Over 20 years ago, I was running.
I was running on the track and cross-country team at my high school. I met two girls named Jeannie and Kim. They were patient. They went out of their way to be kind to me….giving me rides to and from practices and meets. They listened quietly as I ranted about my life. They saw the pain through my tough-girl façade. They sifted through the cuss words and nonsense and heard the heart of a young girl who felt alone, abandoned, unloved, and unimportant. For an entire year they watched and listened.
Back then, I was nothing more than an obnoxious, opinionated, rough-around-the-edges teenage girl from a broken home. I wanted love, attention, acceptance, and a way out of the chaos that defined my life. So I found friends. And I found drugs. I drank. I got high. And slowly I gave away pieces of myself to any boy who gave me his attention (which I mistook for affection). I wanted to matter.
After the first season, Kim graduated and onto our team walked Debbie, Emily, Kristin, and the twins—Suzi and Chrissie. Before I knew it I was running to keep up with them because most of them were faster than me. On long-run days, Suzi and I set out together….running and talking. She, too, watched and listened intently because she saw exactly what the others before her had seen.
The more time we spent together, the closer we grew and we started called ourselves “the Musketeers.” We ran together, laughed together, hung out and made memories together. They became some of my very best friends.
Together we ran trails in the woods and sprints on the track. But, alone, I was running from a God who was in relentless pursuit of me. My teammates saw Him chasing me long before I did. And slowly, very gently, they began telling me His side of the story. I listened. I resisted. I tried harder and harder to get away. But they had the one thing I had wanted for so long. I saw it every, single day: A smile. A genuine smile. Not forced or fake one like mine. A straight-from-their-hearts-joy-in-their-spirits smile. And I wanted that smile more than I wanted a spot on our relay team.
Little by little, they told me where the smile came from. They took me to Bible Studies and church. Invited me to FCA. Their families welcomed me into their homes and hearts. They shuttled me to and from more practices and meets. They cheered for me in the stands. They prayed for me and with me. In the lives of these people I began to uncover a Person I had believed in as a child, but given up on as a teenager. No matter how hard I tried to fight the Man they kept talking about, I knew He was pursing me. And I knew I couldn’t outrun Him.
Alone in my room one night I spoke to their God. I told Him I needed to understand Him. That I wanted to know who He was and if He loved me. And I opened a Bible they had loaned me to Colossians 2 and I read verses 13-14—I read how even though I was dead in my sins, God made me alive in Christ. How He forgave me and took away this code that was against me and nailed it to the cross. And there it was…staring me straight in the eyes. The one, precious gift I did nothing to deserve….Grace.
That was the first time I realized that my sin sent Him there. Every time I denied Him, I drove the nail in deeper. Every time I went out to have a “good time,” I drove the nail in deeper. That was the beginning of my surrender. For the first time in my life, He was real, my sin was real, and I was desperate for Him. I spent that night crying tears of regret and relief. Tears of remorse and redemption. He met me in my brokenness and lifted me out of my shame.
The Nichole who introduced herself to Jesus and her teammates was nothing more than an insufferable, shameless teenage girl trying to get numb and get noticed. I had a foul mouth and was leading a foul life. But my Musketeers helped me see what Jesus saw: my worth. They saw what I didn’t even know was there: a beloved, cherished, daughter of a King who was worth every drop of blood He spilled trying to ransom me. They saw the diamond instead of the rough. They knew all the things that I had done, and every one of them decided that I was worth the race. So they ran my pace, stride for stride, until I was finally ready to stop running.
Remembering that lonely, lost, young Nichole keeps me humble because I know who I was then, I know who I am now, and I know who those girls and Jesus saved me from becoming. I don’t want to forget her because she reminds me to give grace in ridiculous amounts to other messy people just like her. She reminds me to love the people who tell me they don’t want my love and to forgive those who don’t ask for my forgiveness. She inspires me to write my words and tell my story. She reminds me that my salvation wasn’t for me…it was for all the people I can take to eternity with me, if I’ll be brave enough to love them while He pursues their souls. I hope I never forget that young Nichole for as long as I live. In a lot of ways, I’m much the same girl: stubborn, opinionated, and sometimes a little rebellious. I am still the Nichole who deserves nothing. But I am also the Nichole who accepts everything: His love, mercy, hope, grace, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. I give Him all the glory. And I write to make Him famous.