That was my world thirty-four years ago when I was twenty-one. I moved to Alexander City and worked as the associate/youth minister with James Cullins. I was there to minister but was very much ministered to. I was adopted, loved, fed and supported. I not only survived that summer away from Jacque but thrived because the the young people and parents there embraced a stranger. They were my students and quickly became my family. I wish I had a dollar for every hour I spent on the basketball court beside my apartment. I wish I had a quarter for every basket I missed---still not my game.
Some of the guys close to my age and older made me part of their inner circle and we adventured on Lake Martin with water skis, frog gigging boats, jeeps and firearms. I learned to ski from Don Kelly. I learned what real faith, endurance and toughness was from the Tidwell family and the Matthews girls. I learned friendship and sacrifice from the Hawkins family. I learned hospitality from them all. I learned compassion from an Eldership that told me one Wednesday night after services, “We understand about girls in Arkansas named Jacque…why don’t you take a few days on your way back from Indiana and go see her.”
I was honored to return and speak there today. It was humbling to hear the things people remembered. It was special to see people I have loved for years but last seen thirty plus years ago.
I can’t properly describe how that summer changed me. But it did. I am indebted to everyone who was involved in it. (Forgive me if I didn’t mention you by name, allude to you or your story from that summer…but if you were there you know who we were and what we became together).