Part Three – In Which Things Actually Start Happening

[Enter The-Summer-When-It-Really-Started]

Remember how I said that it was no big deal that I was emailing Austin once a month to publish the newsletter? Well, it really wasn’t a big deal at all until one day in May, the person who had started the newsletter with me asked if I was ready to transition out of the job and find someone to take my place. I was so tired of the newsletter and I didn’t want to do it anymore, but I turned down the offer. Why? Because it gave me an excuse to email that boy in Illinois. The emails weren’t anything special anyway. We weren’t even friends really and those monthly messages never exceeded anything more than the following:

“Hi! Here’s the newsletter ready to publish.”

“Great. And, in return, here’s the link to the uploaded PDF.”

“Thanks so much!”

mhm. Thrilling. Yes, I know.

Those brief exchanges were like that until June 2012. I had sent him the PDF like usual. He had sent me the link as usual. I replied, expressing my thanks, as usual. His next reply was not as usual. It was a short snippet of a message where he told me that he was going to be spending the summer in Australia (lucky person that he is) and he asked me if there was anything different or special I wanted him to write for the newsletter in his free time while he was there. Naturally, I replied with a plethora of ideas and asked him about the WHO? WHY? WHAT? HOW? about his Australia trip.

Over the next four days, we emailed back and forth about scuba diving and international travel and college tests. All in the midst of that, I was in what was the most intense month of my entire college experience. Through six exams, I earned twenty-one credits in one month, officially reached Senior status, and enrolled in Thomas Edison State College. He was one of the people who cheered me on.

June 25, 2012 at 4:26pm; Pacific Daylight Time. What would later be known as The Email arrived in my inbox. It was a mass email that he sent to who-knows-how-many-other-people just providing a link to his blog in case we were interested in being updated on the Australia trip (which I was.) It was then that I discovered his first name. Subtly in the little area for recipients was listed the name of Charles Harrison and I realized that was the infamous name that I had briefly wondered about so long ago. I emailed back about an hour later with thanks for the link, well-wishes for his trip, and just a little bit of a “Your first name is Charles???” moment. And there it began. Those little emails grew to a monstrous length in no time at all. Sometimes it would be days between replies or, at other times, weeks. Those emails to him were the longest I had ever written and talking to him came so naturally. We talked about everything from photography to Shakespeare to lightsabers to sonnets to small businesses to adoption to natural health remedies to future plans to country music to cars to family to homeschooling and to where God was leading us.

I was caught up in the whirlwind of HOWONEARTHDIDTHISHAPPEN? One day we hardly communicated and the next, hey, would you look at that; we were actually friends. All during the duration of the time these emails were being exchanged (twenty-seven emails over the course of ten months, to be exact) something else was happening too.

Even today, I still remember the exact moment I read that private message that arrived in my inbox on the forums. It changed things. Forever. It was the evening of July 3rd (still 2012, in case anyone has lost track of time, especially since I seem to be jumping around, all over the place) and the private message that had arrived was from “Austin the Wise Old Grump” as he was so endearingly referring to himself now. In more words, he professionally informed me that he was running for Student Body President of the forums with his brother, Drew, (as VP) and they asked me to serve as their party’s Chairwoman.

HELLO. A huge grin started forming on my face right then and there. I replied right away telling him I’d consider it and let him know the next day whether or not I could accept the position. 4th of July I officially became chairwoman of the Unity Party and accepting that position became one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life.

When I told my mom about all of this we were in the Costco parking lot. She received copies of all of my emails so she knew about this guy who was in Australia whom I was emailing a lot. In the car, parked outside of Costco, I had a ridiculous smile on my face when I attempted to mention nonchalantly that a certain guy might have also possibly asked me to be the Chairwoman of his election campaign and that I had said yes. She sorta made an effort at protesting; it didn’t really alter my present course.

Two days after I told Austin that would be the Unity Party Chairwoman, he added me to the Skype chat room that he had created for the campaign. That’s when my life changed. Forever. Again.

At the start, it was just him, me, and one other girl, Naomi, with whom I had had little to no previous contact before working with her on this campaign. Austin was in Australia and I was taking the month of July off of college after The-Month-That-Was-June to travel to Maryland and actually enjoy my summer and Naomi was in Pennsylvania in the midst of studying, which, more accurately meant she was stuck in front of her computer for most of the day. The three of us started talking every day and, once we started talking, we never stopped. Due to the strange Australia time difference, Austin would only be online in the mornings and the evenings so that’s when Naomi and I would get on Skype too to discuss campaign strategies, but we talked about so much more. We talked every day and just shared about our lives and our experiences and all things frivolous and serious and talking with them quickly became my favorite.

Posting in happy orange letters, we had all had so much fun with that campaign. It was the election of endorsement videos and orange firework photos and bananagrams promotions and wearing orange and sign language letters and everything just went so beautifully and perfectly and we won the election. Austin was President and Drew was Vice President and they were both elected while they were busy diving on the Great Barrier Reef and the rest of us just had the most amazingly good time.

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The week after the elections (before Naomi left on a month-long missions trip) Austin, Naomi, and I talked in our Skype chat room almost constantly. The two of them had a way of making me laugh and the three of us just “clicked” right from the start. You know that-kind-of-friend? The kind who you can just be open and honest and genuine with without having to worry? Well, I had just found some and I wasn’t going to let them go easily.

Enter confusion. I was so euphoric just to be friends with Austin, but I also wanted to be cautious. Well-aware of the fact that we had never met in person before, I knew that building a close friendship could be potentially hurtful to one – or both – of us. Still only seventeen, I wasn’t ready or interested in any kind of relationship beyond friendship but I still struggled with confusion and worrying and wondering because I had absolutely no idea what his intentions were. Over the next few months, I would spent numerous hours in prayer about this friendship; just asking God to help me honor him through it and protect my heart and to treat Austin simply as a brother-in-Christ. This was a season of analyzing emails with my dad while we rode our bikes along the California coast and this was a season of exchanging long messages with my friend, Carreen, who encouraged and exhorted me and reassured me all while pointing me towards my Savior and reminding me to honor him in every interaction. Continue to treat Austin simply as a brother-in-Christ because that was all he was. If Christ is honored in every conversation, then Christ will take that friendship and do with it what he wills and I don’t have to worry about a thing. Easier said than done.

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