She was just his friend’s kid sister; he never gave her much thought. But an invisible hand kept bringing them together—especially when it mattered most.
- Posted on Sep 26, 2016
Justin Peay and Alaina Lewis couldn’t stop bumping into each other.
The first time was early in the morning on the first day of school at Statesboro High School in Georgia. Justin was a junior. Alaina was a freshman, heading to class with an armload of books. The two happened to cross paths in an empty hallway. Just as they moved past one another, Alaina tripped, landing splat on her face, her books flying. To add insult to injury, her skirt flew up around her waist.
Justin pretended not to notice. “I knew she would have been mortified that a boy saw her underwear,” he says. “I thought maybe she didn’t even know I’d seen her fall. So I said nothing and just kept going.”
The next time was at Alaina’s house. As it turned out, she was the little sister of Justin’s friend Alexis. He’d never really noticed her before. Then they both got involved in the school’s drama program. Justin ended up judging a school project Alaina worked on. At school they always seemed to be at the same place at the same time.
“We were never close,” Justin says. Alaina was just his friend’s kid sister, not even five feet tall. Alaina thought Justin was cute. But he was older. And soon he headed off to college.
A few years later, Justin was pedaling his bike across the campus of Georgia Southern University and noticed a short, attractive girl walking along the path toward him. He did a double take. Alaina?
Alaina had enrolled at East Georgia College, which shares campus space with Georgia Southern. Noticing that Justin was even cuter than he’d been in high school, Alaina offered to give him her phone number—one friend to another, of course.
That evening, the two both happened to be on AOL Instant Messenger at the same time. They began chatting online. Justin mentioned he was going out later to see a horror movie with a friend. “I told him I loved horror movies, and he invited me along,” Alaina says. “Actually, horror movies terrify me.”
Maybe there was something about the way Alaina cringed helplessly during the movie. Justin began to wonder whether this girl with the straight brown hair and forthright attitude might be something more than his friend’s kid sister.
Soon the two were riding bikes together, doing homework, having dinner at Alaina’s parents’ house, where her grandmother fed Justin generous portions of Southern cooking. Sitting on the sofa at Alaina’s watching a movie—a rom-com this time—the two best friends leaned over and gave each other their first kiss.
Around that time, Alaina told Justin she had a confession to make about that day she bumped into him on campus.
Had she set it up that way? Justin wondered. Not exactly, Alaina said.
“I told him he was an answer to prayer,” Alaina says. “My brother was making a career in Hollywood and my sister was having a great time at her own college. Meanwhile, I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to make friends. I was lonely. Really lonely.”
That morning, before she left for class, she prayed for God to help her meet someone. Then she saw Justin coming up the path.
“Something seemed to be pulling us together,” Justin says. “Both of us felt it.” More than just attraction, the history they shared or the things they had in common. Like some divine gravity that tugged them from wherever they were and placed them right where they needed to be—together.
Justin and Alaina got married on a gorgeous fall day, October 11. It was a huge, boisterous wedding. The newlyweds did an eight-minute first dance, executing a routine they’d found on YouTube.
But not all was happily ever after, not yet.
Even before their wedding, Alaina had been having strange health problems. First a bout of mononucleosis, then other infections. Sometimes she had abdominal pain so severe, Justin needed to take her to the hospital.
The problems abated just long enough each time to seem as if they wouldn’t stick around forever. But Alaina’s health took a turn for the worse after the honeymoon. She was diagnosed with endometriosis, a scarring of the uterine wall that can make it difficult to have children. Her gallbladder became inflamed and had to be surgically removed.
“My father, a pastor, told me that marriage is for life, through thick and thin,” Justin says. “I was ready to stick by Alaina no matter what happened.”
Then came the biggest crisis of their lives. Alaina’s car was rearended on the highway. Justin rushed to the hospital to be by her side. Her seat belt had pinched the site of her surgical incision. But the doctors noticed something else. Her kidney function was dangerously low.
A nephrologist finally produced the diagnosis that explained Alaina’s frequent illnesses. A condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS. The disease gradually weakens the kidneys until they stop working altogether. Alaina needed a new kidney. Fast.
“They wouldn’t have found it if not for that accident,” Alaina says. “We call it the wreck that saved my life.”
Finding a kidney donor was no sure thing. There’s a national backlog for donor kidneys, and only close relatives are likely to have an acceptable tissue match. Justin, though, volunteered right away.
Justin underwent endless tests to determine whether he could give part of himself to Alaina. Four months later, he was cleared to donate.
Justin called the hospital to schedule the surgery. What was the earliest they could do it? The nurse consulted her appointment book. The earliest, she told him, would be the second week of October. Justin looked at his calendar. It was then that everything fell into place for him. That bigger reason he and Alaina seemed to be drawn to one another. This only confirmed it.
He left work early, drove to the store and bought a few things. Alaina was napping when he got home. He woke her up and asked her to come outside.
Rubbing her eyes, Alaina stood on the front porch and stared at the walkway. The date October 11 was spelled out on the pavement…in dried kidney beans. Their anniversary—and her surgery date.
“To say she cried would be an understatement,” Justin says. “A water tower burst from her eyes.”
Twelve years after that morning when Alaina tripped and fell in the Statesboro High hallway, she and Justin underwent successful kidney-transplant surgery. Alaina has since made a full recovery. Last year they adopted a baby boy, Theo.
“We always talk about the way God brought our paths together again and again,” Justin says.
Alaina agrees. “We’re a perfect match, literally.”
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