I don’t know what possessed me to do it. The thought of leaving my comfort zone gave me nightmares, yet in November of 2004 I signed up to go on a study abroad summer trip to the British Isles. I didn’t know anyone going on the trip. Plus, six-and-a-half weeks away from my home in Arizona sounded frightening. Maybe I had a random courageous streak gliding through me at the moment I paid my deposit. Or maybe my heart knew something my head didn’t. I needed to go.
As the time for the trip drew near, I grew more excited. I looked forward to the trip because I dreaded the thought of staying home all summer. I had spent the last few summers taking care of my mom, who had been sick with cancer and had recently passed away. I don’t think I could have stayed home with those memories.
In the months after her death, my soul grew weary—I was literally walking in the valley of the shadow of death. But God says that when we’re in that valley, He’s with us and we need not fear. I trudged forth and climbed out somehow, but I thirsted for rest. Rest from the pain. Rest from responsibilities. Rest from school. I needed something different, something healing.
The thought of seeing somewhere green instead the dirty brown of Phoenix thrilled my senses. I also looked forward to my two classes about the history and literature of the British world but I expected in this great adventure to also include quite a bit of loneliness. Being a Christian, I knew I’d probably be different than the 40 other college students tagging along on my adventure. But God knew I wouldn’t be lonely. He had something else in mind.
Making friends and memories
I made friends instantly. Three other girls and I roomed together for almost the entire trip. We did everything as a group – completing homework, and visiting parks in London. We even found our way to the Irish Sea.
But these girls were quite different from me. One of them was a Taoist, the other two were agnostics. You might think we never broached the subject of religion, but it seems that every day there was a new conversation involving our beliefs. The girls actually told me that they were amazed by me because they’d never met a Christian who would talk to them about beliefs without condemning them cruelly to hell.
In spite of these differences in beliefs, I never felt lonely, but not because the girls were with me everywhere I went. God was there, too. Constantly. He permeated every conversation I had. I felt a calm reassurance whenever I had to negate the others’ claims or argue my own point.
Not only was He there when I was debating points with my friends, but He guided me in every experience I had. I’ve always been a person who wanted everything planned out, and as I’ve realized, the world doesn’t work that way. God stretched me that summer. I had to discover things on the fly and make decisions without knowing every consequence possible.
But the beauty of discovery was in knowing that God’s hand was pressed firmly against my back the entire time. It was just Jesus said a long time ago, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
God’s presence resonated in all of nature as well. As a favorite song of mine says, “Mountains bow down and the sea will roar at the sound of Your name.” Every tree, every mountain, every valley whispered to me the secrets of the glory of God. In response, my heart longed to climb to the top of one of those mountains and spin around like Maria in The Sound of Music.
Something I had feared before I went on the trip was being left in my room while my roommates went out drinking. It did happen a few times, but those times became some of my favorite evenings. I read my Bible, wrote in my journal, and spent genuine quality time with my Savior. He showed Himself to me in so many ways that summer. Verses I had never remembered reading before popped off the page.
An unexpected rejoicing
Rather than feeling sorry that I was left alone in my room, I felt so blessed to have that time with God. It was time I might not have discovered otherwise if it had not been “forced” upon me. I look back now and remember one of my favorite passages: “Rejoice in the Lord, always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4, 5b)
My faith matured a lot in the summer of 2005. That experience deepened my knowledge of God. I knew Him better than I ever had before and I realized more than ever that He had always known me.
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