Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 25, part 1: Renewed Efforts

Despite Ian’s encouraging words and the bizarre experience in the woods, Rob’s accusations still haunted me the rest of the week.  Deep down I believed I was a lousy friend and a worse Christian.  It may have been too late to save my friendship with Lacey, but at least I could prove the hypocrite label wrong.

Remembering Rev. Reynolds’ invitation, I lingered around the Religion table at the activity fair on Thursday, in the guise of helping out.  I listened in on his responses to the students who were brave enough to ask questions, and ended up taking a handful of the free books and pamphlets back to my room.  A self-help book called Loving Others caught my interest most. 
That night, following the instructions in the book, I once again asked Jesus into my heart, just in case my infant baptism, the little prayer Oma had led me in when I was eight, my confirmation, and that altar call at the Pentecostal church last year somehow didn’t count. 

The step-by-step directions in Loving Others made Christian life seem practical, like a self-help program. Spiritual growth was just a matter of following the program faithfully enough.  But this wasn’t just any self-help program—it was the ultimate one, developed by God himself.  If I followed it properly, maybe I could finally deserve the kind of love that the little girl in my vision had.
***
On Tuesday, Jenny called and wanted to walk over to Soulfire together again. Breanne and I had talked over the weekend. She was willing to try another meeting, but not this week. I called Kirsten to see if she wanted me to pick her up, but she said a group of girls from her floor were heading over early and we could meet up afterward.
While waiting for Jenny to answer my knock, I coached myself on how to act, trying to remember the advice from Loving Others.
“Giselle! We’re so glad you came again,” Jenny drawled as she opened the door wide. “Come in for a sec. We’re waiting on Melissa to finish curling her hair.”
“Hi again!” a voice called from the couch. I couldn’t remember this one’s name.
Jenny graciously ushered me in, and then disappeared up the stairs, leaving me hesitating awkwardly in the middle of the living room, Bible in hand, unsure whether to sit next to what’s-her-name or remain standing. Just when I felt nearly suffocated by the silence hanging in the air, another line from Loving Others came to mind.
Loving your neighbors as yourself means you try to make others feel comfortable, especially when you feel awkward.”
“Sorry, I forgot your name.”
“Sylvie,” she said and returned to reading the campus newspaper.
“Guess what? I picked up this amazing book off of Terry Reynolds’ table.”
She put the paper aside. “Oh?”
Was I annoying her? “Uh, right. He was just giving books away, can you believe it? I was so lucky to get this one.” Why didn’t I say it was a blessing from God? Must work on that. “It’s really been making me think.”
“Oh?” Sylvie said again.
Before I could say more, another member of the volleyball team, Melissa, emerged from her room, finally ready. “Jenny not down yet?”
Melissa and Sylvie ran up the stairs to find their missing housemate. “Why don’t you come up?” Sylvie called down from the landing. “We might be a while still.”
I didn’t know whether to bring up the book again, but couldn’t think of anything else to say. As the three girls giggled and primped in front of Jenny’s mirror, I felt like I was intruding on their fun.
It was a relief when we finally strolled down the hill toward the lake in the center of campus. Still not knowing exactly how to join in the conversation, I tried my best to listen and enjoy the late summer evening. A gaggle of Canadian geese stood on the bank in a cluster, all facing toward the water. Two plain white geese floated a few feet from the bank. Their loud squawks broke the hush of the gathering darkness.
I piped up. “Look at those geese, the way they’re standing. When we were freshmen, Ian used to say that the ones swimming in the lake were preaching to those on the bank.”
They giggled. I worried if I’d just humiliated my friend. Did they know Ian or God well enough to think the idea was endearing and not just crazy?
Across the Quad, the lights in the student center blazed. Another record turnout. The week before, 93 people showed up, this week looked even more crowded. If Rob was telling the truth about the nasty rumors on the Elkie Grapevine, could that kind of success last for long?
I pushed the doubts away. Like Oma always said, there was no sense in borrowing trouble. We pushed through the double glass doors of the student center and scrambled to find seats in the crowded room. It was time for the second meeting of Soulfire to begin. 

The twelve leaders of CSF took turns teaming up to present a lesson each week. On this particular evening, twins Ewan and Rhys Finley did the honors. It was a relief to be back the audience after the stress of presenting the week before.
Rhys finished reading the Parable of the Sower, “…It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.’ Jesus explains this parable to the disciples once they are alone…” I’d heard the explanation of the parable many times before, but this time it sparked worry.
If being a Christian was the ultimate self-improvement project, it was also the most challenging. Why couldn’t I stop myself with Brad last year? Why did I end up getting drunk that night in Europe, and why did I hide it from my parents and everyone in CSF? And just that afternoon I had checked another romance novel out of the library and skipped ahead to the juicy parts. That old purity vow had been broken so many times. Why couldn’t I control my thoughts and actions better?
Guilt chased shame in circles and I realized the parable was about me. Crows of lust had been snatching my good intentions away, rocks of perversion kept faith from growing and thorns of guilt choked the fruit a leader was supposed produce.
Offering a silent prayer of confession, I felt a still small voice like the one from the woods urge me to talk to someone about all this. Please, let talking to You be enough, I prayed. I’ll never sin again, I promise. How many times had I said that before? Did I really mean it this time?