A million billion stars shone brightly in the stars and twinkled over the canopy snuggled up nice and warm with my dearest friend, Arianna. Surrounded by soft blankets and awed by the shooting stars and meteors that leaped and danced among the masterpiece of the skies. Some people make you better simply from being with them and shape you to be more like the real you, and I love it.
To backtrack a little, none of these things were expected. On Wednesday morning, a wonderfully splendid gift awaited in our living room, Arianna, an answered prayer for friendship. Even though we only met five days ago, she has left an indelible print on my heart.
She has pushed me out of my comfort zone in the most beautiful way. Whenever Arianna sees someone new, she asks them their name and about them. She cares for each and every person because she knows a truth that many of us haven’t quite yet learned: that each and every human being is a masterpiece made in the image of God and worth knowing. She sees their value and doesn’t believe in coincidences, but that the people that God put in our path, he must have for a reason. We all long to be loved and chased after, and she does that so very beautifully well.
All of a sudden, my world began to open up. Strangers on the elevators and the people in line at Fido became fellow human beings and image bearers of our God with stories to share, hurts and sorrows, joys and laughter, and so much more. As one of our favorite books describes, love does.
Something special she told me was that I have the spiritual gift of making people feel comfortable. Another friend shared that with me the other week, but now the dots connected as clearly as the constellations in that very starry night at Bledstone National Park. I love that. I love Arianna because of how wonderfully sweet, gentle, genuine, weird, and lovely she is. She makes me feel free to be oddly me and gives me the room also to grow and make mistakes, while still loving me.
On Friday afternoon, we ventured an hour away to a pumpkin patch a friend had recommended. We caught the perfect lighting and scavenged through corn mazes and laughed our way around the collection of fun activities, slides, and pumpkins. We bought some for the ones we loved because love really does.
Late that night, we went to ice cream. I screamed for joy at my favorite flavor. I know that is unconventional, but sometimes I cannot contain my joy, and it is scary to fear rejection from others; yet these friends loved me still and all the more. They loved me just because. We went to a little worship night where for the first time in a long time, I felt free to sing my heart out, loudly and for the glory of the Lord. Overwhelmed from being tired, they helped me to keep walking forward, and continued to love me. How wonderful!
The next night, we went on what is my greatest adventure yet. A group of five of us went camping at a National Park an hour away from campus. As we packed up the car filled with our enos, sleeping bags, and camping essentials, we headed out on the open road, not really fully certain of the way to get there, but sure of our destination and excited for the time ahead. As we rolled around the road, windows down, hands held and heads lying upon one another’s shoulders, music blaring with the wind, my only thought was that this must be what it feels like to be alive. It felt just like a scene from a movie. This is what makes up great adventures, the stories and journeys where Jesus really takes hold, and I knew in my heart that God wanted to speak to me that night and show me something majestic.
We collected firewood, snapped branches for logs, and worshiped together through the night. It was a beautiful sight and sound, the harmonies and melodies all floated in the air like a gentle summer breeze, a chorus lifted high up and interweaved with the song of the stars in worship of our Creator. Graham crackers and roasted bananas make the very most wonderful campfire snack. Deep conversations and stories about how we met Jesus, sharing of questions we long to know the answer to and affirming one another as we bring our hurts to the table, and being authentically and genuinely ourselves is the most precious and wonderful gift. To love, truly is to be vulnerable, and may we meet one another there, in the deeply broken places with an even greater and deeper love.
It is amazing how as we all sang in worship together, those around us were attracted to the sound. One asked us how long we had been singing together. We laughed because truly we had just met and had never before done this. Others said the words blessed them. Simply worshipping our Creator through the night was a blessing to others, and a gift to me.
Laughter, snuggles, being tucked in warmly, and cuddles marked the aftermath and results of being pushed out of my comfort zone. The glorious blend of colors washed the sky in a simply lovely display of God’s voice screaming “I love you.” And thus He spoke to me the words that there is so much more to this time on earth than what people think of me and confining myself, but that He wants me just as I am and loves me as His, simply because that is who He is.
As it came to a close, and we headed back on the road back to campus, Arianna and I held hands, and I gently laid my head on my dear friend’s shoulder as he has comforted me many times again and again, and in the reserves of my heart thanked God for such a tender and sweethearted friend like him, someone that I can always lean on. And I thought to myself, this is pure bliss.