Appalachia Round Two (Spring Break 2015)

What happens when 14 college students and one really cool advisor road trip to rural West Virginia for a week? Magic. The answer is pure magic.

This was the second year that I had the privilege of serving in Appalachia for spring break. There is so much to think about and process still, but after just two days of being home there is one thing that I know for sure. Since being back in Chicago the only thing I can think about is the beautiful mountains, rich culture, and the people who grew to be more than just a team. My heart already aches to be back in West Virginia. On a scale of 1-10 this past week was a perfect 12 and made last year look more like a 7. Despite the many unexpected changes and delays, God worked in some massive ways.

The trip started off with a bang when we were informed that our departure would have to be delayed a full day. It was disappointing to say the least, but we didn’t really allow that to dampen our excitement. We loaded up the vans on Sunday and pointed the headlights toward Brenton, West Virginia. Days one and two went just as expected (with the exception of a surprise visit from Dave Duvall upon arriving in KY for our first evening) and were mostly unremarkable in comparison to the rest of the week.We arrived at the ASP center on Monday evening and settled in, but we were so unprepared for the way God was ready to work.

On Tuesday morning we woke up bright and early with such an eagerness to head to our work site. We had already lost one work day and we were just chomping at the bit to get started. We were met with more disappointment when we were told that we would not be able to work due to the rain that was pouring down outside. This forced us to spend the day (mostly together) at the ASP center. We passed the time by playing games, napping, talking with each other, and sometimes just sitting together in comfortable silence. When we were debriefing later that night, it became so apparent how much we needed that day together. God was most definitely already hard at work. He took our team and molded us into a family that day. It was so refreshing to have our expectations entirely shattered. We don’t get to put God in a box, and He made that incredibly evident. Wednesday morning was met with the joy of FINALLY getting to work! We split off into one team of 5 and one team of 10.

My team of 10 made the half hour drive to our work site and were able to meet the family we were working for. The main caretaker for our home was a woman named Connie. She lives with her father who has Alzheimer’s, her husband who has Parkinson’s, and her brother who also had some struggles in life. After briefly meeting Connie, we got to work. We were assigned the task of building a front porch and adding an underskirt to the home. The first day of work was relatively normal, it was rainy but our team was able to keep each other in high spirits, plus there were puppies and kittens to play with at all times. After a long first day we had a long debriefing session to match. It is amazing how time ticks faster when you are with people you genuinely care about. Each night we would also do worship together. Wednesday night was just our team, but the other volunteers and staff quickly took notice. Jesus was getting sneaky again.

Thursday was a fantastic work day. It was sunny and 70, we got a ton of work done, and we got to know Connie a lot better. She came out to spend time with us at lunch and she told us all about her family and their struggles. Hearing her story was utterly humbling. Her love for God was so apparent. She presented each of us with a goodie bag and then asked to pray for us and by the end of her prayer, this woman was reduced to tears. She spoke so much love and blessing over us that I couldn’t help but cry a little bit. Later that night we debriefed and did worship in the hallway and we had some other students from the University of Indiana along with ASP staff members and some older volunteers join us. The ASP center rang loud and clear with songs of praise and it was such a powerful experience. The best part was the fact that not all of the people who chose to join us were Christians. Jesus was visibly using our team to spread His love to other volunteers and it was mind-numbing. He is so good.

Friday brought mixed feelings. Anxiety to finish our project, excitement to see the animals and Connie, sadness because it was our last work day, and exhaustion from a whole lot of hard work. It was a cold, windy, slightly rainy work day and proved to be a bit less industrious than the two work days before it. At lunchtime, Connie presented us with 4 pizzas as a way of showing her appreciation for our work and  I was completely blown away. She reminded me so much of the woman in the bible who gives just a single penny. That woman was harshly criticized but Jesus defends her because that one penny was all she had and she gave it to Him. For that reason she gives more than the rich who give a lot. Connie didn’t have much to give, but she still gave it all so that she could serve and bless us. Connie served us better than we served her and I was so incredibly humbled. It reminded me that I still have so much to learn. Later that evening God used my trip leaders, Kenley and Jason, to bless me yet again. They decided that before debriefing the week, they would wash our feet as a way of serving us. It made me feel cared for in the most tender way. Our team then sat for a long while debriefing the week as a whole and we were just able to be so raw with each other and God continued to work in those relationships.

Saturday morning was met with heavy eyes and strong resistance. It never becomes easy to say goodbye to a place that you love, or people that you love, or just the simplicity of life that exists in Appalachia. Despite the feet-dragging we loaded up the vans once more and headed back toward North Park. It was a long drive (13 hrs in total) with many detours, naps, laughs, and good music. When we pulled back into the parking lot I wanted to cry. What a week it had been. We had a very long goodbye (despite the fact that we all go to North Park) and then returned to our homes. It is hard for me to explain this trip in words and this post most certainly doesn’t do it justice, but with confidence I can say that God did some marvelous works this past week. I am stunned by his steadfast love, faithfulness, and his ability to create a plan that we could never expect or foresee. If you’ve read to the end of this and still want to know more, PLEASE reach out to me. I would love to share a meal or coffee with you and continue the conversation. I won’t stop talking about it anyways.

God is so so good. I am so so blessed. This spring break was perfection.

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tired eyes and a tireless mind.

I lay in bed with tired, heavy eyes that cannot muster anymore moisture. I long to sleep so I can escape this reality for at least a little while. My eyes are in agreement, but my mind is putting up a battle and is clearly winning. I feel insomnia ridden and drowsy all at the same time. As I lay here I cannot stop replaying the conversations in my head. I am searching for any answers I can find and yet my hands are not able to grasp anything.

It is hard to comprehend the unexpected loss of something that felt so secure… then again there are not many things in this life that are secure. I almost feel as if I am grieving the loss of a loved one, and I guess in a way I am, but it has been very difficult to put these things into proper words. It is even harder to find the proper words to explain this situation to others. There must be some serious communication errors happening because each time I try to have the conversation I get the same answers. Sometimes with different words, but always the same concept. They all say “God will use this for a greater purpose,” or something to that effect.

I am not having a crisis of faith. I know my God is good, and I most certainly know that he can take a mess like this and turn it into a treasure. I don’t need to be consoled with those words. It is obvious that those things are true, but what seems to be consistently misunderstood is the sheer fact that these words do not make this situation hurt any less. They are a simple band-aid on a wound that requires stitches.

Grief is a thing that demands to be felt for however long it wants to be felt, and that is okay.

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The Pink Apron

The glorified napkin that gets thrown over a hook

at the end of each day, begging to be washed,

it is the young messy child who just wants

love, affection, and undivided attention.

It is the warmth of a summer day that simply

demands to be felt on your tanned skin.

It is the screeching breaks of a car that is

halting to a stop. It is climbing into the

inviting flannel sheets that long to hug you

after a hard day’s work. A post workout soreness

that will not allow you to forget your exhaustion.

It is a baby’s sweet laughter ringing through the halls.

Or it is the deteriorating spine of a well-loved novel

that pleads with you to read it just “one more time.”

The creaking of a rusty gate which pierces through

the still, summer air. It is a nap in a hammock—

hung delicately by the lake, swinging peacefully in

the soft breeze. Being pinched on the cheeks by

that aunt who maybe loves you a little too much.

Most of all, it feels like coming back home.

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sometimes I’m an amateur photographer too.

IMG_3154 IMG_3169 IMG_3177 IMG_3115 IMG_3137 IMG_3138 IMG_3142 IMG_3146 IMG_3149IMG_3037 IMG_3045 IMG_3049 IMG_3051 IMG_3059 IMG_3076 IMG_3088

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freely thinking.

My eyes are fixed,

but

my mind roams

freely outside of

the confines of this room.

The lecture hums on, but I have gone,

gone.

Drawn into

my depths.

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He will provide, oh yes he will.

As some of you probably know, my financial situation hasn’t exactly been picture perfect lately. As is with most college students, I was staring in the face of medical debt while also trying to fund raise for a mission trip. Needless to say, the last 3 months have been incredibly stressful.

After injuring my neck this past fall, the bills coming to my mailbox showed a whole lot of three digit numbers which eventually came to a total of a four digit number. As a full time college student with just a part time job, I had no idea how I was going to pay it off. I spent the last few months trying to put away enough money to pay off my debt until about two weeks ago when I received notice that my account was about to go into collection. For those of you who have never encountered medical debt, this is a BAD thing. Upon receipt of that letter, I immediately got on the phone with a finance representative from the hospital. After explaining my situation, the woman suggested that I go down to the hospital and apply for financial aid (who knew you could do that at a hospital?!)

I went down a week after that phone call. As I was sitting with a rep going over some recent pay stubs and looking at the bills, the woman informed me that I would most likely qualify for full coverage of my bill. I was completely astounded. Did I hear her correctly? It was like the weight of a thousand bricks was lifted off of my shoulders. I was hoping for maybe just like 25% off. It seemed so unreal. One financial battle down, one more to go.

As I have mentioned hundreds of times in the last few months, I am going on a mission trip this spring break. You are also probably aware that mission trips do not come for free. Although the trip I am going on is one of the cheaper trips, I was still tasked to raise $650 which isn’t easy by any means. As of today, 75% of my total trip cost ($488) is due. As of two weeks ago, I had only raised a measly $40. I was panicking. I had $428 to go and just 14 days to do it. I started reaching out rather aggressively on social media just praying that people would respond well. As of last night at approximately 8:30pm, I was FULLY FUNDRAISED. I was sitting in chapel when I got the e-mail and I was so overwhelmed that I just started crying.

It is completely incomprehensible to me that my God provides for me in such huge and obvious ways. He quite literally took my two biggest burdens right off of my shoulders. The part that is consistently the most difficult for me to process is the fact that I am such a sinner, and yet every single day I am chosen by Him. Woah. I feel so unworthy of this glorious love that has been showered on me in the last few weeks and I am blown away by the generosity of my peers, friends, and family. I can’t believe I have ever had the audacity to question the faithfulness of my Heavenly Father. Today, I am filled with the utmost joy and love and I sure hope you are too.

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One week down, fifteen to go.

At the start of each year it has become such a habit to grow increasingly more nostalgic about the year that has past, while also setting generally unrealistic goals for the year that has just begun. I think that it has something to do with the human fear of the future, fear of change. I have begun to experience this myself. The beginning of a new year means that I am almost done with my first year as an RA, I am halfway done with a dual degree, and I am one step closer to the harsh realities of adulthood (although it feels as if that has already set in).

It is amazing how much growth and change a person can see in themselves even over the course of a year. As I look back at the very beginning of this little blog, I can see evolution (and perhaps a little digression) in myself and in my writing. I began this blog simply as a means of communicating the ins and outs of my new life as a college student. Shortly after that, it turned into a place for me to process my thoughts about the world around me, and most often the God that I serve. It then seemed to evolve again as I dove deeper into my writing and found that poetry was my place of complete solitude and serenity. Not only did the format of my writing change, but arguably the quality of my writing also evolved to a higher level. All of these changes in just one simple year.

As I sit at my desk reflecting on this first week of this new semester, I am feeling a little overwhelmed. It is certainly going to be an extremely academically rigorous semester. Aside from the standards though, I can already tell that this semester is just going to fly by. This week has felt like the length of one day. As much as I am overwhelmed, I feel equally as excited. I can just feel that God is doing a new and glorious thing this semester even though I also think I may get propelled out of my comfort zone. Despite the challenges to come, and the comfort zones I will break free from, I may never want this semester to end. I can live with that.

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Spring Break 2015: Guyan Valley, West Virginia

As I breathe in the fresh, mountain air I feel myself becoming intoxicated,

Drunk off of the fumes of pristine nature, and long days full of hard work,

I decide to swap the palm trees for pine trees,

I swap the predictable sunshine for weather that is often confused,

Every now and then someone will stop to ask me, “Why?”

To that I can only give one, simple reply,

I go to serve those who are unseen, who are pushed aside,

I go to help rebuild a community just holding on by the stitches,

I go to learn more about myself and the teammates I work alongside,

I go because my Creator calls me to care for His people,

But those are really just the reasons right along the surface,

Why do I really go?

I go because that community rebuilds me,

I go because they are a people who are stronger than you could ever believe,

I go because they have a rich culture, deep roots, and a strong pride,

I go because despite it all, Appalachia has stolen my heart and run with it.

Help me get to the place that has captured my heart, mind, and serving hands. This poem was just a small expression of the deep love I hold for this community. I am so excited to go back and serve yet again, but the cost is steep for a college student such as myself. If you feel so lead to support me, I could always use prayer for my team and I. If you feel as if you are called to donate to my expenses, then I would encourage you to check out my fundraising page. Thank you for your time and consideration.

http://www.gofundme.com/gettoappalachia

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holding hands

I feel You reach down and grab my hand,

Your grip is firm and permanent.

I know that You are never letting go.

I have cried out like a little child for this

I have yearned for Your hand,

and yet it never really left me.

In reality, I left You and I let go.

Although I may still wriggle my hand out

of Your strong grasp, I know

that You will be perpetually reaching for my hand

You will never let me go

I will never walk alone

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the path.

because, I’ve been down that path before

and I swore I would never go back

but, here I am.

standing at the edge of the path,

my wandering feet already defying my logical mind.

My one fatal mistake?

I looked back.

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