I was 19 years old when I spent a hot summer in East Texas at a bible boot camp for young teens. (That's my own affectionate name for it).
I wasn't raised religious. I was born catholic and attended catechism when I was small, but my parents pulled us out when the church began charging money for it.
When I was 17 and on a summer vacation traveling across country with my family and friends, I picked up a tattered-up little paperback book and read it while sitting in the back of a Dodge Van traveling somewhere between California and North Carolina.
This lovely book made me see things in an entirely new way and would undoubtedly change me forever. The book was called Mr. God, this is Anna. It's the story of a 5-year-old girl who's found wandering the streets of London who turns out be quite extraordinary and insightful. It hit such a cord with me and so I longed to have that same close friendship with God as she did.
It was because of that book and two years later, I decided to spend my summer at a bible boot camp in East Texas. I was like fish out of water. Everyone carried around leather bound bibles with their names engraved on the cover. I had a paper-back catholic teenage bible called THE WAY that had faces of teenagers inside the words. I didn't know any of the songs they sang, I didn't know how to pray and was confused by bible stories... thought it was Gepetto living in the belly of a whale and who was Jonah.
One morning we were called into a meeting and were told we were going to be put on teams of four and venture off into small towns around East Texas for a long weekend called a "Faith Outreach". We would be entirely on our own with nothing but a small overnight bag with a change of clothes and $5. We had a week to start exercising our faith by praying in $5. We could only use the $5 dollars that came to us in an act of faith.
I prayed for $5 to come in every single day. Every morning when the mail would arrive, I would eagerly check my mailbox and every morning, I came up empty-handed.
A week later, on the morning of the Faith Outreach, I saw the white school bus circle around up the drive to take us on our adventure. But I still hadn't received my $5. I was embarrassed and disappointed and felt foolish having my small overnight bag packed with clothes. I was convinced everyone would see right through me and know I'm not loved by God as much as they were.
"Does everyone have their $5?!"
I felt my face sting from shame. I raised my hand and was relieved to discover a handful of others who also didn't have $5. We were told to bow our heads and pray once more and then go to our mailboxes to find the money. Sure enough, there was an envelope in my box addressed "To Shawn from Jesus" and there was a $5 dollar bill in there. I recognized Roger's handwriting on the envelope.
Off we went on our adventure! I was let off in the oldest town in Texas called Nacodoches near the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University.
Along with three other girls, I stuffed my overnight bag inside the girls' locker room and then walked blocks and blocks down to the K-Mart and ordered All-You-Can-Eat fish sticks for our meal, bought baby ruth candy bars for dessert and umbrellas on that rainy summer day and before we left K-Mart, we realized we had spent nearly all our money.
Back on campus, we met some girls who invited us to stay with them for the weekend.
One of the girl's boyfriend was named Basillio, but they called him Bo. He graciously offered us his Pontiac Trans Am to drive around in during our short stay.
Once the weekend was over and after the white bus picked us up along the highway and drove us back to the bible boot camp, we sat around in a circle and told our stories to each other how we learned faith in our unforgettable adventures. Sitting there in a glowing silence, feeling good how we were all protected and learned of God's faith, the leader passed the offering basket around asking us to thank God by putting the $5 back in the basket. We didn't have our $5. So it cost us another $5 to thank God for teaching us faith. Imagine that! $10 dollars. It took me weeks to pay that off.
Fourteen years later, I become best friends with a girl who lives nearly 2,000 miles away from where I live and who somewhere in a conversation, tells me she went to Stephen F. Austin and one of her room-mate's boyfriend was named Basillio, but they just called him Bo. And she talked of some girls staying in the apartment one hot summer weekend and Bo loaning them his blue Trans Am.
Did I learn about faith that weekend when I was 19? No, of course not. But fourteen years later, I DID learn we live in a small world. And I learned more about fate than faith and even though we didn't meet up that weekend and become fast friends, we did so years later.
I guess what I'm tryin' to say is... I believe that some friendships are meant to happen to each other and no matter the time or the place or the distance in years, if its meant to be, it's meant to be. Its the faith in friendships and the fate that brings it altogether that is more powerful than a 3-day outreach on the backroads of East Texas. And this Thanksgiving I am grateful for such a friendship as this.