There is a country song by the band Heartland called “I Loved Her First.” I remember this song hitting the airwaves the summer before Amanda and I got married. I also remember it seemed just about every country song released that summer was about a father giving his daughter away in marriage. I could have sworn it was some kind of conspiracy against me! Every time I would hear one of these songs that summer I would almost impulsively drive up to Amanda’s dad’s house in tears and apologize for taking his daughter away from him! These songs touched me THAT much! I have an incredible relationship with Amanda’s dad. He did our premarital counseling, and he would counsel us through the ups and downs of ministry. I used to ask him how I could love and lead Amanda better, and to this day I love talking to him about ministry, pastoring...and his daughter. He reminds me so much of Amanda. In fact, they are the EXACT same person! There were times when Amanda would laugh and her face would practically morph into her dad’s face! (It made it really difficult to kiss her in those moments - which I’m sure dad secretly relished).

I will never forget taking him out to Arnie’s pizza in Crawfordsville, IN to ask him if I could have his daughter’s hand in marriage. I did my best to explain to him I would love and cherish his daughter as long as I lived. I did my best to explain to him my plan for providing for her. I did my best to assure him I would follow Jesus’ direction for our lives the best I could. He was thrilled to give me his blessing, but I could see a little twinge in his eye, almost as if he was saying to me:

Remember, son, I loved her first.

Amanda and her dad had a special relationship. I’m convinced this is why she was so confident in who she was in Christ. He taught her early on that her value didn’t lie in the grades she brought home, how she performed in the sports arena, or what a boy said about her. He instilled in her that her value was inherent. That she was a daughter of King Jesus and that sons and daughters of the King never have to settle for second best. Amanda and he would have countless conversations about life, marriage, ministry, and how to deal with people. It was dad who taught Amanda how to handle God’s Word, how to seek wisdom whatever the cost, and how to love people well.

While I felt a significant weight of responsibility that day at Arnie’s Pizza, it pales in comparison to the weight I felt one early January morning in 2009. I was reading my Bible while Amanda was still asleep. I read Ephesians 5:25-28 which says this:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.

I remember the weight of these words hitting me like a tsunami. I felt the Lord speak to my heart and remind me Amanda wasn’t mine. That she had been stewarded to me by our Heavenly Father for a season, and when that season is done it would be my responsibility to present my Bride to the Father. I felt The Lord’s voice whisper to my heart:

Remember, son, I loved her first.

Immediately I put down my coffee and Bible, got up from my chair, walked into our bedroom and laid down next to Amanda. I cuddled up to her with tears streaming down my face and told Jesus I would do my best to steward the responsibility He’d blessed me with.

You see, understanding the idea of stewardship changes how you approach things. When you are managing someone else’s property you take it more seriously. If you are an investment manager and you know the owner of the money is going to call you to account, you take it more seriously. If you’re doing a project for your boss, and you know you’re going to be called on to present that piece, you work a little harder. Amanda didn’t belong to me. She never did. God was the owner, I was the steward.

Fast-foward to January 1st of 2016. I was officiating the wedding of Ryan and Kristin, volunteer leaders in our church. It was one of many weddings I’ve officiated, but this one was different. It was the first one since Amanda’s passing. Amanda and I had done Ryan and Kristin's pre-marital counseling and were scheduled to complete their last session the week Amanda was killed. It was emotional. It was gut-wrenching. It was bittersweet to share in two people’s special day of becoming one when all I could think about was how my better half was ripped from me suddenly and tragically. By the grace of God I held it together enough to officiate.

During the reception I sat at a table as a 5th wheel imagining how much fun Amanda would have had at this wedding. I imagined how proud she was of Ryan and Kristin. I tried to imagine how I was going to do this ministry thing without my beautiful Bride.

Then the song interrupted my thoughts. It was the daddy-daughter dance and Kristin had chosen “I loved her first” by Heartland. I felt like my heart stopped for an entire minute. In that moment the Lord took my thoughts back to the first time I met Amanda, to the summer before we got married, to that morning seven years ago weeping in our bed and praying over her. Once again He whispered to my heart:

Remember, son, I loved her first.

It was in that moment I felt a peace I hadn’t felt up to that point. I had been wrestling with one question, Why didn’t God protect Amanda that morning in November? Couldn’t he have sent a legion of angels to keep this harm from happening to her? Couldn’t he have orchestrated events differently that morning so none of this would have happened?

I still don’t have all the answers to those questions and probably won’t until I see Jesus face-to-face. But The Lord placed a peace in my heart with this one truth: He loved her first.

He thought her up. He thought US up. He knew the number of hairs on her head. He knew her most intimate thoughts. He numbered her days. He brought her to me. He stewarded her to me for a season. He loves her more than I ever could. He DID protect her in ways I never would have been able to. He wrapped his arms around her in the face of danger and held her as she stepped into eternity. And though I didn’t even realize it in that moment, I helped Jesus present her to the Father holy and blameless. If I truly love her I can completely trust her to Jesus’ perfect love. His love is infinitely better than mine.

Remember, son, I loved her first.

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