During the year of 1995, I spent nine of the twelve months in Florida. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s the way things sorted out. While in Florida, I had to laugh at myself at the irony. Up until that point in my life I had been utterly incapable of being in a long-term romantic relationship, but as soon I started into one I would be moved 600 miles away from her.
I had finally talked myself into dating a friend from high school and the results were far better than I could have possibly imagined. Things were going great for us and so with my amazing timing, I packed up my things and moved away to Florida to work for IBM for the winter. I returned for a semester of school in the spring and then headed back to Boca Raton for the summer. I shared an apartment with my friend and fraternity brother Rick for the summer break. I had anticipated staying for only the summer, but it turned out IBM wanted me there for the rest of the year. When it came time for school to start in the fall, Rick and I made such a sorry pair. We would’ve gladly exchanged places as he would’ve given anything to stay in Florida with his friends and his church and I would’ve given anything to go home to my friends and my girlfriend. Of course, she was starting college that fall, so it’s not like she would’ve been in town anyways, but Atlanta was two hours away from her college as opposed to ten hours, so it would’ve been a little better at least. Also, some of her friends were starting school at Georgia Tech, so I’m sure she would be frequenting Atlanta often. All that was moot however, I was stuck in Florida far away from seemingly everyone.
Thankfully, I had made some friends in Florida during my time there and shared an apartment with a friend from church who was gracious enough to let me take up his second bedroom. Most of that year was very hard for me and I went through feelings of loneliness, withdrawl, and homesickness. I feel for people who are in long-distance relationships, for those people who are on separate college campuses, or meet someone and to move away because of a job, or those who love someone in the military who is in service far away. I know a little of the ache they feel. During the fall when my girlfriend started college, she went through all the highs and lows of the first year in college and it was very hard for me to only hear about it on the phone and not be there to celebrate the good times and comfort her in the hard times. A relationship is hard to sustain over the phone, because there’s so much going on where I was at and where she was at and not all of it was getting communicated. There were a lot of things going in my life that I don’t think she fully grasped and I know there were things going on in her life that I didn’t understand totally.
However, looking back on it all now, it’s clear to see that God had a purpose for keeping me away from everything in Atlanta for a season. At the time, I experienced periods of sorrow, but now with a greater perspective I see all the amazing joy that God brought during that year. For a brief time, he pulled together many different college students from all over the world for a season and we all enjoyed each others company and spurred each other on and then just quickly, God scattered us to the four winds where we all had our ministries. We were from Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Colorado, and even at home in Florida, but for that summer, we were all in Florida. I still enjoy reading about what some of these people are doing across the world now. As the year progressed and they departed one by one, I found my group of local friends shrinking. I’m very thankful for the small group of friends I still had for the last couple of months as Florida. They were my only connection with all my friends in Georgia starting back in college and resuming their busy lives. I had to learn a hard lesson to be content in my circumstances and also accept that the loneliness and solitude was only for a season and it was prime opportunity for prayer and meditation on Scripture. I’ve haven’t since had that kind of time to devote to prayer and study and it’s missed.
One of my most vivid memories while in Florida came late in 1995 when during the Christmas season I went with two friends to watch the boat parade on the canal in Fort Lauderdale. I remember sitting on the bank of the canal and watching the boats travel down the river with twinkling lights in the warm Florida night surrounded by palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights. I was with two attractive, very nice girls, but I’d have gladly exchanged them with someone else. Such is the ache of a long distance relationship. On Christmas Eve, I packed my car and drove up the Florida coast, following the ocean all the way to Jacksonville before heading inland towards Atlanta. Just returning home was the greatest Christmas gift I could’ve gotten that year.