Friday, February 18, 2011

In Honor of my First Love

I know that you fully expect this blog to be yet another sermon. However, I will spare you. Instead, I want to share a blog with you about my favorite person.
My story with my favorite person started a mere nineteen years ago, and before you start doing the math- I was in the fifth grade.
My first love was actually what most people would call a secret crush. It was a beautiful dark-haired, brown eyed girl in Mrs. Barfield's fifth grade class named Emily Strickland.
Now, I wish that I could tell you a story of a smooth 10 year old that swept that pretty little girl off of her feet. But, I cannot. The fact is she was interested in her Barbies and friends, and I was too terrified to even speak to her.
I still chuckle at how pitiful I was around her. My fear of rejection, and my fear of looking goofy trying to talk to her even led to my inability to ask her to sign my class shirt.
I'm sure that our class was not the only one to have that tradition, but if this seems strange to you- on our final day of class, we would get all of our classmates to sign the back of our class shirts. My shirt proudly bore the signature of every single member of our class...minus one. You guessed it- I was too pitiful to even get close enough to her to ask for her to sign.
As time moved on, so did Emily. She and her family moved to Jacksonville with her Dad's job. And as we moved into the great challenge that is middle school, I could no longer steal glances at that pretty girl.
Life continued for the next couple of years consumed by baseball and schoolwork until that day came when I overheard a couple of girls in class talking about Emily's return.
FINALLY! She and her family had moved back with her dad's job again. But unfortunately, my fear had not subsided with age. Instead, I was still the bumbling, unable to form a coherent sentence kind-of guy around her. Well, not exactly. I would have been if I could've even opened my mouth!
Time went on, she transfered schools and our paths would not cross again until we reached high school.
Now, if anyone is looking for a way to woo a girl, let me share my methods. I can give you an abbreviated way to win a girl's heart. First, you act awkwardly shy around her so that she begins to wonder if your vocal cords ever formed. Then, we you do work up the courage to make an audible sound- laugh... at her.
Yes, I did that. We shared a tenth grade chemistry class together and it happened that she and I were lab partners for a day or two. I, unfortunately, laughed at the fact that she was struggling to draw a straight line- with a ruler. She still remembers that to this day.
My love still continued undeclared- probably for my own good following my mockery, and she became convinced that I was consumed by baseball and church.
Once again, she and I would lose our classroom connection and I was still secretly smitten with this beautiful ballerina girl.
Finally, our Junior year of high school, her friends made a semi-traditional visit to McDonalds following a Friday night football game where my friends and I just happened to be. We talked across the restaurant- not personally, because I was still scared to death, but as a group. It was that night that I knew it was more than a crush.
I shared my feelings with a friend in confidence and you can imagine how that always goes. I threatened his very life if word was ever leaked about my crush. That next Monday, he returned to the car laughing about her reaction when he spilled the beans in class. I could've killed him! But he returned bearing a phone number and instructions to call that night, so he went from heel to hero in half a second.
That dark-haired beauty and I began to share many of life's experiences that year- from Azalea Trail to prom. We wrote letters during the summer and spent countless hours on the phone most evenings.
I am still not sure when we had our first official date. Our relationship started as friends and just evolved into something so much more.
August 26, 1998 was a day that would change my life forever. Following a Wednesday night service, I escorted her to the "little red rocket" (her car) and heard the best words I think I've ever heard come out of a set of lips. She said, "I love you."
The words that I had longed to say for so long, the words that I had dreamed of hearing were finally shared. I rushed home to call her and we spent HOURS on the phone that evening.
I do believe that I should share Em's plan. She thought that we needed to wait to officially date for one month! Talk about confusion! Yet, I did my typical negotiating and worked out a three week plan instead.
On the afternoon of September 19, I carried her to the beach for a grand, formal proposal... a dating one that is. But wouldn't you know it- that same kid that struggled to get out a word for so long, didn't get that simple question out at the beach! I couldn't work up the courage, even though I knew the answer, until we were back in my car headed home.
Our story became one of two people joined at the hip- for Azalea Trail v. 2.0, the Sadie Hawkins dance that never happened, Homecoming, prom again, graduation. I knew that I had my soulmate and I simply wanted to be with her.
She left for college for a year and a half and I continued to spend gross amounts of time on the phone. In fact, my dad described me as the phone card junkie because of the way he'd find me passed out on the couch in the middle of five or six phone cards. I waited by the phone all hours of the night. And would even fall asleep with the phone on my chest- just in case she needed to talk at 3 am.
Our love continued to grow despite the distance of two states and we talked openly of marriage and our future together. I would try to schedule a trip to Mississippi every couple of months if possible for much overdue time together. Yet, that always seemed to equate to memories- somewhere on the side of the road.
One trip for a winter formal involved a thrown alternator belt. Another trip produced a worn out fan clutch. And perhaps the most memorable break down was a blown tire on the interstate while trying to beat a HURRICANE due to hit Mobile!
Our love, our relationship was always anything but boring.
At the beginning of her Sophomore year, we once again found a weekend to go to her Mawmaw's and Pawpaw's. And there we talked more about marriage. I told her in the midst of that weekend that I was going to see her dad when I returned to Panama City to ask for permission to ask Emily to be mine.
That once again led to a memorable experience. For those of you that met Emily's dad, you know how big of a man he was. He was not your wimpy, pushover kind-of guy. No. He was a six and a half foot monstrosity of a man that would've easily fit the mold of a star offensive lineman! And I had to ask this man for his daughter's hand in marriage.
Now, I shared the long guarded secrets of wooing a girl. Let me also share some lessons I learned about approaching a dad with such a big question. 1.) Don't go on Monday night! A decision of this importance need not be complicated by the fact that you are causing him to miss Monday Night football. 2.) Find escape routes in case it does not go well. Remember, you are in their home- and gun laws are very lenient on homeowners "defending" themselves inside of the walls of their home. 3.) Identify any potential weapons within reach of your father-to-be. Things that you would not ever consider before, become items of intimidation. (For example, the turning stick on a set of blinds becomes very intimidating when her dad beats it repeatedly against his palm during this conversation) 4.) Back porches are SCARY places. There, you begin to wonder if anyone would hear your cries for help! 5.) Remember that your new mom-to-be needs to be in on this conversation as well. Otherwise, you get to do this twice!
These are all lessons I learned from experience- well minus the necessity of an escape route. The truth is, as difficult as that night was, Emily's dad immediately made we feel like a welcomed addition to the family.
Our story continued down its path of unique experiences and procrastination. And then after Em moved back to Panama City, we reach that all important proposal.
I am certain that you all expect a moving and tear-jerkingly intricate proposal plan. And I do not want to disappoint, but it was simple. On September 29, 2000, I asked Emily to be mine on the way to a Rutherford football game.
Now, I didn't ask in the car. No. I drove to the mall to pick up Emily's ring after having it sized. I left her in the car and fabricated a story of needing to pay a bill. I slipped it in my pocket and ran excitedly back out. I literally drove past the stadium en route to the park on Beach Drive and asked for her hand at sunset on a bench by the beach a couple of blocks away.
We were married the following June in a beautiful "little" ceremony at Emily's home church. I say it was a little ceremony because everyone has a party of at least twenty, right? Let me prove I'm not exaggerating.

We immediately left for Tallahassee and moved into our shoebox apartment. It might have been just wide enough for us to brush past each other at its most spacious point. But, it was our castle.
Since that time, life and our love has not grown less interesting. Not at all. Instead, it has continued to grow in its unique opportunities and experiences.
We have be blessed with three beautiful kids (and no, I'm not partial). We have lived in five cities in two states. We've both changed professions. Emily has earned her AA and BSW. I returned to school- and currently hope to finish before I'm forty.
Life is good. And regardless of whether I'm wealthy or dirt poor financially, my dreams have already came true. I am a rich man because I have the love of that beautiful ballerina girl- turned gorgeous lady!
I know that this is a few days after Valentine's Day, but hey, I've always procrastinated! And it just wouldn't be right if it was on time!

Em, I love you! You have been my encourager, challenger, my partner, my motivator, and the answer to my prayers. I am still in disbelief that I have the woman of my dreams to call my wife. Looking back over some of our experiences together, I am anxious to see what the future holds for us. I know that it will be anything but boring!
You were my first love- and you will be my only, my last. Sometimes "I love you" just seems insufficient to communicate how I feel. And so, I guess I find myself a lot like that shy fifth grade boy that started this whole story. You still leave me speechless!
Happy Valentine's Day (well it's close) and thank you for being mine!


  1. Oh my goodness Josh....this is beautiful...although I know the story, I have been taken back by the fact that a shy 5th grader, turned 20 something Pastor would post this wonderful tribute to his beautiful wife on FB for all to read. Not many men would do this---she is a very lucky woman to have such a romantic man for a husband.
    Thanks for sharing your heart and this wonderful love story with us.
    Love you guys,
    Cathy Lewis

  2. I love this!! I've heard your story from Emily's perspective. It was nice to see it from your side. :)