It was at my lowest point that I met Layne in the lunch line of the school cafeteria. I had grown rather calloused and a bit unfriendly toward the male species, so when he strolled up with what I deemed as far too much confidence for a guy his age and interrupted the conversation I was having with my best friend, I was not at all kind to him. As he finished delivering his final witty quip and walked away, I turned to my friend and asked, “Who was that guy?” She rolled her eyes and answered, “He’s one of those obnoxious, Bible thumping Christian freaks. Ignore him.” I had never discussed my Christian leanings with this particular friend. I hadn’t dared. But as soon as she delivered her warning, my very next thought was: Then I need to know him.
My rude demeanor was all the encouragement Layne needed to keep pursuing conversations with me in the halls. True to what my friend had said, he was all about Jesus. He managed to work his faith into every single encounter, and when I didn’t entirely dismiss his efforts, he invited me out—just as friends—for coffee followed by Bible study at a friend’s house. By this point, I struggled to trust anyone, least of all a teenage boy asking me out to anything. Even a Bible study. But Layne seemed sincere and his faith genuine, so I agreed. But just as friends, I made sure to reiterate.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the conversation with Layne flowed effortlessly, and he was never without something interesting to discuss. He was smart, intimidatingly so, but he was also easy-going and funny. By the time the night was almost at its end, I felt as though I had spent the evening chatting with an old friend, and I was glad I had agreed to come. Then, referencing something said during Bible study, he skillfully turned the conversation to God. Of course, I almost forgot why we were here – the reason he had invited me. I knew that the whole night had been about evangelizing me.
It was mildly irritating to know that his kindness toward me was partly due to seeing me as a project, one more lost-soul in need of saving. But I hadn’t been trapped unaware; I had wanted to know him, to hear about his faith and why he, unlike most of our peers, was so willing to be vocal about it, even in such an uncongenial place as the halls of a high school. Layne laid out the Gospel for me in a way I had not yet fully heard. He explained God’s love for us, a love so unrelenting that he was willing to send his Son to suffer and die so that we might be reconciled to him. I was captivated, not just by the passionate way in which the story was being told, but by a growing sensation from deep inside that I was hearing the truth I had so long been craving. When he had finished, I shared with him a little of my story, not going into too much detail, but letting him know about my camp experience at ten and confessing that I had felt a little lost in my search for God in recent years.
And that is where the wisdom of my 18-year-old guide ran out. In response to my admission of feeling lost, he mentioned that he was aware of the life I was leading; he said I had a bit of a reputation. I felt my face grow hot, the shame of my recent plunge into depravity washing over me as this virtual stranger, a sheltered little church boy by my estimation, began speaking to me of things I felt he could not possibly understand or identify with. I wanted out of that car more than anything, to be left alone in my humiliation. But Layne, seeing that I was upset, did not want to drop me off on such a bad note. He drove instead to a nearby parking lot and continued to speak, making it all the worse with every utterance.
Layne proceeded to give a True Love Waits speech that would have made even the most seasoned Southern Baptist Youth Minister proudly shed a tear. Then, just in case I wasn’t feeling low enough, he detailed his personal commitment to wait for “the One”—the perfect, Jesus-loving, God-fearing, virginal girl that the Lord had reserved only for him, to be his partner and helper in life. He tried to reassure me by saying that if I repented, I could start anew and probably find love later in life with someone else who had slipped but had since rededicated themselves to purity.
By the time he concluded, I was without words. Does all of Christianity really come down to abstinence? If I am now unmarriable by Christian standards, does my past mean I will be an outcast to every other Believer? Have I now also become unacceptable, perhaps unforgivable, to the One I have known all these years, to the One I have always felt knows me? In that moment, something switched inside of me, and I shut down as never before. Suddenly, I cared about nothing—not myself, not my Jesus, and certainly not the boy next to me, who just hours earlier I had hoped could become a great friend. Alright, you claim to be different than others, profess that your faith has preserved you from being corrupted by the world in the ways I so clearly have been. Let’s see!
For all the preaching youth pastors did back then on waiting for marriage, they sure didn’t do enough to warn young boys of the practical dangers and their almost guaranteed lowered success rates if they did things like park in cars with girls in the middle of the night to have deeply personal chats. The “just friends pact” Layne and I had made ended that night. Turns out he was a lot like other guys after all, at least in one regard.
He insisted that we never see each other again outside of school. Now there’s the typical male response. He said that he was devastated by what had happened between us. He cried and said the life he had hoped for—the wife, the ministry he had walked the aisle and surrendered to just a couple years prior—were now all gone, or at least no longer possible in the way God had planned. My response was angry and mocking. I just really couldn’t understand, and I laughed at him for being overly dramatic. I wasn’t trying to be cruel, but his unusual response to the situation made me feel so uneasy and insecure. After that our relationship devolved into a weird dance of avoiding one another, Layne contacting me because he couldn’t bear the guilt, me behaving maliciously toward him, and then once again returning to not speaking. Finally, he sent some of the girls from the youth group to befriend me. I knew it was a ploy to get himself off the hook, but I was grateful for the company, and when one of them invited me to go to youth camp over Spring Break, I agreed.
Camp was rough. I didn’t know most of the other students. I kept getting called on to pray out loud, and as I had no experience, I would just freeze every time until the leader finally called on someone else after several excruciating moments of mortifying silence. I didn’t know any of the worship songs but still managed to get roped into singing with a group of girls as a background vocalist, faking my way through every note. Worst of all, many of the younger girls had crushes on Layne and wanted answers about the rumors that were spreading that something had happened between us. I ended up keeping to myself and avoiding everyone, including Layne, who neither spoke to me nor made eye contact.
By the final night, I was more than ready to head home. Nearing the end of the nighttime service, the worship leader began to play what had become my favorite camp song. It was more of a prayer than anything, and I found that it perfectly fit the cry of my heart to God, what I so desperately wanted him to do in me. We all hit the chorus: “So take my heart and form it…take my mind, transform it…take my will, conform it…to yours, to yours, O, Lord.” I prayed, Please, God, if you are real, please make yourself known to me. I cannot keep going as I am—lost, seeking, self-imploding. I do not know if I can trust others to tell me the truth about who you are. So if I am to know you, I need you to guide me.
And there was the voice once more, exactly as it had always been. Only this time it was not just a voice. The room began to brighten, and light came beaming through the window just behind the cross hanging above the stage at the front of the chapel. I saw a vision. I do not know what else to call it because it was not as though I could see it as one would see a reflection in a mirror or your hand when waved directly before your face. It was a vision of Christ, there on the cross, with light pouring all around from behind. And there was the invitation once again, “I am who they say I am. Come to me.”
My second camp conversion was a game changer. Unlike the simple child’s prayer spoken feebly in response to the revelation at ten years old that Jesus was real, I gave myself over to repentance, suddenly fully aware of the weight of my sin and the price that had to be paid on my behalf. I surrendered my all to Christ, pledging my life to him and vowing to go anywhere he would lead, gladly obeying all that he asked. I meant it with everything I was or ever hoped to be. In that moment I was free and fully alive, reunited with my oldest and dearest love.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:13