Friday, March 30, 2012

Well...What Did HE Say

This may be my favorite part of the story, which you'll learn why later. At the time it didn't seem quite as significant, but when it was all said and done, there is no way you can question the sovereignty of GOD in orchestrating my marriage.

At some point in April, my best friend from elementary school, Sharon, called to tell me that she and her husband had decided to renew their vows in the upcoming summer. They had eloped right after high school, so they never had a wedding ceremony with their family and friends and they really wanted to do that. She asked if I would be her maid of honor and I was so excited to get share in this opportunity with her! Since she lived in Texas, there was no possible way for us to go dress shopping together. With me being her only attendant I wouldn't have to worry about matching anyone so she told to find a dress, any dress I wanted, just make sure it was lilac.

Somehow, I convinced Earl to go dress shopping with me one day. We headed off to Wedding Wonderland and I tried on several dresses before settling on a simple, long A-line, satin dress with a darted waist and a minimal amount of beading around the neckline. They told me the dress would have to be ordered and that I would need to come in for a fitting sometime around May.

May would not only bring my new dress, but an end to my fast. I was excited and sad at the same time. After all it had been 40 days since a single morsel of food had touched my lips, so I could not wait to eat. However, at the same time, I was scared of losing the oneness I'd experienced with GOD. This encounter was so life changing, but not only that, I was left in holding pattern. I mean, I now had the joy that I had so longingly desired, but I wasn't free to move forward, which was something else I was hoping for. I knew GOD was still asking me to wait, just a little longer.

A couple of weeks into the month Wedding Wonderland called to let me know my dress was in and schedule me for a fitting. I picked a date and Jerrie accompanied me to shop. When we got there, the attendant brought the dress out and I tried it on. It need to be taken in slightly since I'd lost a few pounds from fasting. Once they did all their pinning and tucking, Jerrie suggested I try on wedding dresses just for fun. I figured it couldn't hurt. It would be amusing to pretend my big day was just around the corner and prance around in all these lovely gowns.

We picked a few to try on and the attendant helped me put on dress after dress. I remember thinking, they were all so beautiful, how could any bride pick one for her special day. I was almost done with the dresses we had picked when I slid my body into it.

It was perhaps one of the most simple gowns I had adorned that day. It was a long, white, princess cut dress with the most beautifully understated detailing I'd ever seen. It used a mixture of swirls and tiny flowers with rhinestones in the center sparingly up the bodice and around the waist. At the top a lace overlay came down to meet the heart shaped satin neckline. The bottom of the gown had the same detailing on the front and train. However, my favorite part was the back. It was so unbelievably exquisite and elegant. There was long line of tiny buttons extending down the back to the waist. Everything about it beckoned me to chose this dress to wear on my wedding day.

This is a picture I found in a Bridal magazine,

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lessons Learned (Part 2)

The first few days were the hardest. I love food and let's be honest, eating is a social past time in this country! However, every time a pang of hunger would strike I would open the WORD OF GOD and read a passage about fasting or the overcoming faith of the heroes of the Bible. Within the first week, I had truly conquered those pains.

I was extremely careful in the presentation of myself and around any opportunities that food was present. The Bible tells us to fast in secret. When you do this, it's important that you and GOD are the only people that are part of that inner circle. That's not to say a few people didn't know, because I did have to disclose what I was doing to a select few. One being my parents because I knew they were prayer warriors that could hold me up anytime I needed it. Earl's parents were also privy to the information as well. Mostly because since I stayed with them on my weekends, his mom began to notice I was never eating. She point blank confronted me with concern. Which in this day and age is completely understandable. Jerrie wanted to make sure that I wasn't starving myself, so I told her what I was doing and why. I remember her crying and telling me she hoped Earl would make the right choice because it was so clear that I loved him more than anyone ever could and that GOD had brought me into their life for a purpose. I also knew they would continually lift me up in prayer. As for everyone else, it was easy to pass it off as though I wasn't hungry when I was around them.

One week turned into two and three and not eating just became part of who I was, but amazing so did the HOLY SPIRIT. The indwelling that took place in that time took me to a heavenly place. I literally felt like I was in the presence of GOD with every breath I took by the fourth week. As I said, Earl was barely talking to me. Others within my circle of "friends" had begun slandering me in a way that would have left me crying and screaming, "it's not fair" just six months earlier, but I had a calm that was like nothing of this world. I remember when I heard one the hurtful remarks that had been made against me. The LORD began putting the words in my heart, "no weapon formed against thee shall prosper..." I knew it was a Bible verse, but I had no clue where it was. Everyday I would get up with those words on my heart. I began searching for the scripture so I could dig a little deeper and discover what treasure lie ahead. Then I found it:


"No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD." Isaiah 54:17 KJV


Notice the second half of that verse. It was unreal. The HOLY SPIRIT had taken me to a passage that described exactly was going on in my life. I was being judged without reason, but I knew how to handle it now and I knew this battle wasn't mine. It was HIS.

As I neared the end of the fast, I was faced with the greatest challenge I'd ever come up against. There were so many lessons to be learned from this one instance, that to this day it helps me keep my marriage intact.

I'd been going to church there in Bristol for several weeks. I didn't really get involved or make a lot of friends, but I wasn't trying either. I had one foot in Knoxville and another there in town. At the time it seemed impossible to merge the two. I had no way of choosing one or the other. My heart was with Earl, but my job was two hours north.

It was like any other Wednesday night really, I was running late to service because of work but obviously I wasn't going to miss when I was so enraptured with GOD. HE was my lifeline in this fast and I had no intention of doing anything to get off track. I scampered in and two ushers were standing in the vestibule. They smiled and nodded their heads as to say hello and welcome. They were in opening remarks and I slid in near the back of the crowd and quietly took my seat. I joyful participated as they sang songs of praise, took up offering and went through prayer requests. Then it was the time to shake hands and greet one another. I stood at my pew, like always. I never really mingled much, instead letting others come to me. I wasn't there for the fellowship with them.

Then he approached me. He was young, tall, dark hair, blue eyes and of a very muscular, athletic build. He didn't really look like Earl but in someways he reminded me of him. I'd seen him every time I had attended service, which you'd have to be blind not to notice this attractive creation of God, but we'd never spoken. So what made tonight different? The fact that he was ushering? Maybe, but I was certain I'd seen him do that before. He walked up and reached for my hand and said something that would send my mind into a tailspin and cause me to do some serious soul searching.

"Hi, I just wanted to apologize for earlier."

"Apologize?" my puzzlement was most certainly obvious.

"Yeah. When you came in, we didn't bother to open the door for you. And I'm really sorry about that. My name is Jeff by the way."

Searching for a response, I smiled. "It's no big deal," I stuttered, "I didn't even notice."

And I really had not noticed.

Honestly though, what guy in the world today says something so charming and captivating as their first words to you.

He was determined to make sure I was accepting of his apology. I wholeheartedly embraced it and he walked away. I remember watching him head to his seat and everything felt like it was in slow motion as I took mine. What just happened here? What was I supposed to learn from this? I have no idea how long it took me to refocus on the service. The funny thing is, that was just the beginning.

After service, I always took my stuff and made a beeline for my car and tonight was no different, except, Jeff was apparently much quicker than me. Because as I turned out of the pew, there he was. Apologizing again! I told him it was fine. Then he asked if he could walk me to my car. Are you kidding me? Who asks? Men just do what they want now, even if the woman doesn't want them to. But seriously, I would've been crazy to turn him down. He was extremely good looking and his demeanor was so precious. So of course I said sure.

We stood by my car for the next 45 minutes just chatting and getting to know one another. I found him so inviting to be around. The joy he exuded was unbelievable. Finally the parking lot was nearly empty and he said, "Well, I'd better let you go."

I'd completely lost track of time. I was so captivated by the whole evening I'm not sure I wanted to go. He offered to open my car door to make up for earlier, so I let him. I thanked him and began to get in and then he said, "If it wouldn't be too forward, I'd really like to take you to dinner sometime?"

I think in that moment I was trying to figure out if this was real or some Nicholas Sparks romance novel I was reading. I was at a loss for words. My heart was turning flips and my head was spinning. Never had I felt so valued and cherished by a man. The only words I could muster out were, "Can I pray about that?"

"Absolutely. I want you to do that," he told me in a kind and heartwarming tone.

"Okay, I'll give you an answer next time I'm at church."

Then I got in my car and I probably would have sat there contemplating everything that had just taken place, if he wasn't standing there watching me drive off. As I pulled out of the parking lot, a flood of tears washed away all traces of make up and drenched my clothing.

I was left to my thoughts all the way home. What did this mean? What was the answer I should give him? What about Earl? Why couldn't Earl see me this way? Was GOD telling me it was okay to let go? This guy seemed so perfect in so many ways. How could I say no to him? Was it possible to hold on to Earl and still date this guy to see what GOD wanted? Neither would known about the other. No, I can't do that. That's just wrong.

Due to some schedule shifting at work, it was a couple of weeks before I was able to make it back to church to give him my answer. I spent every moment I could in prayer. I weighed all the pros and cons and I finally came to a decision.

This is what I told Jeff, "I'd love to go out with you. Everything in me wants to say yes, but right now I'm not in a place where I'm free to do that. GOD is working on my heart and as much as I want this, the timing isn't right, but in a few months it may be."

He was so gracious in accepting my answer and always made a point to speak to me and be friendly with me every time I was there.  Perhaps he was hoping my answer would eventually change. Sometimes I wanted my answer to change, but I now knew what GOD was trying to teach me from this experiece.
1.     I didn't really know Jeff and as perfect as he seemed in that moment, who's to say he wouldn't eventually end up as fickle as Earl. 
2.     I'd promised Earl I'd wait for him to make a decision and to figure out what GOD was saying to him.
3.     I'd promised GOD to follow HIM, not my heart.
4.     When I am married, just because things are not going picture perfect, doesn't mean you walk away from the commitment you've made when some dashingly, handsome man gives you more attention than your husband. 
 So I waited and continued my fast until the very end.

Lessons Learned (Part 1)

Sometimes it's hard to learn from mistakes. You hope, when you go through something that you will always take away some great lesson, but sometimes you end up right back in the same situation time and time again. That's sort the way things seemed to be going for Earl and me at this point. One minute we were becoming close, not quite more than friends, yet at the same time we were a little more than "just" friends. I know it's a little bit of an oxymoron but I truly have no idea how to explain the dynamics of our relationship EVER (at least until much later). It was always like that with us. At certain points, we would hardly be speaking and the by the next day it would seem as if we were close to taking a step beyond friendship. If you're confused by all this, then just imagine living it! I was a constant state of discombobulation! So really, even though Earl was suddenly pushing me away on purpose, it was just history repeating itself for us.
Everything else in my life seemed to be looking up. I got a promotion at work and no longer had to do the graveyard shift. I moved to weekend producer and through the week I was a field producer. I even got to do a story that actually made it on air with my voice! I was constantly working on getting my resume tape so I could move far away from my crazy life. However, I knew running wasn't really the answer from past experience (I had learned my lesson, Earl, I guess, had not ). This time I decided to do some things differently when he began his reoccurring withdrawing act.
First, I found a good, strong church in town and started going to the Sunday morning and midweek services. Since I was now working weekends I spent Monday and Tuesday in Knoxville. I know it seems silly that I was even continuing to go, but he hadn't completely cut me out of his life. We would still hang out with a big group of people. There just wasn't any alone time or mushy talk about missing me anymore.
Next, I made a MAJOR decision in my spiritual life. It was, without a doubt, the most eye opening experience of my Christian walk, even to date. I resolved to fast from all forms of food. At first, the plan was to do it for just a few days, see what GOD was saying to me and move forward. However, it lasted 40 days. Because this part of my story is so personal and I don't want any one to misunderstand its purpose, here's my giant disclaimer about what I did.
****I DID NOT fast for Earl to marry me! That would have been not only been selfish, but completely out of the context in which Christ tells us to fast. I studied fasting extensively before undertaking this task, as well as during the fast so that I could absolutely be certain what I was doing was pleasing to the LORD.  NEVER did I intend for this spiritual journey to be about Earl. It was completely about me and my SAVIOR. I'd allowed myself to fall in a miry pit of anguish just a few months earlier and I was determined it would NOT happen again. So to be clear in my purpose for fasting, I did it because I wanted freedom; freedom from this bondage I felt to the dream I'd been holding onto and all turbulence I'd encountered from the moment I decided to believe the dream. At that point, I just wanted to move forward in my life, with or without Earl. From my knowledge of Scripture, I had learned that some things only come by prayer AND fasting. I was broken and determined that I would spend the rest of my life experiencing peace and joy no matter my circumstances.  ****
Now, as the fast began Earl suddenly started opening up to me yet once again. We'd talk for hours and he'd explain how he was still confused and searching for answers and asked me not to give up on him. I told him I wouldn't. Which is what makes everything that happened in those 40 days mind boggling. When you take on the spiritual world, there is a battle that ensues like no other. Those words GOD put in Earl's mouth were for my comfort because my world was being turned upside down. He, like so many times before, isolated himself from me. However, he was ruder and crueler than he'd ever been to me and I was tested beyond belief. Even when he was with Amy and he had cut off communication with me, there was a hint of hope and indecisiveness in his words. Because of what I was doing, I knew Earl's words were in some ways out of his control. Rather it was the workings of demonic spirits and even perhaps a testing phase from GOD HIMSELF because of the request I was making. 
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [place]." Ephesians 6:12 KJV
"I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me." Romans 7:21 KJV
What I was attempting wasn't an easy task, nor was it something that the devil ever wants us to do. I was on a journey, to the Throne Room of Christ because I was tired of being bullied by my emotions and my lukewarm faith. I was committed to having control over my heart and mind for the rest of my life; no matter what kind battles were in store for the future...I knew if I was tenacious enough in this fast that Christ in me would win every time I might have to wrestle with happenings of life.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Three Steps Forward and One Giant Step Back

As much as I wished, this would be the post that I tell you we finally got together and lived happily ever after, it's not. We still had at least another year of growing pains to go through. When Earl left that evening, obviously we were in a much better place. We were finally talking after five months of silence. It was a wonderful feeling, but I had a lot of tears to shed. Tears of happiness and still tears of grief...mostly for my attitude with GOD. HE had done nothing but try to comfort me in those months and I'd done everything to make sure HE couldn't. Even today when I look back, I wonder why HE even bothred, but now that I have children, I get it. HE bothered because no matter how horrible my attitude was, HE still loved me.

A couple of weeks passed and around Thanksgiving his dad, Adam, his brother and him decided to go visit some family they had in Virginia. They left Knoxville late that night, around 8 or 9 pm. The only reason I can come up with why they did something so silly is GOD. Because they were tired before they even started, Earl suggested they stop and stay in my apartment in Bristol while I was at work. So he called asked if that was possible and I said sure.

They got there around 10 that night. They came in settled and I finished getting ready to leave. When it was time to go Earl offered to drive me. I told him he didn't need to. It was just across the street and I could walk, but he insisted since it was dark, he should drive me. I gave in and we left.

We pulled up and instead of me getting out, he asked if we could talk before I went in. So I sat there in the car with him and listened more than I talked. He finally told me he was trying to get out of his relationship with Amy but he didn't know how. He shared how mismatched they were and how miserable he was. But of course, as I told you earlier, Earl hates hurting people and of course the thought of hurting her was his biggest obstacle. We ended up sitting there talking for the next four hours. He detailed all the fighting they had done and still did at that point. He explained that despite having severed all communication with me, I was still very much a problem in their relationship. Everything she did, he compared it to me and they way I did things. He even told me at one point during an argument she even told him, "I'm beginning to think you two are meant to be together."

Finally, the conversation came to a close and we held hands and I prayed for him. I asked GOD to help set him free from the guilt he felt for hurting her. He hugged me and told me he'd see me in the morning. That coversation left me on an emotional high for sure, but it still took him at least a month to break things off with her. I kept my distance until I knew it was really over.

It was around January 2003 and I began spending all my weekends in Knoxville again. Earl and I still weren't a couple, but we would spend all the time we could together from Friday to Sunday night. I'd leave and head to his mom and dad's as soon as I got off work at 7 am every weekend. I guess the excitement of GOD doing this great work kept me awake as I drove an hour and half with virtually no sleep. I'd get there and pass out, sleeping half the day. When Earl got off in the evenings we'd hang out with everyone, just like old times. Sometimes we'd do things alone, but most of the time it was always with a group. As much as I wanted it to be more, it just wasn't yet. I kept telling myself I had to trust GOD and that Earl was still healing from his relationship with Amy. It just wasn't time, no matter how much I wanted it to be.

In February, he went on a retreat with the youth at church. It was the first weekend in almost two months that we hadn't been together. I still came to Knoxville and spent it with his parents. I'll never forget when he came back how excited I was to see him. We'd talked on the phone while he was away and he told me he missed me and wished he'd stayed there with me, but that just wasn't an option.

The retreat had been planned for a few months and Amy's younger brother, Brandon, had signed up to go. Earl really liked her family and had kept in touch with her brother after their breakup. I was okay with that. I knew where his feelings for her stood and it just didn't bother me. Perhaps it should've because when he came back something changed. I still to this day don't know if it was something Brandon said, something else that happened or just GOD's way of putting the finishing touches on a story only HE could have written, but when Earl came back he gradually began to be distant.

At first, I was okay with that. I chalked it up to him still trying to work though what he felt for me and anything that was left over for Amy. However as time when on, it became more and more apparent he was pushing me away on purpose.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tomorrow...

That letter sat on my dining table for the next two weeks. Every morning when I arrived home from work and walked into my one bedroom apartment, it was there. It stood out more than the over sized windows it was situated between. It beckoned my attention more than the 12 foot ceilings I stared up at when I was on the couch. With every glance I took at it, the more I wanted to throw it away. Yet, the more I also wanted to believe there was still hope. So how do you ignore the smallest thing in you life that has become the biggest elephant in your room (literally)? You go out to a club with a bunch of girls.

The director I worked with every morning, Gary, began suggesting to the other ladies at work to invite me along with them when they got together. So after a few days I got phone call from one of the reporters at the station. She invited me to hang out with her, our main anchor, and a couple others. I wasn't really a club person anymore. I'd tried that shoe on, didn't really stick, but I was lonely. It was Saturday night and I wanted to free my mind. So I jumped at the chance to make friends and get away from that CRAZY envelope that was haunting me.

It was a typical girls night out. We danced, flirted and laughed at the men making fools of themselves. The night ended and I arrived back at my apartment around 4am. Since it was so late, I knew I wasn't even going to make an effort to go to church that morning. I made a beeline for my bedroom and was able to completely ignore IT (you know, the "letter").

My phone rang around noon. I struggled to find it in the pitch black room I'd barricaded myself in. When I did, the number shocked me...the caller ID showed Earl's number ...I quickly picked it up and scratched out, "Hello."

On the other end, I heard Jerrie's voice. She was being extremely elusive, speaking in code almost. She asked if I was busy and what I was doing. Told me about them heading to a funeral in Johnson City and then she began to whisper. I could barely make out what she was saying but I did get that they were planning to stop by my apartment, Earl Jr. was with them and I had an hour to get ready. Then she said, "Bye."

I sat up in the bed thinking, what in the world is going on? After a few minutes of bewilderment, I sprang from under the covers and began getting ready.  Was Earl going to be okay with stopping? Was he going to come in or sit in the car? We hadn't spoken in five months, what should I say to him? Do I tell him congratulations? I can't even begin to scratch the surface of all that was going on in my head in that moment. I scurried to make my bed, shower and get dressed. Then I walked into the living room and there it was...the "letter". I grabbed it, for fear that he had some sort of x-ray vision or something I guess, and stuffed it in a book and put it in my closet, where I knew he'd never see it.

Then a knock. I walked over to the door and looked through the peep hole and there were Big Earl and Jerrie, alone. No Earl. Oh well, I thought. I mean, did I really expect him to be with them? After all,  he had made it crystal clear our paths were to never cross again. I guess Jerrie was just wishfully thinking that he would come in with them. They sat down and started talking, not saying a word about him. I was dying to ask though, why all the vagueness earlier?

Then another knock. Again I looked through the peep hole to see who it was, but they had covered it with their finger. So I opened it hoping with everything in me to see his handsome face behind it. And sure enough, there he was. I nonchalantly turned without speaking and left the door open for him to follow. I had no idea what to say honestly. I wanted to make sure it seemed as though I cared less that he was now standing in my living room and my presence for the first time in so long.

He trickled in behind me shutting the door and making some snide, yet nervous, comment about me being rude. It was obvious he was as unsure as I was of how to handle the situation. His mom and dad kept chatting and making small talk with us and the tension slowly eased. He and I began to joke and it felt as if nothing had ever changed. Then he asked if we could take a walk alone and I of course obliged.

My heart was without a doubt in my throat as we started out the door. What were we going to talk about? Did he want to explain why he was getting married? Was he sorry? What was I going to say? After all, I'd done nothing but wallow in misery for the past five months. I couldn't tell him about that! Or even that I was building this great life on my own, because quite frankly, I was so unhappy that even having started the climb toward the dream I'd had of being a journalist for most of my life, felt as empty as Satan's cold, cruel heart. He must have been at as much a loss for what to say as I was because, for the first few minutes we just walked in silence.

As we turned the corner heading down State Street, he began making speaking. At first his words were meaningless fluff. I was only half listening; my mind just kept wondering, why is he here?

Then he turned to me and urgently uttered, "I really need you to pray for me."

"Okay." I said, "do you want to tell me what to pray about?"

"Not right now," he murmured in a subdued tone looking down at the dirty sidewalk, "all I can say is, I'm about to make the biggest mistake of my life and I don't know what to do."

My heart was racing so fast I'm surprised it didn't explode. Was he alluding to his engagement? Did he want to break it off with Amy? Had he realized I was the girl for him now? I desperately wanted to prod for more information, but I knew he'd just taken a huge step in restoring our friendship and I didn't want push him away. I just told him I'd be honored to pray for him and left it at that.

We walked a little further and he began to tell me how much he missed being around me, that no one encouraged him the way I did and that something was missing from his life once he had shut me out. I just listened, not really saying much. I was aware that this was one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do; and as much as I wanted to dance and shout and jump for joy, I knew I didn't deserve the words that were coming from his mouth. My faith had become so feeble and my heart had grown so numb toward GOD that more than anything I felt humbled that HE'd even allowed this moment to happen.

Eventually we turned and headed back toward my apartment. The seriousness of our conversation began to turn to silliness and things felt extremely familiar and just as they should be. As we walked up the steps to my door, I knew GOD hadn't forgotten me, I'd forgotten HIM. He was holding me all this time, trying so hard to get me to listen so HE could explain things to me, but I had shut HIM out. I knew as we opened the door to the apartment, that it was time to open the gates of my heart again to HIS promise and trust HIM for whatever was ahead.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

If You're Reading This...

Over the next few months, I did more soul searching than I've ever done in my life. When a dream is shattered you begin to look at everything around you, trying to find what you really should hope for. For me, I was merely living from one day to the next now. Trying to ignore the fact that I didn't have a heart anymore. It had been ripped from me in such a gut wrenching way, that my whole perspective of walking with GOD was changed. I kept going to church. I just wanted to do what I had to do to check it off of my being a decent Christian list. I still believed in GOD, but I didn't really want a relationship with HIM anymore. I believed HE had failed me...lead me into a valley and left me with no pathway out.

Quickly, I decided I had to start dating, so I dated the first guy that showed me attention. He was younger. Not even remotely serving the LORD. He believed in GOD but that was it as far as I could see. That suited me just fine too. I didn't want anyone who would point me toward the CROSS again. He was so very sweet and completely devoted to me, but to be honest, he was only there to keep me company. I'm not proud of it, but really I used him so I wouldn't have to be alone with my thoughts or even worse, GOD.

The weeks dragged on and I kept in touch with Big Earl and Jerrie. We rarely discussed anything to do with Earl and Amy. It was always a just checking on you conversation. I was content to bury that part of my life and never resurrect it, but there was one person who wouldn't let me do that...my mom. She kept telling me over and over to have faith.

I remember yelling at her once and saying, "What don't you get!?! He's getting married! Leave me alone!"

Of course her answer in an always cheerful and jolly tone was, "Well they're not married yet."

Really, there were times when I almost hated her for trying to keep this dream alive. Why couldn't she let it go? I was.

Around the first of November, I stopped seeing the guy I'd been dating. I guess guilt overwhelmed me and I really didn't feel anything for him. I only liked that having him around numbed my pain. For the first time in two months, I was alone. Completely and utterly alone, with the exception of a mouse that had taken up residence in my kitchen. He would come out searching for food and just stop stare at me before scampering back to wherever he was hiding. I almost felt guilty for putting a trap out to capture him. He felt like the only friend I had at the moment, but I just couldn't share my residence with a mouse. I wasn't that crazy.

Then one day, I decided to busy myself with unpacking something that I hadn't gotten around to yet. Keeping my mind occupied helped fend off my thoughts. Unfortunately, this task only ended up taking me to the place I was working so hard to avoid.

As I shuffled through some papers I'd pulled out, I found a letter I'd written Earl. It was dated Thanksgiving of 2001, almost a year had passed. This is an excert of the beginning:

Lil Earl,
Hey Honey! If you're reading this then I know it's okay to call you that because we finally made it...If you're reading this then I know it's our wedding night because that's when I want you to truly know all that I am about to tell you...

The letter went on for five pages, detailing every great work GOD had done to show me why he was the man I was supposed to marry.  Tears flowed as I went back to each of those moments. It was like walking through it all over again. I wanted to rip the letter to shreds, yet I was drawn to keep reading. I wanted to crumple it up and toss it in the trash, yet I neatly folded it and placed it back in the envelope I'd kept it in. I wanted to take a match and watch it go up in flames the way my heart had two months earlier, yet I stood it up against the wall and walked away.

I lay on the floor in a pool of tears, begging GOD to take this burden away. I was supposed to be moving forward, not looking back. Why did I find it now while the pain was still so fresh? Why was my heart stirring, wanting to believe this craziness again? Then in true Scarlett O'Hara fashion, I decided, " I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Time to Move on

Last Tuesday, I experienced one of the toughest things I know I'll ever have to face. My grandfather died. I'd been waiting for that phone call for over a week and when it came I wanted to ignore it. Somehow, it seemed if I did that it wouldn't be real; that ignoring it would mean he was still alive. Ultimately though, I knew in my heart it wouldn't change what was happening and it was time to accept it and began grieving for the rock of a man I had just lost. Obviously, it was just simply time to move on. Funny how that correlates with the next part of the story.

After the phone call from Shawnta, I wanted more confirmation. As if her telling me wasn't enough! So once I was able to pull myself together, I called Jerrie, Earl's mom. It was really a comical conversation looking back, but at the time it was a way for me to find peace and move on, or at least I thought that's what I was going to do.

"Hello." she said as she answered the phone.

"Hey. Anything new going on with you guys lately," I sarcastically retorted.

"No. Not really." said the timid, uncertain of what to say, voice on the other end.

"Really? Nothing? Nothing new with your boys or anything?" I exclaimed more than asked in a disconcerted manner.

She paused..."You already know," was her subdued answer.

"Know what?" I again inquired hastily.

"You know. I'm not going to say it. I don't want to say it, Rock." she somberly explained.

However, that wasn't good enough for me. I knew I needed her to say it. I need it for many reasons, so I continued to prod.

"What don't you want to say? I need to you tell me what's going on."

Reluctantly she blurted it out, "Earl asked Amy to marry him."

I was positive that confirmation from her would set me free from the dream I now believed was more of a type of bondage than anything. It didn't. A brief flush of relief swept over me and then the sickening feeling crept back up from the pit of my stomach.

However, what she told me next did breathe some life back into me. It was her reaction to the news. They had come over to tell her and Big Earl and she sat down at the dining room table with them. She already knew what they were about to say, because someone else had spilled the beans before Earl and Amy came by. Not being the first to find out had really broken her heart in many ways she explained, but she was determined to be happy for them when they told her.

As Amy put her hand out to show the ring, Jerrie took it and looked down and just cried she recounted the story. Thoughts flooded her mind and without even thinking, she said it...

"What am I going to tell Rock?"

Jerrie told me about Earl's reaction, "Mom, I can't deal with that right now."

She immediately began apologizing and Amy pulled her hand back and said, "Oh."

It did make me feel somewhat better that their happy moment was sorta spoiled. I listened as Jerrie went on about how she meant for that thought to stay in her head, but somehow it just came out. I laughed and it helped lighten the conversation. We spoke a few more minutes and then hung up.

After the call, I sat there, pondering.

What do I do now? I've waited for so long. How do I go on? How do I keep believing GOD? Why was this the ending after all we'd been through? Why did Earl say that? No. Don't go there. It didn't mean anything...but it was an odd reaction. No! You have to let this go! Stop analyzing what you want to hear and live with what has happened. Why GOD, why?

And then I decided it. It was clear. I had no other choice in front of me. It was time to move on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From a Broken Heart to a Broken Dream

For the past few days I've been trying to wrap my mind around how to tell the next part. It was truly one of the darkest and loneliest times of my life. Sure, I'd had this great epiphany about how GOD was really "the one" and I had come to terms with waiting, but I wasn't prepared for next turn our story took. I just expected things would get easier after that revelation. That couldn't have been further from the truth.

Earl had completely cut all ties with me by the end of June 2002. I was a few months from graduating, so I threw myself into my summer studies. Spent long hours working at the internship I'd landed at the top TV station in town. Basically, I did whatever I could to lose myself in everything but the heartbreak I felt. I still believed GOD was working things out I just had to find a way to keep busy.

As the summer came to a close and I finished up with school, I began searching for a job. One of the reporters at the station I'd been working at suggested I apply at a station in the Tri-Cities area of Virginia/Tennessee. She had worked there prior to coming to Knoxville and said she'd call the news director for me. I thought about it and jumped at the chance. I mean it was the station I'd grown up watching and the thought of getting my big break in my hometown certainly appealed to me. Besides it was only an hour and half from Knoxville. So by the end of August I was packing my stuff and moving to Bristol.

I was excited, yet terrified and as time began for me to leave got closer and closer, I became angry. In my mind, I started questioning GOD. How on earth could HE fix all this if I was an hour and a half away? It had already been 2 months since Earl had spoken to me and the thought of putting more distance between us seemed stupid. At that point though, I had no choice. I had a job to go to and I couldn't sit here forever.

When I got to Bristol, I ended up working the night shift. That meant I worked from 11pm to 7am producing the morning newscast. I was all alone until about 4 am when others would trickle in, but really the only people I saw were my anchor and the janitor. I had weekends off so I kept going to church, driving 45 minutes to my dad's church because I didn't have a clue where to go there in town.

As the weeks passed, I made few friends and my work hours didn't exactly leave a lot of time for socializing. I felt lonelier than ever. Even though I was still going to church, I didn't dare open my BIBLE during the week. I had no interest in hearing what GOD had to say. I would just stay at home and watch TV, sometimes glimpsing over at the GOOD BOOK but quickly looking the other way. Suddenly, I would give in to that anger that was building up inside me. I felt abandoned. GOD had sent me to this town where I barely knew anyone, given me a job where I never saw anyone and taken away the best friend I'd ever had. Yet, HE loved me? I certainly couldn't make sense of it.

Then it happened...my birthday came, September 7th, and I got a phone call. Not from Earl, but from one of my best friends, Shawnta. She still lived in Knoxville and was still going to Wooddale, the church I'd met Earl. She told me happy birthday and we chatted and then she said, "So, you heard the big news?"

My heart sunk in that moment. It felt like it was so far in the pit of my stomach it would never be able to climb out. I knew what was about to come out of her mouth. It was as if the world stood still. I wanted it to stand still. I didn't want the conversation to go on any longer. I wanted the past 3 years of my life to erase in an instant.

"No. What news?"

Silence.

"Shawnta, what news!?"

More silence.

"Um....I thought you'd already heard."

"Heard what!" I demanded.

"Earl asked Amy to marry him," she quietly and humbly delivered the terrifying blow I'd known was coming.

Silence.

"Raquel, I'm sorry. I thought Jerrie would have already told you."

Deafening silence.

After a few moments I spoke, "I have to go. I'll talk to you later."

I'm sure she said goodbye, but I don't really remember anything after that except crying so hard, I couldn't breathe. Thoughts raced through my mind. The anger I felt toward GOD swept from my head to my toes. It was as if I'd lived a lie for the past three years. I'd hoped in something that...never really was. I'd dreamed of happiness that was unattainable. I'd believed in GOD. I'd trusted in waiting every time HE would ask. And now HE had failed me. My heart wasn't just broken. My life was crumbling and I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to pick up the all the pieces.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Part I'd Like to Forget

Over the last few months, my life has been so chaotic. We traveled a lot this past fall, vacationing, visiting family and friends, taking part in weddings and then before I knew it the holidays were here. I say all this because, it's not an excuse, but it has been part of the reason my blog has no new entries in four months. However, it's not the only reason. I've struggled with writing this again. How to tell it, what to say, can I really glorify GOD through it? And to be honest, the next part of the story really isn't my favorite part. It's the part that brought me so much grief and heartache, that I haven't really wanted to go back there and revisit it. The pain was very real and even though I know how it turns out, remembering this part of the story still makes me twinge and feel so vulnerable all over.

So what compelled me to go forward? I got a message on Facebook from someone I did not know. They had stumbled upon a link to my blog on a friends page and wrote me. They told me what a blessing it was to them and it was exactly what they needed, so I realized, I have to do this. No matter if the next part of the story is painful and the part I'd most like to forget, GOD has called me to share this amazing story, not bottle it up and only remember it when Earl and I fight or on special occasions. This isn't just my story or even Earl's story, it's HIS story...HE wrote it and I'm obiligated to share it.

Now onto the story. After my epiphany, my relationship with GOD was so strong, I honestly felt on top of th world. My relationship with Earl though was anything but. It was a constant roller coaster ride; up, down, twisting, turning, making me excited and then making me sick. I never knew what was coming next but GOD was always constant to remind me, "I'm the ONE." Over the next year, a young lady who had come into our lives became a part of this story in enormous way. Because my intention is to only glorify GOD with this blog, we will call her Amy.

She was a cute little 18 year old girl. Amy, like so many other girls around us, developed a crush on Earl. It never really bothered me that she, or any other young girl had feelings for him. I knew what GOD had shown me and I rested in that. Besides, they were kids in my mind, not really viable options for becoming his mate. I was a 22 year old woman about to graduate with a Bachelor's degree, sure of my salavation and growing daily in my relationship with Christ. She was 18 year's old, a high school drop out, that sometimes attended church, and as far as I could see was clueless about what it really mean to have a relationship with CHRIST. So when I saw something begin to develop between Amy and Earl, I was baffled. I mean, he was 10 years older than her, and quite frankly it showed. Not because he looked so much older but because despite being 18, she looked 14.

I can remember Earl and I had several discussions about her. Anytime he needed someone to talkt to or something happened, I was the one he turned to, not her. I remember him telling me he wasn't really that interested in her, but I watched as she just kept pursuing him. You have to understand some things about Earl to know why his words and actions didn't exactly match up. He has one of the most compassionate and tender hearts of anyone I've ever met. He hates to hurt people. He truly desires to please everyone, which is just an impossibility but it doesn't stop him from trying. So naturally, when Amy's mother called him and asked him to give her a chance because she thought Earl could help get Amy on a good track, he obliged. And they began to develop a relationship, but it would take several months before Earl would really tell anyone that he was dating her.

Being his best friend, he often shared details of their volatile relationship with me. It would break my heart to hear him be so confused about what he felt for her. I knew he didn't really want to be in the relationship, but something kept him there. The 10 year age difference played a huge role in the volatility of their relationship, as well as the spiritual gap of where each one was in their relationship with CHIRST.

Over the next year, I wrestled with my faith a great deal. I knew I believed GOD had shown me I was supposed to wait on Earl, but there were days where the pain was unbearable. So I decided to try dating. Maybe I'd realize I'd been wrong all along. However, no matter how much I tried I didn't feel anything more than friendship for those I would go out with. And every time I thought I could move past what I felt for Earl, GOD would do something that was inexplicable to show me HE had a greater plan. There was nothing I could but trust GOD. So I stood by and watched as Earl chose to date her. He chose to begin to bring her around and try to make a real relationship of it. I stood on the sidelines feeling hopeless, yet hopeful because I knew GOD could still fix everything. Then it happened...

Amy never liked me for so many reasons. It was obvious Earl and I had something special. A friendshp that was unlike any other. He would call me before he'd call her when making a decision. I tried being nice to her, but no matter what, it was clear that she had no interest in being my friend or allowing me and Earl to continue our friendship. So she demanded he choose. Either he felt something for me or her. He had to choose. So he did. He chose her. I don't know why. I guess because they had dated on and off for a year. Or because we'd never dated and the relationship we had was so different than his past relationships. It wasn't built solely on attraction. You see, every relationship Earl had ever been in was full of distrust and arguing and so to have someone that was agreeable, that he trusted completely and felt safe with was foreign to him. Whatever the reason in the summer of 2002, he chose her and told me he wanted nothing more to do with me. I felt my dreams shatter in an instant and I had no idea where to go from here...