Diners, Dives, and Sacagawea…

The road has been my home as of late. One day in the Appalachians and the next, the Rockies. My schedule has been rigorous and taxing, to say the least. All a part of the whirlwind of finishing up this degree and beginning another.

All that to say, I appreciate your patience, in my blogging absence. I often think of much I want, nay… I need… to write about, but lack the time to fully devote myself. Most of my writing lately has been given to my thesis. I hope to soon have a free bit to write…. I have much on my heart and much I want to hear from you.

I pray that Lent is treating you well. That you are praying and reflecting and taking time to find that which resonates with you. A song. Another soul. A sunset. May this time of waiting and fasting be one that brings you an other-worldly perspective.

May you feel. May you know. May you heal. May it be a miracle.

Fill me in on your Lent season. Do you celebrate Lent? What are you learning or unlearning?

The Arrivals Gate…

At 6 weeks old, I was gearing up for my very first airplane ride in which I would wail unceasingly from take off to a Caribbean landing because I felt that my ears were going to self-implode into tiny bits. I didn’t quite understand the principles of cabin pressure. But you know, who really ever does? Shortly thereafter, the airline my mom worked for issued a memo that non-revenue passengers traveling with children under six years of age, must sit in coach and not first or business classes. So I may be the reason for that. This is my formal apology to the world.

From BNA to DFW to SFO to LAX to ORD to MIA to JFK, growing up, getting out of bed in one city and laying my head on the pillow to sleep in another city was not an uncommon occurrence.

Sometimes we’d catch a Miami sunset while eating dinner at the MIA Hotel atop the Miami airport… sometimes we’d sleep on the floor of Chicago O’Hare because…well, we all know how crazy Chicago weather and delays are. In our usual manner of flying stand-by, I remember one trip in which we were trying to make a flight to Cancun but ended up in San Juan because there were absolutely no open seats to Mexico. On another trip, torrential downpours and subsequent flashing flooding, left my mother and I stranded at JFK in New York City. No planes were going up and none were coming down. After 14 hours of trying to find a seat on any flight to any northeastern city, she and I decided to rent a car and drive 22 hours to our destination of Prince Edward Island, Canada. We’ve been split up, delayed, re-routed, separated from our bags, bumped off flights, and everything else that could possibly occur in the airline industry. I can recount more stories about awkward TSA pat-downs than you probably care to hear.

You see, I am a proud product of an airline family. My beautiful mother was employed for 25 years in the airline industry and so the ins and outs of air travel became second nature to our family. It is as much a part of me as music or writing or biology is. Travel speaks to my soul like nothing else can. Airports are a second home. They offer a comfort that I can’t really even quantify with due justice.

Somewhere in those years of planes, trains, and automobiles, I fell in love with all things travel. Can you identify? What is it about airports that suck us in?

Maybe it’s that airports are so similar to life. Exciting, unpredictable, subject to change, stressful, uncomfortable, diverse, confusing, able to produce an immense amount of joy

An airport is a microcosm of society… the diverse ethnicities, ages, occupations, socio- economic statuses present… and yet, unlike society, passengers have one goal. To navigate safely to their destinations.

And we are all equal on this day… on this trip.

We are all subjected to getting verbally nabbed by TSA agents and randomly selected for pat-downs and full body xray machines. We all forget about the liquid rule and end up having to throw away perfectly good hair spray. We are all delayed together. All stuck like cattle in security’s winding line. We all must endure the mile long concourse walk at various airports (for the love, somebody has got to do something about Charlotte’s concourses). On a flight at 35,000 feet… everyone is equal… regardless of socioeconomic status or race, our fates on the flight are the same. Turbulence together. Together we choke down in flight meals that have all the consistency of plastic. Two by two foot bathrooms together. Our souls draw us somewhere else, but in this space and time, we are all doing life together. Lives on hold, in limbo, together.

At an airport, journeys converge. So many folks are leaving, departing for another city or country. Departing for new beginnings. Departing for humanitarian aid trips. Departing for job interviews. Departing for weddings or funerals. Departing for much needed and long awaited vacations. Departing this season of life.

And then, conversely, many are arriving. Arriving to fall into the arms of loved ones. Reunited parents. Reunited lifelong friends. Reunited siblings. Reunited military families. Reunited lovers. Beginning a new season. All at the arrivals gate.

Somewhere in the cacophony of airplanes taking off, bags coming off the belt, PA announcements of final boarding calls, the hum of coffee makers, the goodbyes of loved ones, the grinding metal of jet bridges retracting, and monorail doors closing… I hear a symphony.

Airports draw me in, promising to take me somewhere beautiful, and give me equality along the way. I guess that about all I can ask for in life… and it is more than enough.

If you are reading this, you are going to need to tell me a travel story. Tell me anything… funny, hectic, something memorable that popped into your head as you read this post! Ready, set, go!


A City Girl in a Farmer’s World

Recently, I embarked upon a northern road trip to the Land of Lincoln…the Prairie State… the Midwest… Illinois. A cousin’s yellow-and-orange-misty-eyed wedding instigated the journey north. My mother, grandmother, and I decided to make this last minute trip with the eager anticipation of hugging dearly missed relatives. Fellowship was the goal here. And it was one that was met with great fervor.

Crossing the state line, we were welcomed into IL with the gracious hospitality of my grandmother’s brother and sister-in-law, Uncle Sherman and Aunt Sue. These two are quite the pair and I can very honestly say, some of my favorite people in the world. Sherman is the quintessential Great American Prairie farmer. He was born on southern IL soil and has farmed the same soil for 70 years. He has a relationship with that land that I can only gaze at from afar with my city girl eyes. He’s got to be the most patient man and teacher I know; people always remember meeting Sherman because they immediately notice the kindness in his eyes. He married a beautiful woman named Sue; she truly is his better half. Sue has the uncanny ability to make anyone she converses with feel as if they are extremely important and their story matters. She really just cares. And she cooks a mean butterscotch cookie.

Disembarking the interstate, country roads led us to Sue and Sherman’s farm. We passed through small towns that made me feel like I had gone back five decades to the days of yesteryear America. Let me tell you, I got a great view of the town square, since I had to circle it multiple times after we spotted a much needed post-office box. I later learned that for Sherman’s 50th birthday, Sue and company kidnapped him, robing him in one of her lovely shawls, and paraded him around the square in an antique wheelchair. Apparently the square has multiple uses as grooms used to push their new brides around the square in a wheelbarrow. Boy if that doesn’t speak romance, I don’t know what does.

Waking up at Sue and Sherman’s is quite the experience. After a sufficient amount of coffee, I was met by Butch the pet turkey. He looked at me as if I was the species who was out of place; I decided he was right and quickly maneuvered myself to a different part of the barn. Don’t get me wrong– I have a great appreciation for the avian species, I just figured I’d appreciate from afar.

About that time, I heard the approaching roar of loud machinery coming into the front yard. I grabbed my camera and ran over to see a large John Deere combine. Now, you may know what a combine is, but let me tell you, I did not. So I’ll explain. This is a massive piece of machinery that is used to harvest six rows of corn at a time. Sherman spotted my wide eyes and asked if I wanted to ride with him. Naturally inquisitive, I did. As I ascended the combine ladder, all I could think about was how I should be tweeting this memorable moment.

As it turns out, I didn’t have the time because we immediately set off to harvest the corn. In his infinite patience, he explained to me how the combine cuts and thrashes grain; he also lent me much insight into a farmer’s world. As he was driving, I noticed the sun spots on his tan, calloused hands. Hands that had farmed for years. Hands that made corn grow. Hands that made love grow.

After half an hour of talking, Sherman pulled the big combine brake and announced that it was my turn to drive this baby. I was pretty sure I heard him incorrectly, but when he started to switch seats with me, I knew he wasn’t kidding. I thought about explaining to him that I can barely work a toaster or that just last week, I managed to break a toilet handle at work.

As it turned out, I didn’t have time to explain any of this as I took the pilot’s seat. I figured this was kind of how life goes– it forces you into something, you aren’t qualified or even quite ready for. With much trepidation, I let the brake off and began aligning the combine to harvest the next six rows of corn. Sherman believed I could do it, so I did too. With his patient voice guiding, I farmed. And as it turned out, I had no time to tweet. Life was happening and I was busy.

About halfway through the weekend, I started to get wrapped up in the 80 items on my to-do list and the internet access that I didn’t have. I started to worry about deadlines and the busy week ahead. But then the night wrapped up with a long-time family friend coming over to extend hugs and lots of laughter. As we sat close laughing about old family mishaps, I realized that this was my to-do list. This moment. And I needed to be present.

Sometimes we are so caught up with the future, that we fail to live presently.

Sometimes we need to slow down and say, this person matters. These people matter. I need to give them the dignity of my full attention. I need to be in this moment because this moment will never come again. I need to embrace this love, this laughter, this joy. Because if I’m not careful, the life I am so eagerly awaiting will pass me by without my noticing and all I’ll have to show for it is a marked off to-do list.

As we finished up the weekend singing hymns at the old country church down the road and to the right, I realized, the Land of Lincoln taught this city girl a lot more about life than just how to drive a combine.

So tell me, what life lessons have you been learning this September?

Ukrainian Traveling Mercies

As writing goes, recreating the experiences one has had on a trip abroad has got to be one of the more difficult pieces to pen. Add 9 orphanages to the mix and that just magnifies the difficulty in writing about the experience; however, I’d like to give it a try. I promise to keep it fairly short and hopefully entertaining… and chalk full of beauty because, well… that’s just what the trip exemplified… beauty.

Carrying the name of Hopehouse International, the nearly 25 person group began its journey at Nashville International. Our group was diverse… spanning several states in the Southeast; therefore, many of us had absolutely no clue who was part of the group or not. I started scoping out these yellow luggage tags that we all had on our carry-on’s and thus recognizing the people I’d spend the next few weeks with.

I went with the notion that my sole duty would be to paint the faces of Ukrainian orphans. If you’ve spent any great amount of time with me, you may know that I don’t claim, have never claimed, and will never claim art as a forte…much less covering the faces of these precious (unfortunate) children with my less-than-expert handiwork. I can’t say that my face painting skills have been perfected in any possible way, but I will say that I secretly think I was given the best task out of the many hats that our team wore. More to come on that in a minute.

Our team graced the halls of the Philadelphia airport where I was particularly delighted to study an ornithology exhibit displayed on the concourse. Then on to the dreadfully long red-eye flight to Frankfurt where we sleepily and hastily drank coffee before boarding the flight to Kiev, Ukraine. After retrieving luggage in Kiev, we boarded a bus en route to Odessa, a city on the coast which was 8 hours away. As we drove through Kiev, I observed the dilapidated apartments which had been allotted to families during the communist regime’s power. The Iron Curtain had left its mark on the former breadbasket of Europe and the repercussions of a generation broken by war and communism still rang out even two decades later.

We arrived to the ship at nearly midnight and were greeted by a friendly staff and hardy food. Having traveled for nearly 30 hours, we were exhausted and definitely looked so, and I mean that in the kindest sense. The next morning we visited our first orphanage really having no idea what we were doing and yet the cohesion that we needed as a group to love the children was clearly present. It was beautiful. They were beautiful. As I said earlier, I was given the task of face-painting, which quickly became a joy and not a task. I had hastily learned some Russian and was able to roughly communicate with the children… the little boys undoubtedly wanted Spiderman on their faces while the girls choices were more diverse. As I began face-painting, I was able to touch the kids faces and talk to them. It is rare that they are loved on and made to feel beautiful because there are often simply to many of them for the orphanage workers to tend to. I prayed for them as I painted their faces… most of them looked down, but I caught their gaze and looked into their eyes. I wanted them to know how beautiful they were. I wanted them to know how important they were. I wanted them to know they mattered. I was fortunate enough to have been told these things growing up… they are not. In fact, the statistics of the plight of orphans after they leave the orphanage at age 17 are bleak. Having insufficient education and virtually no networking prospects, most will end up in prison, trafficking, homeless, or having committed suicide.

But I serve and love a God that doesn’t give a flip about statistics. A God who says these children matter…they are mine and I love them. So Kate… you need to love them. Because they matter to me. This is what I slowly but surely learned as we went to orphanage after orphanage, city after city. It is clear to me why scripture is very explicit about taking care of the orphans and widows. Because they matter.

I came into this whole experience in Ukraine thinking that I could bring nothing of significance, but praying that somehow I could love a few kids and maybe be changed along the way. I left having learned what Christ looks like in the faces of all the healthy, sick, handicapped, tall, short, sad, and happy orphans I touched. I will never forget the girls faces I was able to paint, the young faces but old eyes… I pray one day they will change their worlds… that they will not be trafficked into a life of rape and inhumanity. That they will come to know the grace of Christ because grace is such a foreign thing them.

As we worked through the week, we gave relief items, we gave hugs, we gave love in many ways, but yet I wondered if it was enough. I was reminded that we can’t do everything but we can do something… so I need to spend my days doing something that matters.

I am grateful for this experience. For the story that it became. For the faces that I’ll never forget. It was humbling in every sense of the way. I loved the journey, I knew God was with me, and I had traveling mercies in almost every sense of the phrase.

Traveling mercies, my friend.

I went backwoods camping recently with my three life-long friends, known affectionately as the Who-ha’s… a knockoff name derived from The Divine Secrets of the Yaya Sisterhood. Armed with the strength of a sisterly bond, the fierceness and determination of the female species, and the love of Yahweh, we trekked on to our next great adventure. We tend to welcome the outdoor adventures that require a certain sense of survival sweetly mixed with the desire to sleep among the stars, sunsets, and sunrises. Our first major endeavor some years ago was a 3 week road trip across the greater United States that took us nearly into Canada… we camped, we feasted over the campfire, we visited old friends, we took pictures, we sang hymns, we laughed, we drove, we quoted Thoreau, we prayed, we conversed, we star-gazed, we hiked, we met new friends, we sweated, we danced. This past weekend lacked nothing as we reunited to repeat these things once more… picking up where we had last left off. What a rich life. Our time together got me thinking…

I’ve been savoring my reading of Anne Lamott as of late. The San Francisco Chronicle writes: “Anne Lamott is walking proof that a person can be both reverent and irreverent in the same lifetime. Sometimes even in the same breath.” Lamott is irreverent, but she writes about grace as if it is desperately needed, as if it is her salvation. She can write like this because she has a codependency on Christ that leaves you realizing that Christ is literally her Savior through such personal grace that only she can know. She’s been through it all and back. She is endearing with her funny stories, crude language at times, fervid political beliefs, and her dreadlocks. She is ruthlessly honest in her pursuit of both life and grace. I love her writing; I see more grace in it than in many religious writings, excluding the Holy Bible, of course. In her book, Traveling Mercies, Lamott explains that she derived the title from her pastor, the Reverend Veronica Goines and her congregation who wish other members traveling mercies when they are about to depart on a journey away from the congregation. “Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.” These are the sentiments that they wish each other; this reminds me a lot of the Who-ha’s, our individual and collective journeys, and the traveling mercies that have followed us through the years.

Later, Lamott writes about Bee, an old friend who had weathered the years and was close to her last breath. Anne sat with her during this sacred time, held her hand, and whispered something so profound as her old friend was slipping away to Glory: traveling mercies. So that’s what I wish to say to you today: Love your journey, know God is with you, come home safe and sound. Traveling mercies to you, my friend.