God’s sense of humor 4 – Meeting Jesus at Jellystone

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28 NLT

I was entering the ninth grade when my family moved back to California from Colorado. I was disappointed that we didn’t move back to our hometown, but settled, instead, in a town about 15 miles away. I was the new kid again. But things began looking up pretty quickly.

It took me about five minutes in the new house to discover that just down the street and around the corner from our place lived an auburn-haired goddess who looked to be about my age. Her best friend lived a few houses up from mine so the two girls walked by our house a few times each day. Suddenly our move to the new town didn’t seem all that bad. By fortunate coincidence, or the sovereignty of God, it turned out that we were all in the same grade at the same school.

I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She was the girl of my dreams, and by the ninth grade, a boy has had dreams, trust me. She had long, flowing auburn hair, thick and fiery like Vermont in the fall, and bright, silvery braces that made my knees weak—I loved girls with braces. She had big, beautiful brown eyes like the Van Morrison song that played in my head whenever I saw her- “Are you my, brown-eyed girl?”

But the most curious thing about the cute red-haired girl was that she happened to attend the little church in town where my aunt and uncle served, and, she was a friend with my cousins from the church in the next town where another aunt and uncle were ministers. Now, that’s just weird. What are the chances of that? If we would have moved into a house a few blocks over I would have been in another school district, or to my hometown, where I wanted to move, we would have never met.

So the little red-haired girl invites me to church. Grrr! What do I do now? The last thing I needed to learn is that the girl of my dreams is as nutty as a can of Planters. So, in the interest of sanity, even if it meant celibacy, I declined her invitation. I just couldn’t see myself going through the whole “Bait and Switch” thing again.

Not to be denied, sometime later, the little red-haired girl invited me to a Youth Group Retreat, which would be attended by both her church and my cousins’ church, as well as chaperoned by several aunts and uncles. Yikes.
Luckily, I found an excuse why I couldn’t go to the Youth Retreat with the red-haired girl and all my cousins. The calendar worked in my favor this time. I had a game and I was scheduled to pitch. Whew.

At some point in the first inning, I noticed some commotion in the stands behind our dugout. I looked over and there, on the typically deserted bleachers, was the entire Youth Group from the little red-haired girl’s church. Seeing them threw off my game, which, as a rule, wasn’t usually on anyhow. Between innings I walked over to the fence to find out what was up, as the Youth Group Retreat started several hours earlier, and I’d figured they would all be long gone by now.

They had decided to wait for me. Lucky me. I spent the next six innings trying in vain to concoct another excuse.
Later that night I found myself at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Campground, surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, and the girl of my dreams. The speaker was a missionary from some mysterious, exotic sounding locale.

I sat mesmerized as he told stories of jungle tribes. Back then your only frame of reference for stories like his were National Geographic magazines that always included pictures of dark, shoeless clans, including native women without shirts. I was spellbound; my imagination in high gear. He said that God loved the jungle people and Jesus came to the earth to die for their sins. All this time I thought God was an American and spoke English.

That night, through tear-filled eyes that were equal parts campfire smoke and Holy Spirit conviction, I asked Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior.

I had trouble sleeping that night. Sleeping in a bag on the ground while my cousins farted and cracked wise was part of it, but there was more. I felt strangely euphoric, as if something significant had taken place in my life, like a heavy tumor had been excised and I was lighter.

My mother and I were baptized the following Sunday. MaryAnn, aka, the little red-haired girl, and I started dating, which back then was called “going together,” soon thereafter.

As it turned out, she had been praying since she was a little girl that someday she could marry a preacher. I’m not sure why she would pray that. Maybe when she was still very young, sitting in church by her grandmother in her little frilly dresses, stockings and shiny white church shoes, still too small for her feet to touch the floor, she saw the pastor as a strong and friendly man, who always smiled and talked about God’s love. She decided on her own that this was the kind of husband she wanted. So she began to pray.

Romans 8:28 is true even when a little girl is too young to know the verse. God heard the prayers of that little girl who loved Him with all her heart, and He devised a whole system of circumstances and events to answer her prayers by, ultimately, offering me the opportunity to choose Him and us the opportunity to choose each other. We could have said no, that is called free will, but we didn’t. We said yes. Specifically, we said, “I do,” about six years after the weekend at Jellystone Campground. I was ordained a few weeks after that and she got her preacher.

Try to tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Sincerely,

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