“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Back in August, during one of the first weekends of my sophomore year of college, I painted a watercolor of this verse:
I decided to paint it because it had been running around in my mind for a while before that night. It was one of those times that I needed to put something on paper to translate its meaning for myself.
Looking back on that night seven months later, halfway through March and almost done with this second year, I can so clearly see why God ran Romans 8:28 through my head. I can see why he has never really allowed it to leave.
A week on the beach can solve a multitude of problems. It can make you forget the constant stresses that come with being a college student. It can help you appreciate the earth for all of its vast, unending beauty. It can bring a calming disconnect from the outside world.
A week on the beach, if it’s like my week on the beach, can show you God’s love like you have never known it before.
The moment I decided I was going to join my student ministry, The Vine, on their annual spring break trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina, I was a strange version of excited. I was weary about taking a journey with a group of people who I’ve only known for about a year. Most of which I didn’t know outside of a casual acquaintance and a “Hey!” at church.
If you know me, or if you’re anything like me, you know that the idea of being alone is equivalent to the feeling of getting lost in a dark forest. When I can’t have connection of some sort, I stumble, I retreat into my own thoughts and try so hard to stop myself from thinking “No one likes you. No one wants to hang out with you.”
It sometimes works.
You can only imagine, then, that a 16 hour bus trip and a week in a rental house with only a few friends I knew well induced my anxiety just a tad. I was afraid that I would do what I do so often, that I would retreat into myself and not grow in any friendships.
When I thought this before the trip, I had to repeat Romans 8:28 over and over. I knew, even through the fear, that God would not have allowed things to fall into place if he didn’t think this trip would be good for me. I had to trust him.
God knows that I have been struggling with building and maintaining strong friendships since coming to college. He’s been there through the nights that I thought I’d screwed up, that I screamed at him because I couldn’t understand, that I cried big tears into my pillow.
Blindly trusting him throughout this season of my life has been difficult, but I’ve tried my hardest. It was him that led me to The Vine in the first place. I embraced having that community during my freshman year, I felt like I was getting somewhere. Deep in my mind though, I felt superficial. I knew of these people, I would smile and wave at them on campus, but I didn’t know them like God wanted me to know them.
Enter spring break 2018, the moment I finally looked up at God and said, “Okay. Take this.”
And take it he did.
Through early morning sunrises, midnight bike rides, giant card games and quiet moments in golden sunlight, I truly understood Romans 8:28. I truly understood why the feelings of loneliness have attacked my heart for so long, why I had to feel that pain. I truly understood that all things, even what you think will break you, work together for good. They work together to show you how beautiful life actually is.
My week in Hilton Head brought a feeling of the utmost content into my heart. I felt my fear slowly break away as I explored this beautiful island with even more beautiful people.
I watched the sun, so steady and reliable, light up the early morning sky. I saw more stars pinprick midnight than I ever have before. I talked with people I knew, and people I had never met. I biked miles upon miles between quaint beach houses filled with college students. I let my hair air dry and hardly wore makeup. I ate shrimp for the first time in my life. I took videos and pictures of every moment I wanted to remember. I laughed until my belly hurt. I hugged, and held hands, and prayed that my suitcase would close at the end of the week.
When I cried on the windy beach on our final day, I understood how it felt to be content with where I was. I cried not out of fear or sadness, but out of gratefulness. Grateful that God had put me in a place that I could truly feel what fellowship in him looks like. Grateful that I had experienced a week with people who are on fire for the Lord. Grateful that my relationships, new and old, deepened in a way that God rejoices in. I was so unbelievably grateful that I could look around the beach on our last day and call those people my friends.
The final night in Hilton Head, my house hosted a movie night. In between washing dishes and packing up my belongings, I looked around at the people in our living room, all of them fixated on the film, smiling and happy to be together, and I repeated the verse that has come to define my years in college,
“And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”