Southern Spring & Dear Friends

There is something about a road trip that gets my heart racing.  When I’m having a bad day, thinking about an open highway is the perfect escape.  Growing up, my parents loaded my brothers and I in our minivan and drove us around the country–from Maine to Alabama to national parks out west.

It’s been about a year since I’ve properly traveled.  Last April, I did a month-long trek across Europe on my own.  Upon returning, my bank account was dangerously empty and I’ve been focusing on my librarian career ever since.

Still, it was high time for a road trip.

This past weekend, I took a few days off and made the trek with a friend from Minnesota to Nashville, Tennessee.  Round-trip, we drove 1,500 miles and spent about 24 hours in the car.  Our only mishap was a speeding ticket in Iowa.

The further south we went, the world came alive.  It was as if we pressed fast-forward on Spring.  Grass and flowers emerged, the temperature dropped, and leaves sprouted from trees.  By the time we arrived in Nashville, we had stripped down to t-shirts and shorts for a few days of summery warmth. Continue reading

Kidnapping the Austrians

Over the past year, I’ve been in a position where almost all my close friends live far away.  For the most part, this absolutely sucks.  I’m the type of person that doesn’t need to be surrounded by people all the time.  Give me a few solid souls to lean on and I am set.  It’s been incredibly difficult without the people I love most in the world by my side.  No amount of reading and Netflix can compensate for deep talks and belly laughter.

The one good thing, though, is that it makes the time I have with my dear ones so much more precious.

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Right to left: Anna, Emma, Anna-Laura, and me. Taken while waiting for the hometown parade to start.

This past weekend, I was able to spend time with some of my favorite people in the world, who happen to live in Austria.  We met at Camp Shamineau, where I spent the past three summers working, but our friendship has gone far beyond camp life.  When I studied abroad in Europe, I visited their home in the Alps.  This weekend, I brought them to see my home.

I don’t really know what to say about my time with the Austrians.  I dragged them through several charming small towns, to a local parade, a waterfall, and (of course) Target.  We laid around, ate good food, and soaked in each other’s company.

Being around people you care about brings out the best in you.

During the past few months at home, certain pieces of myself have gone dormant.  I’ve forgotten what a joy it is to serve others, to put their needs before my own, and what it feels like to be surrounded by my Christian brothers and sisters.  My faith does best when I am on my own, independent of my parents, and although this summer hasn’t been BAD, it hasn’t been productive.  I’ve lost sight of what it means to GROW in my faith.  I’ve settled for getting by.

The two days spent with my Austrian friends reminded me of these things.  Just by being in their presence, listening to them talk, I felt God’s Spirit flare up in my heart.

Anna and I by the waterfall near where I live
Anna and I by the waterfall near where I live

I felt a desire to grow, to serve, to love.  I wanted to spend time investing in my faith instead of hobbies and activities.

Saying goodbye to Anna, Emma, and Anna-Laura today was incredibly sad.  They’re some of the dearest people in my heart and, since we live on other sides of the world, I don’t know when I’m going to see them next.  But being with them helped remind me of so many things that I had let slip by, giving me badly needed encouragement regarding my future plans.  I am so thankful for that.

However, I do know that these girls and I are friends for life.  I never imagined I would come to be tied so deeply to a bunch of people from Austria–of all places, why there?  I cling to the knowledge that we will meet again.  Friends like them don’t come along every day–and when they do, they stick.  I don’t know how much time will pass between today and our next meeting, but I earnestly look forward to it.

This weekend was, by far, the highlight of my summer thus far.

Bachelorette Party Crashing

When you work at home for your parents and have little to no social life, you generally don’t wake up on a Saturday morning thinking, “Today, I’m going to crash a bachelorette party.”  But the crazy/wonderful thing about life is that anything can happen.

The morning began as most do: With the alarm going off and making a disgruntled noise that kind of sounds like a dying cow.  (“Mmmmmmmrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh…”)  A cup of tea and bowl of cereal later, I was still groggy.  Despite this, I had places to go and people to see.

Actually, the only place I had to go was a wedding shower.  One of my from-the-cradle childhood friends is getting married at the end of the month and, because I didn’t get an invite to the ceremony and reception (they’re keeping things small), I wanted to make the shower.  I haven’t seen Steph in YEARS and knew my presence would mean a lot.

My mother (who invited herself along) and I arrived at the event fashionably late.  I found myself in a gorgeous house filled with older women I don’t know well and girls I grew up with.  In true post-grad fashion, everyone wanted to know what my future plans were.  (Which is awkward when I myself am still figuring out the answer.)  Still, it was good to see everyone.  There were several friends I haven’t seen in years, including my old babysitter who got married straight out of high school.  (Who had several stories to share about Child Amelia that were extremely entertaining.)

As the event wore on, though, I kept hearing little mentions of things going on after the shower was over.  “Did you bring something for Steph to wear?”, “When we’re at the restaurant…”, “I picked out something fun for us to do later…”  It was hard not to pick up on the comments, especially when they came from the girls my age.  At one point, my mom came up and whispered in my ear: “It looks like there’s stuff going on after the shower.  If you want to stay, I can pick you up later.”  Of course, at that point, I had no idea what the vague other plans were and didn’t know if I was invited.  To say all this made me uncomfortable would be a severe understatement.

I was ready to leave when one of my friends mentioned that, if I wanted to stay, she could drop me off on her way home.  Although I had hoped to spend a relaxing day reading, watching Game of Thrones, and getting ready for another week of blogging, I knew that this was my in and that I should take it.  So I said yes found myself unexpectedly attending my first-ever bachelorette party.

It was a fun afternoon, with all the quirky little bachelorette traditions.  We went to a local restaurant and Steph wore a cute dress with a Barbie pink “Bride to Be” sash, complete with a tiara and shawl.  Her sister-in-law had straws with big kissy lips and Batman themed edible necklaces.  We shared appetizers, entrée, and deserts while discussing future plans and pressing Steph about any pre-wedding jitters.

Next to the place we ate was a hotel and, after giving the lady at the counter $5, we had open access to their pool and spa area.  We milled about in the pool and hot-tub, splashing each other and playing variations of “Two Truths and a Lie”.  (A game I generally loathe, but have been forced into enough times to know how to grin and bear.)  We ended up being at the pool for the majority of the afternoon.  When I checked my phone to see if I had any “Where are you?” texts from my mother (there were none), I was shocked to see it was almost five o’clock.  The day had absolutely flown by.

It’s amazing what unexpected joys a day brings.  At the end of it, I’m exhausted from all the social interaction and small-talk (#introvert), but I’m so thankful for not only the chance to see old friends, but spend all day with them.  It was so fun to talk about all the childhood memories, sleepovers, church trips, and gush about our hopes for the future.  Most of all, it was an absolute pleasure to celebrate Steph share her excitement about taking on the adventures of marriage.

Who knows what kind of adventure I’ll land myself in next Saturday?

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Go Bold

There are friends.  And then there are friends like Jenny.

We met during my freshman year of college.  Although we became acquaintances in the first month, I didn’t get to know her until spring semester.  I was close (and still am) with her roommate, Julie.  Because the shallow friendships with my floormates began to run their course, I took up the habit of visiting Julie’s dorm in Gay Hall.  It’s then that I got to know Jenny.  After a couple of weeks, it became evident that I was no longer crashing Gay to see Julie.  I was all about hanging out with Jenny.  We’ve been close ever since.

How do I even begin to describe Jenny?

She’s the kind of person you want by your side.  She’s a wonderful listener and is always ready and able to give you encouragement.  She’s smart, insightful, and notices details that often get glossed over.  She’s incredibly funny and can drop puns like nobody’s business.  She’s gifted in hospitality and an expert in how to make an excellent cup of coffee.

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I’d post a nice photo of the two of us, but they kind of don’t exist. They’re all similar to this one. (Yes, I am in the midst of eating cheese. Cheese is glorious.)

 

Most of all, though, she has an incredible heart for God.  It’s been amazing watching Him turn her life around.  When we met, she had her heart set on majoring in biology, running a nursing home, marrying a lumberjack and settling down with kids.  Now, she’s a Morris grad (with an English degree) on the brink of moving to Japan to spend the next two years as a missionary.

Throughout college, I got to see Jenny’s faith grow and evolve.  She had her own plans and dreams, but one day, God spoke to her.  He said: “If I asked you to go, would you?”  She said yes.  The process of being called to a lifetime of missions wasn’t an easy one.  Jenny had to let go of a lot.  She had to face her struggles, her insecurities, her fears.  She says it this way:

While I can hardly believe I felt this way initially anymore, at first I felt utterly dejected. Like I said, I had other plans for myself, filled with good things that I wanted to do in this world. I knew I was going to have to let those go. So I asked God, that if this was really what He wanted for me, to change my heart, to make every other possible career choice and plan for my life be completely unsatisfying and empty. Over the course of that year He did exactly that.  Now there is hardly a thing that excites me more than active ministry and loving people. (Taken from one of her blog posts)

Although she graduated a year early, Jenny has been one of my solid rocks this school year.  She’s been living at home, floating from job to job, and has always been available to talk.  When I’m frustrated, I call Jenny.  When I’m ecstatic, I call Jenny.  When I just need someone to talk to, I call Jenny.  With her, conversation flows from one subject to the next and, before I know it, hours have passed.

Yesterday, I saw Jenny in person for the last time.  We went out for tea and, in true fashion, talked for hours.  I intended on being home for dinner, but it wasn’t long before I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  Why go home when I can be with Jenny one last time?  In a couple of weeks, she’s off for at least two years teaching English in Japan.

It’s hard saying goodbye to someone who has had such a big impact on your life.  But, with Jenny, it’s not as if this goodbye is forever.  Even though we’ll be on the other sides of the planet, it’s not like we won’t talk.  That’s the beauty of the internet.  Yes, staying in touch is challenging and definitely takes work.  But, with Jenny, it’ll happen.

If you’re interested in getting to know Jenny, following her adventures in Japan, and seeing what God does in her life, you can follow her blog, Go Bold.  If you ask me, she’s worth paying attention to.

Jenny & Tyler @ Art House North

If you remember back to my second “Influential Albums” post, one of my favorite bands of all time is Jenny & Tyler.  Well.  This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see them play live!  On Saturday, I drove to the Twin Cities from Morris, kidnapped my friend Ruth and, after a delicious Chipotle dinner, headed to the show.

The show took place at a venue called Art House North, a renovated church owned by Troy and Sara Groves.  The Groves’ vision is to create a place for artists of all kinds (painters, writers, musicians, photographers, actors, designers, etc.) to “express themselves and wrestle with questions of faith, culture and beauty”.  It’s a place for collaboration and community, for people to “foster creativity inspired by the pain of the world and the beauty of the gospel”.  It’s a place to “demonstrate the way of Jesus by seeking justice through art and living as creative advocates”.  (Information taken from their Facebook Page).

It was my first time at Art House North, and Ruth and I were both impressed by the environment the Groves have created.  The space itself, with the church pews, Christmas lights, and fall decorations, has all the nostalgia of old-time-religion.  All the while, the atmosphere is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Even though Ruth and I entered the doors as strangers, we left feeling like we had forged new friendships.  There were so many kind souls at the event, and it was a pleasure getting to know people who had been strangers.

Now on to Jenny & Tyler.  I discovered them by accident several years ago.  In fact, I found them via an ad on Facebook.  Upon clicking said ad, I found myself on NoiseTrade where one of their albums was available for free.  I downloaded said album and immediately fell in love.  Their music soon became a staple in my life, carrying me through and over many spiritual hills and valleys over the past several years.  I listened to them in times of grieving, in times of loneliness, and in times of bold adventure.  Their music filled me with the courage to fly to London for a semester abroad.

The husband and wife duo simply emanate the Holy Spirit.  Their harmonies are saturated in the love and peace of God.  Their website describes them in this way:

In a crowded industry glutted by banality, Jenny & Tyler stand out as true psalmists. Their music holds a mirror up to nature, culture and all the reckless passions of the human heart and points ultimately toward a Creator. Their songs mark them as modern-day contemplatives and troubadours, rooted in age-old wisdom set to new melodies.

IMG_2942Because their music means so much to me, the concert was a perfect one.  They were a bit awkward on stage between songs, but that added to their charm.  Jenny is the image of sweetness and Tyler is deeply passionate.  Even though they perform the same songs week after week, it felt like they were singing for the first time.  When they sing, their love for God is so evident.  They performed a song about their 15 month old daughter and their love for her shined.  And when they told the story of how they met and performed their love song “One Eyed Cat”, they kept giving each other these adorable sideways glances that showed how much they continue to adore each other.

Ruth said to me after the show, “I kept looking over at you and you were absolutely beaming!”

It was true.  The evening filled me with so much joy that it was hard to stop smiling.

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Ruth and I on the stage area after the show.

Seeing the following song live was one of the highlights of the show.  It had never been one of their standout numbers for me until now.  Tyler described it as a “divine love song”–words stood out to me, and have helped me fall completely in love with “Song for You”.