This weekend, I found myself at the Woolly Worm Festival in Beattyville, Kentucky. It was my second frequenting of the festival, and one of many visits to Lee County. Beattyville is the location where I first fell in love with Kentucky, and where seeds of passion and service were planted into my heart and soul.
My junior year of high school I made one of the best decisions of my life. It was a hard decision, as it was to quit an activity that I had enjoyed in a life-altering way the previous two years, however said passion had began to fade because of extenuating circumstances [which are not of importance at this instance]. I didn’t like the idea of quitting. Perseverance was more my go-to choice, but something in my heart said it was time.
It was probably one of my first “adulting” difficult conversations as I told the director that “it just isn’t for me anymore.” She was disappointed, but grateful that I told her about it – and supportive of my future ventures. You see, since I quit New Wine, I was able to go on my church’s Kentucky mission trip! One decision to quit, to end something – however good it may have been in its time – radically changed my life for the better.
Two trips to Lee County, Kentucky, my summers after my junior and senior years of high school, planted seeds that were nourished and grew during my college years. The desires of service helped me persevere through the mundane life of classes, homework, work and research papers. Many times in college, I felt blah, because I just wanted to be actually helping someone.
Towards the end of my senior year of college, one of my high school youth group friends [who I grew closer to through our Kentucky mission trips] and I were researching what to do after we graduated. She was looking into being a long-term volunteer with an organization in Kentucky. Thinking I might be interested in it too, she shared it with me. What’s the name of this organization you ask? The Christian Appalachian Project (CAP).
I probably procrastinated my discernment process, as college taught me well, but God didn’t let that stop him. The August after my college graduation, I found myself moving into a volunteer house with approximately ten strangers ready to invest in community and to serve God in Appalachia. I requested to live in the Jackson County house because it was the closest community to Beattyville, where part of my heart was already planted.
The first month or two were quite difficult for me. I didn’t immediately transition into loving Kentucky. You see, the summer after I graduated Bethel (or Beth-hell, as I called it – clearly I wasn’t a big fan…) I found myself in a place of comfort. I moved back home, close to Duluth, Minnesota, where I was close to several friends I grew up with while still able to keep in contact with the friends I acquired in college. I didn’t have a steady job, but I occupied my time with leading a Bible study, investing in friends, and taking my Gma shopping. Life was good. Life was comfortable, and it’s difficult to trade comfort for something new, but it is also necessary.
. . .
A couple weeks in to my new Kentucky/volunteer life I wrote about “Trusting God with the what ifs” in my journal. These were my fears at the time:
My what if fears:
- Grandma will die while I’m away?
- I’m not good enough for this position?
- God makes me stay a second year when I’m already homesick now?
- What if I drive off a cliff?
- I’m not a good enough housemate?
- I never get over this homesickness?
Some of them were quite valid, while others were less rational. I ended up getting over my homesickness at orientation a couple weeks later. This is also when I started to invest more in my community and became a great housemate, for the most part. Practice makes perfect, and I have yet to drive off a cliff… ::knock on wood:: #racecardriver Not only did I stay a second [and a half] year, but I also connected with my friend/twin on a dock who also had an inkling that she would stay a second year. (We both now work at CAP, and have been housemates and apartmentmates in and outside of CAP volunteer life. #justkeeptwinning) I was definitely good enough for the position, and the position planted seeds for future career opportunities. And finally, Gma did pass away in the spring of my second year. Though by that time I was so deeply rooted in my community that such a loss only brought us all closer together. Those months before and after her passing are when I felt the most connected to my community, and felt God’s love more fully than I ever had before.
God is so faithful.
. . .
Watching the Cumberland Mountain Outreach (CMO) float pass by, at the parade on Saturday, I clapped and hollered, and felt a rush of emotions overwhelm me. I could hear my voice choke back tears as I told my friends about the organization and the missionaries that inspired my love of Kentucky and my desire to serve here. This is where it all began, and that lady on the float, Cindy, was who I wanted to be when I grew up. However in this instance, they were more of gratitudinous feelings – as if things were wrapping up.
Mission trips to Kentucky consisted of so many things I loved. We stopped at horse farms, did touristy things and ate Fazoli’s along the way. Kentucky sunrises and sunsets were magnificently pressed into my memory. We square-danced and had a clogging lesson. I line-danced to a local bluegrass group (a key “falling in love with Kentucky” moment for me). We played tennis and swam. We led a day camp for local youth, and did home improvement work at the mission center as well as on participants’ homes. I made friends with people that I thought were too cool for me, and some of them became life-long besties (ahem Jordan 😉 #bunfactory #fruitfighters). We grew in faith and fellowship. #ephesians2:10 We shared and listened to testimonies. And as we listened to the story of Cindy and Bruce, I felt a similar rush of emotions, except these were of a new beginning, a heart-pounding desire to serve.
. . .
It’s funny how life works. In the middle of my CAP journey, I found myself at a meeting at Natural Bridge State Park. This was while I was the volunteer host for our groups during my second and a half year(s) as a long-term volunteer. CMO had used this facility as well, a couple times a week to take a our day-campers for a refreshing dip in the pool. We also hit Hoedown Island on Saturday nights to partake in the square dancing fun.
There, I experienced a full-circle moment. While on break from the meeting, I looked down from the lodge to the pool below. I saw my high school self looking back, proud that I had made it. Glad that though it all, my dreams had come true. I survived college and the rough patches, and I was actually doing it – I had given up my comfortable life, and became a missionary in Kentucky.
. . .
In Karen Kingbury’s The Bridge (the movie version), at the end of the first movie Molly tells Ryan that it is snowing, and he asks her what it’s like. She says hopefully, “It makes all the lights feel magical. Makes everything feel like… Like a blank slate. New and promising.”
That’s how felt at the parade. Like my Kentucky journey had come full circle. As the CMO float passed, I felt my Kentucky journey wrapping up, as my heart is opening up to a new door, a new dream… Ready to harvest another seed that was planted awhile ago… A new circle, a fresh opportunity, and an exciting adventure awaits.