How Did J. Meet His Wife?
Sat., Feb. 11. 2023 5:22pm EST
J. Jackson, lead singer and lyricist for ApologetiX here.
I'm a happily married man. Very happily, as a matter of fact. If you've met my wife, you can see why. But when God first brought us together, we were living 650 miles apart. And dig this: Even after the first few times we met, I still had no idea what she looked or sounded like. It's all part of an amazing story that started during the saddest time I'd ever known and turned into something more joyful than I ever could imagine.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A SONG
On the evening of January 9, 2000, I went to see my friend Frank Queen preach at Calvary Baptist Church in Irwin PA, the same small town where ApologetiX had made its debut on March 27, 1992. In fact, a 20-year-old Frank had been in the audience at our first concert, and that's how we met ... at the Paradise Club, just two miles from the place where he was now preaching. By the year 2000, however, he was two years out of seminary, and the Paradise Club had been gone for over five years.
My first wife had left me for another guy in 1999, and I was facing life as a divorced man. After an ordeal like that, some people would be gun-shy, but I remained hopeful God would lead me to the right woman I could spend the rest of my life with, preferably sooner rather than later. On the drive to the church, I started singing my prayers (not something I do often) and these words came out: "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me." I still remember the melody.
The words sounded familiar. "I think that line is in the Bible somewhere," I thought. After I got home later, I decided to read a random psalm. It was Psalm 138, and to my surprise, that line was part of the last verse! By then, I'd forgotten about the prayer I'd sung on the way to church, but that verse reminded me. It left such a profound impression that I highlighted it in my Bible and put the date next to it.
MEANWHILE, MANY MILES AWAY
That same night, another significant thing happened, although I didn't realize it was significant at the time. I got an email from someone named Lisa Thompson in Mayfield KY who had purchased the latest ApologetiX CD, Biblical Graffiti, online the day before. I'd sent her a "thank you" note (as I did for everyone who ordered), but she responded with a nice email herself. I replied to that, and then she responded to my reply, and we kept going from there.
Lisa had been an English major, and I'd been a journalism major, so we both expressed ourselves best through writing, and we did a lot of that in the days that followed, going back and forth and learning we had a lot in common. The ensuing email exchange would eventually result in Lisa and me becoming friends, then dating, and finally getting married slightly less than five months later, on June 3, 2000. The Lord definitely perfected that which concerned me, and He did it very quickly!
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself ...
FAST-GROWING FRIENDSHIP, LONG-DISTANCE COURTSHIP
When we started corresponding, it quickly became apparent that Lisa was smart (a card-carrying member of Mensa, the high I.Q. society, as it turns out), witty, and charming. I soon found myself very attracted to her, even though I had no idea what she looked like. Then one day she attached a photo of herself at the bottom of her latest email without my even asking. I couldn't believe how beautiful she was!
Soon she suggested we start using Instant Messenger. I was nervous that we might not have the same rapport if we didn't have time to give clever, thought-out answers, but our exchanges got even better. Nevertheless, it took me a while to convince her to talk to me on the phone, because she was (and still is) very shy about that in general, even with people she knows well ... although she makes an exception for me now.
We finally had our first phone conversation on Super Bowl Sunday, January 30, 2000. If you're familiar with my testimony, you know I also came to Christ on Super Bowl Sunday, January 31, 1988. Although my hometown Steelers have won six Lombardi trophies, they were not in action on the two most important Super Bowl Sundays of my life, but God certainly was! Anyway, the conversation went very well, and we made plans to meet in person two weeks later.
Lisa flew up to Cleveland OH, and I drove her from the airport to where I was living in Ligonier PA, 180 miles from there. I had moved back in with my parents (a humbling experience at age 35), and she got to spend time with me in person, meet my folks, go to dinner with the band family, see ApologetiX in concert, and attend church with me. The following weekend, I drove down to Kentucky to visit her and meet her family.
One way or another, despite the distance, we started seeing each other on most weekends while writing like crazy and talking on the phone during the week. Thankfully, her parents gave me their blessing when I asked for permission to marry their daughter (by then, I already knew it was OK with Lisa). Believe it or not, our courtship lasted more than twice as long as theirs, and they've been married now for over 50 years!
THE LORD LAID THE GROUNDWORK
The woman who would become my bride had never purchased a CD online before buying ours, and the only reason she did was because she'd heard a radio interview with me on the Doug & Karla morning show on WAY-FM in Nashville TN on her way to work in Paducah KY.
She said the broadcast was fading in and out, but she could hear enough to know that I seemed like a funny fellow, and they played "One Way," our parody of the Barenaked Ladies song "One Week." She liked the original and what we'd done with it (and my sense of humor during the interview), and that's what prompted her to buy our CD.
After we'd been together for a while, I found an email I'd received three days before her first email to me. It was from a youth pastor named Rudy, whom I'd met at a recent concert in Houston TX. It arrived on the eve of that fateful radio interview. Here's what it said:
Date: January 6, 2000 9:39:40 PM EST
Subject: Just for you.
I ran across this and I thought that it was just for you!
"Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
with your right hand you save me.
The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me;
your love, O Lord endures forever
do not abandon the works of your hands."
I am praying for you bud!
That's a different translation, but it still contains the same passage I'd sung driving to church on January 9. Another verse I think of now when I think of my wife is this one:
"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:20-21). We have Ephesians 3:20 engraved on the insides of our wedding rings.
ONE GOOD SONG DESERVES ANOTHER
Lisa had been a born-again Christian for about a year and a half when we got together. She'd been married before, too, very briefly, and came to Christ after her first marriage broke up. One of her favorite Christian artists was Bebo Norman, and these lyrics to a song of his that she liked, "A Page Is Turned," turned out to be true in her life, too:
And the God of second chance
Picked her up and He let her dance
Through a world that isn't kind
And all this time, preparing her the one
To hold her up when she comes undone
Beneath the storm, beneath the sun
That song tells the story of a man and woman whom God saves individually and then brings together for life, and it shows where each one was before they met. The first verse is about the man, the second verse is about the woman, and the rest of the song is about them together.
Ever since Lisa and I got married, when I write a new parody, I like to run the lyrics past her first. When I wrote "Ask God" in January 2023, I didn't tell her what it was about beforehand, because I wanted her to figure it out as the song unfolded. She told me afterward that the first verse had reminded her of herself and that the first two verses had reminded her of that Bebo Norman song. By the third verse, she realized it was actually our story.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?
Now for another part of the story: I also had a dear little three-year-old daughter, Janna, from my previous marriage. My ex-wife and I shared custody, with me having Janna three and a half days during the week, every week. Lisa knew that already and embraced Janna from day one and hit the ground running as a stepmommy as soon as we got back from our honeymoon. She was a natural. Although ours may seem like a fairy-tale story, she was not your typical fairy-tale stepmother.
We eventually ended up with primary custody of Janna (who is now happily married herself) and God has since blessed us with three more daughters — Heather, Kelly, and Natalie — and a son, T.J.
My first wife was five years older than I, and she was 40 when we divorced, so there really wasn't much prospect for more children. Lisa is 12.5 years younger than I. If God had answered my prayers the way I wanted when I begged Him to have my first wife change her mind, I not only never would have met Lisa; those four precious little children wouldn't exist. Instead, I'm living the dream, made possible only by The Giver of Dreams. All thanks and glory to Him!
As I've told Lisa many times, I love this little life we lead. Our love story is a great example of Romans 8:28. In fact, I think you could call it a Romance 8:28.