The art of recieving

In the months before I began my YAV year I often found myself daydreaming about what life as a full time gardener would be like. I didn’t know what the off months would look  like but I thought I knew how spring would unfold. I expected spring would bring a flurry of activity; a constant battle of hurry up and wait as I anticipate the perfect day to put plants in the ground. In each of my imaginings I pictured myself working alone, sometimes frantic but always getting it all done by myself.

Looking back on my first two weeks of spring in the garden, I’m starting to wonder if what I have always called independence is actually a reluctance to accept help from others.

First let me lay out the events of those two weeks:

It started when my parents came to Little Rock to help me build a hoop house.  I spent weeks researching and planning this project.  I attended lectures about DIY hoop houses, read online plans, made detailed material lists, and prepped the ground where we were going to build. Now a hoop house is a big project, and even though I prefer to do things on my own, I like to think of myself as a logical person, and I knew that there was no way for me to take this on without help. So who better than my parents to help me? The people who have always loved me and would have no choice but to continue to do so even if the hoop house went south. Good thing, because south it went.

Three days and two trips to the plumbers supply later, we erected the frame of the house. Throughout the first two days of our build, as Plan A, B, and C failed, I had no option but to heed the advice of the many who wanted to help me. Thankfully Plan D stuck. My heart rested somewhere between utterly defeated and indescribably gracious to those who helped me get this project(nearly) completed.

The following Tuesday afternoon I prepared for the Ferncliff staff to come out to the farm and help me paint donor names onto one of our fences. This event had been planned at the suggestion of our Executive Director, who knew that in one hour the staff could finish what would take me weeks. I might be reluctant to accept help, but I’m also a pleaser, so without delay I set a date for the staff to come help me. No surprise, every name was painted in no time, checking a big box off my to-do list.

The forecast for Wednesday was full sun and very low wind; perfect conditions for putting plastic on a hoop house. We have a regular group of volunteers on Wednesday’s that I knew I could recruit to help me pull the huge sheet of greenhouse plastic over the semi-circular hoops. As you might imagine, I was feeling some serious anxiety at the thought of returning to the dreaded hoop house, let alone putting some serious pressure on what I had seen to be mildly fragile PVC. But, thanks only to my hoard of helpers, the whole thing went flawlessly. We were even able to start putting plastic over the ends.

I began Thursday knowing that it was my last work day before we headed out of town on another Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Deployment. By the end of the day the plastic needed to be completed on the hoop house, spring vegetables needed to be put in, and the sprinkler system set up.  I’m not sure if the events of the past weeks had successfully broken me in or if stress was getting the better of me, but I decided to call in reinforcements. My amazing housemates showed up for me AGAIN and busted their butts until we got it all done.

Two full weeks of me “getting by with a little help from my friends.”

In our work to create an intentional community at Ferncliff, we spend a lot of time getting to know ourselves through the enneagram. I’ve learned that I am a helper; I help and support others because it makes me feel needed and loved. It turns out that this group I fall into, of naturally good helpers, have a characteristically difficult time asking for and receiving help. I know quite well the joy of assisting someone toward a goal; am I hoarding that joy when I insist on struggling alone in the face of someone who wants to help? Or is it that I have a pride issue? I doubt asking for help will ever come naturally to me, but I would like to think that these past weeks have nudged me in the right direction.

So here’s to the many who have shown me grace when I am stubborn, and to my fellow YAVs who are helping me learn to be better.

What I’m reading:

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larson
  2. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  3. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  4. Sundays in August – Patrick Modiano

The Highlights:

  • We were able to sneak in a weekend camping on the beaches of Louisiana on the front end of our week working with PDA rebuilding homes. After a busy start to the year it was great to take a few days to soak up some sun and get a few page turners in.
  • We were able to see Bill Clinton speak for the 3rd time since our arrival in Little Rock as he opened a new exhibit at the Clinton Library. The exhibit documents the role music has played in politics and vice versa. Proximity to the Clinton Library and occasionally the Clintons themselves has been a fun and totally unexpected perk of serving in Little Rock.
  • In January we welcomed an additional housemate. Moving from 4 to 5 around the table for dinner inspired us to redesign our eating space. The aptly named “Over the Hill Gang” built us a corner booth the 5 us built a new-to-us table from reused cedar siding.

Giving thanks for 2017

2017 has certainly been a year to remember. It started with me enjoying my last trip to the College Conference at Montreat with Ukirk, a few months later I graduated with a degree in Animal Science. I moved home for the summer, and then on to Little Rock to begin what is turning out to be one of the most meaningful years of my life.

And while I am bummed that I won’t be attending the College Conference this year, I certainly have much to be thankful for. I’ll start by going back to something I promised I would elaborate on, our Thanksgiving celebration.

We decided to host our new YAV family for a meal to celebrate each of our family traditions and the new ones we would make together. With much planning we had a Thanksgiving holiday that was delicious, relaxing, and incredibly fun.

Just a few of the things I am thankful for this year:

The food on our table: while there certainly has been a learning curve with our food stipend, we have learned what a privilege it is to have even $60 a month. And believe it or not we were able to SAVE money leading up to our Thanksgiving meal, allowing us to have a true Thanksgiving feast.

Our home at Creekside: It’s hard for me to imagine that our home(which we have now named creekside) was once a maintenance shed.  It has become a favorite pastime to shop the network of Little Rock Goodwills and see what kind of household treasures we come away with. There are many great people who have helped us make our house a home.

Our YAV and Ferncliff community: Over the past four months, we have built an incredible community of support and friendship, and I am so thankful for the commitment of my fellow YAVs to our community. Our net of support is wide and I am certain that I would not be experiencing such an amazing time of growth without each and every one of our supporters in Little Rock and each and every one of my supporters in Raleigh. To all of you, thank you.

My fabulous furbabies: I am so thankful that I get to take care of the sweet animals at Ferncliff. I just love them. I love when the goats snuggle up to me wanting a scratch when I am trying to work. I love the rhythm that feeding them puts into my day. I love when one of the pigs has an extra moment of friendliness and lets me pet them. I love that feeding them had to be worked into our Thanksgiving day cooking schedule.  They bring me joy everyday, and I dare say they are teaching me new compassion.

Compost: composting is one of the many ways that our household commits to caring for our planet. In our efforts to create less waste in general, we are very conscious about our food waste. Especially with our elaborate Thanksgiving menu, we wanted to make sure nothing went to waste. We ended up with nearly 5 gallons of trimmings from cooking that were taken to compost and will in turn be used to grow our spring vegetables. Composting is new to me, so I am especially thankful that my roommates are helping me create new habits that decrease my carbon footprint.

Reverse charades: Our Site Coordinator, Ann, is to thank for this one. She brought it over as a post-dinner game to work off some calories and man did we have a good time. Sad to say that the Millenials put up a weak fight against the Baby-Boomers at our Thanksgiving.

The Harry Potter Series: *Confession: I have not read the books* We spent our Black Friday #OptingInside and watching the entire series start to finish. Thanks to my roommates, who have read the books, who filled me in on all the small details in the movies I have previously missed. Relaxing holiday, check.

I am so excited for what 2018 has in store, and for my next 8 months as a YAV.

Joy and peace to you this holiday season.

The Highlights: I was able to travel home for the holidays and spend some much needed time with the entire family enjoying each others company and relaxing in front of the fire.

What I’m reading:

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany- John Irving
  2. The Divine Dance- Richard Rohr

My God in the age of automatic weapons

Yesterday we celebrated All Saints Sunday, remembering those who have gone before us and resting in the knowledge that they are in the presence of The Most High.  I left the sanctuary, only to learn that in a similar sanctuary a gunman had opened fire.

26 more saints on All Saints Sunday, and I do not feel like celebrating.

I don’t know how to make sense of such brutal violence. I don’t want to live in a society that accepts this violence as unavoidable. I don’t want a faith that responds to violence with sympathetic prayer.

I want a faith that responds with action.

My God is weeping, yes. For the victims. For the gunman. For the broken community in Sutherland Springs. For our broken world.

But, my God is also pleading. Pleading for us to wake up to the reality of our situation. Pleading for us to get to work disrupting the systems that allow this to happen. Pleading for us to start talking about the flaws in our legislation.

That part about “On earth as it is in Heaven”, let’s get started on that.


60 bucks and a headache

Thursday 12:07pm – I have just returned to the house to make lunch. I grab the miniature cast iron pan, corn tortillas, and tupperware of sauteed veggies.; I slide the fridge drawer open and realize we are out of shredded cheese. A small wave of panic washes over me.

Friday 8:24am – I make my way into the kitchen and fill my mug with coffee (the coffee that our kind and generous Meg makes every morning before any of us wake up). Last stop, milk and sugar before I am out the door and on my way to the farm. Open the fridge, no more milk. The panic that planted itself in my gut yesterday is now germinating. Taking root and causing sweat to begin to bead on my forehead.

12:03pm – The three of us are in the kitchen rooting around trying to piece together a lunch from the things that remain. Meg settles on a can of green beans and some eggs. Sharon opts for a bowl of sauteed veggies. I finish off the leftover rice and kielbasa and grab the remaining grapes for dessert. We eat in silence for most of the hour until some dares to utter the phrase no one wants to hear, “I think we need to go to the grocery store.”

4:16pm – Panic is rising from my stomach to my throat as I make my way back to our house, nestled into the farthest corner of camp. I arrive to find Meg sitting at the kitchen table making the dreaded list. Realizing that I can’t avoid the situation any longer, I sit down with her and we begin to frantically look through the Kroger App, planning to buy only what we can find on sale or with a coupon. 44 minutes later we have consulted with Sharon and are ready  to take a seat on the roller coaster of emotions whose ride time is approximately an hour and a half.

5:25 – We have entered the produce section, buggy, list, and $60 cash in tow. Squash is on sale and we proceed to stare at the acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squashes, each too afraid to step up and pick one. Inevitably Sharon, our beloved Enneagram 3, finally grabs one, then proceeds to the scale to weigh it and note the final price. Meg adds it to the running total she is keeping on her phone. Reluctantly I push the buggy forward; now on to dairy.

5:53 – Our running total is at $49.26 with bread and corn tortillas still left on the list. We know from experience they cost $0.89 and $1.69 respectively, bringing our total to $51.84, $3.16 short of our $55 pre-tax cap. We have had our eyes on fruit snacks, and this week they are on sale 2/$6 AND we have a coupon for $3 off. If you have been able to keep up with all that, you know that means we still have room for fruit snacks!! Joy is radiating from each of us.

6:07 – Six eyes are glued to the cashier’s screen. Joy has vacated and panic has returned. The total is at $78.37 and anticipation is crushing me as I wait for the cashier to press the magical button that takes off all the Kroger card savings. Suddenly the screen is rolling and the number is dropping. $57.25! $57.25! I seem to lose control of my arms as they fly over my head in celebration. Feelings of success and relief are exploding out of my chest as we gather our things, thank the cashier for allowing us to experience so many emotions at their counter, and exit to the car. We ride home reveling in the reality that we do not have to enter the grocery store for at least another week.

Now before you go directly to Amazon Pantry, hear this: this is what I signed up for. I want this year to be difficult and challenging. And I have the priviledge of this being challenge by choice, let’s not forget that.

I want you to walk beside me as I live out these new and sometimes uncomfortable situations. BUT, I beg you, please repress the urge to rescue me. Love me by letting me live through these experiences. Pray for me to lean into the discomfort that comes with recognizing my privilege and learning to live more intentionally.

The Highlights:

  1. We are studying the Enneagram with our spiritual director as we learn to have deep compassion for ourselves and others.
  2. Megan and I had the chance to tend hives and spin honey with a local beekeeper as we explore the possibility of getting bees at Ferncliff as a tool to teach about beneficial pollinators.
  3. The three of us will be traveling to Baton Rouge, LA on a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Deployment. We will be joining a group of Presbyterians from Missouri to work on cleanup and rebuilding from floods last year.

What I’m Reading:

  1. Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lammot
  2. Devil in the White City, Eirk Larson
  3. Open the Door, Joyce Rupp

Embarrassingly I am still working on the two from last month. I am hoping that our time on the road to Baton Rouge will give me a chance wrap those up.



agape love and intentional community

It is hard to believe that only two weeks ago I was traveling to Stony Point, New York to begin YAV orientation. Don’t get me wrong, the time has flown by, but we have covered so much ground that it is hard to fathom fitting it all into just 14 days. I’m not going to go into every detail, I simply want to focus on one of the aspects of this year that has already evolved significantly, and will certainly continue to take on new meaning: living in intentional Christian community.

To be honest, I didn’t have much of an idea of what this was when I began to look into the YAV program, or when I interviewed, or when I moved to Little Rock. So to help us both out let’s just start with the basics. I looked at a few definitions for intentional community and settled on one from Wikipedia (I know, I know, never use Wikipedia as a reference, I hope you can forgive me). An intentional community is defined  as “a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle.” As for the YAV program, our common vision is primarily that of the Christian faith (but also falls into some of those other categories due to the nature of the work we do) and our commitment to simple living serves as our “alternative lifestyle”. But what does this really mean in the day-to-day?

Good question. So far we have spent a lot of time talking and only a little time living in our new communities. One thing I know already though, living in intentional Christian community is completely unlike any other living situation I have ever experienced. And it is hard. Until now I have largely been able to live my life on my terms, seeking out only the communities that affirmed me, and avoiding the ones that questioned or challenged me. I was coping with disagreements or discomfort by disengaging until I felt I was safely back in control of myself and the situation.

The problem with this is that it protects ourselves at the cost of those around us, it encourages the polarized society we now find ourselves in, and it forces us to maintain superficial relationships, all because we are afraid of the vulnerability that comes with opening our lives up to others. In this time of electronic communication, I don’t think there is anything more urgent than learning what it means to be present and to trudge through discomfort, so that it may shape us to love more fully. I certainly have a lot to learn.

So what is intentional Christian community? It is signing up to show up, even for the people I don’t always like. It is staying engaged, even when I am ready to give up. It is caring, a lot, about those around me, and adjusting my actions accordingly. It is having the tough conversations, when it would be easier to stay silent. It is lessening my grip on the control I find so comforting. And it might just be the first step in practicing the agape love I am called to as a follower of Jesus Christ.

As my YAV year gets going there will be a lot I want to share, more than I will often cover in my blogs. From now on I will attach two more ways for you to keep up with what is going on day-to-day at the bottom of each post: “The Highlights” and “What I’m Reading”. “The Highlights” will be just what it implies, a handful of the most interesting, impactful, or entertaining things we/I have done since the last post. Keeping with the theme of straightforward names, “What I’m Reading” will give some insight into which texts are leading the wanderings of my mind, as well as helping me stay accountable to my commitment to read more this year.

The Highlights:

  1.  A week of orientation in Stony Point, NY with 60+ other YAVs that began with a lot of nerves and ended with new viewpoints and lifelong friends.
  2. A week of Ferncliff orientation learning some specifics about what this year has in store.
  3. 30 or so minutes spent chasing Penelope the rabbit around the farm/garden after she went rogue and escaped her pen.
  4. My first Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball game!

What I’m Reading:

  1. Devil in the White City -Eric Larson
  2. The Bean Trees – Barbara Kingsolver

the nitty gritty

All week I have been trying to write a thoughtful blog about my move with lots of sentiment and emphasis on how great it has been to have a period of rest with my family before I began this journey, and how much has already happened since I have arrived in Arkansas. All of that is still true, but the words full of grace and poise just aren’t coming this week, so I decided to go for a more direct approach…warning, this one is a little long and packed with detail so proceed with caution.

First, a recap of my summer. All around it has been amazing. It kicked off with my graduation in May which Mom and I promptly celebrated with a wonderful trip to the Dominican Republic.  We also spent a week with Mop(my maternal grandmother) full of our favorite activities…thrift store shopping and trips to the local movie theater.  I planned 7 days on the AT with my father and executed 3(keep scrolling for more details on that). Mom and I took the RV to our favorite campground in Surf City, NC where we caught up with our beach buds and soaked up some more sun. We traveled to Davidson, NC to celebrate Bomma’s (my paternal grandmother) “21st” birthday. In that trip I also got to see my aunt, uncle, and cousin. I spent a week camping in Cherokee, NC with my college best friend and her family. I also got to spend some time with Lee! She has started her Residency in Williamsport, PA and bought a house there. We even got to see our all time favorite musicians perform all together at a special concert in Binghamton,NY. And somehow in between all of that I went back to Knoxville to close out the lease on my apartment, enjoyed catching up with some high school and lifelong friends in Raleigh, and spent a number of days on the couch at home drinking soda and watching Bones.

So in my mind summer = smashing success.

Now onto YAV…let’s start with a more detailed explanation of the program and how I fit into it.

The Young Adult Volunteers(YAV) Program is a ministry of the Presbyterian Denomination and has sites all over the U.S. and even internationally. Each site has a specific focus to their work and the organizations they partner with. There are many core tenants of the program but the ones that usually stand out are living in intentional christian community and simple living. The specifics of what that means varies at each site but generally housing is provided along with a small stipend for food. If you are interested in more about the program as a whole check out this and this.

I have been placed as a YAV at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center in Little Rock, AR. the focus at the Little Rock site is on sustainability and disaster relief. There are three YAVs at Ferncliff this year: Megan, Sharon, and myself. Megan is from Ohio and will be working with Little Rock Interfaith Power and Light and as the Ecology YAV on camp. Sharon is from Iowa and will be working in the Disaster Assistance Center(DAC) which operates under the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance agency. I will be working in the garden/farm that is used primarily as an educational tool for the children of the Nature Preschool at Ferncliff and for summer campers.


Unlike most YAV sites, Ferncliff likes for us to have our own transportation throughout the year, so we each drove out to Little Rock before orientation. We will fly to and from Stony Point, NY where YAVs from every site come together for a week of orientation before we begin our year of service. I was lucky to have Mom as my co-pilot on my 15 hour trip out here, and we decided to break it into three days. We stopped in Knoxville the first night, visited and said my final goodbyes to some dear friends. The second night we spent in Memphis, taking advantage of the opportunity to explore Beale St on the 40th anniversary of Elvis’s death. Day 3 got us to Little Rock where I dropped Mom off at the airport to fly back to Asheville for the Eclipse, and then headed to Ferncliff!

The maintenance shed turned YAV house!
I arrived Thursday evening, and was soon joined by Megan, and we quickly began moving into our adorable new home on camp! We live in what used to be the maintenance shed, but has now been converted into a spacious 3 bedroom, 2 bath house. We still have plenty of settling in to do but we are well on our way to making this our new home!

Friday we spent the morning working in the garden which consists of around 20 raised beds and a section of row veggies as well. We also got to play with the preschoolers on their first visit to the farm this school year. On the farm there are two goats, George and Ninja, two sheep, BJ and Bart, two miniature pigs, Lucy and Ethel, a crew of hens, and two bunnies. Let me tell you, preschoolers and farm animals is a truly adorable combo. In the afternoon we worked in the DAC setting up for a group of volunteers and organizing the warehouse.

William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
Saturday morning Megan and I visited the Clinton Library, signed up for library cards, and then had a delicious lunch at The Purple Cow, complete with signature purple ice cream. We met our site coordinator, Ann Owen, for a special screening of Al Gore’s new film, an Inconvenient Sequel, followed by a panel discussion with the Arkansas chapters of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. Sharon arrived that evening and met us for dinner with Ann, her husband Rick, and Megan’s site supervisor Scharmel. When we returned to camp to get Sharon all moved in, we were greeted with a power outage; luckily I brought a few candles from home and we sat around the kitchen table chatting and getting to know each other until the lights finally came back on a little after 9pm.

Your Little Rock YAVs and Site Coordinator LTR: Sharon, Megan, Ann, Kristen
This morning the three of us went to our first service at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, where most of the Ferncliff staff and YAV board attend. Second Pres is not required to be our church home but based on the number of times I got chills during worship, I have a feeling it will be mine. The warm and welcoming energy of Second Pres is palpable and I am thrilled to get involved and find new community there.

That is pretty much it for now. We are planning to spend the afternoon re-arranging furniture and exploring camp as we continue to make Ferncliff and Little Rock our new home. Tomorrow morning we fly to Stony Point, NY to begin Orientation with the entire YAV family (we are hoping to be on solid ground in time to see what we can of the eclipse from New York).

If you have made it all the way to the end of this very long and extensively detailed post I am genuinely surprised, so props to you! I also want to say a huge thank you to all of you who have been supporting me throughout this process. It has been a long journey to get here and so many of you are to thank for it actually happening. Your hugs, inquiries into what is happening, likes on my blogs, and especially financial contributions have not gone unnoticed. If you haven’t heard from me personally, I apologize, the system of accounting for donations runs through the denomination headquarters in Louisville and takes a few weeks to end up in my inbox, but I promise I haven’t forgotten you! It is hard for me to put into words the immense feelings of gratitude I have for each of you and the reassurance you have provided me in this sometimes anxious journey to begin. Thank You , Thank You, Thank You.

And so it begins….



Ready or not…

Last week, I set out with my father to hike on the Appalachian Trail. Under the original plan, we should have been picked up today, having walked around 90 miles in 7 days. Surprise, surprise…plans changed.

As a child I was not one for hiking.  I couldn’t seem to figure out why anyone would enjoy it. I dreaded the bug bites, feared the wildlife, and hated the exhaustion that it came with. My family, on the other hand, has always loved hiking. My parents backpacked in the mountains of Colorado in the early years of their marriage and my sister spent many weekends in college hiking all over the western tips of North and South Carolina. So inevitably, every trip to our grandparents mountain condo involved at least one hike to the top of the rock bald that overlooks town, leaving me the option of staying behind, voluntarily assuming the role of Debbie Downer, or shuffling along at the back of the pack, willing us to be close to the top. So I think it’s fair to say that my parents were slightly surprised when I presented them with the idea that we spend time on the AT before I move to Arkansas, and honestly I’m still a little surprised as well. I haven’t changed my opinion of the wildlife or the physical exertion, but some unknown variable suddenly made it seem worthwhile.

With my father committed to go with me, I began my weeks of searching, reading, and talking about hiking on the AT. Between my sister’s college gear, my father’s boy scout gear, and a few trips to REI, we gathered what we thought we needed, scoured the maps, and planned our 7 days. We upped our evening dog walks from one mile to five miles and spent Saturday mornings hiking on local trails. I read reviews of what Trader Joe’s items had the most protein per ounce, and executed a feat of sheer precision in my grocery list.  When the time came for us to begin, I sincerely believed myself ready.

Now fast forward through the 2 hour drive on a forest service road to the Southern Terminus of the AT, the night in a shelter in which I was certain we would soon be the main course at the all-you-can-eat bear buffet, the 5 foot black snake that led me to use my father as a human shield, the 21 grueling trail miles, and the 4,100 vertical feet, and you’ll find us back in civilization, having abandoned our 7 day plan on the morning of day 3. We got off the trail proud we made it as far as we did, with the intent to return again, without a plan at all.

The thing is, no amount of additional reading, charting, or planning could have prepared us for the trail.  We couldn’t have known how much extra weight we had in our packs until we felt them bruising our hips and shoulders with every step. We couldn’t have known how hard the Georgia section is until we got started on the steep and rocky terrain.

So here’s to going boldly toward the things you want, diving in head first when you try something new, and good friends that will come pick you up when you bite off a little more than you can chew.

•      •     •      •      •     •     •     •     •      •      •     •

Speaking of good friends, I can not say a big enough thank you to all of you who have given to my YAV fundraising efforts. I’m over halfway to my $4,000 goal and completely blown away by the generosity of so many. Your support is quite literally making it possible for me to, yet again, try something new. I could not be more excited for the year to come and I am so thankful to have so many sweet friends backing me up.