Retreat from Worry

This post is long overdue because this semester has been crazy. I like to promote rest and mindfulness, but wasn’t so good at practicing it this semester. There were a few key moments where I experienced some of that, so I would love to share.

Fall can be absurdly crazy for a college student. Classes start back, there are new organizations to get involved in, commitments seem to double every year and not to mention Greek life which takes on Homecoming and new members and a ton of events. It’s usually fun, but it can be crazy.

I was lucky enough to get to attend two different retreats where I got to take my mind off the speeding bullet that was fall semester and take stock of what was going on. The first being a retreat with my sorority the first weekend of classes.

That seems really early to be so stressed, but in reality it was great timing. Two weeks of formal recruitment are about as tiring and emotionally draining as an experience gets. Plus the first week of classes is a whirlwind of information and trying to figure things out. We took the weekend to go to a camp on the lake and just be together.

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Now if you’ve read any of my previous blogs you know I love camp, love the lake and love people. My only job at this retreat was to spend time with old friends and meet new members while spending time in the sun and around bonfires. I learned that after a few weeks of pretending I had it all together and carrying out duties of the executive board and senior year, it was okay to let go and let someone else be in charge.

Sometimes it is so hard to realize that you’re not always in control. I admit I can be a control freak. When things get out of hand is when I get stressed and anxious. What I had to learn this semester, and what this retreat began to teach me, is that sometimes letting others be in control is the best way to practice self-care.

Growing up is a lot of trying to have it all together and knowing what’s next. Senior year especially. It’s hard to admit that I don’t have it all together and I have no idea what’s next.

Spending time with some other seniors at the second retreat is what made me realize that I am so not alone in that. It sounds like a lot of other seniors have these big jobs lined up and have the perfect lives, but in reality we are all glorious ruins.

Side note: Glorious ruins is a term I learned at a women’s conference this semester. It’s kind of like being a hot mess, but with divine purpose and beautiful design.

Sometimes I feel so small and have a hard time remembering there is a bigger plan than my own and I must have patience. Talking about that with some other lost but beautiful souls reassured me that I am not as small and alone as I have been feeling this year.

Life transitions are scary. Getting asked about what’s next all the time and not knowing the answer is scary. This semester and the two perfect breaks I had reminded me that I have no reason to be scared when I have the perfect people in my life to love and a plan that is far greater than my own to discover.

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Something Big: Part II

My previous post discussed some crazy timing in getting me to a camp I didn’t plan to attend. Well, after about 24 hours rest it was time to serve at the camp I had planned for. I received a room of 7th grade girls who I had never met. I was excited because I love middle school campers but nervous because I wanted to be an excellent leader for them.

Before campers arrived I was thrown another curveball.

One of my girls had some medical issues. Staff decided to place another leader in my room incase we ever had a situation where it would be easier with two adults.

I was hesitant because I had just come from having a small group to lead independently to having to figure out how to share leadership with an adult. I am a person who is rooted in my plans and hate change, so I was far more hesitant so I should have been.

The night before campers came I was with my new co-leader and we ended up having a really cool conversation. Both of us had been given opportunities to serve where we didn’t originally intend to. Our plans were turned upside down for better ones and we were put in perfect positions to meet needs that the camps had. I realized that we were in the same situation just trying to figure things out.

The girls in our cabin ended up being the most charismatic, sassy, lovable and caring girls we could ask for. They demonstrated what good friends look like and really leaned on each other during the week.

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The girls taught me a lot about being intentional with care and having honest conversations. They made me better at asking tough questions and pushing them out of their comfort zones. And they showed exponential growth through that.

Another cool component of serving at this camp was the amount of young adult and high school leaders that took on the challenge of camp counselor. There were younger students who I got to talk through how to handle challenges of camp. There were also many college kids who go to my school that I got to build deeper relationships with and can now continue those throughout the year.

 

I have a lot of admiration for the students I served with and their fearlessness that they approached the week with. The kids loved the young leaders so much and connected extremely well. The college students were also incredible at pouring into the high school students all the way through to the end of a tiring week. I am grateful for friends like those.

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My sister also amazed me during the week and I was so glad that I got to watch her be a leader to another group of 7th grade girls. She had some tough tasks, but handled them like the adult she is becoming. My sister amazes me with how grown up and wise she has become, and the week only made me more impressed.

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Something major I learned from my time at both camps was how to be flexible in order to serve others. I never planned on being in the situations I was, but they were perfect. I wouldn’t have been able to make the connections I did or experience the growth without my own plan being thrown away.

My heart was softened to plans greater than my own. I was placed perfectly to do work that needed to be done, and for that I am grateful beyond words.

Something Big: Part I

A month ago I was in the middle of loving on some kiddos at church camp. No technology, no busy schedule and no distractions in general. Just eager kids, a lake with a million activities and a plan to demonstrate love to campers. Looking back, I am so lucky with how my time at camp worked out and how much I learned through camp and through my kiddos. Camp isn’t just for campers, and boy, do I miss it already.

Going into this summer I was really beaten down. I didn’t get any of the internships applied for. In fact, more than once I was beat out by someone I knew. I felt a little bit worthless for a while. Then I realized that no internship meant I had the availability to volunteer at my church’s camp and reconnect with girls I had been a counselor for a few times.

I signed up eagerly to attend the high school camp and hopefully get paired with the girls I had when they were 6th and 7th graders. I later heard there was a need for middle school leaders. I was amazed with the opportunities that were available and jumped on that one too. I felt I had found my purpose for the summer in loving on these kids.

Then the blow hit again. There were too many leaders signed up for the high school camp, so college volunteers were reasonably the first to go. I was crushed. I have been mentoring some of these girls for years. And I was eager to see my sister and her class take charge as seniors that I had invested in. I was again confused of my purpose, but still ready to serve the middle school girls.

I had finally come to peace with where I was at, though I was dissatisfied. Then I got a text. It was the middle of high school camp and a counselor had fallen ill. They needed someone to come assume her role for the rest of the week.

I was shocked. But I was excited. So I packed rapidly and headed down to my favorite place.

I showed up and was immediately overwhelmed. It was free time, so no one was around and I was at a loss for what to do. Luckily the adult counselors are amazing and helped me find my room and find my girls. My sister running at me screaming with excitement helped too.

I walked into a bit of a shock. Girls were dealing with things as high schoolers that I never had to. It was halfway through the week, so they were already forming friendships and experiencing growth. I tried to catch up and find ways to connect with them and help them organize all their thoughts.

I was there three days, but I felt like it was right where I should have been. It wasn’t my timing, but it was perfect.

The best part? My girls who signed up for camp in hopes of getting me as a counselor had priceless reactions when I showed up and I got to pour into them as well as my girls. I got the best of both worlds and I got to fill a need. I had a purpose that week.

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Blessed time with my sister was also important to the week. I got to be there for her and her friends who I have watched grow up. I got to watch her speak in front of camp and be a leader for her final year as a camper. She made me so proud that it moved me to tears.

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I also was surrounded with some incredible adults. Being the only college girl leader, I found adults who I had formed bonds with in previous years who I could count on for the week and some younger adults that took me in as part of their pack for the week. I was really grateful for all of the women who helped me catch my breath and gave me encouragement.

I had a weekend at the lake to try to find a little rest with some other leaders before the next round of campers came. The weekend was a blessing as I got to relax and further some relationships with some high schoolers that were staying over as student leaders, including my sister. I felt old for the weekend, but it was fun and even involved spa face masks.

 

For the half of camp that I was there (though it didn’t feel that short), I learned a lot about how to be flexible. I learned that my timing isn’t always perfect and that everything is put in place for a reason. I learned to love people where they are, even if I didn’t have a grip on the situation. You don’t need details to provide love and encouragement to anyone, you just have to do it. I gained some amazing role models and gained a new group of kiddos to watch grow into incredible young ladies. I was content, and I felt like I had a purpose for the first time in a long time.

The night before I got asked to come to camp early, I was trying to explain to someone why I was frustrated with how I was feeling. I told them that I felt crazy stuck, but at the same time I felt that something really big was about to happen.

Camp was that something big, and as usual, it didn’t disappoint.

 

Getting Out: Road Trip Through Arkansas

Sometimes life gets overwhelming. Everyone needs a break every now and then. Doing the same thing day to day is monotonous and isn’t good mentally or spiritually. I like to think that’s why spring break was created. It’s like a universal acknowledgement that life gets hard and everyone needs to take a break, to get out.

I was fortunate enough to hit the road during my college spring break this year. I grabbed some good friends, my camera and my hammock and took off to Arkansas. No, it’s not a beach or mountains. But hey, it was a pretty dang good trip.

We used Pinterest to plan our road trip. If that’s not the epitome of college girl I don’t know what is. However, it ended up being perfect. We mapped out our route and where we would stop for nights. We picked hiking spots, museums, restaurants and other quirky stops that we didn’t want to miss. Then, we set out.

Day One:

Our first day was pretty crowded. We prioritized stopping at Lambert’s for lunch because that’s a Missouri classic. We then crossed over the border and started working our way southwest. We wound our way to Eureka Springs to hit two of our quirkier stops. This would be Christ of the Ozarks and Thorncrown Chapel. These were scenic and fun, and were the perfect stops to ease into our road trip. We then moved on to Bentonville to go to the Crystal Bridges museum. The museum was stunning (and free). We spent a good amount of time here taking in some beautiful art then headed on our way to Fayetteville. We left our agenda open here and wound up eating at this fantastic grilled cheese restaurant (Hammontree’s Grilled Cheese) and wandering our way around the college town before turning in for the night.

Day Two:

We got up early and headed for the destination I think we were all most excited for. Hawksbill Crag is a photo opportunity if there ever was one. We wound up some dirt roads and well beyond cell service, packed our lunch and headed out on a hike. The crag was breathtaking. It looked a lot more dangerous than it actually was. We spread out on the rock to enjoy a peaceful picnic lunch. I will probably never eat a meal with a better view. We took our many fun photos and headed back up the trail. We then headed to Mount Magazine State Park to hike to the highest point in Arkansas. This was bear country and we hoped to see a furry friend, but no such luck. There were some impressive scenic overlooks we took time to check out before making the super short hike up to Signal Hill. We opted for a shorter hike due to sunset coming. The highest point was marked and even on a stone map of Arkansas. We hit the road again to make it to our main destination, Hot Springs.

Day Three:

Why Hot Springs, Arkansas? Something about the smallest national park and the fact that you could take baths for fun made us want to check out the quirky little town. It ended up being a great choice. We started off our first day by taking a traditional bath at the Buckstaff Bathhouse. Boy, was that an experience. The water felt great though the whole routine was bizarre. It’s just something you have to try though when you go to a town built around taking baths in the natural springs. We spent some time shopping that day as well. The town is so cute! There is a cupcake shop called Fat Bottomed Girls that is amazing and I would highly recommend. We also headed up to the Mountain Tower. This was an amazing view of the town and surrounding mountains. It was crazy windy so that made it even more fun. We turned in a little early due to severe weather, but this was good since we were pretty wiped from all the driving and hiking.

Day Four:

We headed for one of our weirder stops first thing in the morning. This was an alligator farm just outside of town. There were so many gators in this place it was nuts. A man handed us little gators to hold. I’m glad I can say I did that, though not sure I would do it again. We played with some goats and passed our morning with the animals. We also stopped at this rock shop that was interesting and made for some simple souvenirs. We spent the rest of the day heading into the Ouchita National Forrest. We decided to hike a trail at Lake Ouchita. This lake was way cooler than we thought and the views were great. That trail was probably the hardest one we hiked though. We finished up the evening back in town at the famous Ohio Club where Al Capone and Babe Ruth used to party. The food was great and the live jazz was even better.

Day Five:

We headed out in the morning to start the journey back. First stop was Little Rock. We wanted to get some purple milkshakes for lunch at the Purple Cow. We ended up stopping at Little Rock Central High School and the national monument site. This is where integration was forced and a lot of history was made. It was a cool spontaneous stop. We went on to Blanchard Springs Cavern and took a tour through the coolest cave I’ve ever seen. We also checked out the spring itself and Mirror Lake, which was beautiful at sunset time. We ended the night in a hot tub in Branson.

The next day we spent some time at Silver Dollar City and then headed home.

This road trip wasn’t spectacular or expensive. It was cheap, it was dirty and it was simple. What mattered was getting out of school, out of routine and out of our heads. A week in wide opens spaces and with good company was the perfect break.

I like to think that when you are out in the “wilderness” you are closest to God. The trip wasn’t spiritual, but it was good for the spirit.

Everyone needs to step back, get out and heal the mind and the soul. Take a break, take a trip and make some memories.

Ready, Set… Grow!

As you all probably know by now, I am the biggest fan of reflections there is. I write about it all the time and you’ll often find me staring off into space living it out. The New Year is a time that a lot of people decide to reflect. It’s a time of goal setting, new ideas, and self-improvement. However, the New Year is also notorious for people failing at everything they decide to tackle.

I don’t like to think of changing in the New Year. Rather, I like to think of growing. It is super important to set goals for growth in the upcoming year, but it is just as (maybe even more) important to see where you grew the previous year. You can’t set goals without realizing what you’re capable of achieving.

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A lot of times we don’t realize where we are experiencing growth. When you’re in the moment, it’s hard to see where you’re being shaped and renewed. That’s why it is important to look backward. Behind you is where you learn.

The key to doing this is not getting wrapped up in the past. I have struggled a lot with that this year. My 2016 wasn’t fabulous. I battled a lot of physical and mental health problems, I lost some people in my life who I loved a lot, and I felt like I was failing myself. I struggled with image, both physically and in what I was achieving (or not). This is the tip of the iceberg, but sums up a lot.

I have been so focused on how hard my year had been and how broken I was that I didn’t realize all the time I was also being fixed and being made better than before.

I learned how to manage stress and look for the joy in every day, I realized who God placed in my life to get me through and to appreciate the people who would no longer walk with me, and I saw that failures were opening doors for bigger successes. I am learning to love myself and working on not comparing myself to others. Through all the junk, I ended the year with my first college 4.0 semester, an officer position in my sorority, and some really incredible relationships.

And I ended it happy.

None of this would have happened if I wasn’t growing while experiencing the pain.

It has been a lot of steady reflection that has opened my eyes to this. My goals for the New Year are now clear. They’re not to change anything, but to continue the growth that has been placed in my life.

Find the beauty in the chaos.

Know where my strength comes from.

Choose to be joyful.

Build firm foundations.

Do things I love.

Be intentional.

Breathe.

These are a few of the highlights. Simple reminders I will whisper to myself when days get dark and roads get hard. They encompass how I want to continue growing relationally, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

So, love the pain. Love how far 2016 dragged you down. Because you didn’t realize that whole time you were being prepared for something so much greater. Find that something in the New Year.


“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Wrapping Up

This photo is an accurate description of how I feel about the semester being over so suddenly.

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It all came so fast. I’m scrambling to keep up with finals, holiday shopping, saying goodbye to friends, and packing. All of the things that symbolize the end of the year. Through all of this I have to remember to take time to stop and appreciate everything that happened this semester and the people in my life. Some end of the year reflection (my favorite thing).

I look back on this semester and am grateful for what a turnaround it was from the previous one. I went from struggling with anxiety and stress to being happy and healthy and loving life. I have so may great people to thank for that. My classes went well, my sorority things have been excellent, and I have grown a lot.

I appreciate the people I’ve grown closer to over this past semester. I can’t believe I didn’t have them in my life before. They’ve provided me with a support system like no other and have made this semester so enjoyable.

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I’m also grateful for the people who have been there for me since day one of this college adventure. We’ve been through so much and I can’t believe we are over halfway done.

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It’s the people in life who make it great. I am lucky to have some incredible ones in my life. They help me make it through school and everything else. I am sad to be leaving my college people behind for a month, but love my people at home and can’t wait to spend some quality time with them.

This semester has just taught me to be extra thankful for the people who make me and my goal is to let them all know that as I reflect on the roles they have played in my life.

A Perfect Plan

It is the season of thankfulness and Thanksgiving is just a few days away. I think a lot of times we don’t grasp the full meaning of giving thanks. We always say we are thankful for our family, our friends, and the food on the table. Those are excellent things to be thankful for. But I think there is so much more that we forget to be grateful for.

Sure, the people and things in our lives are awesome. We should definitely be thankful for those. But we should also be thankful for the things that come from those. Such as the experiences we are afforded because of the things in our lives. Everything God has given us intertwines to give us the really rad lives we live.

For example: My mom and dad have made me who I am and have worked to give me opportunities that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t their child. The things they give me lead to experiences that mold me and introduce me to people who make life special. Those people give me other experiences and people. My parents are more than my parents, they’re my gateway to the world. I don’t know how you even begin to thank someone for that.

It is an awesome series of perfectly lined up circumstances that brings us to where we are today. It’s these circumstances that I think we often forget we should be grateful for, both the good and the bad.

Maybe you’re not happy with where you are right now. Maybe life has got you down. But there have been a lot of awesome ups to go with the downs, and we have to remember that. If anything, an awesome series of perfectly lined up circumstances are allowing you to be breathing right now. That’s pretty incredible.

I like to reflect on the series of events that get me to certain points in my life. It’s interesting to look back and see where the decisions you and others made got you to where you are. A lot of times I can see this when I go back and read my journal entries. That’s a good place to see where things that went wrong in my opinion ended up leading me to some even better things. You know, one door closes and another opens or whatever the saying is. Too often we miss how closed doors lead us to better places.

So this holiday season I encourage others to think about the people and the things in life you’re thankful for, but also the circumstances surrounding those that have made you who you are. And then take that beyond just the season. We are some lucky people to have a temporary home here on earth with some incredible experiences in store.

In the end, the plan for our lives is perfect, and we have to be grateful for that.

*Header photo courtesy of Carlie Ross

Handle With Care

One huge thing I have learned from camp  it is that people are oh so very broken. Everyone puts on a happy face to go through their day. We live in a social media world where people only put out their very best, and everyone feels miserable because they think everyone else has got it way better than them. Our society believes it’s not okay to not be okay.

But friends, every single one of us is very very broken.

I’ve seen a lot of really hard things at camp. I’ve watched my friends admit that they’re walking through terrible trials and temptations. I’ve had young girls tell me that they’ve never felt loved, even by their families. I’ve watched guys struggle with pornography and girls with terrible lust. I’ve seen families struggling when they look like the perfect picture of love on the outside.

My heart has been broken for what breaks The Lord’s.

Yet I continue to pray that He breaks it daily.

It is so very important to remember that we are intricate and fragile creations. We aren’t created to be perfect.

We as a society need to stop expecting people to hide their brokenness. It’s okay to battle mental illness, to come from a broken home, to feel lonely, to wrestle desire and pride. It’s okay to struggle. This life isn’t easy.

It’s okay to admit you’re broken.

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Want to know why? Because there are people who want to love you and help you heal. If we don’t admit we are broken and hurting and weak, then the people who matter in our lives can’t come alongside us and walk through that with us.

As  a camp counselor, I got to come alongside so many broken young women. Both campers and other counselors. And I also got to spend time with people who would come alongside me.

I wish everyday life viewed brokenness the way that camp does. Camp is a place where the downtrodden come to find rest. The point is to facilitate that rest and that healing and send stronger campers back home. But why can’t we do this for our friends and family every day?

We need to start asking people if they’re okay. And really meaning it and taking the time to listen. And if we get asked if we are okay, we need to be transparent and say how we really feel. We have to battle the hurt with unending love.

This year has been extremely trying. And I have been hurting bad. I tried to stuff it down for a long time, but it got too far. My mental and physical health was at stake. Admiting I was broken and lost and that I didn’t know what to do allowed some very wise people to speak truth into my life. This hard year has made me stronger.

Our world is a broken world, but we can’t begin healing it until we are transparent about that. And when that happens, we can only heal it with love.

Psalm 34:18

Seasons Change

I was walking in the woods with two of my favorite humans today. We started coming up with cheesy sayings about life and the leaves changing color. But while I was napping in my hammock amongst these trees, I started seriously thinking about it. I am in a season of change, and I am slowly learning to embrace it.

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I’m over the halfway point of college and people are starting to expect me to know what comes next. But I don’t. I’m in this weird limbo of not quite being a kid, but not quite being an adult. All my friends are in this limbo too, so we’re a hot mess of stress and confusion.

What I can be thankful for is that we are in it together. I can’t express enough how lucky I am to have the people I do in my life. The constant encouragement (or commiseration) that I receive from my fellow students is incredible.

I am a person who hates change. But this weird limbo is slowly forcing me to embrace it. I am learning that sometimes change is good. Change is scary, but it’s making me who I am. This is the realization I had while enjoying the fall colors today.

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Over the past few months I have gone through a lot of changes. They didn’t all seem so good at the time. I began classes that made me happier and less stressed, I made some really incredible new friends in some of my classes, I also left some friends behind. I had a relationship end that taught me a lot, I moved into my first apartment and had to start doing things for myself, I improved a lot of my routines to keep me happy and healthy.

This semester has been a growing up experience for me so far. A lot of times I feel like I can’t get a grip on one thing before it hurtles by. It stresses me out beyond belief. But when I take the time to look back, I realize how far I have come.

I am happy and healthy this semester. And this is a change I am okay with.

Cheesy, but change can make a person better like seasons changing makes leaves more beautiful.

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#Awkward

I think one of the greatest qualities camp experiences gave me was confidence. If you know me, you know I am a big introvert. Being dropped in a room full of strangers in a new environment is my worst nightmare. Icebreakers and name games never fail to make me cringe because I prefer to avoid being the center of attention at all costs.

That has all changed a little since being a camp kid for so long (mostly thanks to student council camp). I still cringe at the idea of name games, but I don’t loathe them so much anymore. I am more bold about meeting new people and starting fresh relationships. I learned that if you just embrace the awkward, it’s not so bad.

College has been an endless void of awkward experiences. Some that have happened recently (inspiration for this post). I’ve tried to work on changing my perspective though. Instead of being painfully embarrassed or uncomfortable, I figure I might as well take it in stride and learn from it.

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I once had an interview where they asked me to write a hashtag that describes me on a whiteboard in the room. When I stood up to walk over to the board and turn around to the line of people sitting across the conference table from me, I should have wanted to hide. Instead, I picked up the marker and wrote “#awkward.” The perfect description of myself. I went on to discuss how I always find myself in awkward situations, but that’s where I have done the most growing. I got called back for another round.

Being in camp-like situations, including news classes or project groups, where you have to build some bonds with total strangers is really an excellent opportunity for personal development. You get the opportunity to learn about yourself. It also shows you where you have room for improvement.

We often fail to realize where the uncomfortable experiences in life are making us better people. Sometimes it takes being forced out of your comfort zone to have an experience that causes you to grow.

A lifetime full of awkward moments is why I am the person I am today. Embarrassing accidents, uncomfortable dates, and failed conversations all add up. We just don’t always realize it. Human beings are awkward creations, but it’s each person’s awkward that makes them unique and builds their confidence.

So, embrace it.

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