Three weeks ago, I returned from a trip so undeniably wonderful I still scramble to describe it accurately.
Different than any of my travels, this road trip helped shape my perspective of people, God's beauty, and the power of prayer in a whole new way.
The goal of it was to help Allie (whom I had never met in real life) on her move from Michigan to Washington with the company of two other girls. She asked me to be a part of this in August only three days after I told God my latest dreams: visit the Pacific Northwest, go on a road trip, and somehow incorporate my favourite app, Instagram.
When I received Allie's message, I had to blink a few extra times. The opportunity was wild and too exciting to be true. During my decision making process, it was my parents' encouragement matched with a wave of peace that prodded me to say yes.
While counting down the days until departure, the pain in my body quickly grew from tolerable to exasperating, leading me to resign from work.
All of this seemed unfair to me — the stubborn sickness, the unemployment, the seemingly crushed hopes, the hours spent in bed again.
Once I felt nearly every negative feeling I could, (self-pity, anger, pride, you-get-the-point,) my emotions finally slammed into the "DEPLETE" button.
I texted some close friends asking for their prayers, fearing I would have to back out of the trip.
The day before this adventure out west began, I journaled what I believed God was speaking to me through 2 Corinthians 12:9 — "Erika, my loving-kindness toward you is more than enough. It is in your sickness, emptiness, and loneliness that my power can best be displayed."
I then wrote, "Because of His promise to me, I will joyfully press on and allow Him to do what He does best." As those words reluctantly bled themselves onto paper, I felt anything but surrendered or joyful. Worn out, I clutched to this promise I knew my heart needed to be convinced of and sluggishly packed my belongings.
Less than 24 hours later, I was riding through Chicago traffic in a Jeep with three girls and a Uhaul. It was surreal for all of us to be together in the flesh, referring to each other personally and not by usernames.
As the first night of driving carried on, I sat in the back seat fumbling my fingers against the buttons of my coat in bouts of nervousness. Although it felt more than right to be there together, my fears due to past experiences would not decrease.
What if they don't like me?
What if I end up causing more of a burden than anything else?
I was afraid to let them down. I made no mention of this.
We stopped at gas stations and grocery stores, the first of more than I can now count. Music far out of my genre was blasted, heaps of goldfish were eaten, and our iPhones guided the way. Somewhere in between all of this and the far expanse that was the road, a conversation began unfurling.
A conversation that led to another. And then another. It all progressed so naturally and so suddenly until I soon realized, we were all kind of messy and in need of grace, forgiveness, and friends who would choose to love us regardless.
It was made blatantly obvious as we entered new cities, new homes for the night, and new friendship why we were in this together.
The four of us girls, as vastly different as we were, just made sense.
Maybe it was because we knew we lacked something the other could help make up for. Maybe it was because others had walked out and we had prayed for someone who was okay with the current versions of us. Maybe it was because God knew we needed those "hey, me too..." moments, as hard as they may have been.
Whatever the real reason was, I believe it was no accident we chose to wander 2,000+ miles together, become friends in an Insta.
These girls pushed me to enjoy the bits of life I would typically skip over.
The limitations I put on myself and excuses I took up because of a sickness I allowed to become my identity were pushed to the side.
We sat on the sidewalk and ate the best BBQ in Kansas City. We stopped on the edge of the highway to play under the falling snow. We learned the Charleston after 9pm in Union Station. We climbed mountains and tiptoed neared bison. We snuggled the world's cutest cat in Portland and ate fancy flavored ice cream. We giggled endlessly over quirks. We took way too many photos and met some of the neatest people. We shared each other's toothpaste and carried each other's burdens.
They mourned with me as I received news of my friend's passing. They let me sleep in the bed as they took up the floors. They drove through the night as I slept soundly. They prayed for me as I wept and celebrated as I climbed upward. They reminded me as friends of a lifetime do, that God can be seen in all things — the sunrise through rearview mirrors, the noble mountains chiseled to perfection, the rustling of auburn kissed leaves, and the promise of mercies made new.
None of us were the same than when the trip first began. I know I wasn't.
God's strength sustained me like never before, and I could not be more thankful for the opportunity He brought through Instagram.
I don't know why it took me going across the country to see how I've lived consumed by my problems, but I'm glad it did.
People are worth getting to know, as risky and uncomfortable as it may first seem. No matter how much you may want to keep inside, it is always better to give, to listen, and to let your brokenness be used for something bigger than yourself.
Because maybe, we all just need each other.