I got off the airplane and walked through the Reykjavik airport, kept awake only by the movement and bustle of people around me. My body told me it was midnight; the local clock said 5am. Just as I had been ready to go to sleep on the plane we landed and an entire night passed. I found a piece of ground and laid down for the 45 minutes I had till my next flight boarded but before I knew it I was on another plane, taking off, and leaving Iceland behind as I sped towards my destination: England.
In 2014 I moved to England for a 9 month internship with Hope Church in Orpington, England. From September of that year to June, 2015, I lived with a wonderful English family, helped run youth programs at the church, and became part of the community. It was one of the best decisions of my life! Those 9 months changed my life in many ways (full reflection: I’ll See You Again England). I remember thinking when I first arrived there, “I’m sure it’ll be hard to leave, but after 9 months I bet I’ll be ready to go home.” But when the day came to leave I found myself in tears. Ever since then I’ve wanted to return and visit the people I got so close to over there. Last month, after two years of looking for it, the opportunity came.
As I traveled over I was a little nervous. I had questions, wonderings about what was ahead. Will it be awkward, or easy to chat with people? Will they be the same? Will friends be around to hang out? A lot can happen in two years ya know? I wanted things to be the same, yet I understood that there was no way they could be. People grow and develop one way or the other, and when you’re not around to see it happen reality can be quite shocking. I eventually came to realize that the trip couldn’t be about reliving old moments for the fun of it, but instead had to be focused on literally catching up with people. I had a picture of life as a race where at one time I was running alongside the Orpington community and then we had gone different ways. Now was my chance to catch up and run beside them for 10 days, finding out how their race had been going and gain an understanding of what the past two years had brought their way. And so I did.
It was 10 days of beers, coffees, and dinners with friends. Meetups and conversations filled every day (with a walk here and there), and it was SO GOOD. Every moment brimmed with goodness! Amongst it all there were a few moments that stuck with me. My brother Joel from my host family in England, the Sanders, picked me up from the airport. We drove to the Sanders home: 38 Darrick Wood Rd. I walked in, gave Monte (the dog) and big furry hug, shared lunch with Joel, and took things to my old room. This is nuts. I’m actually back! Eventually all the family returned and the house was full once again. In conversation, Jon (the middle brother) commented, “I came home and saw Garrett and it seemed totally normal.” Becky (Momma Sanders) agreed, “It’s like family really.” Oh man, did my hurt burst with joy to hear that.
A few days into my stay my host family had a few friends over to their place for a barbecue. I was talking with Dan Thorpe, one of my best pals from my time there, and as we talked I was overcome with the joy of being able to talk with him in person. As he told me a story I couldn’t help but smile and think, I’m in the same room as Dan! And he’s talking to me! And I’m talking to him!! It was a great conversation, but more powerful to me than the words shared was the time spent with him and everyone else in the room.
A couple nights later I found myself at the dinner table with the Carvosso family. Gary, Andrea, and their family are one of the pillars of the community I got to know while there. Leaders of the church and friends of all who cross their path, it was an absolute pleasure to share dinner with them that night. We sat at their table, catching up about the last two years. When the food was gone and the plates were cleared we didn’t move. The conversation kept going and soon there was coffee involved. We chatted about things past and future, great memories and promising dreams. In the midst of it all I realized how at peace and content I was. I hadn’t really talked with these folks since I left in 2015, yet there was never a point where our conversation felt hampered. It’s like I never left, I thought.
These were some of the moments that were most revealing to me. They showed me two things. First, friendship is very powerful and yet so mystifying. How can it be that when I sit next to a certain person, my heart is filled even if we don’t share a word? The very presence of a person can bring joy and so many other emotions and revelations. It’s CRAZY. How is that possible???!!! My mind is blown every time I think about it. Day after day, time after time I experienced this as I spent time with my friends. It revealed to me the truth that our hearts are made for relationship. There’s a part of us that can only be filled by being in relationship with people. Of course the power of this truth is abused and people can make life really hard for one another, but when relationship is done in an honoring, loving, righteous way…wow can it be amazing. We can be springs of living water to each other if we draw from the right source and give with pure hearts.
The second thing I’ll remember from this trip is that feeling of being welcomed back. The scary thing about relationship is that it requires sacrifice. We give to others without knowing if they will give back. When love and generosity to others is returned in kind it’s the most affirming thing we can experience as humans (cause we’re made for it!). And when our giving returns to us in abundance, it’s humbling, because what did we do to deserve such love? Imagine with me: have you ever been in that place with friends that is so good you don’t want to leave, but you have to? You gave so much and they did too and all you want is to carry-on, but life says otherwise. Then the day comes when you finally get to return and pick up where you left off. You wonder, will it be the same? Could it ever be as good as it was last time? But then you walk through that door and there’s a friend, a mother, a father…with wide open arms and a big smile, ready to wrap you up in the biggest hug ever and say, Welcome back friend.
I had that experience a lot the first few days I was in England and it will stick with me. Coming back to a place and people you love and having your hearts desire be filled like that is the most wonderful thing! But it confirmed to me as well that my community in Orpington is one that will last. Two years is a long time and people change (no denying that), so to return after two years and have the experience I did is re-assuring and encouraging. My friendships over there aren’t just really good because I happen to have found nice people. The element that I think has kept our bonds strong through the years is faith. As a Christian, I believe that the Spirit of Jesus fills every person (heart, soul, mind, and body) that asks for it with sincerity. The faith I share with these people is something that unifies us beyond human understanding, for we share the same Spirit and purpose. I felt and knew it to be true the whole time I was there.
My visit last month was worth every minute and penny I spent on it. I encourage you to plan a visit to some of your old friends, or be on the receiving end and welcome someone back with hugs and words of affirmation. It can seriously change the course of your life and theirs! Happy visiting, friends.