“Why do we need to practice? I figured the Holy Spirit would give us the words.”
Most days I admired his extreme spirituality, but no way would I wing something that important. Trusting that God might let me into heaven one day was one thing, but trusting Him to write a speech? That was ridiculous.
At my insistence, we arranged to meet that night as well as Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon to practice exactly what we were going to say.
“How’s Brad?” Ian said when I arrived at his dorm room.
“We broke up over the summer.”
“Before or after your trip together?”
“During … it was pretty awkward. I almost wish I had skipped it and come to Ohio for the leaders retreat instead.”
Ian gave me a hug. “I wish you had been there too, Giselle,” he said. “God really showed up in a big way. It was a mountaintop experience for sure. He has big things planned for us this year. But don’t worry; I’ll help you catch the vision. I know you were there in spirit, praying for us. I’m sure that’s part of what made our retreat so successful.”
I smiled tightly, hesitant to correct him. How could I tell him that while the rest of CSF leadership had been drawing closer to God, I was busy getting drunk and admitting to a non-Christian that I had doubts that God even existed?
No, now that I was back on campus, the thing to do was pretend it had never happened. I wanted to always remember the somber lessons of Dachau, the soft glow of the stained glass in St. Stephan’s Dom, and the glorious view from the windows of castle Neuschwanstein, but I wanted to let the rest of the trip fade away like a bad dream.
The next day, Ian and I collected survey cards from the students at the weekly Thursday chapel service as the senior Shepherds instructed. The first service of the year was the one and only time that chapel attendance was mandatory, our one shot at a captive audience for an advertisement of CSF. That night, the two of us sorted through the cards, setting aside anyone who indicated the slightest interest in campus religious life.
We planned to meet the following afternoon to go door to door to visit the most likely suspects and invite them personally to come to Soulfire. It had been my idea based on some of the marketing techniques I’d learned that summer selling knives. I hoped it would result in record attendance. Maybe then I could feel like I was back on God’s good side.
Friday afternoon, Ian waited at the bottom of the stairs, examining the woodwork. “Man, I love old houses like this. How come you get to live here, when I’m stuck over in the dorms?”
“It’s the German Club’s house. There aren’t that many majors or minors, so I got a spot no problem. The best part is I got a single.”
“Awesome. And check out this huge living room and kitchen. It would rock to hang out down here with your housemates, maybe start a Bible study. Who are they? Do you get along with them?”
I rattled off the five names. “I haven’t seen much of them, to be honest.” It wasn’t completely true. Zoey had one of the three rooms on my floor. I said hi on move-in day, but Zoey flipped her straight auburn hair and stalked off without saying a word. Maybe the blaring Walkman glued to her ears had been to blame for the cold shoulder. I wondered if she and Brad were still an item or if it had been just one of those flings that happen on school trips.
Half hoping to run into Brad, I suggested we start with the fraternity houses at the western edge of campus and work our way back from there. An early afternoon storm had come and gone, leaving the air like a steam bath.
“We better hurry if you’re going to make it to that house church of yours before sundown,” I said.
“Oh, I won’t be going there this year.”
“Well, for one thing, they disbanded the church over the summer. But, God showed me that all that outward righteousness stuff was a stronghold for pride, and a distraction. I felt like I knew more than everyone else, like I had some inside track on spiritual knowledge, when the truth is I’m just a miserable sinner, a dead man made alive in Christ.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a great Christian. At least, I’ve always looked up to you,” I said.
“That’s just the problem. You should have your eyes on Jesus, not me.”
We walked in silence for a while as I absorbed Ian’s comments. My eyes weren’t on Jesus. What did that even mean?
“It’s so awesome how much you love everyone,” Ian said.
What a nice encouragement. “It’s kind of you to say that.” I hoped that sounded humble enough.
“Uh, sorry Gigi. Not that you don’t love people, but I was talking to Jesus,” Ian said, eyes twinkling. “Over the summer, the pastor at my parents’ church showed me that God wants to be friends with us. Can you imagine if we talked to our friends like most people talk to God? I’d be all like, ‘Dear Most Lovely and Beautiful Giselle, I just want to ask you, Giselle, to just forgive me, Giselle, for just, um, confusing your great and mighty mind.’”
I opened my mouth to respond, but without missing a beat, Ian continued his strange one-way conversation with the Lord. I tried not to eavesdrop as we continued down the East Hill, crossed the thickly wooded Hollow and made the steep ascent to Memorial Hall. He spoke so casually, as if Jesus was just a dude strolling alongside us. Wasn’t that disrespectful? And did he just call me beautiful?
When Ian at last fell silent, I changed the subject. “I finally ran into Lacey today on the Quad. Of course, she and Rob were glued at the hip, just like last year.”
“Whoa, sounds like someone’s jealous.” He made an exaggerated show of flinching, as if he expected a retaliatory smack on the arm for giving me a hard time—again.
I remembered the silent treatment Lacey gave me last spring when the leader selections for CSF were announced, and wondered what Ian would think if I told him it was Lacey who was the jealous one.
“Speaking of Lacey,” Ian said, “that reminds me—I was supposed to give you a message from her. ‘Tell Giselle to live it up in the German House. Don’t worry about me, wasting away in Reid Hall with a strange new roommate. It’s hard to adjust, but somehow I’ll survive.’”
I laughed at Ian’s imitation of Lacey’s thick accent. “Yeah, she gave me that spiel already.”
Lacey joking again was a good sign—maybe she was getting over not being chosen, or that I was chosen in her place. The last month or so of school were awkward to say the least. Spending time with Brad or, when I wanted to avoid him too, studying for finals in Breanne’s room, gave me the perfect excuse to be out of Lacey’s way as often as possible.
“Earth to Gigi. We’re here.”
I looked up and saw that we had reached the last house on Fraternity Row.
Ian waved a hand in front of my face, still teasing. “What were you daydreaming about this time?”
I smiled, grateful for rescue from that particular tangent of memories. “I was just thinking what a blessing your friendship is.” I winced inwardly at that faker-than-fake “churchspeak,” but couldn’t stop myself from reaching over and squeezing his arm with a cutesy little laugh. “I missed you guys over the summer,” I finished. That much was true.
Ian cleared his throat and marched up to the door without responding.
I spent the whole summer selling expensive knives that no one really needed, but never felt as much like a pesky salesman as I did over the next two hours going door to door. By the time we made it back to East Hill and started up Lakeside Drive, the sun hung low in the sky. We agreed to split up to tackle the Women’s Volleyball and Men’s Wrestling Houses. Breanne lived here this year. I thought I’d just spend some time gabbing with her and then meet Ian outside.
I introduced myself. “Is Breanne home?”
“Hi, Giselle, nice to meet you. I’m Jenny Pearson. Sorry to tell you, Breanne’s girlfriend lives only a few miles away, and the lucky dog ain’t got no Friday classes, so she went over there for the weekend. Can I help you with somethin’?”
Automatically and without much passion, I rattled off the spiel about CSF and Soulfire.
Jenny’s warm response came as a surprise. “You can count on me being there, and I’ll see if I can get Breanne and some of the other girls in the house to come too. Tell you what, why don’t you stop by on Tuesday and walk over with us?”