Exactly a week ago today, I woke up at 5 am to go to the airport so that I could fly to visit a friend for six days who I’d only ever interacted with via the internet. I was nervous as heck, and not just because the U.S. customs people are always super intimidating.
Let’s back up a bit.
About six months ago, I was talking with my friend, Emily Rose, who I’d met four months prior through a series of coincidences that I’ve discovered happen at an unusually high frequency here on the interwebs. We’d gotten to be really good friends, having conversed through text, voice, and video, often for several hours at a time because we kept going on rabbit trails.
That day, she was feeling lonely, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t be with her, in person, to help ease the loneliness. Even if I could only pop in for a few seconds to give her a hug, I would have done it. In that moment, an idea hit me with the full force and craziness of a hurricane:
What if I went to visit her?
Better yet, what if I did that during Reading Week, when I’d have a ton of time off from classes?
It left me a little breathless, how insane and yet totally right this idea was. I could hear God’s voice in it, his breath giving the idea flight and life in my heart… and, through that, giving me life. It was ridiculous. I was struggling to get money together to pay for tuition for the soon-coming school year, after having gone the entire summer without being able to get a job. Not only that, but what if I had profs during the second semester who saw Reading Week as a chance to give students a ton of homework?
And yet God was in it, and my whole being was singing for joy because of him.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Everything will work. I have blessed it already.” Enthralled with his words, almost tingling from tip to toe, I nervously mentioned the idea to Emily and looked up ticket prices (although it may not have been quite in that order), and discovered that the cost, round-trip and including taxes, would be only $500 if I bought them all those months in advance, and also that Emily was game for it.
So, there I was last Monday at the ungodly hour of seven in the morning, cleared by customs and waiting for the plane to come so I could board. If my more paranoid reasonable self had been awake, she would have been freaking out.
“What on EARTH are you thinking? You’ve only ever talked with her through your computer. She could have just been acting! This could be some kind of a trap!”
Thankfully, that self did nothing more than murmur as she turned over in her sleep and all I had with me other than my bags (all carry-on, because I’m a freaking packing genius) was a stomach full of nervous excitement. I had expected to be woken up that morning by my alarm, after which I’d have to drag myself out of bed and push back the temptation to doze in order to finish the final bits of packing before my dad drove me to the airport. Instead, I woke before my alarm, shot full of adrenaline, and spent the entire morning as fully awake as I imagine it must be like for coffee drinkers after their morning dosage.
That energy kept me through customs, and then through boarding, and, finally, finding my seat. It wasn’t until after the plane had taken off that I finally dozed.
When I had told with my parents about the trip idea, they had been for it, so long as I didn’t expect them to pay for it. I hadn’t expected any such thing from them, and neither did I want them to pay for it. Both that summer and the summer before had found me jobless and stressed about tuition money. Of the two semesters between those summers, I had only been able to pay for the tuition of one, and I could feel the weight of debt on my shoulders, even though I wasn’t expected to pay them back. That time.
Money is what taught me stress. For nearly my whole life, I had always been anxiety-free. I was scared of the dark, heights, and various implausible situations, but I didn’t dwell on them because, much as they waxed, they also waned once I had dealt with what caused the fear. Just after I’d turned ten, my family and I had moved to Alabama and, while that did cause a temporary depression, it did not result in anything but sadness and irritability. No, it wasn’t until after my first year of university (paid for by babysitting during my year off after graduating), when the days, weeks, months went by with no income and a steadily looming payment deadline that I started to worry about the future.
So, as I had considered this trip from safe, known Edmonton to mysterious, unknown Cincinnati, and as the summer faded with no income yet again, I began to fear. I knew I had heard God’s voice as he invited me to do something wild and crazy, to do something that made no sense to my “reasonable” self, but something that made sense to the deepest places of my heart. I knew that this was something that excited me, motivated me, enlivened me. I knew this and yet I was afraid that I would have to give up this dream in favour of tuition that I wasn’t even sure I would be able to pay.
I kept this all to myself. It was my problem; I would deal with it myself, and all the suffering that comes with a secret fear.
When I got off at my stop-over in Minneapolis, I must have been an interesting sight. Due to some sort of sadistic irony, getting to the gate for my connecting flight required me to traverse nearly the entirely of the airport. Since I didn’t exactly realize how large the Minneapolis airport is, and because I can be as stubborn as a foot-long dandelion root stuck in dirt that’s training to be a rock, I traversed that entire distance on foot and without the help of any of the many moving walkways that kept announcing their existence every half minute. At least, I felt like an interesting sight, just barely taller than five feet, lugging along twenty pounds of baggage, nearly tripping every couple of minutes on shoes that were a little too long because that’s the only way they’d be wide enough, and still trying to ignore the nervous/excited butterflies doing wildy experimental loop-de-loops in my stomach.
Eventually, I made it to my gate with only minimal overheating, and remained there for the rest of my layover. The only things I’d eaten that day were a granola bar (en route to the Edmonton airport) and a small bag of peanuts (on the plane). I probably should have had lunch, and I knew that, but the last thing I was interested in was more walking, especially since I’d have to carry my bags with me while looking for a restaurant.
Instead, I made a quip on Facebook about the size of the airport, which also served as my way of letting most of my friends know that I was going on a trip. It was interesting; I’d known for sure I’d be going on the trip for five months, but I’d told very few people. Was it because of how unorthodox everything had been? Did I secretly feel like I would need to pretend the trip had never happened afterwards? No, none of that. It just happens that, when you’ve been living with a future reality as if it were present for five months, you tend to forget that other people don’t know that it will exist.
After a few weeks of agonizing over the problem of paying for both tuition and trip, while pretending like nothing of the sort was happening, I had found myself in conversation with my younger brother. I don’t remember what we had been talking about, but it had been either serious or edging on serious when my worries voiced interrupted the flow of conversation in my mind and bade me think on them. I wanted to push them into the back of my mind until I was alone again, but I heard God suggest something quietly: “Why don’t you tell Nathaniel what you’re feeling?”
I clung to that thought like a drowning person would cling to air. Nathaniel had had a full-time job for the past year, and the money from it had been supposed to go towards college education, but he had missed the application deadline. This had worked out well for him, as he had signed up for some night classes and then had soon gotten an apprenticeship in what he wanted to do for a career. He had money in the bank with no need to spend it and more to join it if he got a job after the apprenticeship (which was very likely to happen).
The only problem was that I hate asking anyone for money. That feeling was only exacerbated at that time from the recent shame of two summers with no job and the feeling of indebtedness to my parents.
And yet I had heard God again, clear as day, and I could not ignore his words because of the hope they ignited within me.
I told him. I told my brother everything that had been going on within me, crying as I did so, and explained my situation. There was no asking for money, help, anything, because the last thing I wanted him to think was that I’d had an agenda and was trying to manipulate him. All that came out of my mouth was me telling him how I felt, and if that’s the only direction that went, I would be happy.
He asked if there was any way he could help.
The words came to my lips, but I didn’t want to say them. But God spoke again: “Go on. It’ll be okay.” So I said them, let them spill out, raw and naked with desire and hope. I knew what I feared to have happen and I prayed that my fears would only remain fears. At worst, I expected him to give a caring refusal. At best, a gift of a limited amount of money that would pay for a portion of the trip, perhaps the ticket to Cincinnati. Nothing could have prepared me for how he responded:
As if he had a chequebook out and ready to write down however much I required so that he could give it to me on the spot. As if there were no strings to his gift, no burden of debt, no burden of guilt or shame. As if, in that moment, my brother had become the clear image of God, of Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who sees my needs, who knows them and fills them all. Of Jehovah Rohi, the Lord my Shepherd who takes care of me so that I will never know fear or lack.
I will never forget that moment, or the tears that flooded anew at those words. I will never forget how my brother paid for the whole trip, and how my worry evaporated in that moment. I will never forget knowing without a doubt that God hadn’t just been teasing me with this idea just watch me dangle when I couldn’t fulfill it. He had taken it every bit as serious as I had, and had provided the means to make it a reality when I was incapable of doing so.
When I finally reached the Cincinnati airport and walked (again declining to use the moving walkways) all the way to the baggage claim where I would meet Emily in person for the first time, I wondered for the millionth time whether this really was a God thing, or if I had just imagined it all. I felt like I was in a dream, and that I could wake up at any moment, only to discover that none of these insane, wonderful things had happened.
But then there she was, sitting by the baggage claim, and I knew that the impossible had just been made reality.