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The Most Precious Gift

 

          I stared in wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror and disbelief at my good friend Lacey, a tall Styrofoam cup of icy Dr. Pepper frozen en route to my thirsty lips. I felt almost as if she had just snatched the cup from my hand and emptied its contents down my shirt. She might as well have done it. That would have been way less shocking than the words that had just left her mouth.

          "You're joking," I accused when I finally recovered enough to speak. I took a gulp of Dr. Pepper and, with shaking hands, placed the cup onto the table, almost spilling it in the process. I continued to stare at her, rigid and unblinking. "Please tell me you're joking."

          "Nope," she responded, a huge smile across her face. How in the world can you smile at a time like this? my mind yelled to her. As far as I was concerned, there was absolutely no reason for happiness at all.

          So, what, you ask, exactly is this news that had me in such a state of shock? With that huge, joyful smile on her face, Lacey had just informed me that two of my dearest friends, Kathleen and Jason, were about to make a move from our sleepy little town of Alto, Texas, to the larger, bustling city of Carthage, Texas. And it was set to take place in just two weeks' time. Two weeks. Fourteen days. Three hundred and thirty-six hours. To some people, two weeks might have seemed like a fairly long amount of time, even in that situation. To me, however, it was nothing. And I had a sneaking suspicion that the following two weeks would be the quickest two weeks out of all my sixteen years.

          As I drove home from youth group that night, I was entirely incapacitated by a sense of total, mind-numbing shock. Kathleen and Jason were moving? How could that possibly be happening? And why was it happening? The tears that I had been holding back ever since Lacey's announcement began to slip down my cheeks, and I started to pray. I told God that I knew that there were people in Carthage who needed them and their parents (their father is a Baptist preacher), but also pointed out that there were people in Alto who needed them as well. I asked Him why He was doing this when He knew how much they meant to me. "Please, Lord," I begged. "Can't You take somebody else?"

          Kathleen and Jason have been in my life for the past two years. They moved to Alto at the start of her seventh-grade year, which was the start of his freshman year (I was going into the eighth grade). A friend of mine introduced me to Kathleen at a football game, and we hit it off right away. Not more than five minutes after we met, we were laughing and talking and goofing off together like we'd known each other our whole lives. Where that first encounter left off, hours of phone conversations (not to mention countless Instant Messaging sessions on the Internet) picked up. We would tell each other our deepest secrets, share our hopes, dreams, and goals for the future, gush over the cute boys at school, swap hilarious stories that we'd acquired over the years, laugh until we cried, and just tie up the phone line until someone finally forced us to hang up.

          My relationship with Jason wasn't really all that strong that first year or so. In fact, it wasn't a relationship at all. The first time I ever saw Jason, I honestly thought he was a nerd. I don't really remember why; there was just something about him that gave me that impression. It could have just been the fact that he was very introverted. After dating him for a short while, my good friend Brianna declared him "romantically slow" as well. According to her, he was always incredibly shy with her; seemingly reluctant to even hug her whenever they left each other's company. Regardless of these things, there was always just something about Jason that just sort of drew me in to him. I saw him around school from time to time, and the more I looked, the more attractive he became to me. Eventually, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend some time around him, and I walked away from that opportunity with a crush on him.

          Kathleen and I grew closer with time. Whenever I had a problem, big or small, I could always count on her for advice and consolation, and she could always count on me for the same thing. Even when nobody else could do it, it seemed like she always knew what to say to make everything seem okay and make me wonder things like, "Oh, my gosh...I got all freaked out over that?" she didn't really understand my attraction to her brother (but then again, I haven't met many people who understand why someone has a crush on their sibling), but was always very accepting of it.

          On the first day of my freshman year, I walked into the gymnasium for my sixth-period P. E. class to find that fate was smiling down on me. It turned out that Jason had been placed into that very same class. However, though we were together five days out of the week for about ten minutes short of an hour after lunch, our paths never really crossed all that much. The only time we ever spoke was when my friend Rhain and I were walking the perimeter of the gym and he and his buddy Chayce were shooting hoops, he lost the ball, and I retrieved it for him. There were times I'd call his house to talk to Kathleen and he'd answer the phone, but we didn't talk then, either. This went on until one day a few weeks before school was released for summer vacation, and, out of the blue, he started saying hi to me in the hallway and things like that. It didn't take long at all for it to become like we'd always been friends. He was the first guy who never turned his back on me or led me on when I (at long, long last) gathered up the courage to tell him that I had a crush on him.

          When I arrived home that night, I went into my bedroom and sat down on my bed in silence, just staring down at the floor. My mind struggled to make sense of what was going on. How could Kathleen and Jason be leaving? I'd made so many beautiful memories with them. Although they had only been around for two years, I felt as if I'd known them forever. And now, they were moving. Dear God, how can this be happening? I wondered for about the millionth time since Lacey had first told me the news.

          That night was a rough one. I tossed and turned, unable to sleep. My mind was full of memories of the times that Kathleen and Jason and I had shared. At the junior varsity football games on Thursday nights, the three of us would sit with the same group and talk the entire time, not even paying a whole lot of attention to what was happening on the field. During halftime at the varsity games, I would head up into the bleachers to visit with them while the other cheerleaders were in the bathroom fixing their hair and make-up or at the concession stand. I attended a Disciple Now weekend at their church and had the time of my life. Then, about a month after that, I went with their youth group to watch Casting Crowns perform in Tyler. Kathleen took piano lessons at the same place at which Jason and I were enrolled in guitar lessons, and we got to hang out there on Monday nights. Music was kind of like our common bond. I think that's really one of the things that made me so close to them. None of my other buddies were really all that into music, so I developed a different connection with Kathleen and Jason than I did with anyone else.

          When I got to school the next morning, I waited anxiously for Kathleen to arrive so that I could ask her if it was really true about them moving. It's not that I didn't trust Lacey; it's just that I wanted for it to be a lie so badly that I was willing to believe pretty much anything except for the fact that it was true.

          As soon as Kathleen sat down at the table we always sat at with our friends before school started, the first thing she said to me was, in a solemn voice with sad eyes, "Have you heard?" I just nodded, fearing that if I spoke, I'd only end up crying. We sat there together, neither one of us saying much of anything. When the bell rang, we shared a sad smile and headed off to our first-period classes.

          I could tell that Jason was upset as well. When I saw him in the hallway before third period, he smiled and said hi to me the way he always did, but it wasn't the real thing at all. The smile was halfhearted, and his voice was tinged with sadness. I gave my standard smile and hi in return, but mine, too, was halfhearted. It was so hard for me to look at him and his sister and smile when I knew that they would soon be gone.

          My other friends tried to lift my spirits and convince me that Carthage wasn't all that far away, but no amount of consolation would work. The only thing that kept me strong was looking at Kathleen and Jason. Whenever I saw their smiles, as halfhearted as they might have been, I realized, They are trying so hard to keep it together. No doubt, this is probably really hurting them. But they're not hanging their heads and crying. They're being strong. You need to be strong for them, Sarah. Seeing you upset is probably one of the last things they need right now. with this thought in mind, I put forth a little extra effort to smile, knowing that it was probably exactly what they wanted me to do.

          The days passed so quickly. It seemed like in the blink of an eye, that first week was gone. I was both stunned and saddened at how fast the time had gone by. It sickened me to listen to Kathleen talk about their new house, their new school, their new church, and things like that. What's worse, my other friends treated me like I was the Information on Kathleen and Jason Hotline or something like that. Questions about when they were moving, why they were moving, and things like that were asked to me countless times. I realized that they meant well, but wondered why they chose to turn to me for answers (especially since I was just about as clueless as they were) and not just go directly to Kathleen and Jason.

          Wednesday night during their last week, I attended a good-bye party given in their honor by their church youth group. I bought each of them a card and wrote them a heartfelt letter telling them how much they had meant to me in the time they'd spent in Alto. It was a simple gift, but I didn't know what else to do. I wanted to give them something special, and my other friends had suggested that I write them a letter. After spending pretty much every free moment up to that point perfecting the letters, I wrote them in the cards and gave them to Kathleen and Jason that night. Our friend Jenifer had made a good-bye video for them, and I participated in that as well. At the party, I got our friend Regina to take a picture of Kathleen, Jason, and I together. When it came time to leave, I hugged them both about a million times and told them I loved them. I cried so hard on the drive home as I listened to the Rascal Flatts song 'My Wish'.

          The next day, in Jackets for Jesus (AHS's Thursday-morning program for the Christian population), Jason led the devotional. He used the story of Jonah to make the point that sometimes, even when you don't want to do something, you have to do it...simply because it is God's will. He ended the lesson with good news:  he and Kathleen weren't leaving until the end of the month! I was so happy when I heard him say that that I actually cried. It was good to know that I had at least a few more weeks left with them.

          Those few weeks were exactly like the first two:  they passed by incredibly quickly. Before I knew it, the last week had come again.To my great delight, there was good news accompanying that week as well. They wouldn't be moving until spring break! I cried with happiness once again as I thanked God that I would have at least a few more weeks left with two of the people I cared about most in the entire world.

          I spent quite a bit of time over at their house during the next few weeks. There were times when Kat would call after I had just stepped out of the shower five minutes before, and I'd throw my wet hair up into a ponytail and head out. We'd sit in my car in her driveway, laughing and talking for hours. Other times, she'd call after school, and we'd either lay out and tan, walk around her block, or get into my car and drive around aimlessly. On some weekends, I'd be over there until around eleven o' clock or so. There were a few times on the weekdays that I got busted for breaking curfew.

          Kathleen has been there through some pretty important milestones in my life. She was among those who helped convince my boyfriend, Hunter, to ask me out, was sitting at my side during the first phone conversation, was present on the first date, and (as she later told me) bore witness to the first kiss. Both Hunter and I were very shy with one another in the beginning of our relationship (especially during that first phone call), and she was there to guide us toward common interests and to help break the ice.

          In about a year's time, Jason went from being what I thought was a total nerd to being a stranger that I wished I knew to being one of my best friends. Over time, my feelings for him changed. There was never really any doubt that I loved him. In the beginning, that love was of the oh-my-gosh-I-am-crushing-on-him-so-totally-and-completely-hard variety. Now, when I look at him, I see more of an older brother figure. He's one of the only guys I feel like I can really and truly be myself with; the only one that I feel comfortable trusting with secrets and turning to for advice.

          I remember an Internet conversation I had with Kathleen a few months back. The detail of the conversation that sticks out most prominently in my mind is the fact that she told me that I was lucky. When I asked her why she thought that, she responded, "Because you've lived here your whole life. I've never been in one place for my whole life." this statement made me realize just how strong her and her brother are. They've lived in a lot of different places in their lifetime. They're happy in Alto, and neither one of them want to leave. But they're putting aside their desires to do God's will. They're holding onto their faith and keeping their heads held high; trusting God to get them through whatever obstacles life might throw their way. I admire their strength so much and hope that one day, I, too, will be that strong.

          It's now the time we've all been dreading for the past two months or so. This week is officially the last week that Kathleen and Jason will be spending here in Alto. We're all trying not to think about it and focusing on having fun with one another while we've still got time left. It breaks my heart to know that they're leaving, but each time I see them smile, it's like my strength is renewed. Their optimistic attitudes are contagious. I can't wait to hear about all of their new and exciting adventures. Besides, I know that, even though it doesn't really seem like it right now, I'm not losing them. I'm nowhere close to losing them. Those sixty-something miles can never come between us. I know that, no matter what, they'll always be just a phone call away.

          Both Kathleen and Jason have affected my life tremendously in the time they've spent here in Alto. God truly blessed me when He brought them into my life. I know that there is a very distinct reason that He chose to give me that blessing. And, as difficult as it is to believe, I know that there is also a reason that He's moving them away now. I admit that, when I first learned that they were leaving, my prayers consisted of me begging God to change His mind; pleading with Him to make something happen that would keep them from going. Then, I realized that God knows exactly what He is doing. He knows that this is hard on me and them and their parents and all the other friends they have here in Alto, but He has a reason for why it's happening. He gave us all two beautiful, wonderful, amazing years with them, and now, He needs them to go to Carthage. I know that the Lord is nowhere near through with them. He's going to use them to touch a whole lot more lives. True, me and the rest of their friends here are about to lose two really amazing friends. But our loss is someone else's gain. Who knows? Maybe there's some girl in that town who could use a couple more angels in her life. All I have to say is, "Look out, Carthage-you're about to receive what is just about the most precious gift the good Lord could ever give to you."

NtclTwlghtsBggstFn4Lyf NtclTwlghtsBggstFn4Lyf 16-18, F Mar 16, 2008

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