Love Never Fails

“You’re dating Clifton Tomes’s son?!?!?!”

These were the pleasantly surprised words of Ashlee’s Nana Cleo when she discovered who exactly Ashlee had been dating in college.  Her Nana Cleo had some of Jonathan’s dad’s CDs, and his dad had also sung at Ashlee’s great uncle’s funeral. Their families already knew of one another.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.”

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A sign hanging in Ashlee and Jonathan’s home prominently displaying their hearts.

In this life, much of our undue stress very often stems from not knowing what our future holds. We worry about our grades on future exams, about who we will date and eventually marry, about our job prospects when we graduate college, about our children’s behavior at that formal event tomorrow, about our money, about the weather! We worry about what we do not know because that is when we feel the least in control. However, these words from Jeremiah remind us that though we do not know what our future holds, the ultimate Someone does.  We can rest assured that God knows what tomorrow holds because He holds tomorrow. Those words “have for you” actually mean “that I planned for you.” God very purposefully has a plan for our future.

Although Jonathan and Ashlee hadn’t known each other prior to dating, God had already been preparing their future. That’s the great and wonderful thing about God. We may never see His handiwork at play or realize when He has set up our path to lead right where it needed to, but His fingerprints are all over our lives. Jonathan and Ashlee had lived their whole lives as separate individuals. Their families had lived their whole lives with their own interests. Neither family had prepared for the eventual meeting and marriage of these two.

Let me backup just a tad.

Jonathan’s father, Clifton Tomes, was a preacher. Yep. That makes Jonathan a good ole’ PK, preacher’s kid. In fact, he was that preacher’s only kid. Though they moved around Kentucky following his father’s ministry, the Tomes family called Edmonson County home. This is also where Ashlee’s family is from. God was preparing their futures long ago.

Not only was his dad a preacher, but he also sang gospel music. This music is what lured Ashlee’s Nana Cleo into reacting as if Ashlee were dating a celebrity’s son because, to her, she pretty much was. Knowing that the same man who sang those beautiful hymns and gospel arrangements on her CDs was the father of Ashlee’s new boyfriend gave Nana Cleo peace of mind. How could Ashlee go wrong with a preacher’s kid? A son of a man who sang so beautifully? A man from church?

Church is where Jonathan fell for his first love, music. Luckily, for him though, another love entered his life in the form of Ashlee Conner.

Jonathan grew up an only child. He valued his alone time. He enjoyed the freedom of being the only one. Ashlee, however, was NOT an only child. She is the eldest of three very close sisters and the daughter of a tight-knit family who thrives on togetherness. Ashlee, as the eldest of the three, has a heart of a “mother hen,” if you will, who wants to nurture and fix things for those around her. Growing up in a big family, she valued time with others, perceptions of others, and the expectations of others in general.

Ashlee and Sisters
Ashlee, Afton, and Alaena – The Conner sisters

What Jonathan and Ashlee didn’t realize in these differing characteristics is God was also using their histories, their families, their upbringings to shape the marriage they would later have. Their unique experiences from their formative years cultivated personality traits that would help shape them into the exact husband and wife God was creating them to be for one another.

For those who don’t know Ashlee and Jonathan, I truly feel a visual is in order right about now.

Imagine a tall, slim build with long, flowing, dark locks and eyes that crinkle when they laugh.

And that’s Jonathan.

Oh, but we can’t forget his beard.

Then, there’s Ashlee in her equally tall, slim build with impeccable posture and blonde pixie cut to frame her face perfectly. She, too, has eyes that crinkle and twinkle when she laughs. That laugh is a full body, infectious laugh that causes those around to smile in response. Standing side-by-side, this pair looks like a stunt double couple for Duck Dynasty.

Duck Dynasty
Can’t you see the resemblance here? (Photo is part of the public domain found at Wikimedia commons)
Tomes Family 2
The Tomes Family at Afton’s wedding.

When Ashlee started dating Jonathan, her friends were somewhat taken aback. They all loved Jonathan, of course, because you just can’t help but like the guy (and I’ll be purposefully glib with that statement so he doesn’t get a big head later 😉 )  She said, “He still had long hair at that time, but it was more ‘GQ’ long hair and less ‘Duck Dynasty.’” He is incredibly down to Earth and funny. An easy guy to like. However, he just didn’t seem to fit Ashlee’s “type.” I’ll be honest here and admit that I SO wish I had asked exactly what her type was. The truth is I can’t imagine her with anyone other than Jonathan because they seem so right together.

Therein lies the whole point, though!!!

Ashlee had a “type,” and even her friends could recognize that; God, on the other hand, didn’t care. He laughed in the face of Ashlee’s type and sent her Jonathan, who was more her type than she or anyone else could have ever known. When Jonathan and Ashlee dated, they simply had a good and fun time. In their words, they “laughed together and still do.” Without either of them even knowing what they would need, God made it happen.

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“I just feel weird, Ash!” “Don’t make that face for pictures!” Okay, maybe they didn’t say those exact words, but it was something like that.
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They laugh together often.

This pair began dating around Thanksgiving. Just over a year later on December 22, Jonathan took Ashlee on a movie date. They entered the cinema to watch the movie and were greeted with a completely empty room. Ashlee noticed the empty cinema, felt it was a little strange, but didn’t pay much attention. As they settled into their seats, the previews began. Suddenly, however, the screen started to become glitchy and mess up. In that same moment, the sound of the Black Crowes’ “Diamond Ring” began to fill the room. I imagine Ashlee’s eyes began shifting around the cinema as more confusion sat in. Meanwhile, I imagine Jonathan was sitting in his seat taking in her confused reaction with nerves rattling his stomach and his heart pounding in his chest. On the screen, where the previews for the movie should have been playing were photos from Jonathan and Ashlee’s time together throughout that past year. On that night, Jonathan asked Ashlee to be his wife.

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If you’re like me at all, you may have goosebumps on your arms. A few of you may have a tear in your eye. I’d be shocked if  you don’t at least have a smile spreading across your face. This proposal is the stuff of movies, and Jonathan knew it. I’ve heard this story told from both Jonathan’s and Ashlee’s points of view. It’s hard to tell who had the best time that night. What makes it even more special is that he, in essence, married his love of music with her yet to truly be discovered love of photos, moments captured in time, to ask her to marry him. God knew what He was doing when He put these two souls together.

Another important part of their relationship–and the whole point of these blog posts–is their mutual dedication to living a life for God.  

Matthew 7:13-14, 24, 26

Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it…. Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.        

The words of Jesus in Matthew give guidance to everyone who desires to enter the Kingdom of Heaven one day. He wisely directs us to follow the narrow road He has paved for us that leads to everlasting life. If we heed his words, we demonstrate our wisdom in building our house on the rock, and that rock is Christ.

As I mentioned, Jonathan grew up in church. With your father as a preacher, church is a given. I can imagine it now….with a little help of course. A young, lanky Jonathan sits in a vehicle with  media people filming his preacher of a father. He leans forward on the seat to make comments that help him seem like one of the grown men. His father was the man he always looked up to with regards to music and church. That example led Jonathan throughout his childhood. At the tender age of 9, Jonathan was saved and began his life as a Christian. His journey on that road has taken many twists and turns, but it has always led him right to God.

Ashlee’s journey was slightly different. Her father wasn’t a preacher. However, she still grew up with her mom taking her to church. When she was a young girl of just 10, she was at church. Like many preachers do, the preacher told the congregation not to leave without knowing Christ. This is a phrase we’ve all heard, and though it may grow stale to some seasoned Christian ears, there’s a reason we continue to hear it.

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It works on a convicted heart.

Ashlee’s heart began that ever familiar beating in her chest. She didn’t want to leave without Christ taking up residence to assuage the beating. Her father, who was a new Christian himself, prayed with Ashlee that night at home. Looking back, she can now appreciate how special that moment was. Her father helped pray with her the night she accepted Christ into her heart and began her own journey with Him.

Their separate foundations were already built on the foundation of Christ. As a divine side effect, that is how their marriage began, on a solid Rock of foundation in Christ.

Since Ashlee was in her senior year of college when they met and Jonathan was coming back for a degree, they had each already lived through those very typical years of freedom and sometimes ignoring the pull to church. Ashlee said she went to church while in college, but not often enough. Then, they married. In Jonathan’s first act of leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife, he began attending Ashlee’s church. It was where she went, so that is where he went. And go they did. In their earlier years, they knew attending church was important, and they went. However, there wasn’t the same conviction if they did not go that there is today as they have grown and matured in Christ. Jonathan said that today he can watch their church’s Sunday service on TV and still feel convicted about not having gone. Time gives us perspective. It did that for these two. Now, Jonathan says he goes to church for what God has done for him. He feels it’s the very least he can do.

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God has richly blessed their lives with two wonderful boys, a beautiful home, and God-given talent you can only imagine.

The thing about being a Christian is that going to church isn’t even the biggest part of it. Sure, it may be the outside world’s biggest visual and outward sign of who you are. However, every Christian knows that being Christian has more to do with your daily walk than your Sunday sit in that pew. Jonathan and Ashlee’s daily walk also demonstrates their choice to follow the narrow path Christ has lain for them so they can continue on solid rock instead of sinking sand. One place that daily walk is evident is in how they handle disagreements.

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Okay, so maybe this is the face she told him not to make for pictures 🙂

Admittedly, they don’t disagree or argue about much. However, sometimes the only child and the devoted sister disagree about how they should spend their time. During this point in the conversation, Ashlee held her hands up as if in surrender. It was one of those moments that I could tell she was going to admit a “He is right when I’m wrong” moments. She said, “I have to say, Thank God Jonathan is so patient. I am stubborn and want to win. But he doesn’t entertain me.”

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Thank goodness Ashlee can admit her faults around this one without him getting a big head….wink, wink, nudge, nudge. 🙂 Thank goodness they can both laugh about it all!

After Jonathan finished wagging his eyebrows along with a smug head nod, he said, “I don’t like to argue. You love to argue.” Ashlee smiled in a defeated nod. Through conversation, I found that she is like my grandmother and myself and Teresa Wilcox…..dare I say it? She’s like many of us in general? She wants her side heard. Her point made. To talk about it! Jonathan, however, is able to diffuse her building frustration through his words and logic during a disagreement. Ashlee added, “I have to brag on Jonathan. I can see how he has grown in Christ and as the spiritual leader of our family through his patience. Even in the past 5 years, he has grown.”

Did you notice that? Over the past 5 years. She didn’t say he has always been the epitome of perfect patience. She said that the patience took on a newness with his spiritual growth. Jonathan has always been patient. She did add that. However, he began as being patient for patience sake because he’s just a lot like his mother in that regard. However, as he has grown spiritually and grown closer to Christ, his patience has shifted from being like his mom to being more like Christ. He is more mindful about having a Christ-like mindset, and that changes everything. Not only has Jonathan changed in that time. Ashlee has also learned to quiet the voice that tells her to keep talking and making her point. Instead, she has learned to listen and truly hear what Jonathan has to say. I, for one, can learn from that. They are both modeling their communication with one another after what God desires. James 1:19-20 tells us “My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”


The question remains though, how can a person walk in the way God commands faithfully so that he/she continues to grow with and in Christ? We are, after all, human and fail constantly.

Psalms 23:4

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

You may think that for two people who were saved when they were 9 and 10 years old, spending time with God comes naturally and happens by default. That’s not entirely true. Spending time with God is a purposeful decision. It’s one that Jonathan and Ashlee didn’t always make purposefully outside of their Sunday pew time. It’s one that Wade and I haven’t always made, and still don’t always make, purposefully outside of our Sunday pew time. It’s one so many couples do not make purposefully outside of their Sunday service.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it is that we feel closest to God when we need him most. As people, it’s our human nature to try and live life and do things in our own time, in our own way, and in our own strength. However, when we are forced to rely on God’s strength to renew us and carry us through, we learn about Him and learn to depend upon him. For many people, those valleys of life are nothing more than dips. Jonathan and Ashlee, however, have experienced true valleys. Not valleys, actually. Chasms. And it was in that chasm that they both learned to lean on, trust in, and rely upon God.

After having been married for 4 years and having one son, Jagger, Jonathan and Ashlee were expecting their second child and first daughter, London Cloe.

Ashlee
The joys of having a little girl for a mom such as Ashlee would definitely be found in dressing her in twirly dresses, playing with her hair, and teaching her how to do her makeup.

For months, Ashlee imagined what life with a little girl to dress up and have tea parties with might be like. Jonathan undoubtedly was looking forward to that special bond between a father and his Daddy’s Girl. London’s nursery was decorated in bright, cheery pinks and yellows to match the joy and cheer Ashlee and Jonathan felt at the impending birth of their long-awaited baby girl.

I have sat here and tried to type out their story with London in a way that would do it justice. However, my words fall short every time.

Every.

Single.

Time.

In a tragic twist of God’s plan for a hope and a future for Jonathan and Ashlee, London lived for only two days before she succumbed to the complications of her congenital heart defect during major open heart surgery. As I said, my words fall painfully short of telling their story, but Ashlee’s words encompass it in a way I never could or would try. She says London would live only two days in their arms but forever in their hearts.

London Cloe
Photo courtesy of Ashlee Tomes: London is in the hospital wearing one of the dresses that Ashlee, too, wore as a baby.

Ashlee and Jonathan eventually came, or were brought, to a place where they can live life with hope and laughter and joy. However, London’s passing initially left them in a dark place. It wasn’t just a valley, as I’ve said, like we all encounter. This valley dipped deeper and darker than any of us truly dare to imagine. Though they’ve worked their way toward the light outside of that valley, talking about London is still a difficult thing for them both. Their typically cheerful demeanors and smiles faded as the atmosphere in the room became more somber.

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The set of Ashlee’s mouth changed as she began to play with her fingers and tell me more about London and their time with her and journey after her passing.

This chasm, created by the loss of a child who was so completely loved at two days old, is where Jonathan and Ashlee found themselves.  This deep fissure, that barely let in enough light and air to breathe, is where they both met God, prayed to God, cried out to God, and learned to lean upon Him and to get to know Him. When they were at their lowest, it was their knowledge of God’s grace, mercy, and love that saw them through the most difficult period of their short lives and marriage. However, this journey to their Father was different for each of them.

Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Psalm 34:18

The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.

The Bible is God’s love letter to us all. Not only is it full of direction, instruction, and a history of miracles, but it is also full of comfort and hope for us all. A simple search will reveal list upon list upon list of scriptures that show God’s comfort.

Bear with me for a moment. This part of Jonathan and Ashlee’s story may not seem like their marriage per se, but it really is. The thing about marriage is that what you go through as an individual affects who you are as a spouse and, consequently, who you are as a couple. Losing London is something Jonathan and Ashlee had to go through individually as well as together.

When I asked Ashlee and Jonathan what changed in their lives that brought church and God to the forefront, Ashlee said, “London was a pivotal point. I saw God move in a way I had never seen Him move before. It was a time when I felt God was so far away, but He was the only thing I clung to. He was all I needed.”

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Ashlee went on to describe that time in her life like a child who is mad at her parent. Her words painted a picture for me. A picture of a child. If you have children, this will sound familiar. You, as a parent, have done something to or for or that affected your child in a way that completely upsets them. As a result, that kid is mad at you. Not just a little irritated with you, but oh so mad at you. She cries at you. Perhaps there’s even a foot stomp or a shake of her fist because she just doesn’t understand why or how you could have done what you did. She may yell at you and say things to you that you know she’ll later regret. She’s likely to question you and wonder why you’ve done what you’ve done. However, in all her tears and yelling and questioning, you sit there and stroke her hair. You gently rub circles down her spine to ease her tension and release her stress. You grip her tightly in a hug that she tenses against initially but eventually melts into. She just wants to curl up in your lap and soak up every ounce of comfort you can provide.

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That’s what Ashlee said. During the time after London, she was mad and confused and hurting, all emotions directed towards God, but He was all she wanted in those moments for comfort. She couldn’t understand why it was happening and cried out to God. Even in her anger, she said she was like a kid who was mad at her Dad but just wanted to curl up in his lap.

The great thing about God is that He is big and can handle that. Where we as earthly parents grow impatient with our children or exasperated, God’s unending patience can wait on us. That is what He did for Ashlee. He waited on her to get it all out before He continued to work in her heart.

“God showed me that there is a purpose bigger than my pain.”

In all of God’s grace and mercy, He showed Ashlee that Romans 8:28 really is true. “All things [really do] work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” She learned that positive things can come from heartache, even heartache as deep as hers. As part of Ashlee’s journey away from grief and into healing, she began to develop her passion for photography.

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Ashlee took a photo of a plant called a “Bleeding Heart” gifted to her by her mother in honor of London. She used this image to sell prints to raise money and awareness for CHD (Congenital Heart Defects) in honor of London.

The two short days Ashlee had London here on earth in her arms were so precious to her. She has a very few and very precious photos from that time that she cherishes far more than I can even begin to fathom. If you read her blog post, you’ll learn that she values moments in life because those happy moments of living are exactly how she imagines her London. Not as the baby she held ten years ago, but as a vibrant and full of life little girl, much like her two boys, Jagger and Jack, now. Those moments in which she imagines London are exactly what she wants to capture for others so they can commemorate them for eternity, which is exactly where she knows she will meet London again. By capturing moments of others living life and enjoying genuine and authentic moments, Ashlee finds her peace.

Thus, London’s Bridge Photography was born.

London’s Bridge Photography, yes, is a side business for Ashlee. However, it is so much more. London is truly her Why for doing photography. The time she spends giving to other families is restorative. When she gets to dance with and chase and tickle and giggle with little boys and girls all while capturing their smiles and hearts in photo, a piece of her heart glows bright because she can feel God near in those moments. She is comforted by giving back to families what she feels when she looks at the pictures of London’s time here on earth. She found her purpose through the pain.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Matthew 27:45-46

From noon until three in the afternoon, darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sebachtháni?” That is “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

I’ll be completely transparent here. I wasn’t sure how to go into Jonathan’s journey of grieving for London. Given the Easter holiday, the common thread of the death of a beloved child, and the dark period Jonathan experienced following London’s passing, this scripture seemed to just fit. In John, we are reminded of the hope we gained from the death of God’s only son. The hope of our existence. The reward we could never earn that was so graciously given to us purchased at the price of Jesus’ life. This verse is one that never once escaped Jonathan even in his deepest grief. In the verses from Matthew, and all the other gospels actually, we experience the moments immediately preceding the death of Jesus upon the cross. These two verses, while they bring us the hope of our salvation, are so incredibly heart wrenching.

For starters, darkness came over the whole land.

Darkness.

The Whole Land.

Jonathan and Ashlee and London
Photo Courtesy of Ashlee Tomes: Jonathan and Ashlee sit and snuggle with London in the hospital.

On September 11, 2007, Jonathan experienced pure, unadulterated, joyful light in the form of his beautiful London Cloe coming into this world. The hope of a surgery enveloped and abated their worry about London’s heart defect as they soaked in all of her baby noises and smells and softness. Then, two days later, Jonathan also experienced a time of darkness following his loss of London that matched the intensity of the light of her arrival only two days prior.

Jonathan at London's grave
Photo Courtesy of Ashlee Tomes and London’s Bridge Photography

If you know Jonathan, you know him as a man with a smile. Every time you see him, he has a kind word, a quippy joke, or something else to say accompanied with a wide smile set in that beard that helps those around him feel at ease and to smile in return. You simply cannot help but feel a little lighter when you’re in his company. This trait is and was no different with his role as husband, father, son-in-law, son, brother-in-law, or friend. He knows this about himself.

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It was with this knowledge of himself that he was met with his wife who was….broken. Broken hearted. Broken in spirit. Broken in joy. For as much as Ashlee is a fixer who wants to help fix others’ problems, Jonathan’s personality is one that wants to help keep problems at bay, keep them from surfacing or staying at the surface to begin with. That is the husband and father who watched and worked to keep his household functioning in the aftermath of the devastation of losing London. In short, Jonathan did not take the time to grieve London for himself. While he allowed others that deserved freedom, he tried to remain strong for them.

Ashlee said she worked through her grief. She read. She blogged. She took photos. She talked to people. She truly worked through it. Meanwhile, Jonathan, though seemingly fine on the surface to others and even to himself, was living in a darkness. A darkness that comes with the loss of a child. A darkness that comes over the whole land even at noon, the brightest part of the day. Jonathan continued to live life like it was the brightest part of the day, putting on a happy and strong face while continuing to feel the loss of London without having given that feeling the proper time to work itself through him.

Don’t misunderstand. Jonathan wasn’t walking around with his head hung low in a state of depression that was totally evident. In his mind, he had worked through it. However, he also found himself saying, “I’m going to have to hear His audible voice before I’m any better.”

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In short, Jonathan had the hope of Heaven to see London again. However, his hope was all the way in that distant future without any hope for the same peace this side of Heaven. He said, “It was just selfish and dumb grief.”

Eventually, God brought Jonathan to a place in his life where he could no longer go through each day with a pain numbed by a distant hope all the while harboring this feeling of “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” God brought Jonathan to his very own deep and dark valley and met him there.

At this point, Jonathan had already come to the realization that he needed to cling to God if he wanted peace again. He and Ashlee were upstairs in their home talking when he brought out that deep set hurt in the words of “I’m going to have to hear His audible voice before I’m any better.”

In that moment, Ashlee said it’s like when God winks at you. The Bible app on Jonathan’s phone chose that precise moment, for the first time ever, to send him a verse. While Jonathan and Ashlee do not remember the exact verse that he received via text — God’s modern-day equivalent of hearing his audible voice — the gist of the verse was similar to that of Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”  The verse basically told Jonathan in that exact moment to trust Him and know that He was there.

That moment gave Jonathan peace. Peace that he needed to continue in his healing process. He said it was exactly what he needed.

At that point in our conversation, Ashlee added with a smile that warmed my heart, “I’ll never forget…..he smiled.”

She said after that moment it was like Jonathan said, “Okay, God, I’ll listen. You could see the surrender in him.” From that moment on, the peace Jonathan felt, his rededication to the God he’d grown up knowing, and his yearning to grow closer to God restored relationships for him.

Ephesians 6: 12-18

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit

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Admittedly, these verses are some of my very favorite throughout all of Scripture. They call to my memory a song from a play my parents had on VHS called The Bride when I was younger, which I loved dearly. The song was one of the first songs I remember hearing and making me feel empowered as a Christian. The performer sang out “I’ve got my feet shod with the Preparation of Peace. Got my Sword of the Spirit, my Shield of Faith. Got my Breastplate of Righteousness, my Helmet of Salvation. I put on my armor, and I’m ready. Ready for battle.” That is what these verses always did for me. Prepared me for battle against those dark forces. The grand thing about them is that when spouses put them into practice together, the power of their words and their truth is only magnified. Jonathan and Ashlee have done just that!

Ashlee said that church and God were always important to her, to Jonathan, and to their family. Then, after London, God’s love and grace were ever more important to her. And, though they were not un-important to Jonathan, her place and Jonathan’s on this journey was different. When Jonathan finally met God in the valley and surrendered to listening to him and letting God heal him and work through his grief with London, something changed for their family. Jonathan said, “It is true. Go to God. He will help you.” From there, Ashlee said it was like a trickle down effect.

Tomes Family

There was a renewed dedication to being at church. Whereas earlier in their marriage, like I previously noted, if they didn’t make it to church on a Sunday, there wasn’t too much conviction. Now Jonathan feels guilty for staying home and watching the service on television because he feels he should be at church.

There’s also a difference in the attitude toward church in general. They attend a church different from the smaller, country, gospel churches that either of them were raised in. Music is Jonathan’s first love. However, the music at their church wasn’t what necessarily fed his soul. While this may have been a hang up or issue before, the difference in Jonathan’s perspective is evident here. He said, if there are people raising their hand to that music, then God’s working on them. In the end, “it’s not about me.” It’s about God. Not about us and our “druthers.” They are attending church with a more righteous attitude and faith as a result of closer living with God. Their armor has been fortified.

Another way their armor has been strengthened is in the time they spend with God. Ashlee said that when the switch flipped, so to speak, with Jonathan, you could tell he was seeking God.

Jeremiah 29:13

You will seek me, and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Ashlee said Jonathan was diligent and put her to shame in his Bible study. He would close a door and tell her he just needed it.  When he arrived at school, and still arrives for that matter, he closes his door and reads his daily Rick Warren devotional to start his day with God. Ashlee could see how Jonathan was relying on God to change him and heal him. Throughout that journey, it made her love him even more. At that point, forgiveness, for past and future disagreements and grievances, on her part toward Jonathan was easier because of the man she saw before her.

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Shhhh! I MAY have snuck into Jonathan’s class before he arrived to snap a cell phone photo of the place where he sits when he closes his door in the mornings and reads his devotional. It’s all good though. I left food for him 😉 Baked Creamy Spaghetti.

THAT is what a Christ-centered marriage does!

Seek God first, and you will find your heart.

If you know Jonathan and Ashlee, you know they are busy, busy people. First, they are both full-time special education teachers, colleagues of mine, which takes up innumerable hours of the day as it is. They also have two boys who are active in sports ALL. YEAR. LONG. In addition to their day jobs and being parents, Ashlee is also an uber talented photographer who stays busy with her business, which is one thing she uses to seek God and feed her soul. Jonathan is also in a band, Van Winkle and the Spirits, who stays busy playing and, most recently, recording. Not only do they each have their own interests, but they take time to support and cheer each other on in these individual interests. Jonathan is gracious with the time photography takes from Ashlee, especially during the months that she doesn’t seem to know the word NO and grows overwhelmed. He even supports her when she’s unaware of it. We have been at lunch when he talked to me about how he admired her because he saw how this interest went from “Oh, I have a camera. How do I work it and make it do that?” to “Oh, I have a thriving business.” Likewise, Ashlee acts as Jonathan’s cheerleader where his music is concerned, and, more importantly, she does it in a way Jonathan appreciates. He wouldn’t be one to want her to blast constant videos of him performing all over social media. Instead, she chose a poignant moment, a performance of a song he had written for her, to post it. She cheers him on in the quiet of their home and knows exactly what he needs from her. They stay busy doing their own thing as well as supporting one another. Add to all of that, familial obligations and “want-to-tions” and you’ll have the insanely busy lives of this family.

And, you know what? They STILL make time to seek God. They still make time to close a door and read a daily devotional. They still make time to meet with a small group from church to connect with other believers. They still seek God.

We make time for what we deem important.

By making God important in their individual lives and in their marriage, Jonathan and Ashlee have overcome more in their nearly 15 years of marriage than many couples will ever have to face in more than 50 years of marriage. Ashlee said, “But for the grace of God,” to which Jonathan gave a sarcastic laugh.

He said, “Ya know, I’ve heard people say that all my life. But, they don’t even know. It truly is ‘but for the grace of God’.”

That knowledge that runs to the roots of their relationship is what keeps them grounded. What keeps them strong. We can all learn from that strength.

Jonathan’s Marriage Advice

Jonathan

Find you an orphan who can cook!!!!  

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

I had to throw it in there!  

In all seriousness, see their tips below about having a strong marriage.

Jonathan & Ashlee’s ACTUAL Marriage Advice

Have fun together and laugh…..a lot!

Be able to say you’re wrong when you’re wrong. Then, let it go and truly forgive one another.

Support each other’s dreams.

Waking up with a clear head to face anything and realize you’re wrong or say you’re sorry is more important than not going to bed angry.

If you’ve made it ALL THE WAY DOWN HERE, I thank you for reading. This post is unapologetically long. Try as I may to have culled their story down (and I did leave a lot out actually), this is as far as I could get. I hope that in their story you find peace, solace, humor, and strength. As they’ve learned, love, God’s love that is, truly never fails. When we have and demonstrate that same love in our marriage, we are sure to be fruitful, even in a dark valley.

❤ God Bless

Erica

6 thoughts on “Love Never Fails

  1. Beautifully written Erica! These are two of my favorite people and this is such a testimony to their love for God and each other ! Thank you !

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  2. Thank you for sharing their story. Thank you for the goosebumps, laughs, and the tears. (clutching tissue, mascara ruined.) Sincerely, Jonathan’s cousin Michelle💜

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  3. Ashley and Jonathan are in our small group at SVBC and have blessed us with their testimony. Seeing the faith and faithfulness that they have has blessed us all. They are showing us how mightily God is using London even now. You have captured them in this post. Thank you for writing this.

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