We were hidden from line of sight. Normally, in practice and I’ve only ever made entries in practice— (unless you count the thing Jim Goings and I did that night we cleared a Sam’s Club by ourselves) — when entering a room, you get a tap or a hand placed on the shoulder. We were listening for a certain sound to initiate our action. The “go” signal would be a squeeze on my left biceps. I cut the pie using my angle to peer into the large open room. I could see the Number 2 wall and all the way to the 3-4 corner. Two guys were my objective. They were on the 3 side and all the others were behind them. I’d place one guy right in front of me and the other guy would be on my right. I’d have him blocked until just the right moment.

I got the squeeze. I shuffle stepped, pivoted and we whirled to the open door. My hands were empty and I felt my jaw tighten. I saw the flashes but it was only cameras and not gunfire. I hoped I was smiling. “Daddy walk faster.” She whispered. I could feel her little hand on my arm. I wished I was making a real entry and not an entrance. For a moment I thought I had been shot in the heart. It was wedding day. I was walking my little girl down the aisle….

That’s the longest walk of my life. At the end I was standing beside Tyler Watkins and in front of Joshua Corder. There were a few hundred people behind me. They all waited to see if I would be able to speak. Joshua is a young man who is a bible teacher at a Christian school in Orlando. I was at the hospital when he was born. He was going to ask, “Who gives this woman to be wed?” I had to try and answer. I couldn’t catch my breath and my voice broke—me speechless—“She is a daughter of God and presents herself for marriage. She does so with the blessings of her parents…her mother and I.” I took a step back and she released my arm and took the hands of Tyler Watkins…. she is now Mrs. Tyler Watkins. Loni Elizabeth Watkins. She’s the only child I’ll ever have.

I released her. I gave her “away”. I let her go. It was what she wanted. I believe it was blessed by God. It was what we wanted but my heart felt so strange. It was truly a thing of fairy tales. Complete with a handsome prince a beautiful princess and a roomful of old knights who’d die for the little girl on the stage. {That’s me, Gerald, Troy, Paul, Pickle, Tim, Shayne, Jerry, her pop and papa…I did say roomful but only named a few.}. I gave her away to begin a new life and it still was heart wrenching and beautiful at the same time. Now when I read, “For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” my heart really does stop. My heart really does break. He didn’t give His child to a world that would love Him, honor Him or cherish Him. He didn’t give His child to a loving embrace and a second family who loves Him as much as His own family. He gave Him to a cruel world run and ruined by sin….and they were going to murder Him. And He gave Him anyway. …. there’s nothing else to say after that. You either get that or you don’t. If you get it…really get it… You are a Christian. If you, don’t you won’t ever be.

– Written by:
Lonnie Jones