Sonnie Daniels, meet Phil Shay (Part 1)

Sitting on a Tempe, Arizona park bench at 7am at the end of October feels like sitting on a park bench in the middle of the summer in many other places. It was steamy, but peace was in the air and for the first time in a month I felt God’s nearness. The obviously man made lake/pond thing I was staring at wasn’t beautiful, but the sky above was enormous and bright blue. It was a clean canvas and all I could do was stare and breathe. The past summer had been the best days of my life so far, but the beginning of fall had left me empty, too many emotions, too many commitments. This park morning meant skipping class, but it also meant time to hop off the life treadmill for an hour. 

As I closed my eyes, there was a bit of a breeze to combat the eighty degree temps. My shoulders finally relaxed, letting my whole body release. I had come to meet with God, but I didn’t have words, I just needed Him. My thoughts speaking, “God, just come be with me.” The calm began entering my soul, but the strangest sound broke in. Swish, swish, swish, swish, fast and frequent coming from behind me. Again and again this sound was interrupting and I found my shoulders inching back up, muscle knots tightening. I finally turned around to match the activity accompanying the sound I was hearing. I squirmed in my seat, seeing a very muscular guy doing sprints in the grass behind me. His track suit was at fault for the swishing, as his body jetted back and forth. Looking around, there was absolutely no one else at the park besides him and I. I tried to block the distraction, but the track suit sounds were getting louder and something in my insides felt uneasy. I decided to leave, unable to regain the steadiness of God’s presence. As I started to stand, the track-suit-wearing muscle man was standing at the bench looking at me. I was scared.


I flew to Indianapolis with my dad in May of 2004. We rented a car and drove an hour and a half south to Freetown, IN where I was planning to spend my summer working at SpringHill. My eighteen year old self had landed the position of Program Administrative Assistant for this Christian Summer Camp. I was told by my boss that I was the first out of two hundred summer staff employees to be hired. This quite possibly was and maybe still is my dream job. The minute we got there I was ready to be on my own, but my dad lingered. He felt strange leaving me across the country for three months. As a homeschooler-since-birth, I had never been away from home for more than a week, my father’s lingering only made sense. But this was freedom for me. Meeting new people was a grand adventure and I was about to be surrounded by a hefty group of incredibly fun people who were relatively my age. 

I remember seeing Phil for the first time. It was not fireworks or butterflies. I was drawn to his selection in clothing, which still makes us chuckle to this day. He was wearing man capris, a sky blue t-shirt, and nike running shoes. His hair swooped across his forehead, dyed a color I couldn’t quite describe. Was it brown or red or dirty blonde?? Not sure. He and three of his friends from the University of Kentucky were in a band hired to lead worship for the Jr. High kids that came each week during the summer. Phil was the drummer and his drum set was all glittery. The capris and glitter were definitely throwing me off. To be fair I was probably wearing baggy Old Navy overalls and a tank top. I had a thing for overalls during every single one of my teen years. I don’t think we even had a conversation that first day. Our first interaction was basically, “Sonnie Daniels, meet Phil Shay.”

    The Hair

    The Band

    Me at 18 and My Camp Pal, Sally

    Quite Possibly the First Picture of Us Together


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