A month ago, Mindless Peace published the first in a series of book blogs to build up to the release of my second novel, a true story about faith, friendship, and fractures. Volume I talked about the end. This is volume II, the preview to how everything began.
I love the beginning of things, the excitement of the newness, the fresh intrigue, it evokes a sense of hope. The best part about beginnings is the rarity of knowing how great it will be. Even as it happens. One moment we’re walking along, minding our own. We’re saying our prayers, doing our work, hearing our music, loving our family and then the plot shifts. A change occurs. Good things take time but I believe greatness happens in an instant. That’s what she was to me in the beginning, instantaneous greatness. She was both everything I wanted to be and everything I consciously avoided. She was dark and endearing. Hopeful and hopeless. Reckless and timid. She was different, different than my different and she approached my difference differently, which is what held my interest. Her alternative image and dramatic makeup mixed with anxiety lit my intrigue. I liked that she looked similar to no one else around. Her appearance caught my curiosity but when she greeted me and not my canine companion, she grabbed my attention.
The first page
I had been minding my own. I was saying my prayers at eighteen with the newness that was the gift of salvation in my heart, pleased to have survived high school. I was working as a freelance writer for random publications, living at home in the suburbs, listening to whatever was in the top on the radio, I had yet to find my own music. I met her at church of all places, it was comfortable for me and strange territory for her. It was a Christian church, contemporary, and nondenominational meaning, they taught out of the Bible. Their music was honestly, more rock show than worship in style. Not quite a megachurch but heading there. I felt at home there. I’d been baptized there a few years ago before I even wanted to get re-baptized, and I had been involved in their high school ministries for a year. Now having graduated, I wanted to lead my own group of high schoolers. Jesus was my closest friend and I wish we’d hung out more when I was in high school because I know things would not have gotten so bad for me if we had. Fortunately, my friend Jesus showed up for me. Now I wanted to introduce Him to someone else who could use a friend like that. I was hoping as a leader that I could give students the chance I didn’t have.
What I like about God is that He’s real, if that’s a point of argument for whoever is reading this preview to my book, I suggest the reading comes to an end here because Jesus is the centerpiece for the first half and without belief in the main character’s existence, what’s the point in reading the whole story? Maybe reading will cause a change in mind, maybe not. Nevertheless, I believe God is real in that He exists but also, in the relational sense. God is the Creator of course but He is also human. He knows pain. He understands the struggle. He also happens to be an expert in love. Those are qualities I look for in a friend. If it helps those shifty in their faith, nothing is religious in these book blogs or the book itself and if religion is mentioned, it’ll be about how much I despise the system. Sorry, grandma, the pope is no king. Jesus is King. The pope actually started with the disciple Peter, he’s the original pope, the OP. Peter was rad, he flew off the handle a lot but he meant well. An accurate description of myself at eighteen. I could be as loving as I could be destructive, it depended on my mood.
I wanted to be a small group leader so I could give younger girls the hope for a life that I didn’t have but the church wasn’t crazy about an older teen leading younger ones. Understandable now but at the time I was shocked that they couldn’t see what I had to offer. I thought my skills should trump my age but they were hesitant. My mom and I were at an info meeting before the student season began in August of 2011. “I’ll be her co-leader,” my mother interjected, seeing the zeal in my face start to fade. The man in charge seemed okay now that there was an official adult involved. I wanted to be captain but if I had to have a co-lead I would pick the woman who is a better version of myself.
The night of the first group meeting was hectic. Us leaders had been at the church before the students in an attempt to achieve some organization before being put in charge of random kids for an hour. Swarms of teenagers filled the basement. Crowds by the café. Crowds in the outer seating area. Crowds by the games along the wall. My hands started to sweat. I don’t like crowds. It looked as if cliques were already forming. Hopefully, we can break that up. Cliques contributed to my high school misery. Worship music began, signaling everyone to find a seat inside. Lots of swiveling lights and blaring sound, not nearly as good as what we heard at adult church but it’ll do. Most of these kids were on their phones anyway. I stood and watched the stage, nervous with a hand on my dog. Who were the girls that would be in my group? I scanned the room as if the few that made eye contact with me were a confirmation. After the music was a prayer followed by a short, biblical lesson with a life application point attached. I had studied my binder of bible lessons compulsively for opening night. I didn’t want to be anything less than locked and loaded. The room was dismissed and as the herd slowly filed out, being told in sections what room to go to, I realized we should have left earlier to set up. We did make it up there but not as soon as I would’ve liked, taking the elevator and not the stairs. My mother hurriedly set up a seating arrangement of small chairs, small because we were using what looked to be a preschool classroom during the day, given the bright colors and shapes decorating the large rug. I pushed toys aside. Breathing rapidly because I wanted to be seated and ready with my dog at my feet before anyone walked through the door. Voices echoed in the halls. Voices of those who could be my students. That first night we had nearly twenty students and the one who sat directly across from me in the circle is the one I remember most. After the girls had gone around and awkwardly stated their names and what school they attended, I threw out some questions. I didn’t blame them for their hesitance, I hated stuff like that too. What I hated more though, at that moment when I was in charge, was silence. I asked them, “what do you want to get out of this? What do you want from God?”
“I don’t know, my friends need something,” Jane said. Her leg bounced a mile a minute. Her long black hair had streaks of vibrant pinks and purple. Arms crossed, eyes on the floor. I liked her because I knew she was trouble when she walked in and I loved trouble. I smiled slightly at her response and shifted in my black leather jacket.
“Interesting,” I said. She was wearing a black jacket too. “Maybe you can help them then.” This girl who looks nothing like the rest of the group, myself included, tan like cinnamon, dressed in full black from her band t-shirt to her Tripp pants, who didn’t go to the same school as anyone else and didn’t need God but her friends might; showed up at this church and landed in my group of the all places in the world that she could be. I can roll with that I thought, glancing down at the binder in my lap. This might be fun. Had I known what would become of us years down the road, I may have left our interactions in that children’s classroom. Even today I think I should’ve kept that relationship within the church walls but I didn’t. I didn’t because she was the match flame in my otherwise bleak life and yes, I know what they say about those who play with fire. They’re right. Leave it to a writer to fall for a character. Jane came up to me after the first session and I held out a hand and introduced myself personally. “I’m Laura. It’s nice to meet you.”