Because It’s Not A Solo Flight

Over the past week or so, I have spent several hours sitting on the floor of my home office begging God to wreck me. As I flipped through albums and shuffled through a trinket box of receipts and notes and random papers chronicling my semester abroad in college, I begged God to help me see the story He would tell of that time in my life. I desperately want to tell His stories…the stories of what He has done in my life to bring me to the place where I am now. I have long known that I first began walking with God during that spring in 2002, but I have never taken the time to get it all down in words.

The way He reminded me that in a sea of millions of faces, He sees me.

The way He showed me that at the end of myself, I begin to live.

The way He revealed to me that friendship….well, it’s not what I had always thought.

Let me back up. When I left to study in Spain in January of 2002, I basically knew no one there. Many of the other study abroad students made the trip with their best friends, but me? I knew the names of some of the other students from my college who would be attending the same Spanish school, but little else.

I was alone. I had no friends.

I wept my way through the first days there, clinging desperately to the only person I sort of knew. She was a more seasoned traveler than I was…younger than I was, but from a small town near my hometown and a fellow student at my college. She was also happened to be a strong Christian……a fact that I was aware of in the beginning but had no idea how it would change my entire journey.

As we moved into our separate Spanish homes and started classes and established what would become a routine for our time in Sevilla, she and I did everything we could together, from stopping for ice cream (way too often) to shopping for clothes that would make us fit into the European standard of trendiness (for me, this proved impossible) to awkwardly fumbling through traditional Spanish flamenco dances in the folk dance class our college insisted we take. I began to think of her less as an acquaintance…a life line…and more as a friend. A real friend.

She, being more outgoing than I, introduced me to some other girls from the international school we were attending. Our duo expanded into a comfortable group of five or six.

Those other girls? They were also strong Christians.

I found myself in a new world of heart friendships. Friendships with conversations that went beyond crushes and clothes (though there was that, too, of course). Friendships that went beyond ourselves and went into the things of God. Friendships that shopped and ate ice cream together…..but that also cried and prayed and worshiped and pointed to something bigger.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal around that time:

“We {one of the girls and I} were talking about how this trip has made us so much closer to and trusting of God, and how we feel like completely new people after only being here {Spain} a month. I told her how I’ve been struggling and how I’ve had to learn to pray and she actually understood. I’ve never talked to anyone about faith and stuff like that before, and definitely never that in-depth and with someone my own age! It was so amazing. I finally understand what this Christian fellowship is that I’ve always heard about. The one thing I’ve been praying for really hard is that I would make new friends….God is listening to me. God is working in my life.”

I cry when I read that, because I remember what it felt like. I remember having the sense that nothing was ever going to be the same for me again.

Over the four-and-a-half months that I was in Spain, those girls ushered me into a brand new world. I’m sure it was obvious to them that all of this – the faith talks and the prayers and the worship music – was new to me, but I don’t think they realized that what they were watching in me was literally like watching the wings of a butterfly unfold from her chrysalis as she takes flight for the first time. I don’t think I could put it in words then, and I’m not doing a very good job of it now —- how my eyes seemed brand new and the entire world took on a glimmer it had never had before.

Yes, I struggled. Yes, it was the hardest time of my life to that point. But those girls………they walked with me and prayed with me and led me into truth in a way I had never experienced. And no, I’ve never been the same.

And frankly, those girls may have ruined me. Somewhere between prayer meetings in the park and Palm Sunday Bible studies at sunrise on a Portuguese beach (I know, right?) and worship in tiny hole-in-the-wall churches in the barrios of Sevilla, I was ruined for shallow, world-centered relationships and for walking this road on my own.

And so yes, today I struggle. I struggle because in my ordinary, day-to-day life, I don’t have those kinds of friendships. I don’t have the kind of “hold on or you’ll drown” desperation for God that originally pulled me to Him, and I don’t have the kind of “thank goodness you’re walking this road with me” relationships that I know are possible. I have kept in touch with the girls who first showed me what those friendships can me like, but they don’t live near me and the relationships are less “day-to-day” than I would like.

God is doing something in me with this. I’ve had a really hard time in recent years establishing and maintaining strong friendships; I take full ownership of the fact that despite my love of transparency and authenticity, I’m just not very good at the whole “being a friend” thing. I want to be better, though. I want to know what it’s like to really live life alongside other people at this stage of life. I know it’s possible. I know it can be life-changing. I’ve seen it happen, and I know God is drawing me back to that place again.

I’m so thankful for what He did then, in bringing those girls into my life, and I’m eager to see what He’s working on now. It’ll probably be hard, but it’ll definitely be good.

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