Justin Buchanan and his wife Sarah entered my life when I was in the 6th grade living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Justin was the middle school youth pastor at BayLeaf Baptist church and he still remains the best youth pastor I've ever had. Famous for his pranks and silly shenanigans, he still made sure that we were constantly growing and learning in our faith.
My first youth group trip at BayLeaf was the winter ski trip as a 6th grader trying to fit in with all of the macho 8th graders. We caravaned to South Carolina in stereotypical church vans and stayed in giant rooms with multiple bunk beds.
I don't remember whether I was selected or if I volunteered for the chopstick game, but either way I found myself blindfolded and then led into an ominously dim room. I took a seat in a metal folding chair, face-to-face with Justin, with the rest of the youth group behind me, and a set of oversized chopsticks in my hand. After Justin swiped warpaint on my cheeks I learned the rules. The object of the game was to mimic every single move Justin made with his own set of chopsticks, complete with sound effects. Essentially an elaborate game of Simon Says. As soon as you didn't follow his movement exactly, you lost. I think my demise came when Justin stuck one of his chopsticks up his nose.
That very same trip came with my first Justin-dubbed nickname.
The Black Diamond.
I will never EVER live this experience down. Ask anyone around my age what that name means at BayLeaf. They'll know without a doubt. As it was my first time snow skiing, Justin patiently coached me on the beginner slope. I'm assuming he grew tired of watching me fall on the same hill over and over and decided a change of scenery would be best for my skills. Justin suggested the Intermediate slope which had a different sort of lift. My friend Morgan and I cautiously boarded the unfamiliar lift, used to the beginner slope with just one stop.
Needless to say, we soon passed a sign that warned "experienced and professional skiers only beyond this point." Uh oh.
We exchanged panicked glances and looked back to see we had indeed passed up the intermediate slope. We ended up at the tip top of the mountain, the double black diamond, right next to the first aid station.
I knew my ski skills didn't extend to this slope so I sank down in the snow and began to unbuckle my skis. This was about to become a long hike. Morgan followed my example; neither of us had a death wish in 6th grade. Suddenly, a man came out of the first aid station and looked at us in bewilderment. We explained our inexpertise, he conferenced with his partner, and decided sending us back down on the lift would be safest for everyone.
Have you ever ridden back down a ski mountain in a lift? The swaying itself is frightening enough, but the worst are the questioning looks and outright laughter from the experienced and professional skiers on the other side of the apparatus.
On our way down we saw Justin riding up to find us. And that's the story of how Morgan and I made Justin ski a double black diamond.
I think the nickname might have been worth it.
My affinity for yanking his hair earned me a few cupcakes in the face and couple of trips into the trashcan headfirst, but my best victory over Justin was the time I memorized 1 John 1, recited it in front of the rest of the group, and was rewarded with all of the fixin's needed to transform Justin into a human sundae.
He treats Sarah with respect and honor and raises his 3 rambunctious boys with a firm, but fun hand (from what I can tell from afar through Facebook creepage). If someone were to ask me what kind of character I think guys should have, I'd point them to Justin without hesitation. I've never in my life felt like I've belonged somewhere more than I did when I was part of the youth group at BayLeaf. And I know it was because of the leadership of the Golden Couple, Justin and Sarah. I've since called them whenever I've needed sound adult advice and I got the pleasure of showing them around Oklahoma City when they passed through my turf last summer. It's a true blessing to be A Very Lucky Black Diamond.