I had been in a bad mood all week. I woke to rain Tuesday morning, and since then clouds had covered Jeromeville the entire time. My week had been boring and uneventful, and I was feeling particularly grumpy about not having a girlfriend. Earlier today, I saw Sabrina Murphy from church on campus, and she introduced me to her boyfriend. I knew she had a boyfriend, I had been through the disappointment of learning that a month ago, but meeting him felt like a reminder that I was not good enough to date a girl like Sabrina.
It was now Friday evening, and once I got home from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship tonight, I would be alone studying the entire weekend. The National Football League championship game was coming up Sunday afternoon, but this year I would probably be watching it alone in my apartment. Maybe that was a good thing; the team I despised the most, the Texas Toros, was heavily favored to win.
Dave McAllen of the JCF staff team spoke that night. “‘I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel,’” Dave said, reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “If you look back in Acts chapter 19, it tells about when Paul first visited Philippi. The first Philippian to receive the gospel was a woman named Lydia. It says, ‘When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.’ Paul and his companions did not just baptize her and take off. They started a church that met at her house.”
I had been attending JCF since October. At first, most of my thoughts during the group meetings were on learning people’s names, figuring out how the group worked, and wondering whether they would have a problem with me being Catholic. But now that I had been part of the group for a few months, I was paying more attention to the actual content of the message. I got a different perspective on Scripture from JCF than I got from Mass at the Newman Center. Father Bill’s homily was usually something fairly brief and general, vaguely related to that week’s Scripture, but the messages given by Dave and the JCF staff applied specific Scriptures in relevant ways for university students in 1996. Relationship was a big part of spreading the Gospel at a large university. It was also, unfortunately, something deficient in my life.
After Dave’s talk and the final worship song, I stood and turned to my friends. I had been sitting next to Pete Green, Charlie Watson, Caroline Pearson, and Jason Costello, all friends from my freshman dorm last year. “How’s it going, Greg?” Charlie asked.
“I’m doing okay,” I said. “Except all my classes have midterms this week.”
“Good luck,” Caroline said.
“Where are Liz and Ramon?” Charlie asked.
“They went to go see Ramon’s parents this weekend,” Caroline replied.
“Ramon said they’ll be back Sunday morning,” Jason added. “I need to get going. I had a midterm today, and I didn’t sleep much last night.”
“Yeah,” Caroline said. “I need to go too. I need to start my paper. It’s due Monday.”
“Good luck with that,” I said. “Is anyone else doing anything tonight?”
“Not me,” Pete replied. “I have to study all weekend. I’m so behind in all my classes.”
“Pete’s my ride,” Charlie said, “and I’m behind too.”
“Good luck with your studying,” I said. “I’ll see you guys later!”
The others said their goodbyes, and I walked around the room. I knew that learning about the Bible should be the most important part of these meetings, but I was also enjoying the social aspect. Dave spoke tonight about building relationships, so being social is important too, apparently. Last week I went to a movie with those friends after JCF, and I was hoping something like that would happen tonight too. If it did, though, it would not be with them; my opportunity had been stolen by studying, and by Liz and Ramon doing couple stuff.
A freshman named Brent Wang saw me and waved. I approached him and the others standing next to him. “Hey, Greg,” Brent said. “How’s it going?”
“Not bad. Just busy with school. How are you guys?”
“I had a midterm today. I don’t think I did too great.”
“I had one too,” said a tall curly-haired boy whose name I thought was Todd. “I know I didn’t do too great.”
“That’s too bad,” I replied. “But you never know. What are you guys up to tonight?”
“We’re having an overnighter at our Bible study leader’s apartment,” Brent explained. “Just something for the guys of our group to get to know each other. We should actually get going; we told him we’d be there in just a minute.”
“Have fun!” I said. “See you guys next week!”
Over the next twenty minutes, I had some positive small talk experiences but was ultimately unsuccessful in finding something to do. By now, only ten people remained in the room, and most of them seemed to be helping clean up. I sat in a seat by myself away from people and put my head down. What was wrong with me? Why was it so hard for me to make friends? I hated being me sometimes. I hated living alone and feeling out of the loop, and the only reason I lived alone was because I was out of the loop when people were making housing plans for the following year. And would I ever know the feeling of being in love?
I looked down at the floor, fighting back tears, as I heard more and more of the few remaining students putting things away, saying goodbye, and leaving the room. When the room was silent, as the last people were getting ready to leave, I heard footsteps approaching, probably to tell me that it was time to go, that they had to lock up.
“Are you okay?” a voice asked. I looked up to see two guys of average height and build now sitting next to me. The closer one had black hair and olive skin, and the one behind him had light brown hair and pointed features.
“I’m okay,” I said. “I’m just having a rough night. I feel like I don’t fit in around here.”
“Why’s that? Did something happen?” the dark-haired guy asked me. He was the same one who had spoken before, and I had seen him around JCF; I was pretty sure his name was Eddie. I did not know the other guy.
“I haven’t been going here very long. I don’t know a lot of people. And the people I do know, sometimes I feel like I’m not really part of their group.”
“Your name’s Greg, right?”
“I’m Eddie, and this is Xander.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Who would you say you know here?”
“Pete Green, Taylor Santiago, Charlie Watson, Caroline Pearson, Liz Williams, Ramon Quintero, Jason Costello, Sarah Winters, Krista Curtis… we were all in the same dorm last year. A lot of them weren’t here this week, though, and the ones who were went home early.”
“Sometimes people just have stuff going on,” Xander said. “Don’t take it personally.”
“So you’re a sophomore?” Eddie asked. “We are too. Do you have roommates?”
“No. I was in a single room in the dorm last year, and when everyone was making their plans for this year, I didn’t know what was going on until everyone had plans already.”
“Living alone can be nice,” Xander said. “We live in a big house with eight of us total, and it gets noisy sometimes.”
“Yeah, but it gets lonely too.”
“Can we pray with you?” Eddie asked.
“Sure,” I said. I found this to be another difference between students at JCF and students at the Newman Center, the willingness to pray for people openly in public like this.
Eddie placed his hand on my back and began speaking. “Father God, I thank you for bringing Greg to JCF and having our lives intersect tonight. I pray that Greg will know that he is loved. I pray that he will experience your love in a whole new way this weekend. I pray that you will come in and transform his life. Wash away all the hurt and the pain and show him your blessings anew.”
“Jesus,” Xander added. “I pray that you will help Greg find his place in our community. I pray that he will hear from you and know your plan for his life. I pray that you will bring him into the community you have prepared for him, and I thank you that we got to talk to him tonight.” After a pause, he concluded, “In the name of Jesus, Amen.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Do you have any plans this weekend?” Eddie asked.
“No. Just study and homework, but it won’t take the whole weekend.”
“Tonight we’re going to play games with some girls from JCF who live down the street from us. And we’re going to watch the football championship on Sunday. You want to come hang out with us?”
“Sure,” I said. “Where do you guys live?”
“I’ll draw you a map.” Eddie tore off a piece of paper and drew a map to a street called Baron Court, near Valdez Street and Cornell Boulevard. He marked two locations at opposite ends of the street, labeling one of them “2212 – Eddie & Xander” and the other “2234 – Girls.” “Do you know where that is?” he asked. “It’s in south Jeromeville.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I can find my way there. Are you guys going there now?”
“Yeah. We said we’d be there a while ago.:
“Sounds good. I’ll see you in a bit then.”
Baron Court was about two miles from campus on the other side of Highway 100. I had explored this neighborhood on my bike a few months earlier. On one side of Baron Court was a large apartment complex with its main entrance around the corner on Valdez Street, and a row of duplexes lined the other side, ending in a cul-de-sac opening up to one of the Greenbelts. The girls lived in the second to last duplex. I did not know who these girls were, and I did not know if Eddie and Xander had arrived yet. If I knocked, and they were not expecting me, would they be comfortable letting some strange man into their home at ten o’clock at night? After waiting in the car nervously for over five minutes, I had not seen Eddie and Xander arrive, so I assumed that they had gotten there before me. I walked up and rang the doorbell.
A shorter than average girl with dark curly hair opened the door. Behind her I could see Eddie and Xander sitting on a couch, looking at the door as if they were expecting me. “Greg!” Eddie said. “You made it! Come on in!”
“Hi, Greg. I’m Kristina,” said the girl who answered the door.
“Nice to meet you,” I replied. We shook hands, and I walked to the couch and sat next to Xander. On a second couch, placed against the front wall out of view of the doorway, sat two other girls, one small and thin with brown hair and an athletic build, and one average height, but the tallest of the three, with bright blue eyes and straight light brown hair just past her shoulders. I could not remember ever having met any of these girls before. Around 150 students attended JCF on an average Friday, so I had not met everyone yet. “These are my roommates, Kelly and Haley,” Kristina said. “Six of us live here, but the other three went home for the weekend.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
“You too,” Kelly, the small athletic one, replied.
“So you go to JCF?” Haley asked. “I don’t think I’ve met you before.”
“I’ve only been going for three months. I don’t know a lot of people yet.”
“I didn’t have that experience. It seems like everyone knew me the first time I went to large group,” Haley said, and the others chuckled. I got the impression that she was referring to something specific that I did not know about, and just as I was about to ask, Eddie explained, “Haley’s brother goes to JCF too. He’s a senior. Do you know Christian Channing? Glasses, goatee, about the same color hair as Haley.”
“I think I know who you’re talking about,” I said.
“Are you a freshman?” Haley asked.
“All of us are,” Kelly added, gesturing toward the six of us in the room.
“How’d you find out about JCF?” Kristina asked.
“A bunch of my friends from my dorm last year invited me.” I told Kristina which JCF people lived in my dorm, and she and the other girls nodded.
“Are you in a Bible study?” Xander asked me.
“I’m not,” I said. Hoping that this would not make my new friends gasp in horror, I added, “I actually don’t even have a Bible.”
“I think I have an extra Bible,” Kristina said. “I’ll go look for it before you can leave. You can have it.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “That would be nice.”
“So what do you want to play?” Eddie asked.
“We can always start with Uno,” Kristina replied. “Is everyone okay with Uno?”
“Sure,” I said. Kristina got up and returned a minute later with Uno and a few other games. She dealt the cards, and we began playing, taking turns trying to match the color or the number of the previously played card. We made small talk while we were playing, about classes and other things going on around JCF.
Xander played a red 3 card. My turn was next, but Kristina jumped in and played the other red 3 card, out of turn. “What?” I said. “It’s my turn.”
“I had the other red 3,” Kristina explained.
“What do you mean? Why did you play out of turn?”
“Because I had the exact match.”
“I don’t think that’s an actual rule,” Eddie said. “Greg, you don’t play that way?”
“No. It’s not a rule. I read the rules when I was a kid.”
“That’s how we always play,” Kristina argued.
“That’s fine, as long as I know about it. Are there any other made-up rules?”
“What about adding to draw cards?” Eddie asked. “Like if I play a Draw Two, then instead of drawing two, Xander can play another Draw Two, and you would have to draw four. And if you play another Draw Two, Haley would have to draw six.”
“I don’t know that one either, but that sounds interesting.”
We played three long games of Uno with these house rules that were new to me; I did not win any of them, but it was fun, especially when Kristina, after a great deal of playful trash-talking, had to draw twelve when three Wild Draw Four cards were played consecutively. After Uno, we played Scattergories. In this game, each player was given a list of categories and a short amount of time to write things in each category beginning with a predetermined letter. Only unique answers, different from those of all other players, counted for points. For the first round the letter was B. I read the categories and began writing.
Heroes: Batman, but I made a note to change it if I had time, since someone else would probably say that. Terms of endearment: Babe. Same thing, someone else would probably say it. Tropical locations: Bikini Atoll. Items in your purse/wallet: Bucks. As in money. That was creative. Things that are black: Barry Bonds. Not exactly politically correct, but good for laughs, and I would get two points for using something with two B words. I started to panic as the timer inched closer to 0. At the last minute, I crossed out Batman and put “Bueller, Ferris” for Heroes. In the movie, Cameron calls him his hero, so I thought I had a good argument.
When the timer went off, we began reading our answers. “Heroes,” Kristina said. “Batman.” Kelly and Xander both groaned that they had also written Batman, so I had made a good choice to change mine. “Bueller, Ferris,” I said. Imitating Cameron from the movie, I added, “Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero,” in an exaggerated nasal deadpan. The others laughed and agreed that my answer counted.
“Items in your purse,” Eddie said.
“Big bills!” Kristina shouted. “Two points!”
“Isn’t that only one point?” I asked. “Because ‘big’ isn’t really a necessary part of the answer. It’s just ‘bills.’”
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “I think you only get the point for ‘bills.’”
We continued reading our answers; I scored eight points that round. We chose a new list for the next round, and Kelly rolled the alphabet die; it landed on C. I read my new categories and tried to think of C words. Famous females: Christina Applegate. Things made of metal: Crowbar. Medicine/Drugs: Cocaine. Names in the Bible: This is where my lack of a Bible might hurt me. I wrote Caleb; I was pretty sure there was a Caleb in the Bible.
“Famous females,” Eddie said as the timer went off.
“Christina Applegate,” I said. No one else had that.
“Sheryl Crow!” Kristina exclaimed loudly.
“That’s only one point,” I said. “Sheryl is spelled with an S, not a C.”
“Well, aren’t you the king of not letting me get two points!” Kristina said with mock indignation.
“And you’re the queen of answers that don’t count,” I replied. Everyone laughed.
It was past midnight by the time we finished the third and final round of Scattergories. “We should probably get going,” Eddie said. “It’s getting late. I’ll see you Sunday?”
“Probably,” Kristina replied. “Wait. Hang on.” She walked out of the room, then returned a minute later holding a Bible, which she handed me. “Here, Greg. You said you needed this.”
“Yes! Thank you!”
“It was nice to meet you, Greg,” Haley said, smiling.
“You too.” I looked at her and smiled back.
“Yeah,” Kelly added. “Nice meeting you, Greg.”
As we left, walking outside toward the sidewalk, I pointed to my left and asked, “So your house is right down there?”
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “We’ll see you Sunday?”
“Yes. I’ll be there. Thanks for inviting me.”
“Drive safely,” Xander said. “See you Sunday.”
“See you guys then,” I replied.
I got in my car and put Kristina’s Bible on the front seat. Things really turned around tonight. Dave spoke tonight about the ministry of the early Christians being built on relationships, and Eddie and Xander heard that message loud and clear, reaching out to me to build friendships that have lasted to this day, even though we now live far apart. Decades later, I was given the chance to pass on this message about ministry through building relationships. I was invited to speak at JCF’s Alumni Night in 2016, and I told the students about the night I got upset and threw a cardboard box at Sarah Winters and my friends prayed for me, as well as this night, when Eddie and Xander invited to play Uno and Scattergories.
I went to bed shortly after I got home that night. It felt like pieces were finally falling into place. I had many more pieces to go to solve this great puzzle of life, but I felt a little closer to figuring things out tonight than I had earlier. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt at peace, thinking about my new friends, how Eddie and Xander had included me in their life tonight. I was going to see them again on Sunday, and it was going to be awesome.
And I also thought quite a bit about Haley Channing and her beautiful blue eyes. I really, really hoped that she did not have a boyfriend.