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

 

Climbing Mountains

As the semester is winding down I find myself reflecting on the past school year.  A year ago, I was heartbroken knowing I was coming home from Scotland and the best 5 months of my life.  I was scared and excitedly anxious about the new summer camp I would be working at for 3months, and I was worried about going back to school in the fall knowing I had changed and things would be different.

But, here I am a year later.  This past year has been the hardest academic year, and this past semester has been the hardest and most difficult semester I have had while at college.  But through it all I have found myself growing into the person I want to be. I have found myself reflecting on the growth I have noticed in myself and am amazed by what I’ve accomplished.  Through adversity and hard times, I have triumphed and continued to push myself to be better.

Last year was a year of ‘yes’.  I was abroad and everything was new and exciting and I was smiling all the time.  I came back and spent a summer at an amazing summer camp with amazing people and through the nervousness I felt pre-camp, I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be and smiled everyday knowing I found a place that makes me so happy. But then the fall came.  I was on a high of everything that I had tried working out that I forgot what failure and disappointment felt like. But when I was faced with these disappointments I didn’t let it stop me. I continued on and invested my time and energy into other new and different things and began feeling more alive than ever.  I was more involved in my service fraternity and held a position on the executive board this semester.  I had made new friends in classes that I started spending time with outside of class.  My social life was more full. I got spiritual nourishment through the Waysmeet Center and DCC and even was able to speak in church and make more connections that made me feel even more at home in Durham.  Life seemed pretty great for a while.

Then this semester happened.  I was taking very difficult classes and struggling with subject material. I was finding less time for self-care and struggling with ways to love myself.  And anxiety crept into my life making me hyper-aware of everything I was doing and questioning myself more than ever.  The thing I am most proud of this semester was realizing that I was struggling and finding ways to get help.  When I realized I was struggling and why, I moseyed on over to the counseling center to stop anxiety in it’s tracks and take the reigns again.

Through many sessions with my counselor I was feeling better and I was feeling happier.  I had the tools to get me through the difficult times and even better, I had the most amazing support system.  The friends I reconnected with this semester and the new friends I made were the most amazing gift I could’ve been given. Almost every session with Christy* she would tell me “Wow. I just can’t believe you’re doing all these things. You’re on the exec board, you’re active in this organization, you’re going to church, you’re seeing your friends, you’re going for walks, and you’re still trying new things.  Everything that you do just proves how you will not let anxiety or depression or mental health get in the way of how you want to live your life. You should be proud of yourself for everything you’re doing.” And every time she said that to me, it was like I was snapped back to reality.

It was true. This is my one life on Earth. This is my only May 4th, 2016. This is the only time I will experience my junior year of college at UNH with some of the most amazing people in my life.  I am blessed with a support system that encourages me to try new things and reach out of my comfort zone. My mom, Kerri, Erin, and Mollie; you 4 amazing ladies have helped me continue to be better this year. Whether it be phone calls when I am crying, non stop texts throughout the day, surprising me for my birthday, sleepovers with dogs, or a text just saying ‘I’m thinking about you.’ I would not have been able to grow as much as I have this year without you.

It may have sounded easy in this blog post, but this semester was anything but easy. But one thing I have learned is that when you are living through something terrible and exhausting and difficult, you can’t always pull yourself out alone.  For years I lived in my rut of emptiness and being alone. But I know that I don’t have to do that anymore. In a few weeks I am finishing the biggest challenge of my semester by ending a class with a 6 day backpacking trip. I am excited, nervous, anxious, scared, happy, overwhelmed, and ready to be faced with a new challenge that will push me to the edge.  But, as Meredith Grey says in a wonderful voiceover in my favorite show, “They take pictures of mountain climbers at the top of a mountain. They’re smiling, ecstatic, triumphant. They don’t take pictures along the way because who wants to remember the rest of it? We push ourselves because we have to, not because we like it. The relentless climb, the pain and anguish of taking it to the next level. Nobody takes pictures of that. Nobody wants to remember. We just wanna remember the view from the top. The breathtaking moment at the edge of the world. That’s what keeps us climbing. And it’s worth the pain. That’s the crazy part. It’s worth anything.”

I push myself because it’s worth the pain.  The beauty in the madness and in the struggle makes us rise stronger and be better. So I will climb mountains for 6 days. And I will climb mountains every tomorrow to be better than I was today.

~Special K

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*Name changed for confidentiality

I Matter… You Matter

“When was the last time anybody ever told you how important you are?” -Maya Angelou

If you’re trying to think about the last time someone told you that you were important or that you matter, then I’m sure you’re not alone.  Often we go through our lives wondering if we made a mark or made a difference to someone. Today, March 28th, is Worldwide I Matter…You Matter Day. Today is all about kindness, caring, connections, and reminding those in your life that they matter.

This message is so simple- You matter. The You Are Never Alone Foundation has been putting on this day for years and each year I find myself falling more and more in love with the day and message. Celebrating each year is always different and there’s a new way of spreading the message. Whether it was handing out laminated paper ‘coins’ with the words “I matter you matter” on it, or having tables set up handing out positivity and spreading kindness on my college campus- it’s always an adventure.

Even though the message is simple, we forget sometimes that we do matter. Use this day to tell others in your life why they matter to you, but also take a moment for self care and self love and do something for yourself. I stand in the mirror and tell myself how beautiful I am, inside and out, as an act of self love. Also, sending messages to friends and family is a way I remind myself I matter because without those close to me, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

So, wherever you are on March 28th- spread the message! visit yanaf.org for more information on how you can share acts of kindness, but whatever you do- SHARE THE MESSAGE AND PASS IT ON!

Thanks for reading- you all matter 🙂

~Special K

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Fighter

Self Harm Awareness Day is a day that I never wanted to think about because I felt I never needed an ‘awareness’ day to be aware of an issue I try to forget.  But this is a real issue that affects 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males during their lifetime starting at a young age and often continuing into their young 20’s.  I would like to share my story for the first time.

When I was 14 and a freshmen in high school I started self-harming as a way to cope with my depression.  Nobody noticed, and if they did I would shrug it off saying my cat scratched me or I cut myself while cooking.  Nobody questioned my answers because I’m sure nobody wanted to know what was really going on.  I started going to a therapist and after a while I realized how much I didn’t like her and although I had stopped self-harming, my depression still existed.  Sophomore year came around and I felt like I couldn’t handle my life in any way.  I didn’t know how to healthily cope with the emptiness and loneliness I was feeling so I resorted to self harming once again.  This time it was worse. The cuts would bleed through my long sleeved shirts and I hardly ever wore shorts in gym and made sure to change in the bathroom where nobody could see my thighs.  I had made myself into a human cutting board and I wanted more than anything to stop but I didn’t know how.  That summer things got better.  I found a therapist that I clicked with and started making progress with healthy coping mechanisms to use when I felt out of control and that I wanted to hurt myself.  During my junior year I had a few relapses.  Some were bad and some were worse.  And I don’t know when my depression took over and why self harming was the way that I chose to make me feel something-anything, but I knew that it had.  It was taking control and making me say ‘no’ to things I always did. I stopped going in our hot tub for fear of people seeing the various cuts on my body. I almost didn’t play tennis because I was scared of people seeing my legs when we wore our uniforms. When I took our class trip to Costa Rica, I prayed that the scars wouldn’t be visible on the beach.  It happened so fast that I didn’t realize I was becoming someone I didn’t recognize. Often times people say self harm is “for attention,” but how could I be doing it for attention when all I wanted to was to hide it from every single person in my life.  It was my secret, and I was so scared for anybody to know.  It was an addiction that I just wanted to stop and I didn’t know how.

The summer after my junior year of high school I told myself that I needed to end this vicious cycle.  It had been 4 months since I had last self harmed and I wanted my streak to continue.  I threw away everything in my possession I could use to hurt myself and prayed while tears streamed down my face.  I took a deep breath, got up, and went about my day at my favorite summer camp.  As months went by I found myself coming back alive.  I no longer needed pain to feel something, I found love from animals and being outside.  I found love in new friends and the hopes of going to college and seeing a future outside of my small town.  I prayed more often, knowing that God loved me in my brokenness and imperfections and that I am being shaped into who God wants me to be at every step of my journey.  As my graduation date became closer and more real (something I never thought I would see!), I decided I would get a tattoo to remember how strong I am.  On my leg, a place that hid years of mutilation, reads the word “fighter” with a turtle next to it.

Depression often hides the future from us.  I couldn’t see clearly and I certainly couldn’t see the future so when I realized I was graduating and getting out of a town that I felt was too small for a girl with big dreams I knew that I was a fighter. And I fought through 4 years of high school, drama, tears, depression, stress, and hating myself to become who I am now.  In my brokenness and imperfections, I am everything I should be.

Today, on Self Harm Awareness Day, I wanted to share my story because this is an issue that so many teens and young adults are affected by and often it goes unnoticed.  I have the most amazing family that loves and supports me through everything I have ever done, and without them I would not be who I am today.  Be aware of those around you suffering with mental illness because it is not our choice.  I would have done anything to not feel the way I did for so long, and I am glad that I fought my way through because life is so much brighter when you aren’t seeing it through depressions eyes.  And I am so happy to be alive on this crazy, whirlwind and roller coaster experience we call life.

~Special K

**If you are worried about someone in your life that they may be self-harming, always reach out and find help. 1 (800) 273-8255 is the suicide prevention hotline, and there are many resources for helping someone who is self-harming at http://www.befrienders.org

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wait…did you say church?

Being a progressive christian while in college has some challenges.  However, explaining that you’re going to church is one of the first obstacles to face. Here are some funny (yet real) responses I’ve gotten the past few years when I’ve said those *dreaded* words “I’m going to church.”

  • wait…did you say church?

I’m glad to hear your ears are working well! I did say church- why you ask? Simply because I like going!

  • what time do you have to get up in the morning??

I understand Sunday mornings are sometimes sacred time to sleep in and rest after a night out or a stressful week- but I enjoy my early(ish) morning walk to church on an almost empty campus. And plus, 9am is not THAT early.

  • Do you go alone…

Going to church is something I enjoy doing. I don’t mind going alone and sometimes it’s my favorite time in the week to be away from the college and with a community of church goers. However, if you ever wanted to come with me I’d be happy to worship with you!

  • wow you are so dedicated!!!

I honestly don’t know why this is a response. I’m not ‘dedicated’ to church. I enjoy worshipping, singing, meditating, praying, listening, and feeling everything during an hour at church. It’s not dedication, it’s an act of self-love.

  • I’ve never been to mass, what’s it like?!

I don’t know, I’ve never been to mass either.

  • Good for you!

Thanks! It truly is good for my spiritual growth and journey to go!

  • If you’re going to church why are you wearing jeans?

My mom always answered this question “God doesn’t care what you wear.” I agree. The God that created this world has more things to worry about than whether I am in Sunday’s best or not.

  • Is the priest nice?

What’s a priest?

  • I didn’t know people still went to church

OOOH! I’m a people and I still go!

  • I used to go to church, I bet I’d burst into flames if I walked into one now

Maybe churches have changed since you’ve been, but I can almost assure you that you wouldn’t catch on fire. (Although, I did light paper on fire in church tonight which was a first!)

And my personal Favorite:

  • If you’re going to church does that mean you’re against gay marriage and think I’m going to hell?

As the UCC puts it, “Wherever and whoever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” (So no, I don’t think you’re going to hell, and I am all for marriage equality!)

[this blog post is supposed to make you laugh. please don’t take it too close to heart]