Wednesday, March 23, 2016

True Friendship

I returned a couple days ago from a crazy, exhausting, awesome road trip from Colorado to California for the wedding of one of my of my Oxford flatmates, Kelly.

I had never been to California. I had seen the Atlantic from rocky cliffs in Ireland and the sea from the shores of Iona, but I had never walked barefoot on a sandy beach in the sun while the jade ocean pulsed against the shore. It was the longest road trip I've been on, and my amazing sister and I rocked it. But as exciting and new as that experience was, and beautiful and amazing as everything was, the best part was seeing my friends from Oxford.

I had the privilege and the pleasure not only of attending Kelly's beautiful wedding and reception, but also of participating in her bachelorette party. Seeing her again and seeing her so happy and having the opportunity to hear about her engagement and so much that had taken place since we were in Oxford was wonderful. Celebrating her and her husband's joy on their wedding day was special and incredible. But even better was the time I spent with another flatmate, Alexis, and a couple of the guys from Oxford, Logan and Nigel.

It's been over a year since I returned from Oxford. 1 year, 3 months to be exact. I haven't seen any of these people in person in that time, and we talked only intermittently due to all of our busy lives and time zone differences. Sure, we keep up with each other on Facebook, but that's not the same. But you couldn't tell. In some ways, it was as if nothing had changed. We met up at a beach and just picked up where we left off. There was no awkwardness, no time needed to settle back into our groove. There was a little bit of surreal feeling, but at the same time, being together again just felt so right.

Of course, we didn't just meet and BAM, instant deep, long-lasting friendship. In fact, no one really had a good first impression of anyone else. We were all a little judgmental of the bios we'd written to introduce ourselves online before the semester started. Almost all of our first meetings were awkward. Several of us felt we shouldn't even be in Oxford--these people were strange, we didn't fit in, the academic rigor was beyond us, we didn't belong. We were all jet-lagged, nervous, and a bit (a lot?) unsure of each other.

But then we started getting to know each other. We spent all day together in the worldview intensive discussing the course readings, the Bible and theology, and sharing about ourselves and our lives. We started to see how each other thought and who we were. We spent time together outside of class. Before long, we were doing pretty much everything together--studying, eating, travelling, watching movies and TV shows. We talked about everything--the trivial and the eternal, the banal and the serious, pop culture and politics, our families and our futures, our innermost thoughts and fears, our aspirations, our studies, our successes and our struggles. We knew what each other thought of our worldview readings through our discussions in and out of class. We told each other what we were learning in our Oxford tutorials. We knew when someone did well, and we knew when someone had been sprawled out on the kitchen floor working on their essay at two in the morning. We laughed together, prayed together, encouraged each other, and brought each other down a peg or two when necessary.

This was community and friendship on a level I had never experienced before. This was deeper and more thoughtful discussion than I had had the privilege of knowing. When we agreed, we expounded and grew in our surety and reasoning and sometimes discovered new reasoning we hadn't considered. When we disagreed, we discussed and grew. Sometimes our views changed, sometimes they just evolved, and when we agreed to disagree, we did so knowing we weren't doing so lightly or blindly, but with reason and respect for each other's perspectives and logic.

There was also laughter, so much laughter. There were movie nights and bonfires and fireworks and long treks through England's old streets. We cried, we laughed. We were out too late sometimes, and sometimes we motivated each other to leave our flats when we hadn't left in two or three days. We danced. We drank mulled wine and tried sips of each other's ale. We set off the over-sensitive smoke detector making grilled cheese sandwiches.

We traveled back and forth between our flat and the guys' house, hanging out and eating together. We saved money by making pizza or hamburgers or curry at "home" and eating together crammed into our flat's tiny living room. We watched Harry Potter and Doctor Who and then finished our essays on medieval Britain or Shakespeare or theology or math and philosophy. We read our worldview homework together when we were so tired we could barely concentrate. We looked forward to Friday nights when we went to the Bywaters for dinner and hanging out together as a big, raucous, happy family. 

We told each other our pains and then we found something to laugh about--not to ignore the problem, but to put it in perspective. We laughed at live dragons and in our laughter found the courage to slay them. And we still do. 

There is a lot I loved about my time in Oxford and that made it meaningful, special, worthwhile, and a life-shaping experience. The wisdom and knowledge I gained from the worldview intensive, Kevin Bywater's thoughtful experience and wisdom, my Oxford tutor's knowledge, and the mountains of reading are impossible to quantify. The experience of living abroad, traveling around Great Britain, and living and studying in a city and libraries older than my country is impossible to describe. I suppose that's why I can't stop talking about Oxford--I feel I have yet to convey the depth of what that time means to me. Yet, even with all of that, the greatest impact, the most importance aspect, the most valuable take-away is my friendships.

I don't make friends easily and I struggle with community. But not at Oxford. Not with these people--these people are my people. We're the same and we're wildly different. We have moments of beautiful brilliance and times of extreme inanity. The time spent together discussing every topic imaginable with people who all care deeply about learning and growing and God and each other produced some of the most important friendships in my life.

We may be separated by thousands of miles and pesky time zones, but the bonds we forged in those four months are strong enough to keep us close despite the distance. So when Alexis, Logan, and Nigel and I were together again in California, we were relaxed and natural and just thrilled to be together. We could have seaweed fights and talk about life. We could just sit in silence waiting for a table without it being awkward. We could dance like fools at the reception and talk about philosophy or theology or our current struggles in school or life with equal comfort.

We lived life together for four months, in all its highs and lows and messy glory. I didn't make friends at Summit Oxford.

I just grew my family.

(For more information on Summit Oxford, visit: Facebook:

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