Father encouraged me to apply to the state university, known for liberal policies and much partying by the student body. I was fearful that I wouldn’t fit in because of my religious beliefs, but he retold the story of how he had found the Lord while a student there.
“Besides,” he added, “It has one of the best music schools in the country. If you want to develop your talent on the piano, that is the place to go.”
I expected that mother, who has home-schooled me, would be against my going there, but she coached me through many drafts of my all-important application essay. We incorporated a plea for favourable consideration into our daily prayers.
When I received the letter of acceptance, I expressed my shock, but mother said it was an indication of the power of prayer, a lesson to take to college. I had to agree. I could only describe this as a miracle.
I discovered upon arriving at the dorm that another prayer had been answered. My roommate, Jared, was a minister’s son, and his conviction was more developed than mine.
After unpacking and arranging, we booted up our computers and in no time were on the dorm’s website. We were invited to an informal gathering in the dorm’s lounge, an opportunity to find others who shared our interests.
“We will announce the formation of our prayer circle,” Jared said. “Surely there are other Evangelicals in the dorm.”
I said that was a great idea.
We discovered that activities were well under way. Groups of students clustered throughout the large room, including one group watching a baseball game on the large-screen TV in one corner. Jared suggested that we split up and move among the clusters, inviting people to join our prayer circle.
Although I have difficulty meeting new people, I did as instructed. Jared soon signalled me to return.
“How many have joined our circle?”
“None. How many did you get?”
“None. I think the thing to do is just take a prominent position and start praying. Surely others will be moved to join us.”
We claimed a raised platform to one side of the lounge. Jared said, “Hold my right hand and extend your other hand palm open, so others can join in. I’ll do the same and lead off. If you feel moved to pray for something, squeeze my hand, and I’ll let you take over.”
I held his hand as instructed, bowed my head, and closed my eyes. Jared began by acknowledging the Lord in all his wisdom and prayed for the souls of our dorm mates. My fear about being jeered at, or worse, never materialised, but no one took hold of my free hand. Even though I thought Jared’s voice was certainly carrying through the room, the ambient noise level stayed constant.
I opened my eyes to see if my ears were deceiving me. It was true. Nobody was paying attention to us. I took my time to scan the room and saw a circle of girls in another corner of the lounge engaged in some kind of communal ritual. I was shocked to see that one of the girls wore only a brightly coloured sash around her waist. I stared more closely and saw that the girl was clothed, barely, in a flesh-coloured leotard.
I noticed that Jared had stopped praying, looked at him, and saw that he was looking at me. “You squeezed my hand. What are you going to pray for?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to squeeze. Sorry.”
“Well, pray for something.”
I would have, except I kept my eyes open, and those girls overtook my senses. They bent over backwards, held the pose for a provocatively long time, and then bent forward. There was definite coordination in their actions, but I couldn’t tell who was in charge. I only knew that they were very limber, dressed in revealing clothing, and attractive, especially the girl with the colourful sash at her waist.
Jared again prayed for the salvation of the room’s occupants, which prompted an overweight boy with long, stringy hair to shout that Jared was repeating himself. He said amen, and we stopped holding hands. The boy clapped. Jared looked at me for support. I hope I gave it to him by standing there. I couldn’t think of a thing to say.
A few days later I followed a group of girls from my dorm. The weather was very warm, and they were all wearing shorts, some quite revealing, and tops that bared too much skin. Mother would not approve. As we made our way across campus, girls split off to go into buildings, until there was just one girl in front of me. She waited as I approached. I realised it was the girl with the colourful sash.
“You’re in my dorm. Why were you holding hands with that other guy?”
“Oh, that was our prayer circle. Are you Born Again?”
“No, just born.” She giggled. “I’m Emily.” She offered her hand.
I completed the introduction. “Would you be interested in joining our prayer group?”
“No, thanks. I’ve committed to enough activities.” She pointed to the textbook I was carrying. “Are you headed to Biology 101? Me, too!”
We walked together the rest of the way and took seats in the front row of the large auditorium. I tried to think of something to say but was overwhelmed that Emily’s top afforded a view of the gap between her breasts. The instructor entered, welcomed us, outlined his expectations, and asked if we had any questions. I immediately raised my hand.
“I looked in the index of our textbook and didn’t see a single reference to God’s role in creation.”
“You’re bullshitting me, right?”
“I would never do that, sir.”
“Keep your faith out of this biology class, or any science class for that matter, unless you want to fail.”
“You’re saying the Bible has no relevance?”
“Not to the scientific method. You will find those tenets in chapter one of our text, page one. Accept that as the Gospel, and you’ll do all right.”
Emily said, “You have no right to ridicule his beliefs.”
Although the instructor’s equation of the Gospels with a biology textbook struck me to the core, I was equally shocked that this beautiful girl had stuck up for me. Later in the class, we were assigned to the same lab team and started studying together.
I discovered that Emily had a commitment to many liberal causes and was particularly passionate about humans causing global warming and its impact on the Earth. When I told her that this was all God’s plan and, therefore, shouldn’t be a concern, she vigorously disputed, eyes ablaze, barely containing tears, I thought. Later that night I asked God for guidance on how to argue His supremacy and went to bed wanting. I soon discovered that our biology lecturer shared Emily’s passion.
She also played piano, would discuss scripture, which she knew very little about, and could easily amuse me. The more we studied and laughed together, the more I was aware of turmoil inside me. When I was with her, that was where I wanted to be. When I was away from her, she was all I thought about. When I saw her with another boy my thoughts turned to rage. I also desired to see more of her than she’d already displayed in her usual, casual dress.
Jared met a girl from China, an exchange student. He was determined to convert her to Christianity, but that was overcome by the desire to get her to like him. In matters of romance, though, Jared was useless. He attended an all-boys Christian academy, so he had as much experience with girls as me. We decided to incorporate a plea for guidance towards girls, or women, as Emily has insisted that I call her and other girls, into our nightly prayers.
I thought of discussing the Emily situation with father. He was a man, after all, and had courted mother, but he told me in an earnest conversation a few years ago that birds mated with bees, which didn’t correspond to what I’ve learned in biology class.
Jared asked his father for advice, which was to take many cold showers and wear tight underwear. Good advice, probably, but we were still in the dark as to how to initiate a conversation about romance with our intendeds.
I worried that Emily was tiring of me. I sensed impatience whenever we were together, and she no longer caressed my arm if we touched in greeting.
One night Jared said the lack of divine guidance was a sign that we should stop praying for this; the bodily urges we felt were the work of the devil. I feared that he might be correct.
The clear voice of the Lord spoke to me: Ask Emily to pray with you.
It was the first time He had spoken to me at the university. I told Jared what had just happened, and we fell to our knees to give thanks. After my hands stopped shaking I texted Emily, asking if she would meet me in the lounge. It was nearly midnight, but she replied right away that she would.
I ran down the stairs. To my great relief, few people occupied the room. As I waited I sensed that I should’ve gone to the bathroom. When she entered with her usual big smile, my voice deserted me, and I squawked out unintelligible syllables in greeting. Her smile widened, which further addled my senses.
“Would you,” I began, relief flooding through me that these words came out normally, “consider...”
Her beautiful blue eyes. She leaned towards me and puckered her lips. Closer. Time in slow motion. My first kiss.
My knees gave out, but I settled onto a sofa, miraculously behind me. She sat beside me. Electricity raced through me, and sweat poured out of every duct. I apologised and took out my handkerchief to mop the flow. Among many other thoughts, I wondered if I was crying.
“I’m not sure what comes next,” I admitted.
“What do you mean?”
“Do we get married?”
“No. We have to date first.”
“What does that mean?”
She thought for a moment. “Well, tell me that you like me whenever you see me. Hold my hand when we walk to biology class. We’ll sit together at a small table in the cafeteria instead of with a group of people. We’ll share what we’ve done during the day. If you hear of a good lecture or programme, you’ll ask me if I’d like to go. You’ll kiss me when you see me and then again when you feel like it.” She nodded her head. “That’s a good start.”
It seemed like a lot to remember.