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.


February 3, 1997.  Taking inventory. (#117)

I pulled into a parking place at Capital East Mall with Evan Lundgren, Tabitha Sasaki, and two freshmen whom I did not know well in my carpool.  A few weeks ago, the Jeromeville Christian Fellowship staff had asked for volunteers for a service project.  The Nordstrom department store in Capital City took inventory once a year, hiring many one-day temporary employees to help complete the job in a reasonable amount of time.  Some of these temporary employees came from church groups, with the money they got paid going directly to the group.  The money that JCF raised tonight would be used for scholarships to send students on retreats that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

As we walked into the store, I looked around.  I had never been inside Nordstrom before.  “This is definitely fancier than anywhere I shop,” I said.  “So where do we go now?”

“The Customer Service desk in the back of the first floor,” Tabitha replied, pointing.  “Over there.  Follow Eddie and Raphael and Armando posing as Lars.”

We caught up to the other guys from JCF whom Tabitha had pointed out.  I looked at Armando, who Tabitha said was “posing as Lars.”  I had only met Armando a few times; he was one of Lars’ roommates, but he did not attend JCF.  I noticed that he was wearing what appeared to be Lars’ usual pair of Birkenstocks, with a flannel shirt tied around his waist, exactly as Lars would be dressed.

“So why is Armando posing as Lars?” I asked when I caught up to the group.

“Lars had to back out at the last minute,” Armando explained.  “And someone needed to take his place, because we signed up to bring a certain number of people.  So I’m Lars tonight.”

“That makes sense,” I said.  I found it amusing that Armando had gone so far as to dress up as Lars.

“It’s kind of weird experiencing life as Lars, dressed like this,” Armando said.

“Last year, when we did this, I got assigned to lingerie,” Eddie said.  “We got there, and all the guys were like, uhh…”  I laughed.

After we checked in at the Customer Service desk, we were ushered into the employee break room in the back.  We then waited around for half an hour, to give the actual employees time to close the store.  Other temporary employees besides our group were waiting in the break room, and more people trickled in over the next half hour.  I wondered where these other people came from, if Nordstrom just advertised for one night temporary employees off the street, or if they came from groups raising money like we did.

A well-dressed woman stood up in front of the group, welcoming us and explaining how things would work.  Each of us had been assigned to a specific department within the store, and each of us would be paired with a Nordstrom employee.  She explained the procedure for counting, double-checking, and recording the numbers on a form.   “Remember, you’re here to work for the next five hours,” she reminded us after explaining everything else.  “If you finish your department early, you will be assigned to another department that isn’t done yet.  The store is closed, so you’re not here to shop.  If you need a bathroom break, return quickly.  And no unnecessary conversations.”

As soon as she said that last part, I suddenly felt much worse about this night.  Unnecessary conversations were what made tedious nights of menial labor fun.  Oh well, I thought.  I was here to serve God, to raise money for JCF, not to have fun.  And if the night was too terribly miserable, I would remember this and not sign up to work this event next year.

The woman began naming names and telling us to go to different departments, where a manager from that department would give us further instructions.  After a few minutes, she said, “Ramon Quintero, Anna Lam, Raphael Stevens, Greg Dennison, Autumn Davies, and Sarah Winters.  You’re in women’s shoes, on the second floor.”  Women’s shoes.  Good, I thought. No awkwardness of staring at panties and bras all night.

When we arrived at the shoe department, six Nordstrom employees, well-dressed like the manager from downstairs, waited for us.  I looked at them to see who we would be working with.  A middle-aged woman with glasses and hair in a bun.  A slim, straight-haired Asian girl in slacks.  An attractive blonde girl around my age with a sweet smile, wearing a dress that showed off her figure in a way that was flattering but not sleazy.  An older man in a dress shirt, who made me think of Al Bundy from the TV show Married With Children, who also sold women’s shoes for a living.  Two other young adult women whom I did not get a good look at.

“Hi, I’m Cathy,” the woman with the bun said.  “I’m the manager of the shoe department.  Each of you will be partnered with one of us.  I’ll be working with Raphael.  Where are you?”  Raphael raised his hand, and she continued assigning partners as we raised our hands to indicate who we were.  “Sarah, you’ll be working with Jennifer.  Ramon, you’re with Ron.  Greg, you’re with Keziah.”

“Huh?  Who?” I said awkwardly, suddenly startled.

“Keziah,” Cathy repeated.

“Keziah,” I said back, a little confused.  I was expecting someone with a normal name like Jennifer or Kimberly or Amy.  I had never heard of anyone named Keziah before.  As Cathy finished assigning partners, I looked over the six employees, wondering which one was Keziah.  I assumed that Ramon’s partner Ron was the man.

“We’re almost ready to start.” Cathy said after assigning the rest of the partners.  “I’ll show you which aisles you’ll be working on.  Keziah, can you go get the clipboards?”

“Sure,” the attractive blonde said, walking toward the door to the storeroom.  I felt like I had hit the jackpot.  Of course, it was a typically cruel twist of fate that I would be working with a total babe but prohibited from having unnecessary conversations with her. Maybe I could at least impress her by doing a good job.

“I’m Greg,” I said to Keziah after she returned and passed out the clipboards.  “I’m your partner.”

“Hi, Greg!  Nice to meet you!”

“You too!  Keziah, was it?” I asked, pronouncing it like Cathy did with the accent on the middle syllable.  “Is that how you say it?”

“Yeah!” Keziah replied.

“I, um,  just wanted to make sure I was saying it right.”

“You got it!  I know it’s unusual.  I was named after my great-grandma.”

“That’s cool.  It sounds Old Testament.”

“I think so.  I don’t really know the meaning of the name,” Keziah said.  “So are you ready to get started?”

“Sure.”

“We’re over here.”  Keziah led me to our first aisle, where she said, “So we just count the number of boxes on each section of each shelf, and we record it here.  Do you want to count or record?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Doesn’t matter to me either.  We’ll be trading off anyway.”

“Sounds good.  I’ll start by counting.”  I counted the first two sections, then said, “I feel like I should know who Keziah was in the Old Testament, since I’m here with a Christian group.  But I don’t.”

“Who are you here with?”

“Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  It’s a chapter of an organization called Intervarsity.”

“We have Intervarsity too, I think.  I’ve seen signs around campus.  But I’ve never been.”

“Where do you go to school?”

“Cap State.”

“Oh, okay,” I said.  Keziah did not seem to be a stickler for the rule about unnecessary conversations, so after I counted a few more shelves, I said, “I went to Intervarsity’s national convention in Illinois over winter break, and we all got Bibles with a daily reading plan in the back, to read the whole Bible in a year.  I’m going through that, but I’m a few days behind.  So eventually I’ll learn who Keziah was.”

“That’s cool,” Keziah replied.

We continued counting the boxes on the shelves.  I called out a number, which Keziah wrote on the clipboard.  “What are you studying at Cap State?” I asked when we got to the end of an aisle.

“Early childhood education.”

“Nice.  You want to be a teacher?”

“Yeah.  Hopefully something like second or third grade.”

“That’s cool.  I’m a math major.”

“Math.  Math was always a struggle for me.”

“That’s because you never had me for a tutor,” I blurted out awkwardly.  “I work as a tutor also.”

“You’re probably right,” Keziah said, smiling, as she wrote more numbers.  “What do you want to do with your math degree?”

“I’m not sure.  I’m trying to figure that out now.  We’ve been talking a lot about careers in Math Club.  I just know I like math.”

“If you like tutoring, would you want to be a teacher?”

“I don’t know.  I always thought I wouldn’t, because of all the politics involved.”

“That’s true,” Keziah said as I counted more boxes and told her my totals.  “We need good teachers, though.  I had a really bad teacher in high school who ruined math for me.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.  “So that’s the end of the aisle.  Now we double-check, with you counting instead and me recording, right?”

“Yeah.”  Keziah handed me the clipboard as we walked back to the beginning of the aisle.  All of our numbers matched for the first several sections.  We eventually got to one where we did not match, so we counted a third time, very carefully, until we agreed on the correct count.

“Did you grow up around here?” I asked as we approached the end of the aisle.

“Yeah.  I was born in Pleasant Creek, but we moved to Capital City when I was four.”

“That’s cool.  I’m from Plumdale.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“Oh, okay.   I’ve been to Santa Lucia a few times with my family.  I love it there!  Did you go to the beach a lot growing up?”

“Kind of,” I said.  “Mostly when I was little.  It’s usually too cold for the beach, I think.”

“True.  I remember it doesn’t get very hot there.  But it feels nice going there when it’s hot here.”

“It does.  At least at first.”

After we finished that aisle, Keziah and I had three more aisles of shoes to count.  We recorded and double-checked all of our numbers, and we routinely violated the rule about unnecessary conversations for much of that time.  I learned about many things, including Keziah’s most memorable family vacation, her annoying roommate from last year, and why her old math teacher was so awful.  I carefully avoided football as a discussion topic, since she went to Capital State, Jeromeville’s bitter football rival.  Fortunately, no one was there to get us in trouble for talking.

When we finished filling out our final counting form, Keziah said, “That’s it!” 

“Yeah,” I replied.  “And with over an hour left.”

“Good job!”  Keziah smiled and put her hand up, and I high-fived her.  “I get to go home now, and hope to get some sleep before my 9am class.”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I have to get up early too.  I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep tonight.  But I think I have to go be assigned to help somewhere else, until we’ve done the whole five hours.”

“Oh, that sucks.”

“But we’re raising more money for our group.”

“True.  That’s a good way to look at it.”

“It was really nice meeting you,” I said.

“Yeah!  Have a good night!  I hope you sleep well!”

“You too!”

I walked back downstairs to the break room, to wait for a new assignment.  I kept thinking about how Keziah had probably walked out of my life forever, and I had just let her go without doing anything.  Should I have said something, or would that have just made things worse and more awkward?

“You okay, Greg?” I heard Sarah Winters’ voice ask.  I looked around; I had been staring off into space, not noticing people around me, while awaiting a new assignment.  Sarah and Angela had also recently finished counting women’s shoes, and Eddie was also there, from another department, waiting for a new assignment.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “Just thinking.

The manager from the beginning of the night walked into the room.  “They need four people upstairs in lingerie,” she said.  “I’ll tell them you four are coming.”

“Lingerie,” I repeated.  “Of course it had to be.”

As we approached the lingerie department, walking past aisles of women’s underwear, Sarah turned to Eddie and me and said, “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” chuckling.

Since the actual Nordstrom employees got to leave when they finished their assigned section, those of us who were just arriving in the lingerie department were no longer being paired with an employee.  I began counting bras, but Eddie realized he did not have the correct form, so he went to find the lingerie department manager.

I found a bra on the floor and picked it up.  “Why is this on the floor?” I asked.  “I found a bra on the floor; do we count this?”  Eddie was talking to a manager and did not hear me.  I looked down at the bra that I was holding; it was quite large.  Trying to get the attention of someone who could answer my question, I asked loudly, “I found a 38-DD bra on the floor; do we count this?”

“Greg!” Sarah said from the next aisle over.  “Shhh!”

I did not know what to do with the bra, nor did I find any like it on the rack, so I put it with some 38-C bras that were nearby.  Close enough.  They did not appear to be strictly sorted by size anyway.  Eddie returned, and we began counting bras and writing numbers on the clipboard, focusing on our work and not saying much.  I missed working with Keziah.  She was fun to talk to.  Keziah and I seemed to hit it off well, and now I was probably never going to see her again.  

 By the time we finished counting the bras, it was almost time to leave, and most other departments had finished as well.  We returned to the break room to wait for everyone else to finish, and once Tabitha, Evan, and the rest of my carpool had arrived, we walked back to the cars.

“How’d your night go?” Evan asked as we walked toward my car with the others in our carpool.

“Good.  I got a really friendly partner who wasn’t too strict about the no-talking rule.”

“That was nice that you guys got to talk.  We didn’t.”

As I drove across Capital City and crossed the river back into Arroyo Verde County, the rest of my car was quiet.  Since it was very late at night, and most of us had classes in the morning, the others used the twenty-five minute ride back to Jeromeville to doze off, giving me time to ruminate on the events of that night.

I felt like I had missed an opportunity.  I had enjoyed talking to Keziah, getting to know her, and now I would probably never see her again.  I wished I knew how to ask her out.  I wished I knew how to ask if we could be friends and stay in touch.  The obvious answer of just telling her would not have worked for me.  I would have found a way to make it awkward and uncomfortable just by trying to be honest; being awkward just came naturally to me.

Also, if I did that, it might become public knowledge that I liked Keziah, which felt like it would be too embarrassing to deal with.  Seven years ago, in middle school, I admitted to Paul Dickinson that I liked Rachelle Benedetti, and I was mortified over the next couple months to learn that many other people knew that I liked Rachelle.  Back then, I imagined people making fun of me for thinking that I had a chance with Rachelle, just as people now might hypothetically make fun of me if they found out that I liked Keziah.  I had no chance with a girl like that, so I should just forget about her.

Keziah probably did not like me back anyway.  She probably had her pick of all the big men on campus at Capital State and had no need for an awkward guy from the other side of the Drawbridge.  Maybe we were doomed from the start, with Jeromeville and Capital State being such bitter football rivals.  I also had no idea whether or not she was a Christian.  I kept hearing from JCF and the college group at church that I should only be dating Christians, because relationships should be built on a solid foundation of faith.  Also, Christian women were less likely to be involved in things that I found unattractive, like excessive drinking or promiscuity.  I was probably better off not pursuing Keziah romantically.

But, as I dropped off everyone in my carpool and headed back to my apartment, I could not help but wonder if I was selling myself short.  Maybe Keziah and I would have been compatible after all.  Maybe I was making too many assumptions.  Either way, I would never see her again, and she would become another missed opportunity to toss on my ever-growing pile of regrets in life.  I went to bed, with my alarm set to go off in less than five hours, hoping to sleep off the stench of failure.


Readers: Tell me in the comments about someone you wish you could have stayed in touch with.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Nordstrom, Inc. was not involved with the creation of this post.


January 19, 1997.  Hey, you!  Wanna go to McDonald’s? (#115)

Some of the major events of my life were the result of careful planning, such as getting good grades in challenging high school classes to prepare for university studies.  But other major events in my life came out of nowhere and took my life in directions I had never considered before.

As church ended, I stood up and turned to Taylor Santiago, standing next to me.  “What are you up to today?” I asked.

“Studying,” Taylor replied.  “Two weeks in, and I’ve hardly done any reading for any of my classes.  I’m so behind.”

“I have some of that to do too.  But with the holiday tomorrow, and no football to watch today, I should have enough time to catch up.”

“Yeah.  Who are you going for in the football championship next week?”

“I don’t really care,” I said.  “The Captains aren’t in it, and I can’t root for whoever is playing against the Toros because they aren’t in it either.”

“Good point.  I’m for Wisconsin.  Coach Mike Holmgren is a Christian, you know.  Noah and I met his kids at a church camp once.”

“Wow,” I said.  “I didn’t know that.”

“Well, I should get going.  Enjoy your day off tomorrow.”

“I will.  Thanks.”  I walked around after Taylor left, looking for someone else to talk to.  I wandered outside and saw a guy named Jim talking to three teenage boys.

“Come on!” one boy with light brown wavy hair said to Jim.  “Take us to McDonald’s!”

“I can’t,” Jim replied.  “I have work to do.”

“Maybe someone else will take us to McDonald’s,” another boy said.  This one was thin, with dark hair.

“Hey, you!” the third boy said, turning in my direction.  “Wanna go to McDonald’s?”

I looked behind me, trying to see who this boy was talking to; no one was there.  The boy was still looking at me.  He had shaggy dark blonde hair and a wide grin.  “Me?” I asked.

“Yeah.  Let’s go to McDonald’s.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied, “but have we met?”

“My name’s Ted.”

“I’m Greg,” I replied.  “So why do you want to go to McDonald’s with me?”

“You seem like a cool guy.”

“Thanks,” I said, still a little confused.

“Let’s go!” the boy with wavy hair said.

“Okay.”

McDonald’s was in the shopping center on the corner of Andrews Road and Coventry Boulevard, just a few hundred feet from the church.  I learned on the walk over that the dark-haired boy was named Zac and the wavy-haired boy was named Danny.  “What grade are you boys in?” I asked.

“Eighth,” Danny said.

“Nice.”

“What about you?  Are you in school?”

“Yeah.  I’m a junior at UJ, majoring in mathematics.”

“Math!” Ted repeated.  “Eww!  Why?”

“I’ve always been good at math.”

“I hate math!”

“I always liked math,” Zac said.

“That’s because you’re weird,” Ted said.

“You’re not weird,” I told Zac.

We ordered and sat down.  Danny started talking about something called Winter Camp.  “Are you going to Winter Camp, Greg?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.  “I don’t think I know what that is.”

“We all go up to the mountains for a few days.  And we go sledding and snowboarding and have snowball fights.  And we learn about the Bible.”

“That sounds fun.  Who is ‘we?’  What group is this?”

“The Edge.  The junior high youth group.”

“I see.  That’s the group that Taylor Santiago is one of the leaders for, right?”

“Yeah!” Ted replied excitedly.  “You know Taylor?”

Taylor and I lived in the same dorm when we were freshmen,” I explained.  “Who are the other leaders for that group?”

“Adam is the youth pastor,” Zac said.  I did not know Adam.

“And there’s Noah, and Martin,” Ted added.  “And Courtney.  And a bunch of other people.”

“I know Noah and Martin and Courtney,” I told them.  “So are you guys out of school tomorrow too?”

“Yeah,” Zac said.

“What are you guys doing?”

“Sitting around all day playing video games!”

“Same,” Danny added.

“That sounds fun,” I said.  “I have homework to do.”

“Eww,” Zac replied.

As we finished eating, I realized that I had no idea where, or who, these kids’ parents were, or how they were getting home.  “How are you guys getting home?” I asked.  “Is someone going to come pick you up?”

“Danny and I were going to go to Ted’s house.  You wanna take us to Ted’s house?  You can see the raft.”

“I guess.  Do your parents know you’re going there?”

“We’ll call them when we get there.”

“Okay,” I said.  When I was growing up, it was normal to turn kids loose to go play at each others’ houses, especially by the time they reached eighth grade, so I did not question this.  The three of us walked back to my car, and I drove out of the parking lot toward Andrews Road.  Zac handed me what he said was a mix tape of Christian music and asked if I would play it. A song I did not know, something about a big house, came on. “Which way?” I asked.

“Left,” Ted said.  I turned onto the street, then he continued, “Turn left up here at the light?”

“At Coventry?”

“This street here at the light,” Ted repeated, pointing to the traffic light at Coventry Boulevard.  “I don’t know what it’s called.”  I thought it was odd that Ted would not know the name of one of Jeromeville’s major streets, particularly one on the route from his home to church, but I had realized over the previous few years that many people do not pay attention to details like street signs and maps the way I do.

“Who is this singing?” I asked.

“Audio Adrenaline,” Zac said. I did not know that band, but they had a cool name.

I turned left on Coventry, crossed Highway 117, and continued driving.  As we approached the four-way stop at Lakeside Avenue, the last intersection in the city limits of Jeromeville before the subdivisions gave way to fields and orchards, Ted had not given me any further instructions.  “Do I turn here?” I asked.

“No.  Keep going straight.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.  I live kind of far out.”

I hoped that Ted was right, and I did not entirely trust his sense of direction since he could not identify Coventry Boulevard by name earlier, but I kept driving west.  If Ted was correct, then he lived pretty far out in the country.

Almost four miles past Lakeside Avenue, Ted finally said, “Turn here, where you see that white mailbox.”  I saw the mailbox on the other side of an approaching bridge over a small stream; I slowed down and turned.  A dirt road followed the stream, curving around to the southeast.  Ahead of me, I saw a very old looking farmhouse, painted a distinct pale green color.  Three tall palm trees stood at the end of the dirt road in front of the house.  I walked past the trees and followed the boys to the front porch, which was up a set of stairs about five or six feet off the ground.  The boys walked in the door, and I followed them, looking for an adult.

“Hey, Ted,” I heard a man’s voice say from somewhere in the house.  “Danny.  Zac.  How’d you guys get here?”

“Our new friend Greg brought us,” Ted replied.

As I stood in the doorway, I heard footsteps approaching.  A middle-aged man with unkempt brown-gray hair and glasses walked up to me.  “Hi,” he said.  “I’m Carl Hunter.  I’m Ted’s father.”

“Greg,” I said.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Are you a leader with the junior high group?”

“No,” I said, “but some of my friends are.  I just saw these guys after church, and they asked if I wanted to go to McDonald’s with them.  And they said something about showing me the raft.”

“Really,” Dr. Hunter chuckled.  I did not know yet on that day to call him “Dr.,” but I would learn later that Carl Hunter was a professor at the university, with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.  “Do you go to the college group?  20/20?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, welcome to our home.  The raft is out back, by the slough.”

I walked across the house in the direction Dr. Hunter pointed, noticing several other children of various ages.  I found Ted, Zac, and Danny to my left as I stepped into the backyard, in the direction of the stream I had noticed earlier.  “Are all those kids your brothers and sisters?” I asked Ted.

“Yeah.  I have an older brother and four younger sisters.”

“Wow.  So what’s this raft you were talking about?”

“Here.”  Ted gestured toward a large piece of plywood with large chunks of plastic foam from the insides of packages attached to the bottom.

“Can that thing hold all four of us?” I asked.

“Probably not, but it can hold two of us.  My brother and I were in it together before.”

“Who’s going first?”

“You and me.  Come on, Greg.”

Ted and I dragged the raft down the bank of the slough, about a five foot drop in elevation.  Ted stepped on the raft, holding a long pole, and placing one end of the pole in the water all the way to the bottom.  The water was muddy, but it appeared to be only about a foot deep.  I stepped onto the raft with Ted.  I felt the raft sink a little, but it remained afloat.

“It works,” I said.  “You built this?”

“Yeah.  My brother and my dad helped.”

“Where are we going?”

“That way!”  Ted began using the pole to push and steer the raft upstream.  The water was relatively still, without much of a current.  The banks of the slough were lined with bushes and trees, many of which had lost their leaves for the winter.  We rowed upstream as far as the bridge where Coventry Boulevard crossed the slough, then Ted turned the raft around back toward where Zac and Danny were waiting for a turn.  “Hi!” Ted called out, waving to Zac and Danny watching us from downstream.  Zac and Danny waved back.  “So, Greg, how old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“When’s your birthday?”

August 15.”

“No way.  You’re lying.”

“No, I’m not.  Why?”

“Because August 15 is my birthday.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s so cool.”

“And my brother is August 14, and Zac is August 12.”

“That’s crazy.  So many of us with August birthdays.”

“I know!  Like, what are the chances?”

I thought about this, trying to answer Ted’s question seriously.  “I can’t do that calculation in my head,” I said.

“You’re such a math guy,” Ted said.

After we returned to where we started, Zac and Danny got on the raft, pushing it to the bridge and back just as we did.  I asked Ted, “So what do you guys do at youth group?”

“Well, we have fun, mostly.”

“I figured that.  I mean, like, what goes on in a typical youth group meeting?  I didn’t grow up with a youth group, so I don’t really know.”

“We play a game.  Then we sing.  Then we break into groups and learn about the Bible.”

“That sounds nice,” I said.  “I’m part of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship on campus.  It sounds kind of like your youth group, but without the game.”

“That’s too bad.  The games are the best part.”

“Yeah, but this is a group for UJ students, so they aren’t going to play kid-type games.  But a lot of times we hang out afterward.”

“That’s fun.”

I ended up staying at the Hunters’ house for about another hour after we got off the raft.  Ted showed me around the rest of the house, and I watched them play some racing video game.  I took a turn myself, but did not do well, since I was not used to the controls.  When it came time for me to leave, I asked Zac and Danny, “Do you guys have rides home?”

“If you can take us, that would be great.”

“You both live in Jeromeville?” I asked, slightly wary after discovering that Ted lived so far outside of town.

“Yeah.”

“Sounds good.”  I went to find Ted’s parents, to tell them that I was taking the other boys home.  “Thanks for letting me hang out here this afternoon,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” Dr. Hunter replied.  “You’re welcome here any time.”

“It was nice meeting you,” Mrs. Hunter added.

“You too,” I said.  “I’ll see you around.”

Danny lived in west Jeromeville off of Lakeside Avenue, and Zac lived off of Andrews Road about half a mile north of the church and fairly close to my apartment.  When I got home, Shawn was upstairs in our shared bedroom, sitting at his desk writing something.

“Hey, Greg,” Shawn said.  “How was your afternoon?”

“Weird,” I replied.  “But fun.  Three teenage boys from church, whom I’ve never met before, walked up to me and decided they wanted to hang out with me.  We went to McDonald’s, and then we went to one of their houses, which backs up a slough, and we got on the water in a raft.”

“Wow.  That is interesting.  Kind of random.”

“Yeah.”

I took my Bible, the daily devotional book I had bought at Urbana, and the notebook I was using as a prayer journal and sat on the couch on the landing on the top of the stairs.  I opened the devotional book and read the Scripture for the day.  I began writing in the notebook, thinking of things to pray for.  Seeking and knowing God’s will.  Wisdom to know where God wanted me to serve.  To come to terms with Haley’s rejection.

I started thinking about everything I had learned at the Urbana convention three weeks ago.  I had gone to that convention wanting to learn more about missions, but also seeking some specific role to play in the body of Christ.  What if this was an answer to prayer?  What if God was using Ted and Zac and Danny to show me my role?  Maybe God is calling me to youth ministry, I wrote in the journal.

Over the next few weeks, I kept praying about this.  I also hung out with those boys after church a few more times.  Sure, I was several years older than them, but they were fun, and they were interested in what I had to say.  They taught me some of their favorite video games.  I showed them my creative project, my comic-book-like stories called Dog Crap and Vince.

About a month later, in mid-February, Taylor approached me after church one day.  “Hey, Greg, I have a question for you.”

“Yeah?”

“I’ve noticed you’ve been hanging out with Ted and Zac and Danny after church lately.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m taking spring quarter off.  I’m going to be doing an urban missions project in Chicago for the spring and summer.  I told you that, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I was wondering, since you get along with those boys so well, that maybe you might want to take my spot as a leader with The Edge.  Those boys are all in my small group.  You could try it for the next month while I’m still around and do the small group with me.”

Thank you, God, for bringing another answer to prayer directly to me, I said in my head.  It was at least worth a try.  “Sure,” I said.  A month after that day with the raft, I began volunteering with the junior high group at church, which I would go on to do for the next four years.


Readers: Have you ever had a memorable moment hanging out with random strangers?

Also, if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out these two guest posts I wrote for other blogs, about two childhood Christmases. Merry Christmas!
December 23-25, 1985. A new family tradition born of immaturity and impatience (for Tall Blonde Tales)
December 25, 1986. The decorative candles (for My Days In Montana)

January 9-10, 1997.  New year, new classes. (#114)

I walked down the center aisle of the bus, looking for a place to sit.  It was rainy outside, so the bus would fill up quickly, although one nice thing about living a mile and a half beyond the edge of campus was that my bus stop was one of the first ones on the route in the morning.

At the next stop after mine, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a girl wearing an Urbana ’96 T-shirt boarding the bus.  I wondered who this was, which campus Christian group she belonged to, which church she went to, and if we ever crossed paths at the convention in Urbana during the break.  I looked up, about to ask her about her shirt and point out that I was at Urbana too, when her eyes lit up and she smiled.  “Hey!” she said.  “How are you?”

Apparently we had crossed paths before.  Where?  What was her name?  “I’m good,” I replied.  “How are you?”

“Good!  I really like my schedule this quarter.  What about you?  What classes are you taking?”

“Advanced calculus, Euclidean geometry, Nutrition 10, and RST 141.”

“Two math classes?  That’s your major, right?”

“Yeah.  What are you taking?”

“English, history, psych, and bio.  It’s a lot of work already.  How is the Religious Studies class so far?  Which one is 141?”

I realized at this point that I was going to have to see this through and act like I knew who this girl was.  She was Asian, with dark wavy hair down to her shoulders and chubby cheeks.  I felt terrible for not remembering who she was.   “John,” I said.  “The Gospel and Epistles of John.”

“Nice!  Is that with Dr. Hurt?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I had him for RST 40 last quarter.”

“I took that last year,” the girl said.  “It was a really good class.  But I haven’t been able to take anything else he’s taught.  I always have other classes I need to take at the same time.”

“I know what that’s like,” I said.  “I had to choose between Hurt’s class and chorus this quarter.”

“I didn’t know you were in chorus!  How often do you guys sing?”

“We have a performance at the end of each quarter.  We spend the whole quarter rehearsing, pretty much.”

“That sounds fun!”

“Last quarter was the first time I did it.  I’m hoping I can still make it to the performance this quarter, to support the people I sang with last quarter.”

“That’ll be nice,” the girl said.

Since I was fully committed to pretending to know this girl at this point, I continued the conversation.  “How was the rest of your break?” I asked.

“Good,” she replied.  “Pretty boring.  I was just with my family, in Willow Grove.  What about you?”

Same.”

“Where are you from again?”

“Plumdale.”

“Where’s that?”

“Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“Oh, okay.  Not too far from Willow Grove.”

“Right. About an hour.”  At this point, the bus was pulling off to the side of the road at the bus terminal on campus across the street from the Memorial Union, so as I stood, I said, “Hey, it was good running into you.”

“You too!  I’ll see you tomorrow at JCF?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  That definitely helped; now I knew she was someone from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  But why did I not recognize her?  And now that I had spent an entire bus ride pretending to know her, it would be more awkward to admit that I did not recognize her.  Hopefully I would figure this out soon.

Today was Thursday, which was my lightest day of class, as was usually the case.  All I had on Thursdays this quarter was the discussion for Religious Studies.  I worked 10 hours per week for the Learning Skills Center on campus, so for the rest of the quarter I would probably have tutoring groups to run on Thursdays.  For this particular Thursday, though, I just stayed on campus for a few hours, buying a few things I needed at the campus store and doing math homework in a quiet corner of the library.

Early in the afternoon, when it came time to go home, I left the library and walked toward the bus stop.  The rain had stopped by then, but since the ground was still wet, I stayed on the sidewalks, instead of cutting diagonally across the grass of the Quad like I would have otherwise.  I looked up at one point and saw Haley Channing approaching.  The sidewalk was narrow enough, and the ground wet enough, that there was no way to avoid coming face to face with her.  This was the first time I had seen Haley since our serious conversation at the beginning of finals week.

I looked up again to see Haley now about ten feet away, making eye contact with me.  I halfheartedly smiled and waved.

“Hey, Greg,” Haley said.  “What’s up?  How was Urbana?”

“It was good,” I said.  “I learned a lot, although I’m still trying to process exactly what it means for my life.”

“Yeah.  Discerning God’s will can be like that.”

“How have you been?” I asked in the most neutral possible way, knowing that this must have been a hard Christmas for the Channings.

“Okay,” Haley replied.  “It was good to be together, but, well, you know.”

I had never experienced that kind of loss so close to the holidays, but I imagined it was not easy.  “Yeah,” I said, nodding.

“Are you heading to class?”

“I’m done for the day.  Heading to the bus.”

“Nice.  I still have a class and a discussion this afternoon.  I’ll be here until 5.”

“Wow,” I replied.  “Good luck.  I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah.  Have a good afternoon.”

“I will.”

That did not go too badly, I thought as I continued walking toward the bus stop.  Haley and I still seemed to be on good terms, and I managed not to say anything awkward about her mother’s passing.  Although Haley had done nothing wrong by not reciprocating my feelings for her, the situation still made me feel like a failure.  This couple sitting across from me on the bus held hands and kissed for the entire ride; seeing them certainly did not help my mood.  I would probably never get that opportunity.


None of my roommates appeared to be home when I got home.  I went to my room and turned on the computer, clicking the icon for the program that made the dial-up modem click and whir so that I could check my email.  I had three messages: one from Mom; one from the TA for Religious Studies, who was starting an email list for our class; and the one I was hoping for, from a new Internet friend named Amy. I skipped the other two messages and went straight to Amy’s.


From: “Amy D.” <ajd1973@aolnet.com>
To: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
Date: Thu, 09 Jan 1997 15:48 -0500
Subject: Re: hi!

Hi!  I hope you’re having a wonderful day!  Yes I would love to read some of your poetry!  It’s so cool that you like to do that.  I’m not a very good writer.

To answer your question, yes I am married… my husband and I got married two years ago.  We don’t have kids yet.  We wanted to wait a few years.  What about you?  I’m sure a nice guy like you probably has a girlfriend, right?  She’s a lucky woman!

How have your classes been so far this semester?  You guys start early!  I could never handle taking two math classes… you must be a genius!  I hope you have a great day!

Amy (your big sis)


I first met Amy through an email I got while I was in Plumdale the week before Christmas.  I had made a personal Web page last year, and I updated it occasionally with the things that were going on in my life.  Apparently Amy randomly found my page and liked the Bible verses I had quoted.  After the first few emails we exchanged, she started jokingly calling me her little brother, because she was a few years older than me, she never had a brother, and I reminded her of what she had pictured a hypothetical brother to be like.  That was sweet.

Of course she would be married.  I could never realistically expect a nice girl to just fall in my lap out of nowhere and actually be interested in me back.  Girls just never liked me like that.  It probably would not have worked out anyway, because she was almost three thousand miles away, in Massachusetts.

I opened the folder on the computer where I had saved my creative writing.  Last summer, I was on a bike ride on the other side of Jeromeville, and I rode past the house at 2234 Baron Court, where Haley Channing and her roommates had lived last year.  On the ride home, I kept thinking about the first time I went to that house, when some friends from JCF found me having a bad day and decided to include me, and how one of these new friends, Haley, had such a sweet smile and pretty blue eyes.  I wrote a poem about that night and called it “2234.”  A few months later, when I was struggling with my feelings for Haley, I wrote another poem; I called it “2235,” intending for it to be a sequel to 2234.

while i was in that house that awesome night
a bomb was planted deep within my soul
when bad turned good and everything seemed right
the evil bomber came and took control

today when i am with my friends
i hear a scary ticking sound
it’s growing louder every day

do i run away and hide?
do i leave without a trace?
do i stand here at ground zero
while it blows up in my face?
do i carefully inspect the bomb
so i may then defuse?
do i set the darn thing off right now?
i’ve not a thing to lose

i know the answer will come
but how much pain must i endure
and how many friends must i lose
before it arrives?

During finals week in December, after I told Haley I liked her and she was not interested back, and after Eddie Baker found out I liked Haley, I spent several study breaks writing another poem called “2236,” since that was the next number after 2235.

On this day,
a great weight has been lifted
from my shoulders.

I wanted to run away and hide from you,
to keep from dealing with this.
But God had other plans for me.
So I turned and said hello.

When I found out
that my friend knew all along,
I knew that it was over.
So I let go.

Now there is no more bomb
waiting to go off.
The Lord is doing His will,
leaving me free
to strengthen those special friendships I made
during that cold winter night.

When I wrote 2236, I was feeling at peace regarding Haley.  I was no longer feeling so peaceful, and the poem now felt somewhat inauthentic.  However, the poem captured a specific feeling at a specific time, which was not necessarily what I would feel forever.  I copied and pasted those poems, along with the original 2234, into my reply to Amy.  I also answered no to her question about having a girlfriend and explained what had happened with Haley, to give her some context for the poems.



All four of my lectures this quarter met on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, as had usually been the case with my schedule.  It was sunny on Friday, so I rode my bike to campus.  I parked near Wellington Hall and walked inside to Advanced Calculus.  I had left the house a little later than usual, and when I arrived, almost but not quite late, the room was about three-quarters full.  I saw an empty seat behind Katy Hadley, a cute redhead math major who had been in several of my classes over the years.  I walked toward that seat, wondering if today would be the day I would finally get to talk to Katy.  I really only knew her name because I had seen her write it on papers before.

As I sat in the chair, the momentum of my heavy backpack carried me awkwardly out of control, and my left foot swung forward, hitting the leg of Katy’s chair and Katy’s ankle.  “Ow!” Katy said, turning around looking annoyed.

“Sorry,” I said sheepishly.

Anton, the professor whom I had had once before, began talking about bounded variation in his thick but comprehensible Belgian accent.  I hoped that a mathematics lecture would distract me from the embarrassment of having blown it with Katy, but it did not.  About ten minutes into class, I quietly tore a page out of the back of my notebook and wrote on it, I’m sorry I kicked the seat.  I discreetly passed the note to Katy.

About a minute later, as I was writing down theorems about functions of bounded variation, Katy turned halfway toward me and placed the paper I gave her back on my desk.  That’s okay, she had written, with a smiley face.  This was progress, I supposed.




Later that day, after I was done with classes, I ran into Taylor Santiago and Pete Green, friends from the freshman dorm two years ago who I now went to church with.  They were walking in the same direction I was, so I walked with them, and we shared stories about our first week of classes.

“I ran into Schuyler Jenkins this morning,” Pete said.

“Schuyler Jenkins!” Taylor replied.  “I haven’t seen her since freshman year!”  Schuyler was a girl who had lived across the hall a few doors down from Taylor freshman year, upstairs from me.  She was short, barely over five feet, and she could be both short-tempered and whiny at various times.  She did not speak to me for several weeks that year, after I played a prank which hurt her much more than I thought it would.

I unlocked my bike and began riding.  “Where are you guys headed?” I asked.

“Bus,” Pete replied, pointing to the northeast.

“I’ll follow you,” I said, riding my bike very slowly alongside Taylor and Pete toward the bus terminal.

“Greg?” Taylor asked.  “Has anyone else told you that your bike might be a little too small for you?”

“Actually, yes.  A few other people told me that.  I just got something cheap when I first came to Jeromeville; I didn’t get it properly sized or anything”

“It seems like you might be comfortable on a bigger bike.”

“This one is starting to fall apart,” I said.  “I’ll keep that in mind someday when I get a new bike.”  I know now that I did not keep that bicycle regularly maintained.  The chain needed to be cleaned and lubricated, and a few spokes in the back were broken, making the back wheel wobble.  “Not only is this bike too small, but it makes weird squeaking noises, and it wobbles in the back,” I explained.

“Sounds like Schuyler Jenkins!” Pete said.

“Haha!” I laughed, loudly.

“Wow!” Taylor said.  “Greg, you should name your bike Schuyler.”

“That’s hilarious!” I replied  I had never made the connection before between my bike and Schuyler.  But from that day on, I called my bike Schuyler, and I loved telling that funny story so much that I named my next bike Schuyler II.

I took Schuyler out for a ride in the Greenbelts after I got back from class.  The weather was colder than I would have wanted it, but after having rained for a couple days, it felt nice to see the sun again.  I showered when I got home, then went to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that night.  I saw the girl I had spoken with on the bus the day before, wearing a name tag that said “Anna.”  When I got home, I found my phone and email list for JCF; there was one Anna on the list, a sophomore named Anna Lam.  That was most likely her, but her name did not register in my memory at all.

Haley was at JCF that night, but we did not get to talk beyond saying hello.  I was okay with that.  Haley and I were on good terms, but sometimes I was still going to feel weird about our past.  That was normal.  So what if Haley did not like me as more than a friend.  So what if I had an awkward conversation on the bus with Anna Lam, and my new Internet friend Amy D. was married and not interested in me, and I accidentally kicked Katy Hadley in class.  I still had friends who cared about me, and the right people would stay in my life.  Hopefully something would work out for me eventually.


Author’s note: Do any of you name your vehicles, and if so, what’s an interesting story behind the name of your vehicle?

Also, yes I did really just painstakingly edit every episode to include the episode number in the title. Maybe if someone who just happens upon this blog sees that it is episode number 114, this person will actually be motivated to go back and read episodes 1 through 113… yeah, that’s probably wishful thinking.


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.

November 1-3, 1996. Discovering a dark side to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. (#107)

“Welcome to the Intervarsity Regional Fall Conference!” Lars Ashford announced from the stage.  JCF was part of an organization called Intervarsity, with chapters at colleges and universities across three nations.  Six schools attended this conference, which began Friday night and ended Sunday afternoon, and Lars named each of the six, which was followed by cheers from those in attendance from each school.  There seemed to be many more people here from Jeromeville than anywhere else, about as many as all the others combined.  As I walked in, I was wondering why only our worship team was playing, and not anyone from the other schools, but now I assumed it was because our group was so much larger than the others.

A guy who introduced himself as being on staff with Intervarsity at Bidwell State gave a talk about hearing God’s voice in the middle of a busy world.  He based his talk on the passage from the first book of Kings, in the Old Testament, when the prophet Elijah was hiding from those who wanted to kill him.  Elijah heard the voice of God not in a heavy wind, an earthquake, or a fire, but a gentle whisper.  That was what I needed; with how busy I was with classes, I needed to remember to listen to the gentle whispers of God.

After the talk, we sang a few more songs, and then people mingled around the room as others trickled out the door back to their rooms.  I turned around and said hi to Eddie Baker, sitting behind me.

“Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.  “How are you?  This is your first time at Muddy Springs, right?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’d heard of this place before, because my dad grew up in Bidwell, but I’ve never actually been here before.  I want to see what it looks like outside in the morning.”

“You’ll love it.  Hey, I want to catch up, but I have to meet with the Kairos groups to talk about some stuff tonight.  I’ll see you in the morning?”

“Sure,” I said.  I did not know what Eddie’s meeting was about, or even what a Kairos group was.  The word was completely unfamiliar to me.  I saw Haley Channing a few rows away, talking to Kristina Kasparian.  I walked up to them and said hi.

“Hey, Greg,” Kristina said.

“What’s up?” Haley asked.

“Nothing,” I replied.  “This is my first time here.  Just hanging out.”

“We were actually just on our way to a meeting,” Haley said.  “We need to talk about stuff for Kairos.  But I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay?”

“Sure,” I said, faking a smile.  Whatever this Kairos thing was, it involved a lot of my friends, and they had to meet in private.  I walked around the room, looking for people who might not be meeting privately.  Most of the people from the other schools seemed to be staying together, not mingling with the Jeromeville people.

Behind the back row of chairs, a group of people from Jeromeville stood around: Scott Madison, Amelia Dye, Brent Wang, Autumn Davies, a sophomore named James whom I had met a few times, and a few others.  They were not with the Kairos people, so hopefully they were not about to leave.

“Hey, Greg,” Scott said.  “James is teaching us a game.  Want to play?”

“What kind of game?”

“It’s called Silent Football,” James said.  “I was just about to explain it.”

The nine of us standing there sat in a circle cross-legged.  James was barefoot, just as he had been on Sunday when I saw him at church, and also at JCF last week.  Apparently this was a thing with him.  I was curious why James was always barefoot, but it did not feel like it was my place to ask.  As James explained the game, I realized quickly that it had little to do with actual football.  There was an imaginary ball that we had to keep track of, and the person with the ball could pass it to different players by making certain hand gestures with weird funny names.  Each gesture corresponded to passing the ball a certain number of players in a certain direction, or other things like that.  If a player made an illegal move, like passing the ball when someone else actually had the ball, the game would stop.  James, as the game leader, would give the offending player a penalty, which meant doing something silly and embarrassing.

James started with the imaginary ball.  I carefully kept track of who had the ball, and when it came to me, I gestured to pass the ball to the player on the right, who was Autumn.  Autumn then passed the ball further to the right, to Amelia.  I was safe for now.  Amelia gestured to pass back to the person who passed it to her, and Autumn did not respond.  “Autumn,” James said.  “You have the ball, and you didn’t pass it.”

“Huh?” Autumn replied.  “I passed it to Amelia!”

“And I passed it back!” Amelia said.

“Exactly,” James continued.  “Autumn, your penalty is that you have to act out a scene from a TV show or movie of your choice.  Stand up.”

Autumn giggled and stood.  She took a deep breath and giggled again, then she started screaming at random people.  “No soup for you!” she said, pointing right at me.  I knew, from overhearing people quote this, that Autumn was performing a scene from the TV show Seinfeld, but I had not seen the episode myself.  I always thought that show was annoying.

Autumn sat back down, and we began another round.  James passed the ball to a guy named Matt, who was not paying attention.  “Matt,” James said.  “You have the ball, and you did not pass it.  For your penalty… I’ve heard you sing the really fast verse at the end of the song ‘Hook’ by Blues Traveler.  So now, you will serenade us.  Ready?  Suck it in.”

“Suck it in, suck it in, suck it in, if you’re Rin Tin Tin, or Anne Boleyn,” Matt sang.  He got a couple more lines into the song before he flubbed the lyrics and everyone started laughing.  James started another round and passed the ball to me.  I attempted to make the gesture to pass the ball back to whomever had it last, but I ended up flailing my arms in a way that was not exactly what I was supposed to do.

“Greg,” James said, mimicking my botched gesture.  “What exactly does this mean?”  Everyone laughed, as I just sat quietly, knowing that I was about to get a penalty.  “You are a mathematics major, correct?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“And I have heard that you can recite pi from memory to three thousand decimal places.”

“Not quite that many,” I said, laughing.  “Maybe sixty or so.”

“Well, then, let’s hear what you can do.”

I took a deep breath.  “3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923… is that good?”

“Well done.”

We continued playing a few more rounds of Silent Football.  It was frustrating, and the whole purpose of the game was for the person leading the game to embarrass the others, but it was also strangely entertaining.  I continued playing as long as everyone else did.

As I left the meeting hall, I noticed that the Kairos people were now in the lobby sitting around the fireplace talking; their meeting appeared to be over.  Eddie, Kristina, Tabitha Sasaki, Sarah Winters, and Liz Williams were sitting around the couches.  Ramon Quintero sat in a chair playing guitar, and Haley sat next to him, singing harmony.  The two of them seemed completely engrossed in what they were doing, tuning out the rest of the world.

I went upstairs and went to bed, not even trying to talk to anyone.  This was not supposed to happen.  This Kairos thing felt like a clique of insiders, not letting anyone into their secret dealings.  Some of my closest friends had felt more distant lately because of being in this Kairos group, and now one of them was moving in on Haley.  Ramon and Liz were among the first friends I made in Jeromeville, and they had been a solid couple for almost two years until just a few months ago.  Ramon was not supposed to be a threat to girls I was interested in, but now he was.  I could not compete with Ramon, with his cool curly hair and all the musical instruments he played and languages he spoke.  I went to bed feeling distraught, and did not fall asleep quickly.


After breakfast and another worship session, all of us at the retreat were given a worksheet with directions for a guided meditation and prayer.  The first line said to find a quiet place outside, so I left the building, seeing the grounds of the retreat center in daylight for the first time.  Muddy Springs was a two-hour car trip from Jeromeville, tucked into a canyon in the foothills ten miles north of Bidwell.  It was named after a natural spring on this property; the indigenous inhabitants of this area used the mud from the springs for its supposed healing properties.  In the early 1900s, some enterprising Americans capitalized on that legend and built a resort here, and in the 1960s, when their business had dried up, they sold the property to a group that turned it into a Christian conference center.  Officially, it was now called Wellspring of Life Conference Center, but most people still called it Muddy Springs.

The dormitory that we stayed in was the original resort hotel, a towering brick building four stories high with two more floors below ground.  People said that it reminded them of the hotel from The Shining, but I had not seen the movie or read the book, so I did not know.  The land sloped downward behind the hotel, toward a creek, so that the lower floors had windows facing the back.  Additional cabins were scattered around the property behind the hotel, along with basketball and tennis courts and a meeting hall detached from the hotel building, where we met last night.  The surrounding hills were dotted with a mix of oak and pine trees, and covered in brown grass, since it had not started raining yet this winter.  I sat on a low stone wall looking out toward the other side of the canyon.

I opened my Bible and tried to follow along with the instructions on the handout, but I was having trouble concentrating.  The events of yesterday, being left out of the inner clique of the Kairos groups and wondering what was going on with Ramon and Haley, kept running through my mind.  “God,” I said quietly but aloud, “I pray that I will focus on you and not get distracted.  Not my will, but yours be done.”  I sat there for the whole hour, trying to put my concerns aside and listen to what God was telling me, repeating to myself, “Not my will, but yours be done.  I did not get any clear response from God.

I wandered back into the building and toward the dining hall when it was time for lunch.  The people from the Kairos groups were all sitting together, and I did not try to break into their clique again.  Instead I took my tray of chicken nuggets and French fries over to a group of three people I did not recognize.  “Hi,” I said.  “Can I sit here?”

“Sure,” a blonde girl said.

“What school are you guys from?”

“Great Basin State,” she replied.  She continued talking to her friends, and none of them said another word for me.  They got up and left after my lunch was about half finished.  I finished eating, then just sat with my plate as the room gradually emptied.

Cheryl, one of the adults on JCF staff, saw me sitting alone and approached me.  “Hey, Greg,” she said.  “Are you okay?  You’re sitting by yourself, not eating.”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I already ate, and my friends are all busy right now.”

“Do you have a few minutes?  Can we go for a walk?  I wanted to talk to you.”

I was not expecting this question.  What could Cheryl be wanting to talk to me about?  Was she going to ask me to be a part of something, like when Tabitha asked me to be the worship team’s roadie at the last retreat?  Maybe she was going to invite me to this Kairos group thing, whatever it was?  “Sure,” I said.

Cheryl and I walked out of the hotel downhill down the road.  The weather was mild, with big puffy clouds in the sky, signaling the quick transition period every November where the weather turns abruptly from summer-like to winter-like.  The first cold and rainy day of the winter would probably arrive in a week or so.  “So how’s the weekend going for you?” Cheryl asked.

“Kind of disappointing, honestly,” I replied.  “What exactly is a Kairos group?”

Cheryl looked like she was not expecting that question; apparently I was not going to get invited to a Kairos group.  “It’s a new ministry we started last year, with six sophomores, and we’ve been gradually expanding it as more students grow through it.  It’s a small group for training and discipling student leaders,” she explained.  “‘Kairos’ means something like ‘the time something happens.’  It’s in the Greek for the passage where Jesus said, ‘The time has come, the kingdom of God is near.’  Mark 1:15.”

“How was it determined who gets to participate in Kairos groups?” I asked.

“When we were first starting this, at the beginning of last year, the staff picked six students who we thought we would be interested  Then at the end of the year, they split into three pairs, to be the leaders for this year’s Kairos groups, and each pair selected four more sophomores and juniors to fill their group.  So now we have three groups, and we’re going to do that again this year, so we’re hoping to have nine Kairos groups next year.”

“So the Kairos groups are just going to take over all of JCF?” I asked.  “What happens when there aren’t enough people?  If each group grows into three groups the following year, it’ll only be…” I did some math in my head, then continued a few seconds later.  “In less than a decade, there won’t be enough students at Jeromeville to fill all those groups.”

“That’s why we need to pray that God will bring people to us, and we need to invite our friends and tell them about Jesus,” Cheryl replied.

I agreed conceptually with telling people about Jesus, and I knew that it was good to pray that people will come to JCF and get involved, but I also knew that Cheryl’s math was off.  The Kairos group was not a sustainable model for ministry.  But I did not expect my mathematical argument to convince Cheryl at the moment, and that was not my issue in the first place.  “What happens to someone like me, then?”  I said.  “If you can only join a Kairos group as a sophomore or junior, will there be any groups left for seniors next year?”

“There will be a group for seniors.  And for people who aren’t in Kairos groups.”.

“But even so, doesn’t it kind of send the wrong message that these Kairos groups are invitation only?  Some of my friends, I’ve hardly gotten to see them on this retreat, because they’ve been doing stuff with their Kairos groups the whole time.”

Cheryl paused.  “That’s kind of along the lines of what I wanted to talk to you about,” she said.  “I’ve noticed that you seem to like to be the center of attention.”

This was definitely not what I expected to hear. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Remember at Outreach Camp, when you grabbed the microphone?” Cheryl asked.

I did remember.  During one of the worship sessions, the band said at the end of the session that they were going to stick around for some more informal worship music if people wanted to continue worshiping.  I stayed, and at one point I felt like I wanted to sing, so I asked if I could have a microphone, and I sang lyrics that I had just made up, to the tune of the song they were already playing.  I felt a little embarrassed afterward, that I had actually done such a thing, and I never spoke of that night again.  “Yes,” I said.

“I think sometimes you’re too worried about what other people think.  You’re thinking about what you want, not what God wants for you.”

I processed this as we continued walking downhill.  “I’m a shy introvert,” I explained.  “I’m not really the kind of person who naturally wants to be the center of attention.  But I think you’re right.  Sometimes I am paying more attention to what I want instead of what God wants.”

“And you told me you’re worried about your friends in Kairos groups leaving you out.  They’re still your friends.  You aren’t worth less because you’re not in a Kairos group.

“Yeah, but that’s not what it feels like.”

We turned around and walked back uphill, toward the hotel.  “What if we had some kind of sign?” Cheryl asked.  “If I think you need to step back, focus on God, and not be in the spotlight, I’ll just look at you and tap my ear.”  Cheryl demonstrated, moving her right hand to her ear and tapping the top of it.  “I don’t have to call you out.  It’ll just be our little thing.”

“I guess,” I said.  I still did not think that I was a habitual attention hog by nature.  But, on the other hand, Cheryl had a point; I definitely did have some of these tendencies when I was in the right situation with the right crowd.  And focusing on God and not the self is always something that is naturally difficult for most people.  “But I still think it’s wrong to have the Kairos groups if they’re going to be exclusive like that,” I continued

“Just because no one picked you for a Kairos group doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a place for you.  Keep praying, and God will show you how you can serve him.”

“Then why even have Kairos groups in the first place?  You tell me not to be the center of attention, but the people in these groups, they get to be part of some exclusive club.”

“I don’t think anyone else sees it that way,” Cheryl explained.  “But I’ll bring that up in our staff meeting, to make sure we don’t turn it into something like that.”

“Thank you,” I replied.  I could see that I was not going to bring down the entire Kairos ministry, much less become one of the cool kids and make Haley want to go out with me, just from this one conversation with Cheryl.  But I voiced my concerns, and I learned something about the way people see me that I needed to work on.


Cheryl and I returned to the hotel after spending the rest of the walk just talking about life and classes.  When we returned, I found some people behind the hotel playing a game of Ultimate Frisbee. They were playing on a paved surface, given the lack of flat grass on the grounds, so I had to be a little careful, but it was fun and I did not fall down.

Later, at dinner time, I walked down to the dining hall.  The people from the Kairos groups were still sitting together, and I still felt frustrated enough at the situation that I did not bother to ask if I could join them.  I found a group of three freshman girls from Jeromeville with an empty seat next to them; maybe they would be more friendly than the Great Basin State students, since we had seen each other before.  “May I join you?” I asked.

One of them, I thought her name was Carrie, looked up at me and smiled.  She was somewhat taller than average, the tallest of the three but still at least six inches shorter than me, with straight medium-brown hair and dark brown eyes.  “Sure!” she said.  “Greg, is it?”

“Yeah.  And you’re Carrie?”  Then, to the girl on Carrie’s left, I said, “And you’re Angie?  And I don’t remember your name,” I said to the third one, who then introduced herself as Susan.

“How’s your weekend going?” Carrie asked me.

“It’s okay,” I replied.  “I’ve had some frustrating stuff happen lately, but I think God is teaching me something through it.”

“God does that,” Angie said.

“Yes he does,” I replied.  “How’s yours?”

“It’s great!” Carrie said.  “This place is so beautiful!  We went for a walk this morning down to the creek during the quiet time.  It was so nice.”

“Yeah,” Susan added.

“That’s good,” I said.  “I’ve never been here specifically, but I’ve been to Bidwell many times, because I have relatives there.  This part of the state is so beautiful.”

“That’s cool,” Carrie said.

I did get to talk to my friends from the Kairos groups a little bit that weekend, since they were not meeting together that night.  It was mostly small talk, but it was better than nothing.  Other than my clique-related frustration, the weekend was good overall.  It was nice being away from Jeromeville for a couple days.  Silent Football was fun and silly, and I made friends with some freshman girls, one of whom I am still friends with today.

Cheryl only had to use the ear-tapping thing twice for the remaining years that I was involved with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  The incident she mentioned was not my normal behavior, but it was true that JCF should not primarily be a social club.  I was here to grow closer to God among friends as we encouraged each other’s spiritual growth.  Being social with Christian friends is not inherently bad, but it should not be the goal in itself.  God would lead me to a place where I could serve him, even if it did not involve a flashy attention-getting position.  He already opened the door for me to be the worship team’s roadie this year.

A few months later, God led me to a new place to serve.  He opened this door when I was not looking for it, and this ministry was not part of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  But that is another story for another time. Even though the Kairos groups were cliquish, I did stay friends with those people.  Being cliquish is part of sinful human nature.  And in the fall of 1998, when I heard that JCF was dropping their Kairos ministry completely, it felt like a victory.



Author’s notes:
What are some stories you guys have about being left out of cliques?

Also, I never knew what the actual lyric was after “Rin Tin Tin” until I looked it up while writing this episode.  It always sounded like “rambling” to me.  I’ve been singing those words wrong for a quarter-century.  And I really did type pi from memory when I wrote this.

Late September, 1996. Outreach Camp and the first JCF meeting of the year. (#101)

“Welcome, Greg!” Janet McAllen said.  She and her husband Dave, the full-time paid staff who led Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, sat at a folding table overlooking the dirt parking lot and the entrance to Pine Mountain Christian Conference Center.  “You’re in Cabin 4.  You can go put your stuff away there.  Dinner is at six o’clock, and we’ll be meeting after that.  Until then, we’re pretty much just hanging out.”

“Cool.”

“How was your summer?”  Dave asked.

“It was good.  I took a class first session, Intro to Software.  I got an A.”

“Good job!” Janet said.  She pointed out the general direction of the cafeteria, meeting room, and cabins, and I headed toward Cabin 4, carrying my sleeping bag, pillow, and suitcase.  The suitcase was not really a suitcase, since it had soft sides, and it was not really mine, since it had my grandfather’s initials embroidered on it.  I had taken it with me two years ago when I first moved into my dorm as a freshman, since I did not have a suitcase, and I still had it.

The cabin held six campers in three bunk beds attached to the wall.  I was six feet, four inches tall, and the beds looked a little short for me.  I would not fit in the lower bunk at all, because the short ends of the bunks were a wall of solid wood instead of a wood or metal frame, so that my feet would press against the inside of this wall instead of dangle over.  Two of the top bunks already had people’s things on them, so I climbed to the last remaining top bunk.  My feet hung over the end a little, but if I turned at a slight diagonal, I would at least be a little bit more comfortable.

I went outside and found Brent Wang getting people together for a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee.  “How’ve you been?” I asked Brent.

“Great,” he said.  “I’m playing keyboard on the worship team this year.  After this game we’re gonna go practice.”

“That’s cool,” I said.  “I’m just glad to be back.”

I spent the next hour running up and down the field, catching and passing the flying disc, as I saw more and more of my friends from last year arriving, mostly coming from Jeromeville in organized carpools.  Pine Mountain Christian Conference Center was about a two hour car trip from Jeromeville, northeast into the mountains.  I had never been to this part of the state before.  The parking lot, field, and basketball court were spread out over a meadow, with the meeting room, cafeteria, and cabins set against the foot of the mountains that surrounded the grounds on three sides.  Beyond the parking lot, the road on which we drove in sloped downward.  The pines that covered the mountains gave the area a distinct scent not present down in the Valley.

I was dripping sweat after we finished playing Ultimate Frisbee.  I walked around and spent about another hour catching up with people, watching others play Ultimate Frisbee, table tennis, and basketball.  At dinner time, I wandered toward the cafeteria.  The inside of the building reminded me a bit of the dining hall at the dorm from two years ago, but with fewer options.  As I walked around looking for a place to sit, I heard a familiar voice say, “Greg!  How are you?  Want to sit here?”

Melinda Schmidt sat at a table with two other senior girls, Amelia Dye and Lillian Corey. “Sure,” I said, sitting at the empty seat.  “How was your summer?”

“It was pretty good!  How was yours?”

“I was in Jeromeville taking a class.  Where were you this summer again?”

“I was home.  In Blue Oaks.  You drove through it on the way here.”

“No.  I thought you were going on a mission trip somewhere.”

“Oh… I was going to, but I had to cancel it because of a family emergency.”

“I’m sorry.”  That phrase “family emergency” always felt awkward to me; I never knew whether or not it was okay to ask for more details about what happened.

“It’s okay.  I’ll have lots of time to look at mission trips for next year,” Melinda continued.

“Yeah.  That’s good.”

“Have you ever been on a mission trip?”

“I haven’t.  I’m pretty new to all this stuff.  But I’m learning more about what kind of things happen on mission trips.  One thing I was hoping to find this week is what role God has for me in the group this year.”

“That’s good.  Just keep seeking God.”

As the afternoon continued on into the evening, I kept my eye out for Haley Channing to arrive.  I had not seen her in over three months now, and I was hoping that being together on a retreat for five whole days would give us time to talk and hang out.  Maybe, if things went well, I could tell her how I felt about her.  I had assumed she would be here, since she was friends with all the people who were in JCF’s inner social circles, but I never knew for sure whether or not she would.  I had gotten one letter from her during the summer, and she never mentioned Outreach Camp at all.  By the end of dinner, I had still not seen Haley, and I began to resign myself to the fact that she was not coming, and that I would have to wait until sometime next week to see her again.


We studied Paul’s letter to the Philippians for our Bible studies at Outreach Camp.  We did something called a manuscript study, where we were each given a copy of the text of Philippians without chapter or verse numbers.  We were supposed to look at the text without those distractions, so we could find connections between different parts of the text and mark them in different colors.  I did not quite understand what I was looking for, and no one could give me a clear answer.  As the week went on, my manuscript looked more and more like the bulletin board of a conspiracy theorist connecting seemingly unrelated details.

After the first Bible study time, we got into groups for prayer requests.  Amelia was in my group, along with Liz Williams, a junior like me who had lived right down the hall from me freshman year.  Also in my group were Eddie Baker, a junior who had been there for me on a particularly rough night, and two sophomores named Jennifer Chong and Todd Chevallier.

“I’ve had to make a lot of difficult decisions lately,” Liz began.  “I want to make sure that I am living entirely for God, because I’ve been letting too much get in the way.”  Liz seemed to be struggling to get her words out.  Finally, she continued, “Ramon and I broke up.”

The next few seconds of silence among those in our group said more than words ever could.  For almost two years, since the first quarter of freshman year, Liz and Ramon had been the strong Christian couple whom everyone liked.  They had also been among the first friends I made at the University of Jeromeville.  “Pray that we will both use this time apart to seek God wholly, and to know what he has for us, whether we end up together or apart in the end,” Liz continued.

“Any other prayer requests?” Amelia asked.

“I have one,” I said, a little hesitant to follow Liz’s major announcement.  “Pray that God will show me what my role is within JCF.  Now that I’ve been going here for a year, I want to know how I can get involved.”

“That’s a good one.  We’ll pray for that.”

As the six of us prayed, we could hear other groups finishing and the worship band setting up.  After prayer, we all spent some time singing before concluding for the night.  I looked around, unsure of what would happen now; was everyone supposed to go to bed, or were people going to stay up hanging out and talking for a while?  I sat watching others, trying to figure out what to do.  After a few minutes, Tabitha Sasaki spotted me across the room while she and the rest of the worship band were putting away their instruments.  She came over toward me and said, “Hey, Greg.  Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“That big red Bronco in the parking lot, that’s yours, right?”

Uh-oh.  Last week, Brian made me the driver for our toilet-papering adventure specifically because no one in the house we hit would know my car, so that we could park outside and listen for their reaction.  Did I just get caught?  Was Tabitha there that night, and I did not realize it?  “Yes,” I said uneasily.

“Lars and Brent and Scott and I were just talking about how the worship team needs a roadie, someone to help us load and unload all our instruments and equipment each week.  We were trying to think of someone who has, like, a big truck or something like that, and I thought of you.  I thought you had a Bronco.  Would you be interested in doing that for us this year?”

I was relieved that Tabitha’s conversation with me had nothing to do with the toilet-papering incident, but I saw that something else was happening here too.  “Yes!” I replied.  “That sounds perfect!  Just earlier tonight, in our small group, I was praying that God would find a specific way for me to get involved.  This is an answer to prayer.”

“Yay!  I know, we were praying about it too, and I just thought of you.  That’s totally a God thing.”

“So what exactly would I have to do?”

“We practice at Lars’ house on J Street, so just come there every Friday an hour before large group starts, and help us load everything.  Then help us unload once we get to campus.  And do the same thing afterward.”

“Sounds good,” I said.  Having to unload afterward meant that I might be a little late if anyone did anything social, but that was no problem as long as I knew what was going on.  This was exactly what I had been praying for.  My mom always said that God works in mysterious ways, and this was one of them.


The rest of the week was more of the same; lots of time hanging out at this beautiful retreat center, playing Ultimate Frisbee and table tennis, sitting among the pines reading Scripture, and singing songs of praise and worship.  One day, I was sitting alone on a bench reading the Bible, and I spotted Ramon doing the same on a bench about a hundred feet away.  I thought about him having broken up with Liz, and about Haley not being here at all, and I realized that maybe Haley’s absence was God’s work too.  Maybe God wanted me to really focus on him this week, and he knew that having Haley here would be too much of a distraction for me.  I smiled and thanked God silently.

For the Wednesday evening session, we split into groups that each had a specific focus for the first week of school.  Small group Bible study leaders met to plan their outreach and their studies for the first quarter.  Another group met to discuss having a table in the Quad to hand out flyers and get contact information from interested students.  Another group made plans to show up around the dorms on Sunday and offer to help students move in.

My new position as the roadie did not fit neatly into any of these groups.  I walked around the room, trying to figure out which group to join.  Brian Burr, my roommate who had graduated last year and was now on staff with JCF, saw me and motioned for me to come over.  Their group also included Tabitha, Liz, Todd, Jennifer Chong, and Scott Madison, who was the worship team drummer and Amelia’s boyfriend.  “Which group is this?” I asked.

“We’re planning a skit for the first large group,” Brian said.

“Yeah,” Scott added.  “I’m gonna be Scooby-Doo.”

“This is gonna be funny,” I said.  “What’s the skit going to be about?”

“So far, the Scooby-Doo gang is helping freshmen move in, and one girl’s dorm room is haunted.  And we’ll chase the ghost around, just like in a Scooby-Doo cartoon, and then take off the ghost’s mask at the end.”

“That’s a great idea!  What’s the spiritual lesson in this?”

“There isn’t one,” Tabitha said.  “It’s just for fun.”

“Sounds good, I said.

We spent the next hour, as well as some time after the Thursday evening session, outlining the plot of our skit.  We got Lars Ashford, a senior who played in the worship team, to be the bad guy in our skit.  A few days after we all got back to Jeromeville, we all met at Scott’s apartment one night to write the script and rehearse.  We watched old Scooby-Doo cartoons on a rented VHS tape for about an hour, to help us perfect the mannerisms of our characters.  We painted cardboard props, including the Mystery Machine van.  The others tried on their costumes, which they had assembled from thrift store and costume shop products.

“So, the funniest thing happened at the costume shop,” Liz said.  “I told the guy I was looking for orange hair dye.  But I said, not like real hair color, like a cartoon orange.  That was all I said.  And he asked the other guy working there, ‘Do we have any orange hair dye, like Daphne from Scooby-Doo?’”

“That’s hilarious!” I said.

“I know!  I said, that’s exactly what I’m looking for!”

The first JCF meeting was on the first Friday night after classes started, a week after we got home from Outreach Camp.  The room was full of new freshmen and transfer students from community colleges, as well as returning students from last year.  After the opening song, Dave McAllen introduced himself and made announcements; then it was time for our skit.

I stood at the front of the room, wearing a large oversized button on my shirt that said ASK ME.  Jennifer Chong walked up to me.  “Hi,” she said.  “Is… is this Baxter Hall?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m an RA here in the building.  Are you one of my residents?”

“Yeah.  I’m Jennifer.  I’m in room 319.”

“Great!  My name is Greg.  Just come find me if you need help with anything.”

“I will!”

I sat down in the front row after this; that opening scene was my entire role in the skit.  The rest of the group walked in from the back of the room carrying the Mystery Machine: Brian as Shaggy in a green shirt with unkempt hair, Liz as Daphne with dyed orange hair, Todd as Fred with a white shirt and scarf, Tabitha as Velma in a turtleneck, and Scott as Scooby wearing a hideous brown thrift store suit and fake dog ears.  The audience cheered wildly.

“Zoinks!” Brian said to Jennifer.  “We’re, like, here to help you move!”  The audience laughed at Brian’s impersonation of Shaggy.

“Hi,” Liz said.  “I’m Daphne.  What’s your name?”

“Jennifer,” Jennifer said.

“What building and room are you in?” Todd asked.

“319 Baxter.”

All four of the other human characters gasped, and said in unison, “319 Baxter?”

“Ruh-roh!” Scott added.

“Like, that’s the room that’s haunted by the ghost of Alexander Baxter!” Brian exclaimed.

“And the key to room 319 also opens a treasure chest that Mr. Baxter hid in the basement!” Tabitha said.  In real life, Baxter Hall had no basement.

“G-g-g-ghost?” Jennifer said, trembling.

“I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about,” Todd said.  “Come on.  Everyone grab a box, and let’s carry this stuff upstairs.”

As everyone walked offstage, Lars stood in a corner, wearing a trench coat.  His face was covered with a ghost mask made from a paper plate with eye holes.  Jennifer held her room key, which Lars snuck up and stole before returning to his hiding place.  “Let’s unlock the room so we can get in,” Jennifer said.  “Huh?  Where’s the key?  I just had it.”

“Zoinks!” Brian shouted, pointing at Lars.  “Ghost!”

“Raaaarrr!” Lars screamed, jumping out of his corner.  Everyone started running in place for a few seconds, then they simultaneously took off in the same direction, just as they did in old cartoons.  Lars chased the others, also running in place first.

Brian, Scott, Liz, Tabitha, and Todd ran back to the center of the stage.  “W-w-where’s the ghost?” Tabitha asked.

“Let’s split up,” Todd suggested.  “Shaggy and Scooby, you go that way, and the rest of us will go this way.”  The group walked off stage in opposite directions.

Lars picked up a cardboard soda machine prop and hid behind it.  Brian and Scott walked by.  “Like, look, Scoob!  Soda!” Brian said.  Scott made dog noises in return.  Brian put a coin in the soda machine, and Lars handed Brian a soda from behind the machine, his hand clearly visible.  “Like, thanks!” Brian said.  The audience laughed.

“You’re welcome,” Lars growled from behind the soda machine.  Brian and Scott looked at each other, then back at the soda machine.  Lars tossed the soda machine aside and screamed, “Raaaaarrrr!”  Brian and Scott ran away.

Next, Todd, Tabitha, and Liz walked in from the other side of the stage.  Lars stood right in their way, unnoticed by them.  “Have any of you seen anything strange?” Tabitha asked as she walked with her head turned, facing the others.  She bumped into Lars.  All of them screamed and began chasing each other back and forth across the stage.

Eventually, all of the mystery-solving friends and Jennifer came back to the front of the room, with Lars across the room from them, not seeing them.  “Okay, Scooby,” Todd said, holding a woman’s dress.  “Put this on and seduce the ghost.”  The audience cheered and whooped at this suggestion.  I remembered that our script said “distract,” not “seduce,” and I hoped that Todd’s Freudian slip would not get us in trouble, since we were supposed to be a Christian group promoting Biblical values.  (No one ever said anything.)

“Ruh-ruh,” Scott replied, shaking his head.

“Like, would you do it for a Scooby Snack?” Brian asked, holding a box of crackers.  The audience cheered at yet another silly Scooby-Doo reference.

“Mmm!” Scott said, eating a cracker.  He put on the dress, prompting another round of cheering from the audience, and walked toward Lars, batting his eyelashes.  “Roh, Rister Raxter,” Scott said, combining the usual extra Rs of the Scooby-Doo voice with an exaggerated high falsetto.  Lars turned around to look at Scott, distracted, as Todd, Liz, and Tabitha put a rope around Lars and tied him up.

“Let’s see who you really are,” Tabitha said, pulling Lars’ mask off.

“It’s, like, my history professor!” Brian gasped.

“And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddlin’ kids!” Lars said.  The audience cheered.

“That wraps up that mystery,” Todd said to Jennifer.  “Now we can go back to helping you move in.”

“Thanks, guys,” Jennifer replied.  “I just hope I don’t have any classes in haunted classrooms!”  All of the actors made fake exaggerating laughing noises, and the audience cheered.

Tabitha had told me there was no particular spiritual illustration in our skit.  Not every act of Christian service or ministry has to have a direct teachable illustration.  This silly performance brought a moment of much-needed levity into the stressful lives of a room full of university students beginning a new academic year.

Even fun moments like this meant solely to create a welcoming environment can have far-reaching spiritual consequences.  A freshman named Seth Huang sat in the audience that night.  Seth would give his testimony at JCF large group a few years later; he said that he attended a number of different Christian campus groups the first couple weeks of school, but the reason he chose to get involved with JCF was because of the Scooby-Doo skit.  The people listening to his testimony laughed at that, and I felt honored to have been part of something that made a difference to him.  Seth went on to spend about a decade after graduation in full-time ministry at two other schools in the area, leading chapters of the same campus ministry organization that ran JCF.  Hundreds of students received spiritual guidance from Seth, all because some of us decided to act silly and perform a Scooby-Doo skit.  God certainly does work in mysterious ways.

Greg (left) and Brian at Outreach Camp, September 1996

Author’s note: For my readers in other countries, six feet, four inches equals 1.93 meters.

Scooby-Doo and all associated properties are trademarks of Hanna-Barbera, who was not involved in the production of this work.

August 1-3, 1996. Another group, one that included people I did not know. (#95)

The final two weeks of my summer class, Introduction to Software, overlapped with the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.  I wrote code as I watched Muhammad Ali on the television climbing the stairs with the Olympic torch to light the flame at the opening ceremony.  While I was debugging my project, looking through hundreds of lines of code to find mistakes, gymnast Kerri Strug was landing a nearly-perfect vault despite having sprained her ankle on her previous attempt.  Her remarkable feat won the gold medal for the United States in the women’s team all-around competition.  And I was taking a break from studying, trying to meet girls on the Internet using IRC, while American runner Michael Johnson won gold in the 400 meters, but I was keeping an eye on the other American in the race, Alvin Harrison.  He and his twin brother, Calvin, had spent part of their high school years in Santa Lucia County, where I grew up; after these Olympics, my brother met both of them at an autograph-signing event.  Alvin Harrison finished fourth in this race, but would go on to win gold as part of a relay team.  Both brothers were on a winning relay team in the following Olympics, but unfortunately were later disqualified as part of an incident involving performance-enhancing drugs.

From the moment I walked out the final exam, I knew that I did well.  Everything was very straightforward, and I had been studying, so there were no surprises.  After I dropped off my backpack at home, I went for a bike ride, then I showered, took a nap, and made dinner  After that, it was time to go to Bible study.  I did not get to watch any of the Olympics that night.

Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, a chapter of the nondenominational campus ministry organization Intervarsity, did not have regular meetings during summer break, but two small group Bible studies still met, one in the Pine Grove Apartments near campus and one in south Jeromeville on the other side of Highway 100.  I drove on Maple Drive toward campus for about a mile and turned onto a cul-de-sac which dead-ends into the parking lot for Pine Grove.  I parked on the street, walked to Lillian’s apartment, and knocked on the door, and someone told me to come in.

“Greg!” Lillian said as I walked into her apartment with my Bible.  Amelia Dye, who lived in a different apartment in Pine Grove with her cat who had the birthday party, had arrived before me.  So had Ramon, Jason, and Caroline, friends from my freshman dorm who all lived near me.  “How are you?” Lillian asked.  “Have you had your final yet?”

“It was today,” I said.  “I think I did pretty well.”

“Good!  So no class tomorrow?”

“No.  I only had class this summer on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.”

“Four day weekend every week!” Amelia said.  “And now you’re done for the summer, right?  No class second session?”

“Right,” I replied.

“Any big plans for the weekend?  Are you going to Dan and Adrienne’s wedding?”

I paused as my brain tried to process what Amelia had just asked me.  Did Amelia have me confused with someone else?  Apparently some people named Dan and Adrienne were getting married this weekend, but I did not know these people.  Or did I?  If I did know these people, they never told me about their wedding.  Was I supposed to receive an invitation?  “I don’t think I know these people,” I said.

“Dan Keenan?  From 20/20?  The college pastor?”

With this additional information, my brain began making connections.  Students at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship attended a few different churches on Sundays, and I had heard some of my friends who attended Jeromeville Covenant Church use the name 20/20 to refer to the college-age Sunday school class.  “From Jeromeville Covenant?” I asked Amelia.  “I’ve never been there.”

“Oh, that’s right!” Amelia said.  “I guess you don’t know them.  I’m so excited for the wedding!”

“A lot of people will be in town for the wedding,” Ramon added.  “Liz is coming up for it, and the Morocco team gets back tonight, so they’ll be there too.  A bunch of us will be hanging out afterward.  I’m sure you’re invited, if you want to come.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “That sounds good.  Where?”  Ramon told me the address, and I wrote it down.  “What time should I get there?” I asked.

“It depends on how late the wedding reception goes.  But if you show up by eight or nine, someone will probably be there by then.”

“Sounds good.  I’ll stop by.”


Two days later, I sat in my apartment watching the beginning of the Saturday evening broadcast of the Olympics.  Ramon had said to show up by eight or nine; it was now just past eight o’clock, and I sat on the bed staring at the paper on which I had written what Ramon had told me: 1008 Walnut St.  I did not know whose house this was, and I had never been to Walnut Street, although I had easily found it on a map earlier.  I was excited to see my friends, especially the ones who had been away for the summer, but they were all coming from a wedding reception, and I did not want to be the only one there waiting for everyone else.  I played around on the computer wasting another half hour chatting on IRC before I left the house.

Walnut Street was in an older part of Jeromeville, in between my apartment and Pine Grove.  The neighborhood was all single-family homes, and it was not readily obvious at first whether they still housed families or had been converted to student rentals.  Tall, leafy oaks and sycamores provided shade.  The house at the address I wrote down had lights on in the living room, and there were so many cars in front that I had to park a few houses down the street.  My fears about being the first one to arrive at an unfamiliar place were apparently unfounded.

I walked up to the door slowly and knocked, hesitantly.  “Come in!” someone shouted from the living room.  I opened the door and walked inside, looking around.  I saw a few unfamiliar faces on the couch.  I could see into the kitchen, where Ramon and Liz and Jason were standing around talking, but they did not see me yet.

“May I help you?” the same voice who told me to come in asked.  It belonged to a girl with light brown hair.

“Some people from my Bible study told me that a bunch of people were in town for a wedding,” I explained.  “They said that they would be hanging out here afterward.”

“Yeah!  That’s us!  Were you at the wedding?”

“No,” I said.  “I don’t know the people who got married.”

“I’m Vanessa,” the girl said.

“I’m Greg,” I replied.  “Nice to meet you.”

“You too!  Who did you say you knew here?”

“Ramon and Liz and Jason,” I said, gesturing toward them.  “And Caroline Pearson, and Amelia Dye.  They all told me about this.”

“Oh, yeah.  They’re all here.”

“Greg!” I heard Ramon say from the kitchen.  I turned and waved.

“I made it,” I said.

“Cool.”

“I’m going to go say hi to them,” I told Vanessa.  “It was nice meeting you.”

“You too!  I’m sure I’ll see you around later.”  I walked to the kitchen where Ramon and Liz and Jason were standing.  Caroline was also there, seated at a small dining table, talking to Taylor Santiago, Pete Green, and Charlie Watson, who had all just returned from a month-long mission trip to Morocco.

“Greg!” Taylor said, reaching to shake my hand.

“Hey, Greg,” Pete added, as I was shaking Taylor’s hand.

“Hey, guys.  How was the trip?”

“Uhh, I’m so tired,” Taylor replied.  “I’m still adjusting to the time difference.”

“Oh, I bet,” I said.

“But, yeah, it was a good trip.  There were a bunch of people on our trip from all over the US, and the three of us got split up for a while.  We’ll be presenting more about our trip at 20/20 after school starts again.”

“You should come,” Pete told me.

“Maybe,” I said.

I got up to snack on some tortilla chips and saw Amelia, who had first mentioned this party at Bible study two days earlier.  She was with Scott Madison, her boyfriend who had gone home for the summer.  “Hey, Greg,” Amelia said.

“Good to see you,” Scott added.

“You too.”

“Having fun?”.

“Yeah.  There are a lot of people here I don’t know.  But there are people I do know here too.  Are the people who got married here?”

“No,” Amelia replied.  “They’re on their way to their honeymoon.”

“Oh, yeah.  That makes sense.”  I was relatively unfamiliar with how weddings worked, and that felt like a dumb question in hindsight.  “So the people here who I don’t know, are they from 20/20?”

“Yeah.  20/20 is the college group at J-Cov.  We have a class before big church, and we usually have a retreat sometime during the year, and fun events too.  And some people go on mission trips in the summer.”

“I see.”  I was not sure what Amelia meant by “big church,” but it sounded like she was talking about the actual church service, as opposed to Sunday school classes, so I did not ask.  But I did ask something else: “And a lot of people from 20/20 also go to JCF?”

“Yeah.  Some of us, at least.”

“Why is it called 20/20, anyway?”

“I don’t know, now that you mention it,” Amelia replied.

“I think it’s, like, 20/20 vision,” Scott explained.  “Because we want to see God clearly.”

“That makes sense,” I said.

I wandered back into the living room, where people had begun to gather around the television.  They were watching the Olympics; the gold medal game for men’s basketball between the United States and Yugoslavia was on.  A shorter-than-average skinny guy with dark hair sat on a couch next to a tall guy with wavy brown hair and an empty seat; I gestured toward the empty seat and asked, “May I sit here?”

“Sure,” the skinny guy said.  “I don’t think we’ve met.  I’m Noah.”

“I’m Greg,” I said, shaking Noah’s hand.  “Nice to meet you.”

“I’m Martin,” the tall guy with wavy hair said as he also shook my hand.  “Do you go to 20/20?  I don’t think I’ve seen you before?”

“No.  I go to JCF, and some people from my Bible study invited me to come hang out tonight.”

“Cool.”

“Have you been watching the Olympics?” Noah asked.

“Off and on,” I said.  “The women’s all-around gymnastics was pretty impressive, with Kerri Strug’s sprained ankle.”

“Yeah.  I hope she’s okay.”

The United States was heavily favored to win this game, but both teams were undefeated so far in the Olympics.  The score remained close throughout the first half.  At one point, I looked up to watch Reggie Miller shoot a 3-pointer for the USA.  Noah and Martin and a few others who were watching the game cheered.

“I hope Yugoslavia wins,” I said quietly.

“What?” Noah asked incredulously.

“You Communist,” Martin said.

“I’m a purist,” I explained.  “I don’t think NBA players belong in the Olympics.  The Olympics are for amateurs.  And their endorsement deals get in the way.  Like last time, when some players had to cover the logos on their warmup suits with flags because they had contracts with rival shoe companies.  It’s ridiculous that that has to be an issue.”

“I see your point,” Noah said.  “But, the way I see it, other countries were letting their professionals play, so it’s only fair.  And after the Dream Team in the last Olympics was so popular, they’re probably not going back at this point.”

“I guess.”

“NBA players from other countries can play for their countries too,” Martin added.  “Vlade Divac is playing for Yugoslavia.”

“That’s right,” I said.

As the game continued, I overheard parts of the others’ conversations, in which Noah talked about being something called the “junior high intern” this year.  “What’s that?” I asked.

“Last year, we both volunteered with the junior high youth group at J-Cov,” Noah explained, gesturing toward himself and Martin.  “This year, I’m an intern, so it’s going to be my part-time job to lead the junior high group.”

“That’s cool.  Is that the same youth group that Taylor Santiago works with?”

“Yeah!  I’ve known Taylor for years.  We went to high school together.  How do you know him?”

“We were in the same dorm freshman year.”

“Oh, okay.”

“We’re going to camp with the junior high kids the week after next,” Martin said.  “Taylor will be there too.”

“That sounds fun.  Where is the camp?”

“Near Mount Lorenzo.”

“Nice.  It’s pretty there.”  I looked at Martin’s shirt while he was talking to me.  It was white, with the words “VOTE BOB & LARRY IN 1996” at the top.  Below it was a strange cartoon drawing of a round, almost spherical red character and a tall green character, cylindrical with a rounded top, standing behind a podium like candidates running for President.  Both of these characters had oddly-shaped asymmetrical eyes.  Apparently their names were Bob and Larry, but whatever cartoon they were from was unknown to me.  I did not ask.

The game remained close until late in the game; neither team led by double digits until only 10 minutes remained, when the United States began to pull ahead.  Vlade Divac had fouled out by then.  When it became apparent that Yugoslavia was not going to make a miraculous comeback, I got up, used the bathroom, and wandered around what was left of the party.  It was getting late, and the crowd seemed noticeably smaller by then; the living room and kitchen were filling up with empty cups, soda cans, and paper plates.

“Are you having fun?” Vanessa, the girl who had answered the door when I arrived, asked me.

“Yeah.  I didn’t know much about this 20/20 group before tonight.”

“You should come check it out sometime.  Do you go to church?”

“Yeah.  I go to the Newman Center,” I said

I waited for Vanessa to give the predictable response that Catholics aren’t real Christians, and that the office of the Papacy is un-Biblical.  But instead, she just said, “That’s Catholic, right?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re always welcome to check out 20/20 and J-Cov if you want.  The class starts at 9:15, and the service at 10:45.”

“Thanks.  I might someday.”

By midnight, the party had quieted down even more.  Noah and Martin were still watching the Olympics; the final round of the men’s 5000-meter run was on.  “I don’t think I even realized the 5k was an Olympic event,” I said.

“They show it late at night because Americans don’t do well in it,” Martin said.

“Yeah,” Noah added.  “Usually those African long-distance runners dominate.” 

The race took fourteen minutes to finish.  The lead changed several times, and the lone American runner in the race, Bob Kennedy, remained in contention but fell to sixth place on the last lap.  Half of the contenders finished within a few seconds of each other, but a few others had fallen far behind.  The final runner, Aissa Belaout of Algeria, did not cross the finish line until 20 seconds after the next runner ahead of him, almost a full minute behind the winner.

“I always wonder with guys like that,” I said.  “You’re so far behind, there’s no way you can win.  But you just have to keep going, because making it to the final round of the Olympics is such an accomplishment.”

“Yeah,” Noah replied.  “Never give up.  Keep running.  They earned their spot in the Olympics.  As long as you’re still alive and still running, you never know what’ll happen.”


I said my goodbyes a few minutes later and drove home, going straight to bed after I arrived.  I learned a lot of new things tonight.  I knew that my friends from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship attended a number of different churches, but I always assumed that church was just something they did on Sunday.  Apparently I was wrong.  Jeromeville Covenant Church had a whole group for college students with activities and retreats, and this group included some people who did not also go to JCF.  My JCF friends who attended J-Cov had other Christian friends whom I did not know.

After the events of the last few weeks at the Newman Center, I was starting to question whether or not it was the best place for me, as a newly committed Christian, to learn about the Bible and grow closer to Jesus Christ.  Too many students at the Newman Center did not seem to take their faith very seriously, and the leadership put their agenda ahead of Scripture and the Church with their emphasis on liberal feminism.  Maybe I would try J-Cov and 20/20 sometime.  But, on the other hand, I was committed to singing at Newman, and I did not want to turn my back on the traditions of my Catholic family.  I did not have to decide right now.  Maybe, like the runners I had just watched waiting for the right time to surge ahead, I would just have to wait for the right time to try something new, and then see what happened.  Even though my life was full of unanswered questions, I was still alive and still running.

(Remember, I am almost 6’4″. I really am that much shorter than him; it’s not an awkward angle.)

Summer 1996. The friendly neighbor. (#93)

According to an old saying, people come into your life for either a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  Some of the people I met in Jeromeville only crossed my path for a reason; I only met Moises a few times, and he showed me the gross misconceptions held by other Christians about Catholicism.  For the people who came into my life for a season, the season varied dramatically in length.  Megan McCauley, my older friend who became a hopeless crush, was part of my life for a little over a year, but Sarah Winters, one of my best friends at the University of Jeromeville, we were friends for about thirteen years until life got in the way and we gradually grew apart in our early thirties.  And, of course, some of the people I met in Jeromeville, like Taylor Santiago and Eddie Baker, have become lifelong friends whom I am still close with today.

One person who came into my life for a literal season, the summer of 1996, sat in a lawn chair reading one afternoon in front of apartment 224 at Las Casas Apartments, the apartment directly above mine.  The class I was taking had just started a few days earlier.  I rode my bike home from campus, checked my mail, and rode up to my apartment.  “Hi,” I heard a voice say above me as I walked my bike up to the door.  “Do you live downstairs from me?”

I looked up at the balcony and saw a short, stocky African-American woman with short curly hair and glasses looking at me.  “Yes,” I said.  “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”  As far as I knew, the leases at Las Casas ran from September 1 to August 31, to correspond with the UJ academic year.  I was not sure how I could have a new neighbor at the end of June, but she promptly answered my question.

“I’m Marie.  I’m Dan’s friend, I’m subletting this apartment from him; he’s gone doing research for the summer.”

“Nice to meet you.  I’m Greg.  I never actually knew Dan; I kept to myself a lot all year.”

“Nice to meet you too!  So what do you do?  Are you a student?”

“Yes.  I’m a math major.”

“Undergrad?”

“Yeah.  I just finished sophomore year.  What about you?”

“I’m just working at a temp agency.  I’m kind of at a point in my life where I’m trying to figure out the next step.  I’ve been moving around a lot, working here and there until I figure things out.”

“Where were you before this?”

“Southern California.  I liked it there, but I was just ready to move on.”

“That makes sense.  Have you been to Jeromeville before?”

“No!  But Dan has told me about it, and it seemed like a nice place to check out.  So here I am!  Are you from around here originally?

Plumdale.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“Oh, okay.  I’ve been to Santa Lucia a few times.  It’s so pretty there!”

“Yeah.  What about you?”

“I’m originally from North Carolina, but like I said, I’ve lived all over the country.”

“Wow.”

“Are you taking classes this summer?  You’re wearing a backpack.”

“Yeah.  I’m taking Introduction to Software.  I don’t need it for the math major, but it’s a prerequisite for an upper-division computer science class that counts toward the math major.  And I like fiddling around with computers.”

“Wow.  I’m not a techie at all.  I’ll come to you next time my computer isn’t working.”

“I don’t know if I’m that good,” I said, chuckling.

“It was nice meeting you!  I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”

“Yes!  It was nice meeting you.”


The next time I saw Marie was about a week later.  She knocked on the door as I was typing an email to my mom, who had just recently gotten Internet access for the first time and was writing to me almost every day.  “Hi,” I said after I opened the door.

“Hi, Greg!” Marie said.  “How are you?”

“I’m doing okay.  What about you?”

“I’m good!  Have you had dinner yet?”

“No,” I said.  “Why do you ask?”

“I decided to try this new chicken and rice recipe that I got from a friend, and I made too much for just me.  Want to come upstairs and try it?”

“Sure.”

“Great!  Come on up!” she said.  I locked the door behind me and followed Marie up the outside stairs into her apartment.  The apartment above me was a studio apartment with a loft; the loft was set up like a bedroom, but open to the living area downstairs.  A small dining table was next to the entrance to the kitchen, where I had my bookshelf in my apartment.  I was not sure which of the furniture and pictures on the wall were Marie’s and which belonged to Dan, who had the apartment the rest of the year.

Marie went into the kitchen and emerged with two plates.  Each plate had a chicken breast on top of rice with vegetables mixed in, and other vegetables on the side.  “Sit down,” she said gesturing toward the table.  “I’ll get you some water.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I waited for Marie to sit back down before I started eating, and after she did, I took a bite.  “This is really good.”

“Thank you!  Would you like the recipe?  I can write it down before you leave.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Honestly, though, I’m not very good at cooking.  I don’t know if or when I’ll make it.”

“That’s no problem.  It’s there if you need it.”

“True.”

“So how is your class going?  What are you learning about?”

“The programming language C,” I explained.  “It’s set up differently from the other programming I’ve done, but it’s ultimately a lot more powerful.”

“Interesting,” Marie replied.  “I told you before, I don’t know any of that stuff.  Why didn’t you major in computer science if you’re into that?  There’s a lot of good jobs out there for computer people.”

“Because most of my computer knowledge is out of date, so most of the people in my classes would be coming in with more knowledge of the basics than I have.  Also, I didn’t want my hobby to become work.”

“That makes a lot of sense.”

“I taught myself BASIC on a Commodore 64 when I was nine,” I explained, “but that’s useless already in today’s world.  Technology moves so fast.”

“That’s true,” Marie said.  “How old did you say you were?”

“I’m 19.  I’ll be 20 in August.”

“That’s right.  You said you were a sophomore.”

“Yeah.”

Marie paused, then said, “How old do you think I am?”

Uh-oh.  I did not like being put on the spot like this.  “I’m not good at guessing people’s ages,” I said.

“I’m just wondering, because people say I look younger than I really am.”

That made it even more difficult, because she looked a little big older than me.  Was she actually a lot older than me?  “25,” I guessed hesitantly.  Marie pointed upward.  “Older than 25?” I asked.  Marie nodded, and I guessed, “27.”  She pointed upward again.  She really did not look older than 27.  “30?” I guessed, apprehensively.

“Yes.  I’m 30.”

“Whoever says you look younger, they’re right.”

“Thanks,” Marie said, smiling.  “So what are you doing this weekend?”

“Probably just studying,” I replied.

“I’m thinking I want to go see a movie this weekend.  You want to come with me?  Maybe Saturday afternoon?”

I was not expecting this; instead of Yes or No, the first thing to come out of my mouth was, “What movie?”

“Have you seen Independence Day yet?  I’m seeing ads for it everywhere.  It looks interesting, for sure.”

“I haven’t, but I want to.  That sounds good.”

“Great!”

I stayed in Marie’s apartment for about an hour and a half that night, just talking about life.  She looked up the movie times at some point, so we could make plans for Saturday.  After I left, I sat in my apartment, trying to make sense of what was going on.  Marie was kind of acting like she was interested in me.  At least this is what I assumed it was like when a girl was into me; since no girl had ever been into me as far as I knew, I was not quite sure.  But she was thirty years old.  Surely she was not interested in a young kid like me.  She was just friendly.


On Saturday afternoon, I climbed the stairs to Marie’s apartment about half an hour before the movie started and knocked on the door.  “Hey!” she said when she opened the door.  “You ready to go?”

“Sure.  Want me to drive, or are you?”

“How about you drive, and I’ll pay for the tickets.  Does that work?”

“Sure,” I said.  “That’s my car down there, the red Bronco.”

“Nice,” she said.  As we headed down Andrews Road and turned onto Coventry Boulevard, she asked, “So do you ever take this thing off road?”

“I don’t,” I said.  “Well, this was our family car for five or six years before I moved here.  We used to visit my great-grandma in Bidwell a few times a year, and she lived at the end of a dirt road about a mile long.  Sometimes we’d use the four-wheel drive on that road.  But that’s about it.”

“You should go off-roading!  It’s so much fun!”

“Maybe someday.”

I turned right on G Street, just past Community Park, and headed south toward downtown.  The movie theater in Jeromeville was on the corner of G and First Streets, six blocks from the old part of campus.  I had not seen many movies in the last couple years, at least not during their first run in theaters; I had only been to this movie theater twice before.  It was in a gray building with a two-story parking garage above it.  I maneuvered my large vehicle through the narrow ramp leading up to the parking garage, barely wide enough for a car going up to pass a car going down.

“Can you fit in here?” Marie asked.

“I’ve done it before,” I said.  “Hopefully an even bigger car doesn’t come down at the same time.”

Marie laughed.  “Then we’d be in trouble.”

The stairs leading down from the parking garage were on the outside of the building, not a typical scary parking garage stairwell.  We walked to the box office, where Marie said, “Two tickets for Independence Day, please.”

“Are you sure you want to pay for both tickets?” I asked.

“Sure!  I asked you.  And it’s afternoon matinee prices.”

“Seven dollars, please,” the cashier said.  Marie gave the cashier the money, and he gave us our tickets, which the person at the entrance promptly tore in half a minute later.  We sat near the middle of the theater; seats were already starting to fill up.

“Do you like these kinds of movies?” Marie asked.

I had to think about this.  “I guess I don’t really have one specific kind of movie that I like best,” I said.  “Some movies I just like, and some I don’t.”

After sitting through several minutes of previews, the movie began with giant alien spaceships coming to Earth early one July.  The aliens positioned themselves over major cities, destroying them all simultaneously with massive energy beams.  A Marine played by Will Smith led attacks on the alien spaceships, which failed.  Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character eventually found a way to deactivate the force fields protecting the aliens, and Bill Pullman’s President of the United States character gave a rousing speech.  He said that July 4 is Independence Day in the United States, but now it would be the day that the whole world fought back against the aliens.  People watching the movies cheered on the fighter pilots on the screen.

After the movie ended, I turned to Marie and said, “I’m excited.  That was a nice feel-good movie.”

“It was!”  She grabbed her purse, then said, “So what do you want to do now?  Want to get something to eat?  Lyon’s is right across the street.”

“That sounds good.”

As we stepped outside, I had to squint, since my eyes had become accustomed to the dark theater.  We crossed the street and walked into the restaurant.  Lyon’s was a chain of restaurants serving American diner food.  When I was very young, I remember a few times going to breakfast with my dad at Lyon’s in Gabilan.  I usually got waffles.

“What are you getting?” Marie asked as we each looked through the menus.

“Probably a cheeseburger.”

“I’m going to get this chicken salad.  It looks good.”

“Sounds good,” I said.  I did not admit that I was not a big fan of salads.

“So what did you think of the movie?”

“It was a lot of fun.  But I’m kind of suspicious that the alien spaceships would be compatible with a human computer virus.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.  You’re the computer guy.”

“A computer virus is just a program that does something destructive,” I explained.  “If the computer can’t understand the instructions, the virus can’t do anything destructive.  If you took a virus for a PC and ran it on a Mac, nothing would happen; it would just look like gibberish to the Mac operating system.  The movie writers apparently don’t know how computer viruses work.”

“That makes sense.”

The food arrived a few minutes later.  I tried to break up a lull in the conversation by asking, “So how long will you be in Jeromeville?  Are you just here until your friend gets back?”

“Yeah.  He comes back in the middle of September.”

“And he has the same apartment for next year?”

“Yeah.  Do you?”

“No.  I’m moving into a bigger apartment with roommates, at Sagebrush Apartments on Maple Drive.”

“Oh, ok.  So, around the corner from Las Casas?  Past the shopping center?”

“Right.  What about you.  Where are you going next?”

“I’m gonna take some time off for a while.  I’m going to travel, see some of the National Parks in the Southwest and the Rockies.  I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was little, and I’ve never been to Zion, so I’m definitely going to those two.  I haven’t really figured out where else.”

“That sounds fun!  I’ve never been to either of those places.  Where is Zion?”

“Utah.”

“Yeah.  We didn’t really travel much growing up.”

“Really?  You gotta get out there and see the world!”

“I will someday.”

“What’s the farthest away you’ve been?”

“Vancouver,” I said.  “My family took a long road trip to the Expo ‘86 World’s Fair when I was nine.  We went to Spokane first, to see Dad’s mother, then we all went to Vancouver in a rented RV.  That was my only time out of the country.”

“That sounds fun!”

“Oh!  And I’m going to Illinois in December.  That’ll be the farthest away I’ve ever been.  It’s for a Christian student and young adult convention, to learn about mission trips and service opportunities.”

“Are you looking to do that?  Be a missionary someday?”

“I’m not sure.  But I have friends who do things like that in the summer, and I want to learn more about what they’re doing, and stuff like that.”

Marie and I finished our meals, talking more about my faith journey and her options for life after she finished her trips to the Grand Canyon and Zion.  It must be fascinating to live that way, to wander the country working short-term jobs, never putting down roots.  I did not see that kind of lifestyle as my future.  I hoped someday I would settle down with a wife and children.  But there was nothing wrong with Marie’s way of life, if it worked for her.


My favorite part of the Jeromeville Bulletin local newspaper was the daily column written by Bill Dunnigan.  He often poked fun at the City Council and other prominent local figures.  One member of the City Council was an aging hippie named Jill Popovich, who had ideas like making long straight avenues curved so drivers would slow down.  Ms. Popovich was vocally against paving a muddy alley downtown that became a breeding ground for mosquitoes in the winter, because dirt alleys enhance the small-town character of Jeromeville, and she was a major proponent of adding a tunnel for frogs to a new overpass that opened that summer.  Bill Dunnigan often joked that she was an alien.  A few days after I saw the movie with Marie, Bill Dunnigan wrote, “If the City Council thinks that Jeromeville is so important, why didn’t the aliens in the movie Independence Day attack Jeromeville?  They probably feared the wrath of Jill.”

I ran into Marie around the apartment several more times between then and the end of August, when I moved out.  She was always friendly, and I always enjoyed talking to her.  In late September, in the new apartment, I got a postcard from Zion National Park.  It said:


Greg —

I’m enjoying my travels very much!  It is so beautiful here.  Utah looks so different from California.  So good to be out in nature again.  I’ve been on so many great hikes here!  I leave for the Grand Canyon tomorrow morning.  I hope you’re doing well, and that you like your new roommates.  Have a great school year!  –Marie


That was the last I ever heard from Marie.  To this day, I still do not know if she liked me or if she was just being friendly.  She was nice, but I just would not have felt ready to be in a relationship with someone a decade older than me.  We probably would not have worked out anyway, because of that.  Marie was part of my life for a season, but also for a reason: I got lonely sometimes that summer, and I needed a friend.  

(April 2021. Interlude, part 4, and Year 2 recap.)

If you’re new here, this is not a typical post, but this is the perfect post for you.  Don’t Let The Days Go By is an episodic continuing story about a university student figuring out life.  I am currently on hiatus after finishing writing about Year 2.  Sometime later this spring I will start writing and posting about Year 3.

This week I will be recapping and summarizing Year 2.  Last week, I did the same for Year 1.  Many of my current readers have not been with the story since the beginning, so this is an opportunity to catch up.  I will also include links to some, but not all, of the episodes, so you can read an abridged version of the story more detailed than this recap.  As always, you can start from the first episode (here) and keep clicking Next if you want to read the entire story, 88 episodes so far.  If this is your first time here, and you do not want to read all 88 episodes, you may want to read the recap of Year 1 first.


I went home to Plumdale for the summer and worked in a small bookstore.  I got the job through the connection that one of the two other employees was a family friend.  Mom volunteered me for the job without asking me, and while I hate when she does that, this time I did not mind because I needed something to do, and getting paid would be nice.  I thought at first that working in a bookstore would be fun, but the store was very slow, and not exactly my clientele.

June 22, 1995. The first day on the job.

I had lost touch with most of my high school friends, although I saw a few of them.  I watched a roller hockey game with Rachel, and I saw Catherine and Renee and some of Catherine’s friends from Austria in a choir and orchestra performance that she put together.  I kept in touch with a number of Jeromeville friends, mostly through writing letters, although a few of them had access to email during the summer.  My cousins Rick and Miranda came to visit for a week, and I went with them, my mother, and my brother Mark to Jeromeville for a day, to show everyone around.  I got to see Taylor and another guy from my freshman dorm on that day.

July 18, 1995. The day we went to Jeromeville with Rick and Miranda.

I turned 19 in August.  The lease for my apartment began September 1, and I moved back to Jeromeville the first weekend of September.  Classes did not start until the end of September, but I preferred being bored in Jeromeville to being bored in Plumdale.  I spent that September going on lots of bike rides and talking to lots of girls on Internet Relay Chat.  As the school year approached, I was encouraged as I started seeing familiar faces around campus and town.  Megan, the resident advisor from a nearby building whom I had gotten to know (and like) the previous year, was now an RA in a building in the North Area, and she invited me to have lunch with her at the dining commons.

September 26, 1995.  My lunch date with Megan.

I had plenty of new experiences that fall.  I got a job tutoring calculus for the tutoring center on campus.  Also, Danielle, my friend from last year who also went to Mass at the Newman Center, finally talked me into singing in the choir at church. Another student in the choir, Heather, lived near me, so we usually carpooled to choir practice and to Mass.

October 11, 1995. A busy day.

Liz, another friend from last year, had invited me a few times to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  I was hesitant , since I was Catholic and I knew that other Christians did things differently and sometimes looked down on Catholics.  I was not sure that JCF would be the first place for me.  But I finally decided to take her up on her invitation that fall; since I was living alone, I knew that I needed to do all I could to stay close with my friends.  I quickly decided that JCF was a wonderful place for me.  In addition to already having several friends who attended there, I started making new friends, and in addition to learning more about the Bible, I also started socializing with JCF people.

November 17, 1995. What’s a but stop?

I started a new creative project that fall: a novel, about an 18-year-old who is not ready for high school to be over.  He goes away to live with relatives and pretends to be younger so he can go through high school again and get a second chance at having a social life.  I got the idea because I felt that way sometimes.  As the winter went on, my classes continued, I worked on the novel, and the holidays came.  I spent Thanksgiving with my family visiting the relatives in Bidwell.  I spent Christmas back home in Plumdale with my family, where Mom volunteered me for something yet again without asking me.  We made a last minute trip to Disneyland for the New Year, and on that trip we decided on a whim to drive by the house of an infamous celebrity.

December 30, 1995 – January 1, 1996. A family vacation that did not involve boring relatives.

I had still never had a girlfriend, and things never seemed to work out for me.  It seemed like every girl I met always seemed to have a boyfriend.  I was disappointed when Megan, the older girl who was an RA, mentioned at one point that she was dating someone.  I found out something later that made me realize that Megan and I never would have worked out anyway.

January 19-20, 1996. A dangerous glance.

While many positive things had happened so far that year, I still got discouraged and had bad days sometimes.  One of those bad days happened on a Friday, the night that JCF met.  As everyone trickled out of the room, I sat alone by myself.  Two guys, Eddie and Xander, came over to talk to me and invited me to hang out with them afterward, along with Haley, Kristina, and Kelly, three girls who lived down the street from them. I made new friends that night, some of whom I am still friends with today.

January 26, 1996. Pieces falling into place.

The winter quarter was not easy academically.  My classes all had their midterms on the same day.  Then, a few days later, some jerk decided to steal my clothes out of the laundry.  Just when despair was starting to get to me, I saw one of the JCF staff on campus; she told me exactly what it means to follow Jesus, how he died for our sins to bring us eternal life with God. I made a decision that day to follow Jesus.

February 15-16, 1996. And hope does not disappoint us.

With this new outlook on life, I started attending Bible study.  I was learning more about my faith, really paying attention to God’s Word for the first time.  My friend Melissa from high school told me in an email that she went bowling and got a score of 178, her best ever. This was exactly the same as my best bowling score ever, from the fall when I took bowling class. Melissa and I agreed to meet over spring break to see who was truly the better bowler, and that one game was legendary.

March 28, 1996. At the bowling alley and coffee shop during spring break.

In April, the University of Jeromeville got a new ID card system.  We all had to take new pictures, and mine was the worst ID card picture I have ever taken in my life.  The following week, I got invited along on a road trip to Bay City with a mix of old friends, including Sarah and Caroline, and new friends, including Eddie, Xander, and Haley.  We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, walked uphill to an amazing view, and then drove down the coast to Moonlight Cove and slept illegally on the beach.

April 12-13, 1996. The road trip to Bay City and Moonlight Cove.

Finding a place to live in Jeromeville is a very stressful endeavor.  I heard Pete and Charlie say that they needed a third roommate for next year, but Mike Knepper came along and took that spot just as I about ready to commit.  I asked for prayer about it at Bible study a couple weeks later. Shawn, the senior who co-led the study, almost immediately mentioned that he and his current roommate Brian were staying in Jeromeville another year with no place to live yet.  God answered the first part of my prayer pretty quickly, giving me roommates for next year.  I had trouble finding a house to rent, since we waited so long, but I found a nice apartment on the northern edge of Jeromeville, about two miles from the campus core.

May 1996. Looking for a place to live.

I went to the Spring Picnic again, and I saw the band Lawsuit play.  I also worked the Math Club table for a while, which took away from my time to wander around and have fun, so I learned that day never to volunteer during the Spring Picnic.  I saw the Olympic torch pass through Jeromeville on its way to Atlanta.  I saw Sarah and a few other students from JCF get baptized.  And Haley had become my newest love interest, so of course I had plenty of awkward moments in front of her, as well as in front of other girls.

May 11-16, 1996. A montage of awkward moments.

I was still doing very well in classes.  Being a math major, I was now taking two math classes every quarter, and  started taking upper division math classes in the middle of that year.  Dr. Gabby Thomas was my favorite math professor so far; she spoke clear English and felt like a normal human being more than many of my other professors.  As the year ended, I participated in the Man of Steel competition, a decade-old tradition among the men of JCF involving disc golf, a hamburger eating contest, and a game of poker.  I did not do too well.  Fortunately, my finals went better than the Man of Steel competition, and I ended the year on a positive note, at a huge graduation party hosted by my new friends who were graduating, Brian and Shawn.

June 15, 1996. The graduation party at the Valdez Street house.

Here is the playlist of songs I used in year 2. As always, please leave comments or suggestions or questions for me. I love hearing from all of you. I’m not sure what, if anything, I’ll be doing next week; I will continue the story into Year 3 soon, but in real life, things are going to be a little crazy over the next month or two, so I might need some more time off.