It was right around my sophomore year of college when I started going with one of my best friends and spiritual mentors, Ande, on regular visits to a bottle-dump. If you know me, you probably know I’m not really one for this sort of thing. Digging through mud and fecal-like substances in the Florida heat with only the hopes of finding rare, old bottles feels kinda drab and honestly rather sweaty to me. But as I look back on it now, these adventures are among some of my most beloved memories.
College was a particularly turbulent time of my life. Many days during those years I found myself angry for reasons I couldn’t articulate, and other days I found myself uncontrollably sad and frozen in the fetal position for (what felt like) days. All the while, my Christian faith had slowly started to become something I realized I actually required— I needed it in a way I had never needed it before. It felt like I was awakening from a stupor I had been in for many, many years, and it was overwhelming. Fear and faith seemed to have reawakened within me in conjunction.
I have never been very good at letting myself exist in the present. I’m always thinking about the natural outcome of things that are occurring in my life and where I will or won’t be in the future. I can so naturally turn towards cynicism to help me understand and cope with reality. At the time, not only was I consumed with the realization that I had felt alone for so much of my life, but I was also consumed by the fear that I would be alone throughout the rest of it. Loneliness on a microscopic scale scares me just as much as loneliness on a grand scale. Being awakened to this existential kind of loneliness concerned me that perhaps the best sort of living was the kind where I slipped back into a life of compulsive distraction and superficiality. I found myself scraping at the question: “Is there really life to find, and if so, was finding life really worth the effort of digging through all the crap of my life?”
I vividly recall certain days in college when I would be texting Ande about my frustrations and melancholy, and he would sometimes so kindly and pastorally respond by inviting me bottle-hunting. It’s comical thinking back on it because what I wanted was a logical and well-reasoned response to make me feel better, but instead what I often received was an invitation to put on my worst pair of jeans, a raggedy t-shirt, and head off to a bottle-dump. We’d put on our gloves, gather our shovels, and hike through long-grass to find our spot which we would then spend hours looking for valuable bottles. Sometimes we would spot something promising and pull it out only to realize that an incredibly valuable bottle was shattered at its mid-line. Other times we would spend the whole time searching and not coming away with much of anything except for maybe some sand-spurs on our jeans and a few average-quality bottles.
Much like my own life at the time, I had begun to wonder if the search was worth it. Was there anything lasting and meaningful to be found? Would the search ultimately end with a broken bottle?
The conversations we had during those times at the dump I won’t ever forget. We talked about so many different things, some serious, some trivial. Being at a bottle-dump seemed to allow us to talk about anything and everything. Hiding behind pretense doesn’t work well in a bottle graveyard. We told stories about our lives. We approached the scary questions I had about life. We talked about loneliness and friendship, sex and sadness, family and football, Jesus and glory. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those times together helped open my heart to hope and my eyes to beauty. The immobilizing questions of life I had seemed to lose a bit of their bite in my trips to the dump.
I can only recognize it now, but it rarely happens that when you go looking for something unique and meaningful that you find in it a single moment or in a single object. I recall that we didn’t usually come away with many rewarding finds from the dump, but that never really concerned us. I didn’t find a one-line answer to the concerns I had for my life during that time, but in hindsight, those times contributed to me discovering a deep sense of peace in Jesus and a recognition of the echos this world still has of Eden despite it often feeling like a dump.
Ande made it a habit of bringing bottles back with him. He would clean them and make them shine, even if they weren’t particularly special. He and his wife eventually arrayed them in such a way to create a beautiful mosaic-like shelving. Out of nothing particularly special, they had made something quite wonderful, and I can’t help but consider that Jesus does a similar thing in restoring and redeeming his people and arraying us in a beautiful way. He’s certainly in the business of entering into our grime, bloodying his hands of healing on our jagged edges, and bringing us— his friends—home.
This whole process of bottle-hunting and its resulting mosaic helped me understand something about the nature of friendship. Particularly, that most of the growth of friendship occurs in the mundane. It grows as we spend time together, doing simple things together, facing disappointments together, eating together, and telling stories together. Most of the big moments of friendship only happen because of the myriad of other little moments we’ve had with them. And while we may have some very valuable and intimate moments with those we care most deeply about, it’s often an ordinary but faithful routine with another that makes up the beautiful mosaic we share with them.
Looking back on it, it’s interesting to see how God has used friendships like these to alleviate some of my deepest concerns about life. Through human hands and the kind words of friends, I’ve grown to believe the promises of God more and have begun to see more clearly how he provides for us in both divine and human ways. I didn’t get an answer that instantaneously relieved my biggest doubts and fears at that time, but in Jesus, by his friendship with me and the friendship he granted to me in others, I discovered a beautiful and transcendent mosaic which birthed a hope I never expected to find while digging through a bottle dump.