Our Story: By Joel
PART 1: Joel
Amy asked me to write a post for her blog explaining “Our Story” from my perspective for her Valentine’s Day gift this year. For someone who does a lot of writing in his day job, this is not really my forte. But if it means I don’t have to shop for a gift, here goes.
My name is Joel; and I’m a Christian, a husband, a father, a Marine, and an attorney. I like to think of myself as a leader, and i still try to live my life according to the ethos of Honor, Courage, and Commitment that was instilled in me at Parris Island. I believe that, at my core, I am equal parts lover and fighter. For the telling of “Our Story,” I’ll focus on the love part.
PART 2: Amy and Joel Growing Up
I’ve known Amy most of my life. We grew up going to the same schools, but it wasn’t until 6th grade that we were in the same class. I must admit; 6th grade wasn’t my best year. I was a pretty bad little kid, more interested in getting into trouble with my friends than most anything else. Amy was a nice, smart, and quiet kid—our paths didn’t cross much. Amy told me a story one time when we were dating about how she and one of my friends were “going together” that year, and when they broke up, I said some mean things to her. I didn’t remember the story—not even a little bit—but she told me it really hurt her feelings. As a result, I think she carried some insecurities with her for a long time. What I didn’t know was that Amy had a crush on me, and my words were devastating to her. I didn’t care about anybody else’s feelings but my own. I don’t think I intended to hurt Amy like that, but I didn’t care enough to think of others before myself. Even as I write this, some 28 years later, I feel a wave of guilt and sorrow come over me. I share this story with our kids, especially my boys, to illustrate the power that words can have, and to teach our children to be kind…like their mother.
Time marched on, and I continued to run in the wild circle while Amy continued going to church. Our paths rarely crossed. She left high school in 11th grade to start college at The University of Georgia, and I barely graduated. I knew it would take something drastic to get myself back on the right track, so I joined the Marine Corps. I had toyed with the idea of joining the military for a long time, but never gave it much serious thought. I had a good friend who joined the Marines a few years earlier, and he encouraged me to do the same. He assured me that I would love it (any Marines that may be reading this are laughing to themselves right now). I always loved the extremes and figured it would take extreme measures to get pointed in the right direction, so I joined. I went on to Parris Island and later to Georgia Southern University, while Amy was at UGA. Our paths would cross occasionally when she would come back to our hometown to visit her family, or I would go up to Athens to party. We even went on sort of a double date together. Her roommate and I were close friends, so one time when I was visiting; the roommate and I went to dinner with Amy and her boyfriend…funny to think about now.
PART 3: Amy and Joel Start Dating
I was in the Marine Corps Reserves through college. I graduated in December of 2002, and in January 2003, my unit was activated in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I had already been accepted to law school, but I had to put that on hold for the time being. I was glad to do it, because I had been chomping at the bit to get into the action ever since 9/11. I remember thinking Now is my time.
It was in the aforementioned 6th grade class, while watching the televised air campaign and subsequent ground invasion of Iraq led by the U.S. Marines during the Gulf War, when I decided that I was going to a) join the military, b) fight in a war, c) become an attorney, and d) get elected to public office. As I write this, I can’t help but think about the motivations behind the path I was laying out for my life. In 6th grade, I was young and not interested in school, but I devoured politics. I was not in favor of the war; but I remember watching those troops, longing to recognize their valor in myself, and thinking that there is no greater honor than fighting for your country. Dramatic thoughts for a sixth grader—yes. But I was a passionate kid. To that end, and after watching an episode of The Wonder Years where they staged a walkout at school in protest of the Vietnam War, a friend and I decided we would do the same. When it came time to step out the schoolhouse doors and we saw the administrators blocking the exits, we decided some boisterous chants would have to do. I have always been a thinker, so as a kid thinking about our failed walkout, I realized that the best way for me to change what I didn’t like about the system was to be the change I wanted to see from within the system. It was this thought process that precipitated the life plan I internalized that year. You may be thinking, what does all this have to do with you and Amy dating? Well, it’s the backdrop for our first date.
My unit ended up being stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina—not exactly what I had pictured as getting into the action. The first chance I got, I raised my hand to volunteer for duty closer to the fight. What that looked like was hopping on a Navy ship, crossing the Atlantic, and heading for the Gulf. For anyone who has been deployed on a float, you know that the days aren’t necessarily packed with action. It was at this time, during those long monotonous days, that I started receiving letters from Amy’s first grade class.
I hadn’t crossed paths with Amy in years, but I thought it was very nice for her class to send me letters and drawings. I wish that I had written them back. Unbeknownst to me, Amy said during that time she felt a serious burden from the Holy Spirit to pray for me and my salvation. She thought it was the strangest thing, but the feeling came out of nowhere. It was unrelenting. Amy told me that on her break at school, she would literally get on her knees behind her desk and pray for me. She said that basically anytime she was alone, she would pray earnestly for me; and during chapel programs her students all jockeyed to be the one to pray for me.
When I finally got back to the States, I was back in our hometown at a Christmas party when I saw Amy for the first time since college and since her class had sent me letters. We talked, and I thanked her for the letters. We ended up hanging out together for the rest of that night, danced our first dance, and then I asked her if I could take her to lunch the next day. She said yes, and I picked her up from her grandparents’ house and took her to eat barbecue. We spent the rest of the day running errands together; and when I got back to my mother’s house (I was living back at home waiting on law school to start), I announced to her that I had just eaten lunch with the girl I was going to marry.
Amy lived in Atlanta, and I lived 3.5 hours away in Statesboro; but we spent every possible minute together that we could.
PART 4: God’s Plan
One night while dating, I went to pick Amy up from her grandparents’ house and take her to dinner. Her mother was in town, so I came in for a glass of wine and a visit. Statesboro is a small town, so her mother remembered me from when we were kids. She went to a closet and got out an old photo book from preschool. When I saw the name of the preschool, I immediately said that I went to that same place. Laura, Amy’s mom, said “I know, y’all were in the same class” and proceeded to show me pictures of us playing together.
I remember thinking to myself, “Strange. I don’t remember that.” Laura then explained that Amy was only there for about half the year, because that was when she took a job in Houston and they had moved.
All of a sudden, these thoughts from my childhood came racing back to me. The memories were so vivid and were coming back to me in flashes. I can’t remember if I verbalized them right at that moment, but I was shaken!
You see, dating back to some of my earliest childhood memories, I recall always taking a break from playing with the boys on the playground to flirt with the girls. At preschool when I was, I don’t know, maybe 4 or so; I remember playing with one girl in particular and being heart-broken when she moved away during the year. I remember crying when she walked out the door with her mother.
As I grew up, I never thought about that memory until I started getting interested in girls as girlfriends, which for me was maybe around 5th grade. I remember clearly, being at a church choir competition as a kid (which is funny because I can’t carry a tune), sitting in the pews and looking up at the choir performing and trying to decide which girl I thought was the prettiest. I also remember that this was the first time I thought about the girl that moved away during preschool, and I wondered if she was up there in the choir. I conjured up this idea in my head that she was the one I was searching for, that we were meant to be together. I sat there and racked my brain, trying to remember that little girl’s name; but I just couldn’t recall. I went through the alphabet trying to put a name with the long-forgotten face, but nothing felt just right. I told myself that this romantic muse had to have a name (of course, I didn’t use the term ‘romantic muse’ in my thoughts, but I thought of her as “my one”), so I decided to go with Tracy. It sounds silly now, and even my 11-year-old self knew it was silly at the time. That competition came and went, and so did my daydream. But I would have that same daydream every single time I was at church camp, a choir competition, a youth group event; always in the back of my mind—in my daydreams—I was searching for Tracy, “my one.” Those youthful thoughts continued persistently through my middle school years.
And there we were. Nearly twenty years later, and I find out that “the one” I told my mom that I was going to marry after our first date was actually “my one” that I’d been searching for my entire life. Amy is Tracy!! This story, that I’ve only told a few times, is admittedly hard to believe; but EVERY SINGLE WORD OF IT IS TRUE.
PART 5: In Sum, One
If our story ended right there, it would be a great one (in my opinion). But it doesn’t end there. At that time in my life, I may have called myself a Christian; but I wasn’t.
As we were dating, Amy’s strong faith made an impression on me. But it didn’t always make a lot of sense to me. For example, I remember her telling me that she had an intimate relationship with God; and I thought, “What a strange use of the word intimate.” I didn’t really understand what she meant, but what I did know was that I watched her pray, and I marveled at the fact that God really seemed to listen to and answer her.
While we were dating, I would often go to church with Amy. I enjoyed listening to people lecture, I enjoyed ritual, and I enjoyed being challenged; so, I typically enjoyed going to church. From dating to marriage and into law school afterwards, we attended church regularly. It was during my second year of law school that I gave my life to Christ.
After I graduated from law school, we were living in Atlanta until I went back on active duty in the Marine Corps. During this time, we attended an awesome church where many of her former students’ families were members. One morning, I was introducing myself during a men’s Sunday school class. After I was done, a former student’s father made the statement, “Joel and I both have stories where God used our wives to bring us to Himself.”
I would often marvel at the awesome love story God gave us. What an unbelievable story for a husband and wife to have. But it wasn’t until that moment in Sunday school that I realized that our story isn’t a love story about me and Amy; it’s a love story about God’s love for His children. It was then that I understood that, as a kid, that longing in my soul to find my long-lost love was actually my soul longing for God’s love. I can’t think of a better love story, and I’m so thankful that “our love story” is a part of “His love story.”
What a gift that I’ve been in love with my wife my entire life. What a gift that God chose Amy to be the tool that He used for my salvation. What a gift that Amy was obedient to the call of the Holy Spirit. It’s the least I could do to write “Our Story” down as a gift to Amy for Valentine’s Day.
I love you, Amy!