It was a Saturday morning in the fall, and the tailgaters in orange and blue RV’s had arrived hours ago. I drove to campus, hoping I’d be there in time to find a decent partaking spot (a Herculean task on a sleepy weekday in the Gainesville summertime, let alone on Saturday in the SEC). I held the steering wheel with one hand and my flip-phone with the other, and I dialed my boyfriend’s number repeatedly. Each time, I thought, “Please pick up. Please pick up. Come on. Pick up.” He hadn’t answered my calls or returned my messages in three days. In that time, I had been in a car accident and sprained my ankle and grown increasingly angry and confused.
When you’re 19 and you’ve been dating someone for two years, it’s hard to imagine life any other way. My entire identity had changed in those two years, and so much of it was tied up in that relationship. And each time my call when to voicemail–that same infuriating recording, when he pretended to be answering the phone–I felt that identity slipping away.
Stopped at a red light on 34th Street, he answered…and he dumped me.
Somehow, I found a parking spot that morning, right in front of the Alpha Gamma Rho house. (Because sometimes Jesus looks like an open parking spot.) In the yard, the fraternity brothers played corn hole, and I sobbed into my steering wheel. I’ve never been more grateful for tinted windows. I dialed one more number.
“Ellen,” I said, “He doesn’t want to be with me anymore.”
When I met Ellen on move-in day freshman year, I thought she was someone’s younger sister. Barely 90 pounds and hardly 5 feet tall, her small stature didn’t match her huge personality. The first time we sat next to each other in a Spanish class, I remember thinking, “Man, this girl talks a lot.”
On this day, I watched her pedal up on her blue bicycle, a box of Kleenex and a package of Oreos in the basket. We sat in front of Alpha Gamma Rho until kick off. I gave her my ticket to the game and drove home.
Later that night, after the touchdowns were scored and the alma mater sung, I heard a knock at the door. Ellen and Jessie stood there, backpacks and pillows in tow. “Hi,” they said, and “We’re coming in.” They flipped through my DVD collection and landed on Pirates of the Caribbean, because it was one of few options squarely outside the romantic comedy genre. When I woke up on the couch the next morning, there they were, asleep on my apartment floor.
In the six or seven years since, Ellen and Jessie have slept on my floor many times, so to speak, even all the way from North Africa and Spain and Georgia and Ft. Lauderdale.
When I finished reading the book of Acts a few weeks ago, I filled the empty space on the last page with the themes I couldn’t ignore: church, the Holy Spirit, persecution, movement. And community. In the margins throughout each chapter, I scrawled that word: community. The writer of Acts continually mentions how they “met one another’s needs.” I noticed it over and over again.
How to engage in and rely on a Christ-centered community was perhaps the greatest lesson I learned in my college years. That package of Oreos in the bike basket and those girls on my living room floor? Jesus. Grace. Comfort. All of that personified, living and breathing and turning off the DVD player in the middle of the night.