the first years of high school were rough for me. not in a catastrophic sort of way, but in a 14-year-old-girl-drama sort of way. i was fairly independent and struggled to get along with my parents. in my small-ish high school, i’d made friends with some older kids and wanted to do everything they did. but, more importantly, i experienced a lot of rejection through the youth group at church. i didn’t feel like i belonged or that anyone cared that i was there. before long, i didn’t want to have anything to do with the group . . . or church . . . or God.
my wise parents decided that since that church wasn’t a good place for me, we would find a place that was. we started attending grace church the spring semester before i turned 16. from the moment we walked in, i felt loved.
the youth group was vastly different from the one i’d come from: it was smaller, less clique-ish, had more parent involvement. i spent the summer hanging out with new friends, washing cars, playing volleyball, riding rollercoasters at the amusement park two hours away. the fall was consumed with football watching and playing, chili nights, movie nights, singing in the small choir at church, playing cards.
i didn’t realize it, but my life was changing.
i threw myself into this new church, feeling really loved and accepted outside our family for the first time. as i got to know my new friends, i realized they were different from me. we’d all grown up going to church. we each knew the sunday school answers. we’d sung the same songs our entire lives. i slowly began to realize the difference: they had a true relationship with Jesus Christ. He was a vital part of their lives in a way i’d never experienced.
perhaps i was a true christian before i turned 16. but regardless, over the first year we were at grace, being a christian began to impact the way i lived. i cleaned out my music collection. jennifer taught me to pray. barb encouraged me in my relationship with my parents. bryan challenged me to grow in my relationship with Christ. i began to be excited about sharing my faith with others and wanted to travel overseas on mission trips. i was learning to apply God’s truth to my life. and i was like a sponge.
and then before my senior year, a new guy came home.
i’d never met him but he was the brother of my friend and so we got to know each other. he was funny, he was adventurous, he showed me attention. he spent a lot of time with our youth group and before i knew it, i was smitten. he and i began spending more time together, much to my parents' chagrin. when he left again, at the end of my senior year, i was crushed. he wrote several months later to tell me he was getting married. though i wasn’t ready to marry him, i was heartbroken.
for the first time.
and, all that time, there was a skinny runner sitting in the back of the room, more involved with sports than church. laughing with his friends and making jokes during the lesson. who is this punk, i thought, who can’t pay attention?
he, however, had other thoughts. as he drove away from my parents’ house after my graduation party, he thought, someday, i’m going to marry that girl.