As Sierra stepped out of her mother’s car and headed toward the rusty door of the fellowship hall, she half expected it to open before she reached the handle. This time; however, that was not the case. She opened the door and walked in with no one to greet her on the other side. No one was there at all, at least not in the fellowship hall. She could hear laughter down the hallway, so she walked toward the sound. ‘Maybe the youth don’t meet in here on Sunday nights anymore,’ she thought to herself as she went toward the voices down the hall. Her assumption was correct, the voices led her to a room that had been the nursery in the days that she attended Flowing Creek Church. It had been redecorated and turned into a youth room upon Grayson’s arrival.
Comfortable, mismatched couches lined the walls. An enormous red and black rug was thrown in the center of the huge, square room with a wooden podium sitting on it. It looked as if everyone in the congregation had dropped off the furniture they no longer needed so the youth could use it to make their own little club. It appeared to work for them, about thirty teenagers were there. Some were wrestling around and having a great time on the rug, others were sitting on the couches cheering them on.
‘Do you guys know if Grayson is here yet?’ Sierra asked awkwardly. ‘Yeahhhhh – are you his new girlfriend? He’s a lucky dog,’ yelled out one of the teenagers. Embarrassed and turning red in the face, Sierra said, ‘No, I am not his girlfriend, I am here to speak to the youth tonight, can you tell me where I can find Grayson?’ A tall, brutish looking guy who was obviously one of the older youth yelled out from the rug, ‘Well, if you aren’t his girlfriend, would you be mine?’ ‘Come on Guys, where can I find Grayson? I need to talk with him before we get started with the youth meeting tonight,’ Sierra called their bluff. A couple of the girls got up from the couches and directed her to his office down the hall.
Sierra was nervous, but tried not to show it. One of the girls asked, ‘Are you the one who sang this morning?’ ‘Actually, yes, I am. My name is Sierra, what’s yours?’ ‘Mine is Amanda and hers is Kate, you have a really pretty voice. Are you going to sing again tonight?’ She asked. ‘No, I am only going to talk tonight, but thank you. That was really sweet.’
‘Grayson’s office is right here, he is usually in there until it is time for the meeting to start, we have about five minutes,’ Kate said. ‘Thanks girls, I really appreciate it. I will see you back in the youth room in a few minutes,’ Sierra said before she knocked on the door. She smiled because she heard the girls chuckling as they ran back down the hall toward the youth room. They knew something was up.
With a knock at the door she heard Grayson stand up from his chair. ‘Come in,’ he said with his deep masculine voice. Sierra took one last, deep breath and opened the door. ‘Come in – please, sit down, just keep the door opened if you don’t mind, that’s just a precaution I always take,’ Grayson spouted nervously as Sierra walked into his office and grabbed a seat. ‘So, are you ready to speak to the youth tonight? I really appreciate your willingness to come on such short notice,’ Grayson said. It was obvious to Sierra that she was not the only one anxious and feeling awkward about this meeting. ‘Well, Brother Allen said you would like me to tell the youth what life was like in the Air Force, so there was really nothing to prepare. I only have one story, I figured I would just tell it and answer any questions the kids might have. Does that sound like a plan?’ She asked. “You and your plans, yes, it does. That sounds great, so if you are ready then I am ready. Let’s go!’ Grayson encouraged Sierra as he took off his windbreaker and placed it on the coat-rack in the corner of his tiny office.
He was no longer wearing a tie. He had changed into a navy-blue jogging suit. When he took off his windbreaker, the red t-shirt underneath was clinging to his ripped abs until he pulled on the bottom of it to straighten it out. It was only for a second, but long enough to remind Sierra that what she had seen earlier was not only a dream. It was standing before her in real life! Grayson winked at Sierra and said, ‘Follow me.’
‘I will follow you anywhere,’ Sierra thought as she turned out the light and closed Grayson’s office door. ‘I will just sit down and let you do what you normally do, then when you are ready for me to speak you can let me know, okay,’ Sierra said, obviously feeling inadequate. ‘That sounds like a plan,’ Grayson said sarcastically with a smirk on his face.
‘I think he is flirting with me, I really hope he is flirting with me,’ Sierra thought as she followed him to the youth room and took a seat in the corner on a fold-out chair rather than getting too comfortable with the kids on the couches.
‘Okay guys, I have something special for you tonight,’ Grayson said enthusiastically in an effort to gain their attention. ‘I’ll bet you do Gray-boy,’ one of the teenage boys from across the room teased. ‘Just how special is it Mr. Raines?’ said another. It was apparent that Grayson was a bit uncomfortable with the accusations - as he became a bit fidgety. ‘Now guys, that’s enough. Tonight we are going to play a game, then we will have a special guest speak to us about what life is like in the United States Air Force. After that, if everyone gives her your undivided attention, you will find out what I have for you that is special. Does that sound like a plan?’ With those words, Grayson glared over at Sierra and gave her a wink and a thumbs-up.
‘Oh boy, he is flirting! I can’t let him see that I am flustered. Sierra, just act normal, be calm, and don’t do anything stupid,’ she thought.
Grayson grabbed two huge trash-cans and placed them at the far end of the room. He moved the podium off of the rug, and told everyone to stay seated, and keep the middle of the floor unoccupied. He brought out a bag full of ping pong balls and some duck-tape. He walked to the end of the room opposite the trash-cans and placed a strip of tape about a foot long in two spots behind the rug.
Grayson explained, ‘I will divide the group into two teams. Whichever team you are on will determine which tape line you should stand behind when your name is called. When it is your turn, stand behind the tape line. Your objective is to bounce the ping pong ball one time and make it into the trash-can on your side of the line. You may not throw the ping pong ball directly into the trash-can. You may not step across the tape line, and you may not make the ball into the trash-can of the other team. You must stand behind your team’s tape line, bounce the ping pong ball in such a manner that it goes from the rug to the trash-can designated for your team. Each ball that makes it into the appropriate trash-can amounts to one point. The team with the most points after each team member has taken a turn wins. Does everyone understand?’
‘Yes, we understand.’ They answered in unison. With that, Grayson started down one side of the room and up the other, “1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2… until everyone was given a number. ‘Okay, all of the one’s get on this side of the room and all of the twos get on that side of the room – Go!’
Sierra was amazed at how much control he had over the kids. He was really good with them. He knew what he wanted, and he knew how to make them comply. She liked that about him, if she were honest with herself, she would have to admit that she liked everything about him. More than that; however, Sierra enjoyed watching him run around the room, and she loved listening to his voice. ‘I don’t even know this guy, what is wrong with me!’ She thought still wondering what he did to make himself look like a body builder.
‘Now, before you get started, Sierra and I are going to demonstrate how this game works for you,’ Grayson surprised Sierra with those words to say the least. ‘Is he joking, I don’t know how to play this game,’ Sierra responded immediately. ‘Exactly, that’s why we need you to demonstrate. They don’t know how to play either, so they can learn from your mistakes before they make their own.’
’This guy is a practical joker. He is playing games with me already, I am not sure how to take it. Alright, alright, I will give it a shot, but I am not much of a game player, so don’t take any pointers from me. ‘Woo-hoo!’ the kids yelled as she made her way to the tape line.
Sierra grabbed a ping pong ball, stood behind the line and waited as Grayson made an attempt at bouncing his into the trash-can. He missed, the kids laughed hysterically and began cheering, ‘Sier-ra, Sier-ra, Sier-ra!’ She tried to aim the ball the same way she would aim her nine millimeter pistol at the shooting range. She had been a Law Enforcement Security Police during her enlistment in the service, and she had an expert shooting record. ‘Here goes nothing she thought,’ and bounced the ping pong ball across the rug and directly into the trash-can. The kids went ballistic. Grayson could not stand being upstaged by a girl, especially this girl, he said, ‘Give me another ball – let me show you how it is done!’ He bounced a second ball and missed again, but at least this time it bounced off the edge of the trash-can. ‘One more, give me one more,’ he shouted laughingly, ‘I am just warming up.’ Grayson’s third attempt at aiming the ping pong ball redeemed his manhood to some degree; he made it into the can.
Sierra was glad, she felt kind-of bad about making him look bad in front of his youth group, but not too bad. ‘Okay buster, you got three tries, so I get three tries too,’ she jeered. ‘Give me two more ping pong balls.’ Fearing she had built herself up to a challenge she couldn’t meet, Sierra aimed nervously, then stopped and said, ‘If I make this it will make your youth leader look bad, so maybe I will miss on purpose.’ Everyone cheered and laughed, ‘Okay, here goes nothing,’ Sierra said as she bounced her second ping pong ball directly into the trash-can.
The brutish boy who offered to date Sierra before the meeting started yelled, ‘Whoa! That’s two out of three, Gray she already beat you dude!’ ‘Okay guys, one more. Let’s see if she can go three-for-three,’ Grayson said, as he too began to cheer Sierra on.
The room grew quiet, almost too quiet, as Sierra aimed the third ball at the trash-can. She bounced it in the same spot on the rug and it went directly into the trash-can for the third time in a row. Grayson instantly reacted without thinking. He grabbed Sierra like a rag-doll, lifted her feet off of the floor, and hugged her with his virile arms as if he had done it a million times. She wanted to stay there forever. She could feel his chest against her body and his face so close to hers that she could feel his breath. Grayson and Sierra both knew at that moment that something was happening, a God thing. The chemistry was too strong to deny. They just looked with an intense stare into each other’s eyes, even if only for a second, it was enough. Then he put her down.
Sierra’s mother always told her that, ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Grayson’s actions spoke volumes to her. She knew now that he too felt the overwhelming connection that had knocked her off balance and kept her there all day long.
As the kids went on to play the rest of the game, Sierra and Grayson attempted to cheer the teams on and act normal, but neither of them could stop glancing in the other’s direction. ‘How can I be in love with someone I have not even known a day,’ Sierra pondered in her mind as she gave way to the reality that was in her heart. This was the guy. She just knew it was the guy she had been praying for. She could never have imagined that she would find him in the very place she burst her tennis-shoes to get away from after finishing high school. She would never have believed that God would answer her prayers when she felt so far away from his will.
The very reason Sierra joined the Air Force in the first place was to get away from there. She wanted to meet new people, see new places, and definitely find a husband one day without connections to La Maison. She was now convinced that God does have a sense of humor after all.
With this reality, Sierra tried to prepare herself to speak to the youth, knowing that Grayson would be listening intently to every word she said in an effort to learn more about this girl who was rocking his world the same way he had rocked hers. ‘Um, Grayson, I am going to go grab a glass of water while they finish up this game,’ she spoke bashfully.
‘Okay, that’s fine, we have five or ten more minutes, so go right ahead,’ he said in thoughtful response. Sierra rushed out of the youth room and made a direct line to the bathroom. She wanted to check her hair, her clothes, her make-up, and her teeth to make sure she looked okay before becoming the center of attention, not for the youth group, but for Edward.
When she got to the restroom, Alisa was there. ‘Soooo, how is it going,’ she asked. Oh my- Alisa, I am about to hyperventilate. He has been flirting with me, I really think he feels the same thing I am feeling. As crazy as it sounds, I think I love this guy. I never believed in love at first sight, but he has made a believer out of me! I can’t even think straight,’ she whispered excitedly. She told Alisa that Grayson thought she had gone to get water, but she really just had to get out of the room for a minute before she passed out from the pounding of her heart.
‘It sounds like the real deal girl; I always told you when you know you know. Now you know. It is not something anyone can really explain, but when that match made in heaven happens, all doubt is removed.’ Alisa said with assurance. ‘Thank you! Thank you; so much, for not making me feel like I am a nutcase, Alisa,’ Sierra said as she hugged her sister-in-law like never before. ‘I have to get back in there, the game is just about over, and I have to go get a glass of water so he won’t think I lied.’ Sierra was anxious as she ran out the door of the bathroom toward the kitchen to get a glass. ‘Relax, relax, relax Sierra, you have to come back to planet earth before you get back in that youth room,’ she reprimanded herself as she hurried to the water fountain with a small paper cup she had found in the kitchen cabinet.
As she filled the cup with water from the fountain just outside the youth room, Grayson cracked the door and said, ‘Are you about ready? Team two won the game.’ ‘Yes, I am coming right now,’ she answered as she walked toward the door as Grayson held it open for her. She went into the youth room and sat in the same folding chair as before, anxious, but trying to seem calm.
‘As I told you before, we have a guest speaker today. I have asked Sierra Bradley to come and share with you what it is like to live and work in the Air Force, especially from a Christian perspective,’ Grayson gave as an introduction.
‘Oh boy, how am I going to share life in the service from a Christian perspective when I have not exactly been living according to one myself? Should I be honest, knowing that Grayson will judge my actions, or should I sugar-coat it to make myself look good?’ She thought.
‘Without waiting any longer, Sierra, why don’t you come now and share with us what is on your heart,’ Grayson said as he began to clap his hands encouraging the kids to do the same. ‘My goodness, I surely can’t share what’s on my heart today,’ she thought, but she smiled and walked to the podium Grayson had placed back on the rug for her to lean on. ‘Thank you so much, I appreciate that,’ Sierra said in response to their applause.
’I pondered in my mind what aspect of life in the military the Lord wanted me to share with you today, and to be honest with you, until right now I really had no direction. There are so many different perspectives to draw from that I was having difficulty choosing just one. As I made my way to this podium, I believe the Lord spoke to me and wants me to share this with you. I joined the service to get away from ‘life as I knew it.’ I wanted to ‘find myself,’ and become my own person. I was tired of being told by my parents how I was going to do things, and when I was going to do things. I wanted to make my own decisions, even if they were mistakes. With that immature and selfish attitude, I did just that. I made decisions, and I made mistakes. I will live with those decisions, but I learned from them, and if you will listen to me tonight, you too can learn from my mistakes without having to make your own. God has a plan for each of us. That plan is in stone, and no matter how we try to run from it and do our own thing, He will have His way. When I ask myself why I went into the Air Force, I regret to admit that my answer is not, ‘Because that is what the Lord told me to do.’ When I met the guy I have been dating for the past two years, I regret to admit that I was not dating him because he was the guy God told me to date. When I bought the car that I have been driving since I started my job with the Law Enforcement Security Police Force at my Air Base, I regret to tell you that I did not buy it because that was what God told me to do. I guess what I am trying to say is, more than anything else I have learned while serving in the military, I realize today that if we make decisions according to our own wishes and desires rather than according to the desire God has for our lives, we will get off track – not sometimes, but every time. So if I can encourage you with anything tonight, it is this: Don’t decide what you want for your life. Let God decide, and if there is even a shadow of doubt over any decision you are about to make, whether it be a small issue or a huge, life decision, don’t make it. Never make a move in life, whether it is choosing a career, choosing a school, choosing a boyfriend or girlfriend, choosing a car to drive, or even just choosing where you are going to go for lunch tomorrow without first having that unhindered assurance that it is the choice God would have you to make. I could say a whole lot more, but that is the real message I believe God sent me here tonight to share with you.’
It’s funny, the whole time Sierra spoke to the youth; she didn’t look over at Grayson one time. She had not noticed that his face had lost all of its color. He was as white as a sheet, and in a mesmerized state.