During my junior year of college, in the spring of 2002, I spent a semester studying in Spain. It was a practical choice for someone with an international studies/cultural studies/Spanish major. It made sense for someone who wanted to one day work for an international non-governmental organization. By all accounts, it was a logical move.
But for me – an introverted homebody who had never been away from home by herself, let alone ventured onto an airplane at all? It was not what I wanted to do.
At all. As in, the entire semester beforehand, as I went to the meetings with all of the other excited students preparing for their semesters abroad and submitted my student visa application and got the information about the Spanish woman I would be living with and selected my all-Spanish classes, my face bore the plastic grin of anticipation of an overseas adventure, but my heart screamed, “Will someone please get me out of this?! I don’t want to do this! Someone stop the train – I want to get off!”
I felt pushed. I was terrified. I didn’t feel like I was heard in my concerns and I didn’t feel like anyone really saw me. Me – the girl who was perfectly happy with a quiet weekend in her dorm room. Me – the girl who (during her third year of college) still cried every time she left home. Me – the girl who had a small group of friends and was perfectly happy with the security that small group gave her. I was being pushed to do something I didn’t want to do.
I felt silenced and invisible, and it scared me.
I didn’t know what to do. I had absolutely no idea what I could do.
And it was then, with no other ideas, that I did what changed my life.
I prayed. I began to lean on God.
Having been raised in the church and with an inkling of faith in who God was, I went back to what I had been raised to believe. I began – for the very first time in my life – turning my heart and my mind toward God in every single moment. Not because I felt like I should, but because I was drowning and I had the very real sense that He was the only One who would keep my head above the raging waves.
Without really knowing why, in my panic over how to fit five months of stuff into two suitcases, I had packed a few contemporary Christian CDs. Those CDs – along with my journal – became my connection to God in a time when I had no one else. The songs I heard on those CDs became my prayers when I couldn’t think of any words on my own. Night after night, morning after morning, I burned through the batteries on my portable CD player, earbuds crammed into my ears and songs on repeat. My soul was parched. My heart was desperate. And I had found the only thing that kept me from crying all day…the only thing that helped me breathe and move and function.
Was it the music? Yes and no. I think the music was the vessel, but the real power wasn’t in notes and chords and lyrics. The real power that sustained me was truth. Truth and hope and desperate longing in songs like this one:
I played that song (and others like it) over and over and over during those months in Europe. And gradually……day by day…..minute by minute……song by song, I began to really believe what I was hearing: that God was there. That He loved me, beyond belief. That He would make a way for me in impossible places. That even though I was desperately weak, He was all-encompassingly able.
It sank in. It changed me. It wasn’t something that I had been raised to believe anymore. It was something I knew to be true. And even today, I am amazed by the personal way that God reached me when I was floundering. Looking back on that time in my life, I weep with the realization that God was all over my situation. I read the words on the tear-stained pages of my journal and see God’s fingerprints all over the entire experience. He was all over it. He was there. He was moving…but He was moving me, too.
During the season of Lent, I’m spending some time in serious personal reflection about what God has done in my life. I’ve always heard that as a follower of Christ, I ought to have a current testimony: what God is doing in my life right now; there is definitely truth in that. Scripture, however, encourages us to revisit the “monuments” in our past in order to continue telling of the things the Lord has done. Over the next few weeks, I feel led to revisit some of the monuments of my past in order to better appreciate where God has brought me today. Stay tuned to read more. My prayer for you is that these reflections will help you to revisit some of the monuments of God’s faithfulness in your past as well.