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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
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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

May the peace of Christ be with you all

I am at the end of a week of lasts. Last test, last presentation, last club meeting, last shift volunteering at the local food bank, last class. Some of these lasts have been long anticipated, and some pass with a sense of nostalgia, as I try to soak in what feels like the end of an era. One of the more emotional lasts was my last night of worship at UKirk UTK, the campus ministry I have called home for the past four years. I have served as an intern two of my four years, learned from and loved two campus ministers, attended the College Conference at Montreat four times, fried around 800 wontons, and met some of the most genuine friends I have ever had. The house at 1831 Melrose Ave has served so many purposes that calling it my church seems almost an injustice.  In its simplest form a church is a place of worship, so UKirk certainly qualifies, but what name accounts for the comfort, reassurance, and acceptance that Ukirk has provided me and every student that walks through the door?

There are very few constants in the life of a college student, and for many the combination of freedom and attractive alternatives to studying adds significant allure to the four years ahead. There is no reason for one week to be the same as the next, to committ to a recurring set of weekly or monthly events would eliminate the ability to be spontaneous.  This is the one time we are without responsibility or formality and should lavish the ability to float by with no plans, only concerned with the next appealing idea that comes our way. Right? Many would say yes. Those that know me know that I would probably say no. Not because I am against spontaneity and taking advantage of a chapter of few responsibilities and even fewer consequences, but simply because I find comfort in things being some level of predictable; for me a life lived flying by the seat of my pants feels more like one of anxiety than one of freedom.

The problem here is that college is unpredictable. No matter how many colors of pen I use to organize my planner and section off my life, I can’t make things go the way I expect. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want is for every single week to follow a cookie cutter schedule lacking any variation, but I wouldn’t mind getting to go to my favorite Tuesday night yoga class more than once a month, or coming to the end of week having cooked all the food I bought at the grocery store the Sunday before. My point is, things have a tendency to pop up, no given week is without a banquet, meeting, special lecture, or exam that throws off the week I was hoping might, just once, go as planned. Wednesday night worship at UKirk is the one thing I can count on; the constant to which my week orbits.

There is a thing we do during worship that I’m sure many of you are familiar with, we call it passing the peace. It happens right at the beginning of worship, the leader begins with a short prayer that always ends with, “may the peace of Christ be with you all”, and everyone responds, “and also with you”, cuing us to stand and greet each other with the same call and response. But it’s far from just a round of hugs and high fives, it’s recognition of each person present, exactly as they are, with whatever they are carrying that day. It’s assurance that we aren’t alone and that we don’t need to change to be loved by each other and by God.  It’s a moment I can count on even in my most haphazard of weeks, and one that I have grown to cherish. Last Wednesday I passed the peace for the last time at UKirk. As I move on to a new chapter and hopefully some sort of routine, I am so incredibly thankful for the 5 minutes a week that kept me in orbit throughout this amazing and often challenging season. I can only hope to find another group as transparent, accepting, and supportive as the one I have found at UKirk. Together we have found strength in vulnerability, and Christ in the midst of chaos.

 

 

National Ag Day and World Poetry Day

Today two of my favorite things are being celebrated so I could hardly miss an opportunity to celebrate them myself.

March 21, 2017 is National Ag Day. As I unpack my suitcase from spring break I have to stop and give a shout to all the amazing farmers in the U.S. and worldwide that work so hard to supply all my needs. My clothes, my food, my home and furniture, and so much more. In the recent years agriculture has become such a huge part of my world as I work toward my degree, and it will continue to play a big role in my time at Ferncliff and in my career. So I can not say a big enough thank you to all the farmers, present, past, and future, that work hard doing the work that many others wouldn’t, you truly make the world go round.

March 21st is also World Poetry Day. I have to say, this wasn’t always a favorite. Had you asked me my opinion of it in Mr. Matkins senior IB English class right before our poetry oral exam I would have had quite a different view. But how I have come to cherish it. I know first hand that poetry is an acquired taste, but whether or not it is something you cherish I hope you are able to recognize the amazing talent of those who write it.  My sister is what I would consider a true poetry connoisseur. She sent me this gem and I hope you find it as relatable as I did.

Thirst
Mary Oliver

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

Thanks be to God that we are continuously granted a little more time.

“So what are your plans after graduation?”

The question that every college senior loves to hate. It only takes a few weeks after beginning the most emotionally charged year of college (and in my opinion, some young adults existence) for a well-intentioned by stander to throw a new question into casual conversation; “So what are your plans after graduation?” Considering it was only October, my answer was always “I don’t know yet, but I’m hoping for x,y, and z.” I filled in the blanks with any variety of legitimate goals for myself post graduation, few of which I had taken any action towards making a reality. I was almost always met with a half-hearted, “Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time!”, as if the question alone hadn’t watered the seeds of insecurity within me.

I have had my sights on a Young Adult Volunteers (YAV) year for quite some time, but even so I have far from escaped the turmoil familiar to all college seniors. The idea of spending a year in service with the Young Adult Volunteers was first presented to me a little over a year ago at the Montreat College Conference. After about 9 months of ruminating on the program, it had become one of the staples in my grab-bag of dreams used to answer that one awful question. Its persistence alone had me thinking God probably wanted me to take it seriously.

I applied the same week the application opened, interviewed with four potential service sites, and then entered the seeming purgatory that is waiting to hear back.

The months of long winded responses to the never ending question finally ended with what can only be described as an emotional day. I had successfully slid into a place of doubt and was attending a career fair in the hopes of securing a back up plan. A morning of interviews whose intention was to put me at ease, ultimately left me facing the possibility that a year of service might not become a reality. Was God pushing me towards starting a career?

No surprise here, God had something else in mind. The long awaited YAV site placement arrived in my inbox only hours after my final interview.

I have since accepted a placement in Little Rock, Arkansas serving at Ferncliff, a certified “Green Camp” and center of ecological sustainability.  I couldn’t have asked for a better fit, and I am certain that the coming year will be one of personal growth and challenge. I still am unsure where my path is ultimately headed, however that is certainly a worry for another day. For now, I am thrilled to actually have an answer to every senior’s favorite question.

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”                    -Hebrews 12:1