The Writing of a Love Story, Part 1

chocolateThey were but three simple things… a box of chocolates, a kiss, and a song, but they changed my life forever. I was nineteen the fall I traveled to New York City, fresh out of homeschooled high school and ready to transform the world’s population into conservative legalists.

My parents had arranged for me to serve at the Advantage Teaching Institute’s NYC training center, working with delinquent teens. I was to teach them how to live a superior life by applying the seven basic principles of life as dictated by Mr. Gobert. Having been a member of ATI since I was old enough to read, I knew these principles inside and out, as well as all 49 accompanying character qualities and their definitions.

I had only been there a month when my assigned delinquent threw a question at me that I could not answer. “How does Mr. Gobert know that there are seven principles in life? What makes him the expert on life?” She went on to complain about all the Bible study assignments she had to do, but I was no longer listening. My mind was stuck on that one question, “What makes Mr. Gobert the expert on life?”

That evening, in the dining hall, I sat across the table from Michael. I had liked him since the day I arrived. He was tall and broad and styled his dark hair with a bit of a spike in front. Though his personality was fun and laid back, he was also mature. He seemed more man than any other 20 year old I’d ever met. But I was very careful not to let on just how much I liked him. Interaction between guys and girls was frowned upon at the training center.

When everyone else had left the table, and it was just the two of us, I cleared my throat. I knew I had to pick someone’s brain about my delinquent’s question. I thought he would be a good one to ask, since he wouldn’t take my questioning too seriously, but would also offer a load of wisdom.

“So…” I began. “My delinquent asked a question today that got me thinking.” I waited, unsure if he even wanted to talk with me.

He looked up from his plate and smiled. My heart nearly skipped a beat. “And what sorta question would that be?” he asked.

I lifted my glass and took a sip of water before answering. “She asked me what made Mr. Gobert the expert on life,” I half-whispered. I looked around to make sure no one had heard me then continued. “And it just caught me by surprise because I didn’t have an answer. I’ve never questioned Mr. Gobert’s wisdom. But I’ve never thought about what makes him the one with all the wisdom.”

Michael ran his fingers through his hair. I loved it when he did that. It made me want to reach out and run my fingers through it too.

He looked into my eyes as if he were trying to read me, and I quickly shifted my gaze. “Do you really wanna know my thoughts on that?” he questioned.

I looked up and nodded my head. He pulled a pen out of his pocket and scribbled something on his napkin. He slid it over to me, then stood and gathered his dirty dishes.

“208. 7:00” is all it said.

An hour later, I entered room 208, which was used as a supply room. Michael was already there, going through stacks of colored paper. “Hey!” he said, looking up at me with that heart stopping smile once again.

“Hi!” I answered.

“You should probably gather supplies for tomorrow’s delinquent projects.” He winked, and I began to dig through the marker box.

We spent over an hour “gathering supplies” that evening. We talked about Mr. Gobert and his principles. We talked about the authority structure he teaches. We talked about the lack of individuality within ATI. We talked about things that would have had us locked up for a week of Wisdom Searches, had anyone heard us.

As I lay in bed that night, I replayed every word of our conversation. All these years I had been taught that we were to obey our parents, no questions asked. My parents possessed unquestioned wisdom because they believed and lived every word of the all wise Mr. G. We held to high dress standards and limited our contact with the opposite gender all in the name of moral purity. We sacrificed educational quality and refused college in the name of seeking wisdom first.

Suddenly, my beliefs were being challenged by very sound reasoning. Suddenly, God was no longer a deity who spoke through Mr. Gobert, but a personal, loving Father who wanted to speak to me. I didn’t know what to do with all these conflicting thoughts.

After that night, Michael and I met every Monday evening in room 208. We questioned every ATI standard and applied common sense and the Words of Scripture to each one. What we found was astonishing. At surface level, each principle seemed good and true, but as we put them to the test, each one was misapplied and over glorified. We found that God was not a king with many rules to be obeyed by all, but a father who worked in each individual’s life in unique and catered ways.

Our understanding of God was not the only thing that grew over the next couple months. So did our friendship. We were closer than I had ever been to anyone. I had told him every detail of my life that I could think of, and he had poured out his dreams and aspirations to me.

We lived for those Monday night supply raids. But then, everything changed.

 

Be sure to read The Writing of a Love Story, Part 2.

*While this story is written in the first person, it is entirely fictional. Any correlation between this story and the stories of those who grew up in ATI (Advanced Training Institute) is entirely intentional.

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