Jeff and Jourdan Johnson are dear friends of Redeemed Girl Ministries. Their God-story of dating, heartbreak, restoration and marriage is one I felt needed to be shared with our readers. They not only share their story but some incredible wisdom. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for an amazing redemption story of two people who are “better together.”
-Marian Jordan Ellis
As a nineteen-year-old college student, I wanted to know what my future would hold and how I would get there. But if you had told me that I’d get married a month before I turned thirty, (after ten years and three gut-wrenching breakups with the same guy) … I probably would have said, “No thanks, God! What are my other options?” But alas, that did turn out to be the way Jesus would bring me and my husband into more wholeness, draw us closer to Him and then bring us into what I would say is a pretty great marriage. As we love to say, we are “better together.”
Here is our story.
Jeff and I met the summer of 2000. I was nineteen, and he was twenty-two. We met leading worship at a new church plant. Isn’t that sweet?
We had been friends for a year before we dated. That would prove to be a great foundation for us in the years to come. Our first venture into dating was mostly long-distance. I was in Florida, Jeff in Texas. And not only were we in two physically different places, but we were in very different places in our lives. I was still a college student, and Jeff had begun his career in corporate America. We gave it a shot for a year, but the distance was tough, thus breakup number one.
We didn’t want to lose our friendship, so we decided to “stay in touch.” Calling, emailing, etc. (Don’t worry, more on this poor choice later in the blog post.) After several months and one overseas mission trip (trying just to be “friends”), my heart was ripping to shreds. I realized I could not move forward until we completely cut ties. So we did. After that, I was able to go into my senior year in a healthy place and enjoy my friends and roommates, ending college on a great note.
Fast forward to January of 2004 when I moved to Texas. Jeff and I had slowly gotten back in touch and started leading worship together again. In March, we decided to give dating another try. And it was great…for a while at least. Eventually, we got to the dreaded place of wondering, “where is this going?” We were in love and saw ourselves ending up together, but there were things that stunted our growth. So we tried hard to work through those issues–some of which were pretty deep. But then, after two and a half years–crying out to God, seeking direction and wondering why it was so difficult–we broke up.
I was crushed and confused. As it turned out, I needed to undergo some major healing. I didn’t realize how wrapped up in Jeff that I was, and how I had lost myself. Over the next nine months, it was incredible how Jesus took care of me. He reminded me again of who I am in Him and restored my confidence. He stretched me as a worship leader and opened new opportunities to serve Him. He gave me a greater understanding of the importance of community, as so many friends and family members surrounded me and cared for me through my lowest days.
It was a beautiful season.
And then He brought Jeff back. Could it be?? Would this be the perfect fairytale ending to our story? It had been seven years at this point.
Isn’t that the divine number of completion? How amazing!
Surely this would be the glorious culmination of all our years of work, heartache, growth and healing.
To the altar we go! Hallelujah!
And three months later… he broke up with me. Again.
I. am. not. joking.
This breakup would prove to be a huge test of my faith. At this point, the past seven years just seemed like a huge waste. God had already shown me how to trust Him more, how to have confidence in my identity in Him, how to lean into Him and not look to another human being to complete me. So what was the point of having to go through all this again? On top of the pain, fear screamed in my ears. I was now twenty-seven years old. What other options would I have? Doesn’t the dating pool just get weirder and weirder the closer you get to thirty? And I just knew everyone felt so sorry for me.
Ugh. Here we go again.
As God’s grace would have it, the next two and a half years would be some of the richest in my life. God took me to greater depths with Him than I could have imagined; He gave me the best friends a girl could ask for, and some great adventures with those amazing friends. He even brought healing to my heart as I began to date again. I moved forward. I truly let go of Jeff. I asked for healing every day. And God gave it to me! I finally saw Jesus as the most satisfying thing–Jesus was my first love.
And then Jeff came back.
I did not see that coming. By that time, I had devoted a lot of the pages in my journal to begging God to take Jeff from my mind, to release my heart from hoping for him anymore. And I stopped believing we would ever be together. I was in the healthiest place of my life!
So imagine my surprise, when, out of the blue (after two and a half years) I get a message from Jeff, asking if we could meet up. He had “some things to share.” What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.
Jeff was transformed. A new man. And, I was transformed too.
God had worked a miracle in both of us, and it was undeniable. That meeting was in March of 2010. We were engaged by September and married in November. Turns out, ten years was the number of completion for us.
Those ten years taught us a thing or two about dating. So I’ve asked Jeff to pitch in and help me put together a little list of things that might help you AVOID the ten-year plan. I’ll go first…
1. Boys and girls can’t be best friends.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but let’s be real. Can guys and girls be friends? Sure, it’s healthy to be able to get along with the opposite sex. But when the group numbers start to diminish, and it ends up being you and the dude… having long talks into the night… texting a bunch…meeting up for lunch … texting more… hanging out all the time. Then you have left the “friend zone.” At least one of you has.
Feelings will inevitably develop. And even if you don’t want to admit feelings, (or you know you don’t want to date him) there will be jealousy when another girl comes along to whom he starts to pay attention. It just gets messy and weird and at least one of you will walk away with hurt feelings.
2. A breakup should be a breakup.
Keeping in touch and being friends after having a close emotional connection is not good for the heart. You can try to tell your heart that it needs to back off and not desire affection anymore, but the heart is a bad listener when exposed to the very thing it desires. It requires space and time to heal. Cut it off! Don’t leave a door open!
3. God will bring you His best in His time.
This means that Jesus doesn’t need our help to move things forward or need us to speed up the clock for the guy. As tempting as it is to try to “help” the situation along–whether you are trying to fix the guys relational fears, or choosing a job based on his proximity, or you are having all your friends ask him, “when the ring is coming?” Your best bet is to trust God with your future and rest in His timing. Manipulation is never a good idea and always creates undo heartache.
4. You are not his Holy Spirit.
If your guy is not where you want him to be spiritually, it is not your job to get him there. It ends up a lot better when God does that work. Let the Lord convict him and transform him. If you see “deal breakers” then pray and walk away, but don’t try to be the one who will change him.
Hope this helps. Now, some words from my awesome hubs…
Well, after reading our story above, it’s easy for me to recall how difficult that season was. In the moment, it isn’t easy to see what God is doing. But now, years later, looking at the bigger picture, I can see how God used those moments to shape us. At the time, the pain seemed overwhelming. Now, looking back, I wouldn’t trade that season of transformation for anything. Why? Because at the end of the dating saga, I married a girl whom I knew trusted the Lord when times were hard. I got to see Jourdan in a beautiful relationship with Jesus, completely independent of me. I got to see how her emotions never swayed her, but God’s word sustained her. That’s an invaluable lesson to learn as a man, and not everyone gets the opportunity to live that before saying ‘’I do’’. I also knew that if we could work that hard on our dating, we were set up to walk into marriage well. So after the dating years are all said and done, here’s what I would like to say to you girls.
1. Relationships are hard.
Putting two sinful human beings together is never going to come without challenges. Revealing your true self to someone is never pretty. We have to face the fact that Romans 3:10 isn’t kidding when it says, “not one of us is good”. It’s easy to recite that in theory but to make it personal–whoa! Not the greatest of realities. You aren’t perfect, and you shouldn’t put that expectation on your future husband either. Facing our own imperfections is hard.
The point of marriage is not to fulfill our every dream and check off the ‘’Perfect Man” checklist. Keep the reality in check. Sure, enjoy the relationship. Get swept up in what love is and how great it is that God has shown us love and then allows us to experience that through one another. But be okay when love doesn’t look like what Hollywood has injected into our minds. Don’t hold your relationship to the movie standards–that is unrealistic. Hold them to the truths of God. Don’t look for your man to be your God. He will always fail you. Hold yourself (and your man) to Jesus’ example of showing us love and serving us to the point of death. You both have to keep your eyes on Him–your first true love.
2. Hotness won’t last, but the heart will.
I’m not saying you need to date the ugly dude to be a Godly woman. I AM saying that thirty years down the road, you aren’t going to care about physical beauty as much as you will want your husband to seek the Lord in the good times and bad. So why would you look for anything different now? Look for a man of character. Go deeper. Don’t date to impress your peers. Date for your the future of your heart. Physical appearance can draw you together, but if you don’t go deep, you set yourself up for a life of insecurity and emptiness.
3. Your future husband is watching how you respond to life’s ups and downs.
That may sound weird, but guys observe how you handle things. So when things don’t go as planned, how do you handle the storm? Do you run to gossip and go bad-mouth him to your friends? Vent to everyone you know and try to get others on your side? The way for a guy to see the true character of a woman is how she handles herself when things go awry. So for me, when Jourdan and I split she was extremely hurt, she knew all my baggage and had the power to destroy me with her words. Yet what did she do? She held it closely. She talked with only a small selection of Godly girlfriends that pointed her to Jesus and prayed for her. That was the most beautiful thing I saw in her–she didn’t share my baggage with anyone when we were broken up. She knew my junk wasn’t her story to tell. She knew that she needed good community, but didn’t need them to slander my name in order to heal. Remember, your guy is watching in the good and bad, and it’s all pointing to your true character. Grow in the hard times. There is a purpose in the ups and downs of dating. God’s plan is bigger than you see. Trust in Him. He’s got you.
4. If I could say one thing to a girl questioning whether or not to enter a relationship, it would be this… DO NOT SETTLE FOR A GUY WHO IS NOT WILLING TO DO THE HARD WORK!
What I mean is this: if he has issues and he is not pursuing Jesus and dealing with his junk, then you need to run. You are worth more than that. Every guy deals with sin, but not every guy is fighting it. If he’s not fighting his sin while you’re dating, do not expect that to change when you put a ring on his hand. I want to beg you to not settle. Jesus loves you too much. There is a guy out there that is doing the super hard work in battling his sin,who is a man of character and THAT’S the man with whom you want to do life. Someone who will encourage you to love Jesus more, just as He does. Trust me, you don’t want to miss that kind of relationship. I’m so glad I didn’t. Girls, as your brother in Christ, hear me say…PLEASE DON’T SETTLE!
Jourdan & Jeff Johnson