(Originally Posted on August 24, 2o1o)
I have amazing friends.
I have known for awhile that I have amazing friends, but tonight I was reminded just how wonderful they all are and how blessed I am to have them in my life.
If you have been reading my blog at all, you know that I studied abroad in Austria and that I really, really, REALLY was not looking forward to coming home. Of course, I had many reasons for wanting to stay in Graz: all the incredible friends I made there, the Erasmus lifestyle I got to enjoy, the fantastically cheap price (and high quality) of Milka chocolate, etc, etc. But another reason I didn’t want to come home was that I was afraid. You see, in Austria, I was special, both to my friends there (Kansas is a novelty in Europe, believe it or not) and to my friends and family back home. When you aren’t around for six months, people start to miss you; they follow you on your blog, comment on your facebook status updates and look through your posted pictures. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and people really do seem to care about you more when you aren’t nearby. Thus, naturally, though I was certainly excited to see all my friends at home, I figured that the joy of reunion would soon wear off and I’d just be the same old pre-Austria Steffi again. I realize that this probably sounds selfish (which it likely is), but from talking to my other exchange-student friends, I discovered that this was a common, widely held fear. We all were worried about what it would be like once we returned home.
For the most part, I’ve reintegrated okay over the last month in the U.S. At first, people were very excited and wanted to know about Austria. But soon, the “shininess” of my return wore off. That makes complete sense, and I don’t fault anyone for it; I completely understand, and I definitely didn’t expect everyone to be interested in every aspect of my life overseas. Plus, OSU’s study abroad office and its equivalent in Graz gave us a lecture about “reintegration” and how reconnecting with friends can be difficult. Obviously, they can’t understand what you’ve been through, and that can be challenging as a result.
Now couple this “normal” issue of reintegration with my own personal issues. Sometimes, honestly, I don’t feel like a very good friend. As a result, I have lower confidence in myself than I should, and I worry that people don’t love me or like me. I know it’s silly because people do, in fact, like me and care about me. But sometimes my mind does funny things, and I forget that truth. Tonight, though, I was reminded of it, and I am so, so grateful.
Today is (or now was) Tuesday. Tuesday at Oklahoma State University is an important day, or rather an important night. Every Tuesday at 9ish (yes, we really do mean ish, as in “approximately”) is a non-denominational worship service called Overflow. About 1000 or more students attend Overflow every week, and since my freshman year, Tuesday has been one of my favorite weekdays because of it. Since classes started yesterday, today was the first Tuesday and tonight, therefore, the first Overflow. I’d been looking forward to it all day, and I couldn’t wait.
Then yesterday, one of my friends/sorority sisters (who happens to be my G-Little, but that could be confusing to explain) brought up an idea for a pre-Overflow plan: We would drive out to visit our friend Lesley, so she could show us her new house and hang out a little before Overflow. I said, sure that sounded like a good idea, and I agreed. So tonight at around 7:35 we headed out to Lesley’s house. And of course, I didn’t suspect a thing. Even when we pulled up and I noticed the 7 cars squeezed into and around her driveway, I still was clueless. And then we walked inside.
Before I could even process what was happening, I was attack-hugged by my younger sisters, Weasel and Rascal. They were followed by a line of a dozen of my Kaydee sisters and friends with huge smiles on their faces. But even after hearing them say, “Welcome back!” and reading the “Welcome Home, Steffi!” banner, I was still confused. Finally, my blonde-haired brain kicked into gear and I realized what was going on: they had thrown a surprise welcome-home party just for me! Even after I understood what was happening, I still had a hard time believing it.
I’d never been given a surprise party before (although, as tonight would indicate, I am fairly easy to surprise). For my 18th birthday, four of my best friends woke me up early and took me to IHOP in my pajamas; that was too a wonderful surprise, for sure. But this was the first real “surprise party” I’d ever received. And my words can’t even hope to describe how special it made me feel.
So tonight I was able to not only enjoy some delicious, gooey cookie cake (which was TOTALLY worth eating, even though it wasn’t gluten-free), but He also reminded me of something very important about my friends and, ultimately, about Him.
You see, my friends didn’t have to do that. Not at all! I did absolutely nothing to deserve a surprise party. I’ve been home for a month now; I’m not new and exciting anymore. And let’s face it, I have been rather emotional lately and not always the most positive person to be around. But still, they loved me anyway. They really demonstrate Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times.”
At the same time, too, they showed a very clear picture of God’s love for us. We don’t do anything to deserve His love, but He gives it to us anyway. Even when we are covered with sin or feeling down in the dumps, God lifts us up and showers His grace down on us. And, just like my friends tonight, His love often surprises us, coming when we least expect it. We just have to open our often “blonde” eyes to recognize it.
One of my favorite quotes comes from a line in a song by Relient K: “But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” Thank you, my friends, for showing me grace tonight. I hope that I can someday be as great of a friend to you—and to others—as you have been to me.