I’m genuinely worried about Melody. She hasn’t been in school for 3 days, and she hasn’t called or texted me since last Saturday. I’ve called her every chance I’ve gotten, but she didn’t pick up. Today, her phone has been disconnected. Every time I see Tenor and try to ask what is going on, he glares at me as if I’m possessed with the devil and barks that she doesn’t want to see me so leave her alone.

Rumors like wildfire spread throughout Redridge High that Melody tried to kill herself, others report she got in a bad car accident, and some say she’s bulimic getting sent to the Valley for treatment. No one knows what to believe. It’s a different story every time someone opens up their mouth to speak.

At lunch, Pernel plops in front of me, and spills the rumor from the football locker room. Apparently, Melody had to go to the hospital last Saturday night. Many reports claim she was there until Tuesday. She’s leaving for the Valley tomorrow to go stay with her aunt and finish the school year because she is having a baby out of wedlock.

Panic takes control of my heartbeat, making that muscle beat out of tune to an irregular fast pace. I can’t be caught up in this lie, if I am, my reputation will be destroyed.

“Who… who’s the father?” I gently plea to know what others are talking about.

“No one knows. Jon Hurst tried to blame you but Tenor stuck up for you. He said you were as virgin as the Savior Mother. Meaning you’d only have sex with God.”

We both wince at such horrific thought. The idea of God ever having sex with his creation is pedophile-level perverse or worse. Of course, not every Mormon believes Adam-god came down, had sex with Mary, which led to Jesus—Jehovah’s existence. Some believe very similarly to sound Christianity. Only Brigham Young followers, high up in leadership believe that about Jesus. I’m not truly certain of the consensus of Mormon Theology on Jesus Christ’s Birth.

I do know according to their website, ‘Jesus and God the Father are one in purpose but two separate beings’. Jesus the Son and God the Father are the same essence and two persons that belong to the same Godhead, which includes the Holy Spirit as the third person. By saying God and Jesus are two separate beings, there are diluting God’s identity and admitting to worshiping more than one god. Though the two concepts sound like they belong to the same school of thought they don’t.

“The ‘Eagans are talking though. Jon and Meaghan just broke up because Reagan and Teagan say that Jon is the father of Melody’s baby!” Pernel leans back laughing, covering his mouth with his hands. Then leaning back in, he pounds the wood picnic table like the tom of a drum set with a drumroll and states the obvious, “The Bishop of Pinetop is gonna be a grandpa out of wedlock!” If our peers weren’t busy gossiping too, many in the cafeteria would have heard Pernel. Clutching the edges of his tray, Pernel leans over his food, and asks me, “You’re friends with Melody. What’s the scoop?”

Realizing that Pernel isn’t a real friend, and no longer having an appetite for this mystery food, I drop my fork and make it very clear, “It’s none of our business Pernel.” Resisting the urge to throw my food on him, I pick up my tray, climb out of the picnic table, and I walk away.

After I toss my food, Tenor grabs me tightly by the shoulder, and escorts me down the hallway behind the trashcans. The nearest exit leads to the dumpster behind school.

Pointing his index finger in my face like an ice pick about to spear my eyes, he holds me by my tee at the collar, “My sister is getting treated like crap because of you!” He indirectly spits in face due to his hush-holler at me.

Pushing him away, I snap, “I didn’t do anything!”

Using his forearm, he pins me back up against the cold, tile wall. “Bullshit! She doesn’t believe like us anymore. She says the Book of Mormon is false. That everything Joseph Smith said and wrote are all lies. That the LDS President is no more a modern prophet than a pickle is… whatever that means.”

Putting my hands up in surrender, I hope he takes it as a sign that I’m no threat. I use all the self-control I must to keep my smile of joy concealed.

He lets go of me and straightens out my tee trying to smooth the wrinkles out that he made. As he brushes off my shoulders he explains, “My family is a mess.” He steps back from me and digs his hands in his pockets, staring at the scuffed tile floor. “Saturday night, after she tells us at dinner, she believes in the real Jesus Christ, we had to rush her to the ER. She had a miscarriage. A vanishing twin, or I guess triplet. I don’t know. She claims your God saved her baby and gave it back to her. We won’t know if the doctors are right or if she’s right until the baby is born and they can examine the placenta.” Gazing back up at me, he tells me, “Mom won’t be at the house at 4. Dad can’t make it home until 4:20. I’m going to the movies with my friends after school. You have 20 minutes to fix my family. To get my dad to stop being a jerk, making my mom miserable because she has to listen to him, and prevent my sister from ending up in the ER again.”

Shaking my head no, I admit, “I’m only going to support her new faith, not discourage it.”

 “I don’t care what you do, but just fix it. Abbey said you could, so just reason with my sister.” Tenor orders like he’s my boss or commanding officer.

I don’t want to go. I don’t know what I could possibly do to help. Yet, my conscience compels me to check on her. That is what a real friend would do.

To an extent, Melody’s my precious little secret. No one knows we’re an item, but I imagine people suspect we are. We agreed not to partake in public displays of affection; in fact we don’t kiss much. Occasionally, she’ll bid me farewell with a peck on the cheek, or to thank me for her weekiversary gift, she’ll lightly lay a tender a kiss on my lips, but for the most part the only level of physical intimacy we practice as of late is hand holding. How I love to walk with her and just hold her hand, a warm blanket of security snuggles my heart in a bundle of joy.

The dawn of our couple-hood opens windows into each other’s soul every day. As friends we enjoyed the company of one another, but we didn’t exchange details about ourselves to grow and truly learn who we are. Who is Melody Gartner?

A girl without a middle name because her parents want her to keep Gartner as a part of her name once she’s married. Despising her flat, dull, nearly black hair she dyes it to look like a sandy blonde and by five in the morning she’s up styling her hair to make it wavy or curly with a special hot iron… I forgot what she calls it. All the creepy crawlies yet to be discovered, known, and classified terrify her to her innermost core and for that reason, she’s not a camper. The common white daisy holds the title of Mel G’s favorite flower, I of course, already knew that, but as of late, the wild, yellow daisy grows on her and her favoritism ventures toward a crossroads. I don’t see why she can’t like both? She tries, and tries, and tries, and tries, and tries but she’s a C+ student and she’s completely envious of my perfect 4.0 GPA. Jessie J stands alone as the pop, borderline hip-hop, diva when it comes to the Queen of Music in Mel’s opinion. If she were to meet Niall Horan of One Direction, she’d drop me in a second to be his lawfully wedded wife, if he’d have her. Unable to describe what attracts her to him, it could be his voice or his charm, but whatever it is makes her head spin daydreaming about him in math class… maybe that’s the problem with her grades? Mel harbors a well-guarded secret for her love of ‘enjoying the aromas of air fresheners’. In her closet, in the far back left corner there’s a chest full of aerosol cans and spray bottles of disinfectants and deodorizers of the popular brand variants. The latest thing I learned about Melody Gartner, though we hardly talk about religion since our relationship began, she’s deadly afraid God doesn’t exist and disappearing from existence when she dies.

Speechless I remained as we embraced in a long, lingering hug. When we were by the lake in the park, and she told me that about God, I wanted to say she’ll never doubt God or fear death knowing God personally, but I feared sparking an argument. I exhaled and I let the subject go. I stayed quiet that time, and we sat on the bench among the trees, where the light glowed like beaming rays from heaven through seams in between the branches of the pine trees. The entire forest-park was alive with the sounds of nature working around us…

Today marks our first monthiversary and I know I should get her something special… like a piece of jewelry. At Hallmark, in town, with mom and Abbey I notice a platinum, Celtic-inspired, ringed cross near the check out. Kyrene’s maiden name is O’Malley and if I’m not mistaken O’Malley is an Irish Surname. It would be perfect. I just have to figure out how to buy it without mom and Abbey seeing me. I have the cash ready when I see mom and Abbey in the far back corner by the mugs and I rush to buy the cross.

The mixed girl behind the register recognizes me from school. She even knows my name.

“How you doing Asher?” she asks.

“Pretty good,” I admit smiling to be polite. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember your name.”

Putting my purchase in a small paper bag, she’s not surprised she’s nameless to me. “No one ever notices me… I’m a wallflower you know?”

Clearing my throat I apologize, I clarify what I meant to say, “May I get your name. I want a name to match the face in my memory? Pre-cal front center desk, right?”

A subtle rosy tint flushes her cheeks as she flashes an impressed grin my way handing me my purchase. Quietly, barely loud enough for me to hear, she shares her name, “Melanie Glover.”

Now I remember her, Melanie in the front. The thought rolls into the shoreline of my mind like a wave riding up to the coast: is Melanie Glover the childhood friend of Melody Gartner? I’m sure it’s just coincidence…

Is it? Questions a thought.

“What did you buy Ash?” Abbey’s voice pries into my business.

Facing her I tuck the bag into my back pocket, and in all honesty I inform my sister, “It’s none of your business.”

Abbey steps up to me and stares up into my eyes, “You’re so secretive lately, what are you hiding?” Her gaze scrutinizes me. I deliver a firm, “Nothing,” as I shuffle sideways toward the door, but Abbey follows me.

“I don’t believe you,” she huffs crossing her arms and if looks could severely dismember a body, my limbs would be spread throughout the store thanks to Abbey Gail Lucas’ deathly scowl. “Welcome to the dark side brother,” she smirks cockily as she steps around me and pushes the door open. Before exiting the store, she says, “I’m gonna go help dad and Ann with the groceries.”

I don’t know what happened to my little sister. Once upon a sweet time ago, she embodied the grace of a princess and her heart was that of gold. As an ugly reminder of her current state of witchery, that time ago is ever in the past, and a part of me longs for Princess Abbey Gail to return and once again share her love of singing gospel hymns and the peace of Christ’s Gospel she loved to share with the lost sheep. Where did she change? Was it here or back in Sanders? And what happened that changed her? It couldn’t be her christening into the teenage years, a different perspective of life fogged by raging hormones and the overwhelming desire to “fit in”. An event mom, dad, and I don’t know about? Some deep dark secret she’s harboring and allowing her heart to blacken with bile?
[*All I can do for her is pray. Again the thought poses the question Is it? It’s the type of thought not entirely my own… I know it comes from that place in me I’ve been ignoring one day shy of a month… well, since I didn’t listen to Him at the dance, today could count, and therefore, it’s been a month. (confusing)*]

A comforting, familiar slight hand touches the middle of my back. I look down and it’s mom creeping under my arm, folding me in her sideways mama bear clutch. Patting my stomach, she asks if I’m hungry. I am actually, but dad’s buying groceries and he’ll probably whip something together when we get home. Instead, she asks if I want to go to the Chinese Buffet a few doors down. I love my father, but I’ve been my mama’s boy since birth. Normally, I can talk to her about anything, but I don’t want to break her heart… I’ll wait for as long as I can to break the news gently. I want to accept her offer, but afraid from my growing guilt that I may spill everything about Mel, not just how great she is, but how and why we’re dating may be the main topic of our table talk, therefore, kindly, I convince her I can wait until we get home.

We agreed to meet at Woodland Park around ten in the morning last night while we were texting in bed. I’m the first to arrive by the mucky lake, the air refreshingly reeks of pine needles and a faint coolness follows the warm breeze. On a bulky rock, with a smooth top, about the height of 17-month-old Annika, I take a seat. Holding the Hallmark bag in my hands, I figured I could get away with not wrapping it, since I’m a guy.

The forest floor gets crushed and crunched by approaching footsteps behind me. The pace is rushed; someone is excited to celebrate our first month together. I stand up in preparation for a huge, bear caliber hug. But the face of Melody opposes the celebratory expression I expected. For the first time, before me, she’s without makeup. Her eyes swim with tears and glare with the gloss of a troubled soul. Dressed in baggy sweats, her dad’s Brigham Young Tee, old, scuffed white tennis shoes, and her hair− flat and un-styled thrown into a sloppy hybrid of a bun and a ponytail she looks like she was reluctant to leave the house.

“What’s wrong?” I ask reaching out to her.

She rambles anxiously and incoherently as she begins to accept my embrace but when she notices the Hallmark bag in my hand, she asks curiously, “What’s that?” with a twinge of poutiness in her tone.

“It’s a gift that can wait until you tell me what’s wrong.”

Looking into my eyes, she questions, “For our monthiversary?” with the whine in her voice still present.

“Yeah, but what’s wrong?”

Turning her back to me, staring out at the lake, and with gray, stormy clouds looming in the sky she thinks for a moment. Finally, she builds up the courage to admit… “I don’t want to lose you…”

I step up and stand next to her looking out at the lake too. I figure she’ll be more comfortable if I don’t look at her. “How can you lose me? I’m right here.”

A feeling of change rises in my spirit the instance our gaze reconnects… a little like when I saw Natasha for the first time… knowing… thinking we were destined. I’m not sure what I’m feeling… Entirely wrapped up in her light, golden brown eyes I hardly notice what she places in my hand. A cold end of a hard plastic stick, and as I look down at what it is, Melody says apologetically, “Probably the worst gift for an unwed teenage boy…” The words from Melody that follow afterwards trail off. Two pink lines… I’m pretty sure that means she’s having my baby.

Tears try to escape my eyes, and the overwhelming urge to flee rises tall within me, but I fight the cry pleading to breakout from me and I force myself to stay. I allow Melody to fall apart in my arms. Both weighed down with shame, guilt, and regret we fall together to the dirt soil ground and kneel on a bed of twigs, pinecone remnants, and pine needles as we grieve over the loss of a bright future and prep for the hard one to come.

Last night, I went to one of my dearest friend’s gender reveal party. As great as it was to be a part of that, for the first time I understood how unwed, childless women feel… People with kids talk about their kids mostly and it gets weird and awkward when you don’t have kids too stay share parenting war stories…

But it wasn’t all bad, I met a woman who was questioning the validity of the Gospel. She grew up in a Christian home but when she began to question if the Gospel was true, she was discouraged from raising those questions because “it would make her faith harder to hold on to”…?

I could relate to the woman because she was a fellow analytical thinker and counted on evidence to make a solid decision. For once, in my 26 years on this planet, I wasn’t nervous about discussing scripture, hearing her questions, and I had a lot of peace to share my experiences that strengthened my faith over the years.

Nowadays, we have too many people falling away because of experiences. They either have bad experiences with believers or whacky experiences with devils or themselves and credit such workings to God. The same factor lacking in the aforementioned experiences is scripture… what does scripture have to say in light of those experiences?

Then, we also have a bunch of people who worship the Bible and don’t rely on personal experiences with God at all! What a dry, dead life?!

We need a balance of everything. We need a solid foundation of scripture, we need a consistent prayer life to stay connected to God, and we need experiences with the Holy Spirit or orchestrated by God for our faith to grow and live fervently within us.

As I talked to this woman (that I am ready to friend), and we hit a really sweet spot where I can unpack all this evidence with science to support scripture, and personal experiences in light of the Bible, we get interrupted because the gender reveal party is over and people start to leave… so people come over to say goodbye…

If only I had two more minutes…

Then after I say goodbye to everyone, and I leave, on the car ride home I think about the things I could have said, or I think how I should offered to pray with the woman who had questions, but I stop my thoughts on that should-have, could-have, would-have train. Everything I said in that conversation wasn’t for nothing and God doesn’t separate cultivating relationships from saving souls (sometimes we do that in our ignorance and/or arrogance).

Therefore, I’m going to friend this woman. Not with the sole ambition to win her soul, but we have common interests and I know in God’s goodness He is going to reveal Himself to her. There’s a high probability I will be used as a vessel to connect her to God, but her salvation or reconciliation with God isn’t my mission. My mission is to love her as I would any other human being that is a dear friend to me, and keep my hope alive in Christ, that the Holy Spirit will draw her back to the Father’s Heart… because she once considered herself a believer. Is God not a jealous God and in the business of keeping us?

Never discourage anyone from questioning the Bible or the Gospel. Simply trust God will keep them in the truth. Be open to taking their questions and sharing your thoughts and experiences. Don’t be nervous. Don’t feel their salvation rests on your shoulders. Jesus saves, we are just the messengers.

Remember, our relationships with people are the most precious because our commodity is love. God loved us first so we could love Him. Humanity is driven by the presence of, or the absence of love, and the quality of that love. Humanity is at its best operating in love centered around the love of Yeshua-Son of Man (aka Jesus Christ).

Shine like a star, as yourself, who God is making you to be every day. Maybe people think you’re too religious, or not religious enough. Maybe you talk about Jesus too much or not enough, if you live at peace and know you’re in God’s will for your life, DO NOT CARE WHAT ANYONE THINKS!

We are not people on a mission, we are people of faith! Dr. Lester Sumrall said faith is knowing God. Yes, we must spread the Gospel, but notice how Jesus told the Good News… First, he obeyed God. Then, he made a group of friends and taught them what he knew. Next, he started sharing what God wanted him to do how the Holy Spirit led him to do it. When he healed someone or set them free, he sent the person to testify to someone else who was that person’s direct link to a community.

For example, when the lepers came to Jesus and begged to be healed, he healed them (Luke 17:11-19). Jesus told them to go show their priest that God made them clean. In that day, lepers were excommunicated from everyone. And lepers most likely lived in leper towns. It was customary to go to the priest, go through a ritual cleaning and to be forgiven by God to be made clean (learned this in Bible College from a professor, I trust this source), and only if the priest saw the leprosy was gone, could they go back and join the community.

Another example, when Jesus delivered legion out the Gerasene Man, Jesus told the man to return to his family and testify about what happened and to show the man was delivered (Mark 5:1-20).

The famous woman at the well (John 4:1-42), she went and told everyone she knew who Jesus was.

The over all point being is that God is in the business of relationship. Clearly, God reached out to Abraham and he answered the call. God could reach out to all of us one on one, but because God designed humanity to be a family and to build all sorts of communities, God calls us to cultivate our relationships. We are blessed to partake in spreading the good news not just by telling people about God and leaving them with pamphlets to know God, but through loving people and building our lives through the ties we have with people.

Paul said that our lives were to be letters from Christ to everyone around us. Writing a letter can be so intimate. Putting words on a page to pour out your entire heart without any interruptions. Without anyone twisting your words. Without anyone diluting what you have to say. Reading the letter is all the more richer when you know the one who wrote it. Jesus is the author of life crafted in the Spirit of God, and to the people around us, when they look at us, or talk to us, or spend time with us, they experience firsthand what God has done for us or is currently doing in us, and it is the experience of our company that probes them to connect to the Father. As they understand who we are as a person, they begin to understand God in part.

Not only are we letters from heaven to the world, but we are the translation of God’s love. A love that cannot be grasped or experienced in a fuller way until they believe for themselves… Jesus died on the cross for them and rose from the grave, just to connect them with an unseen God who loves them more than we ever could!

Take this year to love the people you know and get to know them better. This year, when you spread the Gospel, don’t just think about depopulating hell, but think about birthing new babes in Christ, and then commit to be there for as long as God will allow to mature them in the faith. And PLEASE, love your brothers and sisters in Christ like you love your blood family. Be quick to forgive, slow to anger, and even slower to speak!

Best of all, live everyday with God behind you, before you, and right by your side. Never try, but just be like Nike and do it! Live boldly and fearlessly!

Chapter 2

Natasha runs off to put the daylilies in a vase of water while Chastity escorts us to the dining area. The table is set with all the fixings, seven place settings, and a high chair for Annika stands at the end of the table where an eighth place setting would normally be. When Natasha joins us, she’s accompanied by Zeven holding hands.

We all take our seats, the way everything works out, Natasha ends up sitting across from me. Today she sports a blue, faux peacock feather in her hair. It matches her dangling, lab-made sapphire earrings. Zeven has frosted the tips of his black Mohawk with blue to match Natasha’s color phase fascination with blue. Looking at the two of them, side by side, they do look like a cute couple. Their features complement each other, and will one day blend well together… if… they’re meant to be together…

Chastity asks dad to say grace, we all take hands and bow our heads.

“Dear heavenly father, thank you for this gathering of friends. Thanks for the food you’ve provided for the Lane household and we’re grateful they’re sharing it with us. We ask that this food be blessed, and especially, our time together. Thank you for all that you do. In Jesus’s precious holy name, Amen.” The rest of us follow suit and say a collective amen.

Chastity hands the main course, meat loaf, to dad and allows him to serve himself. Natasha picks up the basket of crescent rolls and takes one as she passes the basket to Zeven. Zeven does the same, continuing to pass it on to Chastity.  Zeven grabs the bowl of green beans and serves Natasha a few spoonfuls on her plate. Graciously, she thanks him with a peck on the cheek. They’ve been dating for a week, and they’re already at the kissing phase? Getting through this dinner is going to be harder than I thought.

Chastity kicks off the table talk by telling my mother, “The flowers are gorgeous Becky.”

“They are, aren’t they? Actually,” mom starts to say.

“Daylilies are my favorite.” Natasha interjects.

Zeven looks to Natasha surprised, “I thought wild, yellow daisies are your favorite.”

In unison, without intention, Natasha and I say, “They were.”

She looks at me caught off guard. She further explains without breaking eye contact with me, “But once I saw and smelled my first daylily back in June, daylilies are my new fav.” Clearing her throat, she directs her attention to Zeven, “I thought you were around when I talked about it at Worship practice?”

Zeven shrugs his shoulders as he takes the dish of meat loaf from my hands. “I guess I need to pay more attention to my girl.” He remarks.

Mom finishes what she meant to say earlier, “Actually, Asher picked out the flowers.”

Both Chastity and Natasha look at me, but with different opinions displayed on their faces. While Chastity’s expression reads as impressed, Natasha’s expression seems conflicted. Getting the daylilies was a good move… Natasha knows my selection wasn’t by chance.

We move on to another subject: Chastity’s upcoming sermon series for Youth on Sexuality creatively titled Knowing Him and Her. She came up with that title from the scripture Genesis 4:1a from the New King James Version, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife…”  More modern versions tell how it really was by replacing “knew” with “made love”. Since Chastity was a teen mom, and based on the high rate of teen pregnancy in America and on the Res, and some of the concerns parents have brought to her, she felt God placed on her heart to discuss sexuality with the youth of the church.

In actuality, it’s more about God’s design and purpose of marriage, and how Christ comes first for both husband and wife. She’s hoping that through the message God will instill in the youth a desire to do things God’s way, and that each young man and young woman will feel precious in the eyes of God. And as current temples of the Lord our God, we’ll respect that honor and choose to do it God’s way… by waiting to have sex until we’re married.

Mom and dad are impressed. They agree that the youth are in need of such a message and they are glad to hear she’s doing it. Showing the sliver of uncertainty left in her, she asks dad and mom for their prayers that when she begins the message the Holy Spirit leads the series. Proudly, my parents accept the request and promise her they will do so.

After dinner, Zeven shares the new worship song he wrote in the living room with everyone else while I help Natasha stack the dishwasher. Natasha isn’t her normal, snarky, talkative self. Deafening silence builds a barricade between us. I can tell she’s deep in thought. I want to speak… but I don’t know what to say. The song of Zeven travels faintly into the kitchen. I listen to what I imagine the chorus is… it sounds like it’s in the Key of E or maybe C.

“We will shout on the hilltop.

  We will sing in the streets,

  And dance in the yard.

  Praising the only worthy-

  Of our praise- Jesus Christ

  Lifting our voices

  On high,

  We sing- Hallelujah

  To our King-

  As we band together

  In unity not conformity

  The light that’s in us

  We let it shine

  As we lift our arms

  Lifting praise we sing

  To our king

  Of everything

  As the body of Christ

  We will shout from the hilltop…” he continues to sing on, singing the chorus again.

Now I have a talking point. “That’s a pretty good song.” I say.

Natasha winces, “It needs a lot of work. The words don’t flow. They’re good, but the song needs to be fluid, not forced. I’ve tried to help, but he’s too proud of it. Maybe now that I’m his girlfriend he’ll let me revise it.”

“Musically, it’s perfect though.” I comment.

Smiling in defeat, “True, when it comes to notes Zeven is a genius.”

“So maybe he’s the music and you’re the lyrics,” I say. Wow, I sound supportive of their relationship. I know I’m kind of coveting my neighbor’s significant other, it just feels like she’s been taken away from me, and I didn’t ever really have her.

Her whole face lights up with excited joy as if I prophesied to her. “You’re so right!” she closes the dishwasher, now that it’s stacked full, and then gives me a quick hug. Every hug from her is magical and heart-warming. As she slips out of my reach I wish the hug could have lasted a second longer, and I wish I had the guts to reel her back in, but I let her walk away. I follow her into the living room, where we’re all about to enjoy a game of Bible Trivia. Well, Annika’s gonna watch.