The squeaks of shoe soles and pounding thuds of bouncing basketballs echoed off the gymnasium walls. The sound reverberated to every corner, including the high northwest corner. This time of day there weren’t large crowds cheering the many players. In fact, none of those in my midst were even taking notice of those dribbling their morning away. The air was humid. Later in the day the saturated heat would take its toll, but for now there was a gentle breeze coming in through the tilted open loft windows above us.
In September, 1979, the school system would not endorse public gatherings of students for prayer or bible study. Instead, the Principal ignored our small group. The players seemed to take little notice and it did not interfere with classes, still a half hour from their start. I was invited by a friend to join these daily pre-class gatherings. Our leader was a Senior, sturdy of build as well as mind and heart. He taught us bits of biblical wisdom, drew us into deep discourse, and led us in prayer for one another and those around us.
Popularity was never an option for me, so being associated with this group wasn’t likely to do me harm. To my amazement, in fact, it had a very positive impact on me socially. There were little more than a half dozen of us. I knew a couple of them, including the friend who invited me to participate. The others would come to know. It seemed so odd to be mingling with upper classmen. Our co-ed group included a couple of girls, too. Those first few meetings, the girls sat nearby – we were all sitting closely together – and would often whisper to one another and giggle as girls tend to do. They were both cute, but both out of my league. One of them was dating one of the boys in our group. The other one, though, seemed to like to talk to me. I remember answering her shyly, not sure how the things she said had to do with our group discussion, but thinking how pretty her long hair was and how infectious her smile.
One morning, as the group broke up and we started getting ready for class, one of those moments happened that change your life. There are only a few such moments in all of a person’s life. This pretty blonde girl asked me to stay behind and talk to her. When we were alone, she confided in me something which to this day makes me light headed. At that moment you could have knocked me over with a feather. She told me she liked me and she wanted to be my girlfriend.
I was in shock. She simply blurted it out. I wasn’t sure for a second if perhaps she was putting me on. Maybe it was a gag. But her eyes didn’t betray mischief. The awe, displaced by a moment of distrust, was even more quickly replaced with terror. A girl, moreover a Senior girl, was telling me to my face she liked me. Barely old enough to comprehend what was happening, in my awestruck terror I suddenly felt the only safe haven was anywhere but those bleachers. I told her I had a girlfriend already, then ran quickly away.
That warm September day drew more sweat than normal from my flesh as I carried its weight around my neck. I don’t really remember now how long it actually took before I came to my senses, but it wasn’t long before I realized I’d never get another girl this pretty to approach me and tell me she liked me. If I didn’t act quickly I would loose any hope of fixing my colossal mistake.
So the very next morning I asked her to stay behind and talk. I confided the error of my way and asked if she still liked me. This beautiful girl made my Freshman year the best of my scholastic life. What we had was intense, yet innocent. The year was filled with too many happy memories to try and record here.
Then came Spring. With the budding of trees and life and love throughout the rest of the world, my own world came to a grinding halt. I put her on a pedestal, but she jumped off and ran away. Suffice it to say our love was shattered.
Summer came and went, along with other changes of the seasons. There were many new years. That school year of love seemed lost if not forgotten. In my search for love and the white picket fence life Jimmy Stewart portrayed I married elsewhere, sired children, went into debt. I was over my head, and when I was pushed under it didn’t take long for me to sink. When I came to the surface all I had was gone. Alone and adrift I did my best to start over. It was then when another miracle moment happened.
July 4th, 1994, sitting in a booth at the Hardee’s in my old home town with my brother, he points to a woman at the table across from us and asks if that’s my old girlfriend. From that angle I couldn’t tell, but a little while later she got up and I got a look at her face. It was her, my beautiful blonde love. She had a toddler in tow, complete with chocolate ice cream stains and a diaper bag. Those were in my peripheral vision. My eye was on her. Without thinking I got up and ran after her, catching her in the foyer of the restaurant. I stopped her, touching her shoulder. I asked, “do you remember me?” She tilted her head and I thought for sure she would say no. I thought I would have to introduce myself and go through one of those awkward moments where she would tell me how great life was with a husband and baby and I was just a fool visiting town who chanced upon her.
“Of course I remember you. How are you, Lance?” I can only imagine the look of relief on my face. I have no idea what I said after that. I do remember exchanging contact information and learning she was also divorced. I also remember the look in her eyes. There was contact on a level I couldn’t have hoped for had I even been able to imagine this moment would ever come to pass.
Living five hours away meant long distance courting with letters and phone calls and occasional weekend visits. The match was struck. Soon the kindling grew to flame. Almost too fast, like dry weeds it exploded and stole the oxygen from the air. So intense it nearly burned out. But God had a different plan. What should have been was being set right.
December 22nd I proposed and on January 1st, 1995, I married my high school sweetheart. We eloped and were wed at noon that sunny day at the Little Log Cabin Chapel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
To my beloved wife, Happy Anniversary!