Almost precisely 22 years ago I met a boy at a gospel meeting at his church. He was tall, thin, blonde, funny. He seemed smart. He was remarkably not awkward.
But I was 13 and not so into boys and when my mom said, “That boy, Justin, was cute” I said, “yeah” indifferently.
Two weeks later he’d show up at my house with his friends for a fall festival. He’d planned to set his friend Steve up with “the cute girl” who came to the gospel meeting. But then we spent a night at a party and things changed.
We ended up partners in the balloon toss (thanks, Mom), and broke our balloon almost immediately. I turned to step out of the game when I saw a deflated balloon fly my way and I caught it and threw it back and in the end we claimed we’d won because we’d made it to the end and caught the balloon every time. You didn’t say anything about popping it… I remember throwing that sad balloon to this boy with these eyes and thinking, He’s looking at me like I’m the most interesting thing he’s ever seen and like I’ve been his best friend for ten years.
Next we bobbed for apples and he soaked his shirt because he was nearly as competitive as I was and so I grabbed one of my t-shirts and he wore it for the rest of the night and once I caught him smelling it.
We played basketball and as usual I played like the boys, too rough on defense, handsy. I didn’t notice I was guarding him. Not really.
We watched a movie in my living room and my friend Jessica whispered to me, “Why does that boy keep turning around to stare at you?”
And then the night was over and we crammed into the car to drive him and his friends home and his friend Steve got in the car and I went to get in, but he pushed in quick so I’d have to sit beside him (not Steve), my hair in his face, his laughs in my ear. We sang along to the radio and I said, “You sing?” And he said, “You sing?”
Later that night, way later, probably morning, my girlfriends and I played the wedding game, which wasn’t much of a game, just an excuse to plan our weddings and force our friends to tell who they had a crush on. And when it was my turn I said my bridesmaids’ dresses would be navy and I’d probably marry that boy Justin. Why not?
A couple weeks later we’d walk beside the Gulf of Mexico under the Reddington Pier telling each other everything. He had a girlfriend. And probably we shouldn’t have been walking alone because he did. But I didn’t care so much. I didn’t care because this guy I was walking beside who I’d just met but felt like I’d known forever, this boy talking about stars and football and geometry and God and the future—I loved him.
If that meant he would be my boyfriend one day, great. If it simply meant he’d be my best friend, that was good too. However things worked out, in that moment I knew God had brought me a gift, an other, a match. Justin Gerhardt and I were a pair. Right from the start.
I am glad he broke up with his girlfriend.
Tonight I drove out to Reddington Pier to catch the sunset. I remembered those days of walking that beach. We probably walked it fifty times. I took a picture and sent it to Justin. I said, “God started something truly beautiful in this place.”
I wrote this tonight because I wanted to remember how such a good thing started. Because I wanted to thank God for a chance meeting at a church I didn’t go to. For getting paired in the balloon toss. For long walks on the beach.
I’m crying right now—not because it’s all so romantic. It is and it isn’t. It’s just two kids becoming friends, discovering their same-ness and the weird way they fit.
No, I’m crying because those two kids walking and talking beneath the stars to the sound of surf, they’re going to do some amazing things—God’s going to do some amazing things through them. They’re going to lead people to God together. They’re going to bring light to dark places together. They’re going to build things together and fight together and hope together. They’re going to raise humans together, humans who’ll love God and serve people. They’re going to give generously together and teach together and take gigantic leaps of faith together. They’re going to help shape one another into much, much better people.
You see, when I look back, when I watch Jennifer and Justin say all the things on Reddington Beach, discovering each other, I feel like I’m watching something historic happen, like I’m watching Priscilla meet Aquila at a high school party.
We’re not anything special, Justin and I. But God is. And what God’s done through this simple pairing floors me.
You have moments like these, moments when something holy began, moments when you can see the first bloom of life, moments like the moment you saw your child on the ultrasound, not much of anything yet, no real body parts to pick out, but still alive, begun, becoming.
Sometimes we don't know we're in those moments in the moment. But when we look back we can see it. Today, I think you should take the time to look back and see it. Find a beginning and thank God for it.