Have you ever felt God leading your heart? I'm talking crystal clear leading -not something you think could maybe, possibly be God. No, something that is so undeniably God that it overwhelmed the deepest parts of you.
I felt that type of leading during the summer of 2003. At 12 years of age, the voice of the Lord is not one that most children are trying to listen for. And honestly, I can't say I was solely focused on Him. Yet, in His gently powerful way, He spoke to my heart. I was sitting in a music conference room in Orlando, Florida, with my youth group. This was a night just like any other, nothing unusual that might make me suspect something. I sat in my seat and listened to other youth sing karaoke. Then a young girl started singing. No music, just words. She truly had a beautiful voice, and the acappella notes rang through the room. It might be easy to believe that at 12 years old, I was somehow just overtaken with the emotion behind the song, Carry Your Candle. However, His voice was unmistakable. You see, the sermon that night had been on Mary, the mother of Jesus. I remember the pastor talking about how mature Mary had to have been, at some 14 years of age, in order to be trusted with the responsibility of being the mother of the Christ Child. Though I knew I wasn't any where near worthy of this much trust, I decided I could become someone worthy of such. The pastor asked the question, “Don't you want to be that type of girl? Like Mary?” The obvious answer in my heart was, “Yes!” So, with that in my heart, I listened to this girl sing a beautiful song based on spreading the gospel. Unmistakably, God spoke. I knew, right then and there, that His plan for my life was going to be missions. I started crying like I honestly never had before. I had to excuse myself to the bathroom. To say that my heart was overwhelmed is an understatement. Because my family and I were in the throes of an adoption from China, I suspected that God would use the place in my heart for the Chinese people in one way or another for missions. From that day on, I knew that God has a special purpose for my life. I knew He was leading me internationally. Although I knew not where, nor how, nor when, nor with whom. I knew because He had told me.
Fast forward a few years. I leave those years out partly because they don't pertain to the end of the story, but also because I struggled in those years. Though I knew in my heart God had called me for His glory, my life didn't exactly reflect one of a focused “missionary to be”. I struggled because I wanted to be accepted, forgetting that the One who completely accepted me had not gone anywhere. However, through much prayer on my parents' part, I realized again how accepted I really was by those who truly cared, Christ included.
Through World Changers in Chicago, sitting in the prayer service on Wednesday night, God reiterated His calling on my life. Again, His voice was unmistakably clear. I went forward to speak with my youth pastor about how God was leading my heart. He didn't at all seem surprised, and he prayed right there with me. Though I knew when I was 12, I don't really believe I submitted until that night at World Changers in 2006.
Keep going forward – Early April of 2008. I was truly in complete submission to His calling, no if's, and's or but's about it. Kaylee and I had started going to True North Church in North Augusta for their praise and worship style service and intense focus on missions. Actually, I think this was only the second time we'd gone. The pastor preached a sermon on missions, and how as Christians we all need to get involved. I listened, because I knew this sermon especially pertained to me. The pastor read a letter from a lady in the church who had just heard of the children in third world countries who lived on trash piles. They had nothing of their own, so they had to feed off of garbage. Her letter was convicting because in it she said, “Why did God bless me, and leave others with so little? And how can I be so comfortable while there are children living on trash? I don't want to always be this comfortable." Oh, how I could relate! I didn't want to always be this comfortable. I wanted to experience what those children felt. I wanted to do anything I could to help. And I was truly willing to do whatever God had in store for me. Again, tears flooded my eyes. I was, yet again, overwhelmed with desire to fulfill God's calling on my life, but this time I wanted to go immediately! Right then. I was tired of waiting to finish school, and certainly couldn't imagine trying to make it through at least 4 years of college before I could go full-time. A few days after this sermon, I sat talking to my mom in her room, and cried as I told her how ready I was to get to the mission field. But, when? Where? How? Was I going alone? She replied, “Right now you need to stay on the track you're on. You're going to finish high-school, and you're going to college, unless or until He shows you otherwise. And if He does, He's going to open the doors.”
April 13th, 2008. I sat in my mom's closet with her as she cleaned out old fabric swatches. Though I'd talked to Kaylee a good bit about what I'd dreamed of in a future mate, I hadn't really spent much time talking to Mom about the subject lately. Not because she wouldn't be interested or because I wouldn't want to tell her. But, because Prince Charmings weren't just waltzing around everywhere I looked. I wasn't thinking AT ALL that he might just poke his head into my life's door any time soon, so why the need to talk about something when you have no prospects? Whatever my reason for talking to her about it on this day, God knew it that through this unusual conversation with my mom He would eventually confirm a certain situation He was bringing about. “Mom, you know, my Prince Charming is out there somewhere. Do you ever think about that?”, I asked. Though she was probably slightly taken aback by that seemingly random question, she said a few things. I said a few things. Then she ended the conversation with, “Abby, I don't think you've met him yet. I don't believe he's in Aiken. But, I don't think you're going to have to go looking for him. God's going to bring him right to you. You just need to trust Him on that.” I know, I know, doesn't it sound like something I just made up? Well, it isn't. Those words are exactly what she said that day.
Rattle-tap-tap, our dear friend Erika's at the door. She had just returned from her long-awaited missions trip to Mexico for Spring Break. Who knows why she came over that day? All I remember is, “Abby! I've met the cutest guy! And he's a missionary! He has a real heart for the Lord! I think ya'll have a lot in common, you should get to know him. I went to his Facebook profile and read his stuff, and I just kept thinking of you.”
“Ha! Yeah right, Klipa! What're the odds of that!?” However, she had said he was a missionary. And I was ready to be a missionary. So, maybe he could help me get on the right track! With very little thought, I located Jonathan St.Clair on Facebook and shot him a friend request. My only fear was that he would think I was some crazy teenager who would end up with some ridiculous crush on him. So, I threw in on the message line, “So, this is totally and completely Klipa's doing.... :O)”. I remember it because, I purposely put in the “completely.” To just use “totally” might make me sound like I really was some ridiculous teenager. No, I was seriously interested in talking to the guy about how he got involved in missions. And given that he was 26, and I, 17, I wanted him to take me seriously. But, the “:O)” had to go in, because it needed a friendly touch.
April 13th, 2008 – Jonathan St.Clair has accepted your friend request. Finally, a missionary I can talk to! A “Hey, nice to meet you” on the walls and that was about it for the next 4 days. Still my fear was that he would think I was interested in him, and that my intentions weren't pure. I can say with an honest heart that my intentions were completely pure. The thought did cross my mind, 'Christian guy. Missionary. Unmarried.' But, the age gap was going to be too much. Honestly, there was no way. Or so I thought.
April 17th, 2008 – I sit down at the table to write Jonathan and ask him how he got started in ministry. I tried to keep it short, didn't want to be buggy. But, obviously I had a lot of questions running through my mind.
“I really feel called to missions. And God has seriously been working on my heart these last few months. But, ya know, gotta get a college degree before I get into anything too huge. Definitely a blessing that Klipa met you---Cause I have no clue who to ask around here. So, I have a couple questions for you. If ya don't mind. :O) I've been doing World Changers for the last 2 years. I love it, but it's not terribly evangelistic, at least my crews haven't been. I really want to witness, like work with people, children, anyone. I'm willing to go far....Or stay close. I guess I should start close before I go far. So, how'd you get involved? And when? Short term while in college? Week? Month? It's really overwhelming! Please, just give me any advice you may have. I'd appreciate anything.”
I mash the send button and the next thing I know a (1) pops up in my inbox. “Mom, this is so weird. I just wrote that Jonathan guy that Erika told me about. And he just wrote me at the same time! I just hit “send” and I have a new message- it's from Jonathan!” Weird. This was the first of many weird “coincidences”, so to speak, that would happen over the next month or so. His message was similar to mine, minus all the questions. “We're 'friends' so, tell me who you are. And here is a little bit about me.” Something along those lines.
Before I go on about Jonathan, I must add this part in as it is key to the rest of the story. Jonathan and I had our crazy first message coincidence on a Thursday. That Sunday, April 20th, Kaylee and I went to True North. She and I had spent copious amounts of time talking about missions and where we felt God wanted us to go. Both feeling called to one sort of international missions or another, we discussed seriously the option of going international for a short term trip together. Although we were both already signed up for World Changers, she doing so reluctantly, my whole heart in it, somehow we were open to wherever God led that summer. Right before Kaylee had signed up for World Changers, she told me that she really didn't feel like that's where God wanted her this summer. She said she didn't really know where God wanted her, but she was not at peace in her heart about World Changers. I was not a happy camper, as I was really looking forward to spending a week of our senior summer on the mission field together. But, through much prayer she agreed to go ahead and sign up, and then if God led another way she'd remove her name. So, on that Sunday at church, we just happen to run into Chip Herring, whom I'd known for a few years, and Kaylee had never met. Chip's a neat guy, the college minister for True North and Cedar Creek Church combined, I believe. In typical Chip-fashion he said, “Hey ya'll should come to Mexico with us this summer!” Oh, I can still hear those words coming out of his mouth. “Mexico? Hey, that's where Jonathan is. Weird, yet again.” I thought. At this point I wasn't really suspecting anything of my friendship with Jonathan. So, very little thought went into that suggestion from Chip, at that moment at least.
The week in Mexico just so happened to be the same week as World Changers. One of my best guy friends, Eric, had already tried to get me to go on this same trip. But, I wouldn't hear of it because World Changers was, again, that same week. Kaylee, my oh-so-faithful prayer warrior friend, took what Chip had said to heart, and brought it back up to me a day or so later. “Abby, I really think God may want us on that Mexico trip.” The truth is, I trust Kaylee's judgment. If she feels like the Lord is speaking to her, then I better listen to what she has to say. Though it took a lot of prayer, and weighing of options, God was clear when He spoke to Kaylee's heart, and He spoke to mine, too.
I prayed a lot about that decision without even mentioning it to Jonathan. Somehow I found out that the trip through Merge was going to the same ranch Jonathan was serving at, and I didn't want him to think I was coming to meet him. I wasn't. In fact, he wasn't even supposed to be there, he was leaving June 7th. However, before I made any final decisions, I did ask him about the ranch, and Randy and Gwen and what kinds of things the trip might entail. He told me briefly about the ministry there, as it was still the first week of writing and we hadn't gotten to that part yet. Still, he wasn't going to be there, and it didn't matter anyway. I was going to serve the Lord and others and get a glimpse into the international mission field. So, the decision was made to go on this trip to Jiménez, Chihuahua, Mexico.
I'd like to say that life went on like normal. And it did to an extent. But, normal life didn't include writing some missionary I'd never met on a daily basis. And we're not talking, “Hey, how are you?” every day. It was one huge, on-going conversation about everything from family (a lot about this), music (lots about this too, obviously a common interest), food (still a very common interest), but most importantly about the Lord. About beliefs and convictions and witnessing and Bible studies, missions, you name it and we talked about it. Stories, funny ones too! Oh, I would just laugh and laugh at some of his crazy, almost unbelievable, yet too-detailed-to-be-made-up, stories. The “huge man on the plane who smothered me in my seat” story. The “only scored one accidental goal in my 4 years of college hockey career” story. The “went to San Fransisco and on my day off from conferences ended up in a library rather than the surf” story. If I didn't know better, I'd say I was writing a comedian! The 'ditto's, 'me too's, and 'I can't believe it! I do the same thing's!' were present in almost every message. Purely just friends, excluding the fact that we hadn't met.
I do believe that I started to suspect God leading earlier than Jonathan did. However, I was determined to not even hint toward anything but a true friendship. So, though my prayers changed a bit, “God, what are you doing? Is this really too good to be true? Or is this You?”, my words to him remained the same. I had no idea if Jonathan was feeling at all led the way I was, or if it was really just one huge coincidence.
I do remember when my prayers truly felt confirmed in my heart. I was praying daily for Jonathan, his ministry, and his decision in choosing a wife. Though writing Jonathan, and praying for him all the while, I was still continually praying for my future husband. But, one night, I don't know why, I sensed a change. I don't know what made me start to pray very seriously about Jonathan, and the possibility of him being my “One.” But, I did. I prayed so many things that night. Oh, the wisdom and guidance I pleaded my Savior for, because somehow I knew that I was going to need them. I prayed that night for Jonathan, and I prayed that night for my future husband. I don't know how to explain how it hit me, but it hit. I was praying for the same person in both of those prayers. God would have to confirm it through counsel and guidance, I did know that. But, His assurance was clear.
I remember one night I was babysitting for Erika in mid-May. After HOME group, she came in and, like always, asked me how I was doing. She asked me about Jonathan and about our writing. I can't remember how long we talked but, I specifically remember what I told her that night. I told her that, in my heart, I knew that Jonathan was the type of man who could lead me. I've never wanted, nor did I think God wanted for me, a man who would bow down to my every request. I wanted a guy who was strong spiritually. One who would be the leader of our home and, while taking my thoughts and opinions into consideration, would make the final decisions. My desire was to be the Proverbs 31 wife. And so, as Jonathan would say, I needed a “Superman” husband. With thoughts swirling in my head, and now even more questions unanswered, I started praying hard. Daily, I was continually praying about this situation that God was putting together.
Jonathan returned home from Mexico on June 7th, only to find an unexpected $600 in his bank account from tax returns. Before leaving Mexico, he had researched plane tickets for that week back to Mexico in July. At that time, the round trip tickets were some $900. Within a couple weeks, he had written my dad and gotten clear conformation from him that my parents believed this could be of God. He had also talked with his parents about what God was doing, and they seemed open to the possibility that God was orchestrating it all. So, with confirmation from both sides of the family, he went online to book the tickets. By that time, the tickets had miraculously dropped from the $900 price to under $600. God had given him more than enough to pay for the plane ticket. All I could say was, Wow!
Between the time that Jonathan wrote my dad and then booked his tickets, and our trip to Mexico, we would stay up late and text back and forth. It sounds crazy I know, why not just call? Well, he had decided he didn't want to hear my voice before we met. Looking back now though, I really appreciate these few weeks we had because it confirmed a lot in my heart. I'm not exactly sure how to explain this, other than to say I felt really close to him those nights. Without even speaking to him, it was like I was there or he was here, we were together. I just felt close, very close to him. It was similar to what I felt with my sisters before having ever met them. And in fact, with the girls, they didn't even know I existed. Yet, I still felt very close in heart to them, my sister's whom I'd never even met. (This same extremely close feeling I felt when I was around him in Mexico. I remember telling Klipa that I just felt like our hearts were one.) It was an incredibly deep feeling, one I obviously can't describe well. But, none the less, these weeks were essential in the coming together as one.
So, up until July 10th, 2008, we'd never met face-to- face, never spoken over the phone, and though I'd heard his voice on his many videos, he hadn't heard mine. The glorious day had come, I was going to meet the man I knew I would marry! Kaylee can commiserate with me here: 3 AM-the alarm went off. Miraculously, I had been able to fall asleep after the crazy thunder storm we experienced the night before. We got ready and she assured me that I looked fine. We were off to Cedar Creek to meet up with our awesome team, and then to Columbia to head towards Houston. The meeting was emotionally packed, and I couldn't have had better people there with me, my precious “other mother”, Erika, and my dear friend Kaylee. Oh words can't even describe....
The week was incredible, standing on the soil of the mission field to which I knew I'd return and being there with the man I was convinced I was going to marry. I also was able to spend hours talking to my sweet new friend, Gwen Ashcraft, about missions, family and marriage. To have the wise counsel of mature believers confirming what I was sensing all over was from God, was a very peaceful feeling.
About a month later, Jonathan took my parents up on their offer to fly him down to SC for his birthday. Having him here was like having family over for a week. He fit. I mean, just fit right in. My parents loved him already, and now they were able to meet him face-to-face. He and my big brothers got along great, cutting up and shooting hoops. And my sweet little sisters just adored everything about him. It was very powerful to see Jonathan with my little sisters, especially the two I'd had a part in praying home. And Lacy, my faithful, deeply spiritual younger sister, was able to meet the man she'd been praying for for months.
September 19th, 2008, Jonathan flew into Charlotte where we picked him up from the airport. We were meeting his family and surprising his brothers and sisters in Greenville for the play
“Annie.” His sister Tiffany had a part in it, and God had worked out that the two families would meet then. With a lot of planning and preparation, unbeknownst to me, Jonathan had worked it out to propose there in Greenville. It was simply gorgeous in the park where he did it, and to have both families there, minus Jonathan's oldest brother, his wife, and their beautiful family, was just perfect. I couldn't have asked for anything more. It was like a dream.
All of this has been like a dream. No, better than a dream. It's a fairy-tale written by the Author of Love Himself. What a good, incredible, awesome God I serve, to bless me with such a beautiful love story. Thank you again, Jesus, for having Your way with my life. “For Your ways are higher than my ways...”
Have you ever felt God leading your heart? I'm talking crystal clear leading. Not something you think could maybe, possibly be God. No, something that is so undeniably God that it overwhelmed the deepest parts of you. This has been my last few months, and this is the sense I feel in my soul when I think about my future.