spring break in the mountains

Words are not coming to me easily to describe this week, but perhaps that is the best possible way to feel right now. I am feeling homesick for a place that is not technically home, just another place where my heart is filled and my soul finds rest. This was my third spring break in Brenton, West Virginia and my first time as a trip leader. Each trip has been wonderful, difficult, adventurous, joyful, and unsettling in their own unique ways and this past week was certainly no exception. Since I’m not really sure where to start or how to explain it, I will simply start from the beginning but I apologize in advance as my jumbled brain tries to get this all out.


[Saturday] 5:20am my alarm started to ring but I had already had my eyes open for a few minutes. I had a hard time falling asleep the night before because I was so excited that the day was finally coming. We were finally packing up the vans and heading to West Virginia (well technically Kentucky for our first night, but whatever.) I dashed around the apartment gathering my things and triple checking that I had everything I needed for the week. Once I was sure that I was good to go I saddled myself up with all of my bags and made my way down the stairs and out to the cars. As soon as the last bag was stacked up into the van we loaded up and rolled out. I was driving the big van, and Jessica W. was driving the mini van. Despite my excitement, it didn’t feel real yet so I just kept my eyes on the road and my mind on my coffee. We drove for hours and switched drivers a few times before arriving in Lexington, KY at the University of Kentucky. We were extremely early but were still graciously greeted by Shalisha who ended up being our tour guide for all things Lexington. She took us on a walking tour of the city and ended at an adorable coffee shop. We ended the evening with a stroll back to the Wesley House where we were staying. We had a debriefing, worshiped together, and then turned in early. Losing two hours due to daylight savings AND the crossing of a time zone was a tough adjustment.

[Sunday] Waking up, it finally started to feel like it was happening. We loaded up as quickly as possible and got back on the road. It was necessary to take a detour to the Natural Bridge State Park in Slade, Kentucky for a beautiful, overcast hike. We spent a few hours enjoying the company of one another and the nature surrounding us. I think it was good preparation for the week to come. As we officially crossed into West Virginia later that day we blasted “Country Roads” by John Denver through the speakers and sang along as best as we could. I was absolutely giddy. I say this often about many different places, but it felt like coming home. When we arrived to Appalachia Service Project (ASP) in Brenton, West Virginia I leapt out of the car and took in a deep breath. We were there. After settling in I was pulled aside by an ASP staff member named Sarah. She told me that they would be taking one or our two groups out to see their work site before dinner that evening and was wondering which leader I wanted to send. I stupidly asked her if either of our assigned sites had a puppy (priorities, am I right?) and she told me that the one we would see that night did. I immediately volunteered to be the leader going out to that site. Although it was a stupid question, it changed the course of the entire week. My ASP staff contact person, Becca, myself, and Jessica W. got into a van and headed out to the work site so that we could meet the family, understand how to get there, and see the space we would be working in that week. It was a relatively short drive from the center.When we arrived at the home we met Angela and Stephanie. They are partners and they live together.They were kind and welcoming from the moment I met them and I was so excited to go back the next day to start working on their home.

[Monday] I roused myself out of bed at 6:05am every morning. I knew that it would be for the benefit of my team  members and myself if I had time each morning to sit with my coffee, journal, and Jesus to prepare for the day. I’m not exactly a morning person. Around 6:45am a few others would trickle into the dining room and join me, by 7:15am it would be time for breakfast and everyone was there. By then I almost always felt ready to take on the day. On Monday morning I ate breakfast quickly and began to gather all of the materials that my work crew would need for the day. My work crew consisted of me, Kennedy, Wilson, Jessica K., Justin, and Gigi. As they were also running around and getting ready, I found out that a Helping Hand named Peter would also be joining our work crew for the week. The seven of us got into the van and I drove over to Stephanie & Angela’s house. When we got there Stephanie came out to greet us and meet the rest of the team. We also got to meet Bella and Floppy, their dogs. After some brief chatting and introductions we got to work. We spent the entire morning finishing up a drainage ditch in the front yard which the previous group had not completed. Basically, we spent the whole morning shoveling rocks into holes. Needless to say, I feel much stronger now than I did last week. Stephanie came out and joined us for lunch and it was mostly just casual “getting to know you” conversation. Pleasant, but not necessarily anything super special. The second half of our work day was spent with the beginnings of a porch. On the first day we ran into a few snags. SO much groundwater filled our post holes, we hit a pipe, and we had a hard time getting our posts to stand level in the thick mud. Despite all that, it was a wonderful day and we had nothing but glowing reviews for the rest of our team at debrief that night. There also may or may not have been a trip made to Dairy Queen where all 13 of us proceeded to get ice cream and share a few laughs.

[Tuesday] Jessica W. decided to come along with us to our work site on Tuesday. It was great to have another set of hands to help out with the porch. We continued to run into quite a few problems, but with the help of Peter, Becca, and rarely me, we got it figured out. Stephanie came to sit with us at lunch again and this time let us into her life on a more personal level. She told us so many pieces of her story. Some painful, some joyful, but all significant. We took an hour and a half for lunch. The conversation was too good to stop and we were waiting for some parts to arrive anyways. It was hard to force ourselves to go back to work after such a lovely lunch, but of course we did anyway. The end of the work day was a little frustrating. We didn’t quite make it to our goal stopping point as a result of little snags we hit along the way. The team was exhausted and there just wasn’t much we could do so we called it a day and headed back to the center. The local historian, Jim Cook came to the center that evening to show us some sweet artifacts and to share more in depth about the region. It was a valuable experience for our team. At debrief, my work crew simply could not stop gushing about Stephanie and her willingness to be open with us. I think most others were sick of hearing our voices by the end. A group from UMass came to join us for debrief and worship and they continued to join us for the rest of the week.

[Wednesday] I don’t know why, but Wednesday always seems to be a difficult day. Jessica W. came along with our crew again and our morning was super productive. We were able to make a lot of progress on the porch despite a few minor setbacks, but mostly we were all looking forward to lunch. However, we did take a little break before lunch to take a walk together. Stephanie took us up behind her home where Angela’s father’s sawmill was. He had passed away and the sawmill had been sitting unused for awhile. It was so cool, but what really blew me away was Stephanie. As she showed us the mill, she told us all about Angela’s father. She spoke so highly of him. It lead me to believe that they had a great relationship but toward the end she mentioned that he really didn’t like her. He felt that she had “turned his daughter queer” which obviously was not true. I lost my breath for a second when she said that. In that moment I knew that Stephanie was one of the most Christ-like people I had ever met despite the fact that she felt entirely unwelcome in the church. It takes a big heart, and a deep relationship with Jesus to talk about someone who despised you with nothing but love and respect. It certainly had me evaluating my own relationships. We took another hour and a half for lunch. Spending time with Stephanie had routinely become the highlight of the day. We continued to have deep and meaningful conversation with her, but were then able to share bits of our own stories with her as well. It was again, so difficult to break away from the conversation and get back to work.

Jessica W. and Kennedy sat and talked with Stephanie a little longer while the rest of us went back to work on the porch which made my heart happy. The relational ministry is the whole reason that I love ASP so much. We were able to finish the porch and I even had the honor of putting the final screws in. It was a really emotional moment for me to see Stephanie and her family standing on the porch beaming with pride. We laughed, took lots of pictures, and rode around the yard on quads to celebrate. I was so incredibly proud of each and every one of my crew members for a job well done, but not at the expense of the relationship we built with Steph. It was obviously necessary to get a pre-dinner Dairy Queen treat so that we could debrief as a small work crew. It was such a good day, but such an overwhelming day. There were so many heavy moments as we heard more and more of Stephanie’s story, but so many light and joyful moments as we laughed and played together. I suppose that’s the paradox of true relationship with one another, right?

[Thursday] I was really eager to get back to Angela & Stephanie’s in order to get the ball rolling on the next project. We left the center 30 minutes earlier than usual so clearly I wasn’t the only person who was anxious to get back. Just as we had done every other morning, we arrived and greeted Steph before getting to work on the next thing. Angela was also home because she had the day off of work so it was a great opportunity to spend some time with her as well. We spent the morning putting the final touches on the drainage ditch (aka shoveling more rocks). We managed to finish the ditch off long before lunch, so we moved onto the front porch. It was already built however it had no hand railings to protect you from falling off of it. As we went we discovered that it would also be necessary to replace the steps. Ang and Steph had gone out for awhile and when they came back there were no longer any front steps which came as a bit of a surprise. When I explained to them that we decided to go ahead and replace the steps while we were at it, Stephanie drew me into a big hug. It was a moment I will cherish. Lunch was a bit shorter than it had been in the days preceding it, but even so we enjoyed our time with Steph and Angela. After lunch we continued to make great progress on the porch. Mid-Afternoon Jessica W. came over from the other work site to say hi to Ang and Steph. She walked right into their home and sat down with them which made my heart so full. After awhile, I went in and joined them since my work crew was doing so well. That was when Jessica told me I would be going to visit Connie, the homeowner I worked for last year. My knees got a little weak and I felt some tears welling up in my eyes. My team packed up and left rather quickly that day so that I could get back to the center.

As promised, Jason, Alison, and I hopped in the car and made our way over to Connie’s house. I was a strange mix of excited and nervous and I could feel those two things mixing in my stomach, but then again maybe I was just a little car sick. As we pulled into the driveway I immediately spotted one of the puppies I had fallen in love with last year. She was now almost a full grown, adult dog. After a brief reunion with the pup we made our way to the front door. I knocked and waited a few moments with no response. Jason then knocked and we waited some more. My heart dropped. It seemed like she wasn’t home. Right as we were about to give up the door began to open but I was met with another shock. Connie wasn’t the one who answered the door. It was her daughter in law who informed us that Connie had moved to the trailer next door. We walked next door and knocked again and were greeted by Connie’s familiar voice. As we entered the home I immediately realized that this visit wouldn’t be quite what I expected. Connie shared with us that a few months back, her father had passed away. She had been living with him and caring for him for the last five years and the loss hit her very hard. She couldn’t stand the thought of living in the home they shared without him which was why she and her husband moved. Connie also opened up and shared that financially she wasn’t doing well and it had been a difficult year. I felt my heart shatter slowly but surely throughout the visit. I had allowed myself to hold an idealized picture of what Connie’s life was like throughout the past year just to have reality come in and kick that to the curb. The car ride home was difficult as we tried to process together.

During debrief that night I was still feeling pretty raw and so I chose not to share much, but rather just to listen. It was refreshing to hear all of the happy moments my team had to share. Worship was the rest my soul was looking for in that moment. I gladly went to bed a little early after such a long day.

[Friday] The last work day is always the hardest. I was eager to get back and finish the porch, and to see Steph and Ang, but was so unprepared for the impending goodbyes at the end of the day. Jessica W. joined us for the full day again. Our work moseyed along much slower today, mostly because there wasn’t much left to do, but also because we were just having too much fun together. It kept my mind off the end of the day which was nice. We took another long lunch with Steph, but we ate up at the old sawmill which was a nice change of pace. We finished the porch off shortly after lunch and even had Stephanie do the honors of putting the last two screws in. We again got to go through the whole joyful process of showing off the porch, taking pictures (maybe a few selfies too,) and goofing off. Stephanie informed us that Angela would be bringing home celebratory pizzas for us at 4:30pm so we decided to hike the mountain across the street from their home in the meantime. It was a gorgeous (STEEP) hike and when we arrived at the top we each went to our own spots and spent the time in silence soaking in the nature, the moment, and the week as a whole. It was such a necessary primer for the emotional goodbyes.

When we got back to the home we hung out on the porch chatting with Stephanie until Angela arrived home. Stephanie pulled out pictures of her when she was pregnant, school pictures, and pictures of her grand babies. When Ang got home we all shared dinner and stories together on the porch and it was all lovely, but eventually it was time to go. We presented Ang and Steph with a small token of our appreciation and a card that we had all signed. We each expressed our gratitude for the week that we shared with them, and for their willingness to truly do life with us. It wasn’t long before almost all of us were crying. We prayed with them and hugged and cried some more. Steph and Ang thanked us for loving them right where they are at and for not expecting anything else and it was a profound moment for my team to realize that maybe we were able to show them that not all Christians are judgmental, or hateful and it made all of the difficult moments worthwhile. We all hugged again and as I climbed up into the car I could not get the tears to stop flowing. Somehow over the course of the week, I had grown to love these two women as family and by the grace of God they felt the same. It was so difficult to leave not knowing if we would ever have the privilege to see them again. Most of my crew cried the whole way back to the center. I didn’t make much of an effort to pull it together before going to dinner and luckily I was met with warm embraces.

Debrief that night was so incredibly raw. Each of us had so much to process. Most of my crew chose not to share because the emotions were still too overwhelming. As I was reflecting I was able to realize how incredibly healing the week had  been for me. I learned so much from each and every person on my team, from Ang and Steph, and from the ASP staff. I was able to sit in the presence of God in new and exciting ways, and also in old familiar ways. We let worship go on for an extra long time. Words were too hard so it seemed most appropriate to just approach the throne together instead. We all stayed up way too late that night like little children at a sleepover, giggling, sharing stories, and pretending that it wasn’t our last night.

[Saturday] 6am my alarm began to go off. I tried to go through all of the motions of a normal morning but there was so much to do in preparation for our departure. We loaded up the vans, but then lingered around the center a little longer. The ASP staff and Peter all woke up early to say our goodbyes. We made sure to take many pictures and really soak in our final moments at ASP. Goodbyes are the worst. Getting everyone in the vans and turning the key in the ignition felt like a dream. Actually, the entire 12hr car ride felt entirely surreal. We got back to North Park around 5pm and even as I said goodbye to my team and made my way up to my apartment it felt like it wasn’t happening. I sat and talked with  my roommate, Mary for hours about the trip and even then I couldn’t get everything out to her. There is just so much. I went to bed as early as possible. Exhausted from the long drive, and weighed down by all of the emotions.


 

3500 words later and this still doesn’t even come close to describing my week in full or even in part. It’s hard to sum up, but rest assured it was absolutely incredible. I don’t know when I’ll  be back in West Virginia, but I have a strange peace that I will most certainly be back one day. Today has been a day to lounge around the apartment, adjust back into city life, and begin to process all that has happened. So West Virginia and ASP–this is not goodbye, just “see you later.”

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Modern society and the busy people who inhabit it

ACT I

Setting: a hipster coffee shop

where twenty-somethings

flock

Nadine: Wait just a second, I’ve gotta get a picture…

Charlie: For Instagram… yeah, we all know.

Nadine: Gotta give the people what they want Char—

Charlie: [cuts her off] nobody cares about your damn latte!

The barista stares blankly

 at the ridiculous scene

unfolding before her jaded eyes

 

Nadine: The 100+ likes that I’ll get would beg to differ, dear.

 

ACT II

[Nadine exits the stage hurriedly,

leaving behind

the barely sipped latte.]

 

ACT III

Charlie sits in his disbelief,

 still sipping his $6 coffee

sweetened with ignorance

Charlie: They don’t get it. We sit around letting technology run our lives. Ruining genuine moments.

Charlie pulls out his phone

and opens up Facebook

clueless to the irony of the situation

Charlie: [begins typing status] “So irritated. Real conversation is dead after all.” Posted.

[continues to scroll blindly through his newsfeed, Barista approaches].

Barista: [coughs to get Charlie’s attention].

Charlie: I’m a little busy here, can’t you see that?

Barista:

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She Dreamt of a House with Five Rooms

 

She approached the door to the house with timidity.

Crossing the threshold into a dimly lit room, only small

slivers

of light spilled across the floor from the dusty window pane

on her left.

She placed one foot carefully in front of the other

making her way down the  long  and n  a  r  r  o  w hallway.

Blue china plates hung on

BOTH                                                                                                                                                   SIDES

of the hall, feeling the deep pain of never being used.

She accidentally picked one up and threw

it to the rough, wooden floorboards,

b

e

l

o

w.

The dish shattered. Unrecognizable.

The mangy hound of guilt trampled over the shards, sat at her feet,

and breathed his hot breath on her ankles.

She wore her longing draped around her neck in the form of a knit scarf

as she swept up the broken pieces.

She reassembled them with scotch tape and it looked good

when you weren’t looking.

She wiped the blood from her hands with

a handkerchief her mother embroidered for her.

The pink lettering remained unfinished.

She leashed up the mangy hound and turned to leave.

As she made her way out the door, she was blinded by the hot sun,

her eyes refocused and she was lying in bed.

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Oppressed, but trying.

When my mind is idle it will always be

found hiding in the mountains.

When my mind is working diligently

it will always be wandering back home

to find the clean air and gritty soil.

To rest in the quiet isolation of a

teeny , tiny, cabin.

[OFF THE GRID]

As my mind snaps back to the reality

of a messy desk in a teeny, tiny

cubicle I feel a wave of nausea.

The exit to my cubicle has

been replaced by

a cold, course, brick wall.

I examine each brick.

Not at all sure where I fit in.

Feminism. ISIS. Ignorance. Hatred. Black lives matter. Education. Gun control.

Same-sex marriage. Immigration. Health care. Death. Dying. Oppression.

[TRAPPED]

I breathe in sticky-sweet anxiety.

I breathe out smooth, bitter rage.

and then I break

[FREE]

I am stopped in the middle of a busy street

looking for answers to a question that I cannot find.

Oh, but momma I’m trying.

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To: the guy who cat-called me,

Does it make you feel big, like a skyscraper—so tall,

to call out to random women

on these dirty, city, streets?

You say, “Hey baby, won’t you back that ass up?”

And I say nothing, but my cheeks grow red, blood red.

My palms sweat and shake like when the earth quakes,

and I want to ask you, would you say that to

your mom? Your sister?

Would you even say that to your dog?

I’m sure your answer is no.

Congratulations, you deserve a gold star!

You have made me feel as small as a

ladybug on a blade of grass.

You have made me feel insecure and hyperaware,

and I know that it was just a “compliment.”

The cars rush past on both sides of the street

and they don’t see what I see in that moment.

I can hear my cheeks growing hot like a

pot of water that is boiling over onto the stovetop,

and I can taste your disgusting words like the

bad aftertaste of a cheap, bottom shelf whiskey.

Your words are in no way a compliment.

They are a slap in my face, a chilling

reminder that I am no more than

an object to you. I am no more valuable

than your collection of moldy fruit in the fridge.

And that, sir, is where you are wrong.

So this is me telling you to go fuck yourself.

 

Sincerely,

Women everywhere, but especially me

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wednesday.

BEEP BEEP BEEP, the alarm blares.

I realize that It is Wednesday.

The anxiety is already settling into the corners of my stomach

while the sound of rustling sleeping bags disturbs the still air.

The day is just beginning and my mind is already glued on tonight.

What coffee does for my heavy eyes is nothing compared to what worship does for my heart;

hitting me with its bitter beginnings, then lingering with a sharp, pointed finish.


The sun has crawled into bed and the moon is just sliding his feet to the floor.

I sit in the small, soft light of that tiny candle,

and my palms are sweating profusely as I grip the edges of

my leather bound journal, scribbling a letter to my Father.

In the distance I hear the clomping of feet, down the wooden steps and into the grass.

A final wave of nervousness washes over me just as the first set of feet stops at my candle

I am only a passive observer in this conversation.



The tea light in front of me has completely burned out,

so I rise and head back to my cabin with a warm certainty.

I open the creaky door and find that the air is still again, and I can hear slow, steady respiration.

I nestle back into the warm embrace of my comforter.

The cicadas are so kindly singing me a lullaby tonight, they must know that my mind is racing.

I can already feel my eyes getting heavy and I can feel my heartbeat slow,

as my anxious knots unravel themselves, I am ready for some much needed rest.

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Mowing the Lawn

The sun is a watch that constantly falls out of sync

my palate is invaded by lucid beginnings,

Will the ice cream drip on the sidewalk… Or nah?

It is melting because it is so terribly cold outside.


The musty stench of freshly cut grass permeated my nostrils,


my arms feel like duct taped watermelons.

Detta är min längtan,

the gentle chainsaw of heartbreak,

the sound of deteriorating conversation.

My fingers fumble along the cool bricks,

and the intoxication bubbled up on my face.

We broke down the wall with our bare hands and reflected the joy off of our fingernails—

it was as refreshing as a car accident,

but soon the broken down wall would just as easily be built back up.

(Colonel Mustard, in the dining room, with a candlestick)

I had to tie my shoes so that they would stop kissing the pavement,


The grass hadn’t been cut in years.


My sister is traveling alone to Tanzania today,

eastern clarity.

Even as the bike tire expressed its need for rest,

Krissy stared out the window without actually seeing,

carefully drawing doodles with a distracted hand.

I’ll have to check the time so that I can lose track of it again…


And the mower zipped back and forth across the lawn.

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What would you do for camp?!

–SQUANTO STAFF 2015: THE BEGINNING–

What a summer it was. I’ve now been home for approximately 43 hours. It’s been really difficult to process all that has happened in the last nine weeks, but this blog post is about to serve as my first attempt.

As I turned onto West Shore Rd. for the first time at the beginning of this summer, I distinctly remember my entire body letting out a sigh of relief. I remember my foot suddenly getting heavier on the gas pedal in an effort to get to camp as quickly as possible. My limbs were tingling from a lack of oxygen. As I pulled into the parking lot, I realized that I had been holding my breath in anticipation. I think the easiest way to walk myself through the summer is cabin by cabin, so here goes nothing.

Staff training week went so smoothly. It became evident very quickly that our staff was destined to become a tight-knit family. We spent a lot of time sitting through discussions and presentations or completing work projects to get camp ready for the summer. The highlight of staff training was our trip to Cape Cod though. We road tripped out to the Cape and upon arrival, spent our day at the beach. We lounged, played some wiffleball, splashed around, indulged in some ultimate frisbee, and exchanged a whole lot of laughter and joy. We stayed for one night before road tripping back to camp to take care of the last minute details. On the last morning before campers arrived, we were all awoken with coffee, donuts, and cabin selection. This was when it became finalized that I would spend my summer in Village 3.

V3

–PATHFINDERS–

With that, we were finally ready for Pathfinders week! Despite being nice and settled into my cabin already, I spent Pathfinders living in Lodge 5 with Miss Katrina. Pathfinder campers are just little 2nd and 3rd graders so there aren’t quite so many campers. For this reason, each counselor was put into a pair and we had the pleasure of co-counseling with a second counselor! My cabin had such an interesting dynamic due to the fact that we had two extreme extroverts but four introverts. Tag-teaming with Katrina was amazing. We were definitely a co-counseling pair made in heaven. Her and I worked off of similar standards and conflict management styles. Needless to say, we had an awesome week together and it was the perfect way to introduce me to counseling!

Pathfinders

–TRAILBLAZER I–

Trailblazer I was my first week counseling solo and I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t really know if I was ready to take on the challenge, but I was aware that the kids would pile into my cabin even if I wasn’t ready. I quickly learned that I didn’t have much to be afraid of with this cabin. They were absolutely incredible. The group of girls that I had been blessed with were goofy, excited, and loved camp so much. They were ready for any and every activity with a joy that was unmatched. Although they rarely allowed me to get the sleep that I thought I needed, I realize now that their silly conversations and joyful giggles from across the room each night filled my heart with joy. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of this week though came during “The Call” which is an opportunity that we present to campers each week. During The Call they are invited to sit with a counselor to voice their questions on faith and to sometimes give their lives to Christ if they choose. I had two campers come to sit with me who I barely knew, but it was evident that God had sent these children to me specifically. As they began to talk, one of the girls revealed that she came from a non-Christian home and wasn’t sure how to deal. This is a story that mirrors mine and it was so reassuring to me as I had begun to wonder what my purpose was at camp.

Trailblazer I

–JUNIOR HIGH I–

I walked into this week on a high of confidence because the week before it had been so wildly successful. This was another incredible cabin, but it also proved to be an extremely difficult week for me. The dynamic of this cabin was a little awkward at times. The friendships that were formed seemed to split the cabin down the middle and although the girls got along as a whole, there was a pretty clear divide that was hard for me to navigate. Over the course of this week I dealt with medical situations, some heavy emotional baggage, and general exhaustion. Although I was fully aware that as the kids got older, they would be bringing more baggage with them, I wasn’t prepared for what was unloaded on me. A camper informed me of a struggle with self-harm that they had been facing. As I attempted to navigate the conversation, I felt weighed down by the reality that I simply couldn’t relate. As I walked away after that conversation I absolutely broke down. I didn’t know how to live with the knowledge that was just given to me and it suddenly felt like prayer simply wasn’t enough. I sat down with the assistant camp director so that I could report the issue and I was blessed by words of reassurance and comfort. The day didn’t seem to get any easier as we dealt with the emergency of a camper running away. The camper was located and brought back, but leadership had to make the unfortunate decision to send the child home. The air around camp that evening just felt thick with hardship and exhaustion. It was one of the best and worst days ever. The enemy was certainly trying to beat us down, but we held firmly to the light. I spent the rest of that week trying to love campers with a new intensity. God showed up big time during that week.

Junior High I

–TRAILBLAZER II–

Ahh Trailblazer II. This week was the definition of a mid-summer slump. We were down several staff members due to CHIC and so it seemed that we were all pulling the weight of 5 people in order to keep camp afloat. The week was absolutely draining and it felt like there were never enough hours in the night to sleep. Despite the difficulty of the week, I was blessed with an incredible cabin. This cabin had a real thirst to know the Lord and an unmatched love for camp. When I felt low during this week, I needed only to turn to my very own cabin for energy and encouragement. We survived this week and at the end of it, I looked around at the staff that had survived it with me and simply beamed with pride. We were exhausted, sweaty, and perhaps a little too joyous at the end of the week, but we had poured our hearts and souls into that week. We overcame so many difficulties as a staff. We were basically indestructible after that week.

Trailblazer II

–JUNIOR HIGH II–

Junior High I was a tricky one for me. The girls in my cabin had highly conflicting personalities and it seemed like I would never be able to provide a comfortable environment. During this week I dealt with bullying and extreme homesickness. As the week carried on, I started to struggle with my cabin more and more. I had several campers who were seeking God with a lot of intensity, but also a few campers who were clearly only at camp for the fun and games. I was feeling drained because I simply couldn’t find a healthy balance. During this week, I also faced my first (and hopefully only) real emergency as a lifeguard. The inflatable slide (Aquaglide) flipped onto its side while in use one afternoon. By the grace of God all of the campers and staff involved walked away unharmed, but shaken up to say the least. Our incredible lifeguarding staff responded quickly, efficiently, and appropriately. It was during this moment that I was ready to throw in the towel. I was afraid to get back in the water because I was afraid that things wouldn’t turn out as well if something were to occur again. With the encouragement of a few staff members and a little strength from God, I was able to continue on with my responsibilities. The incident definitely made me better and for that I am grateful. This week during “The Call” my mind was blown again. God placed two campers before me who I related to on such personal levels. From loss to growing up in a non-Christian home, these girls essentially seemed to tell me my own life story. Perhaps the greatest moment though, came at the end of the night when one girl pulled me aside to tell me that while I had been talking to her about God and my experiences, she had felt God for the first time. It was the most humbling experience of my life and the only response I could give was to pull her into a hug and weep tears of joy.

Junior High II

–NAVIGATORS–

This week started off on a particularly sour note. I hadn’t been expecting to receive a cabin and I was honestly a little disappointed when I was handed a piece of paper telling me I would have a cabin. After three difficult weeks, I was just feeling exhausted and in need of real rest. On Sunday, as the campers piled into my cabin, I felt ready to take on the week even if I didn’t really want to. As the campers lined up for area sign-ups that evening, I received some heartbreaking news that two of my co-workers were being sent home. I had grown particularly close to one of them throughout the summer and I struggled to come to terms with a decision that I did not agree with. The week was suddenly looking as if it was going to take on a very somber tone for me. I made it through the rest of that evening with a smile painted on my face. I was feeling determined to give my campers the best week of their lives despite my personal emotional baggage. The next morning when it was finally time for me to say goodbye to my co-worker, Sabrina, I finally allowed myself to breakdown. What a special human that God had brought into my life. This situation was definitely a “make it or break it” moment for our staff. We could either rally around each other and make it, or we could turn and divide on each other. Luckily we chose the former.

Sabrina

My cabin was the best possible group for me to be with that week. I had an autistic girl in my cabin and she was such a joy. She made it absolutely impossible for me to be upset for too long. The way the other girls in my cabin loved her, and me made it possible to get through it. I also got to spend my week co-counseling with one of my favorite people. As I reflect back now, I see that all of the events unfolded exactly the way God had intended for them to and I am grateful for the way that this week helped me to become a better person.

Navigators

–SENIOR HIGH–

Senior High week was the week I had been anticipating throughout the whole summer. I have always been better with older students and so I was expecting this week to be a home run, luckily I was not wrong. My cabin was everything I could have ever hoped and dreamed of. They were kids who loved God, loved camp, and loved me way more than I could ever deserve. The week started off so well with our very first devo. I decided to follow the Lord’s leading and I opened up by giving my testimony and asking each of them to do the same. We were able to be so genuine with each other and it was evident to me from the beginning that God had huge plans for this week. On Wednesday night, some of the staff performed the “Everything” skit for the campers. If you aren’t familiar, you should look it up on youtube. It’s a really powerful depiction of Christ’s love for us. I had the privilege of acting in this skit in the role of Jesus. After we had completed the skit, I sat backstage for awhile and I just sobbed. It felt wrong to me that I had stood up in front of campers, playing the role of Jesus when I hadn’t really been feeling it myself. Throughout the course of the summer, I felt as if I had been continually emptying myself out for campers but it felt like I was never being filled back up. At this point I had begun to wonder if God had abandoned me. As I sat and expressed all of this to two co-workers, they sort of laughed at me. They told me of all of the times that they had seen God working through me and as I tried to process their words, I sobbed a little more. I was confused as to why I was the only one who couldn’t see God in myself. By the end of worship, I worked really hard to pull myself together. It was time for “The Call” and as I went to sit and wait for my campers, I felt God urging me to be open with my campers about the breakdown I had just experienced. As we sat down and began to talk, I opened up to my campers about my struggles with self worth and the fact that I had been feeling so spiritually empty this summer. Their response was definitely what God had been waiting to show me. They each began to expose the things that they struggle with that separated them from God and the rest of us were simply pairs of listening ears. As the conversation dwindled, I felt lead to pray for each camper individually. God spoke through me to each and every camper and it was incredible, but the thing that really took me by surprise was what happened when I closed the prayer. One of my campers looked up and said, “Miss Kristen, would it be okay if we all prayed for you now?” I sat in silence as every single girl spoke beautiful prayers over me. God left me sitting in complete awe. This summer was a huge lesson to me about what it looks like to work for the Lord even when we feel like we have nothing left to give. When we persevere in His name, the reward is so great. As I left my campers that Friday night, I could do nothing more than cry. What a phenomenal week it had been.

Senior High

–THE FINAL WEEKEND–

 It was extremely hard to cope with the fact that the summer was really over. It had been one of the most challenging, amazing, fruitful, and fastest summers of my life. I tried to relish every single moment I had left with the people I was so blessed to be surrounded by. Although I was blessed with many loving friendships this summer, there was one pair that seemed to carry me through the toughest parts of my summer. From late night Catan games, to being the actual Trifecta of the waterfront, my friendships with Lydia and Nils were my rock this summer (other than Jesus, of course). As we sat around at the staff banquet, we made the insane decision to hike Mount Monadnock for sunrise the following morning. Despite the 2am meeting time, we decided that it was absolutely necessary to play one final game of Catan together. With just an hour and a half of sleep under our belts, we loaded up into a van and pointed the headlights toward Monadnock. The hike was absolutely incredible and as we sat at the summit at 5:30am waiting for the sunrise, I knew that I wouldn’t have wanted this summer to go any other way. If I took absolutely nothing else away from this summer, I can at least rest assured that I walked away with two incredible best friends. Cheers to summer 2015 and all of the things it brought along with it.

The Trifecta

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26.2–The goal, the reason, the journey.

In case you are still part of the small population of people in my life who have not heard, I am running the 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon this October. This is easily the most absurd, terrifying, awesome, and exciting commitment I have ever made. I am well aware that this will require more discipline, dedication, and motivation than really any other thing I have done. I am just over a week into my preliminary training and things are going well for the most part, but we can get back to the trivial stuff later. So now you ask, WHY the heck are you doing this?

I am doing this for the children across the world who deserve clean water. Having access to clean water is the most basic necessity for survival. I can only speak for myself, but I know that I most certainly take my ease of access to water for granted, and I think it is safe to say that most people in the United States are with me on that one. I can’t imagine a life that revolved around my long walks to a far away well or river, and I don’t want that to be a reality for others. I am running 26 miles to hopefully support 26 people.

I am doing this so that I can challenge myself to grow. I don’t want to improve myself purely physically (although that will definitely happen), but also spiritually. I know that the only way I will complete this thing is by relying on the strength of The Lord. When I am tired, unmotivated, or losing sight of my goals, I know that I will have God in my corner to push me along. Someone proposed an interesting idea to me the other day that will most certainly carry me through those long training runs. For each mile I run, I will pray for a different person in my life, especially those who decide to sponsor me in this endeavor. I remember to pray to The Lord when I need something, but I forget to pray for my brothers and sisters as well.

I am doing this for myself. I want to prove to myself, and the rest of the world, that YOU CAN do this. It is hard, it is scary, but it is not impossible. I want to show myself what it looks like to trust that my body is far more capable than I give it credit for.  I want to give myself the space to constantly be surprised by myself and the community around me.

This first week and a half has already brought some major ups and downs. My training started off strong. I was feeling super motivated and my mileage actually added up fairly quickly it seemed. My speed is definitely pretty modest to start off with, but the point is that I am doing it. The week also brought some frustrations as I realized that I’ve had the wrong shoes this whole time. A combination of improper shoe choice and lots of miles on the treadmill has brought on shin splints. It is really discouraging to be experiencing this issue so early into my training, but I am trying to learn to respect my body. When it says “enough is enough” I am learning to listen so that I can solve the issue without injuring myself. All in all, my motivation is still there and the runner’s high is definitely a real thing. The Lord is definitely jogging alongside me through this one and I am so excited to team up with the ministry that is already happening through World Vision.

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Not goodbye, just see you later.

Can I just start out by saying that God is REALLY good? Despite all of the things that have happened recently, I have never had any room to doubt The Lord’s goodness.

I am sitting here trying to figure out a clever way to start this post out but, I just don’t have anything so I won’t pretend. Life has been crazy in the last few months and it’s hard to process the semester that I’ve been having. I got back home after the amazing spring break I had and I really struggled to be present. My heart was (and totally still is) longing for a place that is always beckoning me back. Shortly after that we had Easter break and in that time, God revealed so much goodness and love through the people that I choose to surround myself with. I felt—and still feel—so privileged that I have found such God-fearing, hilarious, loving friends. Despite the good news that comes with the resurrection of Jesus, that week was so incredibly hard. How does one learn to mourn and rejoice at the same time? That week, I had to say goodbye to someone who holds a great importance to me.

Back when I was first really learning to follow The Lord, I started going to Pilgrim Covenant Church. I still vividly remember my first Sunday. I was wearing a light blue floral dress, sandals, and my favorite mask of confidence despite my discomfort. I walked into the small sanctuary and I chose a seat on the left (closest to the door), in the fourth pew, right on the aisle. I was alone. I was surrounded by strangers, but I was ready. I sat through the whole service and actually thoroughly enjoyed it. At the end of the service I was ready to bolt in order to avoid the awkward small talk, but Mrs. Pinson caught me. She turned to me and introduced herself and started asking questions about me. I told her a little about myself and how I knew a few people from camp. She then poked her daughter, Katie, and introduced us. Katie is about my age. I immediately felt at ease around the two of them for some reason.

At the end of our conversation Mrs. Pinson invited me to her house that same evening so that I could meet some other girls from the church and get involved with a bible study. I was leery to go to say the least. What kind of person invites a perfect stranger over for snacks and bible study? For some reason though, I really felt like I needed to be there. Upon parking my car in front of their house that evening, I had a small panic attack. I had no idea who these people even were, but for whatever reason I walked through the front door. After that experience I had gained friends, role models, and a community who were truly trying to pursue Jesus. Mrs. Pinson really took me in and showed me what it might look like if I had met Jesus at church that day instead. It has been hard to carry on with life as usual in Chicago when I am grieving and rejoicing over the life of a woman who made such a massive impact on my faith journey.

The hardest part recently has been being in Chicago where there is just a small handful of people who knew Mrs. Pinson. I allowed myself to become really numb to my grief because I didn’t have anyone to process with. In this time, I have learned that the most painful thing to feel is not pain itself, but is actually the absence of pain where it should hurt. In this season of loss, I am spending a lot of time appreciating the other people who have been the visible hands of The Lord for me and have been overwhelmed by the length of that list. I will miss Mrs. Pinson always, but I am so grateful for the way that she touched my life. I will never be ready to say goodbye, but the good news is that I don’t have to. I love you Mrs. Pinson. Say hello to God for me.

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