Roughly 6 weeks ago I received an email from the spouse of a guy I met on the internet. That is a sentence that sounds creepy but really isn’t. In order to clarify and not start a bunch of rumors, here is how all of this unfolded.

About 5 years ago there was a documentary made called “Lord Save Us From Your Followers.” Somehow through this blog, I was given the opportunity to preview the film. They sent me a DVD and it was a game changer. I wanted everyone I know to see the film too. So I started making calls and sending emails. One thing led to another and I found myself on the phone with a guy named Ryan.

What transpired over the next five years became a friendship and brotherhood which has had wind in its sails from twitter, facebook, instagram, text and phone calls. We sharpen one another. We watch over one another through social media. We cheer one another on and watch each others families grow. I’ve called Ryan when I’ve needed a prayer warrior. He has been THAT friend.

See, told you it wasn’t as creepy as it sounds.

So, back to the email from his spouse…the email was an invitation. Ryan was reaching a milestone birthday and his bride was planning an epic surprise party. She wanted to know if there was any way the entire family could make the trip to Charlotte. By now you probably know that I’m up for adventures. Especially when those adventures include two cities near and dear to my heart – Nashville and Charlotte. I have history in both and welcome the opportunity to return. Both cities have a piece of my heart.

After looking at some logistics, taking the whole crew was just not going to be an option. The original plan was to drive in a quick 48 hour whirlwind. I eventually cashed in some points on Southwest Airlines, paid the difference and the trip was set. 24 hours and a birthday surprise for a guy I had literally never met in person.

What transpired over the past 24 hours was a picture of community. First, a family I had never met in real life welcomed me into their home. As if we had known one another forever, they opened their home and treated me as though I was a member of their wonderful family. There was real beauty in finding that they were exactly who they appear to be online. And that is meant as a compliment.

When we arrived at the party, all of the guests exploded in applause for the guest of honor. I slowly slid out of the way and watched as Ryan was celebrated and honored. He was beaming. Something in me felt an incredible joy FOR him. You only get that kind of a reception and only have these kinds of friends when you have loved others and loved well.

For the next several hours I got to witness what real community looks like. Friends laughing, listening, enjoying one another. While Ryan was the guest of honor, the model of community that God created took home the biggest prize. Even this complete stranger was welcomed into this warm group. They sought me out and asked real questions. I left that party with new friends. A party for someone else gave all that attended gifts too.

As the night came to a close, we sat in Ryan’s living room telling more stories. I witnessed his children honor him as children that love someone do. Ashley, Ryan and I shared stories of wins and losses that we all walk through. My respect and admiration for this family only grew as the hour got very late.

Now I sit on a return flight home with my elbows wedged tightly in the small piece of real estate called the middle seat. Typing can be very difficult on an iPad mini…. in said seat. I just had to do it though. I could not let what transpired the last 24 hours go unrecorded. It was a life giving. While the original intent was for me to be there as a surprise, I feel as though I received the gift. I took so much more away from this 24 hour moment maker than I could have possibly given.

Again I encourage you all to say “yes.” Be brave. Step out of your comfort zone. You will be amazed how much more you gain. To Ryan, happy birthday my friend. I’m so proud of who you are. I’m proud of how you love your bride, you girls and your friends. To Ashley – thank you for the invitation to be there. Your gift to your husband turned out to be an incredible gift to this soul that needed it more than words can ever communicate. When I saw your pictures from the event, I noticed a pretty big smile on my face. It’s been missing lately and I never anticipated I would find it again in Charlotte. Thank you for the gift you’ve given me.