Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Sweet It Is {Part 1}

I was only nineteen the first time I saw him.  After finishing my finals only a couple of days before, I had packed my car for the summer break not having a clue that over the next few days, pieces would fall into place that would shape my next several decades.  That afternoon driving out of Athens, the only things on my mind were the excitement of being finished with finals, the anticipation of getting to hang out with one of my mentors, Jill...... and probably the car in front of me.  We were both planning on serving at a camp for high school students the next week so we planned a little bit of time together before the rest of the volunteers arrived.

At school I had been spending time with a young man, David, who was following after God but I was figuring out that my heart wasn’t his.  Or was I just confused?  Nineteen and confused-- something tells me now that is teenage typical.  I was not “on the look out” for guys at this camp.  I was excited about being with Jill and my church family who would drive up to Toccoa Falls College to be a part of Impact.  I’d figure David out when I got back home.

When all the staff and volunteers arrived, it didn’t take me long to see him.  He was taller than most, larger than most and definitely more handsome than all.  Frankly, I thought he was better looking than any boy I had ever seen. Ever. Immediately, my skeptical voices started their monologues.  “He can’t be that cute and love Jesus.  He’s just here killing time during his summer.  He’s looking for a girlfriend.  How lame is that?”  Judgmental and petty?  Absolutely.  Meet Krista Leigh Dennard at 19.  His youth minister who introduced him to the entire group didn’t help, “This is Jeff Sanders, my youth intern for the summer.  He plays college football............and ladies............he’s available!!”  My eyes rolled almost to the point of no return.  However, I was intrigued.  My curiosity drove me to ask a couple of people about him....... under the disguise of my interest in college football.  Then, nonchalantly, I could tag a personal question or two at the end.  All reports were shining.  Definitely intrigued.

How I wish I remembered our first interactions but I do remember liking his personality immediately.  He was a kidder, but serious about why he was there.  He had a community around him that he had obviously invested in and who had invested in him.  As the week progressed, I watched him with the kids and there was a hoard of them around him all week.  I noticed he was a little uncomfortable with that and he never let the attention linger on him.  As I got to have more conversations with him, I sensed his relationship with the Lord had dimensions that I had not explored.  And since it was unfamiliar, insecurities surfaced and I wondered if this friendship was worth it, yet the intrigue remained.  I wanted him to think just like me and to have the same convictions I had.  He didn’t.  And he didn’t pretend to.

But knowing him for only 6 days was like a boulder being thrown into the middle of my placid pond of a life.  God knew it would.  I was all messed up.  I stopped at a bookstore on the way home and purchased the book Jeff told me he was reading and that he thought I would enjoy.  No Wonder They Call Him the Savior by Max Lucado {yes, he’s been writing books for that long}  Driving towards home through the pine trees in my little gray car, I had my first thoughts of “He might be THE ONE.”  Whoa.  That was big, especially when I knew he didn’t meet all my “pre-requisites”.  {And no, I cannot reveal all of those.  Too embarrassed.  Even if I was just 19. Let’s just say, James Taylor was a problem.}  I ate dinner with my family revealing just enough about Jeff that made my Momma flinch-- she really liked David.  I let her know I just wanted to go to bed and that if David called, to tell him that I would call him tomorrow.  Just like any self respecting mother, she woke me up when he called and I, as kindly as I could, broke up with him and went back to bed.  I knew my heart wasn’t his.

I devoured the book and was challenged by the way Jesus was portrayed in the book.  I didn’t know who “Max Lucado” was and, at that stage of my life, I was leery if he wasn’t Southern Baptist affiliated.  How could he know Jesus like that?  Did he even go to Sunday School at 9:45 a.m?  I bet he listened to J.T.  But from a man, who said things like this, I didn’t care.

“You think, he would love you more if you hadn’t done it, right? You think he would love you more if you did more, right? You think if you were better, his love would be deeper, right?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

His love is not human. His love is not normal. His love sees your sin and loves you still. Does he approve of your error? No. Do you need to repent? Yes. But do you repent for his sake or yours? Yours. His ego needs no apology. His love needs no bolstering.

And he could not love you more than he does right now.”

So, at 19, that is what I needed to know and feel in my heart.  Oh, sure, I had read things like it before, but all my comfortable rules had been written over it so many times, I couldn’t make it out any more.  He loved me, period.  No matter what.  This GRACE He'd been slathering me in all my life is what I saw in Jeff.  This twenty year old I’d known for only a week LIVED in it.  I knew about it, but Jeff LIVED in it.  He was attractive, no doubt, but grace is what drew me in.  Grace is what I sensed, what I heard in our conversations, what I experienced in our friendship and what I needed desperately.

And at 41, I have to be careful that His unconditional love for me doesn’t get buried under all my expectations of myself.... and of other people.  God has had me in a review course for the last year or more~ reminding me of the foundation He’s had me on all this time, the identity I have carried all this time, whose image He made me in, the thoughts He has towards me no matter what, and the delight He experiences because of me.  Wow.  Wow.  Delight.

Jeff knew at 20 that this 19 year old who had a very strong Southern accent,  who loved Jesus, and who thought she had it all together needed to be refreshed with grace.

I will be..... forever...... grateful.

#75.... is he not THE cutest??  But it was grace, I promise.

{Jeff and I are celebrating 20 years in August and he has already kicked off the party in his own creative ways.  I am hoping to post something once a month until August regarding Jeff and our marriage~ praying the Lord leads.}  


Margie said...

Love this, Krista!

Sandra K. (Hooks) Wade said...

I also remember the large gathering of campers around Jeff.

Krista Sanders said...

Oh, Sandra-- you were there! You were the only one who was brave enough to take a picture of him and I got the copy! ; )

Kathie said...

I love learning how you and Jeff met. I love that His Grace is what you saw in Jeff....and drew you closer to Jeff and Jesus. "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory of the only begotten from the Father...full of GRACE and truth." John 1:4. Amazing Grace.

Greg Elphinston said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
andrea said...

Love this story!
I remember you telling it and a bit more juicy details when we worked at Eckerd's together. I also remember how all the Eckerd girls acted (I remember a lot of fainting and giggling) when they first saw Jeff walk in, NOT knowing he was your husband.
But I also love reading your reminder about God's grace. You and Jeff are the first people that sent me to the bible so that I could find out about God's grace. That was a new concept considering my background was Church of Christ. It was such a freeing experience to realize that God loves me just as I am!

"Just as I am though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings and fears within, without
O Lamb of God I come, I come"
"Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come."