It was finally spring. I breathed in deeply, taking in the scents of budding leaves, wet ground, and lingering snowdrifts. Walking down the dirt road, my thoughts wandered back over the long winter.
Around Christmas, my parents realized they were in over their head. The snow just kept coming and our house still didn't have a roof over it. Our trailer looked like a snow cave...we actually had to dig our way up out of the drifts to get out the door. It was all we could do to keep warm at night by leaving the little oven open. We'd still wake up with our pillows frozen to the thin walls. Finally, another ATI family who had a huge house, kindly offered to take us in for the remainder of the winter. We were so amazed. Here we were, a family of 8, and they hardly knew us. But we were to discover that in rural places, kindness and generosity were the rules folks lived by regardless of religious affiliation. They were necessary to survival.
I discovered that Sky was the brother of two girls who had befriended me at church. His older sister, Meadow, was sunny and friendly. Forest, his younger sister, was creative and loved having fun. We became good friends that winter. Their family (also homeschoolers though like no homeschoolers I'd ever met!) lived in an old cabin on the mountain with no power or running water. They had lived that way for 20 years! It was my first experience with "off the grid" people. And they didn't live like that because of any religious reason...they just wanted to. We spent many cozy nights at their house, playing games at a table lit by lantern light, and talking about the Lord. They were fairly new Christians and had never even heard of Bill Gothard. We were as different as we could be. Yet our families hit it off from the start. We spent Christmas at their house and joyfully sledded our way into the year 2000 together (the year the world didn't end).
I started going to the mid-week youth Bible studies that winter, always with one of my parents accompanying me. At our old church, we didn't have a youth group. They were considered products of "denominationalism" and therefor unBiblical. Besides, the sad truth of the matter is that by the time most of the kids got to be in their teens, they usually wanted nothing to do with church or God. They paid lip service to their parents until they were old enough to leave home and go their own way. I didn't even really have friends my own age at that church. I wasn't very popular with the friends I did have from our homeschool group and ATI either. I just didn't fit in and always felt awkward and different around them. I learned that no one really wanted to know what I thought so I kept my mouth shut. So imagine my delight when I started attending the youth ministry at our new church and suddenly became the most popular girl in youth group. It was there that I found my voice. For the first time in my life, I was invited to speak my mind. We dug into the scriptures in ways I never had before. I was allowed to disagree and debate and to consider doctrines that were always called "heresy" in our old church. And I had never, ever discussed scripture and spiritual things with a group of people my own age who were just as eager to learn as I was. I couldn't get enough of it.
And so passed the winter we thought would never end. It was May of '00, and we were back up on our property now, living in two trailers. I shared the trailer we affectionately called "the peanut trailer" with my brother, Jake. I think we both needed the space from everyone else. Sky and his dad, John, came over often to help us finish our house. Sometimes Meadow and Forest would come too and we'd all gather around the campfire after it got too dark to work. Those were the nights that will forever stick in my memory. They were so full of joy and laughter and friendship. Dinner was cooked in a dutch-oven and eaten under the stars in paper bowls. Our little clearing in the woods became a gathering place for all our new-found friends. I had never felt so accepted in my life. These people didn't care about what I did, what I believed, or which "standards" I lived my life under. They just loved me for who I was.
It was the year of grace and new beginnings. It was also the year I started to leave my girlhood behind. For the next few years would require the strength, endurance, faith, and heart of a woman. If I had known then........but I believe it was God's grace that I didn't know what life was about to bring me.