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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.

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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