Murfreesboro, TN – I’ve made a few decisions in my 23 years.
The absolute-hands-down best decision I have made was when I decided to admit that I was broken, sinful, completely lost; I was desperate for the blood of Christ to cover me and make me new, clean, righteous, holy, redeemed, forgiven, free, satisfied.
And every decision I have made since then has been filtered through the lens of this great grace, filtered through the lens of obedience to Christ. (Now… when I say every decision, understand that I’m not counting the 17 million times I have decided to take a nap instead of spend time with God… There is grace, praise Jesus.)The second best decision I have made was saying yes to my husband when he asked me to marry him… But we’ll get to that!
Shortly after deciding to turn from sin and follow Christ, I was presented with the opportunity to spend ten weeks of my first college summer at a crazy cool thing called Mountain Project through Campus Outreach. I said yes immediately after hearing about it… I don’t think it registered with me how long ten weeks actually was…?
I didn’t even know anyone that was going. Following Christ is fun (or scary) like that. I spent ten weeks living with 90 college students in a hotel in Pigeon Forge, TN, working at a theme park (all hail Dolly Parton!), and being trained in how to read the bible, how to pray, how to live in community, and how to share the gospel with others.
(My future husband was actually on this project at the same time, but he was way off of my radar… Pretty much all boys were at that point. We literally had only ONE conversation with each other in TEN weeks that we can remember.)
These ten weeks were foundational to my walk with The Lord; these ten weeks were where I learned the depth of the love of God. It was where I learned to take gospel-driven risks, trusting that God is good, that he cared for me.
The next summer, I returned to this project, but this time in a leadership role. Again, it was huge in my walk with the Lord. I learned to lead in humility, and I learned to show grace even when it hurts. I took baby baby baby steps in learning to love people well – I’m always growing in this. (My future husband spent this summer in San Diego, California on a church-planting internship. I didn’t know this. I just knew he loved God and loved people a lot and he went to my college. Like I said, not on each other’s radar. Respected, but not on the radar.)
Another summer, another decision: My third college summer, I was asked to join the mountain project again, in another leadership role. It was kind of a no-brainer that I would say yes. It was a logical next step for me. All of my friends would be there. All of the women that I had poured into the last two years would be there. I would be leading with some of my very best friends.
Sweet, simple, the answer should be yes. But something inside me wouldn’t let me say yes. I wrestled and wrestled with the decision, prayed, made pro-con lists, sought wise council, and still, I knew my answer would be no. I dreaded having to tell the leadership that asked me to be a part of the project a big fat NO.
I felt like I was letting people down, and the worst part – I had no reason to say no. When they asked, “Okay, we support you! But what else are you going to do with your summer?” I would have absolutely nothing to say. Great.
The first day of that spring semester (hello God I only have one semester to figure out what I’m doing with my summer!!!!!!!????), I got a text from J.J. Johns. J.J. Johns? Why is he texting me? I haven’t spoken to him since that Mountain Project we were on together two years ago. How does he even have my number?I read the text – he asked what I was doing that summer. UGH seriously?! This is the last thing I want to talk about. I told him, in what was probably a passive aggressive way, that I didn’t have any plans for my summer.
He went on to tell me that he was leading a trip to San Diego, CA to learn about church planting. I was intrigued, but it really caught my attention because San Diego had come up in conversation in my classes twice that day. Weird.
I agreed to meet with J.J. for lunch the next week to discuss further about the trip. After prayer, prayer, more prayer, seeking council, and coming to terms with the many many unknowns of the trip, I decided to go. Lol because, I didn’t know anybody going on this trip, it was across the country, and I had no clue what church planting even was. Following Christ is fun (or scary) like that.
This internship was eye-opening, brain-frying, and heart-wrenching. It’s where I often say I met the Holy Spirit – and no, not in some weird, over-spiritual, fire from heaven, speaking in tongues, seeing signs kind of way. (However, if you want to discuss those things and their place in the bible, let’s talk!) This trip is where I learned to be still and listen, to truly be led by the Spirit. In hindsight, with my new understanding of the Spirit, my decision to say no to the Mountain Project even when it made no sense, was easily explained by the Spirit of God leading me.
Okay, and after about a week in San Diego, I totally had a huge crush on this J.J. Johns character. He loved God, he was kind, he was a servant, he loved people so well, he respected women, he was a strong leader, he was honest, he was patient, he was caring, he was humble, he was funny, and he was so dang cute!
But I kept a massive distance from him. I didn’t want to be distracted. I wanted to be satisfied in The Lord. I didn’t want to be manipulative. And I had convinced myself he was way out of my league anyways. I pretty much avoided him as much as possible. Maybe not the best way to handle a crush?
And slowly but surely, The Lord began whispering the possibility of living in San Diego into my heart. He put a deep love for the broken city and the broken people of the city into my heart. Every time my team walked the streets, I couldn’t help imagining life there in a few years. Shake it off, Whitney, geez.
Much to my surprise, when we returned home from San Diego, J.J. asked me to go with him to visit our friends in Pigeon Forge. I. Was. Shook. Of course I wanted to do that! But, boy, I had to check my heart. I prayed and prayed that I wouldn’t have one single ounce of manipulation in me. I prayed and prayed that if J.J. had feelings for me, that he would share them.
I prayed that if he didn’t share them, I would be satisfied in The Lord still. But I WOULD NOT bring it up. Men are made to lead in relationships, and I would let him do that. Women, we are strong and capable and important. Hear that. But when men lead as the Lord has created them to, it is a beautiful thing.
At the end of our day, J.J. was sitting on a blanket with me (about 5 feet apart, hello holiness) spilling his guts out to me. He was saying everything I ever wanted to hear. I remember actually praying to God in my head while J.J. was talking; I was thanking God for J.J.’s intentionality and honesty.
I had never known a man to be intentional about relationships in this world full of “we’ll see what happens” and being strung along. I reciprocated those feelings to J.J., but then the greatest thing happened. Nothing. We decided to not do anything about it. Why make a rash decision without prayer and seeking council? We drove home in a weird yet comfortable unknown.
We committed to prayer and fasting for the next few days. During this time, we didn’t speak to each other. We only prayed and asked God what he wanted, what he would allow in his will. We asked our closest friends if they thought it was a good idea for us to date. The scariest advice came from my cousin when she said, “You shouldn’t be asking the question, ‘God, do you want me to date this man?’ You should be asking, ‘God, is this the man you want me to marry?” Mic drop. Scary. Okay.
We did end up dating. In fact, when we met for the first time after prayer and fasting, J.J. told me that he wanted to marry me. He said he wanted to date with the intent to marry me. And he said a lot of other incredible things about the love of God and how he intended to show me that in dating. I was floating, but I also wanted to throw up. Following Christ is fun (or scary) like that.
A whopping five months later, J.J. got down on one knee and asked me to marry him, for real this time. A lengthy six months after that, we were married. Following Christ is fun (or scary) like that.
We are in a stage of active waiting. We are waiting on The Lord to make a path for us to be in San Diego. We believe he wants us there for a time to reach the people of the city, to love, serve, and share the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus with the people of the San Diego. We are actively seeking opportunities.
All the while, we are remaining faithful to the city and the church that we live in now. We will not rush ahead. We will be where our feet are, and be fully there, all the while looking ahead with hope. We will love and serve and learn and grow here. And we will eventually love and serve and learn and grow there. We don’t have many answers to most questions at the moment. But we are going. Following Christ is fun (or scary) like that.
Wherever we go, we will go boldly, trusting the Lord, placing our trembling feet on the solid ground of the Almighty God.