Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pastor's Perspective - Birthday Admiration

Who would have ever believed that my kid sister’s closest ‘church friend’ would be my partner for life?

I’ve always admired her.

I remember the day my sister Julie introduced me to her. Our two congregations in south Tampa were separated by a narrow road. After service one Sunday, as my family and I stood outside talking with friends slowly migrating toward our vehicles to leave, Julie walked up with a couple of gregarious teenagers I had never met before. These teens were actively involved in the church across the street. Julie had become involved in their strong and growing youth group and had made deep connections with some of them personally. Since our churches dismissed at the same time on Sundays, Julie saw an opportunity to introduce a few of her closest new friends to her family. Miraculously, one of those teens would eventually grow up and become my wife. I remember her being very young, very pretty and very friendly. I loved her speaking voice immediately! Admittedly, being ten years her senior, there was no ‘love at first sight’, but instead something better, more foundational - admiration. Most apparent, I knew from our first meeting that Michelle was a person with authentic faith in Jesus Christ - still her most admirable quality.

The next time I saw her was at an Easter production. Westshore Christian Church was known for their wonderfully creative home-grown holiday musical productions. With Julie’s growing involvement in their church, I received an invitation to attend to see her perform. Naturally I wanted to be the supportive big brother. It was sometime during that very moving production, the pretty bubbly teen Julie introduced me to, in full biblical garb, took center stage and sang a solo that deeply touched the entire audience – especially me. I found very quickly that I loved her singing voice as well! But most cherishing, the heart I discovered behind the voice sparked even deeper admiration.

Over the next several months Julie and Tommy, Michelle’s older brother, became an item. With love in the air, our families began to intermingle more and more, meaning Michelle would come over and spend time with Julie. There was never any kind of romantic connection between us, just a growing kinship. She was way too young, and I was her best friend’s much older and very worldly brother. When I discovered she had a secret crush on me, I openly tried to embarrass her about it – but again nothing serious.

Years later, like many of us, I found myself in one of the darkest challenging seasons in my life. With a heart full of shame, I became reclusive and joyless. I was living back in my parent’s home, disillusioned and distant. Though I worked hard daily, every night I retreated into the self-imposed loneliness I believed I deserved. I had let down God, my family, my friends, and myself. Then it all changed.

One Saturday night during that humbling season, my parents told me that a party for Michelle Hartman was being thrown by her family and that it would be good for me to get out of the house and at least make a showing. With initial hesitation I agreed to go. When I walked into the party, it’s almost like the scales fell off of my eyes! When I saw her I no longer saw a young girl, but a woman who was captivating to me in every way. That night our journey together began – initially down the aisle, from sea to shining sea, and over exhilarating mountain tops and through dark deep valleys. Yet, through it all, Michelle has proven repeatedly that that same young girl – my kid sister’s friend from long ago – is still worthy of my fullest admiration.

Happy Birthday Chelle!

Your husband adores you.

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