Our wedding was small. I mean really small. At the small chapel on the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, California, Steve and I said "I do." almost 23 years ago. It was too far and too expensive for many of friends and family to attend. One of the only ten guests was Steve's best man and roomate, Mario. Not long after our wedding day, we lost touch with Mario as so often happens with old military buddies. But captured in photos on our most special day, we were often reminded of the man who stood for Steve when no one else could.
A few years ago Steve and Mario reconnected on Facebook. They were surprised to discover that they had each found their way into youth ministry. Mario and his family became champions of Team Solheim in Honduras shortly after. Little notes of encouragement and years of faithful and sacrificial giving have kept us connected ever since.
But it wasn't until we finally made our way to Buffalo, New York, this past month that we could thank our dear friend in person. I can't lie. We were nervous as we pulled into the driveway. So much time had passed and so much had changed. We'd never even met Mario's wife, Denise, or their two children. We were afraid we'd be the awkward houseguests from a bygone era best forgotten.
We couldn't have been more wrong! We were welcomed with such warmth and kindness that it was easy to let our guard down. We quickly found that the guys' lives had taken such similar twists and turns that we had way more in common than we could have ever imagined. And it wasn't long until Denise and I found ourselves in the wee hours of the morning laughing until tears rolled down our faces while the men looked on in astonishment.
Mario and Denise became our Buffalo tour guides. We ate wings, watched a minor league baseball game, celebrated Independence day at an incredible fireworks show and even visited nearby Niagra Falls. But the day I will never forget is the day we got to tag along to the summer youth kick-off event at church. As we watched them lead their youth group, we were amazed at the connections they've developed with the young people in their community. Through an epic Nerf battle, frisbee golf, volleyball, jigsaw puzzles, board games, and a crazy hide-and-seek contest, we watched them meaningfully engage with a generation normally consumed by cell phones and reality television. Every interaction was filled with compassion, love, authority and grace. We were inspired by their powerful ministry. Now I pray that God will help us follow their example in our own ministry.
We shared our victories, fears and failures with these precious friends. They encouraged, sympathized and prayed with us. Over 22 years ago two young corporals serving their country together stood nervously side-by-side at the front of a church expecting a new and exciting beginning. Today, they are still serving together, standing anxiously side-by-side in the presence of God and anticipating great things.