Thursday, April 20, 2017

telling our story // 04. the third year - commitment

Well, y'all, I'm back. And this is basically the final installment - although I've decided I'm going to do a full wedding post with Jess's wonderful photos of such a beautiful and powerful day. But you can't fully appreciate the wedding until you know how we got there.

Also, this post is massive. Just like the previous one. But this time its because I included about 500 photos of our life during this past year. I can't tell you exactly why, but for some reason these photos hold a key to our story - they capture so many hilarious and memorable moments in the midst of stormy season, and they, in essence, the Gospel of "consider it pure joy." So I'm sorry you'll have to scroll until you get carpal tunnel, but everyone loves photos, so try to enjoy them for what it's worth.

i seriously love this photo. credits to my sister Caroline. 
inspiration? When Calls the Heart and Love Comes Softly, CLEARLY.

To recap...

Year One: June 2013-July 2014 - our semesters at Ellerslie, Joshua's first year on tour
Year Two: August 2014-August 2015 - the year Joshua and I BOTH traveled

and NOW. Year Three. August 2015-October 2016. The year we committed to each other forever, and everything that happened to get us where we are now.

I want to begin this chapter by revisiting something I mentioned last month, that actually quite a few of you reached out to me about. Y'all, I have been SO BLESSED by the encouragement and love you have extended to me as I've shared our story - this is such a vulnerable season of our lives, and I was nervous at what would happen if I decided to share it, but I felt the Lord pressing me so deeply...and I've been blown away by the response. If our story can bring even the slightest level of freedom or victory in your live, or give you hope for the future, then all this is worth it to me.

So, to start. I want to bring up again this idea that we can trust Jesus with the desires of our heart, and trust that He is leading us. Josh and I have been on a roller coaster of emotions in our relationship, and yet through it all, we knew without a doubt that the Lord was bringing us together, and that if we submitted our hearts and desires to Him, that He would protect us from making mistakes, and that He would lead us perfectly forward.

I think in our conservative Christian culture, we tend to try to be God in our lives and in the lives of others. I think the heart of it all is good - wanting to live set apart from the world, to be deliberate with our words and actions, and not tamper with the affairs of the flesh. But if we set up rules and regulations to keep ourselves from stumbling, then we leave no room for the Spirit of God, and we can become so incredibly fearful of messing up and falling into sin that we keep ourselves from experiencing the freedom Jesus died to give us.

In so many areas of our lives, we give Jesus pretty nearly full reign. So often you hear people say (or YOU say) that you've completely surrendered your job situation, your mission trip, your church, and even your finances to Jesus. You're willing for Him to show you what to do with all these things.

But when it comes to a relationship? HA! Nice try. Here's the book of 650 rules of how to have a godly, pure relationship and perfect, conflict and struggle free marriage, and don't you dare mess this up. We live in such a fear of making the wrong choice, or doing the wrong thing. Think about it. Why do we have so many rules for relationships? To be honest, it's because we're afraid of ourselves. Afraid we'll go too far. That our emotions and feelings will get away with us and we'll do things we regret. We're AFRAID.

Josh and I had these fears in our past too. But throughout the twelve months that we went from friends to husband and wife, the Lord blew those fears out of the water, and proved to us over and over again that there is FREEDOM in love, there is beauty in surrender, and that IT IS POSSIBLE to have a godly relationship without a handbook.

So. Without further ado. Year Three.

Immediately following my departure from Colorado and subsequent arrival in Charlottesville....

I slept.

Y'all, I slept for like three months straight. Okay, maybe not that long, but close. I was exhausted. Beat. Spent. In every conceivable way.

I don't honestly remember a ton about the two months directly after coming home. I did a lot of things - volunteered at camp with my siblings school, joined a small group at my parents church, spent time with friends, spent a lot of time with Courtney (she came up to visit just two weeks after tour - seriously y'all, we were inseparable), spent a lot of time with my siblings, and really began to come into my own. I redid my wardrobe, redecorated my room....and all the time, I missed Josh.

The night after I got home, I sat down with my parents and told them everything that had happened recently with Josh, and got them up to date on where we had left our friendship. Unbeknownst to me, my hilariously wonderful protective father HAD CALLED JOSH ALREADY that day, and talked to him about me (whaaaa???) and was actually really impressed that Josh and I told him the exact same thing. Which, if you remember, was that we were just going to go home, be with family, and if the Lord led us into a relationship someday, then great, but Josh didn't have a green light yet.

Naturally, I was little mortified that Dad would call him first, but now it's super funny to look back on, and was just one more thing that smashed all my expectations of what a "normal godly relationship" should look like, and was one more way that the Lord proved Himself faithful.

Josh flew home to South Carolina a couple days after that, and on the car ride home from the airport, he had shared the same thing with his parents. I didn't know that until after we were together, but it's so encouraging to realize how all the puzzle pieces were fitting into place and getting us ready for the next big step.

Communication between us was limited. We had decided to correspond, but only by email. We sent each other encouraging messages every now and then, but everything was so surface level and not what we REALLY wanted to say. But oh, the trembling and nervousness every time I refreshed my inbox, and the shaky hands that held my phone as I read the few lines he would send. All in all, we call this season, the "silent months" - because in so many ways, that's what they were. We were both home, both with our families, and between us, life was silent.

In many ways, I struggled. Even though my initial reaction to being sent home and realizing I wouldn't be part of the team or the tour the following year was okay, and I was at peace and confident that Jesus had another plan for me, the feelings of rejection and abandonment and discouragement began to weigh heavily. Not only was I crying myself to sleep missing my children and missing Josh, but I had no one to go to about it, and really no one at home wanted to hear why I was so upset. I reached out to a couple friends, but for the most part, I just dealt with it in my own heart and it was hard. It's still hard. But those two months were crazily hard. It felt like all that time was wasted, and that I had to pick up the pieces to my own life by myself. I was twenty years old, and felt like I'd screwed up so much that I shouldn't do ministry again, but at the same time I knew that Jesus had always been with me - talk about a faith-testing season. Praise Jesus for my then-worship leader and mentor who stepped into that void in my heart in that season and encouraged me up out of it over those months.

I spent so many long mornings on our beautiful back porch, coffee and bible and journal in hand...but often never opening either...just sitting and looking and thinking and praying and sometimes crying...learning to take deep soul breaths and let go and let God.

In that time, I also was offered a full time job overseas in Geneva, Switzerland. I was so excited at the prospect, such a big wide open door, and such an incredible opportunity for valuable life experience. In my interviews with the staff at the church I'd be working at, I was blown away by their care and heart for their team and their ministry, and my little aching heart leapt at the thought of working in that kind of environment. I also would've had more responsibility in that position, and a huge part of my job would developing the children's program, and I was longing to actually use my gifts for real - it such a wonderful future. It would've been at least one full calendar year, most likely two.

Oh, but I was so torn! Because in my heart, I really wanted to wait for Josh. I wanted to stay put until I heard from him about what was going to happen to our friendship. Oh, did I wrestle over the offer! I felt like the only human being in the world who would turn down a perfectly good job in EUROPE for no apparent reason.

It came to a climax one weekend in early October. I had to make a decision about going forward with my final interview, and I was spending the weekend in Virginia Beach with my worship leader and her daughters. It was a beautiful weekend of rest of me, the girls and I had so much fun, and in that time, as I was wrestling with this decision and still hurting over the rejection I was walking through, I knew the only person in the world I wanted to talk to about it was Josh. And to my surprise, Jesus said it was okay *grin* I sent Josh an email, asking him if I could talk to him on the phone - process some things that had happened. And Jesus gave him a go ahead, and that Sunday afternoon, we talked for the first time in almost two months. Y'all, hearing his voice on the phone was the most beautiful sound in the world. We talked about life for three hours.

I'll never forget telling him about the job in Switzerland...and that I would be gone for a year. "A YEAR?!" he exploded before containing himself and sounding normal again. But I stored that shocked and horrified voice in my heart - "he doesn't want me to leave! he wants me to stay!"

There are so many other little moments in this two month time, so many journal entries and scriptures and stories of how God prepared us for the day when He would bring us together. I so wish Josh could share some of his heart too - he has some really neat testimonies of truths the Lord showed him as he wrestled over his love for me and how that fit into the calling on his life. Basically it came down to the fact that he was completely useless and miserable without me, and he figured he'd be more effective if we were together. Haha. But anyway. Ask him sometime.

ALSO. If you're a good Insta-scroller, i would highly recommend scrolling back in my feed till the dates read September and October 2015. There are some gems in there - verses and quotes and stories of God's faithfulness that now, looking back, I'm in awe at all He revealed to me, even in the midst of my confusion and my hurt.

And now. THE DAY.

October 25, 2015. My birthday. My 21st birthday.

I was in tears the night before, watching Cinderella as a pre-birthday celebration with my family. I loved that movie so much, but after everyone went up stairs, I found myself crouched on the floor, ugly sobbing for what felt like hours. Every muscle in my body ached, and my heart felt like it was splitting in two. I felt so alone, so helpless, so empty. I had never been so at peace, and yet so incomplete. And in that moment, I knew it wasn't a Jesus-sized hole, it was a Josh-sized hole, and that truly, I needed him. In my heart, it was time. And as far as I knew, he didn't feel the same way and I might be waiting forever.

Right before I went to sleep, I got a Facebook message from someone I loved very much, asking if "we could lift the texting ban" for one day, so he could tell me happy birthday on my birthday. Um. YES YOU CAN.

So I woke up to my phone going off its rocker at about 12:15am, with exactly 21 texts saying...




(completely with emojis)
...from Joshua Scott himself. Best way to start what was about to become the most eventful day of my life.

My birthday was on a Sunday, which is so amazing when you think about it. The Lord's Day. The Day of Rest. The day of resurrection. The Day of Miracles. We went to church, and then, per my request, we drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and took pictures with the beautiful colors. And the whole time, Josh and I were texting - random things, and nothing deep, but oh the joy of 24 hours of being able to just be in touch with my best friend! He was truly the best gift. Forever and always.

Towards the end of the afternoon, our relationship finally came up. Just a little. He sort of half apologized that he hadn't gotten any clarity on moving forward. And I said something that apparently triggered a chain reaction in heart that set off what happened later that evening. I told him simply that I trusted him. I trusted the Spirit in him. And I knew that he would care for my heart, and Jesus was leading him.

That's all.

And for Josh, those were the magic words of confidence he needed, and by that evening, he knew it was time to move forward.

As a surprise for me, Courtney had coordinated a Skype call with Joshua, David and Katie for late that night - and I thought it was just going to be with her. There were some technical glitches, and the video for David and Katie never did get working, but when I logged on to answer the call and all of a sudden saw other accounts popping on to join, I had a freak out moment, realizing I was about to see Josh's face for the first time since tour.

That call was downright hilarious, and lasted a good long time. Eventually David and Katie logged off, and Courtney and Josh (and Christi, lol) and I chatted for a while, and literally like an hour or more later, Courtney said, "Hey, call me one more time before you go to sleep! Love you!" and HUNG UP.

Yes, y'all.

Courtney Nicole left Josh and I on Skype *on purpose*.

Was I surprised? Not really.

Oh the awkwardness! Haha!

We talked for like two minutes. Then Josh said, " you call Courtney...can I call you?"

My heart just about burst. "Yes, yes, of course. I'll text you when we're done."

"Okay. Hey, don't hurry up your call with her just so you can talk to me."


Yeah right, Josh.

After I chatted with Court a little more, and we both speculated about what Josh wanted to say, I texted Josh that he could call me.

At 1:18am, on October 26, he called me. We didn't hang up for three hours.

I don't remember a ton from that call, except that Josh was telling me that Jesus had given him the green light to move forward in a relationship, and that he missed me. We talked for so long about so many things...finally free to go deep and share the struggles and ups and downs of the past few months and how ready we were to do life together. We knew from the get go that we were headed toward marriage, and we knew it was coming soon. We were best friends, we had seen each other at our best and worst so many times already, and there was such a beautiful completeness in finally committing to each other.

 these are both instagram photos from the two days after Josh called - recognize them?

this rainbow showed up later that day on the 26th as I was driving home - Jesus loves us! 

Josh drove up a week later and surprised me at my house before he flew off for his third and final tour. That was something we talked about quite a bit too - whether or not he should still go back on the road - but we both knew that Jesus had called him to that final year long before our relationship was in the picture, and that He had a purpose in it and we'd be fine. We had what we thought was nine months of long distance ahead - and to be honest, I'm so glad I didn't know how grueling it was going to be, or I might have balked.

I saw Josh for less than 24 hours on November 1st. We walked around Charlottesville, we talked, we sat silently, we drank coffee, and we looked at each other. And except for a hello hug (which my siblings so joyfully set up as a surprise and filmed - link HERE), and a goodbye hug, we didn't touch at all. I have no idea how, haha, but we didn't. It wasn't even something we consciously did or didn't do, but it just wasn't time and Jesus was laying other groundwork first. Honestly, that's pretty cool.

Minutes before he drove away, Josh held me tight and whispered in my ear, "I love you Liza." And in that moment, I knew this was home, and I couldn't hardly believe we were here, and this was our life.

I found this picture on pinterest, can't even remember why, and this is why on so many instagram posts I used the hashtag #chipmunks....we were the chipmunks, and this was our story *eye roll* *cheese*

In these first weeks, Josh wrote a beautiful vision for our relationship, and what the Lord was going to do with it for the Kingdom, and our focus and heart. Every time I read it, even now, I am blown away by the wisdom and eyes to see that Jesus gave him. I copied it in my journal, and constantly looked back at it when times were hard to remember why Jesus brought us together, and to remember that this story was so much bigger than us.

Here's some of what he wrote:

"I want this relationship to be open, I don't want there to be anything hidden in it. I want it to be marked by complete vulnerability. Our identity is found in our Father's love and acceptance of us, We have the grace to bare our heart and share freely whatever God lays on our heart. This relationship is solely for His glory. 
I want this relationship to be marked by love and freedom. It's a beautiful picture of our love relationship with Jesus, and there is a perfect love and freedom that motivates us to serve Him. That's what I desire, that we never feel pressure to perform for each other, for other people, or perform for God. Just be still and let God's perfect love always be our motivator. 
I want this relationship to be marked by the deepest purity. I really believe that the best way for that to happen is to never allow anything other than the perfect love of God to control us. Abide in Him at all times. Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Rest in the tender care, and faithfulness of our Father and allow that to flow through us. 

Most of all I just want the perfect love of Jesus to be what we're centered upon. I want the voice of our Shepherd to be the only voice we heed. Our love is not ours to give away."
This is what our relationship has been built on over the years, and I'm still in awe that we've been given the chance to go through this earthly life hand in hand, with this kind of vision on our hearts. There's a lot more he wrote, I'll share some more as this story goes on.

I'm going to do the rest of the year in months like I did last time, it helps with flow. And there's so much I could say - I think this will keep me on task.

In November, Josh and I had several intense phone conversations. We had a lot to talk about, especially in regards to our year on tour, and our relationships with our team. There were tears, lots of hurts and pain revisited and then healed, and emotions and details clarified. Throughout all of this, Josh's heart was to take on my heart and my emotion and grief and hurt as his own, and begin to carry it for me. So many times, he would ask, "Can I carry this?" and I would be able to release everything to him and just rest. Gracious, y'all I love that man.

This was the month I began to work for Compassion, and one night in the hotel on my first job ever, Josh and I FaceTimed for six hours. Ya'll who have been in long distance relationships know this, FaceTime is valuable and always too short...if you have six hours, then YOU TAKE IT. Who needs sleep?! And during that call, I was sharing some verses the Lord had shown me on betrothal, and commitment, and Josh stopped suddenly and looked right at me and told me that he was mine, and I was his, and that one day we would get married, we would be husband and wife, and that this was his commitment to me, right now, that his life was mine forever. I was in tears, obviously, and of course I promised the same back to him. And from then on, that commitment became part of the foundation we built off of, and we felt engaged. We even started talking about tentative wedding ideas, and planning our future together. We were fully committed, no turning back.

 and i got to keep braiding haaaaaair! Geez y'all, I miss this. If you live near me and have a head of chocolate curls that needs done, please call me! my fingers are itching.

Joel and Christi even came to visit as they were passing through - so crazy to see them now as almost family, instead of much love for this crazy crew

Josh told me that yes, he would come home for Christmas. And so the countdown began. So. Many. Selfies, y'all. We sent hours of video messages, hundreds of gigabites of photo data, and probably thousands of text messages. Forty days seemed forever long. Ha, I knew nothing. But I will never regret the hours of conversation we were forced to have because talking was all we could do - priceless and precious times.

Jesus gave me such a sweet metaphor in the song "Star of Bethlehem"  - this idea of the star as the hope of the wise men, and how it stood as a reminder, just like the rainbow, of His promises.

 so many selfies, y'all. they never end. there's HUNDREDS. be glad I'm only giving you a few.

He came for a whole six days from the day after Christmas until New Year's Eve. We split our time in South Carolina and Virginia, and these are some of the sweetest days we ever had. It was really the first time we were able to just be together face to face since we were finally a couple, and so many hours were spent just sitting together, silent, just enjoying the fact that we could be side by side. Did you know that it's totally possibly to drive an entire seven hour road trip holding hands? *wink*

During those six days, actually during the drive from Abbeville to Charlottesville, I gave Josh my journal. The one I had filled over the past several years with verses and quotes and stories. It was such a powerful moment, I really felt like I was physically handing him my heart, and trusting him with my confidence and myself. I had never felt so vulnerable with him before, and it was beautiful.

That goodbye at the Charlottesville airport was another tragedy. I almost made him miss his plane. We had no idea when we would see each other again. The earliest we could think of would be when the choir came through South Carolina - which was looking like it would be April. APRIL. FOUR MONTHS. I was devastated. But we knew it came with the territory, and I knew I could be brave enough, even if it tore me up. Tears and hugs and frantic "I love you" and "I miss you already" texts as he disappeared past security...y'all, I do NOT miss long distance. Not. One. Iota.

these gems, keeping me sane while I counted the days down to Josh showed up.

the interwebs saw this picture....

...but not this picture...hehe. YOU HAD NO IDEA.

January. Just a month of learning to live in a new normal. Coaching every day was pretty much my whole life, trying to be present with siblings and family and friends, trying not to miss Josh too much. Took a road trip with my dad and siblings, just did life. Read my bible. Didn't journal, at all. (sadly this entire year barely got chronicled in my ever-present journal - not sure why Jesus let that happen...but maybe it's to help me remember the beautiful things more than the challenges. I don't know.)

i also watched all 100 episodes of Lizzy Bennet all over again and colored countless coloring book pages. 
Don't judge me. This was basically therapy.

February. Literally another month of waiting and just living. The swim team made it to regionals and states, my siblings continued going to school and playing sports, I continued taking selfies and missing Josh, and life went on. And on. And on. and still I didn't know when I would see him again.

MARCH! This is the month I began doing Compassion nearly full time. Swim season was over, and life felt like maybe it was starting to pick up a little bit. I was feeling more confident, growing more, healing so much more, and I really wanted to start writing again. I even wrote on the blog for the first time in forever. (actually - go read that post real quick. It explains a lot) March was a good month.

Josh's dates to visit in April were solidified, and right after I booked a flight for work to Texas, I found out he was going to be in Colorado for a week with three days off, and I could come see him! I booked my flight and everything and was so excited...only to get a text saying that his days off had been changed. Then shortened. Then back to what they were before. Then shortened again. And instead of getting two full days with him, I knew I'd get a half day, then a full day, then have to take a red eye flight back to the East Coast. But it was totally worth it - changing flights, a miserable red-eye and all.

Long distance is not for the faint of heart. Emotionally, it wore us down. Josh was taking care of really challenging children, and it took everything out of him physically nearly every day, and the only thing I wanted was to be with him at the end of those days, and I couldn't. And I was going through this day to day life at home, without him, trying to be brave and strong, and even though he was loving and leading me the best way he could from far away, it wasn't the same as having him next to me. Long distance is exhausting - not just because of crazy timezones and texting and calling at all hours of the night when both of us were finally free. Our hearts were so constantly tired.

When you are emotionally and physically spent, faith gets tested in all new ways. We both were so confident that together is what the Lord had for us, and with that belief, we bravely plugged away, even when we felt weak. Hardship and soul-weariness forces us to trust Jesus in ways we don't have to when we have control of our own lives. If you can schedule Bible reading everyday, fulfill all your household tasks, stay in touch with friends, be present with family, and enjoy your job, all without sacrifice, faith isn't tested terribly much. But when you can barely find motivation to read the Word of God, and you feel like you're just clinging to truth by your fingertips, trusting that you are resting in the palm of the Father's hand is hard. But there is such incredible peace that does pass all human understanding when you can let go of control, even of your spiritual life, and let the Spirit comfort you. We were sustained simply by the intense love of a Heavenly Father. That's it. And that's all we needed.

Oh, this is also the month that I sent Josh's birthday present to some random church in the pacific northwest ahead of them, and decided to go all out decorating the box with markers and stickers and just hoped that maybe he'd be the only one to see it. Clearly I wasn't trying really hard to be subtle...but HEY IT WAS HIS BIRTHDAY AND I LOVED HIM.

Well, welcome to April. 

Up till this point, you may be wondering why in the world we didn't make our relationship public. By April, we had been together for six whole months already - you'd think it was about time we told some people. Really, just our family and extended family on both sides, and a handful of friends, knew what was going on. Oh, and pretty much all of Charlottesville. Just because that's kinda what happens when the oldest child of a family like ours starts a serious relationship. 

 so many selfies, y'all. but aren't they such a funny documentation of everything?!

Also, our relationship seems devoid of challenges and conflict, excepting the long distance. So why have I been acting like this was hard, and why were all my Instagram and Facebook posts so melodramatic throughout this entire year?

There's no easy way to share this part of our story, since so much is still left up in the air, and some hurts still sting when touched. But essentially, when Josh went back to Colorado that first week after we started dating (or whatever you want to call this craziness), he was met with surprise opposition. I had seen it coming, but he wanted to hope for the best and was honestly completely shocked. Essentially, the ministry we worked for was very uncomfortable with our relationship, had serious reservations about my character, and requested that for the sake of the other members of Josh's team, that we keep our relationship a secret. Honestly I thought it would just be for a few weeks, or maybe at the most, months, until they figured out the way they wanted to present it. So we agreed.

That might not seem like a huge deal, just keep it a secret from the team indefinitely, but go about our lives normally. Not so fast. When every member of the team is friends with all of your friends, you have to rule out social media immediately. Also, a team is a family. And that put Josh in a position of having to live a double life for what ended up being eight long months. These staff that were like brothers to him, he couldn't share what was going on in the deepest places of his life, and that became almost an unbearable burden by the end of the year.

In April, I had a Compassion job right before the tour was scheduled to come, so I actually was on the road over two weeks, working in North Carolina before heading to Abbeville.

So, the team came through South Carolina, and Courtney and I came and spent the entire week interacting with kids and staff. Throughout the whole time, we scrupulously kept our conversations out of eyesight and ear shot of the others, and Courtney was a gem in keeping situations light and not awkward as the week progressed.

During those few days, some really hard conversations happened one on one, with parents and leaders and family, and all the hope and confidence and healing I had experienced in the past months after leaving Colorado felt dragged in the dirt. I was discouraged, grieving, and broken. Several hours later in the afternoon, Josh and I sat on the back swing of the home we now live in, and realized that our family was our highest priority, not ministry, and that instead of planning on living in Colorado, we would start our lives together in Abbeville. And that very evening, when it felt like we were alone in the world, Josh got down on both knees, massaged and washed my feet, and asked me to be his wife forever and ever. I didn't cry, I wasn't surprised, but it was one of the tenderest, most powerful moments I have ever experienced. And then I curled up in his arms in our favorite big chair, and cried, and slept, and rested for several hours, until I had to leave for North Carolina for another Compassion job.

i literally drove away from him ten minutes later. worst day ever. SO MANY TEARS.

It was a pretty devastating week - and Josh had it worse than me afterwards, as he sort of had to clean up the pieces in the days following, and look forward to several more months on the road after all this had blown up so effectively. But in that, we saw more clearly than ever that TOGETHER is where we belonged.

To top it off, some of that conflict spilled over into family relationships for several months. And while Jesus graciously allowed those to be resolved, it didn't make that season any easier. It also cemented our decision to move to South Carolina.

I went straight from being proposed to, to work again. But thankfully my bestie forever came to see me and made a wet rainy miserable weekend away from Josh so much more palatable.

And that's why I dropped off the face of the earth again. My big plans to blog more fell flat, I felt like my life was even more hidden from the rest of the world, and it was a struggle to keep my head up some days. But in all that, I was finding more and more courage and bravery in the love Josh had for me, and the confidence that Jesus was orchestrating this song that was our story, and I didn't have to defend myself or try to prove my value or worth to anyone. 

I will say this - this forced social media silence for those eight months taught me so much about approval and belonging. It required me to focus on my relationships and the people in my life, and their hearts, and not making sure I portrayed a good story online. I couldn't. My life looked nothing like the pictures and stories I chose to post, and yet, it was still my life. And when we finally could share our story, I was so much more genuine than I ever could've been if I had been sharing our journey from day one. So in a way, I'm thankful. Even though it was hellish, quite frankly, and I wouldn't will that kind of double life on my worst enemy.

So began the summer of wedding planning, more long distance, and still keep my mouth duct-taped shut. Although at this point, we began sharing bits and pieces of our story with more and more people, and by the time our relationship was public, almost everyone we were close to knew. I had to send my ring away to get resized, and I just about cried handing it over, and had a countdown on my phone until it came back. 

May was actually a really fun month in many ways - lots of great Morales family moments and events, and now that Josh and I were for real getting married, and we were counting down to a day, I was growing more and more confident, and able to make decisions about our future without feeling like I had to please everyone in the world. Most days I still felt like I was slogging through mental fog without Josh (love is weird sometimes) but there were so many good moments. So many.

Also, can we pause this story to say a huge thank you to my wonderful parents, who saw their daughter walk this crazy journey for so long without batting an eyelash. They had to make so many choices, to hold their tongues when I was hurting so deeply and not reacting in anger to the stuff happening to me, but they were always there for me personally - even if it was just asking how I was feeling and not pressuring me to be happy all the time. There were many weeks where I looked legitimately depressed, and they never got upset or tried to fix it - they were just there. And my mother was the best wedding planner in the history of the world, and when details got over my head and I started freaking out at all the decisions, she never lost her cool, and truly enjoyed the entire process. I would be nowhere with my mama and daddy, and they were a beautiful highlight of this entire journey. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being there when it mattered most, and carrying your daughter and son (in law) when we couldn't carry ourselves.

Remember y'all, I haven't seen Josh since April. This long distance story in itself was grueling - without the constant opposition and lack of support. From the day we started dating to the day Josh got home from Colorado, we spent a total of sixteen days together. Sixteen days in twelve months. Ouch. How did we do it? I have no clue. Jesus and coffee and FaceTime I think. Oh, and that flower service that allows you to order flowers and send them to your girlfriend with a personalized note at any time. That helped too.

June was another great family month - I was so blessed to be able to spend so much time with my siblings in these final months as the at-home big sister. Swim season was in full gear, I was chauffeuring them around like crazy, and we even got to keep my little cousins for a week. Maddie and I also got the crazy almost-once-in-a-lifetime trip with my grandparents to St. Croix, where my grandpa was born and raised, and spend two weeks living the Caribbean life with them. It was a great distraction, and being service-less and only having wifi when we were at home was easier than I thought it would be...hehe. Not because I'm a tech junkie but because I was a Josh junkie and if I could text him, I was. *wink*

Okay. Time for some more honest talk.

This was the month we sent out our save the dates to the people we could tell about the wedding. I'll admit, I struggled with a lot of resentment as the date got closer and we still couldn't tell people. It felt like the best season of life was being stolen away, the engagement and wedding planning that every little girl dreams of - the day I had been waiting for long before I ever had been involved in ministry or been to Colorado. The girl who started this blog seven years had such a different life than she ever had imagined, and I shed many a tear over that. Those are months, it's a time that I'll never get back, and I did have to give up a lot of my "dreams" because of the secret keeping and the long distance and the opposition we faced.

But Jesus showed me something in that time - that my "dream" wedding wasn't actually the point. It's not that I was being selfish for being sad, but He wanted to show me that HIS dream wedding for me was even better. It wasn't the same as I imagined, and sometimes I still wonder what it would've been like if things had been different, but I grew so much that by the time our wedding week arrived, I had fully embraced my "new dream" wedding and now I wouldn't have it any other way. Yes, I had a "right" to be upset that people unconnected to my family and my personal life ended up influencing the biggest day in anyone's story, but I want to stand here as a testimony that you can still get married and have a beautiful, perfect, dream wedding....that looked nothing like your dreams. AND BE COMPLETELY CONTENT AND HAPPY. Y'all, that is the power of Jesus, and He always always has our best interest in mind, if we are willing to let go of our tight fists and see it. If it is in His plan for you, it cannot be stolen.

So in June, Josh confirmed he was coming back east once again in a month (first week of July) to be in a friend's wedding in South Carolina. He was able to get a handful of days off, so the plan was for him to fly into Richmond and then we'd split time in VA and SC again. The countdown began again, the longest time we'd been apart yet, but the end was in sight, since I began making plans to come to Colorado in August to finish out tour by his side, and bring him home. 

Those six days with Josh in July were magic - we were at such a deep and intimate place in our relationship, such a completeness of spirit after all we'd been through, there was something powerful about being together. Every interaction was special and intense, and we were more and more ready to be married and do life together. We didn't feel like an engaged couple - we honestly felt more like a tired old married couple, who just wanted to spend time together. 

Our story was written all over our faces - we were soul weary, but blissfully happy to be sharing personal space. I think our engagement photos capture this so well - Jess drove down to catch us in the brief window we were together in Charlottesville and took this epic gallery. Of course the dear girl had to hold herself from sharing them online like normal photographers...still couldn't spill the beans just yet!

(all these photos below courtesy of Jess Lapp)

It was sometime at the end of July or beginning of August I think, that Josh was finally able to tell his team that we were not only in a relationship, but engaged. And even that came about almost by accident, since word was starting to spread and we were afraid they would find out from other people instead of from Josh, and basically Josh had to appeal to tell them sooner than "agreed to" and that wasn't easy. He called me afterwards and was just torn up, feeling like in a way he had let his team down as the team leader by not being transparent with them all year. It wasn't his fault, but he took most of the responsibility and it was hard to watch. Anyway. Thankfully, they are wonderful people and one of them was even able to get time off to come to the wedding, which I know blessed Josh immensely.

Dropping Josh off at the Atlanta airport to head back to Colorado, then spending a day alone in SC without him before driving home solo - not my favorite. Even though I knew it was our last goodbye, I didn't let him leave for so so was harder than ever to let him out of arms reach...

Y'all, I would not have survived without the incredible community that is my hometown. They rallied around us and did so much for my mother as she planned our wedding, and took on so many tasks and loved us so well - it takes a village, and ours rocked. I also have the best best friends. You know who you are.

We had a splendid Morales family vacation at the beginning of August...or was it the end of July...I don't remember, but anyway, it was a great and glorious last hurray and a wonderful week of refreshment at a family camp in Maryland that we all desperately needed. We also swept all the swimming competitions and all got free ice cream. SYKE.

And then it was more travels for Liza! After some serious coordination, I got a crazy several weeks of travel planned and spent those final weeks of our long distance relationship being fully insane. I felt a twinge of guilt, leaving my mother just eight weeks before our wedding to go out of state for over three weeks when all was said and done...but Jesus blessed the time and I needed the fresh air and the encouragement so much. 

I worked my final Compassion job until after the wedding out in California, near San Francisco. Probably one of my favorite stops to date - full of fellowship and good conversation and sightseeing and In and Out. Then I was home for like two days, and then off again to Michigan for a long weekend with one of my favorite host families from tour, who has become like another family to me. Spending those days with them was the best possible medicine I needed to fortify me for the next leg of my trip.

On the plane from Grand Rapids to Denver, I pretty cried the whole time. So much of my heart felt like it was coming home. I dearly love Colorado. So much of my adult life was influenced by my years there. And yet now it held some of the most hurtful broken relationship in my life, and I was willingly putting myself in a situation that could potentially be really hard, or it could be amazing. I really had no idea. But I had a bad feeling, and for the first time, I journaled, and listened to music on repeat, and wept and wept and wept. And then I looked out the window and my Rockies peeked through the clouds like they always do, and I was just so happy. So happy to be home.

One of my dearest friends picked me up the airport and we headed to Fort Collins to see the children perform. And....I saw Josh. It was sort of a non-reunion, since we were in front of other people...and sometimes I wish we could've had some time to just be before we had to jump into this other double life. Anyway. 

Those two weeks were honestly pretty hard. I loved being on campus almost every day and spending time with the children who I had prayed for, fully expecting to be on tour with them, and then loved from a distance, and then had adopted into my heart because they meant so much to Josh. And the team was so gracious toward me, and made me feel like part of their little family. One of them even reminded me that I was part of their team, because I was part of Josh, and that blessed me more than anything. And especially getting to spend time with the boys that were Josh's whole was a gift I'll never take for granted.

We said goodbye the children, and then still had almost a whole week left in Colorado. That week was even harder. Very similar to the month April, just times a hundred. And it was at the end of that week, that Josh and I made the very difficult decision to not only live back East, but end his time with the ministry as well. Tears, y'all. It was so hard. But we knew that for our marriage, we needed to pull back, and build our family on a different foundation, and let go of our desire to make it work where we were at. It still breaks our hearts, and we miss the kids, and we miss touring, and it's still hard to not look back and wish there was a way it could've worked out, but at the same time, we have thrived the past eight months, and Jesus has given us every grace we needed to start over.

The greatest gift of those final days was a wonderful supper out with everyone who had made Colorado home for us. This crew - there are so much bumps and kinks that you can't see, but each one of these people means so much to us, and we wouldn't be who we are without them.

And so, with heavy hearts and yet with joy, we got on a plane and flew home to GET MARRIED! Long distance was over, and no matter what we had gone through, and how many things didn't turn out the way we had hoped, we were so happy and finally felt like we could be excited about our wedding. No more secrets, no more guilt, no more double life - just Liza and Josh and a forever together ahead of us.

Also, the day I flew into Colorado was the same day I had flown out exactly the year before. Full circle. And yay for dates, and Jesus is good. 

For the six weeks left of unmarriedness, Josh and I actually never separated. Ha, you don't blame us do you? Josh lived with my family, although we really kinda hopped around so much we were never quite in one place for more than two weeks. He bunked with my brothers (it's all good y'all, we didn't LIVE together gee whiz) when we were in Charlottesville, and I stayed with his sister whenever we were in SC. We made several trips back and forth, for beach trips with family, or wedding planning weeks in Virginia, and spent time with his brother and almost-sister-in-law, who did I mention had gotten engaged right after we did, and picked a wedding day right before ours? Ha, it was a crazy season.

One of the highlights of these six weeks of togetherness was a little weekend getaway we had in Charleston. We stayed with my grandmother and I got to take Josh around to all the places I had grown up visiting as a child, and then we also spent a day down in Edisto where he grew up going to beach. Lots of wonderful memories shared in those short days before the wedding busyness.

In these weeks, yes, we were clearly crazy busy. But even in busyness, there's still thinking time, and as you can probably guess, we had a lot of good reasons to be frustrated or even bitter over everything that had led up to where we were. Not to mention, by choosing to leave the ministry, our future main source of income changed like that, and we knew life was going to look a lot different than we had planned. But with all these little vacations, and moments to get away, our sweet Abba gave us the grace and forgiveness we needed to take a deep breath and walk boldly into our new start. There were still glitches, even issues that came up just days before our wedding, but the Lord went before us and smoothed the way, and we were so at peace. Does it still hurt sometimes? Yes. Does our life still reflect the hardships we walked through? Of course. But every day each circumstance becomes more and more part of our story and the fabric of who we are. We see people differently now - we see hurts, we see heartache, we see pain more clearly. We can love others better than we ever have, because we know the love of Jesus more than we ever have. We've been given a gift in our story, the gift of knowing the heart of the Father in a deep way.

at Josh's brother's wedding, just eight short days before our own.

And THAT, my friends, is the story of Josh and Liza. Stay tuned for the final installment - our wedding post, complete with photos, and you'll understand so much better all the little details and why we did our wedding the way that we did.

And for real y'all, I just want to say thank you to each of you who has reached out and encouraged both of us throughout our entire relationship, and now that we've shared some of it publicly. We deeply believe that our story is not ours to keep, and that we walked through all that we did for a reason. This has never been about us, it's always ever been about Jesus and following His call on our lives, and that's why we've opted to share it with the world. It's not clean, it's not simple or always cheerful, but it's a testimony of the faithfulness of God and His promises to children. It's about two kids who He taught to be brave and to trust Him, and it's about the love that He has for each one of us, and the fierce way He shields and protects us even as we walk through deep waters. We serve a good good Abba, y'all. We do.