Keep the Faith

What does the word covenant mean to you?  A promise? I think of Covenant Hills, a summer camp near this area.  What other thoughts come to you when hearing this?  We hear this world throughout many sacred texts, but have you ever thought to stop and think about what it means to you?  Are you in a covenant of marriage, maybe?  

When a child gets baptized, the church makes a covenant to be with this new chidl of God. Last week, was the covenant and story of Noah and the flood, a classic text of covenant.  This week, we hear the words of God promising to Abram and Sarai to be in covenant with them, making them the ‘ancestors of a multitude of nations,’ changing their names, and promising them a child.  Now put yourself in Abraham and Sarah’s shoes for a moment.  God appears to you at 99 years old, says that your name is no longer abram, but abraham, your wife sarai is now sarah, and she will bear a child at 90 years old.  What would your reaction be?  Would you go with the flow?  Later in this Genesis chapter, Abraham falls on his face, laughing, asking God how his wife at 90 years old can bear a child.  Sarah laughs too, denies that she laughed, and has put herself in a bit of a predicament.  But God is worthy in this covenant, forgiving them for their doubt and imperfections and promising to them anyways a child and that God will be God to them and their multitude of nations.  

This is an everlasting covenant that God makes with Abraham and Sarah.  Despite our imperfections, God promises to Abraham and Sarah that God will be God to them and their children forever, passing on the love and promise in each new generation.  In the three monotheistic faiths, judaism, christianity, and islam, it is considered to be an Abrahamic faith, sharing a family tree and all roots leading back to this couple, Abraham and Sarah.  We can thank this couple for their grace and imperfections and providing us with comfort in being imperfect people.

As we are in the season of Lent, it tends to be a time that people give something up or set an intention for the 40 day season in preparation of Easter.  Did any of you give something up?  When I was little, I would give up candy, chocolate, or soda.  Something that didn’t really challenge me.  I have people that I know have given up beer or Facebook.  How do we choose these intentions, and why are we choosing these?  How does giving up beer or chocolate teach us to be in the wilderness with Jesus on this road?

I work as a field guide at a wilderness therapy program, spending 8 days at a time in the woods of Vermont with teenagers who are struggling with emotional and behavioral challenges- often related back to lack of love and acceptance from those closest to them.  In the 4 phase program they work through over the course of 3 months, in the 2nd phase they receive a therapeutic goal.  To be ready for the next phase, they must actively live out the goal they created.  These goals are challenging.  As a guide, I have also created a goal and practice it while working.  My goal is to be gracious with myself, forgiving and letting go of negative self talk, while allowing myself the space to grow.  I live this goal, but only sometimes.  Only those 8 days when I’m working do I notice that I’m actively living it.  Each morning I find time to stand with open arms feeling the spirit and allowing the presence of God to be with me, asking for guidance in living my goal.  When thinking about living in covenant, God made this covenant with Abraham and Sarah saying, “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring.”  This covenant is not just for 40 days, or for the lifespan of Abraham and Sarah, but for eternity- an everlasting covenant to you and your offspring.  A covenant of love, unconditional forgiveness, and prevenient grace.  In this month’s Homiletics, a resource magazine for preachers, the author discusses prevenient grace and what that means.  They describe saying, “In his book, The Silver Chair by CS Lewis, he tells the story of a lion named Aslan, who can be thought of as a symbol for Jesus Christ.  In the book, Aslan hears two children calling to him for help, and after rescuing them he says, ‘you would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you.’ That’s prevenient grace, the grace that comes before.’”  Because God offers healing and forgiveness, we ask for healing and forgiveness.  In the covenant with Abraham, God offers it first, “I will make my covenant between me and you.”  God initiates this covenant, offering us all prevenient grace.  

Although Abraham and Sarah react poorly, while honestly, ultimately they believe God, knowing they will bear a son in their old age.  They have faith. Isn’t that what this journey of Lent, and life, is all about?  Having faith?  So, how do we have faith?  How do we have faith in this everlasting covenant when we live in a broken world?  I hear this phrase often in hard times, ‘Keep the faith,’ ‘just keep the faith, it’ll all work out.’  In a world where thoughts and prayers are no longer enough, how do we keep the faith when turning on the TV, or picking up the newspaper breaks our hearts over and over again?  How do we keep the faith knowing that 17 beautiful lives were taken too soon in the halls of learning and laughter?  How do we keep the faith in the hard realization that violent criminals are beloved children of God, as well?  I wish that I had an answer for how we can ‘keep the faith.’  But, I don’t know how to do it.  All I know is that in my 8 days disconnected from the world, sleeping in a sleeping bag, being present to teenagers, biting my tongue in occasional disagreement, that I constantly lean toward My Creator, inviting the presence into my life to live a life that is pleasing to God. and full of faith.  I have faith that God loves me.  I have faith that God loves you.  I have faith that God lived in the halls of the 18 schools that lost students due to gun violence, this year alone.  I have faith that God lives in the wildflowers and the trees.  I have faith that God is at the heart of activism, the fire underneath people speaking out.  I have faith that God loves the shooter, even though I certainly do not.  I think that is what makes faith and covenant and God such a mystery to us.  The amount of love and commitment God can give to us is unimaginable, incomprehensible to our human minds.  I have faith in the teenagers using their voices for change, I have faith in their actions and that they feel heard.

Having faith is hard.  Showing your faith, can be hard.  I am 23.  When I was in college, I could name all the people under 30 who went to church with me, on 1 hand, it was me and occasionally one other college student I became friends with.  My journey of faith has been significant and I have gotten to a place where I am unashamed of my faith- most of the time.  There are the occasional times where I share my faith and immediate disclaimer myself saying “I go to church and believe in God but I’m not like fox news christian, or westboro baptist christian.”  And then I get angry with myself for giving myself a disclaimer on my strongest value.  I’m currently struggling with my work because we are told to not discuss politics or religion with the students we work with.  I understand this rule, however, I feel like in order to be my authentic self, which we are promoted to be, I need to share parts of myself that are true to who I am.  Last week, I was connecting with a student who has been struggling with depression, low self-worth, and therefore a lack of motivation.  His assignment is to ask others how they motivate themselves.  While we were chatting, I resonated with his story, as I, too, have struggled with depression and motivation.  When he asked me how I motivate myself on days when I don’t want to do something, or worse, when I want to do something, but still cannot get out of bed to do it, my reaction was to tell him that I pray- but I couldn’t say that to him, and it hurt me.  I felt sad that I couldn’t share the constant way that I found strength in the darkest days.  And although I knew I couldn’t share my faith with him, I have faith that he will find the ways that will work for him, knowing that he will find his way to light in his darkness.  I have faith that the work that I am choosing to do, although hard, is guiding me forward in a way that God finds pleasing.  Just like Abraham and Sarah, we may not know what the future holds- but we know that God’s love is unconditional and never ending.  

We are in Lent, a season of anticipation, of waiting, of discerning the journey that Jesus took to the cross.  Jesus was a radical man, a man of love, of healing, of being in community with those others deemed ‘less than.’  How are we, as christians, living out the word of God, and the legacy that Jesus left for us.  I have faith that Jesus saw the good in every person.  I have faith that Zaccheus and the woman who should have been stoned to death learned from Jesus’ love and changed their ways.  I have faith God loves despite our darkest thoughts.  I have faith in the church and that it will continue to be a place where people can go to find the faith needed to love one another and to know that God is with them, just like God was with Abraham and Sarah for a very long time before a covenant was made.

One of my favorite Christian rock bands is coming to barre in a few weeks, Sidewalk Prophets, and while I don’t always agree with their theology, their music is full of beauty.  One of my favorite songs by them is called, “you love me anyway.’  The lyrics go as this “But you love me anyway, it’s like nothing in life that I’ve ever known.” The words come back to the phrase ‘you love me anyway’ over and over again.  On days when it is hard to get up, on days when I am heartbroken on seeing too many black boys killed on TV, too many women’s voices unheard, immigrants turned away from this country, and the lives of students taken, I cry out to God wondering where the love and faith is in this world.  But I know that there is faith somewhere, somewhere where I can’t see it yet or feel it yet, but God is delivering it to us in an everlasting covenant of prevenient grace and unconditional love.  

God loves us no matter what, even when we are acting “like rebellious teenagers, God loves us unconditionally, just as God has loved humans throughout history. The everlasting covenant started with Abraham, and it continues with everyone who is a member of God’s family.”  May the rest of this lenten journey- and our lives- be filled with asking the question, where is the faith? In hopes of searching deeper, to crack the surface of the unimaginable love that is given to us without any disclaimers, to seek the further faith that we cannot always see.  Will this be part of your Lenten journey? I’d like to keep the faith that it will be. Amen.

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Authentic Moments of 2017

As 2017 comes to a close I can’t help but reflect back on the amazing memories and opportunities I have had the past 12 months.  Since January I was able to see two of my study abroad friends in Florida and Vermont.  I made new friends in my last semester at UNH, created fun memories with my roommates, took advantage of all that college has to offer the last semester I was there, and graduated!  Since graduation I have worked at a summer camp and had 2 ‘big kid’ jobs.  I’ve moved home and have done some pretty cool things while on days off.  I’d like to share with y’all my top moments of 2017 (in no particular order).

  1. Graduating from UNH:  Ok, so this may be the top moment of the year for many reasons.  Being able to celebrate my accomplishments and hard work for the past four (23) years was an incredible and fulfilling moment.  On top of not having homework and papers to write, my oldest sister and my dad planned a surprise for her to fly from California all the way to NH just for the weekend.  Being able to spend the weekend with my family and my grandma was the most special memory of 2017.  Lauren and dad, I’ll forever be grateful you surprised me and made this weekend and life moment extra-special with your gift of family time.

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2.  My last day of social work classes: 

On my last day of classes this past spring semester, my social work seminar class met with cake to eat, laughter to share, and a closing activity.  Everyone got a little baggie and each person in the class wrote a note to everyone else in the class.  The note could be an encouragement, favorite memory, favorite quote, or anything else fitting.  It was a way to say goodbye to some of the people we have been learning with the past 4 years.  In my class I had 3 of my absolute very best friends and 11 other people I’ve been learning with.  The class also had my first roommate from freshmen year- someone who being roommates with was not ideal for both of us.  We had a long history of not talking to each other since I decided to move out a few months into my first semester of college, and quite honestly, I never thought I’d have to encounter her again.  To my surprise, we had several classes together when we both declared social work as our major.  We started college together, and for whatever reason God had, we ended together, too.  I think both of us had let go of the past grudge we had, but we never talked about it with each other.  When the nylon baggie with her name came around to me I was perplexed on what to write.  I wrote something cordial, friendly, wishing her the best as she enters the next phase of her life.  What I wanted to write was, “I forgive you,” or “I’m sorry.”  When our bag’s came back to us I was frantic to see what she wrote to me.  I opened a green slip of paper and immediately felt teary-eyed as I read the words “Kristen-Sorry I sucked as a roommate freshmen year.  I wish that I had been more open minded about the situation because you are a great person! you matter.” I was stunned.  I slyly passed it over to my best friends and we looked at each other with wide eyes of adoration and astonishment in the impact of simple words.  Our professor, my advisor, ended the class saying “Go forth and do great things;” The last words that a social work professor said to me in my undergrad career that I think about almost daily.  A day of reconciliation, surprise, gratitude, wonder, curiosity, and so much more was wrapped up in this 2 hour time frame that defined the end of my undergrad schooling.  I wish I had the courage to tell my roommate that I forgive her.  That I understand I wasn’t the easiest to get along with and that we both have grown immensely since that experience, but I’m grateful to have learned to move forward with you.  Even though it was a shit time for the both of us, I’m glad that we got to this place- a place of forgiveness and letting go. I wish I had the courage to say, I’m sorry, too, and I forgive you.

3.  Not getting the job:

In March I interviewed for a job that I was so excited for.  I worked for weeks on my resume and cover letter, making it absolutely perfect.  I spent hours doing interview prep, going over any question that I could be asked and having a response to it.  I was so excited to interview and even have the opportunity since it was listed under ‘dream job’ for so long.  I couldn’t believe it was even an option in front of me when it happened.  My interview was a warm March day, I had an extra copy of my resume and cover letter, just in case, and I was more than prepared.  The interview lasted about 3 hours.  Two hours were spent of questions back and forth, and I felt confident in almost all of them.  The last hour was spent walking around the campus and getting a better feel for the program.  It was exciting, rewarding, and nerve wracking.  It was my first ‘big girl’ job interview and I had no idea what would come of

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The day I sent my first resume and cover letter out!

it.  When I left, I was told I would hear from them in a week about whether or not I got the job.  A week later I was frantically checking my email and voicemails, making sure both had plenty of space and my alarms were on so I knew right away.  The following Friday afternoon I got the email that I did not get the job and I was heartbroken.  I would be returning to the summer camp I worked at instead, but as Program Director, and have to fi
nd another job later in the fall.  I remember how heart wrenching it felt to be rejected, but also how I felt proud of myself for giving the interview my all.  I was myself, authentic, genuine, and I left all my cards on the table.  I had other interviews that I felt went really well and I said “I’d be surprised if I don’t get it” and then didn’t get it.  Being rejected was really hard, but I knew that with each rejection that it was leading me to the right place, right fit, and a place that I could grow.  All of the rejections made me stronger, a better interviewer, and the confidence to know what I’m capable of.  Something better was out there for me, and because I didn’t get the jobs that I thought I really wanted, I worked different jobs that ultimately were really important for my personal and professional development.

4.  GIRL POWER!:

When I didn’t get my ‘dream job’ I took the job as Program Director at a summer camp I’ve worked at the past couple summers.  This position was a big step up from what I had been before and I was excited for the new opportunity and I was excited to be working with two other strong women in the ‘director’ position (executive and assistant director’s).  The summer gave me many challenges that taught me more than i could img_2747.jpghave ever imagined and I am grateful for the difficulty because it taught me patience, grace, and perseverance (which came in handy when I was applying to full-time positions again).  Toward’s the end of the summer, the assistant director asked me if I wanted to get girl power tattoo’s to honor our work for the summer with 3 strong women in the office when we were faced, in times, with straight up sexism.  I gladly accepted and we both got tattoos of the international symbol for women.  It was empowering to feel strong, empowered, and important.  I’ve always believed in women’s rights and feminism, but to be able to honor the summer (and so much more) with this tattoo was really amazing for me.  As Maya Angelou once said, “I am a woman phenomenally; Phenomenal woman, that’s me.”

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5. Speaking My Truth:

In 2017 I was able to preach twice at 2 churches near UNH.  One was to promote

IMG_2051summer camp and the other was at my ‘home’ church while in college.  The Community Church of Durham holds a special place in my heart and I was so excited to be able to preach at the end of the school year to thank the community for being so kind to me and impactful the past 4 years while I was in college.  The words I spoke were ones of sincere gratitude, eternal gladness, and peace for the journey.  This year allowed me to really find my voice and speak my truth; unashamed, raw, and 100% me.  Being able to share my voice and truth with the community was a highlight of 2017, and a memory I will cherish forever.  I’m eternally grateful to Rev. Mary and the Community Church for welcoming me in with opening arms and nurturing me to give back in a way that was soul renewing for everyone involved.  (You can read my sermon here)

IMG_3084Later this year, I was a winner of the Greater Barre Writing Contest and was selected to read my piece at an awards ceremony with all the other winners.  It was a heartfelt moment to win as a child (as a 2nd grader) and as an adult.  My writing was raw, emotional, and authentic and I was proud that someone thought it was worth sharing with others.  It was a moment of sincere gratitude and accomplishment.  (Read my award-winning piece here)

6.  Living My Best Life:

My first ‘big girl’ job was working with teenage boys in the juvenile system in a wilderness setting.  The staff took the boys on backpacking trips from Friday-Monday in the White Mountain National Forest which was a therapeutic, fun, and safe experience for them to learn.  I loved this job because it was always different- different trails, different students, different stories, different weather, and always changing challenges.  I genuinely loved this job, but what I loved the most was how I got to be outside, be grounded and re-centered with the Earth and God, and the coworkers and friends I got to meet.  The field instructors I worked with taught me how to be a better guide for the students, challenged me to try new

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Mt. Garfield with coworkers & the best dog

things, and pushed me to be my best self for the students- and ultimately for myself.  One of the best moments of this job was when I wasn’t even working.  Three of my coworkers, myself, and a dog planned a big backpacking trip for a weekend we weren’t working where we would hike some peaks I’d been dying to do, but wouldn’t have done on my own.  Three weekends in a row I got to hike, sleep on the ground, and see incredible views with incredible people.  I remember coming home from the trip, being totally rejuvenated and fulfilled from people, nature, and laughter, and just thinking to myself, “this is it, this is my best life- I love this version of myself.”  This year taught me what I loved most- laughter, sleeping in a sleeping bag, high altitudes and new friends.

I also want to highlight my first week working at this job.  I hiked Mt. Carrigain and I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to do it.  I was out of shape, out of breath, exhausted, and it was a steep hike.  Luckily, I had company with some of the slower kiddo’s that I got to know on the hike which made it go by quicker.  I will remember this hike as the most exhausting physically and most rewarding emotionally.  When I got to the top of the mountain I remember looking out at the other peaks and the group at the fire tower and thinking “This is it.  I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do for a while now.  I have what it takes.  I can do this.”  Mt. Carrigain will forever be more than a physical mountain for me, but a metaphorical mountain of realizing all that I’m capable of and that what I want to do or be may not be easy.  It may have bumps in the road, steep, moments of wanting to give up, but it is so worth it when you persevere it and get to the top.

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Pure joy on Mt. Carrigain

 

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Crocs at a formal with my dear friend- unapologetically me!

7.  Being authentic:

During 2017 I learned to be the authentic version of myself.  The authentic, croc loving,silly, humble, feminist, God loving, faithful, Vermonter version of myself.  I became unapologetically myself and with the help of Brene Brown I learned that I am the wilderness and can face anything when I find my authentic self.  I stopped caring what people thought of my outfit, my job, the shoes I like to wear, who I’m friends with, and what my goals are.  I began doing things for myself and it felt so damn freeing that I haven’t stopped.

 

 

I’m not sad to see 2017 go, as it had it’s challenging moments as well.  But my hope for 2018 is to find more ways to be authentic and brave the wilderness.  I hope to see more mountain tops, meet new people, laugh more often, worship in new places, and find more space to write and speak my truth.  2017 was a good year for me despite the all the tragedies this world faced.  Healing takes time and is a long process. I hope 2018 is a year that allows us to all move forward.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from research on belonging-  “If I have to be like you, then I fit in.  If I get to be like me, then I belong.” May 2018 continue be a year of belonging, of being me, and growing.

~Special K.

 

 

Wonder Leads to Gratitude

This past Sunday I was sitting in church, really needing to be in the community that I call home.  Rev. David stood in front of us talking about Thanksgiving, as the season of thankfulness is among us.  He shared stories of how we say thank you everyday, but do we really mean it?  When the high school student checking us out at Hannaford hands us our receipt and groceries they say ‘thank you for shopping here.’  Or when you leave the doctor’s office they may say ‘thank you for choosing such and such medical practice.’  When you shop on Amazon or other websites, your email receipt says ‘Thanks for choosing _______.”  But when do you actually mean ‘thank you’?  When was the last time you said thank you to someone and meant it, or someone said it to you and it was sincere, full of gratitude, and real.

This season is a season of Thanksgiving, as always, but for me this time of year is always hard.  A friend recently called this year ‘stick season’ and they were right- you look around and all you see are sticks.  Brown, depressing, dark, dreary sticks.  All the colorful leaves have fallen, the snow hasn’t come yet, and it’s just stick season.  It’s hard to be full of gratitude and find joy when the world seems broken, safe spaces can’t even be deemed as that anymore, and when you look outside and all you see are grey skies and depressing sticks.  I quit my job rather suddenly- only after getting a new one (thanks for the advice, mom), but still a big change quickly.  So when i decided my heart and soul needed to go to church this weekend I was grateful when the sermon struck some chords that I needed to rumble with.

“When was the last time someone said thank you to you and meant it?”  Saturday was my last day at my job with teenage boys in the juvenile system.  I didn’t tell them it was my last day until right before I left because I didn’t want to ruin the day we were having.  It was a great day- honestly one of the better ones that I had with these students.  Typically, these kids refuse activities, are rude and disrespectful towards me (mostly because I’m a female), and have a very difficult time listening well.  Fortunately, none of those typical issues were an issue on this day.  It was a day that was fun, full of laughter, and the kids got to be just kids for once.  When I brought them back to the house at the end of the day I took them into the office and shared with them it was my last day.  They were upset, frustrated, and felt like I was abandoning them.  I tried my best to explain that I was leaving because I found a new job, and that they both knew the program was going to be closing and I would need to find a job, but that it happened sooner than I expected.  I explained that I wasn’t leaving because of them or because I didn’t want to work with them anymore.  It was difficult for them to understand and through the frustrations and shock on their faces, we talked and I answered questions.  When it was time for me to leave and say goodbye, I shook one of the students hands and said ‘good luck’ and he said to me ‘Thank You.”  I didn’t think much of this simple 2 word phrase until the next day sitting in church.  I think he meant it.  I think despite all the disrespect, frustrations, lack of answers, and situation he was in, I think he meant it when he said thank you to me.

I sat in church with silent tears rolling down my cheeks knowing that this was a ‘God Moment,’ a moment where God is present and things just fit together.  It was the moment that I knew the work I had done at this program mattered, that I made a difference.  I didn’t make a difference to every kid that came through, but I can think of a few that I mattered to.  Being in the ‘wilderness’ both metaphorical and physical with these students taught us new life skills and challenges as well as rumbling with the situation they’re in and how to accept what they may not want to.

Last night, I volunteered at Laundry Love, a newer ministry the church is sponsoring to help people in need do their laundry as it is an expensive and necessary task.  All I did was put quarters in machines and hit start.  I colored with a little girl while her mom sorted clothes, I talked with some people who live in my town that I probably will never see again.  When one woman finished her laundry and was ready to leave she caught my eye and said “thank you, so so much.”  Another man when I was leaving stopped me and said “thank you, happy Thanksgiving” to me.  I didn’t do their laundry, I just put quarters in a machine, yet, their thank you was so sincere and full of gratitude.

I want to have more moments of sincere gratitude this season.  I want to find something to be thankful for each day.  As Advent comes and the season of waiting for the light of the world I hope to find joy and thanksgiving in each day, in the way the sticks get covered in snow, the way my dog greets me in the morning, in how my new job challenges me, in letting go of the things that no longer serve me.  My goal is to find gratitude in the smallest moments of each day.

I’ll leave you with this.  When I was driving with the boys the other day, we passed a church who always has the best signs outside and when i have the time, I jot them down.  The quote on the sign said “Wonder Leads to Gratitude.”

May we find wonder and gratitude during this season.

Thank you.

-Special K

 

Lost Until Found

When I was about 9 years old my parents decided to go for a short hike with friends who were visiting us at our local summer lake house.  I refused to go and threw the biggest fit and promised I’d stay home, out of the water, while they were gone. Fifteen minutes after they left, I started slowly hiking up the mountain because I didn’t want to be left behind.  I got maybe halfway up before I started bawling my eyes out convinced I was lost.  As I screamed out for my mom, she finally appeared through my blurry tear filled eyes.  This began the years of me hating hiking and any outdoor activity of that kind.  This experience scarred me more than my parents probably realized and is the underlying fact of why I refused hiking with them for years past this event.  This memory makes me laugh when I think about where I have come from and how my experiences have shaped me.

To this day a part of me hates hiking.  That fact is ironic because hiking, backpacking, and outdoor activities have changed my life for the better over the past few years.  I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was 15.  For years, I fully believed nothing could help me and that I would feel this way for the rest of my life.  Looking back at high school and college, there are months that I don’t remember because all I saw was the inside of my bedroom.  Depression masked any hope for the future and always dragged me back to my bed.  After years of living with shadows following me around, I started taking chances and putting myself out there despite the way I felt.  I worked at a summer camp in 2015 that had a focus on outdoor activities and involved hiking weekly- too bad I didn’t know this during the interview.  That summer gave me hope for the first time in a long time.  So much hope that I began taking more chances and the following school year I took a class on backpacking.  I spent a semester learning all about being outside, using a camp stove, tying knots, and reminding myself what it feels like to be myself again.

During the time of this backpacking class, my anxiety was at an all time high and the only thing I looked forward to each week was going to class and being able to be outside and put everything else to the side.  A year later I graduated with a degree in social work and outdoor education with an aspiration to work at a wilderness therapy program knowing the benefits of nature as a coping skill.

Today, I work at a wilderness therapy program and every week I take a group of teenage boys out into the white mountains of New Hampshire teaching them the skills that I once learned.  What’s unique is that it’s as much of a therapeutic experience for me as it is the kids.  Maybe taking this job was selfish because I knew it would help me overcome some of my mental health struggles, but ultimately I think it truly makes a difference.  The past 2 and a half years of experiencing these outdoor adventures has reminded me of who I am and where I have come from.

I have come from my mom and dad, two people who unconditionally love and support me.  They created me in the hopes that I live a happy and loving life and I know that it was one of the most painful times of their lives seeing me live without any light in my eyes.  They have been by my side through every adventure and journey, through every day when I couldn’t get out of bed, through every day when the summit was moving from my bed to the couch.  My parents are where I come from.  When I look in the mirror I see my dad’s smile smiling back at me, my moms eyes piercing through my soul.  When I laugh, I hear a combination of my parents.  When I sing I hear the off-key voice that they both have.  They have given me my best qualities and I love them eternally.  All that I am, I am because of them.  All of the opportunities I have had to discover who I am and in creating who I am, my parents have been by my side supporting and being my cheerleaders.  When I think about where I come from and where I belong, it’s with my mom and my dad.  They have loved me every step of the journey and have encouraged me to forge my own path in becoming who I am.  They encouraged me to take a class that challenged me and was new and exciting.  They were proud of me when I found a job that I got to do what I love.  They are proud of me now for who I have become, what I’m doing, and how I have overcome the challenges I have been faced.  I remind myself everyday of how grateful I am to have my origins come from a flatlander and a vermonter who fell in love and created me.  I remind myself of how lucky and blessed I am to have people who love me unconditionally and even when I’m lost, guide me forward.

Thinking about the experience I had when I was little has left me with this lesson.  Getting lost is part of the journey.  Sometimes you need to cry out for the people who love you most.  There will be times in your life that you think you cannot do something because it is too scary.  You have to take chances amongst the fear to find the things that make you who you are.  Getting lost that day when I was 9 could have been one of the best hidden blessings I’ve had in my life.  Because of getting lost that day, I over came my fears, I found strength in my weaknesses, and I learned that nothing is more grounding than sleeping under the stars.  I have created a person I am proud of.  I no longer let my mental health define me or hold me back from where I belong.  One of my favorite researchers, Brené  Brown, researched true belonging and when asking middle schoolers what it means to belong, they came up with this ‘If i have to be like you then I fit in, if I get to be like me, then I belong.”  My parents always made me feel like I belonged, and for that simple fact, I was able to recreate that feeling in my work and life today.  I get to be me and I belong; and for that I am grateful.

What I’m Packing With Me

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my social work senior seminar class on the 82 degree day. We were on the third floor of a very hot building and our assignment for class was to partner up, go outside for a walk or sit in the sunshine and take turns talking. We were tasked to talk for 7 minutes straight about termination. We were to talk about termination in our internships, classes, friendships, places, campus and how we felt about it all. As social workers, we usually are tasked with listening and asking questions- but not this time. This time we were to talk the whole 7 minutes with no interruptions and the other person just to listen. I partnered up with my friend Olivia who I met in my very first class EVER at UNH. She went first and started talking about all the places, supports, and people she was going to say goodbye to and how she’s starting to rumble with that. As I sat there listening I related to many of the things she was talking about. One that really hit me was when she talked about her church community. When she said that, I realized that I, too, would be saying goodbye to a church community. I would be leaving a community that has been a beloved and transformative place for me over the past 4 years of my college career. And I am here today to say goodbye, yes, but I am here more to say thank you. I want to say thank you to the community church of Durham for the blessing that you have been on me the past 4 years.

Some of you in the congregation have seen me around, some have reached out and gotten to know me a little, others, this may be the first time you’re hearing me speak. But for anyone who knows me, they know that I am a lover of the outdoors. So in true “Kristen” fashion, I’m going to share with you a few things I am packing in my backpack as I leave Durham and entire a new chapter in my life.

Lesson 1: Thanksgiving for community. The letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians thanks the community for the support and love they have for Jesus and belief in God. Paul thanks the community for their faith. This is my first lesson; to be thankful for community. I came to UNH as an 18 year old freshmen, eager to begin college and leave behind the days of my high school. Arriving to UNH in the fall of 2013 I thought it would be an easy transition to move to a new place, easy to make friends and find my place. It wasn’t. I struggled making friends that year and finding a place that I felt truly welcomed. I remember sitting in my bedroom on the phone, probably crying, to my mom and she suggested I go down the street to the Community Church of Durham. I hesitated and said “but what if it isn’t like our church at home.” I’m pretty sure she laughed and said something like “so what?” So that next Sunday I woke up and walked down the street into the front doors. I sat in the back corner and Pastor Mary preached about the Earth and how we can do justice for the Earth we live on. I looked around the church and it felt so good to be in a place where I could sing and praise freely with fellow members on the journey. I have continued to come since that Sunday 4 years ago. Every spring I moved away from Durham, and when fall came back around I was always excited to come ‘home’ to Durham Church because it felt like home to me. The white building with inviting flags, the greeters who welcomed me in, the life the sanctuary took on during passing of the peace. Durham church became a piece of my home in Durham and it wouldn’t feel like that if it weren’t for the community you have all built here. Through the many sermons I have heard Mary preach, the children’s stories from various church members, songs by the lovely choir and the children, I have learned to be thankful for this community and to be thankful for so much more. This church has become one of my own personal sanctuaries; a place where I can be myself, seek God, seek community, laugh, cry, and learn. This community is special and not like any on the UNH campus for me. I come to learn and worship in a community I feel welcomed by. I’m packing Thanksgiving.

Lesson 2. Just as Mary preached on Earth Justice that first Sunday many years ago, I have heard handfuls more of justice-filled sermons here. My favorite thing about the United Church of Christ is the mission for justice. Topics like LGTBQ+ rights, black lives matter, earth justice, refugees, and women’s rights are all areas I never thought much about until I started college. And throughout my development in social work I learned more about these important issues, but I feel that it was mostly learning these issues through the lens of my faith that really shaped my passion for them. Every time I tell someone about the church I go to I share with them that “it’s the church with the rainbow or earth flag hanging outside,” because often there’s a negative connotation attached with churches and my generation. But I’m proud to go to a church that is welcoming of people for who they are. I’m proud to go to a church that takes steps to protect the environment. I would brag to my church in Vermont about how the Durham church hung a rainbow flag and pushed my pastor to hang one up at our opening and affirming church. It wasn’t until the Orlando tragedy last summer that one was hung, and although it was stolen several times, people in our community at home donated them to be replaced and hung up each time it was ripped down. I’ve learned to wear my ‘black lives matter’ pin with pride, standing up for the movement when people question me. I’ve learned to explain how God loves us as we are, no matter who we love or how we view ourselves. I’ve learned to spread love through justice in remembering that women in the Bible did amazing things and Jesus valued the women he met on his journey. I’m packing with me a wider knowledge of social justice and an eagerness to learn and advocate more in my future endeavors.

 

Lesson 3: Trusting the unknown. I’ve searched out a community of faith everywhere I have traveled to over these past 4 years. After my first year at UNH I spent the summer in Atlanta, Georgia working with youth groups coming for service mission trips. I helped send kids and adults out to local agencies to learn about the history and serve the population. I also helped guide worship and teach Biblical lessons in the evenings of this program. The girls I met all had a faith that was rooted in the southern Baptist church. Being in the south as the only person North of the Carolina’s, I learned quickly about many different types of churches. Although I was working at a faith-based program, I felt incredibly distant from my faith. Again, I called my mom and shared my frustrations about this and she told me she knew somebody who went to 1 of the 2 UCC church’s in Atlanta. I met somebody who picked me up Sunday mornings and took me to church and through this small connection, I felt rooted in a community again. I learned so much that summer about trusting the unknown and the unfamiliar, and I vowed to not experience that again. Luckily, I experienced it again the next Spring when I studied abroad in Scotland- a place where I lacked and missed a faith community so deeply. I was gifted to come home from my semester missing church to the most amazing summer camp. I applied to Horton Center while I was abroad and was terrified to start working at a place I never had been before. To my surprise, it became one of the most amazing places I have ever been. It was unfamiliar, unknown, scary, and I felt a little uninvited the first few days. But among the beauty of the mountains and treetops and the ever present presence of God, I fell in love with a community and haven’t left since. I am thrilled to be serving Horton Center again this summer and hope each of you look in to attending camp.

Just as I was nervous to come to church that first Sunday 4 years ago, I learned to trust that the community would welcome me in and teach me. I trusted that each place I have gone would do the same thing. The future is full of unknowns for me, a graduating senior, yet, I am not afraid of the unknown. I have full confidence in my trust that the Spirit will lead me to where I am most needed, a gift I learned through my faith journey and Durham church has been a very important part of that journey. I am packing a sense of readiness for the future.

 

Lesson 4: The people I have met along this journey. I would not be who I am without the people I have met these past 4 years. My friends at UNH, professors, roommates (both bad and great), clergy folk, Larry from Waysmeet, Pastor Mary, the folks at Durham Community Church, Lana, a college student I met here at the church, and so many more. Through these people I have learned the true meaning of selflessness, passion, and the impact a single person has. I learned to grow in my faith by asking questions and seeking out relationships with others. I learned that each person I encounter day to day has a lesson to give me and it is my job to appreciate each small interaction as much as the larger ones.

Without the relationships I have made over the past 4 years, I would be a drastically different person. The people I have met have helped guide and inspire me in ways I can barely put in to words. Because of my time in Atlanta, Georgia, I felt I could live 4 months away from home in another country. Because of the risk taking I did abroad, I applied to Horton Center. And because of the people I met at Horton Center, like Rev. Mollie, I have succeeded and surpassed my own expectations in all areas of my life. The inspiration and support I have felt from my guiding mentors has been so important. Through these relationships I have learned to take risks, try new things, and face rejection. When Rev. Mollie shared the news she’d be leaving Horton Center and moving to Colorado at the end of last summer, I was heartbroken to see her go. But I am grateful to see her grow in new places and support me from a distance. I am packing memories and support from friendships.

 

Lesson 5: To grow where you are planted. It wasn’t until my junior year that I really loved being a UNH student. After a rocky first year, a semester abroad, an amazing summer at Horton Center, I came back to UNH and felt some culture shock of being back at a typical college campus. I didn’t love it, but I knew I only had 2 years left and I might as well make them count. My junior year spring semester was the first time I took an outdoor education course on campus. It was a course I definitely would not have taken if I hadn’t worked at Horton Center and met Mollie. And it was a course that I didn’t expect to love as much as I did. The course was an introduction to backpacking and backcountry experiences. All semester I learned hands on how to set up a campsite, cook on a stove, tie knots, and prepare for a week-long trip in the white mountains. When I told people about the class I was in they couldn’t believe I was going to spend a week in the woods with no phone, no toilet, no shower, and just myself and what I put on my back. Through this one outdoor education course I learned more about myself than I have in any other UNH class. Because of that one class, I have completed 4 more courses in rock climbing, high ropes, adventure as a therapy tool, and an emergency medicine class. I brag to some of my friends how for my classes I get to play outside and not get lectured everyday. What I’ve learned about why I love the outdoors so much is that I feel close to God when I’m grounded with the Earth.

Yesterday was Earth day and through justice we must make our voices heard to protect the only planet we will ever live on. When I look out at the mountains I see the beauty that God carved out for us to explore and seek adventure on. I feel the Earth below my feet knowing God intended us to walk our paths with care, love, and gratitude for everything we see and touch. My relationship with God is founded in where I see God’s presence. I feel the spirit among me most when I am among the trees or with my toes in the water, or on top of a mountain with miles and miles of beauty in front of me. I fear that the earth will continue to be treated poorly and the ability to seek refuge in the wilderness will not be as readily available. Where is it that you seek the spirit most? I am a better environmentalist today because of what I have learned in the past 4 years and love that the UCC stands behind the environment. I am packing seeds to plant elsewhere.

 

Last week on Easter morning I asked my mom to read me my favorite childhood story about the Easter Bunny. It takes place in a rabbit hole where there are 4 brother rabbits. They all want to grow up and be the Easter Bunny, as the current easter bunny will retire soon. One brother shares he wants to be the fastest, the other the cleverest, the third the strongest. But early, early was the runt of the litter and he knew he would never get chosen to become the next Easter bunny so he lived about his life playing with younger rabbits and being kind. On a cold winter day the bunnies were out in a snowstorm and encountered a stranger, the 3 brothers said they could not help the stranger, but Early stayed back and led the stranger back to their hole for the night. Months later in the Spring, the Easter Bunny comes to the rabbits and says he has chosen the kindest rabbit of all to take his place. Early was shocked to find out it was him for surely he was not fast, strong, or clever. But the Easter Bunny shared that none of that mattered, for he was kind and selfless, and that is what matters.

 

Of all I have learned in Durham the past 4 years, I hope that I have learned to be kind and selfless. The lessons I have learned have shaped me into a woman I am grateful to be. In my backpack I’m taking with me the wisdom and love of people who’ve shaped me, an embracing attitude of what will come next, seeds to plant myself where ever I go, a passion for social justice, and a thanksgiving for the community who has guided me forward.

Community Church- I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend the past 4 years worshipping in this community. The spirit you have here is what makes me want to come each Sunday. You have all made an impact on my life by being in this community, and I would challenge you to seek out college students in the congregation in years to come so they feel as nourished as I have.

 

I may not know exactly what is next for me, but I do know that it will be a gift to pass on the lessons this community has taught me. The last thing I carry in my backpack is a book of poems by Mary Oliver, and I would like to leave you with this one.

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Amen.IMG_0269

For the Bible Tells Me So

Recently, I was asked to preach at a church and was thrilled to do it!  I was very excited to share a piece of my journey with the congregation and even have some of my friends join me!  The passage it is based on is from 2nd Timothy 3:14
-4:5.  As follows is the written part of what i preached that day.

 

For the Bible tells me so….Think about the first time you ever heard a Bible story.  Where were you? If you remember, what was it about? Who were you with? Was it in the church when the lectionary was being read, or was it a veggie tales movie when you were little or maybe even as a parent? Was it in preparing for a Church school lesson? Or going to your first Bible Study. In this passage we just heard from 2nd Timothy, Paul is writing to Timothy from jail.  We hear Paul tell Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from where you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings.”  

The Bible is a collection of stories, lessons, and teachings from Jesus.  We read these stories in hopes to understand God better, but to also understand one another better.  One of the first Bible stories I remember learning was Jonah.  I was probably 7 years old and we did our church school musical on the story.  I remember wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with a whale on it that said “Oh, Jonah.”  There’s a great picture of myself and other children with our hands out stretched, doing what I’m assuming is singing over Jonah who laid in the middle of the church aisle.  The director of this little musical was a woman from my church who was the choir director.  Christine, a woman who I have grown to love and adore over the years taught us the songs, taught us the dance moves and helped in the teaching of this story.  She passed on many stories to us younger children during choir practices.  

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, it is implied that what Timothy has learned and believed has come from generations in the past. That, these stories, have been passed on from generations to generations and will continue to be passed on with each generation to come.

I have been on staff at Horton Center, the New Hampshire conference UCC summer camp the past two summers.  One of the ways we share scripture and stories with our campers is by having them act the stories out.  This summer, our theme was “Together the Courage to…” Each day had a different theme and story connected to it.  Themes were “Together the Courage to show up, to trust, to forgive, to stand up, to do justice, to change, and to connect.”  Through these themes we connected them with different Bible stories for each day of the week they were with us on Pine Mountain.  Before the campers arrived, we had 10 days of staff training where we bonded, learned the stories, went over procedures, and shared in worship.  We had two worship groups and alternated each day in leading a worship service on that particular day’s theme.  The first group performed a dramatic reading and play on the story of Ruth and Naomi, exhibiting the courage to trust.  With a sunset mountain silhouette as the background, the story was told with conviction, reading from Ruth, “wherever you go, I will go.  Wherever you die, I will die. Your people will be my people, your God will be my God.”  This story has been passed on through the generations to teach us compassion and trust for our family and loved ones.  When we talked with our campers about this story we would ask them if they had someone in their life they would trust whole heartedly the way that Ruth trusted Naomi.  Some weeks with our campers we would compare characteristics of someone we trust with characteristics of God.  I’m sure you can use your imagination of the parallels in that comparison.

Paul’s letter to Timothy reminds us to, “proclaim the message.  Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.”  One of my pastor friends recently shared with me this statistic: On average, it takes asking somebody 8 times before they would consider saying yes to coming to church.  For those of you who came today because I asked you, thank you.  Asking you, or anybody, to come to church with me is a vulnerable experience.  I have always grown up going to church and being involved in the church happenings.  When I came to college, I found a home at the Durham Community Church, but it was different than going to church back home.  Nobody knew me in Durham.  I wasn’t expected to be there every Sunday.  I wasn’t “the faith formation leaders daughter,” but I was Kristen Fowler, a college student choosing to be at church.  Over the past 4 years, I have become more open with my faith and sharing the message that God is love.  But, yet, inviting someone to church with me is terrifying and vulnerable each time I do it.  When I ask someone this, I’m opening my heart up and sharing an important piece of myself with the other person.  I’m saying, “this is a really important piece of who I am, and I would like to share this with you.” But God has called me to proclaim this message, to be persistent, and to sing even when my voice cannot make melodic notes.

I’ll admit, writing this sermon has been a challenge for me.  I didn’t know where to start and I really struggled with the scripture passage.  I was video chatting with my mom the other day about it and as she was reading a section of Homiletics, a sermon resource she had close by,  when a woman came into her office at the church.  The recovering addict woman helps out with the low income community breakfasts my church offers on Tuesday mornings and she has been helping out with cleaning the church up while our custodian has been out sick.  I had never met this woman before, but my mom called her over to the computer screen to meet me and explained to this woman that I was writing a sermon about the Bible.  The woman, Julie, responds saying, “I read the bible everyday. Matthew 7:7 says ‘Ask and it will be given to you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you.’  Julie continued and with a laugh says, ‘I didn’t know you could ask, it’s pretty cool.’”  My mom turned towards the camera and said “see, just ask God to write the sermon for you.”  

Julie is the epitome of living out scripture.  She reads the Bible everyday, can recite it from memory, and learns something new the more she reads it.  That is what Paul is trying to tell Timothy to do in his letter.  ‘Proclaim this message, be persistent, use the scripture for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’

In learning how to be unashamed of my faith and proclaiming the word of God, I’ve been able to use social media to do this.  Through Facebook I’ve shared some witty commentary from the United Church of Christ website and pastors from around the country.  This past week I shared a reading to facebook from my favorite book as well.  The book is entitled “Fragments of Your Ancient Name” written by Joyce Rupp, and it holds 365 prayers with different names for God.  Each day offers a new and different name to call God with a reading and prayer.  The one I shared called God, “Great Companion” I”ll share it with you now:

“In those wobbly moments of doubt

When useless fear invades ferociously,

In those extended heart-pilgrimages

Of searching and sobering discontent,

In those patterns of old behavior

That refuse efforts to be shaken off,

In those troubling, hurtful relationships

And ongoing disillusionments of life,

We have you with us, Great Companion,

To assure us that we do not travel alone.”

I don’t know what led me to take a picture of this reading and post it on my personal page that day, but I felt called to share the beautiful words.  A member from my home church who is living with terminal cancer responded to the words in a comment saying, “I needed that today, feeling alone. Thank you for sharing.”  Proclaiming the message, at favorable or unfavorable times.  

In my my faith journey, I have learned to love the outdoors in the past few years.  Spending time at Horton Center filled me with the spirit and a new adoration for God’s creation.  When it was time to go back to school last fall, I breezed through first semester and was ready to register for spring classes.  I had picked all 4 of my classes and was excited to take photography as my fun class.  But, I had extra time before a class one day and scrolled through the course registry just for fun when I found a class entitled Kinesiology551: Adventure Programming: Backcountry Backpacking.  The class only had 14 spots in it, and since it had been a few days since registration started, I figured there would be no way I would get into the class.  I sent the course description to my mom and my sister and they told me to try.  Five minutes later I was registered for a semester of learning to cook on stoves, set up tarps, tie knots, and pack a backpack.  I spent several weekends hiking through the woods on campus and setting up camp with my classmates and living with what was on our back.  As the semester came to an end and my 6-day expedition grew closer and closer, I began to panic.  I told myself I wasn’t going to be able do this, that I would fail, that I would be the slow person in the group.  I was terrified of sleeping on the ground and not having enough food.  I was worried about how my back would hurt from the 60 pounds I was carrying.  The Sunday before I left for my trip, my pastor at home blessed my backpack, something we do in the fall when school starts back up.  Rev. David, a hiker who has completed the Appalachian Trail, laid his hands on my backpack and on me and prayed that the backpack would be filled with all that I need and that my feet will continue to walk on this journey.  As soon as I took my first step on the trail, a wave of relief and calm came over me.  The smells of the White Mountain National Forest filled my lungs, the warmth of the sun beating on my skin, and the heaviness of my pack didn’t feel as heavy as it did a few minutes before.  Two phrases were going through my head all throughout the 26 miles of white mountain hiking; “be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10 was one of them.  This is a Psalm in the Bible that has resonated with me in times of chaos.  It reminds me to be still, slow down, and know that God is with me now and always.  The other is a song I would sing at the summer camp I went to growing up, the words went like this, “Lord give me strength, to face another day, to journey along life’s road, carry my heavy load. Give me strength, Oh God, to carry on, Oh My Lord.”  I bet you can figure out on your own why that song was on replay in my head through the long up hill climb of the 4832’ mountain we climbed.  Proclaim the message.  I sang this song a few times on the trail without realizing it.  The words just came out of my mouth and classmates asked me what I was singing and I shared the story of the song and why it was important to me.  On our last day of hiking, a classmate spent the whole morning asking me questions about my faith and how my call has led me to where I am.

Proclaim the message.  Be persistent.  Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed.  One of my favorite things I’ve learned in life is the history of campfires.  How campfires have been a way for people to share stories since the beginning of time.  I picture Jesus and his disciples, his friends, sitting around campfires telling stories.  And how those very stories were written on tablets, and how those tablets were written in Hebrew into a book.  And how the book has been translated into all different languages and sits in the best sellers section at the bookstore.  How those same stories Jesus shared, perhaps around a campfire, are still being shared today.  Through the reading of scripture in church, the acting out of stories at summer camp, through children’s musicals, social media, asking 8 times to come to church, proclaim the message because the Bible tells me so.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!  Continue to proclaim the message that you know in your heart.  Persistence is hard, but always well worth it.

 

~special K

taking risks

Three years ago if you had told me I was going to go backpacking for a week in the woods, with no shower, carrying everything on my back, sleeping on the Earth, and climbing mountains, I would have laughed in your face.  I would not have believed you in the slightest.  But somehow over the past year I have been shaped into loving the outdoors, loving the mountains and the Earth, and finding a passion for challenging myself.

In December when I registered for spring classes I registered for a backcountry backpacking experience class.  I signed up on a whim, not expecting the class to have open spots.  But when I clicked ‘submit’ and i saw “registered: backcountry backpacking” on my screen I decided it was a sign that I was ready to challenge myself once more.  All semester I learned new things about backpacking, hiking, living in the woods, how to use a stove, how to plan a meal in the woods, and I learned that I could do this.  The class went on all semester leading up to our final trip: 6 days and 5 nights in the White Mountain National Forest.  Just us in the class, our teacher, and the packs on our backs.  The trip made me anxious beyond belief.  How could I sleep on the ground for 5 nights? How will I have room in my backpack for everything I need for 6 days? How will I change clothes? How will I go to the bathroom? What if I get sick? What if I can’t do it?

But as May 22nd came closer and closer, I inevitably had to accept that i was going on this trip and that the only choice I had was to survive. That Sunday night we met in the gym at UNH to pack our bags and go over our routes for the week.  Each day seemed doable with low mileage and nice places to camp.  My bag was surprisingly light for the amount that I had to bring.  I had all my food and clothes packed, my headlamp and water bottles, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, and a camera to capture some memories. Monday morning we left UNH for a 3 hour drive up to the Wild River Campground where we began our journey.

Over the 6 days I was challenged in almost every step I took.  Whether it was sitting in lightning position in the pouring rain for 45 minutes, or the exhaustion of hiking in 85 degree weather and running low on water, putting on wet and muddy socks for a day with 6 miles of hiking, or the constant stink that lingered on my clothes; through all of these challenges and struggles, I slowly opened up and grew with every step.  Hiking up the mountains I appreciated the breeze that whispered through the trees.  I smiled at the cool moss growing on top of rocky surfaces.  I laughed when my foot got stuck in the mud bogs, causing my boots to disguise their color once again.  On the 3rd day we hiked Carter Dome, a 4832′ mountain in the WMNF.  This day I thought would be the hardest because of the elevation up and down, the heat, and the weight of my pack.  My already exhausted muscles awoke early for breakfast (oatmeal) and to begin hiking by 8am.  We were about halfway up the trail and I was exhausted.  My muscles ached, my entire body was sweating, my mind was telling me I couldn’t do it.  When I looked down and let out a sigh of frustration that I thought I couldn’t do this I saw a heart rock.  Now, in my family, heart rocks are pretty special.  My mom and I collect them, or at least take pictures or point them out when seen as a way to remember God’s beauty.  I saw that heart rock on the trail and I smiled.  I knew that my mom was thinking of me and I knew that God was with me.  As I kept walking, placing one foot in front of the other, a butterfly flew by and I almost cried. I was so overwhelmed with the feeling of the Holy Spirit that I knew I could keep going.  I was overwhelmed with the negativity consuming me that I forgot to enjoy the beauty around me.  That was the turning moment of my day.  I still struggled and it was challenging but that summit (both false and real) felt that much better because I knew that I was capable of backpacking for 6 days.  When we got back to the campsite that night dinner never tasted so good, and my muscles never ached more, and I slept better than I had in weeks.

Due to not ideal weather on Friday, we decided to do Thursday and Friday’s sections in one day to avoid being on an exposed ridge in a thunder and lightening storm.  Thursday began with a 5am wake up call, breakfast (oatmeal), and hitting the trails a little before 7am.  Thursday was my day to co-lead and as if the 9 miles wasn’t intimidating enough, being leader for the morning half of the day just added to the anxiety I was feeling. The “mostly flat” trail was not what it seemed and we were all surprised with the uphill climbs that came, what seemed, around every corner.  The day was heating up with high temperatures and the sun was blazing causing a hazey feeling among the woods.  The sweat was dripping, the bags were heavy, the muscles were aching, and my heart was pounding.  As we approached our first summit of Eagle Crag I was so relieved to be able to take my pack off and enjoy some lunch with a view.  We had lunch in the exposed sun which was a great idea until we started hiking again.  I instantly felt sick, overheated, exhausted, nauseous, and the negativity of whether I could do this came back.  I didn’t want to speak up because I was sure it was just me feeling this way (it wasn’t).  The story I told myself was that I was weak for not being able to handle this.  I told myself that this was just more proof that I was unfit to be a backpacker and that the woods, as soothing as they are, are no place for me to survive in.  About 20 minutes into hiking after lunch we stopped for a water break and the look on my face read panic because everybody started to admit that, they too, felt sick and nauseous and overheated.  We stopped in the shade for 40 minutes just drinking water, eating salty snacks, and finding a place to dip my headband to cool me down.  This was the hardest moment of the trip for me. The heat was taxing and took a toll on my physical ability to be in touch with myself and my anxiety limited me from speaking up sooner that I need more water and a break.  But with the support of my amazing group and some coping skills I soon came back to myself and was reassured that it was just the heat telling me I couldn’t go on.  After a grueling day with incredible views we arrived at Blue Brook Campsite where we set up camp, had the best burritos I’ve ever eaten (maybe because I was just so hungry and tired), and enjoyed a relaxing evening that led into a relaxing day.  Friday we spent by the Blue Brook, dipping my toes in the water, scrubbing the caked on dirt off of my legs, and having great conversations with great people.  We played cards for hours and enjoyed a day with little movement and lots of relaxation.

When we got back to Durham on Saturday I was all kinds of emotions.  I was sad it was over, but also happy.  I loved showering and using a toilet, but I missed the serenity of the woods.  I was grateful for cell phone service, but I almost wish I had more days away from the technology that sometimes takes over our lives.  The most amazing part of this trip was having a group that was supportive in every step on the journey. I’m grateful for this experience because it taught me how to live a life of simplicity, even if it was just a week.

I am looking forward to more experiences outside and finding God in nature in more places. To hike more mountains and challenge myself spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  But above all, I’m excited to see where my feet take me. Because if you told me a year ago that I could backpack for a week and enjoy hiking, I’d laugh in your face. But my body has amazed me and it has so many more places to take me.

~Special K

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incredible presidential views
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new friends with great views!

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a little dirty