Texas Heart – Part 19

“Grant, you’re going the wrong way!” I told Grant as he turned off the road we were driving on to get to my parents’ house.
I had just picked him up from the airport an hour earlier, but he was driving my car.
Since Grant was behind the wheel, I was giving him directions, but I kept forgetting to tell him which way to go and I thought he had gotten confused again.
“Grant, I’m not joking, this is the wrong way,” I repeated as Grant continued driving down Old Sheldon Church Road. I thought the jet lag must have really caught up with him.
Then suddenly it hit me. He knew where he was going. 
I stopped talking and looked at him. There was a faint smile on his face. “Hey, I thought we could go sit and talk for a while at the old church ruins,” Grant explained.
“Sure, I’d love that,” I answered, my heart pounding.
The historic old church, called Old Sheldon, was burned by the British in the Revolutionary War and by General Sherman in the Civil War during his brutal march through the South. It’s just a few miles from my parents’ house and I had taken Grant there when he had visited at Christmas time.
I had been there dozens of times growing up, and I used to pass it every time I drove home from Clemson. Sometimes I would stop there to stretch my legs and pray before arriving home. I’d always loved it.
It was dusk as we arrived and the church looked a little creepy in the darkening light. We got out of the car and weaved our way through the tombstones of dead soldiers and church members as we approached  the giant arches of the old church entrance.
The brick walls and columns were still standing, but the church roof had been burned. I could see the moon and a few stars starting to shine in the evening light. It was quiet and the only sound to be heard was the chirping of crickets. We sat down on the grass inside the church.
It was hard to believe that this was only our second time visiting one another since we had starting talking the previous summer. I stared at Grant’s face, unable to believe that he was really there and sitting next to me.
The evening was so peaceful, but I couldn’t stop my heart from going crazy. I knew why we were here. At least I thought so. Nothing could be more obvious.
Grant was pretty quiet, which was very unusual, and now there was no mistaking the fact that he kept touching his left pocket.
I finally broke the silence, “I never get tired of coming here. It’s just so peaceful and beautiful.”
“Not as beautiful as you,” Grant said as he stared at me.
I blushed and looked down at the ground. I changed the subject and asked him about how his trip was and how he was doing. Grant’s answers were brief, as if his mind was focused on something else.
As we talked, I tried to ignore the fact that the sand fleas were biting. I knew, I just knew Grant wanted to propose to me and I didn’t want the bugs to ruin one of the most important moments of my life. I hoped they weren’t biting Grant.
Sure enough, as we talked, Grant began swatting his arms and legs.
“These bugs are terrible!” Grant finally exclaimed, “What are these things?
“Sand fleas.”
Honestly, they’re killing me, GraceAnna! You ready to go?” Grant asked abruptly as he stood up.
Um, yeah,” I replied, standing up too.
I was confused. I was convinced that Grant had brought me there to propose. Besides the sand fleas, everything had been so perfect.
I hate you sand fleas! I always have and I always will! I yelled at them inside my head while slapping one viciously on my arm. Ouch!
It was almost completely dark now and as I made my way through the doorway of the church, I suddenly realized Grant wasn’t next to me.
Grant?” I called frantically in the dark.
I turned around quickly and gasped at what I saw.
 There he was, all six feet of him, down on one knee. The sand fleas now seemingly nonexistent.
GraceAnna…” Grant began.
My eyes filled with tears and my legs started shaking. This was it. This was the moment.

“I love you, GraceAnna,” Grant continued slowly, “You are the girl of my heart.” 

He took a deep breath, “You are the only woman for me in this world and I want to spend the rest of my days with you. I want to be your husband and I want to serve and love you all the days of your life.”

Grant paused and then said the words I knew were coming, “GraceAnna, will you marry me?”

 Of course I knew what I was going to say, but for a moment I couldn’t say anything at all.
I didn’t know what saying yes would mean. I didn’t know where life with Grant would take me. I just knew that I loved him with all my heart and I wanted to be with him. I wanted to be with him even if it meant that I had to live on the other side of the world.
It was dark now, but I could faintly see the glimmer of the diamond that Grant held out to me.
“Yes, Grant. Yes, I want to be your wife,” I said unwaveringly as I stared into his face. His emotions were laid bare. He had held nothing back from me the past nine months. He had truly loved me from the start and had never wavered. And Grant hadn’t just loved me with words, but with everything that he did. Every phone call, every prayer, every word of encouragement and advice that he gave me. He had listened to me and gotten to know me, and he selflessly cared for my heart.
I had always felt that I could never love anyone that I couldn’t trust. But I could trust Grant. I could trust him with all of me.
I watched in awe as Grant slipped the diamond ring on my left finger. I could already tell it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
Grant took my hands in both of his. My hands felt small in his and they made me feel safe and protected.
And I couldn’t believe that the ring on my finger was as real as the man who had put it there. The man of my dreams.

I didn’t know how I had ended up here, but I knew that God had brought me.

As we made our way back to the road where my car was parked, my mind flashed back to a forgotten conversation I’d had with my mom an afternoon years before.

I was in high school and my mom and I were talking about engagements because my brother Jordan had just proposed to his soon-to-be wife, Maureen.
Jordan always does things “first class” and he had scheduled a special day trip to New York City and he had proposed to Maureen in Central Park! Wow! 
We were talking about how awesome that was when my mom asked what my “dream engagement” scenario was as we drove down Old Sheldon Church Road.

I had to think about it for a few minutes before I gave my answer. As I answered we were driving by  the ruins of Old Sheldon Church, “Just some place special. Maybe where we first met or something like that. I would even love to get engaged somewhere like Old Sheldon,” I had said while glancing at the church ruins.


That had been such a random conversation that day, it really had. And yet, God had heard.

I gazed at my shiny diamond ring from the light in the car and smiled, God always does things first class.

to be continued…

Texas Heart – Part 18

I ran as fast as I could from my car to my apartment on the third floor of the complex. It was dark and rainy and I had just gotten back from a long day at Duke.
Because I worked on a college campus, most of my nights were late nights that included Bible studies and meetings.
Grant always liked me to call him as soon as I arrived safely to my apartment from campus. He didn’t like me driving late at night and arriving at my apartment alone.
I set my umbrella down as I came in the door and walked straight over to my computer to Skype Grant.  I knew he would be waiting for my call.
I called twice with no answer.
Hmm…that was funny. Normally Grant would pick up on the first or second ring. I started doing other things around my apartment and tried again a few minutes later, still nothing.
Finally, a message popped up on my computer screen. It was a chat from Grant.
I’m sorry, GraceAnna. I’m talking to your parents. I will call you in just a few minutes.
I got ready for bed all the while wondering why Grant had called my parents. Was it about marrying me? Was it about coming to the states again soon? 
I knew Grant would have to come back eventually to propose to me and I was dying to see him. It had only been over two months since I had said good-bye to him at Christmas.
My phone rang and I picked it up, “Hey, Grant!”
“Hey, babe!” He exclaimed cheerily. Yes, Grant had started calling me babe and he was shameless about it.
“How are you?” I asked probingly, not really caring at the moment how he was. I wanted to know why he had called Dr. and Mrs. Broggi.
“I am doing fantastic!” 
I could tell by his super energetic voice that he was indeed doing fantastic.
Yeah, well why is that?” I tried again.
“Well, guess what I was talking to your parents about?”
“What?” I tried to act nonchalant.
They asked me when I was planning on marrying you.”
WHAT?” The nonchalantness was now gone.
Yeah, well you know I’ve already talked to your dad about it.”
“Oh, really?”
“GraceAnna, you know I want to marry you and I basically told your dad that months ago. But anyway, they asked what my plans were and I started telling them about my upcoming deployment in the spring and I told them that I would like to get married sometime after that. I thought they might think that that was a little early, but they didn’t at all.”
Well, what did they say?”
They asked me why I wanted to wait SO LONG to get married.”
Are you serious?
And you know what’s crazy about that, GraceAnna? I talked to my parents about us getting married and they asked me the same thing.”
I was shocked. I had expected both sets of our parents to tell us to wait until Grant came back from Japan, or at least until Grant’s upcoming deployment was over.
But this was huge. The people in our lives that knew and loved us the most were giving us their blessing. And not only their blessing, they were telling us to go for it! SOON!
“GraceAnna, I knew I wanted to marry you at Christmas,” Grant continued, “and I honestly could have done it then I was so sure, but I was thinking next summer because I figured your parents would want us to wait…but now, wow, now that I realize that they are giving their blessing… that just opens up the door! I want to marry you this year!”
The rain continued to fall and Grant and I talked on the phone almost the entire night. We talked about getting married in the late summer or fall.
“Hey, GraceAnna,” Grant said at some point in the middle of the night, “I want you to know this isn’t how I wanted it. 
“Wanted what?”
“You know, us having to talk marriage and wedding dates and everything before we are even engaged. And me being so far away like this. I know it’s hard on you sometimes.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that Grant. I love you and I’m just so happy God brought you into my life!”
As morning dawned and I became so tired that I could no longer form sentences, we finally said good-night.
I didn’t know how it was all going to work out.
I didn’t know how we would plan our wedding in such a short amount of time.
I didn’t know when Grant would come to see me to “officially” propose.
I didn’t know how I would start explaining to people that I was going to get married sometime that year.
I just knew I loved Grant.
Hey, GraceAnna, I’ve got some bad news,” Grant said over the phone. “The Marine Corps is sending me to the Philippines for the whole month of April.”
“Oh.” My heart sunk.
It had been a couple weeks since we had decided that we would get married later that year. I was so anxious to know when Grant would come propose. It was hard for me to answer people’s questions about my plans for the next year because I didn’t want to tell anyone I was getting married without a ring on my finger.
Instead I would tell people that things were getting “really serious” between Grant and me but I didn’t know exactly how everything was going to work out. Which was true.
But I had a lot of decisions to make, and soon. I had to decide if I was going on the summer missions’ trip to China with Crusade. I had to let Campus Crusade know whether or not I would continue working with them in the fall. I had to let my roommate know if I was moving out.
I had been hoping Grant would be able to fly to the states in April and surprise me with an engagement. I wanted people to meet him so they didn’t think I was leaving the country with some mystery Marine.
I wanted everything to be, well, normal.
So, when Grant gave me the deployment news over the phone that day, I was very disappointed.
Why is the Marine Corps so hard? I thought to myself. I wasn’t even married or engaged yet and it was already dictating my life.
Grant could sense my disappointment. “Look, I know this is hard, but I just need you to trust me. You are the girl of my heart, GraceAnna, and I would give my life for you in a heartbeat. I want you to be my wife more than anything in this world. Everything will work out just fine. I am coming to see you. You’ll just have to wait a little longer.”
“Grant, I do trust you. I love you too.”
I drove down 1-95 S toward the Savannah airport. It was May 3rd.
I had done it. I had made it through March and April without Grant and I had even announced our “unofficial” engagement to my close friends and those that I needed to share it with.
And now, Grant was coming to see me!
I was nervous again. But this was a different kind of nervous. I wasn’t nervous about the “disconnect” any longer. I wasn’t nervous about whether or not the next few days would be “awkward.”
I was excited-nervous.
I knew, knew I was getting engaged.
Of course, I would have rather been completely surprised by his proposal, but that was just not how it was to be. That’s not how it is for many military couples I have come to learn. There are too many details that have to be worked out beforehand.
In a very small sense, I saw it as a way to be a part of the sacrifice my future husband was making for our country.
But I did wonder how Grant was going to propose.
My brother Jordan joked that Grant was going to ride down the airport escalator on one knee. And for some reason, I couldn’t get that image out of my head. What if Grant did do that? 
Grant hardly knew Beaufort at all and I sure hoped he wouldn’t ask me in public. Grant is a very public kind of guy, so I didn’t think it would be beyond him to do something like that.
Okay, GraceAnna, you need to stop it! I told myself. Do you want to plan your own engagement? Just trust Grant, like he told you to do.
I parked my car and walked into the airport. I was early again this time, but not hours early like I had been at Christmas.
I waited and waited, and then I saw him.
My tall, Marine Cowboy made his way towards me. He stared shamelessly into my eyes with a huge smile and he embraced me with the biggest most wonderful Texas-sized hug. I had waited so long for that hug and when I started to cry he said, “Let’s get out of here!
Whew, I thought, no escalator proposal.
We got in the car and I couldn’t help but notice that Grant kept fiddling with his left jean pocket.
to be continued…

Texas Heart – Part 17

I sat across the table from my sister-in-law, Maureen, at California Pizza Kitchen in Durham. Maureen had flown in for the weekend to visit me while my brother Jordan watched their boys so that we could have some girl time.
Since I don’t have any sisters, my sisters-in-law are my sisters, and I’ve known Maureen for as long as I can remember. We practically grew up together.
Her family owned a farm just a couple miles from our house. My brothers grew up working on the farm and my brother Jordan met Maureen in a strawberry patch. I’m not kidding about that. I think they actually did. And he’s loved her ever since.
“So, when are you and Grant Castleberry going to get married?” Maureen asked as she sipped on her tea.
I smiled. Maureen never beat around the bush. “Well, I don’t know. Not for a long while I suppose. I mean, Grant will be in Japan for another year at least, so I’m thinking sometime after that. Of course, he hasn’t officially asked me yet anyway.
Oh, come on, GraceAnna. You know he wants to marry you!”
I smiled again as I took a sip of my tea this time.
You don’t need to wait another year,” Maureen continued. “Y’all need to get married! He’s awesome and you are perfect for each other and you know as well as I do that God brought him into your life.”

As I listened to Maureen I thought about what she said…God brought him into your life.

My thoughts flashed back to the previous summer when we were vacationing as a family on Fripp Island. A few days before Grant had added me on Facebook, Maureen and I had gone for a run together. Instead of running on the beach, we ran on the asphalt bike trail that weaved all across the island.
We ran slow enough to talk, and just like always, we talked about everything.
 Maureen asked me if it was hard for me that I wasn’t dating anyone.
“Yes, it is sometimes,” I replied, “but God has really given me a peace about where I am right now and I can honestly say that I’m trusting God with that area of my life. I can’t explain how I am so “okay” with it, but I am and I know that’s because of the Lord.”
Even now as I think back on that, I am reminded that when we truly have a desire to follow the Lord with all of our heart, He gives us a peace in certain circumstances that just can’t be explained.
You’ll meet someone this next year,” Maureen said as we ran over a small bridge that crossed over the marsh. “And you’ll be married before you know it!
“I hope you are right Maureen, but who knows, I just don’t see anyone on the horizon.” 

I now looked at Maureen across the table and realized that she had been right and that there had been things on my horizon . . . though I couldn’t see them at the time.

God hadn’t shown them to me yet, He had just called me trust Him with what I could see.

“But Maureen, do you mean you think I should go live in Japan?!” I asked as I looked back across the table at her at CPK.

“It would be such an adventure, GraceAnna! And you know you don’t want to wait another year and a half or more to get married!”

Our pizza arrived and Maureen and I began to talk about other things.
But I kept thinking… maybe Japan wasn’t such a scary thought after all…maybe it would be an adventure…

I heard a noise. It was a ringing sound.

I opened one eye. It was still dark outside. It was really early and I was in bed.

I finally realized it was my phone that was ringing.

Hello?” I didn’t even try to hide the fact that I was practically dead to the world.

Hey GA!” Grant’s voiced exclaimed excitedly.

What time is it?“I said very slowly and sleepily.

It’s really early,” Grant stated unashamedly, “I’m sorry to wake you up but I got off work early and I’ve been dying to call you. I waited and waited and I tried to wait longer but I just wanted to hear your voice.”

“Hiiii……” I said happily as my eyes started falling shut again.

“Hey, GraceAnna, what kind of engagement rings do you like?

My eyes popped open and my entire body shot up in bed.


“You know, rings, what do you like…white gold, yellow gold…”

“Oh…that kind of ring…” my heart was beating with excitement. I knew I needed an answer but it suddenly occurred to me that I had never thought about what kind of engagement ring I liked.

Okay, I thought to myself. This is huge. HUGE. What do I like? WHAT DO I LIKE? Oh, how had I never thought of this before? What was wrong with me? Am I not a female in my early TWENTIES!!! Every female in her twenties has surely decided on this. 

I had been so focused for so long on praying for a husband and not dwelling on things that weren’t meant to be for me yet, that I hadn’t even thought about what I really liked.

I had seen lots of rings that I thought were pretty, but I had never decided on what ring I wanted for myself.

I like gold,” I stated quickly before realizing the stupidity of my answer. I sure hope we were on the same page with that.

“Well, yellow or white?” Grant asked without skipping a beat.

I like yellow gold,” I said as I thought about my mom and Grandma’s rings – they both had yellow gold rings.

“What kind of diamond cut do you like? Do you like square or circular…?”

Is Grant really asking me this right now??? I glanced at the clock. It was around 5am.

“I think I like a round cut.”

“Okay, that’s all I needed to know. You can go back to sleep now. Bye, love you.


Did he just say, “You can GO BACK TO SLEEP NOW!!!” Was he crazy?

I jumped out of bed and ran over to my computer. I went to the only website I knew of that had diamond rings – Tiffany & Co.

I looked up the engagement rings that had round diamonds and yellow gold. I sat there with my mouth hanging open.

Yes, I had made a good choice. A very. good. choice.

I slowly walked back over to my bed and lay quietly down, my heart thumping.

Am I dreaming? I asked aloud, knowing full well that even my subconscious mind would not have dreamed up that conversation.

What in the world was going on? Was Grant going to fly to the states and surprise me? Would it be soon? 

Wow, oh, wow! He really, really loves me!

I laid there on my bed basking in the excitement of thinking about a gold ring with a round diamond on my left finger until the sun began to pour in through the blinds.

And I knew one thing for sure, I was going to get married!


to be continued…

Texas Heart – Part 16

It was still winter at Duke but the cold started to lose its chill as signs of spring began to come to life on campus.

I love the changing of seasons. I especially loved it that year. North Carolina was beautiful.

I realized that my life was changing too. Before I knew it, my one year internship at Duke would be over. I couldn’t believe it. I was already reaching the point where I needed to start making some decisions about what I was going to do after the spring semester ended. Was I going to extend at Duke or move on to something different?

I definitely knew that I loved my job. I had already become so close with my co-workers at Duke and with so many of the students. The thought of leaving made me sad.

But then, there was my relationship with Grant. After Grant’s visit at Christmas, I no longer wondered whether or not I wanted to be with Grant – I knew that I did. The question now was when that would happen.

Grant had never beaten around the bush with our relationship. He never made me wonder about his feelings for me. I knew he wanted to marry me. I knew it because he had told me. He hadn’t officially asked me, but he had told me his ultimate intentions for our relationship.

Wow, he wanted to marry me!

I smiled to myself as I walked across campus. So much had changed since I had come to Duke.

While the thought of marriage made me smile, sometimes it made me scared too. I wasn’t quite ready to talk about it.

It made me scared because everything was so uncertain. Grant was going to be in Japan on unaccompanied orders with the Marine Corps until the Summer of 2010. That was a long time to be apart from him – a year and a half until he even came back to America.

And visiting was hard too. It’s not like Grant could hop on a plane any time he wanted to visit me. Would our relationship be forever long distance? Would I visit him in Japan at some point? Obviously I would need to spend more time with him in person before I committed to marry him.

And I couldn’t imagine jumping on a plane and going to Japan to visit Grant. The thought of making a trip like that alone was obviously out of the question.

I’ve never considered myself to be a very adventurous person. I get scared of ferris wheels and even the most mild of roller coaster rides at the state fair. “Adventure” has never been high on my list.

While my friends in college would talk about all the countries they wanted to one day visit or live, I just thought about how wonderful it would be to go for a run on the beach in the Lowcountry.

I did hold to one form of adventure though – whatever God’s plan was for me. I was committed to following His adventure for my life, even if that meant living or going somewhere far away.

But Japan was awfully far away.

And now, unexpectedly, half my heart was there.


A man in a cowboy hat and boots helped me get my bag down from the overhead compartment in the airplane. 

My plane had just landed in Midland, Texas and it didn’t take me long to realize that I was in the middle of nowhere.

It was late February. Grant’s family wanted to get to know me so they asked if I would mind flying out to Texas to spend a weekend with them.

I was glad they wanted to meet me and agreed to go. Even though I wished Grant could be there, I was excited to meet his family. I figured that getting to know his family would help me get to know him even better.

Even though it was dark when I arrived in West Texas, I could tell that there weren’t any trees for miles and the air felt dry and warm.

I was born in Texas, but this was my first time to visit since my family had moved to Beaufort when I was four years old.

I spotted Grant’s family and they welcomed me with hugs and smiles.


I shut the bedroom door and glanced around Grant’s room. His bedroom just so happened to function as the guest bedroom in his parents’ house, so I got to stay in it. I loved that.

Grant didn’t grow up in Midland, so this wasn’t his childhood bedroom, but it was filled with all of his childhood and high school things.

I set down my bag and looked around the small room that looked warm and cozy in the lamp light. I felt like I was in a museum. It was the Grant Castleberry Museum and I gazed quietly at everything in his room as if each object would tell me something about the man that I had come to love.

The first thing I noticed was a picture frame hanging on the wall to the left of his bed. It was of his dad, Kelly. The picture was taken in the desert and his dad was adorned in a flight suit and there was a fighter jet in the background.

To the right of his bed was the tallest pair of boots I had ever seen. I was later to learn that these were Grant’s Texas A&M senior boots.

On the nightstand there was a picture of Grant in overalls with his hand held high in the air as he led an Aggie Yell.

I glanced at the bookshelf. It was filled with books by John Piper, John MacArthur, and quite a few Louis L’Amour western novels. I spotted a photo album and I pulled it out  started flipping through it.

I smiled as I looked at pictures of Grant from high school. Grant had told me over the phone that I could look at anything in his room. I really appreciated that because I knew that he was trusting me with something important – himself.

After an hour or so of looking through pictures, I pulled a small journal off the shelf. I debated back and forth whether or not I should open it.

A journal is kind of personal, after all… but Grant did tell me I could look at ANYTHING. I’m pretty sure a journal falls under that category, right? 

The debate was over. I opened it.

It was Grant’s prayer journal and the entries were dated 1998. Tears started to roll down my face as I read his prayers. They were the most genuine prayers I had ever read.

One prayer caught my eye. It was a prayer for his future wife. “God,” he wrote on one line, “please prepare her heart to be a pastor’s wife.”

I thought about my background as a pastor’s daughter and now working in full time ministry. Had God been preparing my heart all this time to be Grant’s wife?

My eyes were heavy and I laid down on the bed Grant grew up sleeping on in high school.

Wow, I thought, God sure knows what He is doing.


The next couple days were a lot of fun as Grant’s family showed me all around their small West Texas town. I saw oil rigs, tumble weeds, and even a road runner for the first time in my life.

His parents even bought me a pair of cowboy boots.  There was no going back now.

One evening, Grant’s mom and I sat and talked about Grant’s growing up years. I asked her a ton of questions as I tried to fill in all the years of Grant’s life. I wanted to know everything about him.

One story stuck out to me and I will never forget it.

Susan told me about a time when she and Grant were at a busy shopping mall when Grant was eight years old.

All of the sudden, they ran into a young mom who was sobbing hysterically because she couldn’t find her little girl.

Grant got down on his knees in the middle of the crowded mall and asked God to please help him find the little girl.

Grant then stood up and walked into a store a little ways away and started looking in the clothing racks. There, sitting among the clothes, was the little girl. Grant took her by the hand and brought her to her mother.

I just sat there and listened. All the pieces were coming together for me. I had been amazed at Grant’s faith, and I began to see that this was nothing new for him. He had been this way since he was a little boy.

I think,” I remember Grant’s mom saying,”because Grant’s dad died when Grant was so young, heaven was just so real to him. He knew that his dad had gone somewhere, that he didn’t just disappear. And because of that, he prayed to God in a very real way.

I could only hope that I was privileged enough to be an answer to one of Grant’s prayers.


I boarded the plane to head back to Duke. I pulled out my journal and started to record everything about my visit and all that God had showed me over the weekend.

As I journaled and stared on and off at the clouds outside my airplane window, it hit me that I wasn’t afraid of all the “unknowns” and all the “uncertainty” anymore that surrounded the future of my relationship with Grant.

I wanted to marry Grant and I realized that I was more ready than I had previously thought.

to be continued…

Texas Heart – Part 15

It was Christmas Eve. I had just climbed into one of the beds in my brothers’ old bedroom upstairs in my parents’ house. Everyone was home for Christmas and the house was packed.
It was the night of day 8 of Grant’s visit. He would spend Christmas day with me and then he would leave really early the next morning.
I leaned against the pillow, feeling absolutely exhausted. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep but the sleep wouldn’t come. Just like it had been when I was a little, the excitement of Christmas kept me awake.
But this was a different excitement. It wasn’t the curiosity of what might be in my red crochet stocking over the fireplace or what the presents under the tree with my name on them might contain.
No this was different. This Christmas I was excited about something that couldn’t be wrapped and wouldn’t fit under the tree. I was reveling in the excitement of Grant Castleberry.
Since our day in Charleston, my “disconnect” had gradually faded away. It was less like a fading and more like an opening of my eyes.
I knew God had answered my prayer when I asked Him to please give me clarity in my relationship with Grant. After I had begged in tears for His guidance and direction, I began to sense the peace that only God can give when we truly give a situation to Him.
And that’s when things started happening. My blinders started falling off. The “Japan Grant” and the “Beaufort Grant” started to come together.
The Grant who made me laugh on the telephone was the Grant making me laugh in person. The Grant with whom I enjoyed spending hours with on the phone, was the same Grant with whom I enjoyed spending hours with in person. The Grant who led me spiritually over the phone was praying with me and sharing what God was teaching Him in person. The Grant who had been “only mine” was now being shared with my family and friends. And they loved him.
And I realized I loved my Grant even more now than I did over the phone and through letters.
As I laid there, I thought about the events of that day. Grant had told me that morning that he wanted to go back out to his dad’s memorial marker and clean it. It had been so dirty the first time we had visited it together.
That afternoon, I was gathering cleaning supplies to take out to the cemetery when my family noticed and asked what we were going to do.

Before we knew it, it wasn’t just Grant and me out in the cemetery cleaning Kelly Castleberry’s marker, but my dad and my brothers were there too. Jeremy and Jameson helped to clean each crevice with Q-tips and bleach.
As I stood out there and watched the guys clean the memorial marker, I thought about how much things had changed since the last time Grant and I were there. The first time, we had come alone.
I was feeling disconnected and scared.
But now, it wasn’t just about Grant’s and my grieving over his dad. My family was involved. And as I watched my father and Grant kneeling in the grass cleaning the marker of the godly man who meant so much to Grant, I knew that things had changed forever.

Grant glanced up at me, and I smiled. Yes, things had forever changed.
That guy in cowboy boots had stolen parts of my heart I didn’t know could be taken. Deep parts. Parts that weren’t just “I like you, you like me, dating is fun,” but deep parts of my heart that no guy had ever touched.
I thought about these things that Christmas Eve and the tears started to fall there in the dark. Unlike the other night when I had cried tears of confusion and fear, tonight I cried tears of joy.
I loved Grant. And I knew, I knew that God had brought him to me.
God had answered every prayer that I’d ever prayed for the type of man that I’d wanted to be my future husband. He hadn’t answered the way I thought he was going to answer. I had been completely taken off guard by Grant Castleberry.
I had expected to meet my husband in college. When that didn’t happen, I thought God decided that I needed to be single for a while.
But God had a different plan for me. He was answering the way that He saw fit with the man that He knew would complete me. Obviously the ones that I had chosen hadn’t worked out.
His choice was so much better than anything I could have imagined.
His choice was godly and down to earth and funny and a hard worker and social and had the heart of a real man. His choice was perfect.
What a special Christmas Eve. I could care less about what was in my stocking or what presents were under the tree for me. Did we even do stockings anymore?
God had given a gift to me that had not been on my list, but far surpassed anything I had ever opened on a Christmas.
My cell phone was next to me and it started to ring.
Hey GraceAnna,” said the most wonderful voice in the world. “I just wanted to tell you good-night.”
Grant, I just love you so much,” I blurted out.
Grant sat there in silence and I could almost hear his ear-to-ear grin. “Well, Merry Christmas to you too.
It was early. It was still dark. It was the morning after Christmas. My dad drove Grant and me to the airport.
I was sad. I was trying not to cry.
Grant was leaving. Not just leaving Beaufort or South Carolina, but he was leaving America.
He was going so far away and I didn’t know for how long. I barely said a word the whole drive.
We arrived at the airport and I stood next to Grant as he checked his bags. My heart felt as heavy as the massive Marine Corps backpack Grant so easily hefted over his shoulder.
This was it. The 10 days were over. And they had been so wonderful.
Grant hugged me and wiped the tears from my face that were now flooding down uncontrollably.
He looked at me and smiled.
I knew this wasn’t good-bye. I knew this was only the beginning.
to be continued…

Texas Heart – Part 14

“And this is Randy Rogers…” Grant explained as he turned up the volume on my car radio. He had hooked up his Ipod to my system and was letting me listen to what he called, “real” country music.

Grant had gradually been introducing me to the world of Texas Country since we had started dating, but this was the first time we’d ever been able to listen to it together.
I loved it. It was so different than Nashville Country, and I found it really refreshing.
We were driving down I-17, headed to Charleston to do some Christmas shopping. Grant had never been to Charleston before and I had told him that we HAD to go together while he was in town.
Grant also thought it would be a good idea for just the two of us to get away for a day. It was the morning after our talk in the cemetery where I had shared with Grant how I had been feeling disconnected from him.
Grant decided it was time to just have some fun hanging out together.
After all, isn’t that what dating couples are supposed to do?
We went downtown and spent the entire day there. I showed Grant all my favorite shops and restaurants.
We ate lunch at a chicken place that I had never eaten at before. I was planning on taking Grant somewhere else but when we passed by, Grant saw the chicken on the sign and said it reminded him of a restaurant in College Station called Layne’s Chicken and he insisted that we had to check it out.
I loved the way Grant took initiative even in small things like that and didn’t make me choose everything.
We sat across from one another and Grant talked with me about theology and football and Texas.
He asked me so many questions about what it was like growing up in Beaufort, growing up in a pastor’s family, and going to Clemson.
I stopped worrying about being “disconnected” and instead found myself answering questions and laughing and learning things about Grant that I didn’t know before.
We went for a walk on the Battery and Grant told me so many funny stories. You would think that after four months of non-stop talking, we would have already run out of things to talk about, but we never did.
And that was the thing – I always had fun talking with Grant. I enjoyed his company.
In the past, I had been used to thinking up things to say on dates to keep the conversation flowing. But with Grant, it was so different. I never had to “think up” anything to say, conversation just flowed naturally.
I thought about the fact that Grant could have made the day stressful by holding against me what I had said to him the day before, but he didn’t.
If he had been the one to tell me that he felt “disconnected,” I most likely would have been an emotional wreck for the rest of his visit.
But that’s what I loved about Grant, while we were alike in so many things, he was also different than me.
I could lean on him. He was strong. He was steady. He wasn’t easily swayed.
Towards the end of the day, we were walking down King Street, headed back to where we had parked the car when Grant stopped in front of a store window to look at something inside. I stopped too and stared at him.
He looked so tall and lean. As he stood there, I watched as several guys passed by him. They were typical S.C. boys wearing khakis, S.C. belts, rainbows, colored polos, croakies, and visors over shaggy hair (if you are from S.C., you know exactly the look I’m talking about). I have absolutely nothing against this look, but as they passed by I couldn’t help but notice the difference.
My Grant was standing there in dark jeans with a rugged brown belt. He of course had his cowboy boots on just like he did the day I first met him when I was sixteen. His shirt was a dark color and his Marine hair-cut that I had always thought was way too short, looked so sharp.
He looked rugged. He looked strong. He looked like a real man and not a school boy.
I felt safe and protected with him.
As I stood there staring, I suddenly remembered a conversation that I’d had with my mom a year or so before. I wasn’t dating anyone at the time and my mom said, “GraceAnna, you need a guy who is godly, a hard worker, has a heart for ministry; someone who is steady and knows how to draw you out, and… someone who is funny.”
“Sounds like the perfect guy, I hope he’s out there.” I remember saying.
“Well, God’s best is always better than anything you can imagine,” she responded.
I thought about that as I stood there staring at Grant on the street. He was all those things. All those qualities that I couldn’t imagine one man possessing.
Grant turned towards me and caught me staring. He smiled, “You ready to head out?
Yes,” I blushed as my heart skipped a beat. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so disconnected anymore.
We walked to the car together as my mom’s words echoed in my mind, “God’s best is always better than you can imagine.”
“Hey Grant,”
“Yes, GraceAnna?”
I just want you to know that I’m not feeling so disconnected anymore,” I said as I reached over and touched his arm.
Grant didn’t look at me but I saw an ever faint smile creep onto his face. He reached over and touched my hand. I felt the roughness of his callouses as a shot of something raced through my fingers.
No, not disconnected at all.
to be continued…

Texas Heart – Part 13

Grant stared into my eyes, realizing that I needed to tell him something important.

We were still sitting on the stone bench in the cemetery and it was starting to get chilly as the sun was sinking behind the trees.
“GraceAnna, what’s wrong? You know you can tell me anything.”
Grant, I’m afraid to tell you,” my voice was shaking now and I felt on the verge of tears.
The last thing I wanted to do was say something that might hurt him. I had felt so full of courage just a few moments before, but now I was losing that courage and afraid that I was about to ruin the special afternoon we had just spent together remembering his father.
Grant’s face had a look of concern, “Tell me, GraceAnna. You can trust me.”
I looked at the honesty in his face and I knew he was telling me the truth. I knew I could trust him and that he wouldn’t reject me for what I was about to say.
Well,” I began, “ever since you arrived, I have felt disconnected from you. When I close my eyes and I hear your voice, everything feels normal, like it’s been for the past four months. But when I open my eyes, I feel like we just met. It’s like I can’t seem to connect the Grant that I’ve fallen in love with to the Grant sitting here in front of me.”
“GraceAnna,” Grant’s face looked confused, “I don’t understand. It’s me! It’s me, Grant.”
“I know, I don’t understand it either. It’s tearing me up on the inside and I haven’t wanted to say anything about it. But, I can’t keep a secret from you. And, well, I need you to pray for me.”
“I have noticed that you have seemed a little distant and that something has been bothering you.
“You have?”

“Yes, GraceAnna, I know you.” We sat there in silence for a few moments as Grant processed what I had just said. I could see the sadness in his eyes now and my tears started to fall as I realized that I was hurting him.

GraceAnna, I love you, and nothing is going to change that, but I want you to love me back. I want you to feel comfortable with me. I don’t want you to be forcing yourself to feel a certain way about me… GraceAnna, look at me.”

My gaze had shifted to the ground and as I looked up at him Grant brushed a piece of my hair out of my face.
“GraceAnna, I’ll be praying for you. Trust me, I want this to work out. I have given my whole heart to you. You are the girl of my heart.”
Grant, I do love you, I know that. I don’t want you to doubt that. But for some reason, I don’t feel the way I know I should feel. And I know that if I truly love you that I have to be honest with you.
We sat there in silence again. Grant was hurting over the things I had just said and I was hurting that I had said them.
Instead of Grant walking away from me or getting angry, he looked at me and smiled, “I love you, girl. Let’s go.”

I watched him stand up. He amazed me. How could he treat me with such respect at this moment? How could he love me like that when I had just hurt him?

This must be true love.

We got back in the car and drove out the gate of the now dark cemetery; leaving behind the thousands of white headstones and an afternoon that I wanted to always remember and yet forget at the same time.
I sat alone on the floor of my bedroom at my parents house that night. Grant and I had parted for the day.
I looked around my room. This was the room that had been mine since I was five years old. I had so many memories in this room. It had gone through so many different phases of redecorating – with myself being the chief designer and implementor of those ideas. I had played dress-up and house in this room. I had applied for college in this room. I had read my Clemson acceptance letter in this room.
I had laughed and cried so many tears in this room.
And now, as I sat on the floor as a twenty-three year old, I cried again.
I felt terrible. I was angry with myself for not feeling the way I wanted to feel. I was angry with myself for hurting Grant and ruining what was supposed to be some of the best 10 days of my life.
Dear God, I prayed, what is going on? I can’t do this, the pain is too great.

It would be better to have never loved Grant at all then to fall in love with the most amazing man I’d ever dreamed of and then to feel disconnected from him somehow.
I poured out my heart before the Lord that night.
Father, I prayed. If this is some sort of spiritual battle to keep Grant and I apart, I pray that you would intervene and get rid of it. Or if it’s just me, I pray that you would overcome whatever it is that’s going on and help me not to feel this way. Please, open my eyes. If Grant is the man that you want me to marry, then get rid of these fears. And if he’s not the one for me, then please help me see that more clearly and help me get through this, because I cannot do it in my own strength.

I prayed with tears falling down my face for a really long time. My mom came in at one point and sat next to me and prayed with me.
Then, I climbed up into my bed and fell asleep. I didn’t know what was in store for the next day, but I finally felt a peace about everything for the first time since Grant had arrived.

to be continued…

Texas Heart – Part 12

“Hey, GraceAnna, I’d like to go out to my dad’s memorial marker today,” Grant told me.

It was the third day that Grant was visiting me in Beaufort. We were having a good time together despite the fact that I was still feeling disconnected from him. I decided not to talk with him about the way I was feeling though, and instead just give myself some time to adjust.
I was sure that after a few days I would probably be fine.
Sometimes, I put too much pressure on myself to feel a certain way, which only makes me feel the opposite way that I want to feel.
I figured this is what had been taking place since Grant arrived. I had expected and desired everything to be like a perfect fairytale from the moment Grant stepped off the plane.
After all, we had fallen in love across the ocean through the “power of the pen,” or well, the keyboard. When my prince charming set his foot on American soil in my beloved hometown, I was supposed to fall into his arms and we would live happily ever after.
Instead, I had felt awkward, scared, and the reality of the fact that we had never spent time together had become very real.
Perhaps if I had not put so much unrealistic pressure on myself for everything to be perfect, then I would not be experiencing the “disconnect” (as Grant later called my condition).
Grant on the other hand, was just taking things in stride. He was living in reality. He had not imagined some romantic ideal of how things would play out when we were together.
He was just enjoying his time with me. He was not putting pressure on me or on our relationship. He was being himself, enjoying being back in America, and somehow, despite my “issues,” he was loving my company.
We arrived at the Beaufort National Cemetery later that afternoon. I’d been there countless times over the years since Beaufort is my hometown. But since I had been unaware of the story of Grant’s father’s tragic accident until that year, I’d never been to Kelly’s memorial marker.
I had gone out there one day when I was visiting home that past fall, after Grant and I had started talking. I wanted to see if I could find his dad’s marker. However, I ended up abandoning my search because I somehow felt like I needed to wait to visit it for the first time with Grant.
Grant parked the car and got out. I knew this was a special day for him. I knew that visiting his dad’s marker was one of the reasons he had been looking forward to coming to Beaufort that Christmas.
Before Grant and I had started talking, when Grant first joined the Marine Corps, he requested Beaufort as his first duty station. Instead, he got Japan.
Beaufort has always been near to his heart because it was the last place that his father was on this earth. It was the last place Grant had seen his father. And it is the only place that Grant has memories of his dad.
His memories are few and vague of Kelly since Grant was only two years old when he died. But he remembers his dad chasing him around the house while he screamed the screams that only a toddler can in excitement and playful fear of his dad catching him. He also remembers his dad bathing him and turning the cold water on and off which made Grant scream and laugh.

And of course, he could never forget his two-year-old firetruck birthday party in Laurel Bay. His dad asked the base fire station to drive to their house with the firetruck sirens blasting and give all the little boys a tour of a real firetruck.

That was the coolest party ever,” Grant told me as a twenty-five year old man.
These are Grant’s few memories of his father that he cherishes. Oh, he has so many more memories of what other people have told him about his dad, but these memories are his.
Grant had shared these memories with me before that day and I thought about them as I watched his tall frame get out of the car and walk to the place where he knew his dad’s memorial marker was located.
Even though it had been seven years since Grant had last been there, he knew exactly where to go.
It didn’t matter that his dad’s marker was situated among hundreds of white stones that were identical. The path to where it was located seemed to be seared forever in Grant’s memory.
I guess you don’t forget something like that.
I stood back, just watching him make his way to his dad’s marker.
This was his sacred moment and while he had allowed me to be a part of it, I didn’t want to intrude.
Grant stood quietly in front of the memorial marker. It’s a memorial marker, and not a grave stone, because his father’s body was never found after the plane crash.
Searchers did find his dad’s pilot helmet floating in the Atlantic Ocean. From what I understand, items like that are normally not given to the family, but are instead kept for investigation purposes. But in this instance, Grant was given the helmet at his dad’s memorial service a year after the crash.

Grant’s mom saw the helmet as a sign from the Lord that Kelly had gone home to be with his Savior and was not lost somehow at sea. Grant cherished that helmet.
Even from where I stood at a distance, I could make out the inscription on the marker.
It read on the front:

JAN 5 1960
SEP 23 1986
VMFA 312
“GraceAnna, come here.”

Grant realized that I was standing far off.
“Come, stand here with me.”

I walked over, feeling honored that he wanted me there.
“Read the back of the marker, GraceAnna.”

We walked around to the back, and as I read, the tears I had been trying to hold back started to fall.
“It’s so dirty, you’d think they’d keep these clean,” Grant started to say, but his voice trailed off as he choked up.

I looked up at him, my heart breaking as I saw his tears starting to fall.
I just never got to know him, GraceAnna. I just wish I could have known him. He was such a godly man. He was an awesome husband and a great dad.”

“I know, Grant.”
Grant turned towards the huge oak that was a few feet away and walked towards it, he didn’t want me to see his tears.
I watched him as I tried to process it all. I tried to imagine what this must be like for him.
Somehow, I felt Grant’s pain, as if it were in some part, my pain too.
Grant is such a strong person who trusts in God’s sovereign plan, but here, in this moment, I saw his sadness that his dad had died. True sadness.

The sadness of a little boy, and the sadness of a grown man.
I loved this man. I loved his character and I loved his heart. I knew my love for him was not a feeling, it was real.
Grant walked back over to me and we sat on the grass there in the cemetery for a long time. We talked about his dad and we cried and then we laughed as Grant told funny stories of things people had told him about his dad. I felt like I somehow knew Kelly too.
After a long while, we got up and made our way over to a stone bench. Grant put his arm around me.
“GraceAnna, thank you for coming here with me today. Thank you for caring about my dad.
I stared into his face. I didn’t know why I had been feeling so disconnected from him. While my time in the cemetery with him had confirmed my love for him, I still couldn’t put to rest the fears I was feeling.
While I had arrived there that day planning to keep the truth from him, I now knew I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to be honest with him. He deserved that.
“Grant,” I said as I took a deep breath, dreading my next words and hating myself for what I knew I had to say, “there’s something I need to tell you.”
to be continued…

*Pictures, top to bottom –
Grant’s firetruck birthday party
Grant at his dad’s memorial service a year after the crash
The dirty memorial marker that day we visited the cemetery

Texas Heart – Part 11

I sat across the booth from Grant at Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ in Bluffton.

I had just picked him up from the airport after his 24 hour journey from Japan to visit me in Beaufort over Christmas. He had asked me to choose a restaurant for our first official date since he didn’t know the area.
I chose Jim ‘N Nick’s because Grant seemed like a guy who liked BBQ. It was a relaxed and casual atmosphere, but nicer than your average restaurant.
I couldn’t believe we were finally together. After four months of letters, emails, and telephone calls – being in one another’s presence was quite the change.
My mind had been running in a million different directions since I’d picked Grant up from the airport. I had expected everything to just feel so natural between us. Grant and I already knew one another so well now, I figured our first date would not feel like a first date at all.
I thought it would feel like our fiftieth date. After all, the guy across the table from me practically knew everything about me and had already told me that he loved me and planned to pursue me for the rest of my life.
Wow. The guy across the table from me. Not across the world, across the table.

And not only had he declared his love for me, but I had declared my love for him.
And so, this was supposed to be the perfect and most relaxed date of all time. This was supposed to be the most special moment. After months of waiting and longing to see one another, we were finally together.
And yet, my stomach was in knots.
“So, you don’t have brisket?” Grant’s voice to the waitress broke into my world of woes.
I’m sorry, not today,” the waitress replied.
What in the world was brisket? I wondered. I grabbed a menu. Sure enough, it was on there, I’d just never heard of anyone ordering it before.
Grant disappointedly settled for a form of pig while I ordered a salad.
He then fixed his attention across the table at me. He had been all smiles since the airport.
“GraceAnna, it is so good to finally be with you. Isn’t this just awesome?”

“Yes, yes, it is,” I managed.
“Do you realize this is our first official date?”

“Yes, I do.” That fact had not escaped me.
“How cool is it that on our first date we already know each other.”

“Yes, that’s really neat.”

“Hey, I’ll be right back.”

Grant got up and headed to the restroom. I heard my phone beep. I had a text. It was from my mom.
Did you pick Grant up? Everything going okay?

I stared at the text. I didn’t know what to say. Grant was going to be back from the restroom any minute. Nothing was going badly, I just felt so, well, awkward. I felt like I didn’t know the guy across the table from me even though we were “serious” in our love and admiration for one another.
Yes, it’s fine. I texted back.
Grant slid back into the booth and fixed his gaze back on me.
“GraceAnna, I can’t believe I am finally able to take you out to dinner. You are so beautiful. Your pictures didn’t do you justice.”
“Really?” I gasped. Obviously the awkwardness was one-sided.
We arrived at my parents house a few hours later.
Dr. and Mrs. Broggi!” Grant exclaimed with excitement and enthusiasm.
Within minutes we were all in the living room and my parents and Grant were laughing and talking.
They loved him. It took about thirty seconds to assess that fact.
And everyone seem to be so at ease and comfortable.
Everyone but me.
After a few minutes, my mom pulled me aside.
“GraceAnna, is everything okay?
Yes, it’s fine. I just feel like I don’t know him. I didn’t expect to feel this way.
Just relax. It is your first time ever being around him. It’s fine.
We hung out for a long time, then I brought Grant down to the neighbor’s garage apartment where he would be staying over the next 10 days.
He hugged me before he went upstairs. “GraceAnna, I love your home and your parents. I can’t wait to spend tomorrow with you. I love you, GraceAnna.”

“I love you too, Grant.”

I knew that I did. And I was sure that everything would be better in the morning.

The ringing of my phone woke me up. I glanced at the clock, it was a little after seven and I had been in a dead sleep.
We had all stayed up so late the night before, and I had crashed. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
Hello?” I answered groggily.
Well, hello!” Grant’s chipper voice answered as he laughed slightly,”I can tell you’ve been up for a while.”
“Grant, we were up past 2 am last night! It’s only 7! I thought you would want to sleep in after your trip.”
GraceAnna, I’m just not tired. I’m so excited to be here and spend time with you. I only have 10 days and I want to make the most of every one of them.”
A smile crept onto my face. I’d never heard Grant so happy and excited. And hearing his voice over the phone felt so natural and normal. See, everything is better today, I told myself. This was Grant’s voice. My Grant’s voice. I adored his voice.
“I was thinking I could come over and we could spend some time together reading in the Word on your front porch. If you aren’t too tired that is,” Grant added in a joking tone.
I’m not exactly a morning person, and after four months of calling me every morning while I lived in Durham, he was well aware of this fact.
Okay, that sounds great!” Just give me a few minutes to get ready.
I’ll be down there in fifteen minutes.
Um, a little more time than that...”
That will work.”
We sat on the front porch and Grant opened his Bible and shared some passages with me.
I just stared at him. I wasn’t hearing a word he was saying. I stared at his hair and his eyebrows and his nose and his chin and his mouth moving.
All the same emotions from the night before came flooding back. I just felt like I was sitting across from a stranger. I felt like there was a disconnect between the guy that I’d come to love through phone and emails and the guy sitting across from me.
I didn’t know how to put the two together.
I felt lightheaded. This had been my worst fear.
My worst fear was that something would happen to mess up the love that I had for the most amazing and perfect man I’d ever gotten to know in my life. Something would happen to invalidate it.
That “something” seemed to have arrived. What in the world was going on? Was this some kind of evil joke?

“GraceAnna, are you okay?” Grant asked, “You seem a little distant or nervous or something.
Grant, I’m fine. I’m just getting used to being with you, that’s all.”
I couldn’t tell him the truth. I couldn’t tell him I was acting distant because I felt distant. It would hurt him and I didn’t understand what was going on myself.
I took a deep breath. It will all be fine, I told myself.
But in my head, I heard the voices of everyone who had told me that it might not be.
to be continued…