For years I have been surrounded by people that have loved me so well and taught me so much. Relationships, marriage, and purity has never been an exception. I have often said that I am forever grateful that they had my best interest at heart and certainly my Heavenly Father’s, while I was clueless about the weight and importance of those gifts. Not to say that it was always easy or fun advice to follow, but it was always precious, valuable advice that I now treasure. I can remember the conversations with the people I love so dearly: from brokenhearted conversations about a short lived high school fling, the urging from a influential man in my life to be so patient in waiting on the guy the Lord was preparing because it would be worth it, times listening to those that had waited and could attest that it was worth it, many conversations about the beautiful gift of purity and marriage. I could go on. But that’s really not what this story is about.
To set the scene, I was a sophomore in high school and had recently spent several occasions with people who had been drawn by God’s grace and were following Jesus, not only this but were involved in relationships that glorified their Creator. I knew this existed but to see it lived out by several couples, young couples at that. It looked so different than anything I was accustomed to. During this time I was in a relationship with a very good guy, we had been friends for a long time and the relationship was good. But it lacked what had caught my full attention when listening to the stories told by those mentioned earlier. A few weeks went by and it was very, very obvious that in order to have the opportunity to allow God to use my life like He had theirs, I would have to break up with my boyfriend of the time. I hate to even go here, but it hurt, really bad. The summer was on the horizon and the fun I had imagined having with him, well obviously was not going to happen. I had put my trust in the Lord, now all I had to do was endure the heartache, allow Him to heal my heart, and simply follow.
Something that will be of importance later is that months before everything took place I made a list. My youth leader had us make lists the year preceding as well. These lists were comprised of the categories: “Must Have (Won’t Settle For Less)”, “Would Like To Have (Would Be Nice)”, “Would Rather Not Have”, “Don’t Want (Absolutely Not/Deal Breaker)”. All to be filled with our desires in a potential spouse. So me being me, my list was outrageously specific. Not in an unrealistic manner, I just filled mine with the things that are specific to the way my Father has made me. You know, things like having the ability to dance, the blessing of nice muscular knees, being patriotic, having a love for concerts and being well versed in conversation. And then on the serious “Must Have” side, things like their love for the Lord, someone who has marriage in mind and does not just “date” for recreation, has the ability of leadership, will support me, and run with me towards the Father. We were urged by my leader, that if we were serious about these lists, to pray that we would not settle until we met our lists in flesh. That’s a big deal. It seems so unrealistic really. But I was ready. I knew that I wanted something so crazy that the only explanation would be the Father. I remember going home and getting on my knees and telling my Father that I did not want to settle for less than my list. At that point all I could do is trust that He was for me and had a plan. And my goodness, I had no idea what was to come, better yet who.
M-fuge has always been something I look forward to. And that summer was going to house my fourth year of camp. We were going back to North Greenville University, it has become our niche. We adore the staffers at NGU, the atmosphere is incomparable. So many defining moments have happened at camp. And it always seems to be a week that binds the hearts that come and it’s just special, I am struggling to give it the worth due it. Unlike previous years, my motive was to serve and to have the eyes of my heart opened by the Son of God. Weighty.
I had just received my assigned bible study/track group, I found the Inferno flag in the courtyard and joined the group. If I only knew from that point on what the week and following year would hold. The very first person in the group I laid my eyes on: a very good looking guy. But like I mentioned earlier, that was not going to be the goal of my week. I joined the friends from my church group that were also a part of the same bible study/track group and we proceeded to the room that we would spend time in the next few days with so many new people. As we walked in I noticed that there were only a few seats left, there were about four of us from my youth group, there just so happened to be enough empty seats by a very good looking guy, in fact the same one I mentioned previously. As the first night went on I ended up asking him a question about a preliminary camp form we were filling out, it led into general get-to-know-you conversation, and I found out that he was from Rome, Georgia and ironically his family owned a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee which is a very familiar location for me. Beyond that the only thing I remember from that night was that when we gathered together as a group, held hands and prayed to the Father about the week to come, I found myself beside him. And normally this just would not be significant or a big deal at all but when I held his hand, it was special. I felt safe and so comfortable, mind you we had just met. It was so different for me. And I must confess throughout the remainder of the week it was the best feeling to be holding his hand in prayer among our group. For me there was certainly a very natural attraction to him.
As the week progressed, through bible study discussion, bus rides, and our mission site, Brooks and I began to get to know one another. Oh and that was the name drop, Brooks Layne Busby, he is the very good looking one from Rome, GA. Yes, he is the other main character of the story.
I was no newbie when it came to Fuge, so I soon realized this was not similar to anything that had ever happened to me at camp before. I seemed to always see him on campus before, during, or after worship. I had no idea what was going on. On one occasion our youth groups were seated across the isle from one another and I truly considered choosing a different seat before Walt Barnes started preaching because my mind was so distracted by him, but by the end of the sermon that distraction was subsided by the overwhelming way that the Spirit of the Lord was moving in our hearts and minds. After the service Brooks left his group and gave me a hug. Okay, y’all that doesn’t generally happen at camp either, or at least it never had to me.
By the last day on site Brooks had asked me to sit with him on the ride back to the campus, although this may not seem like any big deal at all. And I guess really it isn’t but it let me know that he did have an extra interest in me. Although we did not end up riding back together, that Friday night would hold a memory that won’t soon be forgotten by me. I was of course confused as to why I was given the opportunity to get to know Brooks just for it to all end at the closing of the week, at that point it was evident that he was so special and I was not ready to not see him and talk with him.
With my heart wide open, in deep thankfulness for the glorious love and calling God has/had placed on life, I worshiped my Father with the people I love. In the midst of that I heard the voice of two of my dearest friends saying my name. Let me mention this totally caught me off guard, they have a reverence for the time of worship. They motioned for me to look at the end of the row, it was Brooks.
I cannot describe with words the way my heart felt when I saw him, I certainly could not make sense of it in that moment. I managed to make it to the end of the row where Brooks was standing. I remember asking what was up and him replying “come pray with me”. My heart was beating so hard. Honestly, I felt as though my heart was going to beat out of my chest. He led me down to where he knelt with me, I wrapped one arm around his back and my other hand held his arm that was closest to me. I felt so safe and comfortable. I didn’t hear anything he said while praying to the Lord, but I do remember after when I began to pray beside Him that the I called the Lord, Father. I don’t remember ever genuinely calling that out in prayer before, addressing the sovereign Lord of all as my Father.
It was so much to process; it all happened so quickly. The next day, being our last, I asked Brooks why he had done what he had the night before. He told me that we had talked so much about missing opportunities and he had felt like all day that God was telling him to pray with me. It still did not make sense, why would this have happened, it was all just beginning yet I knew that with camp coming to a close everything would be over, I would return back home, maybe we would occasionally keep in touch, maybe we wouldn’t. Before we parted ways we prayed with one another; my heart was so thankful for the opportunity to have met someone like Brooks, I knew that regardless of what would happen I could trust that my Father had a plan for me. Thankfully I was very wrong about the fate of my camp romance.
Now a over a year later I can certainly say that the story did not end at camp.
The day after we returned home I was having conversation with someone I love dearly, he was at camp that week, in fact he has led our youth group every year I have been to camp. He knows me well, he has taught me about Jesus, he has shown me love and he had been a leader in my bible study/track group. When I explained to him what had taken place during worship with Brooks, he told me that he had when he had seen him coming my way he knew exactly what he was coming to do. What… The man telling me this is the same influential man that I mentioned at the beginning of this story, the one who urged me to be so patient in waiting on the guy the Lord was preparing because it would be worth it. (I will add, this conversation took place in a church house in rural Mexico, life is so bizarre.) He proceeded to tell me that he himself was thankful that I had gotten meet Brooks and experience what I had.
That same day I had a phone conversation with Brooks about the camp devotional material, it was so good and God was using it to move and renew my mind. The conversation ended with the statement that we would talk again later that night. I wasn’t expecting that and I certainly didn’t expect the phone call to last over four hours, but it did. I of course don’t remember what we said I just remember neither one of us being able to make sense of what had and was going on. For the first time in my life I was on the same page as someone, I mean truly on the same page. God had used me in his life and him in my life to basically accomplish the same blessing, it was one of my favorite things I have ever experienced. That certainly wasn’t the last phone call. Every night that week we spent hours on the phone. For me they were certainly giddy hours. It’s been an ongoing joke that Brooks could “hear” me smile while on the phone. Every phone call was precious to me, spending time getting to know Brooks was so much fun and certainly a time I will never forget.
By the following weekend, through tears and begging I had convinced my dad to drive me to Atlanta, Georgia to meet Brooks and his parents for a Tim McGraw concert. May I remind you it had only been a week since camp. It certainly didn’t feel like real life when I saw Brooks walking across the parking lot outside of the amphitheater to meet me and my dad. It actually took me until halfway through the concert to get over the fact that I was dancing and singing to Tim McGraw’s greatest hits, or as we like to call it childhood music, beside a boy I had met at camp that lives in a different state. It was definitely one of the best nights of my life. I was full of joy and happiness, everything felt just right. That kind of feeling like you could so do that for the rest of your life. Bless my father’s heart for being in the vehicle for 13 hours that day so that I could experience that night, and the fact that I talked the entire way home in the middle of the night probably didn’t make things any better! (haha) It’s a memory that won’t soon be forgotten by either of us.
A week or so after the concert we discovered a glorious blessing, also known as Skype. I always enjoy(ed) talking on the phone but seeing each other, even through a computer screen, beats that by a long shot! Long phone calls turned into Skype dates.
As the summer came to a close we were faced with the reality that school was around the corner. He would enter his busy senior year and I would return to CCHS as a junior. Brooks mentioned commitment between us, what could that look like? We had no clue. I also personally thought we weren’t ready for that. I thought we would continue to get to know one another and then commitment would soon be on the horizon. I was wrong. I certainly do not regret not jumping the gun, but the months ahead certainly were not easy.
With the lack of commitment and effective communication once our “normal” lives crowded back in our new-found relationship came to a halt. Not necessarily immediately but certainly by mid-September things were no longer the same.
Before I continue I don’t want to leave out the thoughtful surprise on my first day back to school.
I had just had the most interesting month of my life take place, I certainly was not looking forward to being engulfed back into the mundane routine of school, the constant complaining of others and redundant schedule.
(that was dramatic, I had a really great academic school year, it was a good year)
I sat down in my second block spanish class, in which I ended up adoring, I heard my name called over the intercom. That was random. What could they possibly need me for on the first day back. Much to my pleasant surprise there were flowers on the front desk, for me.
Props to Brooks on this one. It was so thoughtful and a first for me. The note with it read:
I hope you’re having a great first day! I pray that you choose to be bold this year! Thinking of you always. Your Brooks.
Needless to say Brooks had made my day. He once again stood out among any guy I had ever had eyes for.
But back to September. Communication became so obsolete, weak, and wishy-washy. I could not believe the way things were. Once again I found my heart hurting. How did I let this happen? He was so different. Unlike the status of our relationship my feelings had not changed.
But in this time, a unexpected season arose. It was very near the time that Kari Jobe’s song “I Am Not Alone” had been released, that song became dear.
“when I walk through deep waters
I know that you will be with me//
You will go before me
You will never leave me//
I am pressing into You
Lord, you fight my every battle
and I will not fear//
You amaze me
You call me as Your own//
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul”
I camped out in those lyrics and found steady truth that I could firmly stand on. Instead of letting myself fall into heartbreak, I clung to the truth I knew about Jesus and the presence that He had made possible. I leaned into that. I spent time just sitting in His presence. I was fully sustained. My circumstance with Brooks was rocky and certainly no fun. But oh the time I had with Jesus. It was so special. His presence totally outweighed my confusion or upset heart.
October came, at the end of the summer I had purchased Tim McGraw concert tickets for us. The awkward thing was we weren’t speaking so what happens now. I certainly did not want to sing and dance to childhood music with someone else.
Brooks began to restart communication with me, I was glad to hear from him. But I obviously harbored some bitter feelings towards him due to the past weeks. He ended up coming to spend October weekend with me in Tennessee. My youth leaders graciously opened their home to Brooks for the weekend; I was so glad because I love them dearly and it is important to me that they are very involved in all areas of my life, not just “spiritual” ones (whatever that means).
Not to say that it was not awkward for a little while on the first day, I didn’t know how to handle the situation. There was obvious awkward tension. By the end of the first day I felt comfortable and it was nice to be around him again but it wasn’t the same. This carried over into the next day. We were on our way to Maryville for the concert, while in Maryville we tried out their local fifties diner. (It has now become a gem to me, I only take people who will appreciate how awesome it really is). But honestly, by the time we found our terrible place to sit out chairs for the concert, I was so mad and disappointed I was ready to go home and send him on his way back to Rome. To say that Brooks acted disinterested would be an understatement; at that point we had nothing to say to one another. It was nothing like what I had imagined it would be like.
I can’t remember who brought up the idea to go to the standing general admission, but boy did it change the atmosphere of the night. Believe it or not, that concert and night in general ended up being arguably one of the best times we have ever spent together. Some how, it seems like Tim’s music ushered back in all of the feelings that once flowed so freely between us. We danced and sang to childhood music. Tim is our man.
As we held hands and tried to make the car ride home last we sought out a place that would serve ice cream and still be open. I am an ice cream connoisseur, and I am always up for ice cream. And being with someone you care so much about only makes the situation sweeter, pun intended. Much to our surprise every decent ice cream joint was closed, we settled with one very sketchy McDonald’s. I can’t help but smile. It was so random. We sat across from one another, with an ice cream and a hot chocolate, and giddily looked each other in the eyes asking “what are you smiling for” or of course I can never not remind Brooks that “we met at camp” and “isn’t life weird”. We headed home. Well my youth leaders home. We went in and talked for a while.
I can’t believe I almost forgot… While at the fifties diner I had an extremely clueless moment. Living up to the expectation of a fifties diner, the menu is mainly comprised of burgers, fries, milkshakes, things of that nature. Your options for burgers were 1/3 or 2/3; what a dumb way to do things, or at least I think. My mind left me and I was stumped. I had to ask the waitress which was smaller. Yes, Brooks got a good laugh out of that one and certainly still will not let me live that one down.
It was getting pretty late and I needed to be heading back home to my house. It was October and it was very chilly outside. I asked Brooks if he would come sit out in Gloria, (my Volkswagen), with me while she warmed up. So we got in the car, I turned the key, the radio came on… Tim McGraw’s song “Just To See You Smile” was on… What were the chances. That was a song that was special to us, due to Brooks, changing the lyrics to “just to hear you smile”, and for me the lyrics “just to see you smile, I’d do anything that you wanted me to” is pretty true, the rest of the song doesn’t really count. The car warm-up turned into nearly 20 minutes of singing and smiling. We both knew that I needed to go home, I wasn’t expecting it but Brooks leaned across the middle consol and kissed me. It was our first kiss. I personally couldn’t have asked for a better first kiss scenario.
Things were blurry for me during Novemeber, December, and some of January. Nothing too significant.
I worked a Grace Chrysalis flight during January, to give you some idea it’s a weekend retreat with the goal of being alone with God and having His love poured out. I was working/serving the girls that weekend. I was a youth table leader, therefore I got to be up close and personal with what God was doing in the girls’ lives. A big plus to working in this particular realm of serving is that you get to experience much that the girls do. There was a night service that involved a cross. Prayer at the cross. A physical symbol of where Love ran red and the barrier between God and His creation would forever be gone.
“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12
That’s exactly what I did at the cross. I approached the Lover of my Soul, my Creator, with freedom and confidence because of Jesus. I talked to God, I told him how I knew that Brooks being in my life had been a gift but without having Him in the center and giving this relationship purpose, it just couldn’t be. And there was nothing I could do but trust that my Father’s will would be done and it would be good.
February and March passed, I had gotten to see Brooks several times, as far as long distance goes: a Sam Hunt concert, a surprise visit, a college visit, and a dinner meet up. They were all time well spent with someone who means so much.
The months to come were rough and particularly unexpected. Like before I had not imagined the person I had set my affections on would once again become very distant. This time it brought about more hurt and my trust was broken. Those months aside from Brooks, brought troubles of there own, many consecutive bad days. I allowed circumstances to control the steadiness of my heart. Although those months looked much different than the “bad” months in the fall, God still used it to bring glory due Him. He spoke things into my heart that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
In one specific instance, not intentionally I ended up sharing how and why my heart was hurting to my youth leaders. I cannot explain how much it was like Jesus was speaking through them. They spoke life into me. I could not get over the things they had said to me. My heart was overwhelmed, how could my Father really see me like that? It’s kind of like those lyrics:
You see the depths of my heart and you love me the same, You are amazing, God.
It was as if they were speaking some of the Psalms 139 truths into my heart, specifically to me:
God has a wonderful plan for me. I am loved and priceless. There is no other Rachel Heatherly. My beauty on the inside is breathtaking. I have been made perfect. I will make a good wife and mother.
Me? There is no way, I am sinful and selfish and prideful and lustful and full of everything scripture describes as sinful.
My Father sees me as the real me, the me that He intended before sin happened. And He used two people I love so much to tell me those things, things I don’t believe about myself. It was a beautiful display of the Father’s thoughts about His children.
During the spring months, Brooks was no longer a part of my life. Of course my heart and mind thought about him often. How could I forget what had happened and how special things had been? In the meantime I began to spend so much time with new friends. There was always something going on, something to do and somewhere to be. As much fun as it was, I couldn’t help but wish things were different. I missed Brooks but was so confused about everything. As I spent more and more time with one particular new friend feelings began to develop, especially on his part. He shared his heart with me as did I. He was full of encouragement and kind words, he was quick to listen and slow to speak, on one occasion he even wiped the tears running down my cheek. But yet I was so confused. For me there is still so much confusion about that season, what its purpose was, and why God would allow me to get so many more feelings involved in the story.
I forgot to mention come summertime, my youth group as well as Brooks’ youth group were scheduled to go back to NGU Fuge the same week. My heart had no idea what to think about that. How would things be? Would we talk? Would the Lord use it to bring us back to one another? For me it seemed weighty. But I tried to go to camp with no expectations.
We arrived on the campus late, of course, it was our group, you can almost always count on us not being punctual. We pulled in, the very first person I see: Brooks. Really… There is no way! But it was, and my heart began beating so fast.
Not surprisingly, I saw Brooks everywhere. More so than the previous year. He can attest to this, it seemed ridiculous that I would see him more the year that we weren’t even in the same group! I’m thankful that the Lord did that though.
I was emotionally pretty unsteady throughout most of the week, it was a lot to take in.
One night we met up for a very small amount of time before we had to be back in the dorms. And something I enjoy so much, looking in his eyes while talking. For me it’s never awkward, it’s actually one of my favorite things. So as we sat and I told him what God had so powerfully and faithfully done in my heart that night, I felt as though I was looking into the eyes of the Brooks I had known the summer before. I knew things were still so messy but that moment was still, and I tried to take it in.
One of the next days marked a year since we had met. I had started a “one year of knowing you surprise” back in Febuary when everything was going well.
It was really late when we actually got to meet up, luckily our leaders allowed us to break camp rules and spend some time together. The hours that followed the picture above were full of tears for me and words that I didn’t want to hear. A few hours later when the conversation ended my heart was in pieces. I was pretty certain that everything was over between us. It was evident that the year hadn’t treated us the same. Brooks wasn’t ready to commit to anything. One thing that became so clear to me is that without the real commitment my heart had fallen so hard with nothing to protect it.
When I went back into my dorm the people who loved me and had stayed up until 2 am so that I could have that conversation were broken-hearted at the sight of my obviously red eyes that had produced so many tears. They hugged me and told me that they loved me, and I know that they do. They mean more than my words could ever express.
The time following that, while I was in the shower and in bed song lyrics from that night kept playing over and over:
Though I fail, and I fall, Your precious blood covers it all, no matter what I do You love me
I knew that I could hold on to that.
We talked the next day and the next. It seemed mutual that we both weren’t ready to just let this go.
During the “in between” days of camp we spent time seperately seeking the counsel of people who loved us, talking through the situation.
The last night of worship, I spent beside Brooks. It was a complete feeling. I didn’t know what the immediate future held or really how to handle things. But in that moment there was joy in my heart, lots of it. And it felt just right being by Brooks while worshiping. It was natural, comfortable, and was not distracting. Rather like I said, it felt different, a more complete feeling.
Later on that night we took one last chance to sit, and one-on-one talk through “us”. It was a much better late night conversation than the last. Brooks’ dearest friend had suggested that we take a couple weeks or so to pray about what God wants for us in commitment. I saw a maturity and seriousness in Brooks’ words.
Camp ended but God had done so much. God had moved in a way that had challenged everyone to follow through.
Camp ended on a hopeful, Grace-full note.
We are now a month out of camp. We have spent three weekends in a row together, “from Georgia to Tennessee”. Two rafting trips, all spent with people he loves; I visited his home town for the first time two weeks ago for a Lady Antebellum/Hunter Hayes/Sam Hunt concert. It was a great day to be alive. The moments spent with Brooks are moments I treasure up in my heart. No one I would rather have “dancing away with my heart” at a concert. No one I would rather eat sushi with (haha).
Last week we shared a phone conversation about what God had been speaking to us about commitment. Brooks told me that he had had received nothing but to “go for it”… And from the there the story is still unfolding.
One last thing. Remember how at the beginning of the story I mentioned the lists I had made? The week following the first year of camp, I soon realized my list had a name, Brooks. Everything that I had so specifically written on my lists, he was. I could go into great detail but I’ll spare you. One overarching theme for me in this journey so far is the truth that the Lord is for me. He is serious about the things I care about. Whether or not God has a further future for Brooks and I in store, He was faithful. And when I was serious about my list, so was he. My Father is for me.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory”