so long sweet summer

Dear Summer,

WHERE DID YOU GO? I feel like Memorial Day was last week, and now fall is upon us in New England. Alas…

After Session 1 of Camp, I never really got the opportunity to write about my experience, and now I find myself home and recovering from my second and final week at Camp, Session 9. (And listening to Dashboard Confessional, but not in a depressing way. I’m actually laughing–and only Carly and Alexandra know why!) There is so much to say about Camp, and at the same time it’s hard to put into words. People always ask me,

“How do you do what you do? Aren’t you so sad all the time? It must be so hard.”

To that, I say–it is hard. There are days I come home completely emotionally and physically exhausted. I don’t want to talk to anybody, (good thing I don’t have roommates) and I’d rather just go to bed. But who doesn’t feel that way about their job at one time or another? A majority of my day is spent playing with kids whose lives are really hard, but I get to be the one that puts a smile on their face. There is so much laughter in what I do, that it more than makes up for the times there are tears. And when I have the privilege of volunteering at Camp during the summer or weekends during the year, it’s like everything is right again with the world—the “different kind of healing” Paul Newman talked about isn’t just for the kids!

I volunteered for two completely different sessions this summer. Session 1 my entire cabin was from Italy—7 precious Italian girls who spoke very little English. Luckily they came with a translator. The coolest part about this week was realizing there are no love language barriers at Camp. Obviously, I speak no Italian, but these kids still “get” Camp, even if we’re just singing “Ice Cream and Cake” or yelling the ONLY unit cheer they memorized in English for the millionth time. I’ll never forget them telling me through tears and in broken English how much they would miss me telling them to brush their teeth every night as they loaded up on the bus at the end of the week. Camp is so amazing because these kids get to leave their illness at the gate and just be kids. And they get to be kids with other kids who get what their lives are like everyday. They are smothered with the Safety, Respect and Love that aren’t always present in the real world—whether from their peers, family situations or just the reality of their illness.

Session 9 is for well siblings of campers who attend throughout the summer. I was lucky enough to have a cabin of 9 senior campers who shared their final summer of Camp with me. These girls are incredible, and I can’t imagine my life not having known them. Session 9 is especially cool because as Matty, our camp director, put it, “We have the cure they need!” I don’t have the ability to cure HIV or sickle cell disease, and I can’t make chemo suck less, but for well siblings I have the ability to build them up and empower them to see themselves as much more than “so and so with such and such disease’s brother or sister”. I wish I could post some of the pictures from these weeks, but HIPAA says no. Instead I can share pictures of me covered in all kinds of ooey gooey mess…because that’s what happens at Camp.

 

Post Silly Olympics. So much mess!!!

Post Silly Olympics. So much mess!!!

 

On the way to Carnivary from the Paint War.

On the way to Carnivarty from the Paint War.

By the time the kids leave, you’re so tired, not only from the lack of sleep, but because you’ve given of yourself completely. (I have so much respect for the full time summer staff that does this for 9 WEEKS!! They are an amazing group of people.) Although both my cabins were completely different in every sense of the word, at the end of each week I had a deep desire to just hold each of my campers and somehow express to them how special they were. In a “you is kind, you is smart and you is important” kind of way, I wanted to protect them from all the bad things in the world and keep them in the safe bubble of Camp!

Today at work, I received this card in the mail from one of my campers. Never underestimate the impact you have on another person’s life and never take for the granted the love that is reciprocated. I feel truly blessed every day for the opportunities God has given me!

I'm gonna go cry now...

I’m gonna go cry now…

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home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

My last year of college I took a course in the comparative literature department at UGA on the subject of children’s literature. Don’t jump to any conclusions, because this class was DEEP! On the first day, my Polish professor guaranteed that each of us would cry at some point during class that semester. Obviously, I was in no position to play hard to get in that arena, and I jumped at the opportunity to weep openly with my peers on more than one occasion. For my final paper, I compared the concept of “home” as depicted in the books Peter and Wendy and Children of Zion, a collective narrative written by children during the Holocaust. I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of home recently, especially in light of my frequent trips back to Georgia, so I went back and took a look at my paper. I had forgotten how unusual it was that my professor prompted us to write this paper in first person and make it so personal. Cue the tears…

Moving to Connecticut has arguably been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Don’t get me wrong—my job is amazing; my friends are amazing; winter lasted too long, but I could get used to these summers! (That’s right New England—I said it. It’s not that hot. Get over it.) Things I’m still adjusting to include but are not limited to, my ability to get around without a GPS, the cost of living, tea that is falsely advertised as not only sweet, but “Southern Style”, AND THE FACT THAT NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT A CHICKEN BISCUIT IS!

This past weekend I made my third trip home in five months for the last of the weddings I can afford to travel to for the next year. Honestly, I was kind of a mess. I was so excited to be reunited with a group of my best friends from college for the wedding of Stephen and Bree (shout out to 5pac and the Whitfields) and see as many people as I could in a very small 24-hour window. But the realization that this would be my last trip home until Christmas was really hard. It felt so final, because the end of every trip before was just a quick, “Kbye, I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!” But now, it’s official. I’ve hit a homesick wall. As much as I’ve loved going home so much since I’ve moved, it’s certainly served to delay the inevitable–realizing I still live in Connecticut. Loving my job as much as I do means New England will be my home for an indefinite period of time. It makes sense logically, but my heart is having a really hard time computing the emotional facts of that statement. I have no idea what God’s plan is for me professionally. He flung open this door that I casually strolled through in February, but it’s not up to me how long that door stays open and when it gets closed again.

On Saturday, I was reading my Bible in Hebrews 11, a passage I have read DOZENS of times. But I love when God knows exactly what you need to read at exactly the right time, and He opens your eyes for it to make sense for the first time.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. ” (Hebrews 11:8-10)

When I re-stumbled across this scripture, I felt like my heart had been hit with a ton of bricks. I mean, I know I’m not leading an entire nation of people out of slavery and into the Promised Land, but I felt really connected to Abraham. (See above comments on chicken biscuits and sweet tea if you’re tempted to doubt my stranger in a foreign country status). Moving was a giant leap of faith for me, and I realized that staying in New England is just as much of a leap of faith. I miss my family; I miss the food; I miss pretty much everything about the South. But my reminder from God is that no matter how much I miss my home, what I’m actually waiting for is my ultimate Home in heaven.

After living here for 5 months, would it ever be the type of place I’d choose to move to as a 25-year-old single woman just because? No. But has God blessed me with an amazing inheritance even though I didn’t know where I was going? Yes. Will I EVER say I’m from New England no matter how long I end up living here? No. Will God continue to provide for me like he always does? Yes. Long story short—godliness with contentment is great gain, and I pray faithfully everyday that God’s plan and favor is evident in my life.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my paper and my favorite quote from my favorite movie that has always helped me through transitions in my life–

“Home has never been about occupying a space…rather, I consider Athens my home because it’s where I have kept myself. I recognize Athens as the place where I flourish…it’s the only home I’ve ever known, but very soon I may set out on a journey in search of a new home.” -me

“You know the great thing, though, is that change can be so constant you don’t even feel the difference until there is one. It can be so slow that you don’t even notice that your life is better or worse, until it is. Or it can just blow you away, make you something different in an instant. It happened to me.” –Life as a House

Life as a House Trailer

but she won’t discover that it’s him ’til chapter three.

When I was in middle school, I decided I wanted to be a film critic when I grew up. Obviously, that didn’t exactly pan out. But I’ve decided to dedicate the occasional blog post to what I’m watching (and reading and reading before I watch). This time around, I’m channeling my inner Belle to share with y’all a little of what I’ve been reading lately. Disclaimer–I can’t promise I won’t digitally burst into song…

Two years ago my sister gave me a book for Christmas entitled My Reading Life by Pat Conroy. I first discovered Conroy my junior year of high school in American Literature when I read his book The Lords of Discipline, and he quickly became one of my favorite authors. (I also met my future best friend in that class, so AJG, this one’s for you!) Maybe it was because the book was dark AND romantic. Maybe it was because he was a quintessential Southern author, capturing the charm and sometimes brutality of the South. Whatever it was, I was hooked and read anything by him I could get my hands on. I had read his autobiography years before, but My Reading Life was his newest work, more of a literary autobiography where he wrote about the books that inspired him as a writer. I was not only struck by the variety of books that served as his muses, but by how many of those books I hadn’t read myself. Most were classics—the ones I had been meaning to get around to, but had subconsciously been avoiding, afraid that I would find myself bored and consequently uncultured. His depiction of the heroes and heroines of these novels came alive on the page. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I had finally found the inspiration I needed.

Phase 1: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Wow. Four months later, and I finally finished this book. I must admit, I was not only inspired by Conroy to finally read this book, but also by the film The Last Station (there will be tears, but it’s just so good), which depicts the final years of Tolsoy’s life. He seemed like such a delightful human being (or maybe that’s just the effect Christopher Plummer has on me?) that I just had to start reading him. By page 10 I was in it to win it, and even though I still had 794 pages to go, I couldn’t wait. What stuck out to me most about this book, was Tolstoy’s ability to seamlessly blend so many layers of culture, politics, philosophy, family drama and of course romance (read: revenge, infidelity, insecurity etc…) and my ability to follow it. I’ll be honest–I’m not that deep, but like I said, I was in it to win it.

I also commend Tolstoy for his portrayal of a female protagonist, although I use that title for Anna with question. (I know you can be a protagonist, and I know you can be an antagonist, but can you ever just be a tagonist?) I don’t consider myself much of a feminist, but it still shocks me that I find male authors more adept at capturing the feminine struggle within the construct of society. I hated Edna in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I found her whiny and obnoxious and selfish. But on the other hand, I found Nora, in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House to be the complete opposite. Both characters leave their husbands and children to “find” themselves, but I found the character portrayed by a male author much more relatable. I had the same reaction to Anna, and I commend Tolstoy for his depiction. Don’t get me wrong—Anna is cray! But I think what makes her character so relatable, the book still so relevant, and Tolstoy’s writing so poignant is that every woman has felt the same emotions, paranoia and insecurity. Not all of us jump in front of a train to deal with those emotions, but most of us have entertained slightly less dramatic ways of reconciling our feelings. You go, Glen CoCo! Long story short (no really, this book is long) it’s definitely worth a read!

Phase 2: Gone With the Wind–and you know this Southern girl is going to have more than a few words to say. But there are 998 pages to go…

a different kind of healing.

So I started off strong with this whole blogging thing, and then I remembered why I had avoided blogging for so long. It’s really hard to consistently involve yourself in things worth writing about and posting on the Internet. My favorite literature teacher in high school, Mr. Roger Bailey, always told me I had the perfect name for a writer. So hey, Mr. Bailey, if you’re reading this, I’m just trying to do your assumption justice!

The last four weeks in a nutshell–my family came to Connecticut, so now I have all my stuff. I’ve arranged my movies alphabetically, sorted my bowls in rainbow order, attempted to decorate, and my apartment is starting to feel like home. My job is still incredible. I’m done with shadowing and orientation, so I have my very own Barney Bag full of the projects and games I do with kids in the hospital. (Look forward to future posts of successes and failures in that department!) And Louisville won the National Championship. RIP Kevin Ware’s shin.

This past weekend I had my first overnight experience on Camp. I’m so lucky that my job affords me the opportunity to experience Camp during weekends throughout the year and sessions during the summer. It definitely helps to connect those experiences back to my work in the hospital, and I’m so grateful for every second I get to spend at what is so quickly becoming my favorite place on Earth.

I went into this weekend fired up for my first real Camp experience. But, right before dinner on Friday night, I received the tragic news that a camper from my previous job at ESP had unexpectedly passed away. Bekkah was one of those campers that could honestly turn my frown upside down just by walking into the room. She didn’t always need words to express herself, and she had a bear hug that could take your breath away, but her strength was far more than physical. She had a presence and a desire to live life with immeasurable joy. In the several minutes it took for the reality of her death to set in, I grieved for her family and for her friends at ESP knowing this summer at camp would not be the same without her.

Faced with this tragedy, I realized there was no place I would have rather been to process those feelings than Camp. ESP was a place where Bekkah thrived, had friends and felt accepted, and I had the opportunity to be a part of something like that last weekend. Camp was hosting it’s inaugural Alumni Weekend, inviting back campers who had aged out of the summer camp programs and were revisiting their Camp experience for the first time in upwards of 10 years. It was such a unique weekend to be a part of, but so cool to experience the impact Camp has had on so many young people. Because of their illnesses, many of these now young adults were socially isolated, and Camp was the only place they felt accepted for exactly who they were (still are). This weekend was like a reunion of sorts, but also a time where they could remember and embrace that feeling of acceptance.

Leaving ESP was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but it’s so special for me to feel connected to where I came from by instilling the same philosophies of acceptance and love at Camp now. My former boss always told me that we weren’t put here for individuals with disabilities; they were put here for us. They remind us that being different is not just okay, but something to embrace and be proud of. I know Camp isn’t for me, but looking back, I needed this weekend almost as much as the campers. It was therapeutic to say the least, not only to be a part of such an amazing time with these young adults, but to remember Bekkah and the spirit of joy she brought to my life.

 

"The righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace." - Isaiah 57:1-2

“The righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace.” – Isaiah 57:1-2