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Laurel Shadrach Series 4 Absolutely Worthy
By Stephanie Perry Moore
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2003 Stephanie Perry Moore
All rights reserved.
recapping senior year
What was that?" I screamed, startled out of a deep slumber by a loud buzzing noise.
"It's your alarm," a mouse-pitched voice complained.
I smacked the snooze button on my bedside clock and stared at the blurry numbers in the darkness. Surely it wasn't four o'clock! I blinked several times and the numbers grew clearer, but they didn't change. What was I thinking? I buried my head in the pillow and tried to shake off my drowsiness enough to figure out where I was.
When the mouse-pitched voice said, "Go back to sleep," I realized the speaker was Payton Skky, my college roommate. Payton and I had tried to stay up all night chatting about the common bonds we shared, like our faith in Jesus Christ and the exciting freshman year awaiting us. But somewhere in the course of our conversation, we'd both fallen asleep.
I rolled onto my back, and for the first time I noticed an amazing array of glittery glow-in-the-dark stars on my dorm room ceiling. I took that as a sign that God was watching over me in my transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Lord, I know You're up there, I thought. But I feel awfully insecure down here. I don't really know who I am anymore.
The confident part of me replied, What are you talking about, Laurel Shadrach? You're an awesome girl with style and class and charisma. You're beautiful, brilliant, bubbly, and bright.
The not-so-confident part of me said, That's not me. It sounds more like Jewels, the girl on the other side of that wall. Or the sorority girls at the frat party last night. There's nothing special about me.
Nonsense, I argued with myself. Think about where you've been. The experiences you went through during the past year have turned you into a dynamic person.
That was a good point, I had to admit. I had gone through a lot in a short time. As a high school senior, I was the top gymnast in the entire state of Georgia. I was expected to compete on the U.S. gymnastics team in the Olympics. But then I sprained my ankle and cost my team the championship.
As a senior, I'd had the boy every girl in my school wanted—Branson Price, the captain and starting quarterback of the football team. I'd been sure we'd stay together all year and that our relationship would only deepen after graduation. But when I refused to go all the way with him, he dumped me and turned to someone else—my best friend, Brittany Cox.
I went out with Foster McDowell for a while. He was a great Christian guy, and he treated me like a princess. But I couldn't stop thinking about my ex. We finally broke up but remained good friends.
The image of Brittany making out with Branson under the school stairs continued to bother me. That girl had everything. Money. A great body. She was on the cheerleading squad. I'd often envied her. And yet, she told me she hooked up with Branson because she wanted what I had.
Our friendship ended for a while, but then tragedy struck her life. An ex-boyfriend she used to mess with contracted AIDS. Most of my other friends thought it was perfect justice for Brittany and Branson since they hurt me so badly. But God softened my heart toward both of them, and our friendships started to mend.
When Branson's AIDS tests came back negative, he pleaded for my forgiveness and begged me to be his girlfriend again. But I told him he had to stand on his own and so did I. We both made it into the University of Georgia, but I was determined to start a new life without him.
Brittany wasn't as fortunate as Branson. Her AIDS test was positive. She thought at first that was the end for her. But I helped her through that rough time, encouraging her to look to God for purpose and meaning in her life. She applied to the University of Florida and was accepted. I wondered if she was lying on her dorm room bed thinking about me.
I drifted off to sleep but was again rudely awakened by my alarm. Snooze time was over.
I needed to get to the gym and practice if I hoped to earn a spot on the Gym Dawgs gymnastics team.
I crawled out of bed and tiptoed to the small refrigerator in the corner of our room, my mouth watering for the chocolate milk I'd seen Payton put in the night before, along with sodas and snacks and—
"What?" I cried out when I saw the refrigerator was empty.
"What's wrong?" Payton screamed, sitting up in her bed.
"Sorry I woke you," I said. "But I wanted to have a quick breakfast before practice."
Payton fell back into her mattress with a moan.
"Where's all our stuff?" I asked before she could go back to sleep.
"I think Jewels took it all," Payton snarled as she punched her pillow.
"Why would you think that?"
"Because she saw me loading the fridge," Payton said. "And because it sounds like something she'd do."
I couldn't argue with that. I'd only known Jewels for a few days, but she reminded me a lot of my spoiled high school girlfriend, Brittany. Both girls were demanding, self-centered, sneaky, and beautiful. Jewels's dorm room was connected to ours by an adjoining bathroom, and I'd often heard her use some pretty untactful persuasion on her roommate, Anna.
Anna was a shy, self-conscious Catholic girl with curly strawberry-blonde hair and a sweet personality. She had a cute face and a somewhat plump body that Jewels commented about far too often.
What bothered me even more than Jewels's treatment of poor Anna was the way she talked about my roommate, Payton. Just because Payton was black, Jewels had told me I should request a different roommate, claiming it might affect my ability to get into a good sorority. Jewels's prejudiced remarks, both in front of Payton and behind her back, made me want to yell at her or ignore her. But I knew the Lord wanted me to love her, and I was doing my best to try.
"So, where can I get some nourishment at this hour?" I asked, noticing that my bedside clock said it was almost five.
"Vending machine's down the hall," Payton whispered with a yawn.
I grabbed three quarters out of my jeans pocket, put on my gym clothes, and walked to the vending machine. When I got there I noticed that it only offered sodas, and they cost a dollar.
"What a rip-off!" I started to head back to my room for another quarter, then decided to continue on to the gym to start my early practice.
The halls were quiet, everyone else still sleeping. I envied them in a way. But I knew it would take extra effort to make the University of Georgia gymnastics team, and I was determined to do whatever it took, even if that meant starting practice before anyone else was up.
As I approached the gym, I noticed the door was ajar and lights were on inside. I peeked in.
Someone else had beat me to an early start! I checked my watch. It wasn't even five-thirty.
I stood in the doorway and watched the girl work the parallel bars. She was awesome! Her routine looked flawless. Every move was filled with grace and confidence.
When she dismounted, landing perfectly, I could not believe my eyes. It was my favorite gymnast, Nadia Rhodenhauser. For years I had watched her compete nationally. I knew she was a college freshman, like me, but I didn't know she'd decided to go to the University of Georgia.
She looked shorter in person, even shorter than I, and I was five-feet-five. She probably wore a size three. Seeing her in her Olympics leotard made me long for the day I would wear one just like it.
Nadia was the best gymnast in the nation during eleventh grade, winning the gold medal at the Olympics. In her senior year she won the silver, and Marci Lotts, a girl I'd heard was coming to UG, snagged the gold.
"Are you just going to gawk, or do you want to come in and practice?" Nadia asked with a grin.
"Oh," I said, embarrassed that she'd caught me staring. "I came to work out. I just didn't want to disturb you."
She wiped her face with a towel from her gym bag and reached out to shake my hand. "Hi. I'm Nadia Rhodenhauser."
"I know," I said. "I've watched you for years. When you won the gold medal in the Olympics, I felt like it was my medal, too, in a way."
Nadia chuckled. Her eyes were the prettiest blue I'd ever seen. She'd pulled her curly blonde hair into a ponytail, but most of it had escaped after her vigorous workout. "What's your name?" she asked.
"That sounds familiar."
"I've been in gymnastics since I was in the fourth grade," I said, excited that she might have heard of me. "I went to state competitions with Rockdale Gym and was captain of the Salem High School team."
"I remember you now," she said. "I went to see you at the regionals last year, but you weren't there."
I rolled my eyes. "I sprained my ankle two weeks before the meet!"
"How awful," she said, her eyes soft with compassion. "Are you planning to try out for the team here?"
"I'm hoping to walk on and maybe get a scholarship next year."
Suddenly I wondered if I'd made the right decision. I knew I was nowhere near as good as Nadia Rhodenhauser. How could I compete with her for a spot on the team? Still, if I did make it, what a dream come true that would be!
"Hey, you want a sports drink?" she asked, walking to a vending machine in the corner.
"Sure do," I said, noticing all the nutritious snacks and drinks for sale. "But I've only got seventy-five cents on me."
"No problem," she said. "My treat." She stuffed some change into the machine, and out popped two bottles. She handed one to me.
"I'll buy next time," I offered.
"You've got a deal," she replied.
We sat on a mat to quench our thirst. "What time does the gym open?" I asked.
"Six," she said. "But I get here at four. The janitor lets me in."
I almost choked on my drink. I'd never gotten up before 4 A.M. in my life! "I heard you were going to UCLA," I said.
Nadia smiled. "You really have followed my career." She took a sip. "I did plan on UCLA originally. Most of the girls I've worked with are going there. But Coach Burrows kept trying to recruit me. So, just to be different, I decided to come here."
She finished her last gulp and asked if I'd spot her on the mats. I agreed without hesitation.
She did a tumbling routine that left me breathless and amazed. Her talent was even more impressive in person than on TV.
"Wow," I said. "I still can't believe you're ... here. And that I'm ... talking to you." I was tripping all over my words like a groupie. She may not have been a big celebrity to most people, but there wasn't a movie star on the planet I would rather have met.
"I'm just another college freshman like you," she said.
"But you're so ... good."
"You can be as good as I am," she assured me. "You just have to believe it ... and practice."
Her words made me realize I hadn't even started working out yet. I began my stretching exercises.
"I didn't want to compete with my former teammates anyway," Nadia confided as she stretched along with me. "They stabbed me in the back."
"What did they do?"
"Two of the girls I worked out with for years were jealous of my boyfriend," she began. "So they made up stories, telling him I was seeing another guy on our gymnastics team. They even went so far as to send him a picture of me kissing the guy."
"How did they get that?"
"After a meet, I gave the guy a congratulations kiss. I tried to explain that to my boyfriend, but he didn't want to hear me out. He apologized later, but when I realized he couldn't trust me, I lost interest in him. I couldn't get close with my girlfriends after that."
Her story reminded me so much of what Brittany and Branson had done to me. I opened up and told her all the details of my senior year fiasco.
"So, when your boyfriend cheated on you, did you get a new one?" she asked.
"Sure did." I giggled. "I dated a Christian guy named Foster for a while."
"Wait a minute," she said, a smile tugging at her lips. "Are you a Christian?"
"Yes," I said. "Are you?"
"Yes!" She wrapped her arms around me and gave me a tight hug. "It's so great to meet a sister in the Lord."
I had heard Nadia give credit to God after a televised meet, and I'd read her testimony in Gymnastics World. But I was happy to confirm that her beliefs were real.
"So, are you still seeing that Christian guy?" she asked.
"No," I admitted.
I took a deep breath. For some reason, it felt perfectly natural to share all the secrets of my past with this girl. "I left my first boyfriend because he pressured me to have sex with him, and it really turned me off. But for some reason, when I found a guy who didn't pressure me, I wanted to jump his bones. It was the craziest thing."
"I understand," she said with a nod.
When I started telling Nadia about the shooting that happened at my school, she said she'd heard about it on the news.
"Well," I said, "my brother was the main target, and the shooter held me at gunpoint too."
"In a way, it turned out to be a good thing."
"When I thought my life might be over, I figured out what I really wanted," I told her. "In that moment I realized that Foster didn't have my heart. I was still in love with my ex-boyfriend, Branson."
"Did you get back together with him?" Nadia asked.
"Not right away. I'd already promised Foster I'd go to the prom with him. But at the dance, Branson saw me with him, and he lost it. He had too much to drink and went joyriding with his best friend, Bo. Their car went over a cliff and Bo became paralyzed."
"Oh, no!" she cried, her eyes wide.
"That actually turned out to be kind of a good thing too. Bo came to know Christ because of that ordeal."
"Wow," she whispered. "I thought my high school years were crazy, just going from fifth to first to second in gymnastics."
"I wish that was my only problem." I laughed. "I don't even know if I'm going to make the team here."
She smiled. "I'm going to pray that you do."
"Really?" I squealed. "That'd be great!"
"I'd also like to help you out with some gymnastics tips I've learned," she told me. She nodded at the balance beam. "How are you on the beam?"
"It's my favorite apparatus," I said.
"Great," she said. "Show me what you've got."
I approached the beam and gave it my best shot. When I dismounted, Nadia Rhodenhauser actually applauded me.
As she showed me some moves on the vault, we chatted some more. She told me she was an only child. Her mother had worked three jobs for as long as Nadia could remember, since her dad had walked out on them shortly after Nadia was born.
When she was sixteen, her dad suddenly came back into her life. At first she was reluctant to trust him, but he showed up at every meet she'd had over the last two years, and gradually a bond developed between them.
Her parents fought constantly whenever they were around each other. Nadia had figured she was the reason they'd broken up, so she tried really hard to bring them back together. But nothing worked.
"Coach Gailey and his wife were my saving grace," Nadia told me as we rested between routines. "They introduced me to Jesus Christ, and they provided me with a stability I never knew at home."
At Nadia's urging, we worked on a complex tumbling trick. Finally I collapsed on the mat, unable to move. Nadia performed a routine on the uneven bars and gave me a grin.
"Now I know why I'm not as good as you," I teased.
"You can be," she said, "if you really want it."
"I do," I assured her.
"Then keep practicing," she advised.
"Want to work out together tomorrow?" I asked.
"Sure," she said. "Four o'clock?"
I gulped. Then I said, "I'll be here."
We hugged, then went our separate ways to get ready for class.
* * *
When I walked back into the dorm room, Payton was standing there, dripping wet, a towel wrapped around her. Her caramel-colored skin glowed, and her curly, shoulder length brown hair sparkled with water droplets. "Where have you been?" she asked.
"Practicing," I reminded her as I went to the closet to pick out clothes for the day.
"You're sweaty," she said. "You want some water?" She strode to the refrigerator. When she opened the door, I saw a row of bottled water on the shelf.
"Where'd you get that?" I asked as she pulled one out.
"I had a talk with Jewels this morning. She admitted to stealing all our drinks, and since she had tons of water in her fridge, I made her give me half." She opened the bottle and handed it to me.
"Thanks for being such a good roommate," I said after taking a long drink.
"No, I really appreciate it."
"I'm going to go get dressed," she said.
When she went into the bathroom, I dropped to my knees on the hardwood floor. Lord, I'm worried about my future. I feel so frail. I need Your strength, Your power, Your guidance. Help me see what I need to do. I want to go forward and not look back. Take over my thoughts and make them positive, fresh, and righteous. Guide my actions. Make me stand for You in all I say and do, and help me to be an example for those who are trying to live Your way. Help me to lead people to You.
My knees started to hurt, and I considered ending my prayer there. Instead I reached for a pillow, placed it under my knees, and continued.
Thank You for Payton. And for Jewels and Anna. I pray for Nadia and for my parents. I pray for Branson and Foster too. When I start acting more like a person of the world than a child of Yours, help me get back to putting You first. Thank You for showing me what I've done wrong and what I did that was right. I'm looking forward to being a freshman here at the University of Georgia. I'm no longer recapping senior year.
Excerpted from Laurel Shadrach Series 4 Absolutely Worthy by Stephanie Perry Moore. Copyright © 2003 Stephanie Perry Moore. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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