Ann: When God Answers Childhood Prayers
Sometimes we have friends for a season and sometimes its a life time. My friend Ann came into my life in grade 8, we both played basketball: she was the star player, and I came off the bench. We started as teammates who weren't close but somewhere between grade 8 and our senior year we became great friends.
Our relationship developed around basketball and the immense amount of time we spent together doing practices, tournaments and games, but the real connection came because of our faith. Unknown to me she had faith as she grew up in a Church going family; but when we met she wasn't a "practicing" Christian. So I prayed for her. All the time. I asked that she would really find Jesus and become a Christian because I was under the assumption they had never met. As our friendship grew, the more we talked on the phone for hours (actually on the phone conversations, on actual landlines, the ones with the cord). Due to our inability to drive and living in our rural homes, we called often. We would talk about surface things mostly, often we'd talk about basketball, but sometimes we'd talk about deeper things in life, and contemplate life's mysteries. I discovered a lot about Ann over the phone, but I learned even more just being her friend.
Despite her extreme athletic ability and dominance in volleyball, basketball and track, she is an introverted country girl. Underneath the surface of what people judged as a popular, snobby, mean jock, was someone who was extremely shy, funny, and who had a soft heart. She cares deeply but is also tough. Like TUFF. Wrestle the cattle, take the bull by the horns tough, which also came out in her temper. She wasn't without fault, but what I've learned about her into our adult years is that she was more introverted than I ever understood as a teenager. It didn't occur to me when she was uncomfortable ordering food in restaurants that it was because she actually didn't like interacting with strangers. I simply wrote it off as a weird quirky trait. Her boldness, and aggressiveness on the court didn't translate to who she really is off the court, and I think she was often misunderstood because of it. I'd like to say that I was the one who caught it and saw through it, but I saw her as the popular jock who I was lucky enough to call my friend. When we all graduated and moved on to other things I was shocked when our all star point guard dropped out of university and quit playing basketball due to being homesick and overwhelmed. That was my eye opening moment, recognizing she REALLY struggled with new situations and as a narcissistic teenager I thought everyone thought like I did and was excited to go to college. I even tried to convince her to come to college with me cause I was having a good time so obviously she would too. Narcissism. She didn't agree and ultimately moved back home and worked at pig farm and travelled. Good for her for figuring out that she is happiest wrestling cows and being a rancher, she is good at it and God has given her a gift to do it. Fast forward to 2020 where she has beautiful family, and hundreds of cows. And chickens. And horses. And sometimes pigs.
I even got to name one of the pigs and call it my own...I named him Nugget. He came when I called. It was special, but also a little odd. Ann just shook her head in my fascination with Nugget and had the eye roll when I call him. But she was supportive, because that is who she is, but I think she was a little taken back that Nugget would actually go to me. She couldn't figure it out, but she didn't have to, cause she knew it made me smile and so she would smile with me too.
Going back to our early history there are several stories filled with laughter, hardship, athletic victories and defeat, pranks and fun, injury and tears. Stories of road trips and countless hours on buses and in vehicles. Lighthearted and fun times going to zoos, or riding her horses in the back fields, winning games by 100 or losing a game by 100. Teaching me to brand cows or milk them. We've done a lot, but in our history two tales significantly define my perspective of the story:
First, on the last 2 hour lag of one of those many road trips, one of my teammates started drilling me about Christianity. Soon others joined in and then it was everyone. My very religious, harsh, and judgmental immaturity engaged, full guns blazing. It was a long two hours. I believed so strongly that you need to ask Jesus for forgiveness to be a Christian, and I still do, but I have since learned so much more about His love and it being more about a relationship with Him and not a set of rules that you need to follow. But being a young Christian teenager I was pretty arrogant and thought I had it all figured out. I answered every question, including comparing my faith to the Mormon on the team. I felt like I took a stand for what I believed to be true, and not once did I humbly say, "I don't know." Towards the end they asked about being a good person and then someone asked it...Do you think Im going to Hell? My mind fluttered..."they aren't going to like your answer", "speak the truth," "Hell can be a good motivator to Heaven," Well on the premise of all the things I believed, I half boldly and half sheepishly said, "Yes I do." That was when Ann looked me straight in the eye to confirm that this wasn't just a generic comment meant for all, but that I thought she was going to Hell. She needed to know that I personally believed she was doomed to a fiery lake. She asked me straight up," You think IM going to Hell? I could hear it in her question...You are including me in this statement?? The conversation had escalated and I could feel her disappointment. Again I arrogantly/sheepishly responded with and resounding, "YES." She was pissed. She was hurt. Ann's vibe was projecting that I was the one condemning her, and not sharing an opinion. My religious certainty and matter of fact attitude didn't lend for grace or compassion, so I understand why she felt the condemnation, yet my heart broke. I knew I had hurt her and the rest of my team wasn't particularly impressed with me either.
We arrived at the hotel, and went to our rooms. I dropped off my bags and hid in a stairwell while I cried. Up until this point in my life that was the hardest thing I had done. My own self righteousness accompanied with Satan's deception had me believing that I had stood up for Christ and done the right thing. But I did not have a good feeling and I knew I had to make things right with Ann. She ignored me for the better part of the weekend and I apologized, because I felt bad that I hurt her, but I still didn't think she had a Get out of Hell free card. I learned an important lesson about truth coupled with kindness and grace. (That lesson didn't sink in until my late twenties but that moment planted that seed.) Ann eventually forgave me, she probably got over it after we won the tournament. But I think my honesty, as brutal as it was, also planted a seed and lit a spark on the flint of her heart. As much as my opinion of the truth hurt, I do think she agreed, or at least deep down understood why I thought that she wasn't going to Heaven.
Which brings us to story number two... In our grade 12 year Ann's on again, off again boyfriend, who was a follower of Jesus like me, started to conspire on ways to expose Ann to more God. So I kept inviting her to youth group and he gave her a bible. She didn't often come, but New Years Eve of 1999 she came to our youth group party and not drunkfest Y2K hosted by a variety of our friends in various locations. She had been asking a lot of questions of both of us as of late and I thought it was a good sign that she chose a church youth group over all the party options presented to her. That night we played games, our youth leader shared and like most New Years parties we were up late. But subtly, like a whisper, God was working: there was random music playing throughout the house all night and again unknown to me one song spoke to Ann...
Following our Y2K party the next afternoon, I received a phone call from Ann. She excitedly and a little hesitantly informed me she had become a Christian! I jumped out of my bed and was dancing around the room. I had prayed for her for 4 years and God had answered my prayer. She explained that the Jars of Clay song, "Love Song for a Saviour," had come on and the words, "I want to fall in love with You.." resonated with her, so she did it. She said those words. "I want to fall in love with You.." towards Jesus. My bursting heart overflowed that day and I experienced an overwhelming genuine joy for my friend. I was thrilled, I mean my friend now had a get out of Hell free card. Two other seeds were planted that day, but not in Ann... I experienced knowing that God cares personally and answers big prayers, which has completely shaped my faith in believing Him for big things. The other seed was the start of my journey from religion to relationship. At the time I loved Jesus like a soldier loves a King, I would do anything for Him but there's nothing truly personal. Ann's journey, perhaps back into the Father's arms, or perhaps into them for the first time, was more about falling in love, than following rules and inevitably failing. Hers is a story of God's grace reaching down and touching her heart, and becoming a big answer to a couple of eager teenagers' prayers. Her on again, off again boyfriend became her husband, and they ranch on his family farm with 4 kids, who are all writing their own stories.
Ann and I still sit down for coffee once and while and talk about the glory days, the cows and most importantly Jesus and what we are learning in that relationship. I still pray for her and now her kids that they will find the same love of God she found on a New Years Eve 20 years ago. Happy 20th Anniversary Ann.