Summer and Fall of '00 passed in a blur of hard work, fun times, and new experiences. I never thought living in the boonies could be so much fun! We learned how to harvest morrells, pick huckleberries, wildcraft herbs, hunt and fish. Thanks to Sky and Meadow, I could skin and gut a deer, change a tire, and travel from one town to the next without ever touching pavement. We spent many a hot summer Sunday at Horseshoe Lake with Sky's family and other friends, swimming, hiking, waterfall-climbing, and roasting marshmallows around the campfire.
There was a whole group of friends now that I did everything with. We were all homeschoolers and all involved in our youth group. I was the only one not allowed to go on mission trips, leadership camp, or any other activity which took the group away from home. Even though Pastor Dan and his wife were big courtship-advocating homeschool parents, my parents said that I couldn't go because that would take me out from under the "umbrella" of their authority. Though I think the real reason was because they were watching me bloom and watching the boys in church take notice. Being the oldest, having a teenage daughter was new to them and I don't think they quite knew how to handle it. I was always upset that they didn't trust me. I'd never had a crush on a guy, wasn't flirty, had very high standards, and was too absorbed in my music and school to care much. I had a perfect "good girl" track-record but they didn't think it was good enough.
Winter came again, and with it my 17th birthday. We were finially in our house. Though it was very unfinished, at least it was big enough for us, warm, and dry. We were attending a home-group weekly Bible study at the S's house (Sky's folks) that winter. I was pleasantly surprised to get there the night of my birthday and find a cake and presents.
After the party, Sky quietly handed me a little box. "Happy Birthday," he said, blushing slightly.
I opened it to find a small, nickel pendent with a red heart in the middle, and the words "Jesus Loves You" around the heart. My heart lept strangely at the sight and I managed a smile and a "thank you". Because I was pretty sure that accepting gifts from young men was taboo, I didn't show it to my parents. But you can bet I wore it under my clothes all the time. I still told myself he was just a friend, a very good friend, and that I wasn't falling for him because I was waiting for "The One" who would be sanctioned by my dad and show up in my life when I was ready to get married at around age 25. We would then proceed with a courtship under the authority of my parents, get engaged, then marry. "Falling in love" was against the rules. Especially at 17.
But I did enjoy his company and his friendship. We'd talk for hours about anything and everything. We'd all go for horseback rides through the woods, laughing like we hadn't a care in the world. I knew he was falling for me, but it was such a new sensation to be admired like that that I didn't know quite what to think about it. I knew my parents would've freaked out if they'd suspected and that was to be avoided at all costs. I still think that the only reason my parents didn't notice the growing attraction is because I did such a good job pretending that nothing was happening. I was very good at giving off an "I could care less" air. And I believe I really was trying not to like him. I'd read the courtship books, I knew what was and what was not supposed to happen. I honestly believed that "guarding my heart" by purposefully not noticing a guy's attraction was honoring to God. And that "liking" someone was not. "Emotional purity" was such a popular catch-phrase that I was terribly afraid of the spiritual consequences I would suffer if I allowed myself to fall for someone. Besides, "the heart is deceitful" and I couldn't trust mine with something as important as the person I would marry. I couldn't even imagine the fal-out that would hit me if I ever told my parents I was in love with someone. So pretending, ignoring my heart, and lying to myself and everyone else was just easier.
Until the day my happy little world shifted.