Two words come to mind: answered prayers.
Before I stepped foot in the Dominican Republican for Summer Staff with Mission Emanuel, I began praying for this summer and asking others to pray with me. I put a list of prayer requests on the back of my support letter, and every time I talked to someone about my trip, three main requests swirled around in my brain:
That everything we did was a living representation of Christ and the Gospel; health and safety and physical endurance; and for strong relationships to form within Summer Staff.
If I am completely honest, I would present those requests to people, with full faith God would come through on the first two requests.
I’d seen him move in the DR before, I know he is there at work blessing Mission Emanuel. I’d experienced the way he so obviously carries me when I’m there and miraculously, on every trip before, I was never in the physical pain I expected to be in with my Cerebral Palsy.
Before the trip, the last of those three requests was the one I really wrestled with.
“I don’t know,” I remember telling one of my best friends before I left school, “I’m nervous about that part. It’s just the three of us plus our leader. I kinda know Nicole, but not that well. And I know Sydney and Summer know each other, so I’m just worried it will be hard for me to come in and be friends with them, when all of them have a base of knowing each other. Plus, I never know how people will react to my physical situation, so that always makes me nervous.”
Let me tell you something: one of the best feelings is when God proves you wrong. Looking back on our trip, surrounding that request and even the two I just told you I was confident about, God blew me away with this trip. On all fronts.
In the middle of our time, a man on one of the teams that came down asked me how long we’ve known each other.
“As a group, we’ve only been together a few weeks. They knew each other before, but I really didn’t know any of them before this.”
He looked at me and smiled. “I would’ve just assumed you have all known each other for years. Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is special.”
That wasn’t the last time someone asked us the same question and gave a similar response. We all agreed from the first day that our situation, just four of us on Summer Staff this year, was unique. What I don’t think we could’ve predicted was exactly how our friendships would grow in the matter of just a few weeks.
Without a doubt, from the first day on, these girls showed me more love, acceptance and friendship than I ever thought possible. Without a doubt, I believe God knew better than we did how bad each of us needed these friendships, all for different reasons. Without a doubt, in just a few weeks, these random girls transformed into lifelong friends of mine.
Putting us together on Staff and making us click the way we did is something only our God could do. Even in the smallest ways, I saw how God was and is completely woven in our friendships.
I mentioned before that my physical situation makes me nervous coming into every new friendship. I never know how people will react to the girl on crutches, and one of the biggest things I’ve had to fight in my life is believing I am burden to people or that I slow my friends down.
Nicole, Summer and Sydney showed me from our first day together that they didn’t care that I was disabled. From the way one of them never minded carrying my plate of food and told me to stop apologizing about it, to the way one of them always found my walker when we would arrive at the Mission each day, I truly feel undeserving of the way these three loved me so well.
I haven’t told them this part specifically, but one of the ways that showed me love so well, was completely silent. And as I experienced it one of our last nights, I silently let a tear escape as I felt the magnitude of something, something I don’t think they even realized they did daily.
My entire life, I’ve just wanted to keep up. In a very literal sense, from the time I was in a walker in kindergarten to now, on crutches in college, it’s always hard for me when I’m walking somewhere with a group of people. Most of time, I end up in the back, trailing behind. I know that when this happens with friends, I’m never purposefully left behind. But nonetheless, those moments I find myself trailing behind groups, are always hard. Because I know it’s nothing anyone does on purpose and because of my fear of slowing my friends down, I rarely say anything. I just crutch faster. Before I go further, trust me when I say I’m so aware of how the Lord has blessed me insanely well with friends who accept and love me in college. I am in no way discounting how blessed I’ve been with the people in my life. I am just so thankful for this unique situation of our Staff and the clear picture it painted for me.
As I found myself in this tiny squad of Summer Staff, I never found myself trailing behind or struggling to keep up. As I would hop off the bus, the three of them without fail, would be standing there with my crutches in hand. As I slowly pushed my walker over crazy terrains, they were right by my side, often holding the back so I didn’t lose my footing. As we walked back upstairs every night, they always waited for me to make it up the lobby stairs and never left me behind as we headed to our room. When I fell behind the big groups on the way to dinners, they fell behind too.
By the middle of the first week, I silently noticed how they consciously never left me. I noticed how it was a conscious choice by them, but they definitely didn’t realize how much it meant to me.
I walked into Summer Staff, fully expecting to feel out of place. But I never did.
Asking for help is something I struggle with. Though I still asked them every day at meals and other times, when they told me I didn’t have to ask or apologize, I knew they meant it.
They were there. Everyday. I never really needed to ask.
We partner with Mission Emanuel to join in their mission of loving their neighbor, building community and being the body of Christ.
And through these friendships that I now forever cherish, I personally experienced exactly what we try to do for the people of the DR.
My Summer Staff pals loved me well and carried me, without making me feel like an outsider.
Friends, that is the body of Christ. That is the family we are called to be a part of.
Nicole, Syd and Summer: I love y’all so much. Thank you for the laughs that filled our room nightly, the honest words that we shared and for how true your friendship is.
Here’s to one of the best summers I’ve had, with some of the best people I know.
To a God who cares and knows what he’s doing.
And to a God who constantly proves me wrong, in the very best way.