It’s seasons like my May where I’m all wound up tight and tangled up in the lasts, running headfirst towards tomorrow. He stops me. Stops me right in my tracks because something beautiful is at my fingertips and it’s called today! My God doesn’t stop when my four-year adventure does. He’s over there waving, I’m not done with you just yet. He’s the God of beginnings too—always turning dust to diamonds, always springing up some new thing. A diamond new thing: “Layne, I want to know God.”
It started with a text. Actually, it started three years prior: with an 8am box of free donuts, and a wide-awake new Young Life leader (me), and a shameless introduction to a girl I’d never seen before. California transfer-girl, caught in the whirlwind of a brand new high school—she just needed a hey that day. We became friends in early 2012, Facebook says so. I got to engage, invite, include her—I brought her into the fold of all things Jesus and Young Life. She came to everything I told her to—faithful to club Mondays and coffeeshop campaigners, said yes to a December weekend with me at camp.
Then 3 years of nothingness happened. Anyone who’s been a people-pursuer or a ministry-doer sees that number and names her still-unreached. I am no different. I’d lost her. Though in practice, I was consistent—always inviting her to Mondays and Wednesdays—in belief I was faithless. I gave up. But my God is always faithful.
She’s been through a lot, far more than I’d write for any 18-year-old. I hate that she isn’t new to bad news. But this particular Saturday brought the worst kind of bad news. She got a sunrise phone call. Ezra—her boyfriend and best friend—had passed away in a 4am car wreck. She collapsed to the ground, wept lonely at her lowest low. She says Somebody caught her there. Fast-forward a few months, she texts me: Layne, I want to know God.
She’s been on my heart and my mind since the Saturday he died. I’ve been studying prayer, retraining my spirit to pray big and pray little and pray much. I’ve been mindful of her, praying for salvation, for surprises, for Somebody’s arm to come grab hold of her quick. I watched our Campaigners sisters circle together in a living room and pray for her: for strength, for Grace, for desire to get out of bed in the mornings, for her to taste the goodness of God in the midst of tragedy. I watched my Young Life team circle together in my living room and pray for her: for comfort, for bravery, for peace that surpasses understanding, for her story to bring together every corner of this scattered school. And I heard how thirty-something of her classmates circled together in her living room and prayed over her—because she asked them to. She’d asked for someone who knew how to please pray right then and there, because she felt the presence of a God she’d never ever encountered before.
My God is full of surprises. He uses the weak to shame the strong, uses the meek to challenge the wise, uses the lasts to bring attention to the beginnings. He uses the unexpected—a brand-new Jesus-seeker—to drag her to the last Young Life club. The club I forgot to invite her to. The club run entirely by her peers, her classmates, the brothers and sisters that rallied around her in her own home. The club where 18 of them boldly flipped over a piece of cardboard to prove that Jesus makes all things new.
April 29, 2015 | Lakeside coffeetable fourth from the right. I’ll never forget it. We dove real deep, real fast. We caught up—a whole lot of life happens in a three-year time frame. She reminded me of her story, of adoption and state-hopping and arguments and settling down all swallowed-up by Austin. She lit up as she repainted Ezra moments alive for me. Filled me in on inside jokes and the happiest of times and listed the hundreds of bullet-point ways he made her better. She mentioned the phone call, and the dark, blurry few days afterwards, and the funeral, and the uphill fight she’s hiking now. She brought a journal to our date—to take notes on how to get to know God and all the steps it will take to get her there. I got to interrupt her: no steps, no sword-fighting. Turn around to perfect Love. He’s been waiting and waving: I haven’t given up on you just yet. He’s always been there, always had her, always held her tight when she felt alone.
I told her Skylar’s story, how God took death-measures to wake up the lonely, the prodigal, the anxious yet “okay” pretenders, to assemble 35 post-grad pledge sisters from all over like only He could do. How He wrote the tragedy of one to bring hundreds to their knees in surrender. Perhaps He wrote Ezra’s to do just the same. But I had to go out with a bang—had to tell her God’s story, where He took death-measures of Jesus for her sake, for her sin. That she and I’d someday receive the forever kind of Life. Her response? I’m in. Layne, I’m all in. Sometimes, like my she-and-I moment, God’s presence feels breezy and real and right-there. I got to watch salvation make her eyes sparkle, her smile more infectious than usual. She’s been through war and dirt and death, but I’ve never looked at a more beautiful thing. She’s seen the Light, she wants a whole lot more of it. She said yes to capital-L Life and capital-L Love Himself. She’s in!
She’s always been a fighter. She fights to stay put together, to contain buckets of tears, to be the strong one—and that pace of life’s exhausting. But today, she got to breathe. She dropped tragedy’s weight, Jesus set her free. She let the Light back in. She replayed the moments of bad news, with a new shine about her. She started to notice how every bit of it had strengthened her, readied her, trained her to stay standing even when the world beneath her gave way. She said she guesses, no she thinks, no she knows it had been God all along that held her steady. She knows it was Him who multiplied the 400-expected guests to 1400, because He knew Ezra deserved a celebration at-capacity. She’s seen Him in a thousand horserides at her Onion Creek paradise. She’s even seen Him car-wrecks and kitchen arguments and the loneliest of lows. She’s seen Him take away a life but give her eternal Life. A sweet exchange, and a God that’s mighty good.
Here I am, shutting the door on this season and here He is, still handing favor out like it’s free. Look far and wide at our harvest, He says. Thanks for being one of My few. Who am I to receive that? Who am I to get to call this Mia memory mine? To sit beside her, to be restored and revived by her salvation. Don’t you see? I’m springing up a new thing. I may take away but I always always give. Joy will come, joy will always come. Let My Light back in.
You bring me low. You love to bring me low. Last club, when I’d least expect it, You win. You always win—and there’s been a whole lot of good in this. You’re faithful when I’m faithless or faith-light. You’re always on the move, while I’m quick to think Your timeline’s too inconvenient or too slow or too late. And sure, You give and You take but You revive and You remake. Thanks for her story—letting me play a tiny tiny part. Maranatha—keep coming, Jesus.