and this book to impact (people) I’m talking to everyday- silently battling, hopelessly lost until they’re saved by His grace. If nothing more, I’m encouraged and will follow the blog (and probably buy a bunch of books). If more, then let’s talk and perhaps I can further see why God let me find your book months ago, but not read it until just now.

My response? I was annoyed.

This wasn’t the first e-mail I had ever received that implied wanting something more. I have gotten e-mails from men who have located me from online dating profiles and e-mails from men who have read the blog and said, “It’s so hard to find a Godly woman who wants a family.”

(Actually, no… it’s not)

It’s a good thing he asked for books because I might have deleted his e-mails otherwise.

I tried to communicate I wasn’t interested in anything, but apparently I’m too kind to be direct.

He ordered books, which I shipped out immediately before leaving for Ohio. I came back to an e-mail saying the books were “lost” (I tease him about this all the time- suuuuure they were). We e-mailed back and forth about the lost books and, in every e-mail, he found some way to mention that he would really like to keep talking to me.

I tried to tell him I didn’t know where I was going to be in six months so I didn’t want to start anything. He insisted he just wanted to be a praying friend… and call me crazy, but I gave him my personal e-mail.

We e-mailed back and forth, even as I was planning on moving to Indiana in Mid-November.

He asked to meet in person, so I did what any respectable woman would do- I tried to shake him.

I wasn’t interested in a relationship so I attempted to scare him. I invited him apple picking with my small group on October 22. I figured he wouldn’t want to come if he was going to be surrounded by ten of my closest friends.

He came.

And my closest friends thought they were being all cute. Instead of trying to scare him off for me, they happily disappeared in order to give us our “space.”

We spent seven hours together that day. I spent 6.5 of those hours frustrated at my friends for not doing the whole “scare off the new guy” job I had given them. You had one job, people. One job. 

As I drove him back to his car, I remember regretting spending so much time stressed out at my friends and not spending more time getting to know him. I realized I really wanted to get to know him better.

The following week, I went to Switzerland, which is a story all in its own. He called me in the airport and talked with me until I got on the plane. I spent my time in Switzerland really just trying to fall in love with my calling again. I still felt beat up by God and in desperate need of healing.

At the end of the retreat, the leader prayed over me and part of her prayer was, “God, give her a husband- a partner in ministry.”

And in that moment, I thought of Michael, and thought, “Oh my goodness, has God already answered that prayer?”

We went on our second date (I guess it depends on how you classify dates and dating) when I got back from Switzerland- a walk through the woods and dinner at a stir fry restaurant.

Five hours. Daily phone calls that lasted for hours.

Third date he invited himself to our family’s Thanksgiving. My mom fell in love with him, but I was still not sure.

Next date we went out with a friend who grilled him for two hours straight. I was mortified. He was fine. When she was done, she said to me, “He’ll love you more than you’ll ever be able to love him in return. I approve.”

Everyone else loved him by my heart was afraid to.

I had to do some wrestling with God for sure. I wanted to know it was safe. I wanted to know I wasn’t going to get hurt. I wanted to know so much… and sometimes you can’t know; you just have to trust.

So I agreed we could be “official.”

We made trips to see family and friends, and, by the New Year I was pretty sure I could marry this guy.

I remember the speed scared me, but no one else… and I mean no one… seemed to have a problem with it. They loved him. They loved us. I loved us. 

So, at the beginning of January, we decided we were going to get married. And it was just like that. We had a conversation about where we saw this going and it was “I could see myself marrying you.”

“Good, I can see myself marrying you.”

“Ok, when do we want to do this?”

Somewhere in there was a heated disagreement that landed us in a Starbucks halfway between our homes. And somehow, after I was done wiping away my tears with a brown napkin, we ended up talking about venues. I know, super romantic.

We picked our date, and within a couple weeks, had our venue and caterer. Shortly after, I had my dress.

On March 31, 2018, we went on a double date with friends, canoeing to an island in the middle of the Chesapeake. After we landed on the island, he dropped to one knee and asked me officially to marry him. I said yes.

One night, I sat down and shared with him my entire story. Even though he had read it, I wanted him to hear it from me, including details no one knows. It was hard but he leaned across the couch, pulled me close, kissed me on the forehead and began to speak powerful truths over me:

“You are whole. You are redeemed. You are loved.”

He would repeat that when I would feel broken.

“I don’t see you as broken. You are whole. You are redeemed. You are loved.”

As our wedding approached, I went to counseling and we both went to premarital counseling. We worked through books together and dug deep into each other.

It was hard, but it was unbelievably healing and so full of grace.

We got married on September 1, 2018. Almost a year from that first e-mail asking for books. That morning, just an hour before the wedding, we shared our first kiss. We had spent months building our friendship, purposefully working on the relationship and not wanting to get distracted by the physical aspects of everything. For us, it was the best decision we could have made. Not a single regret.

I often tell my husband that he is one of the biggest evidences of God’s grace in my life. And he is. He, knowing my whole past, doesn’t love me any differently. He doesn’t drag it into our marriage. He has never once brought it up.

In the years of my struggle and even as I found freedom, I didn’t believe this type of future was possible for me. I wanted it to be possible, but it seemed out of reach. I thought there was no way that my future would not be negatively affected by my past.

If you are single and struggling, wondering if there is someone out there for you, I hope you are encouraged. There are phenomenal men of God out there who will love you and understand God’s grace enough to be able to extend it to you. At the end of the day, all of us are in desperate need of grace, love, and forgiveness. You can be honest about your past and your struggles, in fact, you should be. That honesty will set the groundwork for an intimate relationship filled with healing instead of shame.

It isn’t lost on me that writing my book, the thing I thought would destroy any chance of marriage, is exactly what God used to bring me my husband.

That, my friends, is grace.

 

Tags: