By Amber Jesse
Hey friends! Amber Jesse here again.
Yesterday, my big brother Cliff shared a song that he wrote and recorded to celebrate his bride of 14 years! His beautiful lyrics and melody inspired me to share more of their story with you, today. I’ve also posted their song on the blog page.
Cliff and his wife (my sister-in-love) Tara are very dear friends of our little “A2J” community, and they’ve given me permission to share a little bit more about them. Their story is my absolute favorite example of how God can heal a marriage and make it shine with such radiant light that it leaves no doubt of the reality of Jesus. Cliff and Tara would be the first to tell you that their marriage did not have an easy start. This story is long and multifaceted, as most good stories are, so today I'll just try to give you some highlights!
Cliff joined the Army at 17! He was sent to Iraq while his beautiful young bride was left behind to give birth to their first baby. Cliff returned for a short visit to meet his baby boy, Aiden, for the first time, and also to say goodbye to our Mom who was just one day away from dying of cancer.
The very painful circumstances of Cliff's early life, along with his years spent in war-torn Iraq, left him wounded, weary and hard-hearted. Tara and Cliff suffered for many years in a marriage largely devoid of the love that’s needed to thrive and grow. I watched my brother struggle with his own inner agony and angry outbursts. Tara shut down in many ways to try to survive. She became a sad, wilted flower.
I knew in my heart that Jesus was the One who could restore their hearts and their marriage, but Cliff had a strong aversion to God, and Tara had very little experience with even the idea of prayer or having a relationship with Jesus.
I remember a time when Cliff said to me, point blank, "I don't want God!"
In 2008, during my summer in Southeast Africa, I sensed God's strong invitation to fast and pray for Cliff and Tara, and to speak life over them and their marriage. I sensed the Holy Spirit filling my heart and I wrote these words:
"When I get home, I will speak over Cliff that he WILL be a man after God's own heart. He will have a revelation of
the depth of God's love for him... He will be a carrier of God's glory. He will come to the end of his rope, and no longer be a slave to anger or bitterness or anything of this world. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit. A burning flame, an unending fire will fill him… Cliff will be filled and overflowing with the joy of the Lord.
He will walk in radical faith. His family will also be radical lovers of God... Cliff will honor his wife and their
relationship will be an example for others. He will not walk in bondage. He will not walk in addiction. Cliff will walk closely with the Lord. He will hear God's voice and listen. He will not harden his heart… Cliff will be my teacher. He will lead me down the narrow road. He will lead his family and thousands more down the road of life. Aiden will follow his lead... Cliff will be consumed with love… He will use his gifts for proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven… He will be transformed!”
When I returned home, Cliff drove to Phoenix (from Ajo, where they were living at the time), and we met up for lunch. As we waited for our food, I confidently read these words to him, telling him I was absolutely sure they would happen. He looked puzzled and maybe a little intrigued. I remember him saying, “Hmm, I guess we’ll see...”
Over the next few years, Cliff continued to struggle. He continued to malfunction emotionally. He and Tara continued in unhealthy and damaging patterns of communications. They knew it was hurting Aiden and their baby girl Adeli, but they couldn’t seem to make any lasting changes. All the while, God was wooing and pursuing their hearts.
Whenever Cliff would come to Phoenix, he’d end up around our little band of Jesus lovers called “Apprenticeship to Jesus”. As he encountered the beauty and love of Christian community, he became more and more intrigued. “Was this whole Jesus thing even real? Could God really change my life?”
After one really bad argument between Cliff and Tara, he called me up. He seemed to have hit rock bottom- depressed, angry and in immense pain. He was planning to get into his car and drive off indefinitely. My heart ached. I had been here with him and Tara before, but this felt different. I worried that something terrible would happen.
In that moment, I gave Cliff a challenge. “Please! Come stay with with us here in Woodland for a while. Then you can decide what you want to do next.”
He took the chance, accepted the invitation and came! A couple of our guys in the neighborhood took him in, and then I witnessed what I’d call the miracle of community. Over the course of a few weeks, a whole group of amazing men of God, one-by-one, came around Cliff and poured into him… their friendship, their insights, and their love!
All the while, there was this beautiful, faithful couple in Ajo who had consistently been praying for them.
Long and amazing story short, Cliff returned to his family significantly changed. He was invited to a Christian men’s retreat with some guys in Ajo and shortly thereafter I got a phone call from my brother that I will never forget.
“Amber, these guys were getting baptized and… I can’t explain it… Something came over me and I wanted to run into that water! I gave my life to Jesus! I’m putting my hand to the plow, and I’m never looking back!”
So, that was the beginning of a brand new Cliff…
Tara kept a close eye on him for a whole year to see if this new “fad” would stick. Once she realized that Jesus had indeed started to form a new and beautiful heart in Cliff, she came wholeheartedly on board. This woman who didn’t even really know what it meant to have a conversation with God, became what I’ve often referred to as a “sponge for truth.” Tara is a wise soul, full of grace and beauty. Her heart is the loveliest. She is a flower that has BLOSSOMED.
And Cliff… Oh man! I could go on and on about what an amazing person he is! Early on in his journey, he asked me how he could expedite his spiritual growth. I told him to read the words of Jesus and do exactly what he says. Cliff really took that to heart. He has, in many ways, become my teacher. I look up to him and admire how passionate, kind and teachable he is. He is truly a man after God’s heart!
So, Jesus has done it again! His passionate, sacrificial love has won them over.
And I’m the one who can tell you! I’ve been with them all along the road. I knew them before and I know them now. They are not the same. They have been and continue to be dramatically transformed. And how sweet it is to my soul to see my nephew and my niece growing up and thriving in this love.
Those words I sensed God leading me to speak over them nine years ago, while I was in a little town in Southeast Africa… those words become more true each and every day.
Now, I’d like to encourage you to click the link below to hear the song Cliff wrote for Tara. It’s called “Dearest One.”