North American Youth Congress – 1997
At this point in my life, I’m an awkward 14-year-old. I spend my time playing video games and watching Star Trek, but I’m trying to keep these things under wraps. I get picked on at school, I’m 5’5’’, and I weigh perhaps 37 pounds. I could be most accurately described as “book worm,” “dork,” or “desperately awkward.”
My friends and I are running up the arena stairs because we thought it would be cool to find a seat in the nosebleed section. Apparently this made us manly men.
As we made our way upward, I noticed two familiar, beautiful girls sitting side by side next to the aisle: one blonde and one brunette. I was drawn to the blonde. I thought they were from Louisiana, but wasn’t sure. As I passed by them, I attempted to rebound from them noticing my oblivious staring by quickly turning away and…
That noise? Oh, that was me tripping on the stairs and shattering my shins…right in front of the beautiful blonde girl. Smooth, Ryan…really smooth.
I jumped up, acted like it didn’t hurt, and rushed to catch up with my friends. Once out of sight, I collapsed, whimpered, and tried to caress my fragile ego through this most recent embarrassment..
North American Youth Congress – 2001
I was a lot taller, less skinny (but still painfully thin), and I was dating a girl (GASP!). I wasn’t quite as dorky, and I concealed my awkwardness by doing things that could either be considered comedically outrageous or desperate ploys for attention. I think we’d all be safe in leaning towards the latter.
As I was talking to a friend in the arena hall, I noticed the blonde girl walking towards us out of nowhere. THAT blonde girl!
She was wearing all black, looking elegant, mysterious, and capable of ripping my heart into teensy, tiny shreds. She asked my friend a question, and I stood there I did my best to give a friendly and slightly flirty smile, but she wasn’t the least bit interested. She stared right through me and walked away. Ouch.
Pentecostals of Bossier City Youth Rally – late 2001
I don’t remember what the function of the rally was. I just remember that the blonde showed up to sing with The Pentecostals of Alexandria (POA) youth choir. I was talking with some female friends, and she once again approached the group.
This time, she said a few words to me, and I responded with a semi-polite nod and believe it or not…I blew her off. That’s right! Apparently, I blew off the beautiful blonde! I’m not sure if it was revenge, sleep deprivation, or clinical insanity that caused my reaction, but to this day the beautiful blonde reminds me of this version of the story (she swears it’s true). I’m more inclined to believe my side of the story, which is, “I think I must have been nervous.”
Louisiana Junior Camp – June 12, 2002
POA’s youth choir was singing at Junior Camp. I was visiting because, obviously, I didn’t have much else to do. I looked up and noticed something in the choir: the blonde.
Her hair was insane; it could probably be best-described as “white girl squared-off corn rows that made little guard towers all over her head.” Her clothes were crazy, highlighted by bright yellow colors everywhere. Clearly I had no other choice but to make her my girlfriend.
She was beautiful, as always, but I still didn’t even know her name. I sat down after service to talk to my friends, and the blonde made several passes down the nearby aisle. We caught each other’s eyes several times, and I knew it wasn’t by accident. Basketball-head Ryan was smitten.
A friend of mine from POA said, “Um, I think that girl over there in the yellow wants to meet you. Her name is Shari.”
I returned home that night and couldn’t shake the idea that this gorgeous girl who I’d seen for years actually wanted to meet me. Meet me? That meant she was actually interested. I forced myself to downplay the idea. If anything would happen, it would be the next week at Senior Camp.
Monday…nothing. We caught eyes again, but I couldn’t gather the courage to talk to her. I’m an introvert; I couldn’t help it. Tuesday…nothing. We caught eyes, and I even managed a knowing smile that connected, but no conversation.
Wednesday night, she couldn’t take it anymore. I was standing in a large group that happened to include her. She reached out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Shari,” showing off her beautiful white, straight teeth with a smile that absolutely slammed me. I suddenly became aware of my uneven fangs, but they didn’t seem to bother her.
We talked that night, and the next night, and the next…and before you knew it, Shari Braneff was my girlfriend. I WAS DATING THE BLONDE–the girl who was so far out of my league that I couldn’t work up the courage to say something as simple as “Hello” to her.
Long story short: we broke up, we dated, broke up, dated, broke up, dated, got engaged, broke up, got re-engaged, and then got married on April 7, 2006.
I’m not going to say that things have been perfect, because they haven’t. We’ve fought over some really dumb things (and not-so-dumb things). We have almost polar opposite interests (except for Shark documentaries). She’s outgoing; I’m introverted. She’s doesn’t mind dealing with a situation, and I’m a procrastinating pacifist. She wears crazy outfits, and I like plain t-shirts and jeans. But if it’s possible to have found someone on this planet that perfectly balances me out, then I’ve done it by marrying Shari Lou.
I get to wake up every day next to that same beautiful blonde. She’s my best friend in this world, and I will always consider her to be the best blessing that God has ever given to me.
Fifty years from now, I hope I’ve lived long enough to share every significant memory of my adult life with the only woman that I’ve ever loved.
Shari, I love you more than words could ever express.