May 23-25, 1997. Canceled plans and a trendy haircut. (#132)

For the last few months, I had been volunteering as a leader with The Edge, the junior high school youth group at Jeromeville Covenant Church.  Every year, the students go to Winter Camp over a weekend in January or February, and Adam, the youth pastor, gives them all a mixtape of Christian music from many different artists and genres. Back in 1997, there was no Spotify or YouTube for people to share their favorite music with friends. Instead, we Generation X-ers would play songs from compact discs or cassette tapes, one at a time, and record them on blank tapes. I had begun volunteering with The Edge shortly after Winter Camp that year, so I did not get a copy of Edge Mix ’97, but I borrowed it from the youth group music library and made a copy for myself.  I discovered many Christian bands and musicians through Edge Mixes over the years.

One of the more intriguing songs on Edge Mix ’97 was called “Hitler’s Girlfriend,” by a band based in Bay City called the Dime Store Prophets.  It was a slow rock song, with lyrics that I found a little mysterious.  The chorus said, “I’m not myself until you are you, if I close my eyes, I’m killing you.”  I thought the song had something to do with lamenting the un-Christlike tendency to look away when others were in need. The song also contained the line, “I feel like Hitler’s girlfriend, I’m blind to this and numb to that.”  Some have suggested that Eva Braun, the real-life Hitler’s girlfriend, lived a sheltered life and did not know about the Holocaust, although other historians find this unlikely.

I played that song three times last night while I did math homework.  Although it was the only Dime Store Prophets song that I knew, I wanted it to be fresh in my mind, because the Dime Store Prophets were playing a free live show right here at the University of Jeromeville today, outdoors on the Quad.  University Life, the college group from a large church nearby, not the church I attended, had put this show together, and they had been promoting it at all the local churches and college ministries.  Nothing was going to stop this from being the best day I had had in a long time.

Except maybe for pouring rain.

I did not expect rain this week.  Last Monday had been the first day of hundred-degree heat for 1997, and it felt like the hot, sunny, dry weather of summer had arrived for good.  But today was cool with heavy rain.  A dramatic cooling trend in late May was rare for Jeromeville.  As I rode the bus to school, and sat through my early class, the rain continued to fall, the thick gray sky showing no signs that the rain would clear up any time soon.   Would I have to stand in the rain to watch the Dime Store Prophets?  Was the band even coming anymore?  Would the show be moved indoors?  None of those sounded preferable.

After class, I walked to the Memorial Union to find a place to sit.  The tables were crowded, as was usually the case on rainy days.  Alaina Penn and Corinne Holt from U-Life were sitting at a table with empty seats; I walked over toward them and sat down.

“Hey, Greg,” Alaina said.  “What’s the capital of Morocco?”

“Rabat,” I replied.  I was about to ask why she wanted to know when I saw the campus newspaper, the Daily Colt, on the table in front of her, opened to the page with the crossword puzzle.  Alaina started filling in letters in the puzzle, then paused.  “How do you spell that?”

“R-A-B-A-T,” I said.  “Hey, is the Dime Store Prophets show still happening?  You guys were putting that on, right?”

“It’s canceled,” Corinne answered.  “They canceled yesterday when they heard it would rain.”

That’s right, I thought.  Some people check weather reports in advance to find out if it will rain, so they would be less surprised than I was right now.  “Bummer,” I said.

“What are you up to this weekend, Greg?” Alaina asked.

“I was gonna see the Dime Store Prophets, but now that’s not happening.  So just studying, I guess.”  I could tell that the irritation in my voice was showing.

“JCF meets tonight, right?”

“Yeah.  I’ll be there.”

“See?  You are doing something.  Enjoy that.”

“I will.”




The rain had lightened up a bit by the time I got home from campus, and it was not raining at all when I got to Evans Hall in the evening for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  The worship team was about to begin playing, and I had not yet decided where to sit, since I had been mingling and talking.  I looked around and saw Carrie Valentine sitting alone not too far from me.  My brain began overthinking, trying to decide if asking to sit with her was too forward, if it sent the wrong message, if I was setting myself up for disappointment. I thought about what I would say to save face if she said no.  I took a deep breath, told my brain to shut up, and walked toward Carrie.  “Hey,” I said.

“Greg!  Hi!” Carrie replied.

“Mind if I sit here?”

“Go ahead!”

Carrie was a freshman; I had seen her around JCF for much of the year.  Two weeks ago, we had had a long conversation at a party after JCF, alone in someone else’s house while we waited for the rest of the partygoers to return from the grocery store.

After the opening song, announcements, and a few more songs, Liz Williams walked to the stage and mimed turning off an alarm clock.  A skit.  I liked skits.  JCF’s skits had been unusually good this year.  Liz looked at a Bible and said, “I need to read the Bible and spend time with God, but I’m gonna be late for class!  What should I do?  I’ll just take the Bible with me and squeeze in some time between classes.”  I definitely resonated with what Liz’s character was feeling.

I got excited when Ajeet Tripathi and his roommate Darren Ng entered the stage, dressed in suits and ties with dark glasses.  These were recurring characters who had appeared in several other JCF skits this year.  They called themselves Angels of the Lord, but they dressed and acted more like secret agents.

“Time to help her out?” Darren asked.

“Affirmative,” Ajeet replied.

Brent Wang walked past the Angels of the Lord, carrying books and notebooks.  Ajeet and Darren lightly tapped his back.  Brent started coughing and said, “I’m not feeling well.  I need to cancel my class.”

Liz’s character returned to the stage area and looked at the wall, as if reading a note.  “My professor is sick and had to cancel class,” she said.  “Now I have time to do what I’ve been meaning to do all day!”  Liz searched through her backpack, but instead of getting her Bible, she pulled out a folded copy of the Daily Colt.  “The crossword puzzle!” she exclaimed excitedly.  The crowd chuckled at this humorous turn of events.  Liz sat down looking at the newspaper, holding a pencil, as Eddie Baker walked by.  Liz looked up and asked Eddie, “Hey, what’s the capital of Morocco?”

I laughed loudly, remembering my conversation with Alaina earlier, but then stopped suddenly when I realized that this quote was not as hilarious to everyone else.  Carrie looked at me, wondering why I found this so funny; I wanted to explain, but I did not want to interrupt the performance.  Now was not the time.

The skit continued, with Liz continuing to make excuses not to read her Bible.  This led into a talk by Dave McAllen, one of the full-time staff for JCF, giving a talk about making time to be with God.  He referenced Luke 5:16, in which Jesus, despite being God in the flesh, still made time to get away from the crowds and pray to his Father.

I turned to Carrie after the final song.  “That was a good talk,” I said.

“I know,” Carrie replied.  “It’s so easy to get caught up in everything you have to do and forget to read the Bible.”

“I’ve been doing a little at this lately, at least during the week.  I take my Bible to the Arboretum every day after my first class and read and pray for a while.”

“That’s so cool!  I should find a spot like that.”

“It’s a peaceful little spot in the middle of God’s creation,” I said.  “But, yeah.  The skits have been really funny lately.  This morning, I walked up to some friends who aren’t from JCF, and one of them was doing the crossword puzzle, and when she saw me walk up, the first thing she said to me was, ‘What’s the capital of Morocco?’  So I laughed when they put that same clue in the skit tonight.”

“Oh my gosh!  That’s hilarious!  I don’t usually get very far when I try to do the crossword puzzle.”

“I can usually finish most of it,” I said.  “But there’s usually a few letters at the end that I can’t get.  I finish the puzzle maybe once every week or two.”

“Wow!  That’s good!”

“Ajeet and Darren are funny when they play the Angels of the Lord.”

“I know!  Remember the one where they shaved Todd’s head?  I had no idea they were gonna do that!”

“Me either!  That was amazing!  And remember that series of skits they did at the beginning of the year, where Brian or Lorraine would interrupt and put up a sign with the night’s topic?”

“Yeah.  Kinda.”

“And at the end of that series, when they both started appearing with signs.  I thought that was funny.”

“I think I missed that one.”

“There was one where Brian put up the sign, then a few minutes later Lorraine walked out to put up the sign, and she tore down Brian’s sign and put up her own.  Then the next week, they both showed up with signs at the same time.  They saw each other, and they started fighting with lightsabers.”

“Whoa,” Carrie exclaimed.

“Yeah.  They were fighting, then they stopped and looked at each other, and they embraced and made out.”  Carrie gave me a horrified and confused look as I said that last part, and I realized that I had misspoken.  “Made up!  I meant made up!” I hurriedly explained.  “Like they weren’t fighting anymore!”

“Oh!” Carrie replied, laughing.  “I was gonna say, this is a Christian group; they did what?”

“Wow.  That was embarrassing.”  I hoped that Carrie would quickly forget that part of the conversation.  “What are you up to tonight?” I asked.

“I should get home,” Carrie said, slumping her shoulders.  “I have so much to do.  I have a paper to write this weekend, and I haven’t started it.”

“Good luck.”

“But I’ll see you soon, okay?”

“Yes.  Take care.”  I looked into Carrie’s dark brown eyes and smiled, and she smiled back.  Whatever I did tonight after JCF, it would not include Carrie, but at least we got to talk again.  Hopefully my accidental statement about making out would not do lasting damage.


Head-shaving had suddenly become all the rage over the last few months.  It seemed like every week or so, another one of my guy friends had shaved his head.  My brother Mark started shaving his head that year.  Even Lorraine had shaved her head.  A few weeks ago, Ajeet and Darren’s Angels of the Lord characters had appeared in another skit.  Todd Chevallier, a third roommate of theirs, played a character who knew that a girl who really liked him, but he did not like her back.  Todd prayed before he went to bed that God would make that girl realize that he was not the one for her.  As Todd lay supposedly sleeping, Ajeet and Darren appeared in their secret agent costumes.  Todd awoke and asked, “Who are you?”

“We are Angels of the Lord,” Ajeet replied.  “The Lord has heard your prayers.  We have come to make you ugly.”  Darren pulled out an electric razor and shaved an asymmetrical stripe across Todd’s hair as the hundred-plus students in attendance gasped and cheered.  Todd’s character woke up the next morning; the girl who liked him saw him, then ran away screaming.  After the talk at the end of the night, Ajeet and Darren finished shaving the rest of Todd’s head, right there in 170 Evans in front of everyone.

On Sunday at church, two days after the rained-out concert, the high school youth intern, a guy named Kevin, got up to make an announcement.  “Last week, the high school group had a car wash, to raise money for a mission trip this summer.  I told them that if we made two thousand dollars, they would get to shave my head.  Well, guess what?  We shattered that goal and raised over three thousand dollars.  So you can watch a bunch of high schoolers shave my head right after the service.”

Of course, I thought.  More head shaving.  At least this one was for a good cause.  I hoped, as a youth group volunteer with the junior high school kids, that I would not get chosen to have my head shaved at any point in the future.  I had read a column once by the humor writer Dave Barry, who wrote that black guys with shaved heads looked cool, but white guys with shaved heads looked like giant thumbs.  I definitely did not want to look like a giant thumb, and I had no plans to follow everyone else into this shaved head craze.

Despite that, though, I was not opposed to watching others shave their heads.  I wandered into the youth room after church, where Kevin sat in a chair in the middle of the room, and four high schoolers took turns running electric razors across his head, watching random clumps of hair fall to the floor.

A friendly and chatty girl from the junior high group named Samantha waved at me.  I walked over to her, and she looked up at me and said, “You’re so tall.”

“I know,” I replied.  “You say that to me a lot.”

“You should shave your head!”

“No, I really shouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

I had a lot of reasons why not.  Instead of telling Samantha about the giant thumbs, I told her about something that had happened two months earlier.  “When I went home for spring break, my brother had shaved his head, and I told my grandma about how all my friends were shaving their heads.  And Grandma told me I better not shave my head.”

“Oh!” Samantha said, an understanding smile breaking out on her face.  “So you have to wait until she dies!”

Wow, I thought.  Out of the mouths of thirteen-year-olds… “That’s not exactly what I was thinking,” I replied.  “Wow.”  I turned back to watch Kevin as the kids finished shaving his head, not really sure how to follow up Samantha’s comment.

When I got home after church, I turned on music while I finished my math homework.  Edge Mix ’97 was currently in the stereo; I left it in and pressed Play.  The Dime Store Prophets song came on midway through the second side, and hearing that song made me feel disappointed all over again that I had not gotten to see them.  The weather that led to the show’s cancellation was just strange.  Two days later, the weather turned sunny and warm again, like it was at the beginning of last week.

The opportunity was not lost forever.  The band rescheduled their show and came to Jeromeville in September, the first weekend after classes started, and I saw them a second time later that school year.  In my late twenties, two counties away, I attended a church where one of the former band members was the worship leader.  I found a box of old Dime Store Prophets CDs when I was helping him throw away old things he did not need anymore, and he let me keep one of each album.

The conversation with Samantha, about my grandmother not wanting me to shave my head, had an odd postscript.  I would soon learn that my grandmother, whom Samantha had practically wished death upon, shared a birthday with Samantha, sixty-three years apart.  And although I never shaved my head completely, as my brother and many of my friends had, I did start gradually getting it cut shorter as I got older.  I typically would go to one of the cheap walk-in haircut places, and depending on who was available to cut my hair, some would cut it shorter than others.  Once, in 2021, my hair got cut longer than I wanted, so the next time I went to get it cut, I got brave and tried having it cut with clippers.  This was the closest I had ever come to shaving my head. And my grandmother died a few hours later.

I made the connection between Grandma’s death and using clippers on my hair later that week, as I was thinking about everything that had happened.  Of course, it was a complete coincidence; I do not blame my grandmother’s death on my use of hair clippers or on Samantha’s statement twenty-four years earlier.  My grandmother was one hundred years old, her health had been declining for quite some time, and sometimes a body just gives out after such a long life.  But the coincidence still stuck out in my mind.


Author’s note: Have you ever gone along with a hairstyle that was trendy for its time? Share an interesting story about that in the comments.

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April 27, 1997. A legendary prank for Erica’s 18th birthday. (#129)

The Internet was a much simpler place in 1997.  For one thing, the Internet was just beginning to emerge into the mainstream and had not yet taken over every aspect of everyone’s lives.  Also, most network communication was done through dial-up modems and telephone lines, which did not transfer data fast enough to make videos, high-quality sound, and large numbers of photos feasible for everyday Internet usage.

In the days before profile pictures, people would personalize their Internet experiences with email signatures.  People still do this in business today, where they will end every email with their name, job title, phone extension, and website.  But back in 1997, some people would add a signature to their personal email, featuring a sentence about themselves or their favorite quotes.

My email signature was usually a Bible verse, and I would change it every few months as I discovered new verses that spoke to me.  Last quarter at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, Janet had delivered a talk about being patient in romantic relationships, and seeking God’s will in that.  Janet organized her talk around the verse that appears three times in the Song of Solomon: “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

I wanted a girlfriend badly, but I knew that seeking God’s will and not rushing in would be best in the long run.  My recent attempts to get to know cute girls better had all ended in failure, so that talk felt like exactly what I needed to hear.  I made that verse my email signature, not realizing the unintended consequences that doing so would bring.

I had been volunteering with the junior high school youth group at my church for a couple months.  Last week at youth group, I was talking with Danny Foster, one of the boys I knew fairly well, telling him about Dog Crap & Vince, a silly web comic I started drawing last year.  I sent him the link to my website in an email, and my email software automatically attached that Bible verse to the end, as it did with all emails.

The following Sunday, Danny sat next to me at church.  As I was listening to the announcements at the beginning of the service, Danny nudged me to get my attention.  He held an open Bible, and he was pointing at something inside.  I read the verse he was pointing to, Song of Solomon 4:5: “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.”  Danny looked at me and giggled; I smiled and nodded before turning my attention back to the announcements.

“Shh,” I whispered to Danny.

Later, a few minutes into the sermon, Danny nudged me again.  He was giggling, just like last time, but now he was pointing to Song of Solomon 7:7: “Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.”  A few minutes later, Danny did the same thing, pointing to Song of Solomon 8:8: “We have a young sister, and her breasts are not yet grown.”  Danny did have a sister, Erica, and her breasts were smaller than average, but she was older than him.  I tried to suppress laughter as I pictured Erica Foster as the young sister in Song of Solomon 8:8.

The Song of Solomon describes love in a way that includes some very colorfully descriptive language of the bodies of the two lovers and the interactions between them.  It is also often said to be a metaphor for God’s love for his people and Jesus Christ’s love for the Church.  After the service ended, after Danny had pointed out a few other instances of the word, I asked him if this was the first time he had read Song of Solomon.

“Yeah,” he replied.  “I looked up the verse you quoted in your email.”

I was suddenly horrified to realize that I had been the cause of Danny’s distraction at church today.  Danny had taken it upon himself to look up a verse in the Bible, to read the Word of God, and to me, as a youth group leader, this should feel like a major victory.  But I had inadvertently led Danny directly to the one part of the Bible that would make any boy in his early teens think of things that were anything but Godly.  But the Song of Solomon was still part of God’s Word, and hopefully Danny would understand it eventually.

As I left, Noah, one of the other junior high group leaders, pulled me aside.  “What are you doing tonight?” he asked quietly.

“Nothing,” I replied.

“It’s Erica Foster’s 18th birthday.  We’re gonna prank her room tonight.  She’ll be at church for teen choir practice, then high school group.  Are you in?”

“Sure,” I said.  I always loved a good prank.  “Do I need to bring anything?”

“Bring some toilet paper.”

“I will!  I’ll see you then!”


I pulled up to the Fosters’ house in west Jeromeville a little after six o’clock.  I had been here a couple times before, hanging out with Danny and his friends after church and dropping him off.  Erica was the youngest member of the junior high youth staff.  She was graduating from Jeromeville High School this year, and she had told me that she was going to stay home and attend the University of Jeromeville next year.

The teen choir and high school youth group both met on Sunday nights, so Erica had been at church since five o’clock and would not be home until close to nine at the earliest.  This gave us well over two hours to work safely; we probably would not need that much time.  I knocked on the front door with one hand, precariously holding a large case of toilet paper in the other.  Mrs. Foster opened the door.  “Hi, Greg,” she said.  “They’re in Erica’s room.  Down that hall, last door on the right.”

“Thanks.”

“Looks like you’ve got a lot planned.”

“I didn’t make the plans.  They just told me to bring toilet paper.”

As I turned toward the hallway, I saw Danny in the living room, playing a Nintendo 64 game I did not recognize.  “Greg!” he said.  “This is gonna be so cool.  My sister doesn’t suspect anything.”

“Good!” I said, continuing down the hall as Danny turned his attention back to his game.  Noah Snyder and Martin Rhodes were already in Erica’s room when I got there.  “Hey, Greg,” Noah said.  “Good, you brought more toilet paper.”  Noah motioned for me to put it next to the toilet paper he already brought, about twice as much as what I had.  It seemed like an excessive amount of toilet paper to decorate one bedroom, but when performing a prank of this magnitude, you can never have enough toilet paper.

Erica’s room appeared to have been the master bedroom of this house at some point, since it had an attached bathroom.  I had been inside this house before, and the house appeared to have been added onto at some point in the past.  The addition probably included a larger master bedroom for Mr. and Mrs. Foster, so Erica, as the oldest child, got the next largest bedroom, which also had an attached bathroom.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked.

“We’re gonna wait for Courtney and Brody,” Noah explained.  “They’ll be here in a few minutes.  But we’re definitely gonna TP this room as much as we can.”

“I also said we should take some piece of furniture and put it in the shower,” Martin suggested.  “Like that file cabinet over there.”

“That’s awesome,” I said.

Brody and Courtney walked in just then, both sipping on fruit smoothies in plastic foam cups from a smoothie place downtown called Green Earth, giggling about something.  I noted the irony of a place with an environmentally friendly sounding name using plastic foam cups.  I also noticed that Courtney and Brody looked very much like a couple.  I had been trying to figure out for months if those two were romantically involved, and lately it had seemed very obvious that they were.  Courtney was really pretty, with long blonde hair, but I had not attempted to get to know her better as a love interest.  In the fall, she and Mike Knepper had been spending a lot of time together, and I did not want to compete.  I did not know that Mike was out of the picture, though, until the last couple months when I had seen Courtney and Brody together often.

“Hey, Brody,” Martin said.  “Can you help me carry this file cabinet into the shower?”

“Sure,” Brody replied, laughing.  “Why?”

“No reason.”  Martin and Brody lifted Erica’s file cabinet and began carrying it carefully into the bathroom.  Courtney and Noah had opened the toilet paper; I helped them string it through the curtain rod up and down the wall.  Since I was tall, they kept handing me rolls of toilet paper to attach to things on high shelves, so that toilet paper ran across the room several feet off the ground, like streamers at a party.  I used tape to anchor the toilet paper to high spots on the wall a few times.

I went to look at the file cabinet in the shower.  A set of Magnetic Poetry, small magnets with words on them that could be rearranged into abstract poetry, was stuck to the cabinet.  I had seen these before on others’ refrigerators.  I looked to see if I could spell anything funny.  Some magnets only had prefixes and suffixes, like “er,” “s,” and “ing,” intended to be added to existing words.  I put the word “I” next to “er,” then found “can,” intending to cover the N in “can” with the next word, so that those three magnets would spell “Erica.”  “Smell” was the first funny verb I found.  After a couple minutes, I arranged the magnets to spell “er-I-ca-smell-s-like-puppy-tongue.”  I was not sure what it meant that Erica smelled like puppy tongue, but I did not have a great selection of words to choose from.

“We should do something with these stuffed animals,” Noah said as I walked back to the bedroom.  I was a little surprised to see stuffed animals in Erica’s room; most of my friends did not bring their stuffed animals to college.  But Erica was still in high school, for another month or so, and still in her childhood bedroom at her family’s house, so it made sense that she would have stuffed animals.

Brody carefully stepped around the toilet paper, ducking so as not to make it fall to the ground.  He picked up a stuffed bear and put a strip of masking tape over its mouth, then bound its wrists behind its back with masking tape.  “That’s perfect,” I said as Brody taped the bear’s ankles together.  I took an oversized stuffed mouse and taped it to the underside of a shelf that stuck out from the wall several feet from the ground; I had to use a lot of tape to get it to stay.

“There’s a bunch of empty plastic water bottles over here,” Martin observed from across the room.  “Like thirty of them.  Is she saving them or keeping them to throw away, for recycling?”

“I don’t care,” Brody replied.  “But you should totally fill them up.”

“Great!  I’m on it.”  Martin carried the entire pile of water bottles into the bathroom; it took him three trips.  I repeatedly heard water turn on and off for the next several minutes.

“Hey, Greg?” Courtney said.  “Can you tape this toilet paper to the ceiling?  You’re tall.”

“Sure,” I said.  After doing that, I handed the toilet paper back to Courtney, who weaved it between other elevated strands of toilet paper.  It was becoming very difficult to walk in here as we covered everything in toilet paper.

I heard a noise, a clear note, as if someone was blowing into a musical instrument.  I looked up to see Brody playing a round pitch pipe, the harmonica-like device used by vocalists to determine what note to begin singing.  He blew into the holes for several different notes, then stuck the entire pitch pipe in his mouth.  I took a picture of Brody with the pitch pipe completely in his mouth.  “Someone should show that picture to Erica in a few months, after she’s used the pitch pipe many more times,” I said. 

“Eww!” Courtney replied as everyone laughed.

I continued using masking tape and duct tape to bind and gag some of the stuffed animals and tape others to the wall and to furniture.  Martin finished filling the water bottles, reentering the bedroom just as Noah, Courtney, and Brody finished stringing the last of the toilet paper across Erica’s furniture.

“Dude,” Brody said, pointing at a telephone and answering machine.  “We should leave a greeting on here.”

“Yeah!” Courtney said.  “And then call her from a different phone and leave a message with all of us wishing her happy birthday!”

“Yes!” Noah replied.  Apparently Erica had her own phone in her room, separate from the phone line for the rest of the house.  Lucky.  I wanted that so badly when I was that age.  I wanted to talk to friends from school, particularly girls, without worrying about my parents eavesdropping or wondering who was calling me and making a big deal of it.  Mom always said no, that I rarely talked on the phone anyway, so it was pointless to spend money on a second phone line.  I made the counterargument that I would use the phone more if I had that kind of privacy, but this did not win over my parents.

“We should record ourselves singing something weird, and use that as the greeting that people hear when they call Erica,” Martin suggested.

“What song?” Noah asked.

I tried to think of a song, but nothing came to mind.  After a few seconds, Brody said, “I don’t know why, but I keep thinking ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.’”

“Let’s do it,” Martin said, laughing.

Brody walked over to the answering machine and looked at it, trying to figure out how to record a new greeting.  “I think this is it,” he said, pressing a button.  After the machine beeped and clicked, he announced, in a deadpan tone more exaggerated than his usual voice, “Hi.  You’ve reached Erica’s phone.  Leave a message.”  Brody then motioned for us to start singing.  Everyone looked around, not sure what to do; Courtney started laughing after a few seconds.

“You’re supposed to start singing!” Brody said.  He recorded his announcement again, and when it was time to sing, everyone paused again.  “You never close your eyes anymore,” Brody began singing.

“When I kiss your lips,” Martin joined in.  The rest of us all looked at each other, and Courtney started giggling again.  “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” was an old song, originally released in 1964 by the Righteous Brothers.  Daryl Hall and John Oates famously covered the song in 1980, early in my childhood.  I had heard the song before, but I only knew the chorus; apparently there was a verse before that, which Brody and Martin were singing now.  Brody sighed, stopped the recording, and reminded us all of the lyrics.  I did not know the tune of the verse, but I had a feeling that singing the wrong tune would be just fine for our current purposes.

I suddenly had an idea.  “Before we all start singing, you should play a note on the pitch pipe,” I told Brody.  “Like we’re a real choir or something.”

“Yes!  I like it!”  Brody pressed Record one more time, then announced, “You’ve reached Erica’s phone.  Leave a message.”  Brody then played a note on the pitch pipe, nowhere close to the actual note we started singing.  The five of us began singing the verse to You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’; I sang quietly, since I did not know it well.  But by the chorus, I belted it out along with everyone else.  “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’, whoa that lovin’ feelin’, you’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’, now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh…” we sang.

Brody stopped the recording at that point.  “I think that’s good,” he said.  “Besides, we need to finish up soon, so we can get out of here in plenty of time before Erica gets home.  Let’s go call her from the house phone.”

The five of us stepped carefully through the intricate web of toilet paper and walked down the hallway to the living room, where Mrs. Foster was loading the dishwasher.  Brody picked up the telephone in the refrigerator and called Erica’s number; we could hear Erica’s phone ringing down the hall.  After four rings, we heard ourselves singing, all five of us snickered quietly.  After the beep, we all shouted into the phone, “Happy birthday, Erica!”  Brody hung up.

“I heard you guys singing in there,” Mrs. Foster said.  “She’ll love that.”

“Don’t tell her we changed the greeting,” I said.  “She can discover that for herself.”

“Okay.”  Mrs. Foster chuckled.

“Thanks for letting us do this,” Noah said.

“No problem.  You guys have a good week.  Drive safely.”

“We will,” I replied.


My first class the next morning, Mathematics 197, was not a class at all; I was assisting in a precalculus class at Jeromeville High School, in order to get a feel for whether or not teaching high school was a viable career option for me.  After this class, I walked past Erica’s locker on the way to where my bike was parked, and Erica was usually there.  Today, when she saw me, I waved, and she started laughing.

“I can’t believe what you guys did to my room last night,” she said.  “That was hilarious!”

“Thanks,” I replied, chuckling.  “Happy birthday.”

“What happened?” asked one of Erica’s friends standing next to her.”

“My friends from church decorated my room for my birthday,” Erica explained.  “They filled up all my water bottles!”

“All those water bottles?” the other girl asked.  “That must have taken forever!”

“Someone else did that while I was working on the toilet paper,” I said.

“And those poor stuffed animals!” Erica exclaimed.  “I’m just going to leave them like that for a while.  How did you get the file cabinet in the shower?  That thing is heavy!”

“It took two people.”

“And I guess someone called me right after you left, before I got home.  She left a message, laughing, and she said, who was that singing?  I didn’t know what she was talking about until I called her back, and then I played your greeting.  That was great!  I’m gonna leave it like that for a while.”

“Perfect,” I said, laughing.

“I need to get to class.  But thanks again for all the laughs.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.  “I hope you had a great birthday!  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes!  Have a good one!”

Being a youth group leader had the obvious benefit of getting to be part of the lives of the children in the group.  But, at least in the case of our group at Jeromeville Covenant Church specifically, the youth leaders all seemed to be close friends with each other.  I had only been part of this group for a few months, but so far they had all welcomed me with metaphorical open arms.

I arrived on the UJ campus a few minutes after I left the high school, still thinking about my different overlapping circles of friends.  On the periphery, I had my friends from the freshman dorm and people I knew from classes.  My friends from church and Jeromeville Christian Fellowship formed a closer circle, with a few people in closer circles.  I felt like the other youth leaders from church were now becoming one of those closer circles.  Erica would be graduating from Jeromeville High this year, but staying in Jeromeville and attending UJ next year.  I was glad she was in my circle, and I was glad I had finally found a specific ministry to be involved with.


Readers: Tell me about a prank you’ve been part of, either as the one pulling the prank or as the victim.

If you’re curious about how all these people are connected, or if you just like following every little detail of the story, I updated the Dramatis Personae. I’ve been way behind on that; there have been a lot of new characters, or characters taking on bigger roles, since the last update. I added entries for Ajeet, Autumn, Brody, Cambria, Courtney, Erica, Evan, James, Lars, and Dr. Samuels, and removed some from characters who are not important parts of the story anymore.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.

Also remember to check out my other projects:
Greg Out Of Character – a personal blog where I post every once in a while
Song of the Day by DJ GJ-64 – music every day, from many different genres and eras
Cow Chip & Lance – a project by some friends of mine that was the inspiration for “Dog Crap & Vince,” mentioned in this episode. There hasn’t been much new content in a while.


March 22-24, 1997.  Spring Breakthrough, or whatever that retreat with the foosball table was actually called. (#125)

I put my suitcase and sleeping bag in a corner of a meeting room at the First Covenant Church of Stockdale.  I looked around, a little apprehensive about sleeping on the floor, in a sleeping bag, with eight other guys in their sleeping bags in the same room.  I did not sleep well in unfamiliar places, particularly with other people in the room who might be snoring or making noise or breathing.  But if I was tired enough, I would probably be fine.  After all, last year I almost got five hours of sleep camping illegally on the beach in Moonlight Cove, so I would probably be able to handle this.

This retreat was called Spring Breakthrough.  Or maybe it was Spring Breakaway, or Spring Breakout, or some other pun based on the retreat being during spring break.  Instead of driving up to the mountains, like we had on the other retreats I had been on with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, we were just hanging out at a church in a nondescript suburban neighborhood in Stockdale, about an hour drive down the Valley south of Jeromeville.  I would learn later that the McAllens, the head staff of JCF, had a connection to someone at this church, which is how we got it for our retreat.

Spring Breakthrough was also open only to second-year and older students.  Freshmen had their own retreat somewhere else for these same three days, called by a different one of the aforementioned cheesy names.  I forget which.  Because it took up three days of a relatively short Spring Break, and because freshmen had their own retreat, Spring Breakthrough had fewer students attending compared to other JCF retreats I had been on, around twenty.

We arrived on Saturday evening, right after winter quarter finals, and for our first meeting, Brian Burr had set up a television and VCR.  Brian, one of my roommates, was on staff with JCF part time, and he was leading this retreat along with the McAllens, the adult couple on staff full time.  I knew exactly what we would be watching, because I had seen Brian working on this video earlier in the week.  Before he started the video, Brian spoke about discipleship, the theme for this weekend.  “Discipleship is intentional by nature,” Brian explained.  “When you disciple someone, you become a part of their lives, to help lead their spiritual growth.  To start you thinking about discipleship this weekend, I have prepared a video showing a very famous discipleship relationship among certain well-known characters.”  I giggled at Brian’s description of his video.  “Pay attention to what you see about the discipling relationships depicted in this video,” Brian continued.

Autumn Davies sat next to me, and when she heard me giggling, she whispered, “What’s so funny?”

“Just laughing at the way he described that,” I said, “because I know what the video is.”

“What is it?”

It’s Brian.  I’ll give you one guess.”

“Oh!” Autumn said, a look of recognition passing over her face.

Brian pushed the VHS tape in the player and pressed Play.  The opening music and scrolling backstory of Star Wars showed on the screen, and for the next hour, we watched an abridgement of the movie trilogy, containing all of the scenes related to discipleship.  I watched Obi-Wan teach Luke about the Force.  After Obi-Wan’s death, his Force ghost led Luke to Yoda, who took Obi-Wan’s place in Luke’s discipleship.

After the video, which in our abridged version ended with Luke seeing the three Force ghosts, we got into groups of three or four to talk about what discipleship meant to us, and to share stories about someone who had discipled us.  Autumn, Janet McAllen, and Evan Lundgren turned their chairs toward me.

“So what did you guys think?” Janet asked.  “Who has discipled you?”

After a pause, in which everyone seemed to be debating whether or not to go first, Autumn spoke up.  “For me, really, it was Leah, and everyone in my Bible study freshman year.  I grew up going to church on Christmas and Easter, but it didn’t really mean anything until I got here.  I met Leah our first day in the dorm, and she invited me to Bible study a couple weeks later, and I made a decision for Jesus after a few Bible studies.”

I did some quick mental math.  If Autumn became a Christian a few weeks into fall quarter her freshman year, which was my sophomore year, that means that she had only been a Christian for a month at the most when I met her, when our group failed so hilariously badly at the car rally.  I never would have guessed this, since Autumn always seemed so intense about living for Jesus.

Evan and Janet told their stories next, and finally it was my turn.  I did not want to share.  I was a little embarrassed.  “I feel like it’s hard to talk about,” I said.  “I don’t know if I want to share out loud, because the person who first comes to mind is in this room.”

“Brian,” Janet said with a look of recognition.

“Actually, I was thinking Eddie, last year when I was having a rough night, and he took me in and invited me over.  But, yeah, Brian too.  And all of you guys.  You, when you told me about sin and Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And Sarah, and…” I looked around, trying to remember if any of my other Building C friends were on this retreat; they were not, Sarah Winters was the only one.  “And my friends from my dorm, who accepted me for who I was.”

“Wait,” Autumn said.  “So you’re a pretty new Christian too?”

“Yeah.  I made the decision to follow Jesus a little over a year ago.”

“I didn’t know that.  You always seem to me like you must have been a Christian for a long time.”

“Funny you should say that.  I was just thinking the same thing about you.”

“That is funny,” Autumn said.  “I guess sometimes the Lord just finds you, and lights a fire in your heart.”

“Yeah.  Someone else said that about me once.”

We shared prayer requests, then returned to the rooms where we were sleeping, Janet and Autumn to one room with the women and Evan and I to the room with the men.  It took me a bit longer than usual to get to sleep, to get used to the unfamiliar noises and sounds, but I ended up sleeping fine after that.


We were staying at a church, and the next day was Sunday, so we all attended the service together.  The pastor of the church introduced us at the beginning of the service; people turned around to look at us, and we all waved.  

After church, we went back to the youth room, where our meetings were being held.  Eddie Baker, John Harvey, Lars Ashford, and Xander Mackey had discovered the foosball table on the opposite end of the room from where we were sitting last night.  I walked up, trying not to interrupt, since they were focused on an intense competition.  

“Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.

“What’s up?” Xander asked.

“Nothing,” I said.  “Can I watch?”

“Sure, dude,” Lars replied.  I watched as the four boys made the ball fly across the table with amazing precision that I never had known to be attainable on a foosball table.  I had played around on foosball tables off and on over the years, but I was never anywhere near this good.  As with most actual sports, everyone around me was better than I was.

John gestured out the window, where Brent Wang and a few others were throwing a Frisbee.  “I’m gonna go outside and play Frisbee with Brent,” John said after their game ended.  “Greg?  You want in?”

“Sure,” I replied.  I grabbed the handles for the defense side of John’s team, even though John had been playing offense; I hoped that Eddie would not mind playing offense.  I did not want to speak up, since that would require admitting that I was not very good at foosball, and blocking shots seemed slightly easier than flicking my wrist and sliding the handles the way the others had been in order to score.  Eddie grabbed the handles for the offense players without questioning this arrangement.

“So I found a foosball table for our house next year,” Lars said.  “It’s used, but I got a good deal on it.”

“That’s awesome,” Eddie replied.

“You guys are living together next year?” I asked.  The other three at this table had lived together last year, but this year Lars and Xander lived in one house and Eddie in another, along with John, who had been playing earlier.

“Yeah,” Xander said.  “Us three, John, and Jason and Ramon.  We got this really nice four-bedroom house on De Anza Drive.  It’s two-story, with a balcony.”

“That sounds cool,” I said as I successfully blocked Lars’ shot.  I was a little disappointed to hear that I had been excluded from The Cool House yet again, although I was not surprised.  I had been reminded so many times this year that I was on the outside of the cliques at JCF, and I had come to accept that.  I realized that I had not yet made plans for housing for next year, and while I had a feeling I would still be able to find something, I also began to panic in my mind.  This distracted me enough that Lars’ next shot went streaming past my goalie.  “Crap,” I said as Xander moved his team’s score counter up.


We had another talk about discipleship Sunday night, and another one Monday morning.  Word spread quickly that there was a foosball table in the room, and most of our free time was spent around that table, playing, watching, or waiting our turns.  Even Brent, who always seemed to bring a Frisbee wherever he went, had eschewed his Frisbee for foosball.

I finally got a win Monday afternoon.  I was playing with Autumn on my team, and Tabitha Sasaki and Evan Lundgren on the other side of the table.  None of us were particularly skilled at foosball, and Autumn and I won by a score of 10 to 8.  After that game, I stepped aside to let the more skilled players back in.

A little bit later, shortly before our final session on discipleship, I left the foosball table and wandered across the room to where we would be meeting.  Janet was writing a table of numbers on a large pad of paper attached to an easel.

Preaching to 100Discipleship of 1
1 year1002
5 years50032
10 years10001024
20 years20001048576
30 years30001073741824

“Exponential growth,” I said.

“Yes!” Janet replied.  “You get it, because you’re a math major.  Isn’t it amazing how effective discipleship can be, when people get discipled and go on to disciple others?”

“Yes.”

About ten minutes later, Janet and a few others walked around the room to gather everyone together for the talk.  When we were ready to begin, Janet announced, “Turn to the person next to you, and tell them, what do you want to take home from this weekend?”

Xander was sitting next to me.  As I tried to think of a deep answer, something I had learned this weekend that I wanted to put into practice in my life back in Jeromeville, Xander said loudly, “I wanna take home the foosball table!”  I laughed at this, as did everyone else within earshot.

“I’m still figuring out what to take away from this,” I said.  “I feel like discipleship isn’t something I’m naturally good at.”

“That’s okay,” Xander replied.  “Sometimes it’s just about how you live.  Spreading the gospel isn’t just about preaching.  People see you helping out, volunteering to help the worship team set up their equipment, stuff like that, and they can see you showing the love of Jesus.  And didn’t you say you’re doing something with the youth group at Jeromeville Covenant?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Those kids are gonna remember you.  That’s a kind of discipleship too.”

“That’s true.”

After everyone finished, Janet spoke to the group.  “I made a table here,” she said, gesturing to the easel.  “This column shows how many people get reached for Jesus if you preach to a hundred people every year.  But this column over here shows how many people you reach if you disciple one person for a year, and then each of them disciples someone else for a year, and then each of them disciples someone, and so on.  Notice how fast the number grows through discipleship.”  I smiled and nodded, thinking about having learned this in math class, as Janet continued, “And Greg can tell us why.”

What?  Me?  This was unexpected; I was not prepared to speak.  But this was math, and I knew exactly what to say.  I nervously stood up, and after no one told me to sit back down, I began.  “Preaching is a linear function.  The rate of change is always the same, so the same number of people get reached every year.  But with discipleship, the more people who get reached, the more new people they will reach.  The rate of change is proportional to the number of people reached.  That describes an exponential function.  The number of people reached grows faster and faster as more people get reached.”  I sat back down, and all the other students clapped.  I hoped that they actually learned something from my explanation, something about math and about Christian living, and that their applause was not just humoring me as I got an opportunity to use big math words.

As Janet continued talking about discipleship, I kept thinking about what I told Xander: discipleship did not come naturally to me.  I often felt like I was not a very good Christian because I was not good at inviting people to JCF or telling strangers about my beliefs.  But Xander did make a good point; living a life for Jesus can take many different forms.  I seemed to be finding a niche as a youth group leader at church.

The last thing on the schedule tonight was dinner, and we would all be headed home to our respective spring breaks tonight.  Before we went to dinner, though, Autumn suggested, “We should get a group picture!”

“Yeah!” Janet replied.  “Where should we go to get a good picture?”

“Around the foosball table,” John suggested.  “That’s pretty much what we did this whole time.”

Everyone liked John’s idea.  We all gathered around the table and gave our cameras to Dave, Janet’s husband; he took the picture many times, on everyone’s camera, and then handed our cameras back to us.

After dinner, I packed and said goodbye to everyone.  My spring break was only a week, so I would see them again soon.  I had a two and a half hour drive home, plenty of time to think about all I had learned.  I stopped at the first gas station to fill up, and while I was there I used the pay phone to call Mom with an estimate of what time I would be home.  Before I left for the retreat, I had told Mom I would be home Monday night, but I did not know yet what time.  I would not be getting home until after ten o’clock tonight; Mom told me to drive safely, and that she might be asleep on the couch by the time I got there.

I put in a new CD I had recently bought at the Christian bookstore in Jeromeville, by a new band from Georgia called Third Day.  I had heard Eddie and John play this CD the last time I was at their house, and I liked what I heard.  I still had nowhere to live next year.  Neither Brian nor Shawn, my current roommates, would be in Jeromeville next year, so living with them was not an option.  Fall quarter was six months away, but the housing market in Jeromeville was so tight that I needed to make a plan quickly.  Living in The Cool House with Eddie and those guys would have been nice, but that ship had sailed.  I knew enough people by now that if I started mentioning my need for a place to live and roommates for the 1997-98 school year, there was a good chance that someone would know something.  I put the thought out of my mind as I drove; it would be a spring quarter problem, after I got back to Jeromeville in six days.  I had a fourth roommate, Josh, whom I did not see as often, and I did not know if he would need a roommate next year.  I had gotten closer to him lately, though, since he was also a youth group leader at church, and he would be the one who led me to my living situation for the following year.  But that is a story for another time.

Much of the ministry model of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship was based on students inviting their friends to group meetings, Bible studies, or retreats.  This was how I got involved in JCF, and how I learned what it meant to follow Jesus.  But I just was not good at inviting people to things, and sometimes I felt like I was not a good enough Christian because of that.  I knew that God had a role for me in his kingdom, and at least for now, being a youth leader was part of it.  I was still trying to figure out exactly what form my acts of discipleship would take, and sometimes it was difficult to know if I was actually doing God’s will, or just doing what I wanted.


Hey, readers! Tell me about someone who mentored or discipled you in a memorable way.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


February 13-14, 1997.  Fall away. (#119)

I clicked Print and watched the printer run, then I stapled the three pages of my story together.  I glanced over it, proud of my little creation, feeling especially clever since I had hidden a secret message in the story.


“Fall Away”
by Gregory J. Dennison, February 1997

Here we go again, I thought, as I opened the door and saw her sitting there, her hair gently blowing in the light breeze.  She was talking with someone I did not recognize.  I wondered how I should react.  It seemed like a little devil and a little angel had appeared on my shoulder, as if in a cartoon.  The former told me to walk on by and say nothing, and the latter told me I should try to be friendly and at least say hello.  I wasn’t sure how to act, since I still had trouble dealing with the time she rejected me.  I have tried my hardest not to be bitter.  I watched her as I walked by.  She did not see me, so I kept right on walking.

Also, over the past few weeks, it seems like she and I have been drifting apart.  We were once such good friends, and I had hoped so much that our friendship would turn into something more.  When I finally got brave enough to ask her out, she rejected me.  It was a friendly and sympathetic rejection, but a rejection nonetheless.   A movie was playing on campus that night, and we had mentioned that we both wanted to see it.  I asked her if she wanted to see it with me, and she said she would, but she had to get up early the next morning.  She did not want to stay out late.  That was kind of the last straw for me.  A couple weeks later, I told her how I felt about her, and she told me she did not feel the same way back.  I decided, though, that our friendship seemed too important to throw away, so I would try to stay friends with her rather than avoid her.

Love never works like that, though.  Another month had passed, and my feelings for her were coming back.  In light of this, I became hesitant to pursue our friendship, because I feared that my feelings would get in the way like they did before.  Also, in the past month or so it has seemed like she and I have naturally drifted apart.  When she and her friends are all together, it seems like they stick together and don’t really include me as much.  I would still consider them my friends on a one-to-one basis, but as a group they seem kind of exclusive.

Every table seemed full as I scanned the room for a place to sit and eat lunch.  I spotted two of my friends next to an open seat, but it looked like they were busy talking about something serious, so I didn’t want to bother them.  I continued looking and saw someone else I recognized, but I heard someone calling my name first.  I looked up and saw a girl who I had met about a month ago, sitting with a bunch of her friends who I barely knew.  She asked me if I wanted to sit down, so I did.

“You look tired,” she said.  I agreed.  I proceeded to get out the lunch I had packed, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of tortilla chips.  After saying a short prayer, I began eating.  I thought about the situation.  I looked at the people around me at the table.  I didn’t really know them well, but they seemed really friendly.  This was also the second time this week that I had sat with them at lunch time.  Maybe this group was destined to become my new friends.

Curious to see what was happening around me, I looked up.  I saw the girl I saw earlier that day, the one who had rejected me.  She was talking to the two friends I had almost sat with.  I looked down, unsure of what to do.  Friendship is a valuable treasure, and I really hate to lose a friend.  But ever since that day she turned down my offer for a date, I have found it so difficult to connect with her.  We had talked a few times in the weeks since that happened, but it never seemed the same as it was before.  We rarely hung out together anymore, and when we talked, it was rarely anything more than hi and how are you.

Her pretty blue eyes looked in another direction, away from my table, as she began walking toward me.  I quickly moved my head down and looked intently at my food for about thirty seconds, so that when I looked up again I could be sure that she was gone.  I began to regret my decision after it happened.  I felt like a really unfriendly jerk.  I wondered what had come over me.  I’m not exactly the most friendly person in the world, but I have never noticed myself consciously avoiding a friend either.

Although I convinced myself after the rejection that nothing would ever happen between us, and I was comfortable with this decision at first, I seemed to feel worse about it every day.  Something had gone wrong.  I had wanted to remove my desire for a romantic relationship with her in exchange for a continued friendship.

Nothing I tried was working, though.  I had discussed my feelings with a close friend of ours.  He had felt the same way toward the same girl at one time.  He finally told her the truth, and although she did not feel the same way toward him, they had grown closer as friends.

None of this happened in my case.  I never told her how I felt about her, but more importantly we have not stayed friends.  I have a really hard time carrying on a conversation with her.  Maybe I should just have a long talk with her, apologize for avoiding her, and let her know that I wish we could talk more like we used to.

I finished eating and decided to go to class some time later.  I made up my mind that I would deal with this situation again as soon as I had an opportunity to talk to her.  A friend is a terrible thing to lose.  God would want me to face my problems and not run from them like this.  

Now, though, might not be the time to stay friends.  It would make it harder for the feelings to go away, for me to get over her rejection.  I did not know what I should do.  As I walked along, thinking about what I really felt toward her, I saw her, sitting at a table eating lunch.  She did not see me.  I started to go talk to her.

Going that way suddenly felt like a bad idea; I took one step toward her and chickened out.  I looked at her, to see if her eyes would drift up in my direction.  They did not.  I had run away from her again, the third time that day.  And somewhere, off in the distance, a rooster crowed.


It was late afternoon on Thursday, and I had been working on this story off and on for a week.  Most of the events in the story actually happened to me.  One day last week, I saw Haley Channing three times during my lunch break at the Memorial Union, and I just could not bring myself to talk to her.  I thought that telling her how I felt two months ago was the best course of action to get over her.  There was an outside chance that she liked me too, but if she did not, at least I would know.  It hurt to hear that, but some things have to hurt before they feel better, like ripping off a bandage quickly.  Things had not gotten better; now I just felt awkward around her, and my rejection felt like another painful reminder of the cliques at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and my position on the outside.

After the third time I ignored her, I thought about Jesus’ prediction that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed.  The title of the story was taken from Jesus’ words preceding this incident: “You will all fall away.”  Peter insisted that he would never do such a thing, but he did, and he heard a rooster crow afterward.  I had just denied Haley three times, and I added the part about the rooster at the end of the story to allude to Peter’s denials.  I did not actually hear a rooster in real life.

The new friend who called me over to sit with her on that day was Alaina from University Life, the college ministry of a different church from the one I went to.  A while back, on another crowded day in the Memorial Union, I was looking for a place to sit.  I saw Ben, an acquaintance who was involved with U-Life but also attended JCF sometimes, and he was sitting with Alaina.  Since then, I had often seen one or both of them at lunch, and I had met some of their other friends.

Two days ago, I took a significant step closer to this other group.  I headed to campus in the evening and paid two dollars for a parking spot in the public lot on Davis Drive near the Barn.  I hated paying for parking.  A daily parking permit cost one dollar my freshman year.  The following year it increased to two dollars for the day, but still one dollar for evenings for people arriving after five o’clock.  This year the price increased to three dollars for the day and two for the evening, and I heard next year it would be three dollars any time.  The cost was increasing much faster than inflation, tripling in three years.  If this exponential increase continued, the cost of a daily parking permit in the year 2021 would be $19,683.  (The actual cost of a daily parking permit in 2021 was twelve dollars, increasing twelvefold in twenty-seven years; I still found that outrageous.)

I crossed the street and walked into Harding Hall, looking for the big lecture hall inside.  I followed the faint murmur of voices down the hall.  As I approached the room, I saw a large sign that said WELCOME TO UNIVERSITY LIFE with a large Christian cross on the left.  The setup looked very much like that of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, with people filling out name tags near the entrance and a live band in the front, probably to play worship music.

“Hi,” the guy with the name tags said.  “What’s your name?”

“Greg.”

The guy wrote my name on a name tag, unpeeled it, and handed it to me.  I stuck it on my shirt in the center of my chest.  I walked into the large lecture hall, looking around for a seat, but before I sat down, I heard someone calling out, “Greg!”

I looked around and saw Alaina waving at me.  “Hey,” I said, walking toward her.

“You made it!  Come sit with us!”  Alaina led me to a seat near the center of the lecture hall, next to her roommate Whitney, our friend Ben, and a few others whom I had met but needed to look at their name tags to remember their names.

The rest of the night at U-Life was structured much like JCF; I would not have been able to tell the difference, other than the presence of different people there.  The group was led by an adult, the college pastor from the church that ran U-Life.  The band played a few worship songs, someone made announcements, the pastor gave a talk about something from the Bible, and they finished with more songs.  I saw a few other familiar faces around the room.  Carolyn Parry, whom I knew from being in chorus last quarter, was in the worship band.  I also recognized another math major named Melissa Becker, several people from my Introduction to New Testament class last quarter and New Testament Writings of John class this quarter, and Rebekah Tyler from my freshman dorm.

I enjoyed U-Life, with the intent to come back some other time.  But I did not want to give up on JCF, even though it was cliquish and I would run into Haley there.  Yesterday, the day after I went to U-Life, I finished writing my story, “Fall Away,” which I had been working on over the last week.  I printed it just now, when I got home from class.  I was still holding the printed copy of Fall Away when my roommate Shawn walked into the room.

“Hey, Greg,” he said.  “What’s that you’re reading?”

“I wrote a story,” I replied.

“Really?  What’s it about?”

“Something that happened to me last week that I thought would make a good story.”

“Can I read it?”

I debated whether or not to let Shawn read the story.  My desire to share and discuss my work won out over wanting to keep the details of my romantic pursuits private.  I handed Shawn the story as I got out my textbook for Euclidean Geometry and began working on homework.

“‘By Gregory J. Dennison,’” Shawn read aloud.  “What’s the J for?”

“James.  It was my dad’s brother’s name.  He died in an accident before I was born.”

“I’m sorry.  But you have a story to go with your name.”

“Yeah.  And Gregory was after one of my dad’s good friends.”

“That’s cool,” Shawn said.  “My parents named me Shawn because they liked the name.  And they spelled it right too.  None of this ‘Seen’ stuff.”  Shawn had intentionally mispronounced the traditional spelling of Sean as if it rhymed with “mean,” and I chuckled.  “I mean, I know it’s Irish, but hey, do I look Irish to you?”  Shawn definitely did not look Irish; he was born here in the United States, but he was of Chinese descent.  This made me laugh even harder.

Shawn continued reading my story as I turned back to my math homework.  A few minutes later, he said, “That was pretty good.  So there’s a girl you liked, and she didn’t like you back, and you can’t get her out of your head?  And you didn’t want to say hi to her?”

“Pretty much.

“Is it someone I know?”

“Maybe.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t want to say.”

“Come on, you can tell me.”

I had a feeling Shawn might want to know whom the story was about.  I could have told him I did not want to reveal this information, but I had a feeling he would keep bugging me about it.  Besides, my story had a secret, which could make this fun.  “Promise you won’t tell anyone.  Or make fun of me.”

“I promise.”

“I hid a secret message in the story.”

“What?” Shawn said.  I put my math homework aside, watching Shawn’s reaction as he searched for the secret message, looking carefully at the words on the page.  “I can’t find it,” he said finally.

“Read it out loud,” I said with a mischievous grin.

“‘Here we go–’”

“Stop,” I interrupted.  “Now go to the next paragraph.”

“‘Also, ov–’”

“Stop.  Next paragraph.”

“‘Love ne–’”

“Stop.  Next paragraph.”

Shawn looked over the entire story, then began reciting the first words of each paragraph.  “‘Here, also, love, every, you, curious, her, although, nothing, none, I, now, going.’  I don’t get it.”

“Try again.  Start from the beginning.

“H–”

“Next paragraph,” I interrupted, as soon as I heard Shawn make a sound.

“A–”

“Next paragraph.”

“L– Oh, wait a minute.”  Shawn flipped the three printed pages back and forth quickly, with a look of understanding on his face.  He had figured out that I was trying to tell him to look at only the first letter of each paragraph, not the first word.  “Haley Channing,” he said.  “It’s too bad she didn’t like you back.  She’s a cutie.”

“Yeah, she is.”

“You know what they say.  Women… can’t live with ‘em…”

“Can’t live without ‘em?” I added

“Can’t shoot ’em,” Shawn replied, finishing a famous comedic quote.

I chuckled.  “I’ve never heard that.”

“Women are always trouble.  If it weren’t for women, O.J. Simpson wouldn’t be in the news all the time.  You heard he lost the civil case, right?”

“Yeah.  And now he owes the families millions of dollars.”

“He totally did it.  He should be in jail.”

“Yeah.”

“Seriously, though, don’t give up.  If something was meant to be, God’ll make it happen somehow.  And don’t let it get you down.  Just live your life.”

“I know.”


Despite Shawn’s advice not to let my romantic failures get to me, I still decided to wear black for Valentine’s Day the next morning.  I did not wear solid black, though; I wore faded blue jeans with the black t-shirt from Urbana that said “What have you seen God do lately?”

The bus was crowded today; the air was damp, the sky was gray, and the weather forecast called for rain by mid-morning at the latest.  No one I knew got on at this stop, although I recognized some people from previous bus rides: a pale-faced guy with a big blond beard, an Asian guy with unkempt hair, and a pretty girl with wavy brown hair and big brown eyes.  When the bus arrived, I was one of the last from our stop to board.  Even though this was only the second stop on the route, the 8:35am bus on a cold, rainy day filled up fast, with over half of the seats already taken.

I looked up and breathed in sharply when I saw the pretty brown-haired girl right in front of me, next to an empty seat.  “May I sit here?” I asked her.

“Yeah!” she replied.  She smiled.

“Thanks.”  The bus stopped once more on Maple Drive, then turned left on Alvarez Avenue and stopped twice more.  I looked up and saw that the girl next to me was looking in my direction, so I turned and made eye contact.  “How’s it going?” I asked.

“Pretty good.  How are you?”

“I’m okay.  Glad it’s Friday.”

“Yeah.  Me too.”

Trying to think of something else to say, as we headed south on Andrews Road, I asked, “What class are you headed to?”

“Bio 101.  It’s really hard.”

“I’ve heard.”

“What about you?  What classes do you have today?”

“Advanced calculus, Euclidean geometry, and New Testament Writings of John.”

“How is that John class? I’ve heard good things about it.”

“It’s good.  I have a lot of friends from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship in that class too.”

“My roommate and I were talking about looking for a church.”

“I go to Jeromeville Covenant,” I said.  “The one right back there, on the right.  And Jeromeville Christian Fellowship too, but that isn’t affiliated with a church.”

“Maybe I’ll check those out sometime.”

“Yeah.  That would be cool,” I said.  “Hey, what’s your name?  I know I’ve seen you on the bus before.”

“Tara.”

“I’m Greg.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Tara said, motioning to shake my hand.

“Nice to meet you too,” I replied as I shook Tara’s hand.  She smiled, and I smiled back.  Maybe this Valentine’s Day would not be so bad after all.


Author’s note: Did you find the secret message? Have you ever written something with a secret message hidden inside?

“Fall Away” is an actual story I wrote when I was younger. I hope I have grown as a writer since then, because reading it again now, it really wasn’t that good. I only made minimal changes to it for inclusion in this episode, in order to resolve continuity errors between the original story and the way I have told the backstory now.


February 5, 1997. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. (#118)

I walked toward the church and entered the fellowship hall building, which was called The Lamp.  The building was quiet and empty, much different from Sunday mornings when 20/20, the college Sunday school class, met here.  A small group of people around my age sat in a circle near the middle of the group, reading what appeared to be copies of the same paper.  I recognized most, but not all, of the people in the circle from the college group.

“Greg!  You made it!” Taylor Santiago called out from the circle, motioning me over.

“Yeah,” I said.  “So what do I need to do?”

“Just hang out.  After everyone gets here, we’re going to go over the plan for the night.”

I sat in the circle in between Taylor and a girl with bushy light brown hair whom I did not know.  Taylor handed me my own copy of the paper; it said THE EDGE, 2/5/97 at the top.  Below this was a schedule for the night, along with a discussion outline for small groups at the end of the night, and a list of which students would be with which leaders in these small groups.  I noticed that one group was listed as “Taylor/Greg,” and that this group included Ted, Zac, and Danny, the three students whom I knew.  Taylor had told whomever made this schedule that I would be coming tonight.

“How’s it going, Taylor?” Noah Snyder asked.  I knew Noah from the college group; he and Taylor had been friends since their early teens, before they both came to the University of Jeromeville.  I had also seen his name in the church bulletin with the title “junior high intern”; I thought that meant that he actually got paid part time to have a leadership role with The Edge, the group for junior high school students here at Jeromeville Covenant Church.

“I’m doing okay,” I said.  I was vaguely aware that someone else entered the room during our conversation, but I did not pay attention until I heard a familiar female voice say, “Greg?”

I looked up and saw a girl with straight dark blonde hair standing next to her boyfriend, a stocky, muscular guy a little bit shorter than her.  “Hey, Abby,” I said.  “Josh.”

“Greg?  Are you gonna be an Edge leader?” Josh asked.

“Maybe,” I replied.  “I’m checking it out.  I might be taking Taylor’s spot when he leaves spring quarter.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy it!”

“It’s so much fun!” Abby added.

Across from me in the circle was a tall guy who looked older than me, maybe around twenty-five.  He had short, almost buzzed hair, and a toothy grin; I knew from having been around J-Cov the last four months that this was Adam White, the youth pastor.  “You two know each other?” Adam asked when he saw Josh talking to me.

“Yeah,” I said, although the fact that Josh lived under the same roof as me, and I had no idea that he was an Edge leader, made me wonder if I really knew him at all.  I did not say this, though, because I really did feel bad that I did not know this.  I did not know that Abby was an Edge leader either, and I had known her even longer than Josh.  “He’s my roommate.”

“That roommate you never see who works weird hours?” Taylor asked.  “That’s Josh?”

“Yeah!”

“I never knew that!”

A few minutes later, after everyone had arrived, Noah gathered us to begin the night.  “We have a new leader,” he said.  “Greg, why don’t you introduce yourself?”

“I’m Greg,” I said.  “I’m a junior, a math major.  I’ve been going to J-Cov and 20/20 since October.  But I know a lot of you from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and Taylor was in my dorm freshman year.  Three boys from The Edge decided they wanted to hang out with me a few weeks ago after church, so I’ve been getting to know them.  Taylor told me about how he’s going away for six months, and since I’ve been hanging out with those boys, he asked if I’d be interested in trying out The Edge and taking over his small group for the rest of the year.”

“So they just decided they wanted to hang out with you?” Noah asked.  “Who are they?”

“Ted Hunter, and Zac, and Danny,” I said.  “I don’t know the others’ last names.”

“Danny Foster,” the bushy-haired girl next to me said.  “That’s my brother.”

“Oh, okay.” 

“That’s hilarious that the kids just went out and found you to be their leader,” Adam said.  “I’m Adam.  I’m the youth pastor.  Who else here do you know?”

I looked around the circle, pointing at people.  “Taylor, Noah, Martin, Courtney,” I said.  “Abby and Josh.  And James,” I added, purposely not calling him Barefoot James to his face.  I knew these people either from rom JCF or 20/20, or both, but some of them I did not know were Edge leaders.  The others introduced themselves next; Danny Foster’s sister was named Erica.  A scruffy-looking guy I had seen at 20/20 but did not know was named Brody, and a girl with long dark hair was named Kate.  Finally, a girl with short, chin-length blonde hair introduced herself as Charlotte; I had never seen her before.

“Nice to meet you guys,” I replied.

Noah then discussed the plan for the rest of the night, and when we finished this, he asked if there were any prayer requests.  “I have one,” I said.  “Pray that I will seek God’s will for my life, that I’ll know if working with The Edge is part of it.”

“That’s a good one.  Anyone else?”

Each person in the circle shared a prayer request.  Some were specific, like Taylor’s upcoming mission trip, Charlotte’s midterm, and Kate’s sick uncle; others just asked to thank God for a good week.  We each then took turns praying for the person on our left.  When my turn came, I said, “God, I thank you that Taylor has this opportunity to go to Chicago, to serve you.  I pray that all of those around him will see your love and your message of salvation through his actions and his attitude.  I pray that you will bless him with safe travel, and a good adjustment to a new living situation.”

After everyone finished praying we all looked back up.  “Go love those kids!” Noah said in a way that suggested that he said this every week at this point.

“So what do I do now?” I asked Noah.

“Just hang out.  It starts at 7, but kids will gradually trickle in, and we’ll do announcements at 7:15.  If kids ask you who you are, just tell them.”


Over the next twenty minutes, the room gradually filled with twelve- through fourteen-year-olds of all shapes and sizes.  Of the boys I knew, Ted was the first to arrive.  “Greg!” he shouted when he saw me.  “You’re here!”

“I know!  And I’m going to be in your small group with Taylor.”

“Great!”  Ted saw Danny walk in and motioned for him to come over.  “Danny!” Ted exclaimed.  “Look!  Greg’s here!”

Zac arrived a minute later, and the boys moved on to do something else a minute after that.  I walked around, trying to take in the atmosphere.  Music that I did not recognize played on the speakers, something that sounded like the typical girl-rock of that era, but this singer had a distinct voice, a little bit like that girl from the Cranberries, but not really. The lyrics, and the fact that we were at church, made me think this was a Christian singer.

“Who is this singing?” I asked Taylor.

“Sarah Masen,” he answered.  Yeah, I did not know that one.  Working with The Edge, I learned quickly that there were many, many Christian singers and bands that I did not know.

“Are you a new leader?” I heard a voice say next to me.  I turned and saw a small girl with blue eyes and brown hair looking up at me.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m just checking it out for now.”

“You’re tall.”

“Yeah,” I chucked.  “I know.”

“What’s your name?”

“Greg.”

“I’m Samantha.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said.

At 7:15, Adam called everyone to attention, speaking through a microphone.  Around forty students were in attendance.  “Is there anyone new here tonight?” he asked.  Two students walked up to the stage.  I saw Taylor motioning for me to follow them, so I did.

After Adam introduced the new students, he came to me.  “Greg, what’s your name?” he asked.  He had done this for the new students as well, using their names while asking for their names, and the first time, students laughed at this.

“Greg,” I said.

“Where do you go to school?”

“University of Jeromeville,” I answered.  When the new students named their schools, students from that school cheered, but for me, everyone cheered for UJ.

Adam asked the new students a silly would-you-rather question next, and I was no exception. “Would you rather wear shorts in freezing weather or long pants in hot weather?”

“Neither,” I said.  “But if I had to pick, probably long pants in hot weather.”

“Everyone, welcome Greg!”  The students cheered for me again..  When the room got quiet, Adam said that it was time to play a game.  “Tonight, we are going to have a giant rock-paper-scissors tournament!”  Some of the students made excited cheers, while a few groaned in disappointment.  “You just walk to someone, count one-two-three, and then make the sign for rock, paper, or scissors.”  Adam demonstrated the three hand signs, a fist for rock, all the fingers lying flat next to each other for paper, and two fingers extended for scissors.  “Rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock.  If you lose, go to the back of the room.  If you win, find someone else who won, and play again.  We’ll keep playing until there are only two people left, and the winner of that final game gets…” Adam trailed off as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the grand prize.  “A five dollar gift card to Lucky!”  During our meeting earlier, I wondered aloud if students would really be motivated by a grocery store gift card; Noah assured me that, to junior high schoolers, the thought of being able to spend five dollars on junk food was major excitement.  The reaction from the crowd when Adam showed them the gift card confirmed Noah’s statement.

A few minutes of mass chaos ensued as students ran off to find opponents.  As a leader, my job was to watch for students who had lost and were trying to jump back into the game.  I noticed one, and when I told him to go sit in the back, he refused, but he lost his next match anyway.  Finally, the group had been winnowed to two: Ted Hunter and a girl named Shawna.  The rest of the students had gathered around either Ted or Shawna, with most of the boys cheering for Ted and most of the girls cheering for Shawna.

“Here we go,” Adam announced.  “This is the final game, Ted versus Shawna.  Ready?  One, two, three!”  Ted placed his hand in the rock position, and Shawna chose paper.  Paper covers rock.  Shawna made an excited exclamation, and her supporters cheered wildly as Adam presented her with the grocery store gift card.

Courtney and Brody took the stage next for announcements, most of which involved the upcoming Winter Camp.  A week from Friday, many of the students would be traveling up to the mountains for the weekend.  In addition to fun activities and Bible lessons, some of the students would visit a nearby ski resort on one of the days, with everyone else staying behind to play in the snow.  In this part of the United States, only high elevations got snow, and most of the population lived in low-lying valleys.  I did not travel to snow regularly growing up, and I had only seen snow three times.  Winter Camp sounded like fun; maybe if I was still volunteering with The Edge a year from now, I would go to Winter Camp.

Adam brought a guitar on stage next for worship, and Abby joined him, along with Courtney and Brody who were already there.  The first worship song was one that I did not recognize; it sounded much more like a children’s song than the worship songs we sang in the college group or at JCF.  Courtney and Abby got on stage to lead the students through hand motions during the refrain of the song.  Many of the students got excited to do the hand motions.  Personally, I thought the hand motions were dumb.  I stood in the back and sang without doing the hand motions.  I had never spent time around Christian youth group kids, so it was surprising to me that these students enjoyed the hand motions and did not find them corny and distracting, like me.  I was glad that they were having fun, though.

After the third song, Adam stayed on the stage, alone, with the microphone.  “How many of you have ever experienced getting picked last for a team?”  A few hands went up.  “How many of you always get picked first?”  A few other hands went up, with murmurs of arguments from some who seemed to disagree with those students’ assessments of themselves.  Adam then read from the First Book of Samuel about God sending Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem, to choose a King of Israel from among Jesse’s sons.  Samuel saw seven good-looking young men pass by, but God instead chose David, the youngest, who had not been invited to meet Samuel.

Adam then read names of students and told them which small group they were in.  I assumed that someone adjusted the list as students were arriving, since the boys Taylor and I got did not exactly match the list I received at the beginning of the night.

Taylor and I walked with Ted, Danny, Zac, and three other boys to one of the children’s Sunday school rooms, in another building closer to the parking lot.  The boys sat in small child-size chairs around a table, and Taylor sat in an adult-size chair, facing them.  I could not find another adult chair, so I sat uncomfortably in a child chair next to Taylor.

“Have any of you ever been picked last for something?” Taylor asked.

“I hate when they have students pick teams like that,” Zac replied.  “One time, in, like, fourth grade, we were playing basketball in PE, and I got picked last  But I ended up scoring the winning basket.  It was awesome.  It was my only basket too.”

“Was that the game where you accidentally tripped Jonathan?” one of the other boys asked.

“Yeah!  And he got a bloody nose!”

“Why do you think David’s dad didn’t ask him to come meet Samuel?” Taylor asked.

Zac, whose Bible was actually open, said, “Because the rest of his family probably thought there’s no way he would be the king.”

“Yeah.  Pretty much.  David was the youngest.  They just thought he was only good for feeding the sheep.  But what did God see in him?”

None of the boys said anything, so I decided to jump in with a hint.  “It’s right there in the Bible passage we were reading.”

“The Lord looks at the heart!” Danny exclaimed excitedly, pointing at those words in his Bible.

“Good!  Now turn near the back of the Bible, to First Timothy 4:12.  Does anyone want to read?” Taylor asked.

Zac and Ted argued over who would read, then they began reading together.  “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”

“Paul wrote this to Timothy, but he could have written it to you,” Taylor explained.  “Just because you are young, it doesn’t mean you can’t influence the world around you for Jesus. 
King David was young too, and he led the nation of Israel and wrote a bunch of the Psalms.”  

The small group met for a total of about twenty minutes.  We discussed more about God looking at what is on the inside, and young people making a difference for Christ.  We got more distracted as the night went on.  Taylor asked me at the end of the small group time if I would close the night in prayer.  I was not prepared for this, but I figured I could easily wing it.

“Jesus,” I said.  “Thank you for this opportunity to be a leader with The Edge.  Thank you for all of the wonderful students I met tonight.  I pray that all of us will realize that, even though we are young, we still have a role to play in the Kingdom of God.  I pray that we will remember this as we go through the week.  In the name of Jesus, Amen.”


The students and leaders mingled in the fellowship hall after small groups finished. Parents came to pick up students, and when the crowd had thinned significantly, we began putting things back in closets and cleaning the fellowship hall.

“So what did you think?” Courtney asked me as we moved a folding table to a closet.  “Are you gonna come back next week?”

“Yeah!” I said.  “This was a lot of fun!”

“Good!” she replied.

The events of the night replayed in my mind as I drove home, around nine o’clock, and as I worked on math homework for the rest of the night until bedtime.  If The Edge became a permanent activity for me, I would not have time to be a Bible study leader with JCF, as I had thought about doing over the last couple months.  But maybe that was a good thing.  Maybe God wanted me here, working with junior high school students and this friendly group of youth leaders at J-Cov, instead of navigating the cliques that seemed to dominate JCF.  

Since Jeromeville is a university town, many students spend all of their time there interacting almost exclusively with people affiliated with the university. But when I went to church the following Sunday, I realized that I recognized some of the students from The Edge at church.  Danny and Ted sat next to me, and as I was leaving, I saw Samantha, who told me again that I was tall.  I reminded her that she had just told me this on Tuesday, and she replied, “I know.  I’m just in awe of your height.”  I smiled.  At six-foot-four, I towered over this petite young teen by more than a foot, so I guess that was pretty impressive to her. If Samantha wanted to remember me as the tall guy, that was fine with me.  Certainly I could have been remembered for something worse.

I was looking forward to being a leader with The Edge for the rest of the school year, and possibly for longer after that.  I had only been attending Jeromeville Covenant for four months, and I was already making connections beyond the college group, on the other side of Jeromeville not associated with the university.  J-Cov was starting to feel like my new home.


Readers: Are you, or were you ever, part of a church youth group? Or any other type of youth group? What was your favorite thing about your youth group? Tell me in the comments.


Early December, 1996.  We were all just kids. (#111)

When I was growing up, no one ever taught me anything about girls or dating or relationships or anything like that.  My parents had been married since before I was born, but they were not visibly affectionate with each other, and my dad spent all his time working, so I never had a healthy relationship to watch and emulate.  And since I did not know how to tell a girl that I liked her, the way to act in a relationship or marriage was a moot point for me.

When I got to the age where I started paying attention to girls, my parents would sometimes notice and point out my behavior in a teasing and humiliating way.  At age thirteen, my friend Paul Dickinson noticed that I had been paying attention to a girl at school named Rachelle Benedetti, and he asked me if I liked her.  There was no teasing or judgment in Paul’s question, unlike what I had experienced from my parents, so I admitted that, yes, I did like Rachelle.  Shortly after that, it felt like the whole school knew, and that was inherently embarrassing to me even if I was not actively being teased for it.  Because of that, whenever I liked a girl, I kept my feelings a closely guarded secret.  I had learned by now that a girl was not going to walk up to me out of the blue and ask to be my girlfriend, so now I was twenty years old, I had never had a girlfriend, and I did not know how to change that.

I had known Haley Channing for almost a year now.  I met her one night after Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, when I was upset and had a lot on my mind. Two guys, Eddie Baker and Xander Mackey, asked me what was wrong, and they ended up inviting me to hang out with them and their friends.  Haley was there that night.  She had pretty blue eyes, a cute smile, and a kind heart.  We had gotten to be friends since then, but I just did not know how to tell her that I wanted to be more than friends.

A couple weeks ago, I thought I had a chance.  I was mingling with people after JCF, and for a brief moment, I saw Haley sitting not too far away and not talking to anyone.  I walked up to her and said hi.

“Hey, Greg,” Haley replied.  “How are you?”

“Pretty good.  How are you?”

“I’m doing okay,” she said in a tone that suggested that everything was not exactly okay.  Haley had lost her mother to cancer recently, and Thanksgiving was next week.  My go-to small talk that time of year was to ask people their plans for Thanksgiving, but I figured that it might be best to avoid that topic with Haley this year.  “What are you up to?” she continued.

“Just looking for something to do,” I said.  JCF met on Fridays, and people often hung out afterward, playing games, eating, or watching movies in room 199 of Stone Hall, a large lecture hall that was converted into a second-run theater on weekends.   I became unusually brave and floated an idea, saying, “Mission: Impossible is playing at 199 Stone tonight.  I was hoping people might be going.”

“I haven’t seen that!  I want to!”

“You want to go?”

“I would, but I have to get up early in the morning,” Haley said.  “Maybe another time?”

“I understand,” I said.  I did not end up seeing that movie until months later, on a rented VHS tape, and I ended up just going home that night.

A while later, a few days after I got back from having Thanksgiving with my family, I was walking through the Memorial Union looking for a place to sit and study in between classes.  It was cold outside, so the indoor tables were crowded.  I saw Haley sitting with Kristina Kasparian talking to Janet McAllen from JCF staff.  A fourth seat at their table was open. 

“Hey,” I said, walking toward the open seat.  “Mind if I sit here?”

“Actually, we’re working on Kairos group planning,” Janet explained.  “Sorry!”

“Oh.  That’s okay.  I guess I’ll see you guys later.”

“I’ll see you Friday?” Haley said.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “Actually, no.  Friday is our concert for chorus, so I won’t be at JCF.”

“Oh, that’s right!  Have fun!  I’ll be at church on Sunday, I’ll probably see you then.”

“Yeah.  Have a good one!”

I walked across the Memorial Union, unable to find a table, and ended up sitting cross-legged against a wall.  The Kairos group clique strikes again.  The Kairos ministry within JCF involved small groups designed to prepare students for leadership in ministry.  The students from each year’s Kairos group would lead a group the following year, handpicking the students in their group.  From my outsider perspective, the main purpose of these groups seemed to be the establishment and perpetuation of cliques.  I thought it sent the wrong message, especially since many of the friends who were part of my best University of Jeromeville memories so far were in the cliques and I was not.  And I could not help but wonder if these cliques were the reason things were not working out with Haley.

A few days later, back at the Memorial Union, I saw Eddie Baker eating lunch by himself outside on a picnic bench.  I did not particularly want to eat outside, it was sunny but not very warm, but I was also in the mood to socialize.   Also, Eddie was a Kairos group leader, and I had not talked to him as much this year.  “Mind if I sit here?” I asked Eddie.

“Go ahead,” he replied.  “How are you?  Getting ready for finals?”

“I’m getting there.  We also have the concert for chorus tomorrow night.  This is my first one, I don’t really know what to expect, but I think I know the music by now.”

“That’ll be fun!  Scott and Amelia are in that too, right?”

“Yeah.  And Jason Costello too.”

“Well, good luck with that!”

“How have you been?”

“Just busy with school and JCF.  You’re going to Urbana, right?  Are you excited?”

“Yes!  I can’t wait to see what it’s like.  I don’t know that I’m ready to pack up and go serve God in another country, but I know a lot of you guys do stuff like that, and I want to find out more about what’s out there, so I know how to support people who do mission trips.”

“That’s a good way to think about it,” Eddie said.  “There’s gonna be so many people there.  Twenty thousand students all worshiping God.  We might not even see each other.”

“I know,” I said.  The thought of being thousands of miles away and not seeing my friends who were also there was a little disappointing, but maybe it wouldn’t be like that after all.

“How’s life other than that?” Eddie asked.

“Well…” I said.  I debated how much to tell him, and eventually decided to say everything except her name.  “There’s this girl I would really like to get to know better.  But I just don’t know how.  I’ve never been good with girls and dating and stuff like that.  I’m starting to think that maybe I need to just tell her how I feel, and let her reject me, so I can just move on.”

“I think we all know how that feels,” Eddie replied.  “Is it someone from JCF?”

“Yeah, it is.”

“I have an idea who it is.  Do you mind if I ask?” Eddie asked.

I did not expect this question.  I trusted Eddie, and I did not think he was going to make fun of me, but I still was not used to sharing these secrets with others.  “I guess you can say it,” I said, “but I don’t know if I want to admit whether or not you’re right.”

“That’s fair,” Eddie replied.  “I think it’s Haley.”

Apparently subtlety was not one of my strong points, I thought.  I wondered how many other people knew.  But if Eddie had figured it out, there was no point in hiding this from him.  “Yes, it’s Haley,” I said.  “Please don’t tell anyone.  How did you know?”

“I’ve just noticed the way you act around her sometimes,” Eddie explained.  “And remember that night at JCF, right after her mother passed?”

“Yeah.”

“I noticed the way you kept trying to talk to her.  That was kind of unusual.”

“I just saw someone I cared about upset, and I wanted to make sure she knew that I was there for her if she needed to talk.”  I did not understand what was so weird about that, although I do remember some of the others who were there that night acting like I was intruding on something.  I had assumed it was because I was not in their clique.

“I’m gonna be honest with you,” Eddie said.  “I really liked Haley too, freshman year.  We hung out a few times.  I told her how I felt, and she didn’t feel the same way back.”

“Aww,” I said.  It felt weird knowing that Eddie used to like Haley too.  Maybe every guy at JCF liked Haley.  I would had no chance with all of that competition.

“But talking about it, being honest with her, that was good.  I feel like we grew closer as friends after that.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“If you do tell her how you feel, I know she’ll appreciate the honesty.”

“That’s good to know.”


The next night was the concert for chorus, and I spent most of Saturday studying for finals.  Sunday morning at church I went to 20/20, the college Sunday school class, before the service, and I had a hard time concentrating because Haley was there.  I could not stop thinking about her all weekend.  I had to know if I had a chance with her.  Ever since she turned down my offer to see the movie, with the ambiguous caveat of “maybe another time” which never happened, I felt like I could not continue not knowing.  With JCF done for the quarter, and finals and winter break coming up, this may be the last time I saw her for a month.  I knew that if she was here at church today, that would most likely be my last chance.  All morning, I had been playing in my mind how I would approach her and what I would say, which made the teaching of Dan Keenan, the college pastor, difficult to follow this morning.

After 20/20 ended, as people were standing around the room and gradually trickling out headed toward the main building for the regular service, the opportunity presented itself.  Haley stood by herself about ten feet away from me, and I knew that I had to go for it now, or else I would hate myself through my entire winter break for not having said anything.

“Haley?” I asked as I approached her.  “Can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” she replied.  “What’s going on?”

“Can we step outside, away from everyone?”

“Yeah.”  Haley walked outside a few feet away from the entrance, and I followed her.  “What’s going on?  Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah.  I…” I trailed off, trying to remember the conversation I had rehearsed many times.  “I’m really glad I met you last year.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know you, and I’d really like to get to know you… as more than just a friend.”

Haley thought for a few seconds, apparently processing what I said.  She probably was not expecting to hear this.  “Greg,” she said.  “You’re a really nice guy.  But I just don’t see you that way.  Please don’t be upset.”

“I’m not,” I said.  “I had a feeling you didn’t feel the same way.  I just felt like I needed to know for sure.  Like, if I never said anything, I’d never know.”

“It’s okay.  I’m glad you said something.  And I hope you meet the right person soon.”

You’re the right person, I thought.  And you’re standing right in front of me.  If you really meant that, you would give me a chance.  But then I realized that maybe Haley was not the right person after all.  If she was, then we would both feel the same way.  “Thank you,” I said.  “And I meant what I said before: I know you’re going through a rough time right now, and I’m always here if you need to talk.  Even if we are just friends.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate it.”


The next morning, Haley’s rejection felt like a dark cloud hanging over me as I got out of bed, showered, and dressed.  The t-shirt I ordered with the logo for the upcoming Urbana ’96 convention had arrived in the mail on Saturday, and I wore it for the first time that day.  I went to campus and took my final for Advanced Calculus, and even with the rejection still on my mind, I felt like I did well on the exam.

After the exam, I left Wellington Hall and crossed the street to the Memorial Union, looking for a table where I could study.  I saw Eddie sitting at a table talking to Raphael Stevens, his roommate.  Todd Chevallier and Ajeet Tripathi, two sophomores from JCF, were also there.  I walked over as I heard Ajeet say, “Man, I need more coffee.  I was up way too late last night.”

“Yeah,” Eddie replied.  “Maybe last night was a bad idea.”

“Hey, guys,” I said.

“Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.

“How are finals going?” Raphael asked.

“Good.  I just got out of Advanced Calculus; I think I did well.”

“Advanced Calculus,” Eddie repeated.  “Just saying those words stresses me out..”

“I think I’ll be ok.  I’ve been studying.”

“Studying!” Todd said.  “That’s what we were supposed to be doing last night.”

“What happened last night?” I asked.

“We invited Ajeet and Todd and their house to our house for a study break,” Eddie explained.  “We ended up watching movies until around two in the morning.”

“Wow,” I said.

“I’d invite you to sit down,” Eddie explained, “but there isn’t really room at our table.  You could pull up a chair, if you could find one.”

“That’s okay,” I replied.  “I should probably go study anyway.  I’ll see you guys around.”

“Yeah. Good luck with your final.”

“Bye, Greg,” Todd said.

Apparently I had been left out of something else now.  I would have come over to Eddie and Raphael’s study break if I had known about it.  I scanned the room, still looking for an empty seat; I found one at a table next to a tall guy with brown wavy hair who looked familiar.  I had seen this guy somewhere before, but I could not remember where.  A large girl with long, straight brown hair sat with him.  I walked to them and asked, “You guys mind if I sit here?”

“Go ahead,” the guy said.  “I don’t remember your name, but you go to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, right?”

“Yes,” I said.  Apparently this guy had seen me around before too.  “I’m Greg.”

“I’m Ben,” he said.  “And this is my friend Alaina.  We go to U-Life, but I also go to JCF occasionally.”  University Life was another large Christian student group on campus.

“Okay.  I knew I had seen you somewhere before.”

“How’s your finals week going?” Alaina asked.

“Pretty good.  I just got out of Math 127A, and I have Math 128A tomorrow.”

“Those sound hard.  What’s your major?”

“Math.”

“That makes sense,” Ben said.

“Are you going to Urbana?” Alaina asked, noticing my shirt.

“Yes!” I said.  “It’s going to be overwhelming, but I’m excited.”

“A couple of our other friends are going.  I’ve heard good things about it.”

“Yeah.  I’ve never been to Illinois.  I’ve never even been that far away from home at all.  It’ll also be my first time on an airplane, at least as far as I remember.”

“Wow,” Ben said.

“My mom says I was on a plane once as a baby, but I don’t remember it,” I explained.

“Sounds like you’ll have a great trip,” Alaina said.

I did not do my best at concentrating on my studies that day.  I was still thinking a lot about Haley’s rejection, and about everything that my friends were leaving me out of.  I also talked to Ben and Alaina a bit, who I noticed were definitely not a couple.  They seemed like nice people; maybe they could be a new group of friends for me.  I wondered if University Life had the same problem with cliques that JCF did.


I stayed in Jeromeville for a few days after finals ended.  I had three weeks off, and taking a few days off in my apartment, reading, going for bike rides in the Greenbelts, and staying up late talking to girls on Internet Relay Chat was worth having a little less time with my family.  Although I did fine on finals, I felt like the quarter ended on a bad note, considering the conversation with Haley and all of the times I was left out.  I now knew that Haley definitely did not feel the same way about me that I felt about her.  In theory, now that I knew, I would be able to move on, but it did not always feel so easy in practice.  I still felt like I had failed.

As for the cliques, I was probably not being intentionally singled out every time.  Eddie and Raphael’s study break, for example, was a last-minute unplanned thing, and those two households just happened to be right around the corner from each other.  The most likely reason I was not invited was because I lived on the other side of town.  But I also felt left out in that they did not invite me to be roommates with them in the first place.  I thought that living with Brian and Shawn this year would help, since they were not only part of the in crowd but older.  It did help in some ways, like when they invited me to toilet-paper Lorraine.  But Brian spent a lot of his spare time applying for medical school, and Shawn was busy with student teaching, so they were less social than in previous years.

Looking back on these days as an adult has given me a bit of a different perspective on what was going on.  The Haley situation was not at all a failure on my part.  Sometimes one can do everything right and still lose.  Sometimes someone is just not interested in someone else like that.  Over the course of my life, I have been on both sides of those conversations many times.  Being rejected is just a part of life, not necessarily a sign of failure.

I was still bothered by the cliques within JCF.  But, ultimately, I was not involved in JCF to be one of the cool kids; I was there to learn about God and serve him.  I had the trip to the Christian student convention in Urbana to look forward to; hopefully I would learn more about how God wanted me to serve him, and stronger relationships with peers could come out of that. 

It took me years to realize this, but when I look back, I have to remember that we were all just kids back then.  Being rejected, being left out of groups, those are common to most young people, no matter where they are or which God they claim to worship.  As a newly practicing Christian, I saw many of my Christian friends as very mature spiritually, because they had grown up more involved in church than I had been, or because they spent their summers doing service projects in other countries.  But true maturity often comes with age and cannot be forced.  Eddie and many of the other key individuals in leading me to Christ were the same age as me in school, twenty or twenty-one years old.  Brian and Shawn had each just turned twenty-three.  On the JCF staff, Cheryl was twenty-five, and Janet and Dave, the oldest of my spiritual mentors, were twenty-eight and thirty respectively.  As an adult, I know plenty of people that age whom I would not consider mature.  Many of my JCF friends were more mature than average, of course, but being between twenty and thirty years old, they still had a lot to learn themselves, just as I did.  And over the next several months, as my third year at UJ continued, I would learn much about myself, and life, and God, and much of that learning would come from unexpected sources.


Author’s note: This is the mid-season finale for year 3, so I’ll be taking a break for a month or so. I will probably make an interlude post or two, maybe revise the Dramatis Personae page or organize the site, maybe do some supplemental projects, but there won’t be another episode of the main story for a while.

What do you think about the events of Year 3 so far? Does anyone have any predictions about what will happen to character-Greg, or any of the other characters, in the rest of Year 3? As always, if you’re new here, you can start with the first episode here and read all 111 episodes in order, or you can read the summary and abridgement for Year 1 and Year 2., then start from the beginning of Year 3.

Mid-November, 1996.  A loss, a birthday, and a poem. (#109)

“Is that everything?” I asked as Lars Ashford and I finished loading a heavy guitar amplifier into my Ford Bronco. 

“I think so,” Lars answered.  “Let’s go!”

We left Lars’ house, in the old part of Jeromeville on the corner of Sixth and K Streets, and drove multiple cars across downtown to campus, to haul all of the equipment.  I turned on the radio; the song “Roll To Me” was on, by a one-hit wonder called Del Amitri.  We parked on the south side of campus in the lot next to Marks Hall, the administration building, and unloaded the equipment into room 170 of Evans Hall, a medium-sized lecture hall where Jeromeville Christian Fellowship met.  A few months ago, I had been praying that God would find a specific way for me to get more involved with JCF, and the prayer was answered almost immediately, when Tabitha Sasaki asked if I would be willing to volunteer my time and my large car to be the worship band’s roadie.

Most of my duties as the roadie involved carrying equipment from Lars’ house to Evans Hall before the JCF large group meetings, and back to Lars’ house afterward.  With five of us working, it really did not take long.  I usually arrived early enough to hang out and talk with Lars, Tabitha, Brent Wang, and Scott Madison for a bit before we started working, and, honestly, this was my favorite part of the experience.  I had made so many new friends last year when I started attending JCF, and through them, I had learned a lot about what it means to really follow Jesus.  However, I also felt like JCF was still cliquish, and I had not broken into the group’s inner circles, despite being part of the worship team.  I had found out recently that JCF was phasing in a new exclusive invitation-only small group ministry that, from my perspective, entrenched cliques into the fundamental structure of the group, and of course I had not been invited to participate in that ministry.

“‘Look around your world, pretty baby, is it everything you hoped it’d be?’” Tabitha sang as she assembled a microphone stand.  I attached the snare drum to its stand as Tabitha continued, “‘The wrong guy, the wrong situation, the right time to roll to me.’”

“We had the same station on the radio on the way over,” I said to Tabitha.  “I just heard that song too.”

“Haha!  That’s funny.”

As I worked on reassembling Scott’s drum set, Lars plugged cables into the guitars, keyboards, and microphones.  Tabitha and Brent spoke into the microphones to make sure everything worked.  When we had all finished, Tabitha said, “All right, guys, let’s pray.”  The five of us stood in a circle and bowed our heads.  “Father,” Tabitha said, “I pray, Lord, that we will glorify you through our music tonight.  I pray, God, that you will be with Dave as he gives the talk tonight.  Give him the words he needs to say, Father, and open people’s hearts who need to hear that talk.”  Tabitha paused, then added, “Amen,” which the rest of us repeated.

I looked up and turned around, still in the front of the room but now facing the seats.  The time for the meeting to start was approaching soon, and about twenty people had trickled in so far while we were setting up.  I noticed a group of about eight of my friends gathered in the back in an unusual way, with serious looks on their faces.  I walked toward the back of the room to see what was going on.

Haley Channing sat in the center of this group, looking like she had been crying.  Eddie Baker, Kristina Kasparian, Lorraine Mathews, Ramon Quintero, and a few others sat and stood around her, some with their hands on Haley’s back and shoulders.  They took turns speaking softly and just sitting in silence at times.

“Haley?” I asked, approaching the group.  “Are you okay?”

Lorraine looked up and glared angrily at me, making me wonder exactly what I was doing wrong.  Haley looked up next, not angrily but with the puffy-eyed look of one who had been crying.  “My mother died this morning,” Haley said.

My heart sank.  This was something far more tragic and heavy than I was prepared to deal with.  “How?” I asked.

“Cancer.”

“I’m sorry,” I told Haley as Lorraine and now Kristina glared at me.  “I’m here if you ever need to talk, okay?”

“Thanks,” Haley replied.  I walked away; I was clearly interrupting, and some of the others seemed to be unhappy with my presence, even though I was only trying to help, just like everyone else was.

I prayed for Haley and her family while the worship team was playing that night.  I remembered meeting her parents once last year; they had come to Jeromeville for a weekend, and they had come to JCF that Friday.  Haley had an older brother who had recently graduated from the University of Jeromeville and still lived here, and a younger brother in high school on the other side of the state.  They must all be going through a very difficult time right now.  I did not know how long Haley’s mother had been battling cancer, if it was something that the family had time to prepare for emotionally, but it was not easy to deal with either way.

I thought back to when I met Haley’s parents; I remember noticing that Haley’s mom was wearing a big straw sun hat indoors at night, but I thought nothing of it.  I thought maybe she just liked the hat.  Now, though, it made more sense: she had probably lost her hair from cancer treatments, and she wore the hat to hide her missing hair.

After the meeting ended, I walked around, mingling and saying hi to people.  I noticed that Haley left early, which was completely understandable.  After about fifteen minutes, I noticed the worship team working on putting the instruments away.  I grabbed two guitars in cases, brought them out to the Bronco, then stared at the sky for a few minutes, thinking about Haley.  I would not know what to do if I lost one of my parents; for as much as I felt like they got in the way sometimes, I really was not ready to live completely on my own.  I wanted to be there for Haley, to listen and to have something comforting to say for my friend.  I wanted to help her feel better, and I wanted her to see what a nice guy I was and maybe be more than just friends.  But apparently this was a bad time for that.

“Greg?” Tabitha said, bringing me back to reality.  “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Just thinking about stuff.  Sorry.”

I followed Tabitha back to 170 Evans to finish loading the musical instruments and gear.  After we finished unloading everything at the house on K Street, I just went home and read a book for the rest of the night.  I was feeling sad enough that I did not even try to find people to hang out with afterward.


I spent all day Saturday careful not to divulge a secret.  A few days earlier, I was at home watching TV while Josh ate at the dinner table.  It was a rare occasion that Josh was actually home.  I felt like I still barely knew him, despite living in the same apartment for over two months, because he worked odd hours.

Shawn walked into the apartment after a run.  “Hey, guys,” he said.  “Brian’s birthday is coming up.  I’m going to surprise him with a trip to Redwood Valley Saturday night.  And he doesn’t know this, but one of our roommates from last year who lives out that way will be meeting us there for dinner.  Greg, you remember Mike Kozlovsky, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you guys free Saturday?  Can you come?”

“I have to work,” Josh said.

“Bummer,” Shawn replied.  “What about you, Greg?”

Saturday night… Let’s see… I have a date with a really hot girl, then I’m going out clubbing with my friends.  No, that is definitely not happening.  “Yeah, I can go,” I said.  “That sounds like fun.  What time are we leaving?”

“Five o’clock.  I’ll drive.”

“Sounds great,” I said.

Now, shortly after five o’clock on Saturday, Brian and I were in Shawn’s car, driving across downtown Jeromeville headed toward Highway 100.  Brian had been contemplating out loud where we might be going, and Shawn and I had not revealed anything.  Shawn drove under the railroad track on Cornell Boulevard, driving straight toward the freeway overpass, toward south Jeromeville and the ramp to eastbound 100 and Capital City, but then made a sudden swerve to the right, as if he had been feigning that we were going one way before actually going the other way.  Shawn turned onto 100 westbound.

“We’re going west!” Brian exclaimed as we entered the freeway.  We continued driving west for about half an hour, past Fairview.  Shawn’s car did not have a CD player, so Brian had brought a bunch of tapes he made from his CDs; he put on ABBA’s Gold greatest hits album first.  I did not know much of this group growing up, but apparently they were still popular among students here in Jeromeville, despite having broken up over a decade earlier.  Brian sang along enthusiastically to some songs, which I found quite amusing.

In Fairview, Highway 212 merged with Highway 100 for a few miles, and when the highways split again, Shawn took 212.  “We’re going to Silverado-Valle Luna!” Brian said, reading the two destination cities on the sign.  I had only been this way once before, when I had gone to visit a friend from high school a year ago, but I could not enjoy the scenery much because it was dark by the time we got there.  Brian had grown up in Valle Luna, so this was a familiar drive to him, and Mike Kozlovsky, the guy we were meeting, was also from this part of the state.

We drove through Silverado and into the hills to the west.  This was a world-class wine producing region, and even in the dark I could see grapevines covering the hills.  About halfway between Silverado and Valle Luna, we passed through a town called Redwood Valley.  I had never been here before; the center of the town featured a number of historic buildings, including what was once a mission from the Spanish colonial era.  We parked about a block from the mission and walked toward an Italian restaurant called Calabrese’s, where a tall, stocky blonde guy and his curly-haired girlfriend of average height and build stood outside waiting for us.

“Mike!” Brian said as the two embraced.  “Hey, Jeanette,” Brian said to the curly-haired girl, who said hi back.  Mike said hi to Shawn, then to me, and shook our hands.  I said hi back, then said hi to Jeanette.  Mike, like Shawn and Brian, had graduated from the University of Jeromeville the year before, when they had all shared a large house with a few other guys.  Jeanette was my age and still lived in Jeromeville; I figured that she had probably come to see Mike for the weekend.

I looked around inside the restaurant as the server led us to our table.  The room was dimly lit and full of candles, with red and white checkered tablecloths on all the tables.  I imagined this was the kind of place where people would go on romantic dates.  It was definitely not the kind of restaurant I was familiar with.

I ordered lasagna; it was fairly expensive, compared to most restaurants I had been to, but it was very good.  Much of the conversation at the table involved Shawn and Brian catching up with Mike.  I did not know Mike as well as the other guys knew each other, so I did not have much to say.  Mike did ask me how my classes were going at one point, though, so I did get to talk about those.  As the night went on, Mike and Jeanette seemed to tune out the rest of the conversation, getting sort of lost in their own little couple world.  I kept looking at them, wishing I had someone to get lost with.

I enjoyed the evening away from Jeromeville, but on the way home, I could not get the thought out of my head of Mike Kozlovsky and Jeanette being cute and coupley.  I wanted so badly to know what that felt like.  I wished I knew how to talk to girls, how to ask someone out.  Even the fun road trip music on the drive home was not enough to shake my discouragement.


We got home from Redwood Valley a little after midnight.  I woke up around seven-thirty on Sunday morning, a normal amount of sleep for me, and drove to church in time for 20/20, the college class on Sunday morning.  Haley was there, and I said hi, but I did not try to intrude any more, since I did not want to repeat the awkwardness of Friday.  After 20/20, I went to the regular service, and after the service, Pete Green mentioned that a few people from 20/20 were going to have lunch at Dos Amigos.  I had never been to this place, but it sounded like Mexican food, so I said sure.

Five of us ended up going: me, Pete, Noah Snyder, Mike Knepper (a different Mike from last night, I knew a lot of Mikes back then), and a friendly blonde freshman girl named Courtney.  As I waited in line, looking at the menu, I felt in over my head; this was different from the Mexican food at our go-to Mexican restaurant back home, Paco’s Tacos.  There I usually ordered a bean and beef burrito with sides of beans and chips.  I found the beans and chips on the menu, but most of the burritos did not appear to have beans, and some of them had ingredients unfamiliar to me.  I ordered something called a Southwest Burrito with steak, with sides of beans and chips. (I would learn years later that Dos Amigos was inspired by a trip to Santa Fe, and that Santa Fe-style Mexican food was different from most of the Mexican food in this area, but that distinction was lost on me at the time.)

“How was your weekend, Greg?” Pete asked when we got to the table.

“Pretty good,” I said.  “Last night Brian and Shawn and I went to Redwood Valley for Brian’s birthday.  Mike Kozlovsky and Jeanette met us there.”

“That sounds like fun.  How do you like having those guys as roommates?”

“It’s been good,” I said.  Good enough that I’m getting over missing out on my chance to live with you guys, I thought without saying it out loud.  I heard loud giggling from the other side of the table; apparently Mike Knepper had said something funny, and Courtney laughed.

My food arrived on three separate plates; I was not expecting this.  One plate had the burrito along with a small handful of chips; a second, smaller plate held my side of beans; and the third plate, the same size as the first, was full of chips.  “I think I got too much food,” I said.  “I didn’t know there’d be chips with the burrito.  The Mexican restaurant we always go to back home, you have to order chips separately.”

“On the bright side, now you have a lot of chips,” Noah said.  “And these chips are really good.  You should go try the pico de gallo.”  Noah gestured toward the small cup of chunky tomato salsa next to his plate, fortunately, since I had no idea what “pico de gallo” meant except that it was literally something about a rooster.

Noah was right; the pico de gallo was excellent.  So was the rest of the food.  I definitely wanted to come back to this place.  Noah and Pete and I talked about life and classes and things while Mike Knepper and Courtney made googly eyes at each other and giggled the whole time.  It sure looked like something was going on between them, or at least that one or both of them was interested in the other.  I looked down dejectedly at my plate for a while, but tried to keep up with the conversation and not give away what was on my mind.

After I got home from Dos Amigos, I spent most of the afternoon studying, although my mind was elsewhere and I could not focus.  I kept thinking about Haley, about the passing of her mother, and how I wanted to be there for her, but I did not get the chance.  I wished I knew some way to spend time with her.  And I really hoped that nothing was developing between her and Ramon, and or anyone else.  I did not know how to tell her that I liked her, and I also did not want to mess things up so badly that we could not salvage a friendship afterward.  Friendship was important to me too; she was there for one of my darkest nights last year.

I felt like the world was conspiring against me to shove it in my face that so many people around me were in relationships, and I was not.  Of course, I was overreacting, but I still felt frustrated and angry that everyone else who had normal childhoods seemed to know some secret about how to talk to girls and go on dates, and I did not.  Mike Kozlovsky and Jeanette had been in a relationship for a long time.  Mike Knepper and Courtney seemed to have something going on.  I wished I knew how to tell Haley how I felt.

Maybe that was the wrong approach, I thought.  Maybe I just needed to forget about her and move on.  She and her friends certainly did not seem to want me around Friday night.  Maybe it was time to find out for sure.  I love you, but I’ve never let you know, I said to myself in my head, realizing immediately afterward that this phrase was iambic pentameter.  I excitedly stood up and started thinking of other phrases in iambic pentameter relevant to the situation.  By the time I was waiting for the bus home Monday afternoon, I had an entire Shakespearean sonnet.

I love you, but I’ve never let you know,
My secret crush I’ve buried deep inside;
I fear the time has come to let it go,
These days it causes pain I cannot hide.
The time has come, it seems, to run away,
To change the subject running through my mind;
You have so many friends that I would say
You’ll never know I’ve left you far behind.
But how can I desert a friend like you?
I cannot leave you in this time of need;
As jealousy I’ve buried now breaks through
I must be strong, and not succumb to greed;
   Though lovers we will likely never be,
   Our friendship is worth more than eyes can see.

By the time I finished writing the poem, I was starting to consider telling Haley directly how I felt about her.  This kind of conversation was painful and difficult for me.  I had done this once before, with Melissa Holmes our senior year of high school.  She did not feel the same way about me, but she was honest about it, and I did feel free to move on once I got over the rejection.  Melissa and I did stay friends after that, and we continued to stay friends for about twenty years, until we just grew apart naturally.  It felt like a long shot with Haley; I did not seriously expect her to tell me that she liked me back.  But if she did not, I could at least know for sure and get on with my life.  And on the bright side, maybe she would give me a chance.  I was not ready to do this right now, but the whole situation had me so messed up in the head that I was ready to consider the option as the next few weeks unfolded.

Late October, 1996. Together with You, I will look for another sea. (#105)

Previously, on Don’t Let The Days Go By, Greg attended Jeromeville Covenant Church for the first time.  Many of Greg’s friends from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship attend that church, and it was the first time Greg had ever attended a church that was not Catholic.  Greg, not wanting to go to a new church just because all his friends were there, decided to go to both churches for three weeks and pray about it before making a final decision…


On October 16, three days after my first Sunday at Jeromeville Covenant Church, I got back to my apartment in the late afternoon and brought my backpack upstairs.  I had checked the mail on the way in, and all we got was junk mail.

When I got to my bedroom, I took out of my backpack the bag from the campus store, where I had bought two birthday cards earlier.  My brother Mark was turning 15 this coming Saturday.  I took his card out of the bag; it had a basketball on the front, and on the inside, it said, “Hope your birthday is a slam dunk!”  I was hoping to find a good fart or poop joke card for Mark’s birthday, but I only found one such card at the campus store today, and I was saving that one for the other upcoming birthday in my family.  Mark played basketball, so I went with the basketball card instead.  I wrote on the inside, “Happy birthday! — Greg.”  I put a stamp on the outside and wrote our home address; I would drop it in a mailbox in the morning.

The card with the fart joke was for my dad, who would be turning 47 at the end of the month.  That card said on the outside, “Farting is an art,” written inside a giant brown cloud of gas.  On the inside, the card said, “Happy birthday, Rembrandt.”  I did not fill out Dad’s card yet, since I still had a while before his birthday.

I turned on my computer and opened a new email, one I had been dreading sending all week.  I had been involved enough with the Newman Center that, if I started going to J-Cov, my disappearance from Newman would be noticed.  Among the adults who run things at Newman, Sister Mary Rose was probably the one I knew the best, so I at least felt like I should tell her what was going on.  I started typing:


To: maryrose11@aolnet.com
From: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
Subject: wondering

Hi… I need to talk about something.  As I’ve said before, I’ve gotten involved with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship over the last year.  Many of my friends from JCF go to Jeromeville Covenant Church, and last Sunday I went to church with them.  I really liked it there.  I feel like it is a place where I can really study the Bible and learn what it means to live for Jesus.

But I also do not want to turn my back on 20 years of Catholicism and everything I was raised with.  I don’t want to start going to J-Cov just because all my friends are doing it.  So I decided to go to both churches for the rest of October, while I pray about this.  I just wanted to let you know what was going on.  Any thoughts you might have would be appreciated.

gjd


The rest of the week went well.  I only had one class Thursday, so I had scheduled four hours of tutoring for my job with the Learning Skills Center.  On Friday, all of my closet met.  I walked into room 2 of Wellington Hall, a lecture hall with around 200 seats, for New Testament, and sat in the back.  A minute later, Margaret Seaver walked in and sat next to me.

“Hey, Greg,” Margaret said.  “What’s up?”

“Not much.  Glad it’s Friday.  I’m tired.”

“How come you haven’t been at choir practice at church the last couple weeks?  Are you coming back?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  I explained to Margaret that I had been to J-Cov and was wondering if the Newman Center was really the right place for me.

“We’ll miss you in choir,” Margaret said.  “But I understand.  And I think it’s good that you’re taking your time and not just rushing off to follow your friends.”

“Yeah,” I said.

When I got home from classes that Friday, I had an email from Sister Mary Rose.  I opened it and read.


To: “Gregory J. Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
From: Maryrose11@aolnet.com
Subject: Re: wondering
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 1996 11:03 -0700

Greg,

What you are experiencing is called a faith crisis.  Sometimes God puts us in situations where we really have to listen to Him for answers.  Keep praying about it.  Say a rosary.  Listen for God’s voice.  And let me know if you ever want to meet to talk about this more.  Don’t feel bad about this experience.  Many wise spiritual leaders have experienced faith crises and come out stronger in the end.

I think you are wise to take your time and try out both churches for a while, not wanting to base your decision on what your friends are doing.  We would be sad to see you leave Newman, after all of your involvement here.  But wherever you go, keep following Jesus.  He will never lead you wrong.  You will definitely be in my prayers.

Sister Mary Rose





On Sunday, since J-Cov only had morning services, I did the same thing I had done the week before.  I attended J-Cov in the morning for their service and the college Sunday school class, which they called 20/20.  I felt the same way about J-Cov as I did the previous week: I loved the Bible teaching, and everyone there made me feel welcome.

The Newman Center had two Masses in the morning and one in the evening, so I had been attending the evening mass at Newman during this period of going to two churches.  I had been with the choir at the late morning Mass for over a year, so last week, the first week I attended evening Mass, it felt a little strange not to be with the choir.  I recognized a few faces from social events where people from all three services attend.  The Newman Center was a student-focused congregation, but some families attended the morning services as well.  There seemed to be an even higher percentage of students at the evening Mass.

As Mass began, Sister Mary Rose stood up front and announced that this was El Salvador Sunday.  Jeromeville had a sister city in El Salvador, and the Jeromeville Newman Center once a year updated the congregation on what was happening at the Catholic church in that city, with a second collection taken for that church’s needs.  “Their roof is in need of repair,” Sister Mary Rose explained.  “The second collection today will go to their repair fund.”

The choir began singing a song in Spanish, I assumed because it was El Salvador Sunday.  The song was unfamiliar to me, not a direct translation of anything we normally sang in English.  I did not know most of the people in the evening service choir, since I normally attended the late morning service.  I missed singing at the late morning service, and I felt bad for saying that I needed a few weeks off.

After the opening song, we said the Kyrie and sang the Gloria in English as we always did.  The lector approached the podium for the Old Testament reading next, but before she began, she said, “Today’s readings will be said in Spanish only.  As you listen to the words, put yourselves in the position of a refugee, in a strange land where you don’t understand the language.  Remember the plight that they go through, as you sit here comfortable in your surroundings.”

What the actual crap?

God loves refugees.  God commands us to take care of foreigners, because his people were foreigners in strange lands in the past.  I know that.  But this was a bit ridiculous.  Now, in the middle of Mass, was not the time for this kind of political posturing, and this was not the way to draw attention to the plight of refugees.  What kind of church would deny its congregants the opportunity to hear or understand the Word of God in order to make us feel guilty for what God has blessed us with?  Of course, had this happened at Jeromeville Covenant, I would have had my Bible with me, but typically Catholics did not bring Bibles to Mass.  Back home at Our Lady of Peace, we used a missalette, a publication issued three times per year that had all the Scriptures and prayers for that time period, but the Jeromeville Newman Center did not use this.  People just listened to the words being read.  This was looking less and less like a church where I could learn more about the Bible.  I recognized a few words here and there, but my three years of high school Spanish were not enough for me to understand everything from these readings.

After the Old and New Testament readings in Spanish, Father Bill read the Gospel reading and gave his homily in English.  I was not sure if Father Bill or Sister Mary Rose even spoke Spanish, for that matter.  

Later, during Communion, the choir sang a song called “Pescador de Hombres,” literally meaning “fisher of men.”  I had heard this song once before, last year when we did El Salvador Sunday.  We sang two verses in Spanish, then one verse in English.  The refrain was sung in two-part harmony, with one voice singing a third higher than the other.  It reminded me of the music I would hear on Spanish-language radio stations when flipping around looking for something to listen to.

I remembered some of the words of this song from last year.  The lyrics took the perspective of one of Jesus’ early disciples, who were fishermen when Jesus called them.  The first disciples left their boats and fishing gear behind and followed Jesus.  “Junto a ti, buscaré otro mar,” the choir sang at the end of each refrain.  I understood those words; they meant something like “together with you, I will look for another sea,” with “you” in this line referring to Jesus.  When the choir switched to English for the last verse, they sang “next to you, I will seek other shores,” the same meaning but with the correct number of syllables to fit the song.

I will look for another sea.  I will seek other shores.  Was that me?  It certainly felt like those lyrics were speaking to me.  Jesus seemed to be calling me to look for another sea, one where I could learn to follow him instead of being caught up in a shallow faith of political posturing and memorized rituals disconnected from the life I live the other six days of the week. Maybe I needed to be around people who did not find it acceptable to get tipsy from Communion wine and joke about it, as that girl from the early morning service had a few months ago.

After Father Bill dismissed the congregation and the choir finished the closing song, I sat in my chair for a few minutes, watching everyone else file out.  I had committed myself to attending both churches for three weeks before I made a final decision, but after last week and this week, I felt like the right decision was becoming clear already.  Unless something changed drastically in the next seven days, Jesus was calling me to look for another sea, and that other sea appeared to be Jeromeville Covenant.

“Hey, Greg,” I heard a familiar voice say next to me.  I looked up to see a thin, short-haired guy my age.  It was Sean Richards, one of a very small number of Catholic students who also attended Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  “What’s up?” Sean asked.

“Just thinking,” I said.  “The last two weeks, I’ve been going to church at Jeromeville Covenant in the mornings.  I know a lot of people there from JCF, and so far I like it there.  But I don’t want to leave Catholicism and start going there just because all my friends are doing it.  So I’ve been praying about it, and I decided to go to both churches for the rest of October before I make a final decision.”

“That’s probably a good idea.  What made you want to look at Jeromeville Covenant?”

“I’ve been more involved with JCF and studying the Bible more.  I’m just not sure I’m going to find that in Catholicism.”

“You could always try getting involved in one of the small groups here,” Sean said.  “They do Bible studies in those groups too.  But I know JCF has good Bible studies.  I’ve been going to a JCF Bible study this year.”  I knew of the existence of small groups at Newman, but I was not sure exactly what happened in them.

“Maybe,” I said.  “I’m going to keep praying about it and see what happens.”

“That’s a good idea.  And either way, you’re still following Jesus, and that’s what’s most important.”

“Yes.”

“I’m gonna get going.  Have a good week, okay?”

“Thanks.  You too.”


The following Sunday, October 27, was my dad’s birthday.  I called my parents after I got home from J-Cov, and Dad said that they all loved the birthday card.  Mom was already calling Dad “Rembrandt” every time he farted now.

Sometimes, when I have to make a big decision, I will feel confused for weeks or months at a time.  Other times, I just kind of know what the right decision is.  And in those times when I think I just know, it can be difficult to discern whether this knowledge is truly the Holy Spirit guiding me or just something I want for selfish reasons.  This time, I was pretty sure I knew what the Holy Spirit was saying.  I had committed to going to both churches for the rest of October, but the evening Mass at the Newman Center that night just felt like it was not my thing anymore.  That night was the last night I ever took Communion in a Catholic Mass.

I did not make a complete break with Catholicism, however.  To this day, I still attend Catholic Mass when I visit my family on Christmas.  I believe that the different branches of Christianity have much in common and should focus on this more than the things about which they argue.  I believe that the Catholic rituals are rooted in deep and meaningful experiences of worship, and I believe that it is possible for a Catholic to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  However, this aspect of faith is not emphasized in Catholicism, so many who consider themselves Catholics do not actually know Jesus.  I no longer take Communion when at Catholic Mass, out of respect for the fact that Catholics only offer Communion to other Catholics.  I also had a small scholarship from the Santa Lucia County chapter of the Italian Catholic Federation, and I turned down the money for the following school year, since I did not feel right taking their money not being Catholic anymore.

My mother never had a problem with me going to churches that were not Catholic.  She told me that Grandma was a bit suspicious at first, because Grandma was raised in a time of more tension between Catholics and Protestants.  When I got involved with JCF and decided to go to their national convention in Urbana, Grandma told Mom that she was worried that I was joining a cult.  But then, according to Mom, Grandma mentioned Urbana to one of her old lady friends, who then said that her son had attended an Urbana convention in the 1960s.  Grandma was okay with Urbana now that it had the Old Lady Friend Seal of Approval.

When I walked into 20/20 for the first time in November, I walked up to Taylor and Pete and Charlie, who were standing and talking.  “Hey, Greg,” Taylor said.  “Wait, weren’t you just doing your thing at both churches for October?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “And I decided I’m here for good now.”

“Nice!”

“We’re glad to have you here,” Pete said.

“Thank you,” I said.  “I’m glad to be here.”

I attended Jeromeville Covenant Church for almost five years, right up until I moved away from Jeromeville in July of 2001.  I stayed in touch with many people from J-Cov for many years, some of whom I am still in touch with today.  I got involved with a ministry there that had never been anything I ever thought about doing; I will tell that story soon.

In 2001, shortly before I moved and left J-Cov, we voted to buy a larger property about five miles away on Bruce Boulevard, at the eastern edge of Jeromeville.  I came back for the first service in the new building two years later.  After I moved out of Jeromeville, I came back to visit J-Cov once or twice a year through the rest of my twenties.  I was very involved with another church in my thirties, so for a while  I never made it back to visit J-Cov.  But twice in my forties so far I have had occasion to attend a Sunday service at J-Cov.  These days, there are not many people whom I knew who are still around, but there were still enough that it felt like coming home.

October 13, 1996. I might be looking for something new. (#104)

I knew exactly where I was going.  I had seen this place many times while driving or riding my bike along this stretch of Andrews Road.  But I had never been back here, down the long road leading to the parking lot in the back of the property.  I walked toward the buildings, in my polo shirt, Dockers, and brown leather shoes, wondering if I was overdressed, wondering if I was underdressed, and hoping that I would not see anyone I knew.  Of course, that last statement was irrelevant, since I would see many people I knew once I entered the building, but one of those people at least was expecting me here this morning, so that felt a little bit safer.

I walked from the parking lot toward the buildings.  The walkway headed straight toward what looked like the main building, with another building on the left, one on the right, and one farther away on the left with a door propped open.  A free-standing bulletin board next to the walkway said WELCOME TO JEROMEVILLE COVENANT CHURCH on the top.  From Taylor Santiago’s description of where to go, I guessed that the building with the open door was where I was going.  I turned off of the sidewalk and walked across the lawn and around a tree to get to that building without having to interact with anyone, at least not until I got inside and saw some familiar faces.  The whole time, I kept looking around in an uneasy fashion, wondering if I should really be here, if I really belonged here.

Having explored Christianity from the non-Catholic side over the last year, I had come to notice that Catholics and Protestants have a lot in common beyond what they argue over.  And I never liked the word Protestant.  I knew the origin of the term from high school history class, but it seems kind of wrong to name one’s religion after a protest when the focus should really be on Jesus.  These days, I heard my Catholic friends use the word Protestant more often than my friends from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and that made sense from the historical context, since the Catholic Church was the one being protested against.

A small sign on the wall next to the open door said THE LAMP, and a signboard on the walkway next to the door said “20/20 COLLEGE GROUP” with an arrow pointing inside the door.  Taylor said something about a lamp when he was describing how to get here, but he seemed to be talking about buildings.  I was confused, because buildings are not lamps, but apparently that was the name of this building.  I was not sure why this building was called The Lamp.  I assumed it was some kind of Bible reference, like in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about not hiding a lamp under a bowl, so that your light will shine before others.  I also was not sure why the group was called 20/20; Scott Madison had told me once that he thought it was because they wanted to see God clearly with 20/20 vision. 

I shifted the Bible I carried, the one Kristina Kasparian had given me in January, from my right hand to my left, and I reached out to open the door, awkwardly forgetting that it was already propped open.  I put my hand down, hoping no one saw that, and stepped inside.  I recognized many of the forty or so people inside either from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship or from a party in August that people from my Bible study had invited me to.  Taylor was here, along with Pete Green, Charlie Watson, Sarah Winters, Liz Williams, and Ramon Quintero, all of whom I had known since the beginning of freshman year.  I also saw people I recognized from JCF.  Scott, his roommate Joe Fox, Scott’s girlfriend Amelia Dye, her roommate Melinda Schmidt, and Joe’s girlfriend Alyssa Kramer.  Sophomore housemates Todd Chevallier, Brent Wang, and Ajeet Tripathi.  Eddie Baker.  Martin Rhodes, Noah Snyder, and a girl named Vanessa, all of whom I met at the party in August.  Haley Channing, whom I had really hoped to see here.  And others.  Taylor was across the room, talking to Pete; he had not noticed my arrival yet.  Before I could get Taylor’s attention, I heard someone calling me.

“Hey, Greg,” Liz Williams said, sitting at a folding table just to the left of the entrance and writing my name on a blank adhesive name tag.  “I’m glad you’re here.”  She peeled the name tag off of its backing and handed it to me; I stuck it to my shirt.

“Thanks,” I said.  “I’m kind of nervous.  I don’t really know what to do.”

“Just hang out for now.  Or go find a seat.  Dan over there, he’s the college pastor.  He’ll get us started in a few minutes.”  Liz gestured toward a man with reddish-brown hair in a button-down shirt who appeared to be in his thirties.  I recognized that name; he just got married in August, and many of the students in this college group who were home for the summer came back to Jeromeville for the weekend to attend his wedding, and the party in August that I got invited to was an after-party for the wedding.

“Greg!” Melinda Schmidt said.  “Can you be in a skit?  Someone bailed on us.”

“Huh?” I asked.

“It’s an announcement for our fall retreat.  All you have to do is stand in the background.  Martin and Vanessa will be talking about it, and Vanessa will be using a bunch of words that start with M that all have to do with the retreat.  And in the background, four of you will be leaning against each other making ‘mmm’ sounds and saying M words.  You’ll be back to back with Todd, which works out perfectly since you’re both tall.”

“I’m confused.”

“It’s just something silly that came up when we were planning announcements.  So just stand making ‘mmm’ sounds.”

“Is this how you treat everyone who shows up here for the first time?”

“Wait,” Melinda said.  “This is your first time?”

“Yes.”

“Really?  You’ve never come to 20/20 before?”

“No.  I know you from JCF, not from here.”

“Well, then, welcome!  If you really don’t want to do the skit, you don’t have to.”

“No, it’s okay,” I said.  After being in the Scooby-Doo skit a couple weeks ago at the first JCF meeting of the year, this might be kind of fun.

This group called 20/20 was the college group here at Jeromeville Covenant Church.  I had heard some of my friends talk about this group, and it sounded like this Sunday morning time was more like a Sunday school class.  The group was more than just a class, though, because they also sponsored activities, like this retreat that the skit was reminding students of.

“Hi,” the man whom Liz had identified as the college pastor, said as he approached me.  “I don’t think I’ve met you.  I’m Dan Keenan.  I’m the college pastor here.”

“I’m Greg,” I said.  “I’ve never been here, but I know a lot of people here from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.”

“Oh, ok.  Do you go to another church now?”

“I’ve been going to the Newman Center.  My mom’s side of the family is Catholic.  But there are some things going on there that are making me want to look elsewhere.”

“Oh yeah?  Like what?”

“Since I started going to JCF, about a year ago, I’ve been learning more about the Bible and what it means to know Jesus.  And sometimes I feel like I’m not really getting that at Newman.  But I also don’t want to just follow what my friends are doing.  So I’m going to go to both churches for a few weeks and pray about things.”

“That’s a good idea,” Dan replied.  “Keep praying, and listen to where God wants you.  I have to go, it’s time to start, but it was nice meeting you.  I hope to keep seeing you around.”

“Thanks!  Nice meeting you too.”

I turned around as people began sitting in the rows of folding chairs facing the stage on the side of the room to the left of the entrance.  “Greg!” I heard Taylor say, from a seat one in from the aisle in the middle, with the seat next to him empty.  “I saved you a seat!”

“Thanks,” I said, sitting in the open seat in the aisle.  “Melinda roped me into being in a skit for the announcements.  Do you know when that’ll be?”

“Wow.  Jumping right in.  Probably after the first song.  You’ll figure it out.”

“Okay.”

Pete was on stage with his guitar, along with Sarah playing flute and a few others.  Pete announced to the whole room, “Welcome to 20/20.  If you could find a seat, we’re gonna get started with worship.”  They began by playing “Lord, I Lift Your Name On High,” a song that was familiar to me from JCF.  Afterward, Melinda and four others approached the stage; Melinda approached me to follow.

I stood back to back with Todd, with our feet apart, leaning back against each other, and Liz and a girl I did not know stood next to us in the same pose, so that the four of us formed a large letter M.  Martin and Vanessa walked up, trying to figure out what we were doing, as the four of us in the M started saying random M words.

“Moose,” Liz said.

“Milk,” Todd said.

“Macaroni,” the girl I did not know said.

“Macarena!” I added, doing the hand motions from the song and dance popular at the time.

“What’s all this?” Martin asked.

“It looks like an M,” Vanessa replied.  “And you know what else starts with M?  Mountains.  And Messiah.  And Matthew, who wrote about the life of Jesus.  And if you sign up for our fall retreat, you can go to the mountains, and learn about the Messiah, and read from the book of Matthew.”  The two of them continued bantering about the retreat, with more details revealed in their conversation.

I sat down after the M skit, feeling a little dorky but mostly positive about the experience.  After the band played a few more songs, Pastor Dan got up and told us that we were in a series studying the book of Ephesians.  Dan held a stack of handouts for today’s lesson; he bent the stack of papers in a sort of U shape and tossed them toward us, so that they fell all over the room.  People scrambled to grab a paper.  If any of my teachers in school had ever passed out papers like that, school would have been much more awesome.

While Dan taught the lesson, I noticed people taking notes.  I had not brought anything to write with, but people passed around a box of extra pens in case anyone needed one.  I had never taken notes in church before.  I could keep these notes in my Bible and reread them during the week when I was spending time reading the Bible and praying.

The class ended about fifteen minutes before the actual church service started.  There had been another service early in the morning for the people who like to get up early.  People stood around mingling until it was time to head to the main building.  I said hi to a few other people I knew, wondering which of them realized it was my first time here.  No one brought it up.  Eventually I walked in the general direction of Haley Channing, hoping to catch her in a moment where she might notice me and talk to me.

“Hey, Greg!” Haley said as I approached.  “What’s up?”

“It’s my first time here,” I said.  “I might be looking for something new, and I wanted to check it out.”

“I was wondering about that.  I didn’t think I remembered seeing you here last year.  Are you coming to big church too?”

I was not familiar with this term “big church,” but I guessed what she was asking from the context.  “You mean the main church service?  Yeah.”

“Come on.  Let’s walk over,” Haley said.  Yes, let’s do, together, I thought.  We left the Lamp and walked toward the main building.  “How’s your school year going?” Haley asked.

“Good so far.  I like all my classes.  And I like chorus too, although it was a little overwhelming at first, not being as experienced with music.”

“That’s right.  You’re doing chorus this year.  I did it freshman year, but I just can’t fit it in to my schedule anymore.”

“Yeah.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it every quarter.”

Haley and I sat about halfway back from the stage, just to the left of the aisle.  The main church building (or the “sanctuary,” as most non-Catholics would say, as I eventually learned) was shaped like an elongated hexagon, with a stage at the far end.  The pews were slanted toward the center, closer to the front of the building on the sides and closer to the back in the middle.  The sides of the building were covered in wood panels with tall, narrow frosted windows every ten feet or so.  Behind the stage on each side were larger frosted windows, made to look like stained glass, but probably made from plastic.  Above was a tall vaulted ceiling.  The pews were cushioned, an improvement over the bare wooden pews of the late 19th century Our Lady of Peace Church that I grew up with.

“How are your classes going?” I asked Haley.

“Good!  A lot of work, though.  It’s hard to juggle time for everything.”

“I know how that is.  I think that’s just life as a student.”

“Yeah.”

The church service began much like 20/20 or a JCF meeting, with the band playing worship music.  I recognized some of the songs, but I was not sure how to react to the music… Do I stand?  Do I sit?  Do I dance around and clap my hands?  Do I raise my arms to heaven?  Some people at JCF raised their arms and clapped, but not everyone.  No one did that at the Newman Center.  Here, a few people did, but not as many as at JCF, so I stood with my arms at my side.  It was more comfortable that way.  Sitting would have been even more comfortable, but most people were standing, and I wanted to respect the God that I was worshiping.

The pastor was an older man in a suit named Jerry.  He reminded us that it was time to take an offering, and that guests should not feel obligated to give.  “First time guests, you received a contact card in your bulletin on the way in,” Pastor Jerry added.  “Please place it in the offering bag.”  I found the contact card inside my bulletin.  In the back of the pew ahead of me were pencils for people like me who did not bring one; I filled out my name, address, and phone number, and checked the box that it was my first time.  Under “Prayer Requests,” I wrote, Pray that God will show me where he wants me to go to church.  The band played one more song, and I put the card in the offering bag when it came to me.  The bag was a metal ring about four or five inches across with a handle, with a bag of dark fabric attached to it.  I had never seen an offering bag before; Our Lady of Peace used baskets on poles about six feet long that the ushers wave in front of seated parishioners, and the Newman Center passed a plate.

Pastor Jerry’s sermon was much longer than the eight minute Catholic homilies I was used to.  Inside the church bulletin was a page outlining the main points of the sermon, with blanks to fill in.  I saw people around me taking notes, so I followed along and filled in the blanks also.  The sermon was based on a passage in the Second Book of Kings, in the Old Testament, where Josiah, one of the good kings, tears down places of idol worship.  This was a much more in-depth look at the Scripture than anything I had experienced in Catholic Mass, more along the lines of my small group Bible studies with JCF, but less interactive.  I also did not know much about the Old Testament so far, particularly the parts telling the history of the people of Israel.

After the sermon, which lasted more than half an hour, Pastor Jerry led the congregation in a brief prayer.  The band came up for one more song, and then Pastor Jerry dismissed us.

“I have to go,” Haley said.  “I’m so behind on studying.  But I hope you liked it!”

“I did.  I really liked that sermon.  The temples to the idols had been there so long, they were just a normal part of life.  It makes me wonder what normal parts of our lives there are that are dishonoring to God.”

“I know!”

“Anyway,  I’m going to go to both churches for a few weeks and pray about it.”

“Great!  I’ll see you around!”

After Haley left, I started heading toward the entrance.  A skinny mousy-looking man with a mustache, who had been one of the ushers handling the offering bags earlier, was carrying the bags out of the building.  “Hi,” he said to me.  “Did you give to the Lord today?”

I was a bit caught off guard by this statement.  “It’s my first time,” I said.  I felt justified in saying this, since the pastor said first-timers did not have to give, and I fully intended to begin giving regularly if I started attending church here regularly.

“Are you sure the Lord isn’t calling you to give anything?  Every little bit helps.”

At this point, I just wanted to get rid of this guy, and I had nothing against giving to God, so I put a five-dollar bill in one of his bags.  He thanked me and headed toward one of the other buildings, which apparently housed the church office.

“Hey.  It’s Greg, right?” a voice said behind me.  I turned around and saw Noah.

“Yeah,” I said.

“How did you like it here?  Will you be back next week?”  I told him the same thing I told Haley about going to both churches for a few weeks.  “I’ll be praying for you.”

“Thank you,” I said.


Later that afternoon, during a study break, while my roommate Shawn was out running or cycling or doing one of those athletic things I was no good at, at least not at a competitive level like him, I got out my Bible and read the part about Josiah again.  Some Christians consider the Catholic Mass to be idol worship, and the Pope to be the Antichrist.  I would not go that far, but I have noticed many Catholics who are so disconnected from their faith that parts of their lives that do not bring honor to God are just normal parts of life to them, much as the places of idol worship had been to Josiah and his contemporaries.  Was there anything in my life that was a false idol like this?  Was I following false idols by worshiping in the Catholic Mass?  Or were all of my friends at Jeromeville Covenant and 20/20 false idols for me, because being with my friends would distract me from true worship?  Was I just following my friends instead of actually following God?  And what about that pushy usher?  Was he going to be a problem?  Was everyone there like that?

As a senior in high school, I started going to church more often after I discovered that a girl I liked from school went there.  Maybe that meant that Haley was the idol, and I only wanted to go to J-Cov to see Haley.  But by the time I graduated from high school, it had been made clear that nothing would happen between me and that girl, and I remember still going to church but hoping I would not see her.  Maybe the same thing would happen with Haley, that she would initially be part of the reason I came to J-Cov, but I would end up discovering a life there beyond her.  Or maybe, hopefully, God really did want me and Haley to be together.  I was still planning on going to the evening Mass at the Newman Center tonight, and keeping up this schedule at least through the end of October, so that I would not make a hasty decision.

“Lord Jesus,” I prayed out loud in a low voice, “I pray that, just like the college group at J-Cov, you would give me 20/20 vision to see clearly where you want me to worship you.  I pray that the next few weeks of going to both churches will be a time of learning and growth.  I pray that your Holy Spirit will give me wisdom to find a place where I can truly grow closer to you in fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ.”

And hopefully God heard my prayer, because ever since that girl from the skit had said “macaroni” and that had made me think of Macarena, I could not get that song out of my head.  It was distracting.

(To be continued…)


Note to readers: Have you ever had a time when you had to make a difficult decision like this?

Also, I haven’t updated the dramatis personae for year 3 yet. I’ll put it on my to-do list for the week.

And finally, in real life it’s my birthday!

September 2-3, 1996. Moving in and getting mail. (#99)

“This is the front door key, and this is the mail key,” the woman in the office at Sagebrush Apartments explained, placing the keys on the desk as I filled out paperwork.  “Looks like you have roommates; are they all moving in today?”

“Shawn should be here later today,” I said.  “Brian is moving in later this week, I think.  I’m not sure about Josh.”

The office employee took me around the grounds, showing me where to find the pool, laundry room, and mailboxes, and where to empty garbage.  She handed me a brochure, the same brochure I got when I first came here in May, but this one was the actual color printing, not the blotchy black-and-white photocopy that they had given me on that day when they were out of color copies.  The brochure had a map of the complex on it; she circled my apartment’s location, as well as the locations of the communal areas she had shown me.  “Just come back here if you need anything.  We’re open until six.  And once you get your phone connected, you can call this number.”  She underlined the office phone number.

“I will,” I said.  “Thanks.”

I walked back to the car in the office parking lot.  Mom and Dad were parked next to me, waiting in Dad’s gray pickup truck.  “I have the keys,” I said.  “Follow me.”  I drove my red Ford Bronco around to the back of the complex and parked next to building K.  Sagebrush Apartments consisted of around a dozen small buildings, named with letters, each containing six to eight individual apartment units.  While I waited for Dad to find a parking place, I looked through the brochure that I had gotten from the office.  Inside, on the second page, was the floor plan for each of the different types of apartments, and as I looked at my apartment, I saw something that made me recoil in horror and shame.  I may have made a huge mistake when I signed this lease four months ago.

On the blotchy photocopy I was given in May, when I was deciding between this apartment and another one, it looked like the large bedroom that I would be sharing with Shawn was 11 by 18 feet.  But on this clear copy, it was definitely 11 by 13 feet. The other place I had considered did have a very large bedroom, and I had told Shawn and Brian that the two places were similarly sized, and this one was less expensive.  I supposed, however, that if the others wanted to save money, they did not have room to complain about the place being a little small.

I tried to hide my disappointment at the room size when I unlocked the door and went inside, Mom and Dad behind me.  “This is nice!” Mom said.  “There’s that wood-burning stove you told me about.  That’ll come in handy when it gets cold.”  The stove was right in front of the door, with a stairway on the left leading upstairs to a small loft and the three bedrooms.  The living room was on the right, with the dining area straight ahead and the kitchen to the right of the living room, open to the living room through a bar behind the sink.

I went upstairs to my bedroom and looked around.  It was not huge, but not as tiny as I had feared.  I said to Mom and Dad, “Claire from church has a bed loft she’s going to sell me, with a desk underneath.  Do you remember Claire?”

“I’m not sure,” Mom replied.  I remembered Mom saying something embarrassing about Claire when she and Dad came to church with me freshman year, and I chose not to remind her.  

“Once I get that set up, I’ll have more room,” I said.

“That’ll be good.  You said Shawn is moving in later today?”

“Yeah.  I think so.  He’s back in Jeromeville already for his student teaching program.”

“Oh yeah, he’s going to be a teacher.  What’s he teaching?”

“High school math.”

“I didn’t know he was a math guy too.  But you met him from that Christian group, right?”

“Yes. Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  He was my Bible study leader last year.”

Mom and Dad and I emptied the truck of the things we brought from home.  Next, we drove across Jeromeville to Second Street Self Storage, where I had stored everything from the old apartment.  It took us two trips to unload it all.  The Post Office was just around the corner from the storage unit, and we stopped there on the second trip.  I waited in line for five minutes, then I filled out a form to have mail forwarded to the new apartment and picked up the mail they had been holding.  Coupons and other junk mail.  Notices from utilities acknowledging that I had canceled service at the old apartment.  And a letter, in a small, off-white envelope.  When I saw who it was from, I felt an excited surge of adrenaline run through my body, and I tried to make myself look calm and normal when I got back in the truck.

“Did you get anything good?” Mom asked when she saw me holding a stack of mail.

“A lot of junk,” I said.  “And a letter.”

“Who’s it from?”

A sweet girl with pretty blue eyes, I wanted to say.  I wish I had the guts to ask her out.  And even though she’s a good Christian girl and I know it’s wrong, I wish both of us could fit on Claire’s bed loft.  “A girl from JCF,” I said instead.  “Named Haley.”

When we got home with the rest of my things from the storage unit, I put Haley’s letter and my other mail on top of the dresser.  I wanted to read it, but I also wanted to finish moving, and I did not want to read the letter in front of anyone.  I put the mattress on the floor, where the bed loft would eventually go, with my computer on the floor next to it.  That would not be particularly comfortable; I needed to call Claire soon.

We moved the rest of my furniture, what little I had, into the apartment.  The bookshelf went into the bedroom, between the mattress and the closet.  The television, the little table that held it, and the chair I sat on while watching it went into the empty living room; I would adjust it as necessary after the others brought more living room furniture.  We kept my kitchen and bathroom supplies, and my books and clothes, in boxes; I would unpack those gradually over the next couple days.  We left the box spring and the folding table I used as a desk in the truck, for Mom and Dad to take home; I would have no need for those once I got the bed loft set up.

After we finished unpacking, Mom and Dad took me to McDonald’s, where I ordered an Arch Deluxe.  “Are those any good?” Mom asked.  “I haven’t tried one yet.”

“I think so.  I like it.”

“What’s so special about it?”

“It’s on a different kind of bun, with special sauce, and supposedly higher quality ingredients.  It’s supposed to be marketed more toward adults.”

“I’ll try it next time.  I’d ask for a taste, but I don’t want to eat your burger.”

“Sounds good.”

“So what do you have going on in the next few weeks?  You’re going to that camp with JCF, right?”

“Yeah.  The camp is the 16th through the 20th.”

“Where is it?”

“A retreat center somewhere outside of Green Meadows.  About a two hour drive.”

“Is Taylor going to be there?”

“I don’t think so.  He’s been more involved with his church lately instead of JCF.”

“Are Liz and Ramon going to be there?”

“Yes.”

“Will that Haley girl be there?”

“I’m not sure. Probably.”

Mom, apparently having exhausted all of my friends whose names she could think of at the moment, changed the subject, telling me about my brother Mark and his friends and the start of their school year a week ago.  It was Mark’s first year of high school, and so far he seemed to be enjoying it.

After we finished eating, Mom wrote me a check for three hundred dollars.  “This is for when you go grocery shopping,” she explained, “and anything else you might need for the new place.”

“Thank you,” I said.

When we got back to the new apartment, we had to park several spaces down from where we were before, because a moving truck was in our old parking space.  Shawn and a guy I did not know were figuring out how best to unload a couch from the truck.

“Hey, Greg,” Shawn said, seeing me out of the corner of his eye.

“Hi.  How’s moving going?”

“We got most of my big things unloaded.  Looks like you did too.”

“Yes.  Mom and Dad, this is Shawn.”

Shawn walked over to shake my parents’ hands.  “Nice to meet you,” he said.

“You too!” Mom replied.  “We were just going to head out.  We have a long drive back to Plumdale.  And it looks like you guys have everything under control.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

“Enjoy the new apartment,” Mom said, giving me a hug.  “And good luck with the new school year, and with camp.  Nice meeting you, Shawn.”

Dad hugged me afterward.  “Dad loves you,” he said.

“You too,” I replied.

After Mom and Dad left, while Shawn was busy with the couch, I went upstairs to read Haley’s letter, quickly, so that Shawn would not see me.


August 29, 1996

Dear Greg,

Thanks so much for writing!  I was glad to hear about your summer so far.  Sorry it took me a while to write back. I’ve been so busy!  It sounds like your new apartment with Brian and Shawn will be good, and it’s in a good location too.  You mentioned Urbana – that’s exciting!  I’ve heard great things about it.  It’s awesome that you want to know more about how God has called you to serve Him.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going.  I really want to, but I’m just not sure if I can.

Summer has been great so far!  I’m working at a kids’ day camp, which is so much fun!  It’s been very nice to be home relaxing with my parents.  I love summer!  Tomorrow is the last day of work, so I’m really excited for the next three weeks of relaxing vacation.

Well, thanks again for your letter!  I love getting mail!  Have a great end of the summer.  I’ll see you in a few weeks!

In Christ,
Haley


That was sweet, I thought.  Haley actually wrote me back, finally.  I smiled and put the letter in a drawer, thinking about what I would say when I wrote to her next.  After that, I found the box where my telephone was, plugged it in, and dialed Claire’s number.  As I was waiting for an answer, I realized that if I got Claire’s answering machine, I was not entirely sure what number to tell her to call back.  I assumed that Brian had successfully transferred his telephone service to the new apartment, since there was a dial tone, so my phone number was now Brian’s number.  However, I had not actually confirmed this with Brian or Shawn.

“Hello?” a female voice said, making that thought a moot point.

“Is Claire there?” I asked.

“This is Claire.”

“Hi.  This is Greg.  I’m unpacking, and I was calling to ask about the bed loft.”

“Yes!  Are you ready for it?”

“I am, but I don’t know if it’ll all fit in my car.”

“My new roommate is coming up tomorrow with a U-Haul.  Can we just drop it off after she finishes unpacking?”

“Sure!  That’ll be perfect!”

“You’ll probably need a ratchet to put it together.  Do you have one?”

“No, but I can get one.  It’s probably a good thing to have around.”

“Good idea.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“Yes!  Sounds good!”

After the phone call, I went downstairs and helped Shawn until we got everything out of his truck.  This place was starting to feel livable, although when it was time for bed and I slept on my mattress on the floor, it suddenly felt a little less livable.


The following afternoon, Claire arrived with the disassembled bed loft in the truck.  “Here it is,” she said.  “These two big pieces go on the ends, and this long flat one is the desk underneath.  These two go across the top to support the bed, and then these three flat pieces go between them.  You put the mattress on top of those.  And those go diagonally to brace the corners.  All the nuts and bolts are in that bag.”

“I think I get it.”

“These other pieces over here, you can make a shelf that goes around the desk.  But that’s optional.”

“I see.”

“I don’t remember exactly how that goes.  My dad built this for my older sister when she was in college.  It’s been great, but I don’t need it anymore.  I’m excited to have my own room!”

“I’m a little nervous about not having my own room,” I replied.  “But this will help with both of us fitting into that space.”

“Definitely!  Should we start carrying it in?”

“Sure,” I said.

With Claire’s help, I carefully carried all the bed pieces upstairs into the bedroom.  “This is a nice place,” Claire said.  “It has an upstairs.  And a wood stove.”

“I know.  That’ll be useful in the winter.”

After several trips up and down the stairs, we finished unloading the bed; I was sweating and breathing heavily by now.  “Thank you,” I said, giving Claire the fifty dollars we had agreen upon for the bed loft.

“You’re welcome!  I’ll see you at church?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Bye.  Have a good one.”

“You too!”

After Claire left, I went upstairs, trying to figure out exactly how to assemble the bed.  First, I got out the new ratcheting socket wrench I had bought that morning.  I propped up the two large side pieces, wondering if it mattered which was the right and which was the left.  The side pieces had holes for the diagonal braces, which went in the back; I used this to figure out which one was which.  Next, I found the two long beams that went across left to right, and attached those to the right side piece, with the extra holes in the back again.  Each beam attached to each side with two bolts.  I tried to attach the diagonal pieces next, but I seemed to be missing a bolt, so I only attached one diagonal brace.  Next, I bolted each of the three flat pieces that held the mattress to the frame.  I adjusted the position of the bed in the room, making sure the back and the right were almost touching the walls, but not quite.  This would definitely make the room feel less crowded.

After that, I lifted the mattress into position.  Then I slid the desk, which was really more of a table, underneath the mattress.  The table did not attach with bolts; it rested on wood bars that protruded from the side pieces.  Finally, I shoved the unused shelf pieces under the table, and I moved the ladder up against the frame, near where the pillow would eventually go.  I took a step backward and admired my work, then I got in the shower, since I was dripping sweat at this point.  This was perfect.  After I got out of the shower, I read Haley’s letter again, then I sat at the desk under the bed, found a sheet of paper, and began writing.


September 3, 1996

Dear Haley,

Hi!  Thanks for writing!  It was so good to hear from you!  I’m getting settled in the new apartment.  Shawn moved in yesterday too, and Brian is coming later this week.  It’s been an adjustment sharing the large bedroom, but Claire Seaver sold me her old bed loft, so that saves a lot of room.


I added no further context to the name “Claire Seaver.”  I knew that Haley and Claire knew each other, through an embarrassing moment that happened back in the spring.


The rest of my summer was fun.  My birthday was August 15, and my Bible study made me cupcakes.  I wasn’t expecting that at all.  Then I went to my parents’ house for a couple weeks.  My brother and his friends and I have this game called Moport, like a cross between soccer and hockey and football, and we had a two-on-two Moport tournament.  I’ve been riding my bike a lot too.

I hope you get to go to Urbana.  I keep hearing such good things about it.  As a new Christian, I don’t know if I’m ready to go fly overseas and preach the Gospel, but I want to find out what kind of service opportunities are out there, especially with so many of my friends doing stuff like that.  I saw the guys from J-Cov when they got back from Morocco; it sounds like that was a great experience.

I’m excited for Outreach Camp!  I’ve never been up that way.  And it’ll be good to see everyone.  It’ll be good to get more involved with JCF and find out what God wants me to do.

What classes are you taking this quarter?  I’m taking advanced calculus, numerical analysis, and Intro to New Testament.  I’ve heard such good things about New Testament and the professor.  I’m going to do chorus too.  People from my church choir keep telling me I should, and Amelia said the same thing at Bible study once.  You said you used to do chorus, right?  Is the audition hard?  I’m a little nervous.  I forget; are you going to Outreach Camp?  I’ll see you soon!

Sincerely,
Greg


As I have gotten older, I have noticed that one peculiarity of adulthood, particularly for a storyteller like me, is that certain inanimate objects will acquire backstories because of memories of how they were acquired.  To this day, I still have Claire’s bed loft.  I used it as my bed for the remaining five years that I lived with different combinations of roommates in Jeromeville, as well as two living situations later in life when I rented a room in someone else’s house.  When I bought my current house, in my early thirties, Claire’s bed loft became a storage shelf in the garage for a while.  I set it up again some time later as the guest bed, where it remains today, and it became my bed again for four months when my house was torn up for repairs and I had nowhere to move my regular bed.  Claire’s bed loft was quite possibly the best fifty dollars I have ever spent.

I walked to the mailboxes and dropped Haley’s letter in the outgoing mail slot.  It was warm and breezy, with that smell of late summer afternoon all around me.  A day like today felt exactly like the way life should be.  I had the next two weeks to get used to living with Shawn and Brian and Josh.  Then I would be spending a week in God’s creation with dozens of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  And I would see Haley soon.  Great things were going to happen this year.  I knew it.