Sunday, August 31, 2014

So, what's does it all mean anyway?

Well ya'll, I'm about a month out of my YAV year and I'm still trying to figure it out.

I think being a YAV is a lot of different things. It's about taking advantage of the opportunity to experience a new city. It's about learning to live with 7 strangers. It's about seriously thinking about your relationship with God. It's about not only doing, but being. It's about growing. It's about being uncomfortable. It's about taking the time to understand the history of where you are. It's about meeting new people and trying new things. It's about learning from others.

One of our first group pictures of our year together

So that's a good start, but what what does it mean to me? To me, being a YAV is eating po-boys at Parkway. It is family dinner with fresh vegetables from Jess's gardens. It is learning about the prison system and gun violence and seeing how that effects the city I live in. It is hearing stories about Hurricane Katrina. It is about early morning runs in uptown, or afternoon strolls down St. Charles. It is about taking advantage of as many happy hours as possible. It is about croissant dates with Valentine. It is about taking the plunge and joining a ceramics class. It is about seeing God is all of these little moments, like when you're driving over the bayou, or sitting in a hammock on the north shore. It is about being thankful for all the ways God continues to touch your life. And honestly, that doesn't even really scratch the surface of it. I am thankful for my year as a YAV. I now have a better way of communicating with others. I have grown to love this amazing city. I was gifted with an amazing opportunity to pursue a career that I am excited about. I continue to nuture friendships, as well as sprout new ones.

Scavenger hunt circa August 2013

One of my first adventures around the YAV house
was to Plum St. snowballs with Jess and Hannah.

While many parts of my life are the same, many parts are very different.

I have downsized my number of roommates to two. I would not have met these two goobs if we hadn't all ended up being YAVs together. There are a lot less dishes in the sink, and there is more space. I don't mind it.

These two, to be exact.
I have a bedroom that is mine. It is nice to have a room that is all my own. Well I say that, I really just traded one roommate, Kayln, for another, Penelope.

This quilt is made of different shirts from church functions I attended
 in junior high and high school. I'm glad I finally figured out a way to properly show it off.

I have an adult desk, complete with monthly calendar.
Because I am all grown up or something.

Cpt. Penelope 'Nelly' Darcy

Even though she can't talk, she is pretty entertaining.

Kalyn, she can never replace you, but she is pretty stinkin' adorable...

 My jobs are a little different. I now work part time for the Presbytery of South Louisiana as the youth coordinator. We have a retreat coming up September 12th. Keep me in your prayers, because it's going to be an adventure. I am continuing to work at Project Homecoming. This time around I'm doing more volunteer recruitment. Also, this time around, I'm getting paid hourly. That's a nice addition. I will continue to help with the gala at the end of January.

I am eternally grateful for a year that helped mold me and introduce me to this awesome city. I am so happy I get to continue figuring out New Orleans and where I fit into all of it. And don't you worry, I plan on taking ya'll along for the ride. Year One at Zimple Manor was great, I can't wait to see what Year Two at Cortez Estates has in store.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rooted and Reaching: Montreat Youth Conference 2014

This time last week I was in the middle of attending my first ever Montreat Youth Conference.

Just so everyone knows my background (and maybe some bias…) I attended Syond Youth Workshop as a youth. It was an integral part of my growing up in the church. I have made some life long friends through SYW. Synod was what helped my faith grow while I was being a surly teenager.

All of that is to say that I did not have the privilege of going to Montreat Youth Conference until I was an adult sponsor. The Presbytery of South Louisiana took 17 youth, from 6 different churches, to Montreat, NC for a week. Along with the youth were 5 adults, me, Layne (my site coordinator for YAV), Barrett Milner (pastor at Lakeview Presbyterian Church), Mike Watson (Associate Pastor at UPC Baton Rogue) and Vic Robertson (yoga goddess and chef extraordinaire, who also worships at UPC Baton Rogue). I could not have asked for a better group to attend this conference with. First off, if there is any hesitation or shyness happening with your youth, just stick them in a car together. Bake… er drive, for 12 hours, and some how even the most shy will come out of their shell.

It was pretty obvious to me that the holy spirit was moving among the group. We had a hodge podge of kids from the New Orleans and Baton Rogue area and somehow not only did the tolerate each other, the actually liked each other! Montreat is a large conference, and the small groups should really be called medium groups, so I personally saw the strength of the conference in how home groups were able to bond through out the week. I have never laughed so much while still being in charge (or at least pretending to be in charge). I can't wait to work with these awesome young people in the fall.

Here is a run down of the highlights for the week:

1. There are two youth from UPC Baton Rogue who were in my small groups at Junior High Jubilee at Mo Ranch. It took me a few hours to connect the dots, but seeing Claire and Elizabeth and knowing they have survived junior high and are growing into beautiful, strong, awesome young women makes me very happy. The presbyterian world is small and that makes me happy most days.

2. Climbing up to Look Out Point (or whatever it's called). Good news! None of the youth had to worry about being the last to finish the hike. I took care of that one. In fact, if there was a prize for almost dying on a mountain trail because you are so out of shape, I would have won it. I still maintain the thin air didn't help.

3. Meeting some amazing youth in small group. Seriously, there are some cool teenagers out in the world and some how I keep bumping into them.

4. Going to visit this awesome member of Lakeview who has a house she summers in. The view is amazing.

5. Thrift store finds for Kathryn's performance in the talent show. Check out the pics to better understand this.

6. Spending a week with Layne and Barrett and Mike and Vic. Not only were our youth great, the sponsors were also all wonderful. This is a direct quote from one of our youth, Kevyn, " I have NEVER met adults that are crazy like you guys." I take this as a compliment.

7. Kathryn singing All by Myself in the talent show (yes, she definitely did this as a joke, just incase there was any confusion). One of our seniors got up and performed this emotional number dressed in a mumu found at the local thrift shop. It was one of the only funny acts in the talent show and man did she own it. Seriously, one of the craziest things I have ever seen. The entire worship service leading up to the talent show I would break out in giggles thinking about her performance.
Lake Susan sans démon swans

Candlelight ceremony for the graduating seniors

Occupants of bus #1

Occupants of bus #2

Bus ride with my lovely host sister, Maggie

Barrett takes himself very seriously, all the time, especially when trying yoga

Vic, yoga goddess. Mike, baby yoga.

Look at that view!

That view tho...

Well worth wanting to die on the way up.

We are the cutest, seriously.

Some pamphlet things and stuff.

Kevyn and Neil were obviously our more serious and obedient youth all week. Kind of...

Porch sitting was a favorite pass time for me, Claire and Phoenix.

Dixit, Barrett's favorite game.

Can you blame me for enjoying the porch sitting when this is the view?

The stage at the conference.

Mike, looking so fresh and so clean.


Another awesome view

Here is all I have to say, don't me 'cause you ain't me.


I do love the mountains

Layne prepping Kathryn for the talent show. What a great vocal coach.

Barrett's thrift shop find.

Kathryn re-enacting her stellar performance.

Also, here is a picture of what could be my new pet hedgehog. If it's not this little guy it will be one of his siblings. I can't wait to carry on Lester's legacy through one of these little prickly guys.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Running of the Bulls at San Fermin in Nueva Orleans

Well, that title is a mouthful! Today is the annual running of the bulls. Basically a bunch of people (aprox. 17,000 this year) get up and head to the French Quarter at about 7 in the morning. I was up at at the Beinville house by 5:50 this morning. Yup, we began to socialize at 5:50 this morning. After a delicious breakfast we all went down to the French Quarter to get ready for the run.

Now, as for the run, basically all of the local roller derby teams register as the bulls. With all of us lovely spectators in white doing the running. The derby girls carry around plastic bats and swat at people as the skate through the massive crowd. I think it's near impossible to avoid getting swatted at least a couple of times. Thankfully, unless you're really egging them on, none of the bulls hit too hard. The route was about 1.25 miles long. We started as a big group, but all got separated pretty quickly. Basically you just go with the crowd. You can run if you want, or you can be like me and briskly walk with a friend (thanks for stinking with me JP!). 

This is definitely one of the more New Orleans events I have participated in, right behind watching a Saints game at a local bar and Mardi Gras. Not only was there an opportunity for some serious people watching, but so many people were up and running (literally) by 8 AM. In all white outfits with red accents. I love this city.

Heading to Bienville bright and early!

Pre-race meet up, notice all the white and red

Like I said, great people watching. And yes, that is a stuffed raccoon.

Emily is getting her mind (and butt!) ready for what is about to happen

The rolling Elvi

The walking band for the event

Here we are, all pledging allegiance to this saint of Running of the Bulls… or something

Bull horns pt. I

Bull Horns Pt. II

Bull Horn Pt. III

One of those whacks I was talking about

We survived!

Me post event. Still smiling even though I was hot, extremely sweaty and definitely tired

- Alex

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Thin Places (Mo Ranch 2014)

So, I'm sure you're curious about the title of this blog. First, let me tell you about how I learned about thin places. Three summers ago I went to Montreat as the assistant MS bible study leader for the PAM music and worship conference. While I was there I got to meet a plethora of awesome people. One woman, a pastor from Nashville, was telling me how Montreat was a 'thin place' for her. It was a place where she felt particularly close to God. That, when she was a Montreat, she just felt more in-touch with her spirituality. At Montreat she saw God in ways that she didn't see and experience God in her day to day life.

This conversation got me thinking, where is a thin place for me? I know there is a song that always seems to blow me away (It's "Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions in the Sky, just FYI), but what about an actual place? Honestly, I didn't really have to think about it that long. Since the summer after my freshman year of college, Mo Ranch has been my thin place.

Just to give you guys an idea about why Mo Ranch matters so much to me, I attended the Junior High Jubilee conference at Mo Ranch 6th-8th grade. In high school I didn't go to any of Mo Ranch's conferences. It kind of slipped to the back of my mind. By the time summer of 2010 had rolled around I had kind of forgotten what a great place it was. So when my friend, Emily, contacted me about being a small group leader for Junior High Jubilee, I figured it was a great opportunity to get out of lifeguarding for a week (Ugh, seriously, lifeguarding is the most miserably boring job to have for a summer). I kind of went into my week thinking that this was a great way to take advantage of the ranch in a way you can't when you're in middle school. I didn't put much weight into the spiritual/religious side of things. Really, Mo Ranch was an escape.

My freshman year of college was challenging. I was constantly homesick. I tried the whole, date a boy from home while you're away thing and… surprise!, it didn't work. At all. I had spent the year running myself ragged trying to balance school, an incredibly active social life, and a breakup that turned nasty about a month before I was heading to Mo Ranch. I was ready for an escape and Mo seemed like a great way to do that.

That first summer back at Mo was magical. Every night I stayed up late, doing CAT patrol, sitting down by the river and looking up at the stars, spending a couple of late nights at the rapids. I also came to love my small group. Who would have thought a group of turdy little middle schoolers would leave such an impression on me? During our last worship service together, I started leading a prayer and couldn't finish. I was all choked up and one of my sponsors had to jump in and help me finish.

Not only did I make some wonderful friends that week, my calling hit me like a ton of bricks. I got home from Mo Ranch and knew that I was meant to be working with youth. More importantly, I knew that if I wasn't working with youth, I wouldn't be serving God to the best of my abilities and strengths. It was like puzzle pieces all slid together after that first trip back to Mo.

I went back to Mo Ranch in 2012, again as a small group leader for Junior High Jubilee, this time staying for 2 weeks. Even though I was exhausted from traveling the 7 weeks leading up to the conference, I was yet again overwhelmed by God. God was in the stars and the river and the scraggly little trees and the big blue skies, God was in the sponsors and my fellow small group leaders. Most importantly, God was in the middle schoolers I spent my days with.

I just got back from Mo Ranch on Friday. This year I took a nice little contingent from Louisiana, I also served as a small group leader again. I learned a lot this trip about how to navigate and direct a home group. I also learned that multitasking is probably not the best idea. I think next year I'll spend a week as a sponsor, then hang around a second week as a small group leader.

I also learned that vespers has not lost any of its power. Every night, once the sun sets, everyone heads out to the tennis courts to unwind. Our first night there, last Sunday, the sky was a bit overcast. However, as the music leader began to play, the clouds parted directly above us, showing a million twinkling stars.

Mo Ranch is my thin place. Even amidst all the activities and challenges of leading a home group and a small group, I feel recharged. I feel renewed in my calling. I feel ready to take on my job in the fall. I love Mo Ranch. It holds a special place in my heart. I want to share it with all the people I care about, because it has been so formative in my life. You want to know me better, spend some time in the Texas hill country. This is my thin place.

Cross at Chapel on the Hill

Panorama of the property

Holding it down for the juice box gang 2014

The cat walk

The view from the cat walk

View from the cat walk pt. 2

sister selfie

Selfie with Lucy


Some of our youth at the ropes course

Kaylee made it up the Mo pole in next to no time

Jane, up on the Mo Pole

Lauren also made it up the Mo Pole

Some of the PSL youth helping Mikey Fresh with the music "The Crew from the Bayou"

Our conference activity for the week, a week full of kind things to say to one another

Mo Ranch Rd.

Sister, sister

Can't beat a view like that during worship

Blue, blue skies on our way out of Mo.
Pit stop on the drive home.

By Mo Ranch, can't wait to come back!