A friend recently told me my life is crazy. You know, this whole “driving around the continent and staying with strangers for nearly a year on end” deal. Ten years ago, he said he wouldn’t have believed I’d ever do something like this. I agreed with him; I wouldn’t have believed me either.
I’ve taken a lot of crazy leaps these last few years, this #RunningTo road trip included. But the craziness had to start somewhere.
Before this road trip, there were the youth camps — summer excursions to Milwaukee, then Ridgecrest. Leaps into the geographical and emotional unknown alike.
Before the youth camps, there was my cross-country move — a 2,300-mile do-over deep into the wild, wild west. A leap into the unknown of rent checks, community, and adulthood.
But before all of those unknown leaps, there was the first unknown leap. The leap at 18 that initially took me to college. That middle-of-nowhere school in south Georgia I recently revisited as my ridiculous road trip winds down.
2010. That was the last time I set foot on Brewton-Parker’s darling campus three hours south of the hustle and bustle of Atlanta.
I visited some friends there five years ago, and it was a great reunion. But I’d have never had those friends to begin with had I not first leapt from another Christian school in another Georgian city where I never really fit in.
When searching for colleges, it only figured I leap even further south, deeper into a land lined with Confederate flags and boiled peanut stands. Way down to another Christian campus much like the one I was graduating from. It was a college campus I’d only visited once my senior year of high school, but there was something about it that felt like home to me.
I’d not felt home in years.
In August of 2005 I rode with my parents three hours south to Brewton-Parker College. We unloaded the minivan into my first dorm room, and I met my first roommate since my little brother in elementary school. Eventually, my parents left — literally left me standing in a parking lot as they made the long drive north.
I then proceeded to lock myself into my first dorm room, shut the blinds, and cry rivers into my pillow.
I devote an entire chapter to Brewton-Parker in Struggle Central, so I won’t rehash my entire journey here. Needless to say, I overcame those first couple weeks of leaping into the unknown. I started talking to people, started making friends over meals and hacky-sack circles, and I embraced the notion of eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.
I owe much of my growth and current existence to big flashy leaps like Camp Ridgecrest or YouthWorks or California. But every redemptive story of reversal starts somewhere, sometimes somewhere less flashy, and for me that place was Brewton-Parker.
Nine years removed from those southern Georgia fields of glory, it can be hard to remember the man I once was: the shy, ashamed teen of yesteryear.
You can write and recount your story all you want, but sometimes you must physically go back to those pivotal places to truly remember the man whose skin you once wore.
Brewton-Parker’s lake is nothing special. You can walk around the whole thing in ten minutes, and some of the benches along the circumference are rough and rickety. But there’s a certain charm to it all.
Of course, this is what Brewton-Parker’s lake looks like. This isn’t Harvard; this isn’t UGA. This is Brewton-Parker, and it’s beautiful in its own innocent Brewton-Parker way.
My favorite spot at Brewton-Parker was one of those rough rickety benches in the furthest away corner of the lake. During my single year on campus, I completed many-an-assignment on that peeling blue bench. I journaled there, I prayed there. I even sat there and cried on the phone with my mom when I was convinced I couldn’t stay on that blasted campus a minute longer.
That little bench and I went through a lot. With many alterations to Brewton-Parker’s campus in the last nine years, I wondered if my bench would even still be there.
I pulled back onto campus for the first time in five years and started walking around the lake, and for a moment I thought it was gone. I craned my neck and turned my head and visualized where I thought the bench had been, and I did not see it.
But with a few more steps and a few more degrees of perspective, my rugged little bench materialized. And like a reunion with a dear friend, I sat.
I was a different person nine years ago. So different. It’s hard to put into words.
Nine years ago, I wasn’t one to approach a stranger much less sleep in their home.
Nine years ago, I wasn’t one to hang out with friends or even make them. Be one.
Nine years ago, I wasn’t one to tell anybody, myself included, my deep dark secrets. Secrets were safer than exposure.
Brewton-Parker was the first time I willingly leapt into the unknown, and nine years later I’m thankful it wasn’t the last time.
I only called that campus home for a year, and yet so much erupted and blossomed within me that year. Without Brewton-Parker, I have no idea how California or camp or the rest of my life would have progressed.
I certainly wouldn’t have made those friendships. It’s been awesome revisiting many of those same precious people over this past week of my road trip.
I’m so grateful not just to write about pivotal places like Brewton-Parker, but for chances to revisit said places firsthand. To sit on an old familiar bench and stare out at an ordinary lake that doesn’t really take your breath away.
But then again, it kinda does.