How we first met:
In Proverbs 25:25, it states, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”
This verse describes the relationship our family has had with the Neelys over the past 12 years. The first meeting was at a church in northern Virginia. At the time they only lived thirty minutes from us. Six months later it was a different story. With a new job position in North Carolina, Mr. Neely took his family and moved over 500 miles away. Though living far apart our relationship didn’t diminish. Whether they drove up to VA or we went down to NC, the times together would be rejuvenating and refreshing. Our family’s thirst for godly fellowship and discipleship was satisfied because of the work Christ was doing within the Neely family.
Season of Preparation:
I remember so clearly, at the ripe age of 8 years, lying in bed, trying to sleep, and doubting my eternal destiny. The questions were constant…would I go to heaven if I didn’t wake up the next morning? What if I went to hell? Finally, out of desperation, I jumped out of bed and headed to my parents’ room. Though it was late at night, my dad walked me through the plan of salvation. Near the end of our time together, I made a personal decision to believe in Jesus Christ. From then on, I have had an assurance of salvation that has never left. My eternal destiny is with God in heaven above. Having this assurance has been so foundational for every event occurring since then, even the time of preparing for marriage.
Ever since I was quite young, I believed God would have me to be married. My parents instilled in me the beauty of marriage through their own relationship and the way they would talk about it. I also saw, from reading the scripture, the integrality of marriage to the lives of the biblical heroes. Reading about Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Boaz and Ruth, or the relationship between Christ and the church, solidified within me that marriage was and still is an incredible and wonderful gift from our Creator.
At the ages of 11, 12, and 13, I began to have my eyes opened to the way the world viewed marriage. I began to see how Satan had taken this divine gift and marred it with selfishness and a pleasure seeking focus. With time passing, the contrast became even greater. The way God would have a Christian prepare for marriage and the way the world prepares for marriage were so opposite. Knowing that I’m to be in the world but not of it, created a challenge within me to keep my thoughts and actions pure and maintain my focus on Christ. Accountability was and still is so important in this worthwhile endeavor. Having a father or brother, whom I could share my struggles with and be encouraged by was helpful in fighting against the sinful temptations and allurements of this life. Often, my dad would say (and still says), “The decisions you make now will affect your life ten, fifteen, or twenty years from now.” This concept is so true. Receiving good fruit from wise decisions is such a wonderful reward.
Something else my father instilled in me at a young age was the importance of being a provider. He has been an example to me of this and I knew that if I was ever to be married, having the skills and knowledge required to meet the needs of my wife and family would be essential. I started a lawn care company some years ago which has expanded to most spheres of landscape maintenance on both commercial and residential properties. I didn’t know during the beginning years of the business that it would be a means of providing for a family. Yet, now as I look back, I see His hand all throughout in preparing it to do just that.
In the year 2010, my brother Joshua approached a father about marrying his daughter. A year later, he was a married man establishing his own family. As I watched Joshua, my own flesh and blood, approach the marriage altar with a manly step, then being married and enjoying the beauty of married life, the Lord began to show me with greater clarity how wonderful and Christ-like it is for a young man to find a wife.
Something was different….
At the beginning of 2011, my mother, five of my siblings, and I, were heading back home from a trip in the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. The last stopping point of our trip had been the home of the Neely family. It was a joyous time with them. In many ways the visit was similar to other visits. Yet, for me, something was different…. I had been awakened to the humility and Godly character of Amanda and was drawn to it.
As this happened, I purposed to dissuade the thoughts that came with it. I understood the importance of keeping my thoughts and emotions tempered and controlled until God brought the one I was to marry. Just as Adam was asleep when God formed Eve and then gave him a helpmeet, I also wanted to be asleep to marriage. Throughout the year, we saw the Neely family many more times, and each time I saw them, my interest in Amanda heightened and grew. I began seeing qualities which I desired to have in a wife.
Early one morning while driving into work, I made a phone call to Dad and shared with him that I was seriously considering marriage. Furthermore, I believed Amanda Neely was the one God would have me to marry. There was abundant peace in making this step. Working under the authority structure God places in our lives is so fulfilling and brings security. I had now shared with one of my most trusted advisers on the planet and received his counsel – it was wonderful!
The next step came a few months later – one of the biggest decisions in my life – I sent a letter to Mr. Neely, sharing with him the journey God had placed me on since the beginning of the year. I expedited the postal delivery to make sure the letter arrived in the quickest fashion. Soon after, Mr. Neely and I began a series of phone calls and emails. During this time, he gave me a list of eighty-five questions to answer. This proved to be an insightful time for me as I was challenged to convey my perspective and convictions on different aspects of life.
“A Memorable Weekend”
When I was near the 50th question, the Wilkes Team headed down to the Neelys’ for Memorial Day weekend. Before coming down, Mr. Neely told me he believed it was time to let Amanda know. He told me that the decision was up to Amanda as to whether what had begun would continue. If Amanda did not have peace with the thought of marrying me, he didn’t want this to affect in any way the relationship between our two families. I appreciated the way he handled the matter. It gave me peace and turned my gaze onto the sovereignty of God. God knew what was best – I must trust in Him. I had to get my mind in such a state where there was no will of my own. Just as Christ when kneeling before his Father in Gethsamene prayed, “if there be any other way…yet not my will but thine be done,” I also must trust whatever He deems fit for me to walk through.
A few days later, Mr. Neely told me that Amanda had peace with moving forward. She was ready to discern the Lord’s will with me as to whether we were to go through life together. This brought joy and created anticipation for what God had in store. Again, this was a time to trust the sovereignty of God. We both did not know the outcome, yet the Lord did. Furthermore, we knew we would be led in His path of wisdom and righteousness. This wasn’t a time for emotions and feelings to flow; rather, it was a time to share with each other our vision for life, our passions, desires, and direction we had received from our Lord and King.
On one of the evenings during that memorable Memorial Day weekend, both families gathered in the family room. As we sat there, Mr. Neely let everyone know he had something to share with us. Earlier in the evening, he had spoken with me about this moment so I was prepared. Suspense began to build as he communicated on what God had begun in my life and Amanda’s. After letting the secret out of the bag, Mr. Neely went on to say that this was not a time for rejoicing but “a time to be praying for Matthew and Amanda as they discerned God’s will together.”
The next day, the questions began on an afternoon family hike in the mountains. Amanda and I talked about our views on different aspects of biblical doctrine. We discussed family life, children, ministry, the roles of husband and wife, the purpose of the church. It was a wonderful time…God did a marvelous work on that Memorial Day weekend. Upon returning home, I went to work on the remaining questions from Mr. Neely. After finishing these, Mr. Neely had Amanda and I begin communicating back and forth. We started with email, sharing about our lives and answering any questions that we had for each other. We both purposed to be careful in our communication so that we were connecting on a spiritual level – learning the strengths and weaknesses of each other and grasping the differences and similarities. We understood that we were two children of God, discipling and encouraging each other, with the express purpose of discovering the will of God.
The King’s Daughter
Three months later, on a Sunday morning, I was walking the rural road bordering my family’s property. The two days previous had been filled with conference sessions and fellowship with likeminded believers. The Neelys had also been at the conference and were going to be leaving in just a few hours to begin their trip home. I felt God impressing me to speak with Mr. Neely before they left but I wasn’t sure what God wanted me to say. “Dear God,” I prayed, “I only desire your will to be accomplished. Make it clear to me what the next steps are that I am to make….” I began to go through verses God had used at different points through the last six months to give me direction. They were bulwarks of strength that I would turn to for security and tranquility. As I was going through these verses in my mind, a certain passage entered my thought that was not one I had meditated on before. I’m not sure how I even knew it well enough to quote it by memory: “My heart is inditing a good matter… my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” I opened my Bible to find the psalm that started with this verse and discovered it to be Psalm 45, which in my Bible was titled the Royal Wedding Song. Near the end of the psalm it reads:
“The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.”
This was Amanda! She was a daughter of the King of kings and was glorious within. I had witnessed her character, her love for Christ, her family, and beyond. She was a virtuous woman, whose price was far above rubies. It then hit me – God had given me my answer. He had answered my prayer for His wisdom. I left the rural road and, an hour or so later, shared with Mr. Neely that the time for discerning the Lord’s will was finished for me and I believed his daughter to be like the King’s daughter described in Psalms 45. Her virtue and character is what I desired in a wife.
In the Lord’s perfect time, the date was set for going down and proposing to Amanda. It ended up being September 28th, 2012. I woke up that morning at 4:30am, jumped into a vehicle, and began the trip. A little after 3:00pm, Mr. Neely and I met in Andrews, NC, just a few miles from the Neelys’ home and where Amanda was. I followed Mr. Neely to a parking lot, dropped my vehicle off, clambered into his truck, and traveled to what is now called: “the place.” It is situated in the Nantahala Gorge; an area of picnic benches, flowing creek, towering trees, and a railroad track. Upon arriving, Mr. Neely and I discussed the plan that was to be followed, concluding with a season of prayer. Soon after, I was alone to prepare for a special meeting with Amanda.
Around 5:00pm, I stood on a ledge where the railroad track was situated as the Neely van pulled into the parking lot thirty feet below me. Mr. Neely, according to plan, got out of the van with unsuspecting Amanda soon joining him. They began to walk up the hill to the ledge where I had positioned myself. He gave her a letter as he walked with her, titled the “Royal Invitation.” This letter presented the beckoning from our Lord and Saviour to prepare to join Him at the Marriage feast of the Lamb. In the weeks previous, I had read this letter and thought it to be a wonderful addition to the day I proposed to Amanda. As soon as she finished reading the letter, they renewed their ascent up the hill. Now the moment had come. I asked God for His grace at this wonderful yet intense circumstance, and began walking down to join them. A few seconds more, and I greeted a surprised Amanda. I told her that I come to share with her two messages. The one she had already read; the other I would like to share with her on the railroad tracks above…. A while later, we left the railroad track and walked back down the ledge as two ready to become one. Amanda had always been a friend and sister in Christ, but now she is my fiancé – the one whom I will marry – to be my companion through every blessing, joy and trial.
Conclusion of the matter:
We both had no idea what God had in store during those initial family get-togethers 13 years ago. Now, as we look back we see His guiding hand leading us to this point in our lives. Reflecting on His goodness creates an anticipation of what He will do in the future. Marriage is not a finish line. Rather, it is a springboard into a new season of life. God has led us to this point. He hath brought us together. Therefore, we can have an abiding assurance that He will stay with us and lead us till death doth bid us part.
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”(Phil. 1:6)
Finding a life partner: what a surge of images, thoughts, and ideas can be conjured up when one thinks of this exciting decision! For me, as a young lady, the adventure was not in FINDINGa life partner, but in WAITING for the Lord to send the right one along in His timing. Over the past several years, the Lord has worked in my life in so many different ways – one of which being this area of waiting and preparing for marriage. My parents have always encouraged me to guard my heart, diligently reserving my emotional and physical purity for the young man who would one day be my husband. Of course, I had no idea who that man would be, and there were times when I struggled to keep my mind and heart pure and focused on Christ. But during these times, the Lord taught me to trust His sovereign plans and wait for His perfect timing.
My parents have also constantly been in the business of preparing me to be a help meet for that man. My mom has faithfully taught me the glorious home skills of womanhood, while my dad has given me numerous opportunities to work alongside him both at home and in his place of business. They also have encouraged me to keep learning, adding “tools” to my “toolbox” of other skills.
Matthew and I met when we were ages 11 and 9, respectively, when our families attended church together in northern Virginia for about nine months. After our initial meeting, we got together at each other’s homes a few times during those months, and the Lord used that short period of time to spark a lasting friendship between our families. When we moved away shortly thereafter, we maintained our friendship through annual visits for the next several years. As the Lord drew our families closer and closer together, we began getting together more frequently, and the past few years, we’ve been blessed to work together in numerous ministry opportunities.
For the last couple of years, the Lord was really working in my heart about the area of marriage, and He used several different events to make me realize what a blessing these unmarried years in my father’s house really were. I realized that I would not always have these years with these opportunities – years to live with my family, to watch my younger siblings grow up, to enjoy time with them, and learn and do things that marriage and motherhood would make more difficult to pursue. So although I did still desire to be married someday, the Lord gave me the grace to be very content where He had already placed me, joyfully serving and ministering with my family. I was willing to wait as long as the Lord’s time frame might be, because He helped me to realize that, first of all, if I wasn’t content where God had already placed me, I would never be content when I was married; and secondly, that I needed to be making the most of every opportunity that the Lord sent my way, whether that was playing trucks with my little brother, or ministering with my family in music somewhere. Each night as I went to bed, I wondered how much longer this happy season would last, and resolved to cherish each precious day. I loved my life, and I didn’t want to spend these years wishing it away.
It was during this time of greatest contentment that the most recent phase of this adventure began. In May of 2012, Dad told me that Matthew Wilkes had approached him, wanting to get to know me better with the intention of marriage if the Lord showed that to be His will. I was excited, but again, I didn’t want to rush ahead of the Lord’s time frame. I had observed and respected Matthew for several years, appreciating his love for the Lord, his character, his work ethic and leadership qualities, and his love for his family. But our relationship was truly one of brother and sister in Christ, and I was very grateful for the freedom that that gave us as we stepped into the newest phase of our lives.
Dad announced this “new dynamic,” as we Neelys began to call it, to our families shortly after I learned of Matthew’s interest, and over the next few months, the process began taking shape. We began corresponding via email, as well as talking in person any time we were together, asking and answering questions of every type and genre. Sometimes we were in a group setting, such as with our families on a hike or sitting around the dinner table. Other times, when we had more private or personal things to discuss, we would go outside somewhere where we could be alone; but we never went “on a date” or away from where someone in our families was. This gave us accountability and removed temptations that we might have otherwise had to give away our hearts prematurely.
I also talked to my parents regularly during this entire time, telling them things that Matthew and I had discussed, asking about questions or concerns I might be having, and getting ideas and counsel from their Biblical knowledge and years of marriage and life experience. I am SO thankful that they were willing to talk to, pray with, counsel, and guide me during this critical time of discerning the Lord’s will, and their blessing and support was a huge factor in giving me peace about the whole thing.
I might also add here that it was at this time that I was unspeakably grateful for the list that I had been assembling for years beforehand: a list of things a potential suitor must be, things to observe, things I would have to decide, character qualities I admired, questions I wanted to talk about with a potential spouse, etc. I knew that once I became involved in a relationship with a young man, I would have a hard time remembering all those things which are important to me, whether they were spiritual convictions or just preferences based on my upbringing, personality, etc. So for several years, and particularly the past two or so, every time I would hear or think of an issue and think, “Oh, that’s important – I’ll want to talk about that with my future husband…,” I would write it down. I cannot express what a blessing it was to have these things written out beforehand, because once I was “in the thick of it,” I relied heavily on that list to help me remember and stay focused on those things which I knew were very important, but which I might otherwise have forgotten in all the excitement.
During our months of talking, there was one time when I wondered if the Lord was putting a stop to the process. Ever since I was fifteen, I thought the Lord had called me into a particular field of ministry. He had certainly given me a great interest in this area, and I had interpreted that and a few other factors as a “calling.” However, when He brought Matthew into the picture, He gave me complete peace about stepping into the process of getting to know Matthew, even though God had not called him into that area. For the first several weeks, I was at peace with going ahead.
But then Matthew (unknowingly) asked me a question which made me really search my heart about this issue. I struggled for three days, wrestling with the issue and crying out to God for wisdom and direction, that He would make His will clearly known. My heart was torn between what I had always perceived to be God’s calling on my life, and how He seemed to be leading me now, and I fought with conflicting desires. I had always wanted this particular ministry, but now I was excited about the relationship, and I did not want to give that up, either. In the end, the Lord made it clear through my parents’ counsel, Scripture, and the unmistakable “peace that passeth all understanding” that I was to go on with Matthew. One passage that the Lord used to show me His will was Philippians 3:13-15 – “… this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore… be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God will reveal even this unto you.” I am convinced that the Lord used that question and those days of inner turmoil to get my heart where He wanted it to be: at the place where my desires didn’t matter anymore – where I was willing to joyfully accept whatever He wanted of me. So we moved on.
After a few months of talking over every issue that we could think of, we ran out of questions. We still had plenty to talk about, of course, but neither one of us could think of anything that might possibly have been a hindrance to our continued relationship and eventual marriage. So we continued talking, but our conversations at that point became more “fellowship and edification” rather than “investigation and interrogation.” 🙂
I will also add here that I am incredibly thankful for my dad’s counsel, when he encouraged us to continually guard our hearts against emotional entanglement, even though we were talking with the goal of eventual marriage. As time went on and I saw that we had a lot in common, and I observed more of Matthew’s character and saw more in him that I admired, it became more challenging to maintain the same level of emotional indifference as I had before. But the principle was there – we were not officially committed to marriage yet; our hearts belonged to God and our parents and should not be given to each other until we were sure that it was God’s perfect will and that commitment had been made.
Back to the story: we had now talked about the issues that were most important to us in trying to determine God’s will, and I was in another season of waiting. This one didn’t last as long, however. On September 28th, exactly four months after we had shared our first meaningful conversation with marriage in view, Matthew shocked me by appearing at a family picnic that we were taking on our way out of town for the weekend. There he asked me to marry him, and I joyfully accepted his proposal, and the beautiful diamond ring he offered as a token of our commitment to each other.
As I look back over our journey the past several years, and especially the last few months, I am continually amazed at the mercy and goodness God has shown in my life. He has taught me more about how to trust, how to rest in His sovereignty, even when I don’t understand His ways. At one point a couple years ago, I looked at my list of “qualifications” – things that I felt were essential in the man I would someday marry – and I began to wonder, “Am I being too particular? Is there even a man out there that can meet these specifications?” In response, the Lord gave me a verse which asked that question for me, in just the way I was wondering: Genesis 41:38 – “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” In that case, God’s answer to their query was Joseph, whom He created to fill a specific need at a specific time, to fulfill His specific plans for His people. So when the Lord showed me that verse during my time of questioning, I grabbed it and held on – it became my comfort, the Word that I clung to whenever I felt the urge to question if there was anyone out there for me.
And God is faithful – He has brought Matthew along in His own perfect timing. He meets all the requirements I ever had (and that was a lot!), and I rejoice to think that soon we will become one, spending the rest of our lives together in order to fulfill God’s call on our lives, striving to live for His glory by seeking Him first in all that we do. I am so thankful for this man of God, and overwhelmed by God’s grace and mercy – He has certainly given me far more than I deserve! I am so blessed. If I could only claim one verse as a synopsis of my testimony through this part of my life, I would echo the psalmist, when he exclaimed in Psalm 31:19, “Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!”