Category Archives: My Stories

Stuck in Montreal

I’m currently avoiding two research papers, so I thought I’d engage in some good, old fashioned procrastination and tell a story. A couple weeks ago, I told you a little about what the Lord was doing in my heart over our Spring Break adventure to Europe. This is one of many stories from that trip. It’s not a deep or profound story, just a funny one. It’s the story of fourteen college students who were just trying to make it back to the States. Sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy a laugh on this dreary Thursday night.

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It was a spring break for the books. What had initially started as a few friends dreaming about a post-graduation trip had spiraled into this much larger group of best friends planning to galavant through Europe for twelve days in March. The week was jam-packed with six countries, thousands of miles of driving rental cars, a new hostel every night, and long days of sightseeing and skiing. By the morning of our departure from Belgium, we were exhausted but our hearts were content. The week had been full of the kind of laughter and memories that don’t fade with time.

A 5am wake-up call on Tuesday morning had us all packed up and ready to make the 3 hour drive from Brugge back to Brussels. Speeding through traffic, the biggest concern of the morning was whether or not we would make it back to the airport for an 8:30 rental car drop off. There were also concerns about whether or not people were going to be sick in the cars; traveling sickness, dinners that don’t sit well, and fervent driving made for some tense moments. Yet, consistent with the flawlessness of the rest of the trip, each of three cars made it to the airport on time. Saying goodbye to the one member of the crew with a different flight (which would be to his ultimate benefit), our group of thirteen settled down at our gate. We boarded our 10:30am flight from Brussels to Montreal.

Knowing all about jet lag, we knew not to fall asleep on the flight. There was some light dozing, especially given our general exhaustion and early wake-up, but we knew that we were going east-to-west. And we knew that it was daytime in Chicago. We had to stay awake to reset our body clocks. So we entertained ourselves with movies, conversations, and reminiscing about the trip. We rotated seats, found comfortable positions, and shared all the food we had stowed in our carry-ons. Towards the end of the six hour flight, attention shifted from entertainment to preparation; we had 45 minutes to make our connecting flight and everyone needed to be ready to go. No one was getting left behind. We were all going to make it back to Wheaton by 5:30pm. We’d be back in time for people’s Tuesday night classes (after all, we’d already missed the rest of Monday and Tuesday classes – per a calculated decision to visit Paris and Brugge).

The flight debarked and we jogged through Canadian customs to our next gate. Delayed. We hadn’t yet sat down when we got wind of the storm that was looming overhead. Rumors of canceled flights buzzed all around us and the airport quickly turned into a ghost town. Canceled. Deliberations about what we would do if the storm got worse began, while everyone maintained hope that it wouldn’t come to that. After talking to AirCanada representatives, we were all put on an 8pm flight, optimistic that they were still going to try and get flights out in what was quickly becoming a dangerous blizzard. It hadn’t even been an hour after getting our new boarding passes that we were informed that all flights out of Montreal had been canceled. We were definitely not making it back to Wheaton by Tuesday.

We were given taxi, meal, and hotel vouchers for the night. Deciding to enjoy the now empty terminal, we took our time at dinner, enjoying another night of being together. We picked up our checked bags that had never even made it onto another plane. Through Canadian customs again, we finally made our way to the taxi pick-up. Little could have prepared us for what we saw next – a line wrapping around the baggage claim terminal several times. Shocked, we asked around to see just what this line was for and how quickly it was moving.

It was the line to get a taxi. It was rumored to be four hours long.

9pm turned into 10pm, which turned into 11pm Montreal time. On our Belgium schedule, it was nearing 5am. We’d officially been up for over 24 hours. And you could tell. Everyone was losing it.

Taxis were having trouble getting through the blizzard, meaning they were coming infrequently. And there were a lot of people trying to get out of the airport. Committed to the idea of sleeping in a hotel bed, and having already waited for three hours without much progress, we ordered Ubers. They weren’t coming fast, but it was more promising than the taxi situation. Splitting up, we said goodbye to half the group and piled in an Uber XL.

17265106_10203060488990244_7776941568471860566_nWhat followed was the most surreal Uber experience of my life, aided by the sleep deprivation I was operating from. Our Uber driver insisted on keeping the windows open, to keep them from fogging. As we were being snowed on in the backseat, traffic turned what should have been a 15 minute drive into a 2 hour one. We barely moved outside of the airport terminal for the first 45 minutes. Even though the other group’s Uber had left after ours, not taking the highway had saved them several minutes. Although, at one point they had gotten stuck in a snow back and had to push the car, so I suppose it all evens out. When they reached the hotel, apparently they asked if we had checked in yet. Obviously, we hadn’t. The only logical assumption was that we had crashed and died. Yet, without international data plans, they had no way of contacting us. And we had no way of reassuring them that we were still just stuck, wet, cold, and sleepy on the highway.

After the most expensive Uber of our lives, we finally pulled up to the hotel. The lady behind the desk handed me a key. I grabbed my backpack and upon finding that we were unable to work the elevator, we hiked up to our room. My friend following close behind, I unlocked the door and flew into the room, wanting to crash upon the bed. Much to my surprise, there were already people in the beds. Hm. We’d been given keys to someone else’s room. Pushing my friend out the door, shh-ing her along the way, I dropped my stuff and ran back down the stairs. I was hysterical. Uncontrollable laughter made it difficult to form coherent words. I managed, between laughs, to get out that someone was already in that room. The woman asked if I was serious. I was. It was 2am. I was very serious.

We finally got to sleep. In a room without other guests.

The next morning, we made our way over to the airport bright and early, ready to get home and convinced we couldn’t miss our 1:00pm flight. At least it wasn’t snowing anymore. We hadn’t even all gotten through customs and security when talk began circling back – the flight had been canceled. Sitting at the gate of yet another canceled flight, we watched this time as a plane took off for O’Hare. Too bad all the flights were full. Too bad the airports were all backed up.

The kind AirCanada woman informed us that the next open flight was scheduled for 11:15am – on Thursday. Everyone lost it, in their own personal way. Anger. Tears. Silence. Verbal processing. This meant missing almost an entire week of classes, job interviews, meetings, and appointments. Our homework was hundreds of miles away and we were still stuck in Montreal. Going back through customs to the front desk, we inquired about hotel and meal tickets. Since it was only 2pm on Wednesday, we had a long way to go until Thursday.

One of the guys who’d planned the trip chatted with the woman. Was there anyway that any of us could get on a flight before Thursday? I’m not sure what happened in those fifteen minutes that he talked to this attendant, but somewhere, in his persistence, she found 9 seats on a flight from Montreal to Toronto, then Toronto to O’Hare. The catch? It was leaving in thirty minutes.

Like in a scene from a movie, we threw nine passports at this woman and proceeded to have nine passports and eighteen boarding passes thrown back at us. We exchanged them while we ran. She said she’d work on the rest of the paperwork but that we needed to go. Calling the gate, she demanded that they keep it open for the nine students who would be running up to it. Then we sprinted. Through security. Through customs. With all of our luggage, because there was no time to check anything. This motley crew of college students was not about to miss the flight. And we didn’t.

Now, one would think that’s where the eventful proceedings end, except that when we got to Toronto, settled into the gate fifteen minutes before boarding, there was an announcement over the loud speaker: can I please see MacMath, McDonald, Westergren, LaRusso, Bergthold, Fritz, McGee . . . That’s us. We shuffled over, like the desperate students we were. She asked if we had any of the necessary paperwork to get on the flight, besides the boarding passes; we didn’t. She said she’d work on it while they began boarding. The paperwork never came. Even though we had boarding passes, they wouldn’t scan without the other documents. Whether because they sensed our desperation or were convinced they could work out the details later, the kind people of AirCanada let us on the flight. Officially undocumented, having been through Canadian customs multiple times, with a dozen previous flight registrations, and carrying luggage bigger than the overhead bins – we finally boarded our flight to O’Hare.

I’ve never been so relieved to see the Chicago skyline. There may or may not have been tears.

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And so concluded the extra day of spring break that none of us had anticipated. It was the most surreal traveling experience that I’ve had to date. A memorable 48-hours with some of the greatest people I’ve ever known.

And I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

What I Miss About Acworth, GA

As I’ve been thinking about how exciting it is that Christmas break is only a few days away, I’ve also been thinking about how different it will be this year. A new house with new neighbors, a new church’s Christmas Eve service, a new balcony to look over when we wake up.

What is that they say about not realizing what you have until it’s gone? I didn’t really realize Acworth, Georgia was my home until I left for Wheaton. I didn’t realize that I truly loved Acworth, Georgia until we left.

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I miss the Starbucks and Waffle House at the crossroads. I miss cramming the whole youth group around one of the tables, whether there was five or twenty-five of us. I miss rainy days of discipleship in Starbucks. I miss picking up my brother from Tae-Kwon-Do in that parking lot. I miss the feeling of knowing I would see someone I knew, probably from dance or our old church (and knowing it would be awkward).

I miss cheap movies at NGC and then trading in our tickets for Chick-Fil-A afterwards. I miss stopping at the best Target in the world beforehand. I miss using my sister’s big purse to sneak sparkling waters into the theater. I miss adventures and people watching in Walmart, Kroger, and the Goodwill on 41.

I miss driving with the windows down (back when they all worked) through familiar backroads. I miss the roads that my dad taught me to drive on when I was fifteen. I miss the highways that I cried when I had to drive on them by myself for the first time. I miss passing the Varsity, knowing I only had a little further to go before I was through the Atlanta traffic.

I miss how close it was to drive to my grandparents or aunt and uncles house. I miss making the drive to Clemson and listening to my parents  chant “hold your tiger” on car rides where we had to go to the bathroom. I miss laughing about whether or not the “woo-hoo, woo-hoo-hoo-hoo” should be in the Clemson fight song. I miss car rides to Chattanooga or Savannah, which weren’t long enough to make my parents resort to 80’s music.

I miss the kids I used to babysit and showing up at familiar houses. I miss taking them to Petland because they would beg me and, let’s be real, I wanted to hold puppies too. I miss driving to friend’s houses because they just lived around the corner. I miss hanging out at the neighborhood pools all summer because it was 8 million degrees and that was all there was to do.

I miss Vintage242 and the family that I left there. I miss letting Harvest lead me in worship and giving Summer, Lane, Melanie, Randel, and Shelley hugs on Sunday mornings. I miss staying later than everyone else because my parents won’t stop talking. I miss laughing about how everyone went to Los Magueys after service, even though they failed the health inspection. I miss teaching in the Village and getting to hang out with the middle schoolers on Sunday nights. I miss my Camp Adventure kids.

I miss going in to our house with the squeaky screen door that was always broken and slammed shut. I miss walking into the kitchen and always seeing my mom in there. I miss my dad yelling at us (nicely) to be quiet when he was working from home. I miss convincing my mom to watch a movie with us in the basement on Friday nights (usually a horse movie that my dad picked out). I miss climbing up on my mom and dad’s bed on weekend mornings and just talking to them about life. I miss the driveway where we learned to ride bikes and the cul-de-sac that we would sled down the few times it got icy. I miss the jack-and-jill bathroom that my siblings and I always forgot to clean. I miss people always walking in the side door because they were never locked and anyone was always welcome.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Illinois. I love Wheaton and exploring River Forest. I wrote a reflection recently for one of my classes about what I’m learning about what home truly means. This post isn’t about that. This post is a reminder for me to celebrate and embrace what I have in the moment.

The thing is, Acworth, Georgia isn’t the greatest place in the world. There really isn’t a whole lot to do and I’ve seen more brokenness there than I ever thought possible for a middle class, southern suburb. I had ample things to complain about in the seventeen years I lived there. We had neighbors that shot off fireworks at 3am and had dogs that barked constantly. There were so many nights of babysitting where I held a screaming child for hours and vowed that I would never have kids. There were days where I felt stuck in my small little town, feeling like no one understood what it meant to love Jesus wholeheartedly and give up everything to love His people. Yet, despite all it’s quirks and flaws and frustrations, there are so many things about Acworth, Georgia that shaped the memories of my childhood. There are so many things about that place and the people there that made me who I am.

I’m reminded today to meet Jesus where I am and to love the place He has planted me.

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Watch What I’ll Do

Did ya miss me? I skipped blogging yesterday. It was bound to happen at some point in these 25 days. Finals week is creeping up on me, y’all. Also I chose to spend time cheering on the ACC champions and the Steelers, so blogging just didn’t happen in the past 24 hours.

I was planning to write on something else but I’ve changed my mind. I had a God-moment today and I want to tell you the story of what happened. This is the kind of thing that I would normally call my mom about, but instead I’m going to share it with all of y’all.

Wheaton does this Christmas outreach called Angel Tree. Students pick the name and gift request of a child whose parents are in prison. On each tag is a note from the parent. Most of them read something along the lines of “mommy/daddy loves you! I’m so proud of you. I’m sorry I can’t be there this Christmas.” It’s okay if you need to take a minute to imagine what it would be like to be separated in that way from your family on Christmas. Let your heart break for these families for a minute. I needed a minute when I was reading them.

I saw Jesus as I read these notes. But wait, it gets better.

I ended up picking out two girls, a three year old and a ten year old. It gave me an excuse to wander into the children’s clothing section and pick out the sparkliest pink sweater I could find. But that’s not the point. After trips to a sketchy Wal-Mart and Target, I brought my gifts back to the Office of Christian Outreach to wrap and return them.

That’s where Jesus met me today.

After wrapping one of the gifts, I took it over to the desk coordinator. She commented on my wrapping and we talked for a second about how much life it gives us to really care about these presents and kids. Then, with tears in her eyes, she asked if I had time to listen to a story.

When they had first set up the table in Lower Beamer, a girl came over and asked for an Angel tag. After being handed one, the girl burst into tears. Running around the table, the woman embraced her. She asked what was wrong, head spinning with reasons this girl would be so visibly upset by the Angel tree. Choking back sobs, she said that she had been a recipient of an Angel Tree gift when she was little. She said that it had changed her life. She told the woman that it was so amazing to give back to something when she so tangibly knew that it would make a difference.

Through my own tears, I managed a quiet “wow.”

I realized right then that this girl saw something about Jesus that we all so easily miss. These are the type of places where God likes to move. Jesus calls us to move in obedience, but the things he calls us to do often seem small and insignificant. We wonder if what we do even matters. The things that no one sees. The things that aren’t ending poverty, world hunger, or drawing millions to Christ. What do we do when obedience looks like writing a paper, buying someone a meal, wrapping a Christmas present, starting a conversation, or giving a hug?

We talk a lot about calling here at Wheaton and while I think God can (and does) call people to crazy amazing things, I think we miss what He’s often doing when we look past the small things. Because even in the remotest, unreached places in the world, obedience often still looks like life. It looks like washing dishes, making space to listen, and offering up whatever we have to Jesus.

Just like the widow’s mite. Just like the loaves and fish.

How often do I look at the world like the disciples: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” All I have to do is look at the needs of the world, or even just the people around me, and what I’m doing seems so insignificant. What is good is buying a pink sweater when there are millions of children that are starving, orphaned, and lonely? I feel like a child looking up at her daddy, asking how he can use this small offering I’m holding up. Can you even use this?

I imagine God smiles and shakes his head when we ask that. I can hear Jesus’ loving tone echo in my ears, telling the disciples to “have the people sit down.” He says to us: it’s enough. It’s enough for His power. He’s so pleased with our obedient hearts with the little we’ve been entrusted. He tells us to sit down and watch what He’ll do. All we are called to is to give what we have in obedience. We are called to make our block and He’s the one who makes it a winning play. We give our loaf and our fish and He’s the one who feeds the multitudes.

“So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” John 6:10-11 (full story)

And He whispers to our hearts again, just be obedient. Give me what you have and watch what I will do.

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Hanging with the Stars

One of my friends convinced me to go to this ministry she helps run. It’s called Hanging with a Star. You basically watch and love on adults with special needs, which gives their caregivers a little break. A couple weeks ago we took them to a Wheaton basketball game. Today, we went Christmas shopping at Target and then helped them wrap their gifts.

I love serving and caring for people, but if I’m honest, the reason I initially went was more to love my friend than it was for the Stars. I’ve never had experience working with anyone with special needs, much less adults. I think I just assumed I didn’t have a “heart” for people with disabilities because I haven’t ever really been around them.

I’m so grateful I was wrong. I’m so grateful I do have a heart for these people because Jesus has a heart for them. I’m grateful that in trying to care for the Stars, they turned around to love and encourage me in such meaningful ways. I’m grateful for the ways they make me laugh and smile. They bring out fearless, extraverted, childlike, confident, caring pieces of me that frankly I didn’t know I had. I’m grateful for who they each are and the ways they demonstrate love and community among one another. I’m grateful that they welcome us in every couple weeks. I was grateful that Ric remembered who I was from the basketball game. I’m grateful that I got to walk around Target with him today.

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Here’s a couple things you should know about Ric . . .

  • He’s a speed-walker when it comes to shopping. I’d glance for an extra second at something and when I looked back he would be halfway down the isle. I spent most of the time jogging around Target to keep up with him. For someone who’s got a lot of things trying to weigh him down and hold him back, Ric lives life at a vibrant pace. Kind of like how he threw off his jacket and took off with the cart, he strips off everything that holds him back. He’s not afraid to just go.
  • He can’t really talk. He understands a lot and can make sounds or motions, but it’s hard for him to form words. This makes Ric an amazing listener. Since we finished our shopping twice as fast as everyone else (see previous comment), we ended up having to wait in the Target café area. Besides giving quick answers to my questions and telling me that everyone else was taking too long, all Ric did was listen. He didn’t give his opinion or advice. He didn’t seem uninterested. He simply smiled and listened. To stories about my family and friends, to my recent boy interactions, to things I love about Christmas, to what Jesus has been teaching me.
  • He was very excited to buy Christmas socks for the girls on his list. He picked out ones with penguins and ones with a dog and I wasn’t about to argue with a choice he was so obviously pleased with. Ric found joy in the simplest things. He laughed when I tripped over myself trying to catch up to him. He laughed when I ran around a pole because the isles were crowded. He smiled when a Christmas song came on and he asked me to dance. Ric saw the joy in the seemingly insignificant things and wasn’t afraid to make them the big things that brought him life.
  • Ric was also not afraid to ask for help. I’d mention, mostly to myself, that I didn’t know where something was, and when I turned around, Ric was tapping on someone’s shoulder and motioning me over to ask them where it was. He seemed to understand, better than I do, that things are better when you reach out to others. Shopping for him wasn’t about going it alone but depending on others. Who knew that Target could be a place of such vulnerability? As it turned out, there was only one card matching game in the whole store and we wouldn’t have found it if this lady hadn’t shown us where it was.

Not only did I enjoy my time with my sweet friend Ric, I learned a lot from him today. And I kind of think that’s who we should surround ourselves with.

Reliving the Past: Georgia Driving Hazards

Remember the great blog crash of 2013? In the wake of that, I lost all of the posts from this blog. Which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t too devastating a loss. How many of those posts would really have been worth saving anyway? In light of recent events however, I thought I would… Read more. . .

Don’t forget: the faithfulness of the Lord

Rereading through my journals as the semester winds down, I am amazed at how many times “remember” or “don’t forget” show up between entries. And yet, for as often as Jesus reminds me of the necessity of remembrance, I forget so quickly. Things like doubt, confusion, stress, worry, fear, all usually in the context of… Read more. . .

Don’t forget: where you came from

I am from the back porch basking in the hot Georgia sun, from my journals and teen Bible quizzes. I am from conversations around the kitchen table and the smell of coffee in the morning. I am from the side-yard tree we tried to climb, whose weak arms never failed to hold us up. I am… Read more. . .