IT ALL STARTED AT LSU.
It will always be more than just a campus, more than just a city, more than just an education. LSU is the start of our story.
[Kayla] Being from Louisiana, LSU was always my dream college. I grew up wanting to be a Tiger. I performed well academically in high school and with my GPA and ACT score, I could have been accepted to most top tier universities, but it was always LSU.
I didn't need a backup plan and I certainly didn't need to waist application fees on schools I had no desire to attend.
I loved talking, sharing stories, and being on camera excited me, so naturally a broadcast journalism degree was right up my alley. Since I was young I dreamed of having my own morning show -- getting paid to talk and share an opinion? Sign me up.
[Matt] - After my first semester at a junior college in Massachusetts, my guidance counselor shared a crazy reality with me -- she said I could transfer to any flagship state university with my credit hours and GPA.
This was a miracle in itself. I graduated high school with a 2.4 and an embarrassing SAT score. I got rejected from every state university in Massachusetts and settled for a two-year junior college. Upon learning this information, I began to research.
I pulled up the top 25 ranked college football teams. No, I'm not kidding. I eliminated the states I refused to live in and then got down to 10 schools. From those 10, I researched the journalism programs. After looking into it, I narrowed my search down to three: Texas Tech, Miami and LSU.
I applied to all three and got accepted. I quickly tossed out Miami due to cost and honed in on Texas Tech and LSU. I visited LSU first and from the second I stepped foot in Louisiana -- I never turned back.
For some reason, LSU placed me in my only honors class in my entire life -- MC 2011, Media Writing. As I entered the class on the first day, I noticed that I was one of three guys in the class filled with attractive girls.
The college dream!
Yeah right. I was scared to talk to girls. They intimidated me for some reason, so I did what I did best. I cranked up my music and ignored everyone. Two months into class we had our first group project -- great, now I had to talk, I thought.
I was paired up with all girls, including one quirky female. She introduced herself and immediately showed me a picture of her grandmother -- weird, I know.
We made small talk and she found out I was a Patriots fan. A few days later, the Saints destroyed my Patriots -- yes, the ONE good year the Saints were good (2009) -- and the professor said, "I bought Matt candy because his team lost." Everyone laughed.
This quirky female, stood up, and YELLED: "That's not fair. His crappy team lost, why don't we get candy. Our team won."
Let's face it. I knew she was special.
THE ATHEIST AND CHRISTIAN
We studied together, in fact, I blew off Kayla five times because I was nervous. She for whatever reason still gave me a chance and wasn't offended by my fickleness.
Eventually, those study sessions turned into fun conversations, which turned into movies, dinner and other dates. On December 10, 2009, we were committed enough for me to write a cheesy Facebook post about it, but there was one problem -- I was an atheist and Kayla was a Christian.
It was something we never talked about.
Yes, you could say that complicated things. For a few months after December 10, I attended Bible small group's and other "Christian fellowship things" with Kayla to appease her. By outsider accounts I was just a guy friend of Kayla's. Yes, you get where I'm going -- we weren't Facebook official.
As time passed, I was growing more aware that this church thing wasn't a faze. She was really into it. What Kayla didn't know at the time was that despite me being an atheist, I was becoming enlightened (sort of speak) to who Jesus was.
My whole life I concluded that when we died, a black screen appeared -- it was game over. I didn't believe in God and never heard the name of Jesus until I moved to the Bible Belt South. As God would have it, I got placed in a student worker job working with a Jesus loving lady.
Jennie didn't just love Jesus. She LOVED Jesus. Day in and day out, in a non rude or confrontational way, she would speak life into me.
She taught me about Jesus really without teaching me about Jesus. She never opened a Bible and read the Gospels to me, but she taught me Jesus in a real way for me to understand through her story.
One day, Jennie told me these frightening words: God told me these five things will happen to you:
- You will meet a strong Christian girl.
- You will get saved.
- You will receive a financial blessing.
- You will stop listening to your music.
- You will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
One by one over the course of a year, each one of those things happened. The one that caught my eye the most was No. 3. I was as broke as one college student could be and one day the LSU's Bursar's Office deposited $605 in my checking account. I called the office and there was no record of the deposited money or a reason as to why I would even have received it.
My bills and expenses that month -- $605 to the penny.
In this moment, I began to really take notice to the supernatural work of Jesus.
ESPN AND SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
In the summer of 2011, we had two once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Kayla was one of six students in the world to be selected as an intern at ESPN in Bristol, Conn. I was one of 14 students to be selected as a Sports Illustrated intern in New York, N.Y.
It was surreal.
We were both garnering a lot of exposure locally and had stories written about us and opportunities to speak in organizations and meetings. Leading up to this summer, we both worked hard in our career goals -- mine to write about sports, Kayla to be on T.V.
We spent two years working for free for small publications and T.V. stations, which all to lead to this moment. We finally made it.
The summer came and gone. We met big personalities and had our contributions shown on T.V. and in magazines. We left New York and Connecticut with our next steps planned before touching down in Baton Rouge.
I was going to start working for The Advocate -- the largest newspaper in Louisiana, while Kayla had an internship lined up with Good Morning America for the next summer because of her connection she made with Robin Roberts.
Life couldn't get any better.
two gutcheck car rides
The First Car Ride
Six months after the summer of a lifetime, we sat in this parking lot. For six months, I worked at The Advocate covering the Southern University football team. I was also covering LSU Basketball for Fox Sports.
At this point, I began applying for jobs with graduation a few months away. I emailed all my connections I made and even talked with both The Advocate and Fox Sports, but the market was dry for a full-time contributor.
I sent over 20 resumes and clips to large and small publications -- no bites. The lowest point was when I had two interviews with a small paper in Tennessee. The job was to cover high school sports and paid $25,000 per year. I didn't get the job.
In this parking lot, I lost my mind. I wanted to quit. I didn't understand. Life seemed to fail me. Kayla then starred at me and said the worst thing she's ever said to me.
See four months ago during worship at Bethany Church I had a vision from God. Are you ready for the super strange spiritual stuff? During worship I saw myself on a stage speaking and God said: "This is what you're supposed to be doing."
Fast forward four months and I disregarded what He said. I gave it no thought. So, you can see why I was upset when Kayla reminded me of what He told me.
After her comment, I dropped her off at her house and drove back to same parking lot -- crying, praying, and telling Jesus I didn't want to do what He asked. I told him I didn't want to give up everything I worked for.
The Second Car Ride
Driving home from Pineville, La., which is where Kayla grew up, we were dead silent. We just spent the weekend helping Kayla's old church with a youth event. On Friday evening, the youth pastor's dad was rushed to the emergency room, so we had to step in and lead the event with little notice or guidance.
We did and the event didn't skip a beat.
As we started the two and a half hour ride back to Baton Rouge, we eventually broke the silence.
"Do you feel that," Kayla asked.
"Yup," I said.
We began yelling, literally, as loud as possible because we knew what was next.
God was calling us to move to Pineville to help serve the church. We barely said anything the rest of the way home.
The very next week, as fitting as it always is, we both received two emails:
- One large publication sent me a job offer for A LOT of money in a city I loved. It was my dream job.
- Good Morning America wanted to confirm Kayla's internship and housing information.
Thanks for making this easy, Jesus.
I will never forget the email I sent turning down the job. It took me two hours to send one email. I asked myself - was I really giving up my dream for a small town, traditional church of 80 people, where I would make $135 a week and live with Kayla's grandmother for a year? YUP.
Kayla struggled a little bit more.
She still had a year to go until she graduated, so while I was moving to Pineville, she would still have to finish school. She justified that she could do the internship for the experience and when she graduated, she would move to Pineville.
We had some intense conversations about it. I told her I had to give up my dream, so naturally so did she -- so encouraging, right! She kept justifying it until she recalled a dream she had three years prior.
In the dream, Kayla was the anchor for Good Morning America and as if it was an action movie, time paused, and only Kayla was still actively moving. The screen Kayla was pointing to when she was giving the news, changed to a image of a small church. She heard God in that moment tell her to quit her job and go serve that church.
Kayla screamed in the dream - 'don't know you how long I worked for this!' The dream was so intense that she woke up crying. While the dream was three years prior, she didn't give it much thought.
Once she recalled the dream, the email was easy. She turned down the internship and instead led a children's event in Pineville that summer, went back to Baton Rouge, got her degree, we got married, and she started her job at Chick-fil-A.
Chick-fil-A? Yes, there's more to the story.
But, for now, we'll leave it here.
We could talk more about how I lived with my Kayla's grandmother for a year to Kayla's job at Chick-fil-A along with four other jobs, so we could make ends meet. We could talk about battling the day-to-day of a struggling church -- that wears you down, FYI; to three years later moving to a town we've never heard of because God told us to serve a leader.
Throughout it all, God has been faithful. We've made a decision a long time ago to listen to God's voice and always be obedient despite how uncomfortable it makes us feel.
Was it all easy -- no way. Do we regret some of it -- absolutely. But, we wouldn't trade anything for where we are now.