“If there was ever a meeting of broken-equals, redeemed and renewed partners and assured futures, this was the meeting.” –Dear friend in reference to our marriage & wedding.
I was married on March 5th, 2016 to Gregory William Spencer. It was a redemptive day for me as my family and friends pooled their joy in a celebration of the hope of Jesus Christ. I think everyone was astounded at what the Lord can do with so little in such a short amount of time, but no one was as astounded as me.
Right now I am sitting in my home in Ethiopia trying to remember how this year happened. The year was blur, just as the wedding was blur. A blur of unexpected joy. Greg and I are still settling into our first home. Don’t get me wrong, I have unpacked my bags, kicked Greg out of the big closet and rearranged the furniture to my liking, but it’s the normal every-day conveniences (or inconveniences) that take the most settling and figuring in Africa. First, we had water problems (meaning one sink and no toilets and showers worked in our house for the first couple weeks) and then electricity problems (meaning no electricity), plus I am learning how to navigate the market and cook with a limited supply of options. I was so excited to find vanilla yesterday and then I proceeded to the next shoebox store labeled “Supermarket” and found canned chickpeas. I am desperate for a dishtowel. I have dishtowel that was given as wedding present with 'Spencer' embroidered in a deep blue. I can’t imagine where dishtowels are hiding in this town called Mekelle.
But here we are, loving every moment of mess and marriage; rooftop gimlets, lantern-lit dinners with no power, my average cooking, the window open at night swaying our mosquito net, fragrant rosebushes in the back yard which the guard chopped to the ground, Greg making coffee in the morning, praying together, being disappointed together, healing together, cuddling up with a movie, and belly laughing with the man that loves me just like I am. Mess and marriage has been good to me.
Marriage is healing me, making me new.
If someone had asked me a year and half prior if I would ever marry, I would have confidently said ‘no.’ I was done dating men that treated me horribly, no good man would ever want to make me his bride.
Ephesians 5 never held any value for me until I met Greg and he loved me into his wife.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” –Ephesians 5:25-27
Greg’s love and commitment cleansed me and made me beautiful. Greg’s hope for me renewed my mind, body and spirit. Greg’s grace healed me. Greg loved me as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her.
Greg was the physical manifestation of my heavenly and Holy redemption.
A few nights ago, while clinking wine glasses swirling with a dry red, devouring sizzling steak marinated in a white wine cream sauce, and munching on perfectly grilled veggies brimming with roasted garlic, I recounted our love story to a dear friend here in Addis Ababa (we were at a restaurant. I wish I had cooked this meal). I looked across the table at my miracle man and tears gathered in my tears. I never believed in fairytales and still dont. I know that most sad stories wont find a happy ending on this Earth: maybe that is why I am so overcome with gratitude.
Our story is truly not of our own doing. I never could have fantasized our love in my wildest of dreams. A year ago, Greg and I were both at the end of our personal ropes and desperate to see the Lord work in our lives, but had no idea how he could work with such small offerings of faith and with such messed up people. As Hebrews 11 reminds us in regards to sacrifices: it is not what we bring but what we believe that makes the difference.
I know that to be the case for me. My faith was really small, smaller than a mustard seed. I was recently potting some herb seeds in our new backyard and I noticed that the mustard seed was actually a lot larger than most of the other herb seeds. My faith was the size of an oregano seed, barely there. I scooped the last oregano seed of faith into both my hands, utterly exhausted and worn out from trying to save my own life, and I laid that seed at the feet of the Lord. Then I collapsed, with no strength left, in the North Carolina Mountains, where I put myself in time-out until I heard from the Lord what I was supposed to do. Greg was living in Ethiopia running a clean energy company while waiting on the Lord to renew this strength and gearing up for a year of celibacy.
We were more than an ocean apart; we were worlds apart. We had no idea the other person had even ever noticed the other.
That was the beginning of 2015, but that is not when our story began.
In December of 2013, I was in the midst of a destructive relationship and about to head back to Africa where I was living and working at the time. My brother, the wise voice of reason in my life, asked if he could pray for me before I headed out. I was gutted from the consequences of life and in no mood for answers from a loving and holy Father. Nevertheless, I plopped down on the couch and buried my face in my hands as my brother laid his hands on me, “EJ, obviously the man you are with right now is not who the Lord has.” I was not impressed. Of course he wasn’t the right man for me. He had set my life on fire in the most destructive way.
I didn’t share my thoughts as John continued, “I see this man that the Lord has for you. He is tall, he has short blonde hair, and he has been working in Africa 5 or 6 years. He will come through the mountains to find you.”
I scoffed as John finished, “I know who that man is. His name is Greg Spencer and he is going to marry someone else.” Then I left for Africa. John, with this prayer, proved my point further: all the good men, even the one that the Lord had for me, were taken.
I did see Greg twice in the following year. My heart was drawn to his, but his heart was not mine. It belonged to someone else. When we talked, I sometimes didn’t hear him over my own conscious stream of affection. We both had our own journeys to walk out before we could be ready for each other.
When brokenness finally brought both of us to our knees, in what I like to call the dark night of the soul, I found Greg. I wrote to him in one of our lengthy emails a year before we married that he was a “stream in the desert” to me. It was a very small stream at first, but I followed that stream and slowly it grew and grew.
That blonde, short haired man did come through those mountains to find me just as John said and the Lord promised. It just never would have been was not how I would have planned it happening.
Our dear friend from Ethiopia, Tekle, was one of the men to perform our wedding ceremony. During the ceremony, he shared a conversation that he had with Greg shortly before we were married. Tekle asked Greg, “How are you going to love your new wife?”
Even though I wasn’t there, I can see Greg now, thinking for a moment with his lips pressed together and then answering in his strong, calming voice, “I have watched my dad love my mom.”
When Tekle recounted this story at our wedding, my eyes welled with tears. Nothing could be more true. I had witnessed Greg’s dad love his mom, but more than that, I had witnessed Greg love me into myself.
When Greg found me, I was fragile, hurt from life and unsure of my place in it. Greg put me at peace with his emails, his interest in my life and my journey, and his firm rejection of any of the insecure attention tactics I performed. I wasn’t allowed to do the things that I normally did for male attention. I would just have to be myself and hope that was enough. It was more than enough. Not only was I myself, but Greg gave me the space to share my shame and be loved in the midst. I was accepted as I was and he called me to a higher place of communion where the past did not dictate the present or the future.
I watched Greg love me, even when he was battling his own darkness and pain. I watched him love me from afar and then I watched him watch me as I walked down the aisle to him. I had thought of that moment, walking down the aisle to Greg, a million times before he even asked me to be his girlfriend. That moment was so much more than I ever dreamed.
Dear friends played Josh Garrels’ “Heaven Knife” as my father brought me to Greg.
“Take my hand
I won’t let go
We’ve waited so long
And all my life
I walked alone
To you, my heart, my home……
Like the first man
I was cut so deep by heaven’s knife
When I awoke from my sleep
Oh my Lord, she’ s beautiful
Walking up to me
Oh she’s wonderful, standing next to me
Oh she’s all
All that I can see, yeah
She’s beautiful, she’s a part of me
She’s my wife.” -Heaven’s Knife, Josh Garrels