I thought about saying no. But I gave up my rights after weeks of flirting with unclear boundaries. It wasn’t fair. What if he went ahead anyways? No, I didn’t want to deal with that.
I glanced down at my left hand as I had been doing for weeks now. I wore a ring made of Black Hills gold that my parents gave me on Valentine’s Day when I was 13. There were three hearts; the one in the middle was mine, and the two on either side were my parent’s. This was their way to protect me and hold me accountable until marriage.
I wore that ring for three years before laying it to rest in my cherry oak jewelry box.
The soft crackle and pop were the only sounds as all 11 of us sat on logs surrounding a monstrous bonfire at Fairgate Campgrounds. It only took a half hour to get there but you’d still never know you were only a few miles from a highway. I breathed in deeply of the delicious burnt aroma. Tiny orange sparks floated lazily into the blanket of darkness that attempted to infiltrate our circle. The logs were hard and full of splinters but I didn’t care. I could feel the tension in my muscles relax as I placed my face in my hands, scooting as close to the burning blaze as possible. We were part of a youth group with His Place Church in Post Falls, Idaho and were driving to Seattle the next morning to board a ferry for three days. Our end destination was Echo Ranch in Juneau, Alaska. Here, we would be joining the full-time staff to spend a week sharing the Gospel with middle school students from around the area. We would be living in cabins and surviving on bare minimums, only a few showers for the whole week. I wasn’t too sure what to expect since this would be my first and last mission’s trip as a high school student. We gathered together as a team on the eve of our trip to worship God and discuss spiritual things. None of us said much at first. We simply enjoyed the peace and quiet we rarely got from the hustle and bustle of school, friends and work. After a time we sang a few worship songs. We didn’t have a guitar or a bass or drums. All we had were humble hearts and a desire to please God. We lifted hushed voices into the starry night and worshiped Him in the most honest form. I’m coming back to the heart of worship. When it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus. To anyone close by, I’m sure they plugged their ears. But our human ears are different from God’s. He doesn’t listen to our words; He listens to the tune of our hearts. Our songs died back down to the quiet stillness of night. We could see stars now; bright specks of dust against the vast blanket of darkness. I was thankful for the warm fire as I adjusted my body to a more comfortable position.
We were especially quiet tonight, me in particular. I usually was the loud one, the one who always had something to say or some quirky mistake that could be made fun of. But not tonight. All I could think about was what had happened that morning. How could I talk to God now? How could I go on this trip and share the love of Christ with middle school students when my own life was a tangled web that I couldn’t seem to escape from? I seemed to have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
For years I have been running an endless marathon. Sometimes I lose focus. Sometimes I take a wrong turn. I just know I have to keep going because there must be an end somewhere. But I get tired, and I fall. My throat is parched, my tongue sticky and lips cracked from not enough water. How am I to rise up again when I can’t remember why I started the race? Then I look up, and a friend is kneeling beside with me. She offers me water. Another friend runs and stops at my other side. He helps me to stand. Another friend, another friend, another friend. Some of them I know well, some of them are only acquaintances. But together we gradually walk on this pathway through darkness.
Our youth pastor interrupted my thoughts as he started to speak in a soft voice, not wanting to disturb the quiet hush of our sacred huddle. His euro style glasses glinted in the flickering light as his large frame leaned forward as if talking intimately to a close friend. He asked that each of us share something God was stirring up in our hearts. His words were short and his face was thoughtful as he sat back to collect his personal thoughts. Around me, some bowed their heads in order to shut out distractions and allow God’s Spirit to reveal Himself. Others sat staring into the fire with calm serenity painted on their faces.
I once asked a mentor how to know when God was calling me to stand up and say something in this kind of situation. She said when I get a feeling like the butterflies, a queasy stomach, or a sweaty palm, that’s my flesh fighting with the Holy Spirit to keep me quiet. I suppose it’s a matter of obedience after that.
I felt the familiar pang as my heart sunk deep into my chest. I would have to speak. Yet how could I? I would not lie. At the same time I didn’t want to tell the truth. I was being eaten alive by thoughts of what had happened merely hours before. I knew I would share honestly. I didn’t have the will power to lie anymore. I was surrounded by close friends, yet no one knew the internal battle that had been ensuing in my heart for months. Now it was lost and the other side had won. However this would not be the end. I could use this loss to make me stronger for a victorious end to a long war.
My insides flipped and flopped as one by one a story was shared. I didn’t hear any particular words, only the soft murmur of voices which got lost within the chaotic inner workings of my mind. My little brother slouched three or four people away to my left. He was 22 months younger than me and we had never been very close. Old home videos portray my bossy behavior as I stole French fries from his plate and hogged as much attention as was allowed. Years later, not much had changed other than the fact I couldn’t take food from his plate anymore. Over time he started to stand up to me which led to many heated arguments about whose turn it was to clear out the dishwasher or clean the bathroom. My dad used to threaten to lock us in the garage and let us go hand and fist to work out our petty squabbles about whose turn it was to watch which TV shows. In my own way I loved my little brother very much. As I grew older I often asked God to bring us to a better place in our relationship. I asked him that one day we would be good friends, not enemies. For some reason, we just could never see eye to eye. He being a part of this youth group was new for me. My nick name was my last name, Samson. I’m not sure how or when, but someone started saying it and the name stuck. Now there were two of us Samsons which took a little of the fun away. In other words, I had to share my popular title, something I wasn’t the best at. Still, I had hoped that the mission trip to Alaska would bring my brother and me closer together. Had it not been for the morning events, I would have shared these thoughts.
My girl friend, who was sitting directly to my right, was talking now. I tried so hard to listen since she was sharing an experience that was painful for her. I looked at her and tried to focus on her pale face, blonde hair, anything that would get me involved in her story. I felt so selfish sitting right next to her and not even hearing because I was so consumed with my own thoughts. She even started to cry which on any other day would have caused tears of my own to well up behind my eyes. However I didn’t even know why she was crying. Regardless, I should have put my arm around her shoulders but they wouldn’t budge from my sides. I was frozen and it was my turn now.
I sat for a few moments looking at the warmly lit dirt at my feet. I couldn’t bear to look up at the faces of people who loved me and would be crushed to find out what I had done; the person I had let myself become. I did look up, but gazed into the high flames, grateful for their distraction. I started to speak, but no one could hear me. It felt like my insides were squeezing inward causing shallow, quick breaths. I closed my mouth as my chin quivered and tears threatened to fill my eyes. I stared into the fire as hard as I could, aware of the two girls on either side of me, my brother on my left. I couldn’t bear to let these people down. But I had to let my friends in on my secret. Otherwise, I would have had no way out of the gutter. At this point, I was covered in so much muck I could hardly recognize my own face. If true beauty really does come from the inside, well, I was not beautiful. Not desirable. Not worthy. But somewhere underneath the muck, I knew there was a God who still could see me as beautiful, desirable and worthy. I knew there could still be a way out; I just had to ask for it. And this was the first step.
“I…I…” My heart was beating hard and fast. My mouth was dry and it felt like there was a ball of lead in the pit of my stomach. My lungs strained to breathe.
The words came in such a rush that by the last word I was crying uncontrollably. “I had sex this morning.” For a moment all I could hear were my sobs as I dropped my head into my hands. Then the girl on my right put her arm around me and held me close. I allowed my body to lean against hers in an effort to soak up some of her serenity. After a few moments I sat up straight and looked around at my friends through puffy red eyes and tear stained cheeks. A few of them had tears as well. I did not look at my little brother.
“It happened this morning.” My voice sounded congested and I didn’t know what else to say. My voice then turned to a whisper that was barely audible.
“I’m so sorry and don’t know what to do.”
I looked at my brother. That was a mistake. His eyes were full of tears and he was concentrated straight ahead at the fire. A wave of realization and heart ache washed over me. My younger brother had always looked up to me. I knew I had always been the screw up, the unruly first child who had the tiring task of “breaking the parents in.” This may or may not have been realistic. I knew I had let him down before. But this time, it was different. I could see the agonizing pain etched all over his face.
Suddenly our circle was suffocating. I needed some air. In a rush I stood and stumbled away. Away from warmth. Away from safety. I wasn’t alone long, however. Two girl friends were swiftly by my side, arms wrapped tightly around me. And I cried. With everything I had, I cried. I cried till I thought I couldn’t cry anymore. I struggled to look up again. It was rather difficult because these two sets of arms were like iron rods holding me in place. They soon realized I was trying to break free and loosened their grasp. My back was still to our group as I sniffed in as much of the snot as I could that was oozing from my nose. With my sleeves I wiped the rest of the goo off my face then I used my hands to rub under my eyes. With a deep sigh and feeling slightly more composed, I turned around.
Once again I was crumbling to pieces. My little brother had also left the group and stood about 20 feet away from me. Now that I was facing him I could hear him. I could see the paper bag they had given him to breathe into. I wanted to go to him and throw my arms around his small frame. Once again, my mind and body were not in sync. The youth pastor was standing next to him with his large hand on my brother’s small shoulder. Another guy was facing my brother, nobody was saying anything. I had done something more terrible than simply having sex for the first time. I had broken a powerful trust. I didn’t even know this trust existed until that moment. I couldn’t bear to look at the obvious pain I had caused my little brother. I realized I should have told him first, when we were alone. It was not fair for him to find out with everyone else. Feeling more wretched than ever, I buried my head into the set of shoulders nearest me as more tears spilled out of what I thought was a dry well.
Every decision has consequences. Most often those consequences affect the ones we love the most. I learned this lesson that night.
The track seems dark and I am weak still. So we walk at first, then we jog, then we can run. I wonder how I got separated from this pack at all. Why would I ever choose to run this race alone? Then I remember. I had seen something off in the distance that wasn’t on our path. I had to take a trail in the woods in order to pursue it. I told myself it was a short cut and they were stupid for not coming with me. Now, as I’m running alongside my friends once again, I realize I am the stupid one. All of us have our demons that follow us around our whole lives. We must grab it by the horns and fight back with everything we have, even if it seems as if we have already lost everything. The truth is we still have a future. I have a future. Sometimes, when I think I’ve ruined everything, I look around and am reminded of the power of forgiveness and redemption given and received through Jesus Christ. All I need to do is grab a hold of it and never let go.