“So,” Phil’s voice interrupted, “When did you and Beth Ann
“Well,” I lowered my voice, “After I told Phoenix I wasn’t
interested in doing stuff with him anymore, I had trouble getting him out of
my mind. I kept thinking that since we had the same basic beliefs, that
maybe God had put us together, and I had blown it when I got scared and
moved out. I began really praying that God would give us some kind of sign
if he wanted us to get back together, but Phoenix and Shawn stopped coming
to our bible study after Zeke caught them holding hands, and when I talked
to Phoenix after that, he told me that he didn’t want anything to do with
God anymore. I kind of took that as my sign.
“Phil, I’m still not totally sure God can do this for me. I
mean, marrying Beth Ann, and being a good dad, and stuff. I still look at
guys too much. You remember how Dillon used to punch you in the arm all the
time when he caught you staring at me and Eddie?”
I looked up just in time to see Phil grinning, as his fist
landed solidly on my upper arm the way Dillon’s had so many times in the
“Ow-w-w,” I complained, rubbing my arm where he had punched
“It works, doesn’t it? Bet you’re not thinking about a guy
right now,” he laughed.
I slugged him back and continued talking.
“Well, Beth Ann just gives me a look, or clears her throat,
to get my head back where it’s supposed to be. She told me that she doesn’t
have a problem with me being the way I am, and that it’s not a sin when my
mind drifts that way, as long as I don’t let the thought make me think that
that’s what God wants for my life. Problem is, sometimes it’s really hard
not to think that way. She keeps telling me though, that God sent her to me
to be my helpmate, and now that we’re going to be committing our lives to
each other, our bodies don’t belong to ourselves anymore. She showed me a
verse in the bible that says that after we’re married, my body’ll belong to
her, and her body’ll belong to me. You ever read that?”
“Yeah, I think it’s in one of the Apostle Paul’s letters.”
“Well anyway, she says that I shouldn’t want her sharing
her body with someone else, and she definitely doesn’t want me to share mine
with anyone but her.
“I really want this to work, Phil. I know it’s what God
wants for me, but I’m wondering how it’ll work out, because there were
times, like that second semester of my sophomore year, where I was happy to
just not have anyone. But then stuff happened anyway.”
Besides studying, I got really involved at my church. A
committee got together and started a soup kitchen that we ran every Friday
night. I was so amazed at how many people, right here in the middle of L.A.,
had nothing. There was a group of people from ours, and a couple of other
churches in the neighborhood, who were just supposed to eat with the people
who came for supper, giving them a chance to talk to someone. It seemed like
having someone listen to their problems, was almost a bigger lift for the
hungry people than the food was.
There was this one guy and his daughter, Sarah, who used to
always look for me. Even though you could tell he couldn’t wait to get
something to eat, he always looked for me first, and insisted that I get
into the line with him. His daughter was like three or four or something. He
and his wife both lost their jobs, and got thrown out of their apartment, so
his wife started picking up johns to earn money so they could buy food. He
hated that she was doing that, but every time he tried to talk to her about
it, she just told him it was the oldest profession around, and not to worry
about it. He says it hurt more than he could have imagined for her to be
doing that, but he kept their daughter while his wife worked the streets.
One night she didn’t come home, and when he finally found her she was stoned
out of her mind in some crack house.
He made her come with him to the mission where he had found
a bed, but the next night they had a big argument, and she left again. That
was the last time his little girl saw her mom. He’s tried to get her to come
back with him, but she just tells him to get lost – that she doesn’t want to
be his wife or Sarah’s mom anymore.
That kind of stuff just breaks my heart. I don’t ever want
that to happen to Beth Ann and me. I’m praying that God will help me to be
faithful to her, so she won’t ever feel like she has to do something like
With all the studying and working at church, and with
Phoenix finally out of the picture, I found that I didn’t really think a lot
about hooking up with someone – well at least I wasn’t obsessing over it. I
was pretty much content to study, and serve other people. It really made me
think how self-centered my life had been. I realized then, that up to that
point in my life, I had invested everything I had in trying to make me happy
– in trying to find myself.
It was during that semester, and the following summer, that
I started finding that helping other people brought satisfaction into my
life. It was like I didn’t need to throw myself at someone to try to find
value as a person. I saw how I had been so willing to give a potential mate
anything I had, in order to get them to make me feel good about
myself, when all I really had to do was help other people in order to find
Bill and Dottie Henderson saw the change in me too. We sat
in their family room one night and watched the movie Facing the Giants,
together as a family. I was amazed to think how God had used Bill to be like
Coach Taylor to me. He got me to dig in and give my all to any project that
was in front of me, even if I couldn’t understand why things didn’t always
turn out the way I expected them too.
One of those unexpected things happened on an essay test
for a course on classical writers that both me and my roommate, Ben, were
taking. I really didn’t have a lot of interest in the classics, but if you
want to earn your degree in English, you have to take the course. I had
spent weeks researching and taking notes to prepare for my exam. Ben on the
other hand seemed to think it would be a piece of cake for him, so from what
I could tell, he spent most of his time studying a new game he got for his
Most exams, you do in the classroom, but because for this
one, you had to actually do some research for your essay, we had two days to
turn it in. I sweated bullets the whole two days, while Ben only sat at his
desk to work on it occasionally. I wondered why he always seemed to wait
until I was in bed to get started, and I also wondered when he was doing his
research for it.
It wasn’t until Professor Clarke called me into his office
the day after handing in my essay that I began figuring out what went down.
“Have a seat, Mr. Harper,”
I could feel the knot sliding up my esophagus and lodging
itself just below my adams apple as I sat in the chair across the desk from
my prof’s darkened face.
“Do you know what plagiarism is, Mr. Harper.”
“Yes sir” And thinking that he wanted me to explain it to
him, I began telling him that it was quoting other’s work, trying to make
someone believe that it’s you own.”
“I’m quite surprised that you have such a good working
understanding of that word, Mr. Harper.”
“Is… is there a problem with something I did?” I stammered
out, trying to recall where I may have missed citing something in my essay.
“It seems,” he began, “that you and Mr. Hoffman, have
developed an amazingly similar style of research and recording. I’ve
contacted the registrar’s office and asked that you both be placed on
academic probation. I find it interesting that they told me that you
are already on probation,” he jabbed, as if that proved something to him.
Then he dropped the bomb.
“Mr. Harper, it would appear that you and Mr. Hoffman
either worked together on this exam, which you were explicitly warned
against doing, or that you outright copied his work and signed your name to
it. Did you really think I was that daft? That I wouldn’t look at your work
closely enough to see that it’s a fraud?”
“Sir,” I began to protest.
“Save it, Mr. Harper. This will be turned over to the
Dean’s office for investigation. You can plead your case to them. And let me
remind you, the school has zero tolerance to cheating, so you can save
yourself and the Dean’s office a lot of work, if you just tell them the
truth the first time they ask you.
“That will be all, thank you.”
As I stood, I felt desperate to tell him that there must be
some mistake – that I had done the research alone, and that any similarities
between my paper and Ben’s had to be coincidence.
“Save it, Mr. Harper,” he repeated. “I’m not interested in
I was glad that it was a Friday, because there’s no way I
could have handled going to any classes after that. I debated not helping at
the soup kitchen that night, but decided to go in order to try to get my
mind off the accusation – and because little Sarah’s eyes always lit up when
she saw me. I really needed her to hug me, and squeeze my nose so I could
make nasally beeping sounds at her.
I thought I had pulled myself together by the time I
reached the church, but the moment Dottie saw me, she knew something was
“Alex, something happen at school today? The Lord really
laid a burden on me to pray for you this afternoon. You okay?”
Briefly describing my meeting with Professor Clarke to her,
I told her that it would all blow over because I hadn’t cheated. She seemed
more concerned after I had told her, than she had before.
“Alex, look at me and tell me whether or not you looked at
your roommate’s work.”
When I did that, she totally believed that I wasn’t lying
and told me, “I think you’d better prepare yourself for a storm. Unless your
roommate admits to what he must have done, they’re going to be putting you
through the ringer.” I didn’t want to believe that it would be so difficult
to clear up the misunderstanding, but her words sent chills up my spine.
It was during clean-up that night that Pastor Berger asked
me to come to his office with him. He seemed anxious about something, and I
just hoped that he wasn’t going tell me about something wrong that I had or
hadn’t done at church.
When he pushed the door to his study open, I saw a room
full of people sitting in a circle with a lone chair in the middle of them.
The Henderson’s were there; Bill, Dottie, and even Dalton. Pastor Berger and
his wife Alida, several of the church elders, Rex Davies, the Youth Pastor,
even Miss Sally was there.
Pastor Berger’s hand on my shoulder guided me to the chair
that sat in the middle of the circle.
“Alex,” he said softly, “Dottie brought it to our attention
that you’re in the line of fire over something that happened today at
school. We’re not going to let you stand alone. We’re gonna fight along side
of you until we see the victory. The bible tells us that “we don’t fight
against flesh and blood, but against the princes of the air.” This is a
spiritual battle, and unless you tell me that you did cheat on that exam,
then I have to believe that this is just a fiery trial that the devil’s
organized against you to try to knock you off your feet and get you to turn
your back on God.”
“Dear, loving God…” Pastor Davies began.
We must have prayed for half an hour before Pastor Berger
finally closed with a hearty “Amen!”
Although I was upset that I had been accused of it, I still
didn’t really think it was going to be that big of a deal. They all must
have somehow known that it would be a far bigger deal than I expected.
I was kind of anxious to get back to my dorm, so I could
ask Ben if Clarke had talked to him too. When Ben didn’t come back to the
dorm that night, I began to wonder if maybe it hadn’t all been a mistake,
and that maybe he was trying to avoid me. An awful thought struck me as I
got out of bed the next morning and saw his pen and notepad lying on my
desk. About the only thing that I hadn’t gotten used to while dorming with
Ben, is that Ben was not very organized – as in putting his things away. His
half of the room always looked like a twister had just touched down, and so
he often used my desk to do his school work. And that’s when I began
to recall the times over the past weeks when I got up in the morning and
found my notebook computer open with the operating system shut down. I
almost never turned my computer off. All I ever did was close the lid, and
let it go into hibernation mode.
Monday morning, the Dean’s office called, and told me that
I had a ten forty-five appointment with Ms. Jackson. I guess the “innocent
until proven guilty” mentality doesn’t apply to campus investigations. She
basically told me that, since I was already on academic probation due to my
low first semester grades, the investigation would focus mainly on me. My
need to improve my GPA made me a prime candidate for cheating. Especially
since Ben had a 3.35 GPA last semester.
Ben hardly talked to me the entire week. When he did say
something, it was usually to tell me what a terrible Christian I was, and
that what I had done was making his life hell. That really stung, because he
obviously thought that I had been the one cheating. I wondered if it was
possible that the two of us could have chosen the same questions on the
exam, and then written down the same answers.
Tuesday, they confiscated both our computers as part of the
investigation. I spent the entire day hoping they wouldn’t check my internet
history. Not because it would implicate me as being a plagiarist, but
because of some Internet sites I had a habit of frequenting. When I went to
the Dean’s office to pick it up, I asked if they found what they were
looking for. All they told me is “Mr. Harper, you certainly do have
a… shall we say, an interesting Internet history.” That’s all they
would tell me, though, so I kept fretting.
For a week and a half, dad called me every day for an
update, and to tell me that he and Donna prayed for me even though he hadn’t
actually become a believer yet. “It can’t hurt, Alex,” he told me. One time
I asked him flat out why he hadn’t given in to Donna’s request for him to
become a Christian. He told me it seemed like it would be a gradual process
for him, but that he was drifting in that direction.
It was a week and a half after Professor Clarke had
confronted me. I had been harassed by someone on the Dean’s staff almost
daily up to that point. The campus bible club was praying for me, the people
at church were praying for me, my dad and Donna were praying for me, and
even I was praying for me. The strange thing is, at the start of the whole
deal I had been praying that someone would realize that there had been a
mistake made in their judgment of me. But by the second Friday after it
happened, I began to listen to the prayers that others were praying, and it
began to change my way of thinking.
Rex Davies was the one who really made me stop and think.
He told me that he had been listening to me pray, and had noticed how all my
prayers were aimed at God getting me out of the mess I was in. Then he told
me that the way he sees things, God doesn’t allow us to go through trials
randomly, to see if we can pray our way out of them unscathed. He told me
that he believes trials come to us in order to get us to become stronger
“Maybe God wants you to embrace your trial, Alex. Maybe
instead of praying for God to get you out of the mess, you should ask him to
show you how he can use this trial to strengthen you for his greater
purpose.” So that’s when I began to pray for God to get me through the trial
instead of away from it.
The next Tuesday, when I got back to my room, I saw that my
TV set was gone. Looking around the room to see if someone was playing
jokes, and had hidden it somewhere, I noticed that all of Ben’s things were
also gone – I mean everything; his X-box, his books, and all his clothes –
everything but his ten inch portable TV were gone. At first, I thought
someone broke into our dorm, but then I wondered why they would have taken
his clothes and left mine untouched. About the time I was trying to decide
if I should call campus security, the RA stuck his head in my door and told
me that “in case you didn’t know, they kicked Ben out of school.”
“I guess when they did their investigation they found some
other classes where he cheated too. He as much as admitted that he had done
I looked at him, not wanting to believe it, but finally
asked, “Did you see my TV?”
“The one that sat over there?”
“Ah… Dude, like Ben said it was his, so I carried it out
for him. Was that yours?”
“Yeah. Where did he go with it?”
Sorry, man. He said he was moving back to Arizona. Anyway,
the Dean’s office wants you to stop over there as soon as you can.”
Even though they had figured out that Ben was the one who
cheated, dread washed over me like the breaker that hit me the first time I
tried to catch a wave on a surfboard. I wondered why, if they had expelled
Ben, they wanted to talk with me. Not knowing if they were going to expel me
too, I made desperate phone calls, first to Bill Henderson, then to my dad,
asking them to pray that I had the strength to get through this.
“May I help you?” asked the receptionist at the Dean’s
office when I arrived at quarter to four that afternoon.
“I’m here to see Ms. Jackson.”
“Are you Alex Harper?”
“Please take a seat. Ms. Jackson will be with you in a few
My dealings with Ms. Jackson were another reason that I
don’t like women. She is cunning, cool, and must have some sort of sadistic
bent for seeing people squirm. She evidently had known from the first day
she looked at Ben’s and my computers what had happened. She also must have
wanted to make me sweat it out until all the paperwork was completed for
Ben’s expulsion. Even in her office, she made me feel like I was somehow
responsible for Ben’s stealing my work – that I should have been more
careful to password protect my computer.
“You got lucky this time, Mr. Harper. Other than the
mandatory one point reduction in your grade, you’re off the hook. But know
that we’ll be monitoring your work closely for the rest of the semester. And
if there are any more blemishes in your performance, you’ll be following Mr.
Hoffman out the door.”
I was relieved to know that I wasn’t kicked out of school,
but I was shocked that they would lower my grade because of someone else’s
cheating. “How can you lower my grade by a point when I didn’t do anything
wrong” I pleaded.
“Young man, I recommend that you pick up your copy of the
investigation on your way out of my office, and not stir up more trouble for
yourself.” Then she glared at me like she was trying to burn a hole through
my skull with her eye.
“Ah… can I get a home phone number for Ben, or his home
address? He took my TV set with him by mistake when he left, and he won’t
answer his cell phone.”
“I’m sorry, that’s confidential information.”
It wasn’t so bad
watching TV in the student center for the rest of the semester, as there was
always a lot of laughs and camaraderie there. And, even with the grade point
deduction in that class, I finished the semester with an overall 3.12 GPA. I
was ecstatic. I could always get a new TV, but starting my summer knowing
that the scholarship, that I couldn’t have replaced, was intact for another
year was something to be thankful for.