My first selfie with Joanna on the porch of the Girl's Dorm at Hobe Sound Bible College.
"God is Gracious" that's the meaning of the name "Joanna." They say it's a very popular name in the United States of America. The name "Joanna," or a variation, was in the top 1000 names picked for precious baby girls in 2021. It's a beautiful name, and I've grown to love it so much because of the Joanna it brings to mind. When I hear that name, I don't think of a thousand Joanna's; I think of one: Joanna M. DeMint.
We met on October 29, 2021, at Youth Challenge East in West Harrison, Indiana. I remember the day as if it was only eight months ago. It was a beautiful fall day that would lead the passionate Anne of Green Gables to remark, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." Those fall colors filled the scenery; everywhere you looked, there were orange, red, brown, and yellow. The temperature was nice and cool, complementing the whole day. Youth Challenge East had set up camp at the Higher Ground Conference & Retreat Center, which was just a phenomenal place to be. I remember going into the auditorium where the main event occurred and walking around with my buddy Clayton Carroll; we were two single men at the time on a mission.
Let me rewind and share this vital detail. I went to Youth Challenge East to be in an environment where several people my age loved God and were a part of the same Christian faith tradition as me (I am in the Methodist branch of this great Olive Tree). I recently moved to Oklahoma City, OK, to be mentored under Pastor Darrell Stetler II. I am one of the pastors on staff at Oklahoma City Bible Methodist Church. I moved from Hobe Sound, FL, and was in a town with a bible college and many others around my age, but since moving to OKC, OK, that is not the case. So, I was happy to make a trip to attend Youth Challenge East (Yes, I was looking for a girlfriend). I remember being in the Thursday night service after failing to get a girl's number that day, and as I was worshiping Jesus the Christ through song, He gave me a sense of assurance and trust. It was as if He was saying to me, "I got this." After that assurance from the LORD on October 28, 2021, I didn't feel like I was on a mission impossible.
Here's a screenshot from my journal on that day:
Now, back to October 29, 2021. After walking for a few in that auditorium with Clayton Carroll, We saw a good friend who was on tour with the choir from Hobe Sound Bible College: Paul Stetler, the former Director of Institutional Advancement. I remember talking to him and asking him if there were one girl he would tell me to talk to, who would it be? I was deathly afraid of going up to random girls and saying, "I just met you, and this is crazy, but here's my number, so call me maybe?" So, I had to go in asking for suggestions, and Paul mentioned Joanna to me; she so happened to be walking down the aisle, and he pointed her out to me, and her beauty caught my eye. Paul also shared how she is such a good and talented young lady and how her love for God is evident.
So, after that suggestion by Paul Stetler, the next phase of my mission began. First, I met up with my other good friends, Evan Burley and Josh Modlin, and later Josh introduced me to Joanna. We were all in a room dedicated to the Bible Colleges setting up their recruitment tables, and Joanna was with her friend Regina Hoffman, and we all had a causal group chat. Unfortunately, but fortunately, the main service on that Friday was getting ready to begin, and Joanna and Regina started leaving, and I chickened out and didn't talk to Joanna much. Then, my friend Royal Grubbs came by and tried to get me to sit by her, but I chickened out AGAIN and ran away! Yes, you can laugh because I am so silly.
Fast forward, and Joanna and I ended up becoming Facebook friends, and our first time chatting was on November 1, 2021 (Joanna is an introvert and didn't chat in our group discussion when Josh introduced me). We messaged all day on Facebook because she was on the coach bus heading back home after the end of Hobe Sound Bible College's Fall Choir Tour. So I asked if I could get her number so we could talk on the phone, and she gladly shared it. So we spoke the next day on the phone and chatted for about an hour. Fast forward, and I asked Joanna to be my girlfriend on December 1, 2021; the picture above is our first selfie together. Since then, we have made many memories together, and I have learned more and more that "God is Gracious."
I remember talking to Elizabeth Stetler, Darrell Stetler II's wife, and she shared with me that she felt God clearly saying for Joanna and I's relationship:
"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert" Isaiah 43:19
After she shared that verse, the truth of it resonated with my heart. And later I just teared up and thanked God. God is Gracious. Joanna and I have spent much time together and have prayed much and gotten wise counsel from many good godly friends and mentors. God has guided us much, today is Joanna and I's wedding day!
On that beautiful, vibrant fall day on October 28, 2021, the God of the Universe gave me the grace to trust Him more, and on this hot summer day of July 8, 2021, I find myself wedding Joanna, whose name means "God is Gracious."
I am reminded of the chorus directed to God from this beautiful song written by Shawn Craig and Connie Harrington:
"Your grace still amazes me
Your love is still a mystery
Each day I fall on my knees
'Cause your grace still amazes me
Your grace still amazes me."
Friend, "God is Gracious."
Montgomery, L M. Anne of Green Gables. New York: Bantam Books, 1976. Print.