Natasha and Chlonelle (Clo-NELL) are setting up the stage, making sure the sound levels are right for worship, and that the lights are ready for their cues. Melody’s grip of my hand is firmer than her father’s handshake. I didn’t realize someone could be so nervous over going to church, but I remember walking in here is more a spiritual battle than a mental one for her. Nicolette, Aden, and Wilma enter the youth room from outdoors laughing together. When they see us, standing by the door to the hallway, they come over to greet Melody.
Nicolette’s style complements Melody’s. Today they’re both wearing black flats with ribbon bowties, skinny jeans (Nic’s are faded while Mel’s are midnight blue), Nicolette wears a white blouse with a ruffled collar and a knitted light gray, long sleeve cardigan sweater while Melody wears a yellow blouse with a cow bell neck line and a long, baggy black cardigan. Stubbornly, keeping my hand in her clutch, Melody uses her right hand to shake. I introduce her to Nicolette first, and Nicolette winks saying, “Nice shoes!”
As Aden, Wilma, and I join Nicolette in a quick giggle, Melody only smiles uncomfortably. Fixing her sandy blonde, wavy ponytail Nicolette complements Melody’s hair too. This time we spare the giggles to alleviate the awkwardness of this first encounter.
Aden opts to wave instead of shake hands. He’s a borderline germaphobe. Hopefully, Melody isn’t offended by it.
Lastly, Wilma and Melody shake as I inform them of one another’s name. Melody’s grip has loosened now that she sees these guys are cool.
But she tenses right back up when Nicolette asks if she’s ever been to church before. Grinning out of angst, she huffs lightly, “Not one like this…” I expected her to follow up by professing she’s a Mormon, but she just lets her sentence drop and die out. Averting her eyes, she looks around the Youth Sanctuary… it’s really just a humungous room with a two foot high stage in the corner.
Wilma says, “We’re glad you’re here.”
“How do you know Asher?” Aden asks.
“We go-,” Mel and I both start to say, a titter escapes through our breath from our lips in unison too. She lets me finish the sentence. “We go to school together.”
Nicolette nods her head pursing her lips, her lame attempt at trying to be cool, as she says, “Right on.”
Until I’m required to report to my Youth Worship Team post as an ensemble singer (as Natasha calls us) Melody and I hang out in the Book Nook Corner. It’s a corner in the back, filled with Christian literature for youth and young adults. Bean bags surround the outer edge of the area, turning the corner into a square. Melody still holds my hand hostage while exploring the book selection. When I tell her she can borrow anything for free, she just has to sign it out on the clip board, she appears eager to take something home. By the look in her eyes, it’s obvious she doesn’t have a clue where to start. I would make a few suggestions, but I don’t want her to feel like I’m pushing her. Only if she asks… I’ll point a few books out.
“There’s so much here…”
“Have you ever checked anything out?”
I think she’s fishing for me to tell what’s good to read, but I shouldn’t just assume. I answer honestly, “No, but-,” I point to a book I own and have read several times, “I have this one at home.”
Without hesitating, she pulls the red softcover book titled: not a fan. The book divulges what it really means to follow Christ and answer His radical call. After reading the summary on the back, she puts it back.
“Could I barrow it from you? It may take me a while to read it.”
She continues to look on, dragging me with her. I try not to look as surprised as I feel when she pulls The Case for Christ off the shelf. Holding it up, she inquires, “Is this a good one?”
“I heard its good, but I’ve only read More Than a Carpenter… they’re similar, since both authors were former atheists.” I say.
Handing it to me, she says, “You should check it out and then after you read it, tell me which one I should read.”
I hand the book back to her, “Or you could check it out, and tell me what you think. Then maybe I’ll want to read it.”
“Asher man, let’s warm up.” Natasha calls out to me.
I manage to break my hand free. Once I think I’m scot-free to walk on, I’m held in place by a nervous-someone tugging at my shirt.
“Don’t leave me,” she yelps in a frantic whisper.
I pry her fingers off my shirt, and I join her hands together to the clutch the book in her grasp instead of me. Locking eye contact with her, I say to her, “You’ll be fine. Hang back here and skim the pages. See if it’s worth checking out.” Gently, I guide her to my favorite bean bag to sit in. It’s filled just right, not too full, and not too flat. Tenderly pressing down on her shoulders, I guide her to sit down in the royal blue, cloth bean bag. As she sits in it, her posture stiffens like a tall board, and her knees hug up against each other as they point to the side. Apparently, she is a princess now, sitting as royalty should.
Zeven happens to make his way to the stage as I’m heading there. He looks over his shoulder at Melody and asks, “She with you?”
I just nod, not feeling in a very talkative mood toward him.
Patting me in the back, “It’s about time you got a girl man. Congrats dude.”
I open my mouth to correct him, but a part of me wonders if Natasha would be jealous if she thought I had a girlfriend. I just pretend like I didn’t hear him.
We do a quick run through of our set. Natasha just makes sure we understood her notes on our sheet music about her arrangement, and she makes sure our sound level is perfect for worship. While we’re singing How Great is Our God, Chastity, who’s been standing in the sound booth all this time, steps out and goes over to Melody and interrupts her reading.
I’m fortunate this song is programed in my brain, because I can’t seem to concentrate as I observe my Youth Pastor talk to my Mormon friend. Considering my past experiences with Mormons and misguided Youth Pastors, I’m totally panicked that Chastity’s going to kick her out. But everything seems to be okay. Chastity gets Melody to genuinely laugh, which should help me relax, but now I wonder how close Melody is to accepting Christ… the real one…
The strangest thought crosses my mind once she’s saved, maybe we could date… My heart literally skips a beat, which is the first time I’ve ever experienced such a phenomenon. Clearly, my heart is aching over my missed chance with Natasha and Melody is the close proximity rebound.
The music dies instantly and Natasha hounds at me, “We’re repeating the chorus twice in the end Asher.”
Autopilot doesn’t always work out best. I apologize.
“Let’s take it from the bridge.” Natasha orders.
Melody tries not to laugh at me, by burying her face in the book. Once the music plays, Melody gives me two thumbs up trying to be encouraging. Chastity looks at me and in her expression she tells me to get focused without words. A peace sweeps through me as I trust Chastity to look out for Melody while I practice singing praises onto the Lord.
We get started right away tonight because everyone managed to show up five minutes after we finished rehearsal. Melody makes sure she’s front and center during worship. She doesn’t sing along much, but she reads the words on the projection screen, and sways to the beat of the music as she keeps the Case for Christ clinched in her hands.
The worship team joins the rest of the youth group on the ground as Chastity takes the stage with a bible in hand and a head mike attached to her face. As usual she makes announcements. On Sunday, we’ll begin the sermon series on Sexuality: Knowing Him and Her. The first Saturday of September, we’ll be having game night here in the youth room. There will be food and drinks and games provided. All we need to do is bring ourselves and some friends. Melody whispers in my ear that she wants to go. I nod my head, promising her we’ll go. Zeven and Aden walk around with baskets to collect tithes and offerings, then after everyone has given to God what belongs to God, Chastity begins her sermon.
“Tonight, we’re going to start a new series… Does God Know You?”
Zeven’s hand pokes in between my head and Melody’s with two slips of paper. Aden comes beside me and hands us a bible to share. Melody and I went out to eat at Lucano’s, which gave me no time to run home to get my Bible. Usually, I bring it with me Wednesdays to school in case I run behind, but today I forgot. Breakfast time was quite the showdown as Abbey picked a fight with my mother over cereal. The cereal was a cheap knock off brand and Abbey put her two cents in about it. She’s lashing out because she doesn’t get to attend homecoming, instead, she has to stay home and babysit her little sister. Dad told me to go to school alone, he had to have a talk with Abbey and he said he would drive her up the hill to school. Dad text me at lunch that he would pick Abbey up from school too, and by the looks of her not being here, I think she’s in big trouble.
I look at the half sheet of paper.
Does God Know You? Part I
1) God knew you in the womb. Ps. 139:13-16; see all Ps. 139
2) God has a plan for you. Jer. 2:5; Jer. 29:11; Ps. 16:11; Ps. 119:105, Pr. 3:5-6
If God had a plan for Jeremiah, certainly He has a plan for you.
Trust God and see His plan unfold. (Pr. 16:4)
3) You were born with the knowledge of God. Rom. 1:18-25
4) Seek God (knock) and you will find God. Mat. 7:7-10
Have you sought God with all your heart?
Have you asked to get closer to Him?
Melody pokes me to get my attention. She mouths: Do you have a pencil or a pen? I scout my pockets and find my favorite sketch pencil, but I trust Melody with it. Taking it, she notices what pencil it is, and she mouths: Are you sure? Casually I nod yes.
The sermon wasn’t questioning whether or not we legitimately know God, it was encouragement to seek God’s face and know him personally. Over the next four weeks, on Wednesday, we’ll be learning how to deepen our relationship with Christ, so we can have that deep, intimate relationship with God. I was wrong about Abbey being a no show, she showed up ten minutes into the sermon and she looked pissed. I try to find out why she was upset after our closing worship song, but Dad showed up to collect her. I know I’ll find out later.
On the car ride up the hill, into town, Melody won’t quit with the questions. Why were a lot of our worship songs about Christ and not God; aren’t we putting Christ above God doing that? I explain that Christ was fully man and fully divine, which she agreed with, but I lose her when I tell her God gave authority to Christ. I admit that I totally don’t understand it, but Christ is one with the Father, because that’s exactly what the Word says.
Next she asks, if we were born with the knowledge of God, wouldn’t that mean we were spirits with Him, before we passed through the veil and were born into fleshly bodies and forgot about Him? She almost lost me with that question, but I ask her, “If we forget about God once we pass through the veil, how could we be born with the knowledge of God?”
She argues the fact God knew us before the foundations of the Earth were laid, so we had to be spirits living with Him before entering earth. God knew us, because he foresaw us, but he knits us together in the womb (says so in Psalms), and directs our paths to fulfill the plans He has for us (mentions something like that in Proverbs). Taking a moment of silence, she mentally chews on my response.
“So if God, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit are three persons in one… what does that mean? Like how are Elohim and Jehovah not actually father and son, because the whole three persons in one concept seems like the father and son relationship is a figure of speech or symbolism for something, right? Like why would God talk and pray to Himself?”
For fun I question, “Do you not talk to yourself?”
“Well yeah, but…” her words cease as she looks out the window up at the stars.
“I don’t really know… and I think if I did it would boggle my mind. In my short 17 years on this planet, I’ve learned that God doesn’t think like us… If He did, why would we need Him, so that means some things about Him are incomprehensible; and when we try to understand Him in light of our knowledge, we misconstrue the message.”
Sighing, Melody wonders, “How do you reconcile your faith?”
What does she mean? “What do you mean?” I ask for clarification.
“In the beginning, the law was mandatory wasn’t it, then all of a sudden it isn’t, how do you progress in God’s grace?”
Lord, what is she asking and how do I answer it? Take over Lord. Holy Spirit give me the words.
“Why don’t you ask God and find out for yourself?” I ask her.
Really God? What about explaining that Jesus set us free from the law through His death and resurrection and that God’s grace is a completely free gift impossible to gain or keep by what we do. The only way to receive grace is choosing Christ and building a relationship with God, and through the Holy Spirit we’re empowered from within to imitate our Savior and live in God’s will.
“I did that about six years ago and I thought I got my answer…”
“How did you do so?”
“Well, I had all these types of questions before when I was 12. I had a friend at school, Melanie, and I spent the weekend at her house. I didn’t know she was a Baptist. When she talked about church, I thought she went to one like mine, I just figured she attended the church in Show Low or something. After Sunday school I started thinking that maybe I’ve been lied to about God all my life. I was scared of going to hell because I didn’t know the true Jesus the Baptist preacher talked about. I went to my dad and he told me to read the entire of the Book of Mormon. Just like it says at the end, you’ll pray seeking God’s Wisdom and know by the burning in your chest. And it happened, I felt just that and I knew I grew up with truth… or so I thought.” She sighs heavier, keeping her gaze out the window.
“Why are so unsure again?” I question.
“I don’t know…” She sniffles.
Is she crying Lord?
“Do you believe in devils?” I ask curiously.
“The Devil exists. He was upset he didn’t get to be our Redeemer so he fell and God chose Jehovah, who was an angel before He was born to Mary.”
“Of course you believe in Satan, but do you believe in devils and demons?”
Melody makes a gentle “ah” noise about to speak, but she falls silent after a short, low grunt. “I’m just confused!” She blurts out.
“God is the God of peace, confusion comes from the Enemy.” I say calmly.
Melody doesn’t say anything; she just grunts again sounding annoyed. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice her elbow resting on the window seal and her hand shoveled in her wavelets of hair.
Adam comes out to the car as I pulled up by the porch. He opens the door for Melody. Ducking low, and poking his head inside the car, he probes for details about our night by simply asking where we were. I open my talk piece to confess we went to my church, but she says we went to a movie: The Nephilim Class: Nexus the First
“How was it?” Adam asks.
I try to say, ‘Good’ but I just shrug my shoulders.
Melody covers for me. Resting a hand on my shoulder, she lies, “He fell asleep. His baby sister kept him up all night. I liked it though.”
Adam steps back so Melody can get out. Melody forgets her backpack, but Adam notices it on the passenger floor and picks it up for her. Slowly, closing the door, he tells me, “Have a good night Asher, and tomorrow after school, could you just drop her off right away. It’s family game night. You’re more than welcome to join.”
The chance to say yay or nay passes for he closes the door without waiting for a response, which I think he’s trying to encourage me to say nay.
On the drive down the hill, I pray nonstop for Melody, and ask the Holy Spirit to take care of the seeds planted within her tonight. In the parking lot, I take a moment in the car. Tears swell in my eyes as Colton comes to mind… I beg God to bring him back home before it’s too late, and I plea for Melody to see the truth. I confess that I don’t care if she stays my friend… I just ask for her salvation. If I could, I’d take her place, but You Lord already did that… You paid the price for her… Help her see that… When she asks… and I think she will… reveal Yourself to her so she knows without a shadow of doubt that You Lord are God the great I AM. The burden that built a home in my heart during our conversation in the car has lifted and peace once again resides in my heart the moment I say, “In Jesus’ name… Amen.”
It’s twenty after nine when I get inside and for some reason as of late I tend to get home when Abbey’s throwing a tantrum toward my parents. Rising from her place at the dining table, nearly across the front door where I stand, Abbey yells at mom and dad, “This is ridiculous! You don’t trust me, but you trust a 17-year-old boy to have the whole place to himself for the entire weekend? I swear I’m your least favorite child and you just love to see me suffer. I hate you!
Both of you!” She follows up with a loud, angered shriek as she stomps up the stairs to her room. For sure we presume she’s going to slam the door, but Annika must be in bed already, because she closes it as softly as possible.
“What is she talking about?” I wonder.
Dad stands up and grips me by the shoulder carefully, “Abbey’s coming with us to babysit Annika while we attend the wedding festivities. It’s her punishment for her disrespect lately.”
Mom comes to the other side of me, crossing behind me, and kisses me on the cheek.
“Have I ever told you how grateful I am you’re not a troublemaker?”
A little prideful that mom sees me as her angel child, I huff a tender a smile.
Giving me a quick pat on the back, dad says, “Don’t be too wild while we’re away.”
We all chuckle in a unified matter as we go our separate ways. Mom goes to the kitchen, dad plops down on the couch for his nightly devotions, I go upstairs to my room.
Tossing my backpack in the closet, I realize I don’t ever have to tell mom and dad I’m taking Melody to homecoming, but I should ask encase they’re not okay with it. Too lazy to put PJs on, I strip down to my briefs and the Sanctus Real band shirt I’ve worn all day. For the fun of it, I rush and leap into bed, landing face first into my pillow. The impact wasn’t as cushiony as I imagined it would be, but it was a small thrill… I’m too easily amused.
Lying on my back, wide awake in the dark I think of all the things I could have said to Melody in the car, but didn’t. It must have been the Holy Spirit because I wouldn’t operate a conversation that way… Restlessness rises up in me again… and I’m not sure why. Like an alarm clock blaring, very alertly the Lord says to me, “Melody, pray for her.”
But I did Lord?
What do I pray for? I prayed for everything I could think of in the car. Well, when you don’t know what to pray for, you let the Holy Spirit pray for you. After I say aloud, “Dear God,” strange ramblings of gibberish I don’t understand, yet it sounds like a combination of Spanish, French, Hebrew, and complete nonsense spews from my mouth. I pray in tongues until the ick feeling in my spirit dissolves. I look at my alarm clock on the nightstand and the red, block numbers illuminate the time: 10:45 pm. I prayed for one person for over an hour… I’ve never done that before… at least I don’t think so.
As I close my eyes to go to sleep, the Lord leaves this final word with me, “Will you listen to me Asher?”
Of course, Lord. I respond.
Storyteller via writer, actor, filmmaker, and artist.