Finding Jesus on the Front Porch
by Jackie Hooks, as told to Cindy Lewis Dake
Lights twinkled along the gardenwall. Flickering lanterns quietly painted their glow on the family and friends gathered around the couple exchanging vows—for the second time, a renewal of vows spoken a decade before. Friends sat around the garden, shushing children on their laps. But for the three preschoolers whose parents stood before the minister, words of love and commitment were showered on them like blessings which would reap a harvest of joy for decades to come. There was an “I do” and then another, then a kiss, tears, applause, and then the celebration.
Yes, I’ll admit, it sounds a little cheesy to renew your vows. Take my word for it, my husband and I are anything but cheesy. But when we realized our tenth anniversary was coming up, it seemed like the right thing to do. The first time around, we hardly knew what those vows meant. We had been friends for years, fallen in love after college, and then lived together. But we had no idea what commitment and marriage meant. The first six years tested us, stretched us, pounded us—and almost broke us—until Jesus stepped in and made Himself known on the front porch. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Our relationship started long ago in a YMCA camp far, far away…
In the Beginning
I can hardly remember a time when Corey wasn’t in my life. We met at YMCA camp when I was 7 and he was 8. A few years later, his family started going to my church, and our parents always sat one row apart from each other. There he was. There I was. It was as predictable as the fact that “Holy, Holy, Holy” would be the first song in every new Baptist hymnal.
Even though I accepted Christ as my Savior at age 12, I left the church at 18. Corey admits he walked down the aisle as a child just so he could fit in with “the club”—his friends at church. He knew how to talk the talk, but there was no commitment to Christ. By junior high, he was tired of being the church boy, so he went to the other end of the spectrum—spending time regularly in on-campus suspension for fighting, disrupting class, and mischief. In high school, he ventured into alcohol, drugs, and even ended up in jail. He managed to graduate in the bottom 10 percent of his class, though he had once been in all honors classes. His six years in the Navy helped him pull himself together, except for his drinking habit.
Fast forward to my senior year in college. We started dating around Christmas when Corey was home from the Navy. We went out with friends one night, and Corey conned me into kissing him. Three months later, we were engaged. In 1999, we were married. We felt we’d known each other forever—best friends who fell in love. But we were also party people who drank a lot, occasionally did drugs, and would pop into church every once in a while just to appease our parents. There was no evidence of Jesus in our lives.
In 2003, our first child, Jacob, was born. I became a stay-at-home mom, leaving my teaching job in junior high special education. Six months after Jacob was born, I was pregnant again. This time, it was different. It was not an easy pregnancy, I was terribly sick, Corey was gone a lot with his new job, and our marriage started to show the stress.
After baby Jude was born, things got worse. Doctors couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t stop throwing up. Our life was a nightmare. Corey and I could have handled anything before, but now we couldn’t even stand to be in the same room. We hated each other—and if it weren’t for our sick baby, we wouldn’t have communicated at all. Jude kept us from splitting up.
Judge or Be Judged
When Jacob was ten months old, I enrolled him in Kindermusick, a preschool music program. It would be Mommy and Jacob time. I loved the class—the other moms were friendly, smart, and great fun to be around.
But then I found out they were all Christians. Every last one of them. And if that wasn’t ironic enough, they were all from the church I’d grown up in. I expected them to start judging me right away. I’d certainly started judging them. I completely expected them to be hypocrites. To be honest, I hated church people.
Corey was struggling with his own opinions of Christians. In college he worked at a surgery center where several nurses truly showed Christ’s love. Then a job in medical sales put him under a supervisor who claimed to be a Christian when it worked to his advantage. Chalk one up for the hypocrites.
I expected those Kindermusick moms to not like me. After all, we were so different, and I decided to show them just how different we were. I pulled out my cigarettes after class. I wore my Buddha T-shirt. I just waited for them to judge me.
Then one of the moms, Kathryn, invited us to play at her house. I told her, “You know, you’re my least likely friend.” What did we have in common? My marriage was falling apart, I was considering leaving my husband, and we hadn’t been to church in forever. I wasn’t even allowing my mom to take our kids to church anymore. That’s how much I didn’t want them raised in a Christian environment. But Kathryn listened, and we began having real, authentic discussions about life. She was never judging in her attitude. She genuinely cared.
Then my mom asked the preschool minister to drop by my house. You have got to be kidding me! I didn’t want her in my house. I made sure the liquor was in plain sight. I would show her just how unlike Jesus I could be. I was ready. Come judge me.
When Debbie dropped by, she immediately connected with me by talking about how hard it was when she went from having one child to two. She understood my challenges of juggling a healthy toddler and a sick baby. She even made me laugh. Later, I called my mom and told her, “Well, that wasn’t too bad.”
The Front Porch
Christmas was coming. Our finances were falling apart. Corey and I were fighting nonstop, and Jude was still sick. I told Dad that after the holidays, I was leaving Corey. In spite of everything that was hard in my life, I’d had enough of this marriage. I was ready to be a single parent. I had secretly begun to look for a job. A major life change was my New Year’s resolution.
One night I was out on the front porch, drink in hand, cigarette smoldering, when Corey brought me a letter he had written to a company which was about to hire him. In the letter he said he was excited about getting to work with other Christians. He said he wanted to travel less so he could spend more time with his family and get closer to God.
I was furious. I exploded, “You are such a liar!”—except I used a boatload of expletives to flavor it up and convey my absolute disbelief and hatred for him. I thought, Now he was the hypocrite!
Corey started crying. What? My husband has never been one to cry. “What is wrong with you?” I sarcastically challenged. Corey said as he typed the letter, he realized he really believed all he had written. He truly wanted all that. He knew he needed Jesus in his life. It was a moment of clarity that would change his life, our lives, and our children’s lives.
I put down my cigarette and my drink, and flatly told him, “I am not qualified to help you with this.” I walked in the house, called my parents, and said, “Corey has something to tell you.” Then I handed the phone to him. My dad led Corey to pray for Jesus to forgive him of his sins and tolead him through life from that point forward. The first time I ever prayed for my husband or with my husband was that night when he asked Jesus to be the Lord of his life.
I absolutely could not believe the situation unfolding in front of me. My husband wanted to become a Christian? The man I’d decided to divorce wanted to repair this chasm in our relationship? What was happening?
What happened was Jesus had shown up that night and revealed Himself to Corey, calling him to a relationship marked by forgiveness and love— and a renewal of all things in his life. Buddha had certainly never shown up on my front porch and tried to fix my marriage. No New Age god had ever shown this kind of power in our lives, the power to change my husband right before my eyes. I knew right then that the God of this universe just walked into our lives with the most amazing miracle, and He made Himself known through Jesus Christ.
“Where’s the Bible?” Corey asked. “Let’s start a Bible study tonight.” This was uncharted territory for us. We had to search through dusty storage boxes to find our long-rejected Bibles. My faith from years gone by hit me squarely in the face—there was my Bible from church camp when I was recognized as Camper of the Year. What had happened to me in the years since then? Was it that Christians had so judged me, or that I had been the one standing in judgment of them? The only Christians I knew now had been nothing but kind, authentic, and patient with my in-yourface attitude.
Corey may have changed overnight, but I didn’t. The next day I called Kathryn and told her, “I’m the only woman in history who was mad when her husband accepted Christ as Savior. But I’m going to stay with him out of obedience to a God I haven’t spoken to in 11 years.”
Corey encouraged me to go to a Thursday night Bible Study for women. Oh, I went, but I told them just how ticked off I was to be there. Then I told them I knew Jesus had made Himself known on my front porch, and I couldn’t deny something really remarkable was happening in my husband’s life. I completely expected them to judge me, too. But they didn’t. Afterwards, I realized I didn’t just feel welcomed in the group; I felt wanted.
For two years, I kept waiting “for the other shoe to drop,” for church people to take off their masks, to disappoint me, to cast a judging eye my way so I could say, “Ah, see, I told you so!” But it never happened. I was wrong, really wrong about Christians, about Jesus, and it took 11 years for me to see just how empty my life was and what a destructive road I was on.
The last four years of our now very different lives have not been perfect, of course. Becoming a Christian didn’t make us rich, make our kids perfect and healthy, or make our marriage ideal. But for all those times in the past when trouble hit and it was just us out there alone, now it’s us with the support of other Christians and with the guidance of the Bible. We know where to go for help now.
As we got closer to 10 years, I told Corey I wanted another wedding. Those vows we took before God a decade ago mean something completely different now—something so much better. We’re now married to someone we never would have married the first time around. Corey never would have married the me I am today, and I wouldn’t have looked twice at a godly guy like him.
So on a Thursday night last June, about 80 people gathered in a garden. Jacob, Jude, and Grace mingled around our knees as we said our vows. If you didn’t know what it took to get us there, it would seem cheesy. But for those who knew what we were like 10 years ago, it was every bit a miracle. I like how little Jude summed it up. He called it, “The day you promised Daddy forever.”