Have you ever had one of those moments when you pull into your driveway and realize that you don’t remember driving home? I’m having one of those moments. All of a sudden, I looked up and realized that I am 4 days short of being home for Christmas and halfway through the Fellows Program. How did that happen?! I don’t want to let all the wonderful experiences from the last semester slip by, so I think it’s time for a study break to reflect on the past 4 months. I still remember pulling into my host family’s driveway right as my host mom was putting out a sign that said, “Welcome Home Keri!” in purple paint that still hadn’t quite dried all the way. This very same sign would stay in the driveway for the next month, reminding me that this really was home. I remember walking through the front door, directly into a flurry of hugs and introductions, followed quickly by the order to put my shoes back on because we were going to a party. I went from not knowing a soul in Charlottesville to meeting 10 former fellows and an array of Trinity members in the span of an hour.
The next morning I nervously walked into the Trinity foyer to overhear Elizabeth and Hannah telling someone they were new fellows. I cannot begin to describe to you how relieved I was to know they were there, and I didn’t even know them yet! By the end of the service I had been introduced to Murry, Kristin, Christine, and Alex and John gave me a hug but didn’t introduce himself until much later. Typical J-Flan.
Of course there was the Kick-Off Banquet where we tried to determine who was a current fellow and who were the former fellows we were supposed to be learning from. That’s where we all met David, who’s name we didn’t even know until that night! As we awkwardly huddled together looking up at the barn window, none of us suspected that we would be taking the picture that would adorn websites, blog posts, Christmas cards, and even the cake we ate for dessert at Roundtable last week. To be fair, it ended up being a great picture. Not to mention a delicious cake.
Who could forget our adventurous weekend of rafting and climbing? Nothing like facing your biggest fears the very first weekend to facilitate group bonding! Thank you again to whoever decided that we should climb the cliff in a girl-guy pattern and volunteered me as tribute to take the lead. You owe me. I do have to admit though, sitting on the top of that ledge was one of the coolest things I have ever done.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the precious time spent at Alex’s cabin for the testimony retreat. It was beautiful to be able to share in the tears, laughter, sorrow, and joy peppered throughout the stories of the other Fellows. What a gift to be invited into each of their lives for this part of their journeys. Of course, the cherry on top was the opportunity to laugh and rest together, with the highlight being watching Alex pancake Dennis in a tubing war. There is, of course, an abundance of photographic proof.
New York. That happened. From listening to Mako Fujimura, to watching visual artists perform, to figuring out which of the shower stalls at the hostel was least likely to be hazardous to my health, New York was an experience. We stayed busy the entire time, but we still managed to make time to take a picture in Times Square. It’s all about priorities, right?
At long last there were the much anticipated youth group retreats for high school and middle school. The jury is still out on how “Modgnik” is pronounced and whether “Tree-hugging Tilly” is actually Rachel’s real identity. It cannot be denied, however, that Ben and Rachel love these youth group kids with all their hearts. I am constantly impressed by their dedication to serving and loving these kids. I would be even more impressed if they actually drank the smoothies of death they get the kids to drink at youth group, but I seriously doubt that will ever happen.
The Calling and Career retreat at Michael’s cabin may have been my favorite weekend in the Fellows Program so far. Despite the fact that I did not hear a voice from God telling me what my future vocation will be starting June 1, 2014, I left feeling full. Dennis graciously gave me the opportunity to lead a discussion about the Clifton StrengthsFinder, which opened doors to some beautiful conversations about using our gifts as a way of serving this community. The memories I will treasure most though, are sitting on the stairs with Rachel, Mallory, and Elizabeth just talking about life, listening to Christine, Jordan, Hannah, and Wilson play music that I’m fairly confident I will hear again in Heaven, being with Elizabeth when she got exciting news about med school, and listening to Jordan talk about his passion for music. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.
However, to think that the experience of the last 4 months can be captured in snapshots of weekends away would be a gross transgression. The heart of this program is found in the everyday things; in laughing around the dinner table on family night, in getting a superhero pillow from your host brother because your room is “too girly” and you “need it more” than he does, in driving to Richmond with your host sisters to find the perfect homecoming dresses, in laying hands on a hurting sister at bible study, in tackling hard questions with youth group kids after smashing each others’ faces in baked beans in the name of Jesus, in the look of relief on your boss’s face when you accept a huge project without complaint and turn it in without mistakes, in listening to Dennis’s kids tell you about St. Thomas for the 16th time and still loving every detail, in sitting with Jess just talking about life and checking the clock to realize it’s been 3 hours, in getting a hug from Greg and really understanding how much love is being conveyed, in staying up late to study for your final exam because you actually want to know about God’s faithfulness throughout generations, in waking up to 30 missed messages on the group text stream, in being volun-told that we will stack every chair owned by Trinity Presbyterian Church as many times as humanly possible over a 9-month period, in waking up early to make coffee and pancakes for our church family on Sunday mornings, and in the truths God is whispering into each of our lives as we journey through this time together.
I know that when I go home for Christmas, my family and friends will ask me to tell them what I’ve been up to. I will try, but I make no promises that I will be able to really convey all that I have experienced in the last 4 months. The truth is, there is no readers digest version. We serve a BIG God and he writes the stories of our lives in equal proportion. There is no 20 questions description for this experience. Is it bigger than a breadbox? Yes. Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral? Nope. I can only say this, if you could see my heart (the spirit-like one, not the one full of chambers and an aorta), you would see a joyous party. It hasn’t all been fun and games; we ran out of chips a couple times and somebody broke an expensive vase, but it is a wonderful celebration nonetheless and it’s not stopping anytime soon.