The Genesis of #HowardTime
I am Avenlea and my husband is Stephen, and together we are #HowardTime. We are imperfect people brought together by the perfect love and grace of Jesus Christ. We are different, loyal, real, and relentless. We are just your friendly neighborhood weirdos trying to raise one awesome human named Violet. Read about our story and what our banner is over our household for 2020.
Bridgewater College. A football player and a softball player saw each other and they knew they would spend the rest of their lives together---this is utterly hilarious if you knew us in college, and if you did know us back then, come meet us again, we’ve grown up! The whole football player and softball player thing is true, but knowing that we’d spend the rest of our lives together was a joke. We were young, dumb, and stubborn. Just keep reading.
If Stephen were telling this story he would tell you that he saw me on freshman move-in day as he and his football buddies walked by my dorm. He would say that he turned to his friend, pointed at me, and said, “Hey y'all, I am going to marry that girl right there.” I hope you read that in his Nelson County accent for those of you that know him. He would leave out the part that he never actually talked to me until a year later. He wouldn’t mention how I endured hundreds of awkward waves and weird “Heys'' as we would pass by each other until we actually had our first conversation. Despite the painfully awkward interactions, I remember telling my best friend and roommate that I kind of liked his weirdness, and deep down, I really wanted to get to know him. But the thing is, Stephen’s not telling this story, I am, so let’s get on with it.
That first conversation wasn’t any better. Bless his heart, Stephen tried. It was a fall day where the softball players and defensive football players were in the Bridgewater College weight room getting their daily lifts in. I never really understood why they scheduled us together, but that’s besides the point because I know God did that on purpose *eye roll*. Myself and the other pitchers were doing our workouts trying to get done as fast as we could, but of course the big burly football guys were taking up all the room and all the equipment. I was impatiently waiting on a bench when I heard Stephen’s first attempt to get my attention. He was talking to his friend Chris and pointing at my feet. He says in an abnormally loud voice, “Yeah Chris, you need to stop wearing those white socks and get real athletic socks like the black ones Aven is wearing.” All three of us slowly looked down at my socks and the most awkward silence ensued. I responded with the first thing that came to my mind, “Yeah, I like black socks.” FACEPALM. Ugh! I like black socks? Come on Aven! Chris looked at me and then back at Stephen and thankfully made another joke to free us both from the most uncomfortable first interaction in human history.
Fast forward to a few months later. We kept seeing each other out and around campus and conversations came easy and I loved talking to him. We talked about sports, music, working out, Jesus, our dreams; we could talk for hours. I thank God we recovered from his first attempt of a pick up line and my awful response (still cringing.) Stephen grew up in the church and had a solid foundation of who Jesus was and had a steadfast commitment to walk with Him. I didn’t grow up in the church and a lot of my walk was pieced together by studying the bible, Googling everything, and attending small groups in high school. I felt so dumb talking about God because there were things I didn’t know, but Stephen never made me feel inadequate. Because of this, for the first time in a long time, I felt like God was really in my heart. We had such a connection and organically wanted to be better people for each other. So we became friends, best friends. We had a lot in common. Neither of us fit in your stereotypical boxes and we liked that. We both had a different way of viewing life and a common desire to accomplish goals. Both of us loved playing our sports and cherished the life lessons we gleaned from them. We both had a lot of baggage though. A LOT. Neither of us were in a position to date one another but we couldn’t stop having a relationship. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of abuse from past relationships, partying, and trying to heal myself, and he was dealing with the same things plus his dad being diagnosed with cancer. The more our affection grew for one another the more angry we got because we both knew we couldn’t help each other at the time. That anger would come out and we would say things and do things to purposely hurt each other. I was mad because I wanted to be with him, but also wanted to self medicate without a commitment and he was mad at me because I didn’t have in me what he needed. He was angry with God because his dad was suffering and wanted me to take God’s place, but we all know that ends in disaster. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. And hurt is what we were both very good at.
It went on like this for several months. We’d use each other and hate each other and the cycle continued weekly. We refused to be together, but God has quite the sense of humor and didn’t care about our stubbornness (you always win God, I know.) Stephen’s dad got really sick and he passed away that January of Stephen’s junior year and it all spiraled out of control from there. I have never lost a parent before so I was clueless as to how to help him through this and let’s not forget that I was not even capable of comforting someone when I couldn’t even comfort myself at this time. The partying continued and it intensified for us both. Stephen was drinking to forget everything and I was just drinking to become someone I wasn’t. We both entered very dark, isolated, and seperate places.
By the grace of God, Stephen and I are together and we have purpose. A few months after Stephen’s dad passed, Stephen asked me if I wanted to do this relationship thing for real. Again, it was awkward, weird, and I was sweating. We both knew it was going to be a tough journey of forgiveness, healing, and restoration, but we were going to commit and grind it out, whatever was to come; because that is the type of people God made us to be. The beautiful thing about God is that he teaches you and helps you navigate life the way it’s supposed to be. He takes your hurt and transforms it into a platform for his glory. He provides the right people at the right time and without Godly community this could’ve gone very differently. I needed to solidify my identity and find my value again. I didn’t know what love was. I didn’t know what receiving love looked like, but God showed up and showed out when I needed him the most. He sent spiritual sisters in my life and established such life giving friendships for me that revived my soul. Stephen needed guidance and accountability from the godly men in his life, and once again, God provided. Was it perfect after we decided to get serious about one another? Absolutely not! I could go on and on about some of the absolutely ridiculous things that went on between us (I may or may not have punched him once or twice) but the bottom line is: without God’s grace we would be nothing. We had to work hard for our relationship and grind it out each and every day. We had to rewire our hearts, minds, and bodies and beat them into submission in order to bring God glory. We didn’t want the world to use us anymore, we wanted to be used by God.
Ten years together, five years married, and I would not change a thing about our story. Looking back there are some embarrassing moments and some awful decisions were made but like I said, God knew and he continued to shower us with grace upon grace. God held up a mirror between our hearts and forced us to examine ourselves in order to love one another. God continually reminded us that our willingness to grind in our athletics was the same grind he wanted us to have when loving Him and each other. We had to accept the fact that our relationship was something we were going to have to fight for. We had to be willing to experience His forgiveness, fulfilling love, and recognize the fight to spread the gospel through our story. Our story has been on my heart this year which brings me to our #HowardTime banner of the year.
Our 2020 banner is, “By His Grace, We Grind.” Our focal scripture behind this is 1 Corinthians 15:10 and it states,
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
It wasn’t by mistake that two hard working athletes, with an awful track record, met in a weight room. Just like in this verse, it wasn’t by mistake that Paul was called to spread the gospel despite his past (not to mention what track record he had.) That same grace and grind that helped propel and excel us in our sports, is the same grace and grind that helps us love each other and live for God today. We recognize that our story is a billboard for the grace that God has given us both and we will never forget it. This grace reminds us that we are not worthy (clearly from the story above) but God still has called us and charged us to share the gospel and make disciples that follow him. God’s grace is relentless and while we were yet sinners, he died for us. Despite our sins, despite our past, despite our brokenness, God’s love is perfect and he gives it freely. Stephen and I are weirdly unique and yes, we fail, but God’s grace doesn’t. He designed us to be the salt and light and even though the world may have disqualified us, God doesn’t. Grace FORGIVES. Grace FILLS. Grace FIGHTS. By His grace, we grind.