In 2005 I found myself again at a wilderness camp, coming home to a very different move. This time it was on my own accord. I finished out my work at the camp, left the next day for a trip to Nepal, and stepped off the plane three weeks later to drive 17 hours to a new life in Tennessee.
I was ready to start something new. Both of my best friends had gotten married that year. I felt crushed on every side by everyone’s life change but my own. So I invented life change. The south had always been a haven for me, I was ready to leave cold weather, finish my English degree, meet a man of my own, or, at the very least, have an adventure.
Within a few months in Tennessee I felt myself come alive. Classes invigorated me. Professors challenged me. I found a church. And most of all I found a posse of friends that still remain my favorite posse. I met a guy who was easy to be with, who made me laugh, who challenged and inspired me in every area of life. I had roommates who were healthy and happy. I learned to worship in quiet ways. I learned that life was worship. I learned that the Holy Spirit was a joy-bringer and that the lack of joy in my life was evidence that I wasn’t walking in the Spirit and not evidence that God had left me.
I dwelt deeply in those years.
I lived deeply. Loved deeply. Hurt so, so deeply. I conversed deeply. I drank deeply from the well of art, writing, worship, prayer, and communion. I felt like I finally stepped into my shoes and they fit! They fit!
I discovered that I loved color and color loved me. I painted. I wrote. I played the piano.
I began to realize that even orphans were people and I was a person. I began to love the other orphans.
I began to learn about how I was knit together, how I was purposed, intended, meant. How parts of me were meant to work in certain ways and how this would make me feel fully alive.
And I’ll be honest, there were still some deep voids in me. I learned to love deeply in these years, but I remained staunchly doubtful of anyone’s love for me, including God’s love.
One night, a friend and I sat out in the back of his pickup truck and at the end of our conversation he said some words to me that I have never forgotten. He told me how much he loved me, respected me; how he loved the way I loved our group and the Lord. How he loved the way I dressed in creative ways. How I brushed my curls away from my face and how my eyes sparkled when we were all together as the Makeshift Family.
This might sound like an admission of love, and it was, but not the sort of love you may be thinking. Because he is the same friend who, in the absence of any of my family, stood as my brother when I walked magna cum laude across the stage to get my diploma. He is the same friend who, when he and his wife were expecting their first, called on me to pick Gideon Archer’s middle name. In the bed of that truck that evening, he was the first friend who looked at my orphan soul and said, “No, we’re not walking in that. You’re beautiful. You’re chosen. You’re precious. You matter. You matter.”
It was in this period of time that I learned that other people loved me. That I was loved. That wherever I went in life I would not be alone and I would not be lonely.
I might carry with me the scars of brokenness and the heaviness of depression for the rest of my life, I might never feel the love of God, but I knew in this period of time that I would not walk alone.