‘So, what have you been doing today?’ Sierra asked reservedly. ‘Well, I had a seven thirty class; then I went to the gym, got a bite to eat, cleaned up, and headed down to the River Walk to meet you.’ He answered with confidence.
‘Yes, I can tell you work out,’ Trisha said boldly. Sierra thought she would die at that remark, but she had really been thinking the same thing, so she went ahead and ran with it as she rolled her eyes at Trish behind Grayson’s back.
‘Do you go to the gym every day?’ she asked. ‘Actually I go twice a day; usually, once in the morning before class, and again in the evenings before dinner. Today I missed my morning workout, so I snuck it in after class.’ he explained. ‘What got you into that,’ Rachael inquired.
‘I have been competing in power lifting for the past few years,’ Grayson explained in a very humble way. It was obvious he didn’t want to brag. ‘What kind of contest did you win...? Mr. America,’ she retorted with a serious, yet jesting chuckle. She was teasing, but would not have been surprised if his answer was, ‘yes.’ ‘He definitely would have a shot,’ she thought.
‘I actually placed fourth in that competition last year in Atlanta because I hurt my back in the beginning of the meet,’ he answered back. ‘You placed fourth in the Mr. America competition, are you kidding me,’ Trisha responded unbelievingly. Grayson laughed timidly as he told her he was not kidding. ‘How did you get to that point,’ Rachael asked. She was a stickler for details.
It was obvious that Grayson felt a bit uncomfortable talking about his accomplishments, but he answered anyway. ‘Well, I won the Mr. Tennessee competition, so they sent me to Nationals, and that was where I hurt my back,’ he began.
’See, after I won State, God spoke to me and told me that I was finished competing. I knew he wanted me to go to the seminary and follow Him in ministry, but I wanted more than that. I argued with God telling Him that I had found something I was good at, and asking Him why he wouldn’t allow me to pursue it. Even though in my heart I knew that God did not want me to compete anymore, the doors of opportunity kept opening. I had corporations ready to sponsor me, I had the Olympic committee watching me, and I was invited to compete in the National competition after I took Tennessee.
I felt like it was God since there was no way I should have been winning against the guys that I was classed with. They all used steroids, and I decidedly never did. It would make them all angry because the only ‘juice’ I had before a competition was prayer, and I always won. I realize now that I was only winning because God had his hand on me to win. I know that because when I went to the Nationals, the first time I went to lift the bar I pulled my back. I dropped the weights, and lost a ton of points.
I ignored God, and went on with the remainder of that competition anyway, and I finished fourth. I still had invitations to compete in the Olympics, and sponsors ready to sign me, and honorable mention in mainstream magazines, but I knew if I went that route I would be out of God’s will. I spent three days seeking the Lord, and all he would tell me was that He had already made His will for my life evident, and I needed to quit trying to avoid it. So, here I am a seminary student and youth pastor at a little country church in La Maison, Louisiana. How’s that for a story,’ he jeered.
Rachael, Trisha, and especially Sierra were moved to tears by Grayson’s story of obedience. He had a chance at millions of dollars and to be an Olympic champion, yet he listened to God and followed that direction for his life. Sierra didn’t think her feelings for Grayson could creep any deeper into her being, but now she wondered just how deep they would actually go. ‘God, if this is not the man you have for my life, please don’t let my feelings go any deeper, I don’t know how to deal with. I am trusting that this is your will, but if I am wrong, please guard my heart because I am falling fast!’ she prayed to herself.
‘So you still work out, but you don’t compete,’ Trish said in an effort to break the silent awe they all felt. ‘Yes, that’s right. I have been working out for so many years now that it has become a way of life, a routine. I can’t imagine not going,’ he said in defense. ‘Wow, I am impressed,’ Rachael exclaimed. ‘I have never met anyone who was going to the Olympics before, or even who had a chance to go to the Olympics. That’s just the neatest thing ever, I feel like I need to ask for your autograph, almost Mr. America,’ she laughed.
‘Well, almost only counts in horse-shoes. That’s what my Grandpa always says,’ he said in response to her remark. Grayson was from a town in middle Tennessee that was even smaller than La Maison, as it turns out. He seemed so cultured, but beneath that masculine frame, he was just a great guy with a regular life, and a family about as normal as anyone else’s, trying to follow God.
‘So, do you have any brothers or sisters?’ Trish asked as she winked across the table at Sierra. He explained that he did not have any sisters, but he has two brothers. Trish asked him if his brothers were married, and if they work out too. Sierra was ready to throw her drink on Trish to make her shut up, but Grayson had a great attitude. He told her that they were not married, but one was dating someone pretty seriously, and he was the body builder. His other brother was not into the whole gym scene.
’So, how did you end up in New Orleans, and in La Maison?’ Rachael asked another practical question. Sierra was really glad that all of these questions were being asked. She was finding out a lot of things about Grayson that she really wanted to know.
He responded, ’I knew God wanted me to go to the seminary, so I searched out which ones were available, I visited around to several of them, and to be honest with you, when I came to New Orleans it was on the bottom of my list. I wanted to go where it wasn’t so hot. But when I was staying here over a weekend visit, something happened that changed my mind.
Sierra was intently listening. She too wondered how Grayson had come to be in the very place that she would happen upon him when she should have been on a plane to Greece.
‘I stood in the guest-room on campus one evening,’ he said. ’I was looking out the window watching the rain. I had the application for the school in my hand and I threw it on the table beside the cracked window. I told God that I did not like it here, that I wanted to go to just about anywhere but here, and that was when I heard him speak to me.
Sierra couldn’t believe Grayson was describing the Lord speaking to him the same way she had experienced his voice the day before. ‘What did He say,’ she asked in fascination.
‘He called me Jonah,’ Grayson replied. ’I didn’t know what that was supposed to mean, or maybe I did know, but I didn’t really want to hear it, so I closed the curtain and decided to lie down on the bed to go to sleep. When I closed my eyes, it was as if the Lord gave me a vision. I could see myself standing out in the rain, dripping wet, and weary, on one side, and over on the other side, I could see the sun shining, and a beautiful meadow. It was like God was telling me that I could make own my choice, but the blessings would not be there for me if I did.
At that moment, I jumped up from that bed, went over to that table, and filled out the application. Before I left the campus the following day I had already been accepted for the spring semester.
’So, what about La Maison, how did you end up there?’ Trish asked while stuffing her mouth with a beignet. ‘Well that is also a pretty interesting story, he admitted.’
’I moved to New Orleans at the beginning of January because the semester started on the 20th. I knew that I would need to find a ministry job so that I could get some experience under my belt. The registrar’s office has a list of churches that are looking for Pastors and Associate Pastors, so I got a copy of that list. I really didn’t want to start out with a pastorate since this whole ministry thing is new to me, and a lot of churches want their pastor to be married, so I looked into a few of the Associate requests.’ Grayson explained.
’I went and preached at three different churches. Two were in Mississippi, and one was in the southern tip of Louisiana, almost in the Gulf of Mexico - literally. I didn’t feel like they were the ones for me, but I was waiting for the second one in Mississippi to call me back. If they would have called, I probably would have gone there. Before they did though, my friend Alex came to me one Saturday night late – about seven weeks ago and said he was sick. He was supposed to be preaching in view of a call at a church in La Maison the next morning and wanted to know if I would go in his place. I already had a message ready for the other church, just in case, so I agreed. He gave me directions and I drove up the next morning.
When I finished preaching, the church had a time for questioning, and took a vote. I didn’t even realize what was going on. I thought I had just gone to fill in for Alex. Before I knew it, Pastor Allen came out and said that the vote was unanimous – I was their new Associate/Youth Pastor. I didn’t know what to say. But everyone seemed really happy, so I just said okay.’ Grayson admitted bashfully.
‘So, you were supposed to be in the Olympics and Sierra here was supposed to be in Greece when you met each other, isn’t that ironic,’ Trish spouted off at the end of his explanation. Sierra kicked her under the table. ‘Yes, that is about the sum of it Trish,’ he answered.
‘Okay, so I just have to ask,’ Rachael chimed in. Sierra cringed a bit with anticipation of what other revealing question may be about to come to the table. ‘How does a guy like you not have a girlfriend, you are about the most eligible bachelor I have ever met,’ she said without reservation. ‘Oh my goodness, you did not just say that out loud to him in front of me,’ Sierra felt sick to her stomach, yet anxiously awaited his answer.
‘That’s a funny question,’ he said before explaining that he did have a girlfriend before he moved to New Orleans. ‘At the time the Lord spoke to me about giving up the world of competition, I knew that all of the things that went along with it would have to go as well. The girl I was with had been heckling me to marry her for about three years. Something deep inside of me would not allow me to give in to that. I know now that it was God protecting me from making the biggest mistake of my life,’ replied Grayson.
‘If I had gone with my feelings I would have married her, and never known God’s true plan for my life. Every time I even tried to think about asking her to marry me something deep in my gut just would not let me do it. We were both psychology majors, and had a lot in common, but once we graduated, and God wanted me to go to the seminary, I was certain she was not the person He meant for me to spend my life with, so I broke up with her,’ he answered in such a way to assure them that he was confident in his decision.
‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ Rachael said with a look of awe on her face. ‘Too bad for her,’ Trish added. Sierra just sat stunned at the flood of information pertaining to Grayson that had filled her brain over the past hour. If she wasn’t in love before he showed up, she knew she was now. ‘Can I just say that you have got the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen,’ Trish threw in there on top of her ‘too bad for her’ comment.
‘Just ignore her, she is crazy,’ Sierra said to Grayson in Trisha’s defense. “No, it’s fine, I appreciate that Trish,” he said in reply to her compliment.
‘Well, girls; it has been nice spending time with you, but it is about that time. I am going to have to go now if I am going to beat the traffic going back across town and make it in time for my class, and Sierra; I will see you tomorrow – right?’ He said with a wink and a click of his tongue. ‘Yes, that sounds like a plan to me,’ she said with a flirty grin. ‘I look forward to it. It was nice to meet you Rachael and Trisha, please be careful driving home,’ he said – then turned and walked away.
Rachael and Trisha overpowered Sierra with comments as soon as Grayson walked away. ‘Shhhhh,’ Sierra hissed, he will hear you, at least wait until he gets to his car. ‘You did good honey,’ Trish said, ‘I can’t find one thing wrong with him.’ ‘He is like a miracle that God dropped out of heaven into New Orleans just for you,’ Rachael included. ’Who ever heard of a story like that? Neither one of them is supposed to be in the state of Louisiana right now, much less sitting around this table getting to know each other. I think maybe this really is a ‘God thing, and the fact that he looks like, well almost was Mr. America is only a bonus!’ Trish concluded.