Wednesday, December 9, 2015


I'm happy to say that my first semester of my PhD program is coming to a close.  I have one last project to turn in, a portfolio review to complete for the class I'm teaching, and I'm finished.  It's been a long semester full of teaching and grading and classes and homework and projects, but it's been great.  I am truly blessed to be a part of this program.  It feels like home.

This past semester has been very busy - so much has happened and some things have changed.  Poetry is my passion, but it's rare that I get to spend time writing or submitting because of how busy I've been with my doctoral work.  My artwork has been put on the back burner, as well.  But I know these things will always be there waiting for me to pick them back up when I've completed this goal.  I'm happy to be busy with my PhD program since, at this time last year, I had just moved to a new state with my husband (which required me to quit my teaching job back in Indiana) and I was trying to decide what my next move was going to be.  I had already applied to the program at Bowling Green State University, but it would be months before I would hear a decision from them.  Justin had just started his new ministry position and I was eager to help him at the church, but I wanted something more.  I ended up doing some freelance writing and then worked for the local Boys & Girls Club for awhile, so it was a very welcomed blessing when I heard news of my acceptance to BGSU.  I had something to work toward and it made the big move to Ohio seem less new and scary and more exciting and wonderful. 

Teaching at Bowling Green has been a new experience since the classes are so different than the ones I taught at Indiana University South Bend or Indiana Tech.  I've enjoyed getting to know my students this semester and I'm looking forward to seeing a few of them next semester in the class I'm teaching.  I've gotten to know my classmates and cohort-mates this semester and they are all wonderful people and friends.  The commute may get a little tiring every day, but I love being at BGSU.

I've still managed to be a part of the high school youth ministry at the church even through busy weeks of grading, classes, and homework.  It was heartbreaking to hear that we lost another Maumee student recently to suicide.  This loss comes a year after the passing of Sarah, a student in our youth group at St. Paul's who passed just a month after Justin joined the staff at the church as the youth director.  It has was a tough experience and it has been hard this past year to see how much this tragic loss has affected our youth.  Don't forget to love each other, and don't ever let a day go by without letting the ones you care about know how much you care.

My family suffered a tragic loss this past month that still has me reeling.  On Veteran's Day (November 11th), campus was closed and I was planning to sleep in a bit and visit with my parents since they also had the day off (Justin was back in Indiana for the week for grad school).  I received a call from my cousin Danielle at around 7:30 in the morning and she gave me gut-wrenching news.  Our 25-year-old cousin Rachel had passed away.  A month prior to this, I had traveled back to Indiana with my aunt, uncle, and cousin Danielle to attend Rachel's baby shower.  She looked absolutely beautiful as an expectant mother and we were all so excited to welcome the first baby to any of the grand-kids on that side of the family.  We all had a great time visiting and watching Rachel lovingly open each gift that would bless her, her husband Michael, and their soon-to-be newborn son. 

It came as a shock to hear Danielle's voice the morning she told me Rachel had died from a rare complication while having her son, William.  All I could manage to ask was whether or not William was alive and healthy, and she said he was.  That day turned into a blur as my parents and I grieved together over Rachel's death.  Rachel was the closest cousin in age to me.  We grew up together.  My dad was her godfather.  I thought of my own husband and how he would handle a newborn baby without me.  I thought of my aunt, uncle, and cousin Richard as they would try to navigate the coming days, weeks, months, and years without Rachel.  I thought of Michael without his wife and William without his mother.  I thought of how my family celebrated with Rachel and Michael on their wedding day two years ago.

Rachel's funeral was one of the hardest days I've experienced.  We got to meet Rachel's beautiful son, William, but we had to say goodbye to her.  This past weekend, my cousin Danielle celebrated her 21st birthday and, for the first time in awhile, the whole family came together to celebrate.  My dad, his brother Jeff (Danielle's dad), and his sister Missy (Rachel's mom) were all together.  The cousins were all together, sadly without Rachel.  We all took pictures, ate good food, celebrated, and marveled at how sweet little William is.  It was a bittersweet night, but I'm happy we all got to be together. 

Recently, I've been reminded of the importance of love and family.  Never let a day go by where you don't tell the ones you love how much you care about them.  Make time for family.  Make time to listen.  Spend time together.  Love each other. 

All the cousins on my dad's side, minus my older brother (who just got home from a business trip) and Rachel.  Tyler (my brother), Kurt (Danielle's brother), Danielle, Richard (Rachel's brother), and me.  It was a wonderful evening celebrating Danielle's 21st birthday. 
My dad (right) with my Uncle Jeff and Aunt Missy celebrating Danielle's birthday.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Back to School

It feels good to be writing on my blog again.

It's been ten weeks since I've written here, mostly because school and teaching have the majority of my attention.  If you read my last post, you know that I started a PhD program in English Rhetoric & Writing at Bowling Green State University.  We just started our tenth week of the semester.  That doesn't even seem possible, but the time has flown by.

Even on my busiest days, I'm loving it here.  I love being back in school.  I love being involved in academia again.  I am learning so much and am growing as a teacher and a scholar.  My classmates and I are becoming great friends.

So far this semester, I managed to catch a terrible virus that lasted for over two weeks, summer became fall, I decided to pursue the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies certificate, my dad came to visit me on campus, Justin and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary (and we took a weekend trip to Indianapolis to celebrate)...

And I've done a lot of homework.  I've taught my first-year writing course.  I've met lots of people.

It's been a great journey so far and I'm sure it will continue to be throughout the course of my studies in this doctoral program.

Life is good.

Justin is getting ready to leave this week for another grad school class.  He has one more class this semester and one next semester and he will have a master's degree.  I'm quite proud of that boy.

I feel like I haven't seen my family in a long time (which is kind of true).  I saw my parents briefly on Labor Day and my dad came to visit a few weeks ago, but I'm really missing "home" back in Indiana.  I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving Break so much.  My younger brother, Tyler, is halfway through his first semester of college at Manchester University where he plays on the baseball team.  He finished his fall season and did great.  I miss him and my older brother and can't wait to see everyone over the holidays.

Even though I miss my family and I often am bombarded with homework and grading, I wouldn't trade being here at BGSU for anything.  I love my program and the people in it.  I'm constantly learning and growing.

Life is good.  God is good.

Me with my dad (at BGSU) during his visit.

Justin and I in the canal district on our anniversary trip to Indianapolis.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A New Journey

Tomorrow, I start my week-long orientation (from 8:00am until 5:00pm or later each day) for my doctoral program.  School/teaching starts August 24th. 

I applied to this program over a year ago.  I found out in April that I had been accepted with a scholarship and a teaching assistantship.  I wanted this so bad, but it always seemed so far off.  And now it's here.

I'm nervous.  I'm anxious.

But I'm excited.

I visited Bowling Green State University's campus last Friday to try and find the rooms I'm supposed to be in for orientation and the buildings/classrooms where I will be teaching and taking classes.  It was a hot day and it took me awhile to find everything, but I feel a little bit of relief in knowing that I won't be completely lost tomorrow when I show up on campus at 8:00am for the first part of my orientation.

Transitioning to my masters program from my undergrad was easy - I was at the same, small school I had been at during all four years as an undergraduate student.  I knew everyone in the English department.  It was all familiar.

Now I'm at a school with almost 20,000 students and a campus that would engulf the IU South Bend campus I was so used to as an undergraduate and graduate student.

I have three years of teaching experience at the college level, but the composition courses at BGSU are structured so differently than the ones I taught in Indiana.  And why aren't there any computers in the classrooms!?

Everything is new.

But this is a good thing.

I will be continually challenged.  I will learn to think in new ways.  And, at the end of the program, I will have a PhD.  This is something I've dreamed of since beginning my studies as an English student at IU South Bend.

God is good.

And as an added challenge, my husband will be working on finishing up his masters degree this semester (did I mention he has to travel back and forth to Indiana for his graduate classes at Bethel College!?)  He has two grad classes this semester and one in the spring and he will officially graduate with his masters.  I'm so proud of him - it hasn't been easy moving to a different state, maintaining a full-time ministry position, and traveling back and forth to grad school.  But he has done so well.  This semester will be an interesting one for the both of us; I'll be going to school and teaching in Bowling Green everyday and he will be working in Maumee while making trips to Indiana for classes.  I think we will value our time home together that much more.

This isn't really a new thing for us.  When we got married, we were both working full-time.  He was finishing up his undergraduate degree in psychology and I was in my second-to-last-semester of graduate school.  We were completely remodeling the apartment that we were moving into after our wedding, a project that we worked on everyday between work and school.  And we were planning our wedding.  We survived it all!  Since we've been together, one or both of us have been in school.

We've got this down.

I started my masters two weeks after finishing my undergrad, and after I had graduated with my masters, I thought I needed a break from school - a long break.

But here I am.  Two years after graduating with a Master of Arts in English and creative writing, I'm starting my doctorate.

I'm nervous.  I'm anxious.

But I'm excited.

God is good.

He has blessed me with this amazing opportunity.  He will guide me and sustain me.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake."
Psalm 23:1-3

I'm not sure how much time I will have to update my blog once school starts, but stay tuned.  Good times are coming!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Letter to My Grandmother

I can't believe it's been two years since you've been gone.  It feels different without you here.

I see glimpses of you everywhere I go.  I was just talking to my husband today about how you were a "different" grandmother, one that would take me to any movie I wanted to see, that would let me pick out whatever I wanted at the grocery store when I would come to stay with you as a kid, one that would listen intently as I talked to you about anything and everything.  You were so funny.  Your sense of humor never got old.  Your eccentric taste in style, clothing, and furniture was the best.  I still have that ceramic giraffe you gave me.  It puts a smile on my face every time I see it.

I remember looking up to you in a way I've never looked up to another person.  I looked forward to every visit with you.  When we were living in Iowa, we were so far away from you, but our visits were the best.  You would play with Brandon, Andrea, and I like you were one of the kids.  Your imagination was just like ours and I remember looking at you with a childlike wonder.  You were a woman I loved and loved to be around - my Gram.

When Tyler was born, it was a couple months before you were able to come out to Iowa to see him.  I remember the first time you saw him.  You cried and said how beautiful he was.  It was true - he was beautiful and still is.  He's grown into a wonderful young man.  You would be so proud of him.

I cherish those times when I was in college and lived so close to you.  After Gramp would go to bed, we'd stay up half the night talking.  I could tell you anything and you'd give me honest, real-world advice.  I learned so many things about you - how you went to nursing school but ultimately became a dental hygienist, a job you hated.  You showed me old pictures of my mother and my uncle.  My mother has some of your features.  Everyone says I look just like her.  That makes me happy.

You would always call me by my first and middle name, Kristin Lynne.  I think you were proud that I was named after my mother and your husband.  And Tyler Lee, he's named after you.

I'm sorry you couldn't be at my wedding, but I will forever remember that day in the nursing home as we went through my wedding photos together.  Remember that day?  Justin dropped his cell phone in the trash can.  We laughed so hard over that.

I was so happy to be there with you that night in the hospital.  Tyler was there, Justin was there, your two kids were there.  I held your hand.  We sat around telling the chaplain about you after you were gone.  How you loved the color pink.  How you loved jewelry and anything that sparkled.  How you could talk to anyone.  What a good wife, mother, and grandmother you had been.

You were more than my grandmother, you were a best friend I could confide in.  We had some of the best times together and I will cherish them for the rest of my life.  I'm so glad you got to know Justin.  We've been married for three years now.  He works at a church, just like he always said he would.  I'm going back to school.  You probably wouldn't be surprised by that!  Brandon has a great job and met a great girl.  Tyler just graduated from high school - Gramp was there.  He misses you more than anything.

I miss you.
I love you.

Don't forget, you were the best and knowing you made my life that much sweeter.

Love always,
Your granddaughter, Kristin

 Nancy Lee Landesman
January 16, 1939 - July 31, 2013

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


While this summer has been busy with random road trips, time with family and friends, and church events, I've still been writing and working on my artwork as usual.  I've had a pretty good summer so far with various publications and even had some of my original artwork accepted for the cover of a poetry magazine! 

Life is good.

Here are a few of my recent and/or forthcoming publications.

Pretty Owl Poetry accepted a piece of my artwork for their fall cover!  You can visit the journal's website here:

A poem I had accepted by Songs of Eretz Poetry Review a few months back was just recently posted on their website as the featured poem of the day.  The poem, which is called "Emphysema," was accompanied by my own commentary and a note from the editor.  You can read that poem here:

The newest edition of Poetry Quarterly was just released a couple weeks ago.  This issue features a poem I wrote called "Enamel."  While Poetry Quarterly is a print magazine and you can't read the issues online, consider supporting the literary community and writers and artists like me by purchasing a copy of the Spring 2015 edition here:

I have a poem called "Neoplasm" forthcoming in the Summer 2015 edition of Slipstream Press.  This edition is themed and all of the writing in the issue will surround the concept of "elements."  Keep an eye out for the upcoming summer edition; also a print journal, issues of this magazine can be purchased on Slipstream's website here:

My poem "Women" is being featured in an upcoming edition of Remarkable Doorways Literary Magazine.  This poem is a reflection on many of the women I've had the pleasure to know and who have made a difference in my life.  The issue containing my poem should be out soon and can be viewed on the journal's website here:

Tipton Poetry Journal, a publication that focuses on featuring the work of Midwestern writers and particularly writers from Indiana, picked up two of my poems for an upcoming issue of the magazine.  A publication from Brick Street Poetry, Inc., the website for the journal can be viewed here:

Finally, River Poets Journal accepted my poem "Roadmap" for an upcoming issue.  This is an important poem for me and talks about family relationships.  Check out the journal's website here:

I also got to visit my poem at the Toledo Museum of Art.  Earlier this year, I entered a poem I wrote into the TMA Ekphrastic Writing Poetry Contest.  Since my poem was a finalist, it's posted in the museum next to the painting I wrote it about:

My poem at the museum (with my named spelled wrong).
Mark Rothko's Untitled, the painting that inspired my poem.
Aside from writing and painting, I've also been getting ready to go back to school on August 24th (orientation is the week before) for my PhD.  I got my schedule, my textbooks, my parking pass, and I'm registered for the Graduate Student Orientation.  I'm excited for this next phase of life (even though my first class starts at 8:30am!). 

This summer has been amazing so far.  I got to spend a week in Nashville, focus on my writing and my artwork, get ready for school, spend lots of time with family and friends, explore Ann Arbor, go paddleboarding, etc.  The list goes on.

I spent a day last week in Ann Arbor and Blissfield, MI, with my friend, Bobbie.  It was a beautiful day!
Hubby and I went paddleboarding last weekend.  We had a blast!
I also acquired some BEAUTIFUL antique typewriters this past weekend.  My friend, Tim, found them in his mom's basement and gave them to me along with a typewriter stand.  If you know me, you know how much I LOVE antiques and, as a writer, especially typewriters.  I am so grateful for these typewriters.  Thanks Tim and Bobbie!

After some research, we discovered that this one is a 1933 Royal typewriter.  After some cleaning and maintenance, my husband and I got it working again!
This one is probably from the 1940s or 50s and still works!
I've had lots of stuff to keep me busy lately.  I've got just under a month until school starts back up and I will be commuting to campus everyday, so I'm thankful for the time I've had to explore and have random adventures this summer!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What I Learned from Orthopedic Surgery

*Disclaimer:  If you are squeamish about medical stuff, this post probably isn't for you!

I've played softball my whole life.  It's in my blood.  My dad played baseball when he was growing up.  My brothers both played.  My older brother went on to play at Purdue.  My younger brother is about to begin his college career on the baseball team at Manchester University.  I played club ball at my university.  Many of our family trips when I was growing up were centered around travel teams.  It was what we did.

I was no stranger to sports injuries.  I had little injuries here and there all the time - it was the risk that came with playing the sport.  When I was a junior in high school, a softball injury resulted in a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in my right hand.  (If you know anything about me or have read my previous post on my interest in all things medical, then you can understand how interested I was in this injury from a medical/anatomical standpoint.  If you haven't read my medical post, you can read it here:

According to the Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine website, the following is a description of an ulnar collateral ligament injury/tear:

The joint that is affected is called the metacarpophalangeal joint, or MCP joint.  Any hard force on the thumb that pulls the thumb away from the hand (called a valgus force) can cause damage to the ulnar collateral ligaments.  When the thumb is straight, the collateral ligaments are tight and stabilize the joint against valgus force.  If the force is too strong, the ligaments can tear. They may even tear completely. A complete tear is also called a rupture.  When the collateral ligaments actually tear, the MCP joint becomes very unstable.  It is especially unstable when the thumb is bent back.  If one of the ligaments pulls away from the bone and folds backwards, it won't be able to heal in the correct position.  When this happens, surgery is needed to fix the ligament.

After seeing an orthopedic surgeon, the doctor said I needed surgery to fix the problem.  However, due to wanting to keep playing softball without any down time and other factors (including the fact that my dad was in a serious accident and was in the hospital for an extended period of time), I put the surgery off.  I eventually had the surgery to correct the tear in December of 2006 (I was 17 and a senior in high school).

Me with my two brothers around Christmas 2006, right after I had the first surgery.
Stitches out, but still covered in the purple ink the doctor used to mark the area.
Stitches out.
I wore this splint after the stitches were out and the cast was off.
It wasn't the smooth recovery I thought it would be.  Despite all the therapy, I was plagued by terrible pain and poor range of motion that I eventually found out was caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue.  I had to sit out my senior softball season. 

I went back in for my second surgery in June of 2007 (a couple months before I headed off to college) to have scar tissue removed so I could regain motion and have some relief from the constant pain. 
Going into the second surgery, the doctor wasn't sure if the ligament repair was successful from before, so those lines on my wrist were there in case the doctor had to remove a ligament from my wrist to replace the one in my hand.  Fortunately, they didn't have to!
Before the stitches came out.
No bulky cast for this surgery since they only removed scar tissue.
That strap contraption on my wrist was a therapy tool to keep my thumb in a position that would stretch it and keep scar tissue from growing.
Lots of bruising.
Things were better for awhile, but the pain persisted.  During Christmas break 2008 (my sophomore year of college), I went back to my doctor who determined that they scar tissue had returned and was causing pain and poor range of motion.  We tried the scar tissue removal again for the third surgery.

Hanging out with my little brother post-surgery.  With each surgery, they gave me a nerve block in my shoulder to numb my arm (thus the bruising).

The third surgery was rough.  I had issues with pain and swelling and had to have my cast removed and replaced because it was so tight.  After being in therapy so many times, I did my own therapy when I went back to college after Christmas break was over.  It was hard getting back into school and even harder taking notes and exams (I write right handed), but it eventually felt better.

I was still having issues years later after Justin and I were married.  The pain was to the point where it would wake me up at night.  I was having nerve issues in my arm.  A doctor in the South Bend area wanted me on all these different medications to help control the pain and nerve damage, but I'm not one to jump into taking pills.  I ended up going back to see my original surgeon.  He suggested a joint fusion surgery.  He was trying to be more conservative in the past with the scar tissue removals, but he explained that a joint fusion was a last effort to control pain. 

So five years after the third surgery, I went in for the fourth and final surgery in July of 2013.  This surgery would fuse the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint in my thumb with hardware.

This is a description of an MCP joint according to Wikipedia:

The metacarpophalangeal joints (MCP) refer to the joints between the metacarpal bones and the phalanges of the fingers.  That means the MCP joint is the knuckle between the hand and the finger.

The splint they gave me after the cast came off.  This was two weeks post-surgery and I was still so bruised.
Yeah, the incision got infected at one point.  Not a good experience.

This is the x-ray they gave me in the hospital after my surgery.
This is the x-ray they took when I went back for my follow-up visit.
Despite the rod, plate, and screws, the surgery actually did make my symptoms better and my range of motion hasn't been affected as much as you'd think.  This surgery had a much more difficult recovery period (I actually stayed with my parents for a couple weeks since Justin was working full time and I needed help).  The incision got infected at one point.  But it worked and my pain is manageable now.  It still is a very tender area and I often feel like I have to walk around protecting my arm so people don't run into it, but it's 100 times better than it was five years ago.

So what did orthopedic surgery teach me?

I'm not invincible despite the common teenage belief.  God gives and God takes away, and while I'll never play softball again, I still love the sport and will enjoy watching my little brother play baseball for years to come.

You need to be able to ask for help and rely on other people when you need it.  The last surgery I had was rough, and I relied on my husband and my parents and my brother for quite a bit.  I couldn't drive for several months.  I couldn't even dress myself or do my hair without help.  It was a humbling experience.

God is good.  He's taught me to recognize my limits.  He's taught me to sympathize with others who are going through a difficult recovery.  He's taught me that there's more to life than sports.  He's taught me that I am constantly learning, growing, and changing for the better.      

Since I didn't play my senior softball season, I was able to focus on the healthcare program I was involved in and my internship at the hospital.  I was able to learn and engage with my full attention on my internship and got creative in the process while trying to perform my regular tasks with a cast.

Again, God is good.  He's gotten me through some rough times and has provided me with the best husband, family, and friends that are always there to love and support me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Upcycling: TV Stand/Cabinet

After refurbishing our dining set (see my blog post here:, Justin and I knew we would be working on more repurposing projects in the future.  We saved almost $500 by refurbishing our dining set and we were able to customize it with the color and design we wanted.

We've needed a new TV stand for awhile.  The old one we had was given to us by my parents when we first got married, but it was recently starting to become a bit unstable.  We found an old cabinet at Goodwill for $25 and thought it would be perfect as a TV stand, so we brought it home as our next upcycling project.  The exterior was in rough shape, but we knew it would look great once we sanded it down and gave it a few coats of paint.

We decided it looked better without the doors on it, so we took them off and Justin sanded the cabinet down in our driveway (he did the sanding on our porch last time and it made a huge mess!).

Our receiver for our TV and stereo was too big for the cabinet, so Justin cut a bigger hole in the back to accommodate it.

We love bright colors, so we made another trip to Home Depot to see what color we wanted for the cabinet.  We settled on a bright antique yellow.  I painted the cabinet, which turned out to be quite the project.  The light color didn't cover very well, so I had to use three coats of paint so the wood didn't show through.  Once the paint dried, Justin put two coats of polyurethane on the cabinet to protect it.

Here's what our setup looked like in the living room before the "new" TV stand/cabinet:

Here's the setup with the upcycled TV stand:

I love the cabinet and it brings a happy pop of color to our living room!

Total time to sand, paint, and apply polyurethane:  1 week

Cost of cabinet:  $25 at Goodwill
Cost of supplies:
     Orbital sander:  free (we borrowed it)
     Paint:  $8 at Home Depot
     Sanding block, paint brushes, and polyurethane:  $0 (we had everything left over)

Total cost of upcycled TV stand/cabinet with custom color:  $33
Cost of a TV stand from Art Van Furniture:  $499

Money saved:  $466

Justin and I love working together on these projects and saving money in the process. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

My Week of Hope


What a week this has been.

If you've been following me on social media, you know that I accompanied our youth group this past week to Nashville, TN, for a mission trip focused on serving the community.  My husband is the youth director at our church, so I've been helping him prepare for this trip since we got to St. Paul's back in November.  I have to admit, I was more than a little nervous about this trip for a number of reasons.  As an introvert, I value my alone time and we had almost fifty students and leaders going on this trip.  The church we stayed at didn't have shower facilities and only had two toilets/sinks for all of the women staying there.  We slept in a big room on air mattresses with a small window air conditioning unit to keep us cool.  Basically, all of the comforts of home were going to be missing on this trip.

But it was an amazing experience and God totally "reframed" my attitude in many ways throughout this past week.

Justin and I the day before we left for the trip.  We went with several other leaders to pick up the rental vans.
The kids (and adults) decorated the vans with car paint during one of our pit stops on the way to Nashville.
The theme of the week was "reframe" and how following Jesus helps to reframe our lives.  There is so much that I could talk about in this blog post because SO MANY amazing and wonderful things happened while I was in Nashville with our students and leaders, but I think I will work through this past week by writing about the ways I believe God "reframed" me through this trip.

Our sleeping arrangements at the church.
Our tiny air conditioner that worked very hard to keep our room comfortable.
Our shower facilities at the church.  They were tents with hoses where we had to shower in our swimsuits.
At least the water was cool in the hot weather!
The church that hosted us!
Trinity United Methodist Church, Nashville.
1)  God reminded me that he is always in control.

I am the type of person that likes to feel like I am in control (and I'm sure God gets a good laugh out of that).  I worry about things a lot and I feel like God is constantly reminding me that he is in control of my life and he loves me and won't let me fall.

I was practically smacked upside the face with these truths this week in Nashville.

The first experience that reminded me that God's plan will always prevail and that he is orchestrating my life happened on Monday during our first shift at our work site.  We were on this mission trip with two other church youth groups, one from Michigan and one from southern Indiana.  I was the adult leader for my group (Crew 6) and I had three students from our youth group (Brad, Cameron, and Gavin) and two students from the Indiana group (Nick and Brielle).  We were assigned to a summer school program for kindergartners and first graders that was sponsored by an organization called the East Nashville Hope Exchange.  The first day, the supervisor at the school assigned Brad and Cameron to a single classroom that was particularly rowdy and then put Nick in a classroom by himself and Brielle in another classroom.  That left Gavin and I to work in the kitchen preparing meals and snacks for the kids throughout the day.

Crew 6.  I was continually blessed by these students throughout the week.
Working in the cafeteria.
Preparing snacks for the kids at my work site.
I got this pic of Justin after he returned from his work site one afternoon - he must have been working hard since he broke the limb cutters!
I was a little disappointed because I felt like I wasn't going to be reaching anyone if I was stuck in a cafeteria preparing food, but God had other plans.  Gavin is a student that is going into ninth grade, meaning that he just left our middle school youth group at St. Paul's and is transitioning into our high school youth group.  I really only work with the high school kids at the church, so I didn't know Gavin at all going into our work day on Monday.  But I know now that God had planned for Gavin and I to work in the kitchen together, and I felt like my "job" that day was to just listen to him and learn more about him.  We had six hours together in the cafeteria kitchen for him to just tell me about himself, share his thoughts and feelings, and just have an adult listen to him and love on him in a world that is typically so busy and chaotic that meaningful human contact gets put on the back burner.  Life is so fast in the modern world and we rarely have the time or attention span to really get to know someone, let alone our youth that are constantly bombarded by images and messages in the media that are pulling them away from the message of the gospel.  Our youth rarely feel heard.  They struggle to feel loved.  So I was so thankful that God put us together that day and allowed us to really spend one-on-one time together.  Gavin is a great kid and I know my life is that much better having gotten to know him.

The second way that God reminded me that he is always in control still blows me away when I stop and think about it.  When I went off to college my freshman year, I joined a campus ministry called Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) with my best friend and roommate, Cohen.  Through this ministry, I met my friend, Nathan, and through Nathan, I met his sister, Heather.  Nathan and I became amazing friends in college - he was in a band and my roommate and I would go to all of his concerts, we would go to music festivals and concerts together, we would share in fellowship at BCM and beyond.  He has always been one of those friends that, no matter how much time would pass without seeing each other, we would always pick up right where we left off when we would see each other.  About a year ago, Nathan told me that he wanted to move to Nashville (where his sister was already living), but that he wanted to pay off some debt and save some money before he did.  He worked very hard, and about two weeks ago, he was able to move to Nashville from Indiana.  Because of schedule conflicts, Justin and I were unable to see him before he moved.

Before we left for the trip, I let Tim and Bobbie (leaders from our youth group) know that I had some friends in Nashville and asked if it was a possibility to have them meet up with us at some point during our trip.  Tim said it would be great to have someone familiar with the area show us around, so I let Nathan know that we were coming and to meet us during our "free night" on Tuesday at Dave & Buster's at the Opry Mills mall.  I couldn't wait to see him and it was such a wonderful blessing to give him and Heather a huge hug when they showed up at the mall on Tuesday.  They joined us for dinner and I introduced them to our group. They fit in immediately.  Since Nathan had only lived in Nashville for two weeks, Heather took charge on showing us around a bit and took some of our group downtown to see the sights.  It was amazing to spend time with them and it was hard to say goodbye that evening when they left to go home, but God had other plans.

Getting ready to enjoy our free night at Dave & Buster's.
The whole St. Paul's crew enjoying their dinner at Dave & Buster's.
Getting to see the Opry Hotel with Nathan and Heather.
The Opry Hotel.
Heather took us downtown where we were able to see this gorgeous view of Nashville from the top of the George Jones Museum.
Nathan and Heather are both musicians and Nathan's hope is to break into the music scene in Nashville.  He has an absolutely beautiful voice and Justin and I thought it might be nice for him to join us for worship the next day during program time at the church.  Nathan realized he only lived three minutes from the church and ended up coming the next two days to lead worship for our group.  Worship the previous nights had been led by one of the leaders at the camp with only a guitar, but Nathan brought so much energy to the worship.  He sang beautifully and was accompanied by two back-up singers and even brought his electric-acoustic guitar for one of the students to play.  Justin had the creative idea to turn one of the coolers into a drum box.  All of it came together for an absolutely amazing worship set.  Everyone sang and praised and worshiped God beautifully.  You could feel God's presence in that church so clearly.

The students getting energized to Audio Adrenaline's "Get Down" before the evening program.
Justin sharing a "God sighting" with the group.
It just so happened that Nathan led worship for the first time on "cry night," a night of deep reflection with your youth group that typically becomes very emotional.  As a former worship leader and youth leader, Nathan led an a capella song after worship was over and was able to pray with and help console students after the service.  "Cry night" was a particularly difficult time for our youth group since we just lost one of our students back in December, so it was amazing having Nathan there for extra support, and I thank God for planning it all out and allowing him to be a part of our group.  He truly connected with our leaders and students and we were so blessed to have him there.

The third way God reminded me of his ultimate plan happened on Wednesday at our work site.  I was working in the cafeteria alone when the supervisor at our school ran in and said one of my students had been hurt.  I ran up front to find Brielle bleeding profusely from her leg.  The custodian at the school was holding pressure on it with paper towels, but it was bleeding through.  Brielle had been cutting a backdrop out of cardboard with a box cutter and sliced her leg open.  The wound was deep and definitely needed stitches.  I managed to get a hold of Justin at his work site and he contacted a leader back at camp.  The leader, Kristen, dropped Justin off at my site so my students would have an adult present and then took Brielle and I to the hospital in downtown Nashville.  It was definitely a scary situation, but God used it for good.  Because we were at the hospital for four hours, it gave the three of us the opportunity to get to know each other and spend time with each other.  We laughed, we waited, we smiled, we was a bad situation that ultimately brought the three of us together. 

May I always remember that God can turn our chaos into joy.

Kristen and I with Brielle at the hospital before she got her stitches.  She was so brave through the whole situation.
2)  God showed me that it's okay to "let people in" and to allow myself to be vulnerable.

I am a very private person.  I struggle to tell anyone about concerns or worries that I have because I always want to appear strong.  I hold back emotions and tears when other people are hurting so they can come to me for love and support.  I have a hard time expressing my emotions at times because I see it as weakness.  I know this is a huge problem.

But God helped me open up this week.  He showed me that it's okay to be vulnerable.  He showed me that I need to trust people.  He showed me that I need people to help me through difficult times.  He showed me that opening up isn't embarrassing or weak, but that it's why God created friends, family, community, and fellowship.

Our last night in Nashville, some of the students and leaders in our group wanted to hear Nathan sing some more.  After the evening program, a few of us got together in the sanctuary to hear him sing while Justin played guitar.  I asked him to sing the song "Amazing Because It Is" by The Almost, a song he used to sing all the time when we were in college.  The song really got me thinking about my best friend, Cohen, mostly because Nathan sang that song at a retreat we all went on about five years ago with our campus ministry.  I automatically associate Nathan with Cohen, as well, since we all used to spend so much time together.  And if you don't know about my best friend Cohen, this post will fill you in on the details:

After Nathan sang, I felt God putting it on my heart to have us pray for Cohen right then and there.  No one except Bobbie knew about Cohen, so I started to share her story with the others.  I'm usually good at keeping it together (at least in front of people) because I don't like people seeing me cry, but God opened up my heart in a way I haven't let myself open up in a long time.  I broke down, sobbing because I miss my friend and sister and because I don't know how to pray for her or help her.  It has been a hard couple of years trying to grieve for Cohen during her illness and pain and I truly feel like a piece of me is gone because things will never be the same for her.

But this moment of vulnerability turned into a beautiful time for me to be surrounded by friends and students and love and prayer.  They cried with me and comforted me and Nathan prayed for me and for Cohen and we all shared in a moment of God's overwhelming presence and love.

God is always making me new.  He's teaching me trust.  He's teaching me vulnerability.  He is helping me to open up and express myself in ways that I never knew I could.

3)  God showed me how beautiful it is to serve, even when I am out of my comfort zone.

We are called to serve others, but I know my heart and attitude were not in the right place when I was getting ready to go on this trip.  I was worried about showering outside in a tent with cold hose water, I was worried about the heat and lack of adequate air conditioning, I was worried about sleeping on the floor, I was worried about not having access to vegetarian food.

But it was a blessing to not have the comforts of home on this trip.   

It helped me to focus on the reasons why we were in Nashville in the first place - to share in fellowship with other believers, to serve the community, to praise and worship God, to get to know the members of our group and the other groups on a deeper level.

When you are put out of your comfort zone, it's a lot easier to focus on the important things.  I stopped worrying about the outdoor showers after the first night.  God was with us and he was going to provide for us immensely, and he did.

I got to know our students and leaders so much better. 

The wonderful group of student leaders I was able to work with in Nashville.
One of my students asked me to proofread her English paper for a summer class, so naturally the adult leaders left plenty of goofy photos for her on her laptop.
Here are a few of the blessings I was able to witness/receive during this past week:
  • Having Danielle (one of our leaders) braid my hair every other day to help me stay cool in the hot weather
  • Getting "stuck" in the freshman room as the only adult, and then realizing it was a great blessing to be with those girls
  • Finding out that an air mattress on an old church floor is actually quite comfortable when you are completely exhausted at the end of each day
  • Loving the cold water of the outdoor showers when I just spent the entire day in the Nashville heat
  • Watching everyone fill out "care cards" for their fellow crew members and leaders (everyone at the church had an envelope where you could place a "care card" to show them what you loved about them)
  • Getting to know the leaders in our group on a personal level (Mike, Danielle, Allie, Dan, Beth, Tim, and Bobbie)
  • Having the opportunity to help one of our students write and proofread a paper for her summer English college course
  • Seeing Brad and Gavin (from my work crew) step out of their comfort zones and work with the kids at the East Nashville Hope Exchange and love it
  • Seeing everyone love on each other and offer hugs, sympathy, support, and a listening ear during "cry night"
  • Hearing everyone's "God sightings" from their work sites at the end of each day
  • Having the option to get peanut butter and jelly for lunch everyday (the vegetarians were definitely taken care of!)
  • Having Heather and Nathan show our group around the Opry Hotel and downtown Nashville
  • Getting to see all of Nashville from the top of the George Jones Museum and getting to hear live music
  • Being able to see old friends (good friends are truly one of God's greatest blessings)
There is so much more I could say and so many more photos and memories I could share.  Week of Hope Nashville 2015 was truly an amazing experience I will never forget and God was reframing me the whole time.

Thank you Jesus for always making me new.

If you want to see more photos and videos from our trip, visit our youth group's Facebook page:

You can also see photos and videos on the Week of Hope Nashville Facebook page:

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
Matthew 18:20 (NIV)

"Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble."
1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)