all the things blog

The Anniversary Sequel: The Pursuit of Unfailing Love


I started writing a book in the summer of 2011. I journaled endlessly of what God was teaching me in those seasons of singleness, in dating, and in love. I {well let's give credit where credit is due- God} named the book- The Pursuit of Unfailing Love. And, I remember exactly where I was in my little bungalow house, sitting at my dining room table with cherry wood sitting at the head of the table in my gold damask hourglass shaped chenille chair. This is where I did most of my creating in those days. It came to me so vividly, as if I had heard the voice of God. I remember texting my friend Christina from college and getting her feedback on the name.


Honestly, in the summer of 2011, I don't remember where I was and what I was doing or what relationship I was in. Perhaps, I was in and out with Joel. Perhaps my facebook timeline would remember better than me. I did, however, know that the book was about Joel and I, about dating, about marriage, about faith and a little about us- ok probably a lot about us.


Little did I know that our story would reach the world, much bigger than my little circle of friends. It would reach to Australia and the UK, and we would gain friends from Canada and Mexico. Little by little we would encounter people who were hurting and aching and needed something in their darkest hours. And our story would become intertwined and woven together as part of their story.


In the previous blog I wrote To Those Who Abandoned Our Son and Me, I stirred the pot. A lot. I know. But it's my story. And it needs to be told. There were some people that just didn't want me to share Joel with the world. I may never understand why. I've heard I'm after fame and money... haha (If I were only taking care of my husband and my son, if I made a penny or a million dollars, it doesn't matter- I'm doing what I'm called to do as their wife and mother. I had to step up and be the provider, which as a wife isn't something easy to swallow for men. But I did it.) And, in my opinion, I'm doing it in an honorable way with long hours and heart and passion. With love, even if they think I'm selling our story, our story fed them and clothed them. As a caregiver and a mama, you do what you must. I've been working my tail off with little financial reward because that's what you do when you work for yourself. That is the cost of freedom. It will pay off. It always does and God always provides.


My heart is that our story would become a light for you. My heart is that by sharing Joel that you would find hope. Now, my husband, he loved attention. You can look at his timeline on facebook and see that every single time he posted something significant and he would tag 50 people just so they saw him. {Now, I know he wanted to make sure that the message- not himself, he had been given as God's vessel was given directly to the people who needed it, even if it took him HOURS to type with his eyes.} He is all about people, making friends and loving people. He had this friend that would message him on facebook always 3 weeks or 3 months late wishing him happy birthday or happy anniversary. He wouldn't correct him. He and I would giggle, but he would check on Joel and sometimes Joel would just delight in being his friend- listening, because that's what he did best. My husband is the greatest friend I've ever had and perhaps one of the greatest you may have ever had.


I had a decision to make years ago. I couldn't help but share Joel with the world. What I wanted to remain private, remained private. Certainly we haven't shared everything. You wouldn't give two craps about what it took to be a caregiver- the reality of what that looks like on a daily basis. And the same to him- he wouldn't want you knowing what he couldn't do for himself and needed assistance with and that would be demeaning. But, what we could share and wanted to share together, we did. And, it led us to countless friendships and the JPF Family {our extended social media family who has invested in our family by purchasing something from our little handmade market or just joining our journey by reading or commenting or sharing their life with us}. I've truly met the most amazing friends and family simply because we chose this path on our journey.


My heart breaks at how abandoned I would feel if I didn't have you guys. I truly mean that. I started to think about that these past couple of weeks. I stood in my kitchen, barefoot and shock. Just reeling through my mind and thinking "What would life look like without JPF? What would like look like if we hadn't shared our story?" My heart breaks.


If Joel would have passed and we didn't

... share our first dance in the NRC in Jacksonville, would you have ever met us?

... share Joel's Red Barn Painting, would we have ever bought a house (he made the down payment on it with the proceeds of that painting- providing a home for us and a place to bring a child)?

... share the hope and perseverance of Joel's recovery, would you have been inspired to believe to"never give up, all things are possible"?

... and to second that Red Barn Painting which we ended up buying and flipping with the help of some amazing friends we met on the streets of Neptune Beach randomly, would we even have the farm we have now because I wouldn't have had any money to buy a home?

... share our story with our adoption class and our village, perhaps there wouldn't even be a we. It would just be me, without Freddie.

... share our talents to create things by hand {and mouth by Joel} in our market would I be able to support and care for Freddie and provide him with the education and one-on-one learning experience he needs to succeed in school.


My reality could be drastically different. And so would Freddie's.


Joel and Lauren Jackson Wedding

Today is our anniversary, and I'll be sharing our photos so you can relive the experience of our wedding with us on our facebook page. But, our wedding was just the middle of the story. It wasn't the beginning and it wasn't end. It was simply an event. I wanted about 75 people at our wedding. My husband wanted 500- tell me who was after fame and glory. He is ridiculous. And he's whooping and hollering that his story is only growing now.


So, instead of hearing me ramble on and on, I asked our JPF Family if they would chime in on what it meant for us to be open to share our story with them... this is what they had to say:


I remember watching the video a few years back that went viral of you and Joel’s first wedding dance. Brought tears to my eyes the love you have for each other and whole approach to life. The happiness you both shared made a lot of others happy. Sending lots of hugs the whole way from Northern Ireland.
I first became aware of Lauren and Joel story by seeing them on the news recreating their first dance. Quickly after I did everything I could to find out more of their story. After many months of stalking them both on Facebook I started watching Lauren's videos and instantly felt like I was gaining a friend. I remember one time I got to speak to Joel with Lauren's help. Joel was constantly posting encouraging posts on Facebook they're really spoke to me and reminded me to stay positive despite your circumstances. See, I am wheelchair-bound, and I have always thoughts marriage was out of the question for me but seeing the love between Lauren and Joel made me hopeful for the future. Up until last weekend I had never met Lauren in person, but when I pulled up we instantly connected and after she talked a little bit about Joel I could just see still the love in her eyes and how she didn't see their marriage the way people on the outside saw it. To her, it was ordinary it was just like everybody else- she got her love story. I am forever thankful to know both of them and the support and openness they're both willing to share the world.
I had the pleasure of meeting my sweet friend, Lauren, through our Young Living family. When Lauren did a quick live video introducing herself I got the feeling that I knew her. I sat and was like where do I know her from? How do I know her? Well, as of yet, I didn’t know her but there was a connection I guess you’d call it with her personality. I jumped on her website and was scrolling through her blog. I sat that night and read her blog for hours!!! Sounds legit creeper, but her story was beautiful and fascinating. Lifetime should legit make a movie from Joel, Lauren, and Freddie’s story. I admire Joel. Even though his life wasn’t what he had planned, he did everything in his power to make it be as close as he had always dreamed. He has set high standards for other men and his son. The proposal to Lauren... can we just say breathtaking. His determination to surprise her with a dance on their wedding... awe inspiring. Joel, who could only speak through a computer and had no use of his arms and legs gave Lauren the love butterflies on a regular basis. Gah!!! If that’s not love I don’t know what is. The love Joel and Lauren shared is unconditional and true. You can see the sparkle in their eyes for each other in any pictures you see. They chose each other and to build a life together when they knew it wouldn’t be easy. They knew there would be hurdles and challenges. Guess what?!? They took those hurdles and challenges with their love and determination and made them victories! They continued to grow in their marriage and life. There was so much love that they decided to open their hearts and home to children who needed the love and to see that even though life isn’t what we may picture or as hard as life may become... anything is possible with love, determination, and hard work. What a beautiful gift to share with their son Freddie. The love with Joel and Lauren is selfless and constantly giving. They give with every fiber of their being. In the short time that I’ve known Lauren, we have developed a friendship and I look forward to the day I get to meet her in person. I have a goal to spend a weekend with her at Jackson Pine Farm Bed and Breakfast. A weekend with Lauren at JPF with the goats, ducks, sheep, kitties, and puppies along with Freddie... ah! The fellowship, friendship, laughter, and tears that will take place when that time comes is going to be epic! The love pours from Lauren in everything she does. You can see that Freddie adores her. As amazing as this story is, it makes my heart burst with joy to know that there are so many more chapters that are going to be written in their story. To Lauren and Freddie... although Joel isn’t with you in person anymore, there is no doubt in my mind that he’s with you in spirit. He’s so proud of you both for continuing to work on all the things that you all worked so hard on to start. Keep making those dreams come true. Keep sharing your story. It’s a beautiful story. Each of our lives are our own story and stories and made to be shared. By sharing your story you never know what person you may empower, save, encourage, inspire, etc. I am beyond thankful that my path crossed with Lauren’s and I’ve been blessed with a sweet friend. Onto the next chapter in this story!
God gave you this story to share for His glory. Never forget that. I didn’t live in the black hole of abandonment and then divorce to stay there. Absolutely not. My story is not mine, it’s His and in order to honor the grace that I found as I rebuilt myself, the story has to be shared. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in the same trenches I fought through. God had used me in their lives. Joy always comes in the morning. For a long time, I thought that was literal and meant that I needed to feel joyful the very next morning. But God. See, His timing is not ours and joy DID come in the morning after He’d taken me through the crushing and rebuilding weight of a divorce and I was ready to see His plan. Your story doesn’t have to help his family to be the story God wants you to share.
I found you guys by running across the video of you and Joel dancing at therapy. It was so inspiring and full of love. <3. I just loved your story!
Honestly....I cannot remeber how I found you buuuuut.... am so very glad I did!! Your story has definitely impacted me. I love your story <3 and I totally support your spirit, dreams and love for people! Thank you for not giving in to despair! You are loved!! <3 Happy Anniversary, Dear Heart
I first stumbled across JPF during a late-night search for some fun new essential oil diffuser jewelry. I searched Etsy for “fuchsia leather” (lol) and a gorgeous necklace popped up that I had to have. Then I clicked through to your website, fell in love with everything about JPF, most importantly the love story between you and Joel and your addition of Freddie to your family. Just like that, I was drawn in. I must have read two dozen blog posts that night and watched an equal number of videos. I wanted to get to know you guys, even though you had no idea who I was, lol. I started following along your posts on social media. I admired your unwavering, loving devotion to Joel, your sunny perspective, and the many avenues you had created to build/promote your family’s business in a way that was always fun, creative, and multi-faceted. I admired Joel’s steadfast determination, his strong faith, and his dedication to being the very best husband to you and father to Freddie. Together you created a magnificent vision of what JPF would become, before you even landed at the actual place where it would happen… a place with a red barn, more animals than I can keep track of, and a place where you will grow roots and build the community that you two dreamed up together. A place where your shared legacy will live on. There are no words for the loss of Joel. Oh how I wish I could have met him. But because of all that you’ve shared so openly and authentically, I feel that I do know him. He lives on, and he always will, through your love and because you chose to share your story. I wish you the happiest anniversary possible. Although it will be beyond difficult (I literally can’t even imagine), you have so much to celebrate on this special day. The fact that you’re pulling these stories together is an amazing example of the way you continue to love, honor, and respect Joel every day. Your love story is one to be admired and shared for generations to come. Thank you for being such an inspiration. I love you, friend!!!!
I met Lauren through doing a fb giveaway together. After starting to follow Lauren, I was intrigued by Joel & Lauren’s story. Not too long after I started following their story, a new friendship was budding. God had a great plan. I am an adoptive and foster mom, & Lauren and Joel were looking into adopting from froster care. For some reason (totally God) I started sharing our foster and adoption story with Lauren one night. We had never met in person but we were becoming fast friends. I shared how God had closed what seemed like a devastating door in our story, only to bring our baby girl home 2 weeks later. This story resonated with Lauren & Joel so they opened up to a new adoption adventure that had been presented to them. I was so excited for them, & started checking in on the adoption of Freddie regularly. I was so excited when they officially were able to adopt Freddie. You could tell from their pictures, & the way they shared their story what amazing things God was doing in their family. Joel was beaming with pride in the pictures, just like any proud Papa. Watching these new friends I had never officially met become parents was so amazing. I was in awe of the journey their love story had taken, and could not wait to see what else would come. I felt absolutely heartbroken for my friend Lauren when she posted of Joel’s passing. I was amazed to see the strength in Lauren as she put the love of her life to rest. Then she decided she and Freddie would move back to SC. I was so excited to have this friend moving closer, and to finally get to meet her in person. It was amazing to see how the process of looking for a new farm to call home, how you could see a beautiful plan God and Joel seemed to have worked out together. With all the details matching a life long dream Lauren and Joel had. Down to the adorable red barn. It is a beautiful depiction of God’s love and grace as I get to continue to watch the Jackson story unfold.
I came to know you and read about you and Joel through our oldest granddaughter "Ashlee". If you know who I'm talking about, then you also know that her mother (our youngest daughter) ended her own life on May 28, 2017. While I have not lost my beloved husband of almost 54 years, the death of our daughter hit me like a freight train! Had I not had those before me who have made this journey and were willing to share their stories, I'm sure that today I would not be in the place that I am right now. The thing that impacted me the most was the statement that one of those people made..."always remember that there are those who are ahead of you in your grief journey, those that are right where you are now and those who are just beginning". Somehow, that statement made me feel less alone. What I have learned during this process on the most difficult of days (birthdays, holidays and the anniversary date of our daughter's death) is that if I actively seek to do something in service to others, it makes the "sting of loss" just a little bit less. Focusing on what I "can" do instead of what I "can't" do is cathartic. I am a very positive person by nature, and what I love about you and the things you write and talk about are all because you find the "positive" even within a "negative". The bottom line here is that my personal mission now is to pay it forward to someone else who needs to know they are not alone, that what they're feeling (sadness, denial, anger, etc.) all serve to bring us to a place and time when we are not just "surviving" what we have lost...instead remembering all the joy that that person brought to our life and the legacy they left behind...
I have never met you, Lauren, but I met Joel at a local therapy office where he worked on regaining his ability to eat. The strength and tenacity that Joel showed as he came in week after week until he was able to eat I believe mac and cheese was so AMAZING!! He worked so hard to achieve that goal and he did it.
When I first met Joel it was when I worked for Palmetto Ambulance Service. I remember walking in and didn’t know what to think. It was my first time dealing with an young person that was bed ridden. Me and my partner loaded him up in the ambulance and off to RCP we went in Greenville. When we loaded him up I’ll never forget his step mom saying “Joel is picky so drive good” so I said "yes ma’am" and I drove literally 10 under the speed limit because I knew he was in pain and I wanted to be the best driver he had lol. I think I earned that token. The smile I received from him after I got to RCP was a smile I never gotten before. I knew joel was at peace with the situation and lived everyday like it was nothing. Best memory of joel. On June 6 2013 I experienced a horrible crash myself. Broke neck, shattered wrist and the list goes on. When I got out the hospital they asked me if I wanted to go to RCP and I said no. At that moment and time I reflected so much on Joel and his positive attitude that he always had and I told myself if joel can do it so I can I. And I did it. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Joel and his impact he made on my life just by him simply being him. Joel touched so many lives at Palmetto ambulance service.
I was looking for a photographer to take our family pictures near Palm Coast Florida. I found you online I think and called you. You were so sweet, affordable, patient, and accommodating,. I think it was the summer of 2015 when we met in person. My family all agreed how beautiful, perky, full of energy and grace you were. Your testimony floored us all. Honestly, we couldn't figure you out. You were either a saint, a gluten for punishment, a martyr, or someone truly grounded on knowing who they were and what they wanted out of life. As I have gotten to know you more through your posts as you shared your journey, the ups and downs of married life with Joel, I could tell you two loved each other fiercely and that you led your team as a trailblazer, making sure you did whatever it took to help Joel reclaim as much of his former self as possible. It was also clear that you worked hard to accept daily life as positively as possible for Joel's sake and your own too. Ya'll worked so hard to carve out a living for your family using your God given talents and discovering ones you never would had discovered had the accident never happened. But the biggest gem I got from knowing you is how ya'll leaned on God and gave Him the Glory, honor, and praise in every set back and victory! So I can honestly say that of all of our first perceptions of you that the last one was correct. Lauren you are a Godly woman, full of grace ,with a dynamic testimony and life. I have been excited to see how God has moved mightily in your life since Joel entered Heaven's gates and I am excited to see how he continues to move in the future. Lauren you are a beacon of light for our Lord. Keep shining.
I came to “watch” yalls story unfold after seeing pictures of your wedding on Adam and Kaitlyn’s feed. After working in the neuro ICU, I was interested and wanted to know more of how you all were managing, knowing what a crazy road it has to be. Fast forward to Jackson Pine Farm, I’ve been loving watching the journey. I can say (watching this year especially) you have given me hope, peace about my own emotions, and weirdly enough support (not like you have been physically here or anything). I am in love with your heart, Lauren, and what God has gifted to you through Joel, and now Freddie. I am proud of you too, and we’ve never even met!
Of course I met Joel through my brother when they were some time around 13 and I was 9. I got back in touch with him in 07-08. When I moved back from Florida in 09 not long after that the wreck happened. I was heart broken. Randomly we commented on each other’s FB page and began messaging and catching up. My brother was still struggling and Joel would check on him through me. He slowly started opening up about the wreck as time drew on. But before we even spoke of it, you never would have thought it happened because he was still Joel. But more wise and mature. He was still so funny and we loved the Miami heat. He had good conversation and an uplifting spirit. He listened to me when my issues were nothing compared to his. Even though he was struggling he still helped others. Then Lauren came back into his life and I have never seen his face light up and be so happy. Just smitten. Lauren you were the missing puzzle piece at the time. You completed him. I got to witness that at the wedding. And I’m so glad his last days were with you. Who he needed the most!! I love you both so much!
I have almost messaged you about a dozen times, but never feel like I can organize my thoughts in the right way. Since you asked, this feels like the right time to express how I feel about your family. I was Freddie’s previous case worker. First, I have to say that I have really loved watching your stories and reading the way you speak of Freddie. Your love and relationship is beautiful and it makes my heart so happy. I remember the Freddie I met for the first time, he was so quiet and reserved. I remember thinking to myself “oh I am going to struggle with this kid” when I saw him compared to his very boisterous sisters. He seemed so sad and afraid when I met him. When I look at pictures of him now, he has a sparkle to his eyes (especially anytime he’s around his animals. That boy always loved them!) You’ve given him a childhood back. he looks so comfortable and like he trusts. He looks happy. Freddie is one of the most impactful children of my career and I want to thank you for that because let’s face it, in social work... there are not enough happy moments or childhoods restored.
This song (By Your Side by Tenth Ave North) came up on my playlist today and I thought of you. It is no secret how I feel about you. We met when I had just finished my senior year of high school. We became fast friends and I spent a large amount of time with you figuring out life. In fact, I was with you when I first met Joel. I remember our late night talks, our impromptu jam sessions, and planning. In fact, the one night I remember the most is our trip to NC right before Christmas. It was that night that we were talking on the way home and I told you that one day, you would end up marrying Joel. Turns out, I was right. I spent several other afternoons with Joel after that. After all, we only lived 3 minutes away from each other. We watched football, movies, and just talked about life. But nothing compared to how he looked when we talked about you. We drifted apart when I started dating Trevor. In fact, it wouldn't be until I was in NY that we would reconnect again thru Joel's Christmas cards. We started talking again, and have remained friends up to now. I will always be thankful for Joel and his wise wisdom thru many situations in my life. And I will always be thankful for your "smacks in the head", and your listening ear. I am so thankful that God sought fit to bring you back to South Carolina. This song says it all. No matter what the situation, I will always be by your side. I said it nine years ago, and I still mean it today. I love you, Squishy.
I have no idea how we met, but I am so glad that we did. I remember meeting you long before you married Joel. I just remember you always talking about him when I had been around you. I remember you showing me his picture and telling me about your best friend, and sharing his story about his accident with me. I remember you telling me that you loved him and that he was someone that had always been very close to your heart. I was completely surprised when you married him, I remember you doing a video because people had questions about how yalls relationship worked and how y’all wanted your future to look together. I have always thought that the love y’all shared together was a picture of selfless unconditional love. It was true in the realest terms. You both showed everyone how to love, what that meant, what that looked like, and though you both were limited to some extent, your love for each other had absolutely no bounds and proved to be limitless, which was so amazing and so beautiful to be able to see. I remember seeing Joel walk for the first time in that one video, I remember seeing Joel paint and go on family outings, I remember how happy he looked, and how proud of him you always were. I remember seeing the struggle of how you both fought and waited for a child, and then seeing the joy of finally having Freddie. You gave Joel his wings Lauren. Not only in heaven but while he was on this earth. You were his wings. He loved you deeply and Freddie too. Everyone could see that. You’re amazing. Joel was amazing, Freddie is amazing, the farm is amazing, and your story is not over yet. I’m thankful to know you. Happy Anniversary to the both of you. ❤️
I cant remember how I came across yours and Joel’s page but I know God had a big part in it ❤️ the way you admire your husband and always lived life in your faith is so inspiring! I prayed for you two to experience children whether your own or adoption and im so glad you two got to be parents to sweet Freddie ❤️ I still hope to meet you soon and was so happy my women’s group at church could reach out to you during the difficult time of losing Joel and moving! We love you our sister in Christ!
Not long ago, I had a “memory” pop up on Facebook. It was when y’all were trying to get on Extreme Makeover Home Edition and when I first started following your story. I knew of Joel from school and knew about his accident but not much more than that. I loved and was inspired by his never ending pursuit on life, even when the odds were against him! I am so grateful for him because he lead me to YOU! Your love for Joel is awe inspiring. Your commitment to the Lord is one to follow. Your heart for others is is abundant. I am so thankful that Joel’s beautiful story lead me to you sweet friend!
I have been inspired by you from the time I met you via fb, before you and Joel ever married. You love Jesus and share your heart and life with such transparency! There is no doubt that Joel loved you unconditionally and you loved him the same. Keep following the path God reveals to you...His blessings and favor will continue. I hope to visit your farm one day before too long. I googled the town and checked it out on the map. You live near a cousin of mine I hope to visit in the next few months, well, it may actually be closer to early spring before it is possible. But I will contact you when I am in the area. So looking forward to it ❤ Love y'all!

It's not just your story. It's a story of God's love and who He is and what we will become when we choose to share this journey together.

My point of sharing this blog with you is that you might KNOW that your story matters and it is WORTH sharing. Don't you dare let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't let anyone put you in a corner. There is someone out there that needs to hear your words.


And, my prayer is that if you're reading this and you ever doubted us sharing our story or were worried for us, that you will see what impact your Joel had on this world. I hope you have pride for him carrying out the life that God wanted for him, even if you didn't agree. This is his legacy.

As I'm finishing this blog this song comes across my Spotify and I begin dancing.


I'm not meant to just stay quiet I'm meant to be a lion I'll roar beyond a song With every moment that I've got True to who You are You saw my heart And made Something out of nothing

I don't need my name in lights I'm famous in my Father's eyes Make no mistake He knows my name I'm not living for applause I'm already so adored It's all His stage He knows my name oh, oh, He knows my name oh, oh



The Pursuit of Unfailing Love


So, I promised you I'd announce something big... ugh I really don't wanna. I'm fighting this with every ounce within me. But, I started that book 8 years ago and perhaps this is the beginning of actually writing it?! I knew Joel and I would be married 5 years before I started really writing it.


Alright, I'm gonna say it (because then I know if I say, I will have to do it).


I'm going to freaking write a book!

Will you pray for me and with me as I start this journey of unpacking these journals and the writings that I have kept closed for such a time as this?


If you'd like to journey with me, as I write again you can find the exclusive page here. Please keep in mind I haven't posted to this page in years and years and some of the links to the former blogs may not be right.




6 years and counting,

Lauren

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