It sounds like a fairy tale romance. Two people find each other in high school, get married, and live happily ever after.
That’s what happened, but the story didn’t start so well. And once you hear it, you’ll think more of Julie, less of me, and be more amazed by grace.
I made the card at home. The front said, “Joy is not in things, but in us…” and on the inside, “And especially in you.”
It was a moving sentiment, meant to encourage a girl I thought was a little withdrawn. I was the choir accompanist and senior class president and I figured any girl who received a card from me would be blessed. So I gave the same card to 16 other girls.
A Rough Start
Julie had no idea her card was one of 17, and later on that day she gave me a hand written note that covered an entire 8 ½ by 11 piece of paper. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it had something to do with liking me. A lot.
Julie was the only girl who responded to my overture, and I wasn’t completely pleased. She wasn’t one of the “in crowd” from my perspective, and I gave her the card more out of a desire to encourage her than to start a relationship. But she was undeterred. She started hanging around with me, driving me places (I didn’t have a license or a car), making me cherry pies and brownies, and doing whatever she could to spend time with me.
In return, I acted awkward and distant, didn’t respond to her overtures, and at one point wrote her a song that included these lines:
You mean more than many people, but something isn’t there
Maybe it’s wrong to keep it from you, maybe it’s unfair
So you go the way you wanna go and I’ll met you there tomorrow
You go the way you wanna go and I’ll meet you there for sure
Maybe another day might be the day when we could get together
But baby it’s late and I have to go
Touching, I know. I was in over my head. Julie wanted a relationship I wasn’t prepared to give her. But because she was willing to drive me places, we continued to hang out. (The things we do for
That summer, after we graduated, we kissed for the first time. Again, I had misgivings, but figured I could stay with her until someone better came along. I felt like I was doing her a favor.
It gets worse.
Breaking Up Isn’t So Hard To Do
We dated for the next year through my first year of college, during which time I became a Christian. Julie worked at a show horse farm. The next year, she joined me at Temple University. We spent a lot of time together, but I still didn’t see her as my future wife.
That Thanksgiving we went to see “The Way We Were” with Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand. At the end of the evening I told her I wanted to break up.
My timing was impeccable. And classy.
Since we had the same group of friends at school, we saw each other often. I remember many nights in the dorm stairwell, where Julie would say through tears that she didn’t understand why we couldn’t be together. I would “compassionately” tell her to praise God in all things, and that I was sure God had someone else for her.
During that time I wrote her another song with these lines:
Love will never let you down but that’s just what it’s done
It brought you to a field of grass and wouldn’t let you run
You gave me everything you had which only made you poor
And as you begged to stay with me I showed you to the door
A Happy Ending
Over the next couple years, God used Julie to expose my deep and pervasive pride. No one had loved me like Julie, in spite of my constant rebuffs. No one was as faithful, no one was as encouraging, no one was as giving. I didn’t deserve her and I was an idiot not to want to be with her.
In the fall of 1975, again on Thanksgiving, I asked Julie to marry me and unbelievably, she said yes. We tied the knot in August of 1976.
I share this story for three reasons (and yes, I got Julie’s permission).
First, sovereignty. God accomplishes his purposes through our stupidity, sin, insensitivity, blindness, and resistance. His plans for us are not ultimately dependent on our wisdom, cooperation, or intelligence. And it’s a good thing.
Second, hope. God loves to take dysfunctional, sin-ruled, hopeless relationships and turn them into something for his glory. Even as I wrote this story out, I winced. It’s painful. And I didn’t even go in to the worst parts! But the pain is far surpassed by the years I’ve spent with the woman who is God’s greatest gift to me after salvation. Through the laughter and tears, the trials and blessings, the mundaneness and adventure, I’ve come to realize one of the reasons I was made was to seek to love this woman as Christ loves the church. And doing so has introduced me to a happiness I never dreamed I’d know. 38 years later it just keeps getting better.
Third, gospel. My history with Julie breathes grace. I resisted a relationship with her, told her I didn’t need her, and tried to live life without her. All the while she never stopped graciously and persistently loving and pursuing me. Isn’t that a picture of the way God relates to us?
If you’re a Christian this Valentine’s Day, wherever your love story happens to be – fruitful, confused, damaged, unwritten – you can be sure God loves you like no one ever could. He is working, he’s working for good, and as we entrust our lives to him through Christ, he will find a way to show us his love, power, and wisdom. For “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
I thank God he used my pride years ago to introduce me to the woman who is now the love of my life (and also gave me the opportunity to write sweeter songs for her).
I thank God even more that that he called me from death to life through Jesus, who came to bear our sins upon himself so that we might be forgiven and brought near to the Father.
Unimaginable grace. Unspeakable kindness. Unending love. A glorious gospel.