I barely know the five people I’ll be traveling with to Dominican Republic in November.  Right now.  We’ve only exchanged a handful of e-mails and talked for a few minutes by phone so far. But give us time and there may be a sleepover.

I didn’t know Shannon before we traveled to Uganda together to fend off monkeys and play with kids.  But now?  Well, when Shannon heard I was coming to Tulsa, her stomping grounds, she e-mailed immediately asking telling me she’d be picking Ben and I up from the airport and that we’d be staying at her house for the weekend.  So she did.  And we did.

Saturday night, after plopping down tired at her kitchen table, in an unforgettable act of true friendship, Shannon allowed me to partake of a few Snickers bars and some wow-these-actually-aren’t-as-nasty-as-you’d-expect caramel apple Hershey’s kisses. By a “few” and “some,” I mean a quantity approximating the weight of a middle schooler.  Approximately. Give or take a pair of shoes.

Then she and her wow-he’s-actually-not-as-boring-as-you’d-expect-a-finance-major-to-be husband hung out with us while we geeked out about blogging stuff for a couple hours.  Then we painted each other’s nails and curled each other’s bangs and watched High School Musical (Zack Efron is so dreamy) and…OK, we didn’t do any of that stuff.  But Shannon and Ben really wanted to.  But I was tired.

Shannon let Ben and I crash in her kids’ rooms sans kids.  I’m a good friend so I took the smaller bed.  And I let Ben have the bigger one.  With flowerdy sheets.  In the room with pink walls and lots of dolls.  He gets lonely.

Then Sunday afternoon, after I played and spoke at Cedar Ridge Christian Church, we hung out some more at Shannon’s house.  I just did a bunch of nothing.  Shannon probably had no idea what a gift that was.  Through no fault of anyone else, I rarely feel completely relaxed on the road, able to turn totally “off”, unless it’s just me and Ben.  I don’t mind it, but almost everyone on the road calls me “Shaun Groves,” a reminder that to them I’m an artist and not completely human and and they as me lots of questions: about how I got started in music, about whether I know this artist or that, about politics or theology, about whether I sing the word “toast” in After The Music Fades.  Again, I don’t mind it.  I’m thankful anyone wants to talk to me at all.  And I know that the beginning of every relationship is a lot of get-to-know-you questions.  But the greatest gift Shannon gave me this weekend was a Sunday afternoon of being “off.” Of being called “Shaun.” I tickled her daughter.  Talked guitars a little with one of her boys. Crumpled into a couch. Took a nap. Totally relaxed.

Then Shannon and her twin/mom and her dad volunteered at the Compassion table Sunday night during my concert. Now, look, I’m not the manliest of men, OK, admittedly, but I teared up a little when I left the stage and walked out into the lobby of that church and saw Shannon explaining Compassion’s ministry to the crowd gathered around the table, taking child sponsorship forms from people, thanking them for releasing a child from poverty, wearing her Compassion t-shirt – the uniform of Compassion volunteers.

Here’s a woman, I thought, once a total stranger to me and Compassion.  That was only nine months ago. And today she’s a friend to both of us. Together, my friend Shannon and I, we introduced 88 people to children in the developing world Sunday.  Thanks, Shannon.  For everything.