“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” -C.S. Lewis
The summer that Amanda Stephens and I first met breathed life into C.S. Lewis' idea of friendship for me. We first interned together at Timber Wolf Lake the summer of 2011. It is crazy to think that I have known Amanda less than two years. After that summer, I had a best friend that lived in Indiana, 600 miles away. Since we have known one another, Amanda has challenged me, loved me, and encouraged me more than I could have ever imagined. I have been beyond blessed by a friendship of hours of phone conversations, letters, surprise visits, Skype dates, Michigan summers, and random trips. I have learned so much from Amanda and from our friendship. She has a heart for Jesus and for social justice that I admire and am daily inspired by. I cannot wait to see all of the places that the Lord takes her in the coming years.
I am beyond excited that Amanda is the one writing a guest post this week. She is one of the most important people in my life and so it is only fitting that she get to share about herself personally. Her words are real and they are raw, but they are so incredibly beautiful and life-giving. I love getting to experience life with her, even 600 miles apart, and seeing all the ways that the Lord is showering her with His love.
My name is Amanda Vivian Stephens, a proud Indiana native, currently in my last semester at Taylor University. One of my most proud facts (and essential to this story) is that my name means “worthy of love” and “full of life.” My claim to fame on this day is that Jordan Abourjilie is my best friend. And today she has asked me to share a little about my life as of late. Ready, set, go.
I met Jordan almost two years ago. I had arrived at Timber Wolf Lake, my home for the summer, and in the rush that only Young Life can create, was convinced to try out the camp’s new water slide. It was only fifty degrees outside, quite windy and I was wearing the clothes I had arrived in. But fifteen minutes later, I stood shivering and wet at the bottom of a hill, when a smiling southern girl approached me, told me her name was Jordan and a beautiful friendship began.
Just a couple months after that introduction, our intern crew arrived in Traverse City, Michigan with big plans. All eighteen interns stood in a tiny tattoo parlor, as five of us made a few changes to the bodies God gave us. I walked out that day with the word ‘loved’ tattooed on the inside of my left ring finger. Five touch-ups and a lot of fading later, it means more to my story now than I had ever thought then.
In Isaiah 49:16, the Lord says, “See? I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” I am continually, consistently, and constantly overwhelmed by this fact.
God, you did WHAT? You wrote my name on your hands?
Yes, Amanda Vivian [worthy of love. full of life], your name is on my hands. And it’s not just written, it’s engraved. I etched it in with a knife. It is tattooed with ink. It is there to stay.
My ‘pain in my side’ [2 Cor. 12:7] has much to do with my identity. So often I struggle with what other people think of me, if I am loved, popular, wanted. And some of my darkest days are when I believe that I am unloved, that I am not good enough, that the people in my life are unhappy with me. Relationships to me are, so often, a give and take. They are an equation. I earn your trust, your forgiveness and your love, over the course of time and a friendship, just as you earn mine. But this isn’t true of the Lord.
The Lord declares that he loved me first, before I ever loved him. [1 John 4:19] And he loves me unconditionally. Regardless of how many times I forget him, refuse him, or disregard him. I didn’t understand this in July of 2011 when I chose to get my tattoo. But every single day I wanted to be reminded that I am loved, not for what I do or who I am, but simply because the Lord chose to love me. Even in marriage, the ring goes on second, because the Lord loved me first. My identity is in his love for me.
In February of 2013, I still don’t understand it. I am graduating from Taylor University in 85 days. This place has forced me to learn more about my identity than any other, as I have daily struggled to balance my desire for others’ love with my desire to be rooted in my Savior’s love [Eph. 3:17-18]. But I pray to know it, just as I pray it out over each of you.
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from who every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, will have power together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God." [Ephesians 3:14-19]
God, fill us up. Oh God, fill us up.