The Great Massacre of my Little Feet

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“These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do- today these boots are gonna walk all over you” *she sings to the Pyrenees between sobs as bruises form on her hips under her backpack and her feet throb * I LOVE THE CAMINO!

I would say I’m just kidding but all of that is true! Except the crying part- I haven’t cried yet, but I’m not ruling it out as an activity to be done after tomorrow’s walk where we climb 400m in elevation. But I really did sing that to the Pyrenees and I really do have bruises all around my pelvis from Sheldon, my backpack, and my feet throb so bad you’d think my heart fell from my chest and took up residence in them. But I really do love the Camino!

I love it for a lot of reasons. (I also hate it for a lot reasons- some of which are the same reasons I love it- but that’s a different story) First of all, the foothills of the Pyrenees are breathtaking. Literally. Because you’re climbing up them. See what I did there?! HA.

But actually, they are quite stunning and even as you’re panting and sweating, dragging your weary legs behind you, you can’t help but be in awe of God’s handiwork. I mean, dang. (Even if you do find yourself whispering “Could you make your handiwork a little less steep, JC” to the heavens)

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Uphill isn’t actually that bad. It’s the downhill that’ll get you. Yesterday, our first day, we walked 17 miles (if any part of you is saying “Oh, that’s not so bad” consider us no longer friends) and I swear there wasn’t a flat part on the journey. Always up or down as we made our way through the foothills. Side note: the name “foothills” was probably originally “footkills” because they kill your feet, but over time and through translation errors became “foothills”

The first 10 miles were actually really fun. The next 3 were hard. The final 4 made me contemplate throwing myself off the trail and falling down the mountains. Even if I survived and broke every bone in my body, it couldn’t have been as painful as those 4 miles.

Ok, ok that’s a little melodramatic. But the last 4 were not fun. I think the combination of having walked 13 miles already with backpacks for the first time, mixed with the fact that it was the hottest part of the day made for a rough final stretch- but we did it!

The first 10, though, man I was living the life. Yelling either the species binomials of the wildflowers we passed (SO to Dr. Rohrer and Plant Systematics #biomajor) or the lyrics to whatever song was stuck in my head at the time (including by not limited to The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music, The Boots were Made for Walking, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (LOL the mountains I walked through were in fact high enough to keep me from you, sorry not sorry), I Have a Dream, and Edelweiss) until I could hear the rhythmic taps of walking sticks coming up behind us. Then I’d quiet down and wait.

Eventually someone would come along and they’d either match my pace for a little while, or with a quick smile and a “buen camino,” they’d be off (turns out at about mile 7 you start to get really irrationally angry that the old lady from Ireland and the old man from Norway have passed you. Like I just ran a freakin half marathon- I should be in good shape for this. You’re old, stop passing me. And then you try to calm down and mentally give them props for kicking your butt. But I digress.)

Sometimes they match your pace for a little while and you try to communicate in whatever way you can- whether it’s grunts and gestures with the old French man, or fluent English with the college kid from Michigan. But eventually you break away from each other and wait for the next part of the world to come pass you by.

And then for the next however many miles, you play leapfrog with your newfound stranger- friends. You pass them as they stop for a snack, then they pass you as you adjust your boots, but eventually you all make it at different times to whatever little village you’re staying at for the night.

Everyone goes their separate ways to the different albergues and hotels and they drop their packs and shower and then everyone reconvenes at the local bar.

And suddenly it’s like a family reunion. Everyone is loudly and excitedly greeting one another in broken languages, happy to see familiar faces. There are bottles of wine and loaves of bread everywhere and music playing and suddenly no one cares about the treacherous walk of the day or the blisters on their feet- they’re just happy to be with each other.

Tables are being shared by 5 or 6 different nationalities as food is passed and stories are told. The stories probably aren’t that funny, but everyone is laughing anyway and you kind of wish you could just freeze time in this moment.

For extroverted, relationship based kiddos like me, this is the best part of the camino.

And then you wake up and you do it all over again. You walk and walk and walk some more until you think every bone in your body will shatter if you take another step, and then you walk another 3 miles after that. Time passes quickly and you marvel over the wild flowers and the hills and the different animals you see and you wait for another peregrino to come alongside you so you can exchange little snippets of your lives.

It’s quite the experience, folks.

There are a billion pictures I want to include but, as a true pilgrim would say “ain’t nobody got wifi fo dat!”

Hopefully we’ll encounter some kind of wifi haven and I’ll inundate the cyber world with pictures of our glorious trek, but until then, google it or something I guess!

As time goes on and the newness of this whole thing wears off, I’m sure the blogs will get fewer and farther between, but thanks for checking in on our little adventure in the footkills.

Buen Camino, my friends!

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Eating Intestines

Hiya pals,

Buenos Dias from España!

For those of you who have been keeping up with the Facebook updates, you know that we could’ve arrived in Paris, turned around and went home and would’ve considered that adventure enough.

Here’s a little recap:

The plan, ahh the plan, what a beautiful idea- the plan was to fly from good ol’ Green Bay (go Packers!) to Chicago (da bears still suck), catch a flight to Copenhagen, make a connection for a flight to Paris, stay the night in Paris, wake up, take a train to Bayonne, make a connection for a train to St. Jean Pied de Port, stay the night, and take a taxi to Roncesvalles (the Spanish side of the Pyrenees).

LOL

Here’s what actually happened: GB came through for us (I repeat, go Packers!).

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We caught our flight to Chicago. Leave it to Chicago to ruin our lives (just kidding, the people in Chicago are delightful human beings). We had an 8 hour layover. Now, that might sound like a long time- until you realize that we ended up having a 32 hour layover. 8 hours aint soundin’ too bad amirite?

So anyway, the layover began by waiting in line for 2 hours before we could check in. Which actually didn’t really bother us at all. What’s 2 hours when you have 8 (or 32)? So we check in, make it through TSA without a hassle (God Bless America). And we eat some yucky airport food, make friends with some other people flying to Copenhagen, enjoy some cribbage and just wait for the beautiful giant airplane to take us on our adventure.

Our flight was at 10:30. At 10:15, we didn’t have a plane at our gate. At 10:30, they announced that our plane wasn’t at our gate because our plane was broken. At 10:45 they told us to wait, we might be going after all. At 11:30 they said the Captain was going to check out this “issue” and make the final call. At 11:45 they told us that we would, in fact, not be flying out to Copenhagen tonight, in fact, as far as they were concerned, we wouldn’t be flying anywhere ever. Goody.

What’s even more exciting is that the international terminal would be closing AND there were no vacant hotel rooms in a 50 mile radius. So we couldn’t sleep in the terminal and we couldn’t sleep in a hotel and we couldn’t fly to Copenhagen.

Now, you might think we’d be grumpy as we descended to the baggage claim to reclaim our luggage for the night. But we really weren’t. We were doing ok. The lovely humans at SAS told us there was a number we could call and they would reschedule our flight, no problem. There was also a website we could use to do the same.

As it happens, at midnight on a Saturday (Sunday? Idk), the call center for SAS is closed and in this series of unfortunate events, the website was down, too.

Again, you might think we would be grumpy as we found a nice piece of floor to sleep on for the night in the check-in part of the airport, but we weren’t. We were confident that things would work out in due time.

We all tried to sleep, we really did. But the floor of terminal 5 isn’t exactly 5 star material. So instead we did our best to get in contact with someone who could get us where we needed to be in a reasonable time.

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Eventually, Paris came in clutch. Some blessed soul in the Parisian airport worked a deal for us (10/10 would call again) and we would be on the plane at 6:05 to Paris!

Long story long, we ended up making it to Paris, got a taxi to the train station and made our original train to Bayonne. (Naturally, boarding the train was accompanied by a thousand “Next stop, Hogwarts jokes)

P.S. Turns out trying to speak Spanish to a French taxi driver isn’t as helpful as you might think.

Anyway, here is a beautiful portrait of yours truly admiring the gorgeous French countryside.

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But really, France is BEAUTIFUL. I’ve noticed that everything is so frickin’ picturesque. It doesn’t matter what it is- the French Pyrenees, cute little villages, someone’s trash in their backyard- it doesn’t matter, it’s French trash in a French backyard and that makes it beautiful or something I guess (someone’s literal trash has become my treasure, how cliché).

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We made it to St. Jean Pied de Port, where the Camino really begins. We stayed in the most adorable little hotel and ate, as a true American would, cheeseburgers for dinner.

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Here’s the view from my bed…

Then we slept like it was our job.

We got our little Camino passports the next morning and played around in St. Jean Pied de Port. Here’s what our little passports look like!

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Then, we took a taxi with the kindest most smiley French taxi driver ever. We climbed through the French Pyrenees as Henri shifted gears 7000 times, winding us to Roncesvalles (Bienvenidos a España!)

Here is a picture of the entirety of Roncesvalles. Welcome!

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It may be small in stature, but it is large in personality!

We ate lunch at one of the 3 buildings in Roncesvalles and folks, let me tell you that was an adventure.

This is Alejandro, as my Facebook post says, he is the nicest guy in the world and should be sainted for putting up with us ignorant peregrinos.

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We tried to order food. We did our best.

We ended up with cow intestine.

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HAHAHAHAHA

I didn’t eat it. I’m sure that cow intestine is a delicacy of some sort and that millions of people love it. I’m not one of them.

But Alejandro came in clutch and gave us chicken wings because American.

He also made us Sangria in front of our eyes.

Like took plain red wine and put fresh fruit in it and stuff.

SO GOOD.

Also, in our fumbling stupidity, we probably ended up ordering around 70 euros worth of food.

Alejandro charged us 20.

WHAT A GUY!

Not to mention he gave me his number and his email (do people still email these days- you can bet this girl will now…jk…sort of…I’m blushing…) So, when I don’t return to los Estados Unidos, look for updates on my Spanish wedding.

Just kidding. But really, Alejandro is a saint of a server and absolutely made our day. If you’re ever in Roncesvalles, ask for Alejandro. He will quite literally be one of the 8 people in the village.

So, we’ve had some adventures, made some friends, and tomorrow begins our true Camino.

We’ll wake up around 5am and begin our walk. We’re excited and anxious and ready to go!

Thanks for checking in with us- stay tuned for more updates!

Buen Camino, my friends!

Buen Camino

 

Well, well, well wouldya look at what’s finally arrived…

Sunshine, sweet tea, aviators, grillin’ out, shandys, sleep-ins, and bonfires can only mean one thing.

It’s summer time, kids!

And while part of me wishes my summer would consist of sweet tea, aviators, grillin’ out, shandys, sleeping in and bonfires, I can confidently say I won’t get most of that in these next few months.

BECAUSE I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!!

This Saturday, May 28th,  my Ma and Pa and I will board a plane, fly to Spain, and backpack El Camino de Santiago.

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El Camino de Santiago, known in English as The Way of Saint James, is a pilgrimage. It has roots as an old Roman trade route, but has since become somewhat of a spiritual journey to the reputed burial site of the apostle, Saint James. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims walk the Camino each year and story after story surfaces about how this journey has changed them.

We first heard about the Camino after watching the movie, The Way, several years ago. After watching the movie my mom, dad, and I left excited and curious. What was this Camino really like? What was it all about? (If you haven’t seen this movie, you should probs go watch it. Like rn. It’s on Netflix)

Fast forward a few years and here we are. Backpacks packed, cameras ready, hearts excited.

The route we’ve chosen is about 440 miles of walking that we’ll do in 6 weeks, including one day a week to rest. This whole adventure is part of Fr. Dad’s sabbatical, so it was very important to us to have a Sabbath each week. If you know anything about the Mills family, you know that we are busy-bodied humans and finding rest isn’t exactly a strength of ours, let alone figuring out how to “enjoy” this so-called elusive rest. So while it sounds like a leisurely restful journey of walking, all of this “down” time is definitely going to be challenging for us…in all the right ways!

Our plan is to wake up each day and do some yoga (we’re walking 440 miles, a girl (and a priest) is gonna need some yoga, amirite? Lol bc none of us know how to do yoga and we can’t even touch our toes #pray4yogees2k16), walk until we’re hungry, stop for some coffee and breakfast, then walk until lunch, and stay in some sort of hotel or hostel for the night. We plan to walk about 15 miles each day, which when coupled with early risers, leaves ample time to explore the little villages we’ll walk through and be in awe of this crazy adventure we’re on.

Following the Camino, Pops and I are staying to do a little backpacking in Italy and Austria before we coming home at the end of July.

We are beyond excited and so so so fortunate to have been given this opportunity to go experience God and His creation in another place, in a way we’ve never encountered Him before. I have no idea what’s in store for us these next two months, but I’m looking forward to every second of it!

As we travel, we’ll all be blogging about our experience and we’d be so happy if you tuned in to our little narratives and joined with us on our pilgrimage.

As the pilgrims say, Buen Camino, friends. See you in 2 months!

 

 

Neverland

I’ve been having this weird sensation in my heart.

And while I could tell you everything from the pacemaker potential and impulses of the sinoatrial node, to the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart, to the micro-anatomy of cardiomyocytes, I couldn’t quite explain what’s going on in my heart.

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I’ve tried a lot of things in an attempt to figure it out. Long walks on the beach with my best friend in the world, running, working out, time in Scripture, church, conversations with mentors and the people who matter most, drinking, dating, being intentionally single, throwing myself into academics, dying my hair blue, removing myself from my faith, throwing myself back into it, and finally, pretending that the weird sensation wasn’t there at all.

And that’s kind of the one I settled on. In my last blog post, I mentioned the trials and tribulations of the Term of Tears, and that had me pretty well occupied for a while. My soul cried out and I told it to shh for several months and put a lot of bandaids over it.

I also mentioned in that post that I’ve been working hard to deal with the inner ramblings of my soul. Trying to heal it, not just put a bandage over it.

And all the while I’ve been having this weird sensation in my heart.

And dare I say it, I think it is a…uh….a….f….fee….a….um….ahem….feel….IT’S A FEELING, OKAY?!

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Alright, I said it, I’ve been having a Feeling in my heart for a long time GET OFF MY BACK!

It’s a Feeling I’ve felt for probably close to two years. I had inklings of it before, but being the professional Feelings Mortician that I am, I warded it off rather successfully for quite a while before it weaseled it’s way into my heart, bought a house, took up residence and formed a Homeowners Association for a bunch of it’s little friends.

Anyway, so this Feeling. Two years. I couldn’t figure it out. I broke up with my longterm boyfriend, I cut my hair, I changed my wardrobe (go ahead guys, scoff. But every woman out there knows that these signs of massive life changes) I got into the party scene, I got into trouble, I got out of the party scene, I had the lowest GPA I’ve ever had, I threw myself into my relationship with Christ, I fell out of it, I tried dating, I got my heart broken, I fell back into the party scene, I crawled out. I restored my relationship with Jesus. I’ve tried a lot of things.

But I couldn’t figure it out. And there have been moments where I was closer to figuring it out than others. There have been moments where I thought the Feeling was love, where I thought it was anguish, depression, anxiety, self-hatred, insecurity, loneliness. And there have been moments where I was truly happy in spite of this nagging, curious Feeling, and there have been moments where I was genuinely sad because of this nagging, curious Feeling.

Anyway, getting closer to the point, I was driving home from work the other day and this song came on and at first I was like what even is this depressing nonsense?  And I kid you not, my hand was on the dial to change the station and I paused because I heard “Run, run, lost boy they say to me, away from all of reality. Neverland is home to lost boys like me, and lost boys like me are free.”

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And for some unknown, psychotic reason, I smiled. I mean this isn’t like a happy- go- lucky song, kids. It’s a little haunting, actually. But I smiled. Alone in my car, wearing my Build-a-Bear uniform, I listened to three lines of a song about a boy, a make-believe place and escaping reality, and I smiled.

You know those moments when you have an itch and it’s just beyond your reach so you have to ask someone else to scratch it for you, and they finally do and it’s like heaven on earth?

Those words scratched the itch in my heart for just a few wonderful, glorious seconds. And in a desperate attempt to keep scratching until it no longer itched, I listened to the song on repeat for like 3 weeks. It didn’t help. But on the the bright side everyone in my family now knows all the words to it…

So I did what I do best and sent obscure, wordy texts to my best friends then promptly went back to ignoring the Feeling.

That is, until Starbucks Day. Beloved, perfect, seemingly insignificant Starbucks Day. What a glorious day it was, folks. In the spirit of being festive, I wore what one should always wear to Starbucks- leggings, a flannel, boots, a fluffy scarf, and hipster glasses. I was nothing, if not well dressed for Starbucks Day.

Anyway, on this renowned Day, I went with my old man to, as he calls it, sbux. And we pulled out our computers and began to plan a trip.

Background: there’s this pilgrimage called The Way of Saint James, or El Camino de Santiago in Spain. You walk 923u50294u50 (that’s a precise number) miles every day and stay in hostels and backpack and it’s really cool. And we’re doing it. My Ma and Pa and me, we’re doing it this summer. It’ll take us about a month to walk it and we’re stoked. But this is not the trip we were planning.

Good ol’ Daddy Mills and I were planning a trip for after the Camino. I wanted to stay and backpack around Europe for a few weeks after the Camino because….well…why the heck not. And Papa decided he’d stay and go with me.

So on Starbucks Day, we planned our trip. We decided what cities we wanted to go to and what we wanted to see and we drank coffee and we researched all there is to know about some of the most beautiful places on earth. And as I sat there I felt the Feeling heave a sigh of relief. The Feeling was excited about this trip. The Feeling was finally getting some attention on this fateful day.

So Daddio and I left Starbucks and went on with our lives for a few days. I tried to ignore the Feeling. I really did. I read some books and watched some movies and worked a lot and worked out a lot and did all that I could to ignore the Feeling. But it was becoming a rather pesky, intrusive little Feeling.

It was all I could think about. I was reading books for my education classes and one of them talked about how everything we do is done in an effort to find satisfaction of some sort. And so I began to think about all the things that I do and why I do them.

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Why do I run, why do I lift, why do I fly to Florida to visit friends from middle school, why do I lead SI, why do I work in the biology prep-lab, why do I go to Intervarsity, why do I have a personal relationship with Jesus, why do I sabotage every romantic relationship I can, why am I friends with the people I’m friends with, why am I going on the Camino, why, why, why? Why do I do the things that I do? What am I satisfying by doing them?

And as I pinned down the answers to the “why’s,” the Feeling leapt. It was really happy that I was learning about myself. Something about figuring out why I do what I do made the Feeling not suck as much.

So I do all of this deep thinking about the “why’s” of my life, and after a while I get exhausted. I mean, exploring the reasons why you are who your are is tiresome. So I stop and watch New Girl and pretend the Feeling doesn’t exist anymore.

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That is until a few days later. I’m coming home from work after day dreaming with my co-workers about how I can’t wait to be a teacher and how I want to teach at a boarding school in Europe. And the Feeling returns. It leaps at me like it doesn’t speak English and for the first time I just spoke it’s native language.

So I try to brush it off and I get in the car, and what do I hear? “Run, run, lost boy they say to me, away from all of reality. Neverland is home to lost boys like me, and lost boys like me are free.”

And I would’ve been mad at this point because after 3 weeks of the song on repeat, I’m a little sick of it. But then the Neverland- Synergistic-Moment-of-Ephiphanistic-Wonderfulness happens. I’m not sure how many of those words are real words, but work with me here.

It hits me.

I am a Lost Boy.

Maybe a better way to say it is that my soul is a Lost Boy. Because I’m not lost in the sense that I have no direction for my life or that I don’t know who I am.

I think my soul is a Lost Boy, somewhere out there in Neverland, forever hiding from it’s Shadow of responsibilities and growing up. And there are some times when I let my soul shine. And there are times when I am nothing but the Shadow.

And I know that to survive in this world, you have to be a little bit of a Shadow. You have to pay your bills and go to work and adult a little bit. But I hope more than anything, that I always remain a Lost Boy.

I want my soul to forever be tucked away in the trees of Neverland and I hope it always remains playful and resilient and impressionable. And as I take it on adventure after adventure after adventure, I hope it keeps growing, taking in all that it sees. I hope it never stops changing, never stops collecting new passions and never becomes complacent with growing up.

In my opinion, the Feeling that captured me two years ago was nothing short of Jesus whispering to me “You’re trying too hard to grow up.”

We live in a culture that always pressures us not just to grow up faster, but do x, y, and z and you’ll be happier and more successful. Babies have iPads, elementary schoolers have iPhones, kids in middle school are getting pregnant, you’re supposed to know what you want to do for your entire freaking life when you graduate high school, you need to eat this and do that so you can be this size and then you’ll be happier and you’ll be able to attract this kind of guy who has this kind of career so you can have all of the money and all of the cars and all of the things.

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And I was buying into that culture. I was buying into the need to grow up and do certain things so I could be a successful adult. And this Feeling that captured me two years ago was really telling me to pause and think about who I am and what I want. Will being this size make me happy? Will being in the perfect relationship make me happy? Will having all the money make me happy?

So I went on a run today, thinking about all of this. There was ice on the sidewalks and it was 20 degrees and it started to snow and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And as I ran,  I thought about who I really am and what I really want and I thought about all that I’ve learned about myself in the last two years. And I’ve learned a lot. Perhaps the most important of which is that I have have big dreams to be a world changer, and I have to pursue them.

You can laugh at that lofty statement. You can buy your house in the suburbs and go on vacations to your timeshare in Mexico and you can get your big paying job and your nice car and live in your own little world and laugh at me while I ramble about my soul in Neverland and wanting to change the world.

But that won’t stop me. I want to change the world. I do. I want to explore this vast earth and learn cultures I can’t pronounce the names of and eat food I’m scared of and have conversations with strangers in broken languages and I want to live in a small staff dormitory of a boarding school and stay up too late caring too much about my students and my lesson plans. And I want to never stop raising money and awareness for kids who don’t have clean water and I want to fall in love too fast and too often and I want to never stop seeing the best in people and I want to always wonder what part of me I’m going to find on my next adventure and I never want to stop growing as a person and I want to honor the Lord in everything that I do, every word that I say, every Feeling that I have and I want to keep my childlike soul in Neverland so that it’s never tainted by the grown-up interpretation of success. I want to be free-spirited and I want to change the world.

I want change the world one student at a time. One child who doesn’t have clean water at a time. One friend at a time. One stranger at a time.

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There is a huge world out there- a beautiful earth created for us and entrusted to us with mountains and rivers and villages and towns I have yet to see. There is a huge world out there with billions and billions and billions of people I have yet to meet. There is a huge world out there and I only have a lifetime to experience it.

I hope my soul stays young and free and never stops wanting to learn more about the world I live in and the people I share it with.

Adventure is out there, I better get after it.

My Soul Cries Out

Well friends, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Seems to me that everyone has a blog these days and I think I’ve been too enraptured with the inner ramblings of my sweet friends these last few months to take the time to utter my own ramblings.

But I finally found some time and I think I’ve finally found the words, too. (There are a lot of them- I talk a lot- this isn’t a surprise, but I’m sorry anyway)

Can I tell you something? Just between you and me.

This has been a hard season.

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Like I’ve started referring to this as the Semester of Sorrow, Time of Tears, Months of Mourning…the list goes on. It may seem melodramatic, but I don’t think you could possibly fathom the tears I’ve seen this semester, the sadness I’ve felt, the mourning I’ve witnessed, the heartbreak I’ve encountered. And this isn’t a blog about how sad the world is and please have pity on me and feel bad for me, blah, blah, blah. But that’s the first part of the story, so hear me out.

First, let me start by telling you a little about myself- it might help you make sense of why this season has been so hard for me. Let’s start with the fact that I like to keep busy. I’m a busy body. I feel better when I’m doing something, so I fill my schedule to the brim and sometimes I like to see just how much more I can add before I break down. It’s this fun little game I like to play, kind of like real life Jenga.

And in these last few months of reading and listening to the stories of my wonderful friends, I think I’ve realized that I do all these things- I fill my schedule to max capacity because if I’m always busy- because if I’m always distracted by the soul stories of those around me, I don’t have the time or energy to listen to the voice of my own soul.

So these last few weeks I’ve been trying to (painfully) be intentional about listening to what my soul is telling me. And as I strain to hear the quiet whispers of my battered soul, I can faintly hear it cry out just a small but distinct “ouch.”

(I’m giggling as I write that because I felt like I was building up to something kind of profound, maybe even revolutionary, but all I hear is “ouch.” Poetic, I know. Someone pass me a band-aid, Hello Kitty, please)

But allow me to continue.

I’m a busy body- but you should also know that I’m also a people-person. I feel like those go somewhat hand in hand. I love being around people. I’m a relationship-based person and I thrive off of a lot of deep and beautiful and messy relationships. And to make the trifecta complete, my spiritual gift is Mercy. So basically I spend every waking second (a lot of which should be alone-and-sleeping seconds) with people, over-feeling what they feel because God made my empathizer machine a little too big.

So I’m an over-booked, deep feeling, extrovert- you follow? Now to further elaborate lets just put it out there that this semester has been punctuated by six of my friends having friends of their own pass away- all separate events, 3 of whom I knew. It’s been seasoned with friends who have been hurt in the worst imaginable way possible by other people emotionally and physically. It’s been marked with a break up. It’s been accentuated with friends going through HUGE life changes that are hard. It’s been marred by painful mistakes and riddled with moments of holding each other in the early hours of the morning, looking at each other through tears.

It’s been a hard season, friends. I’m not talking about like the last 5 years, or 6 months. I’m talking since August. That’s barely 3 months.

And my soul cries out. Ouch.

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That’s the first part of the story. On to the second part.

Let’s talk about college for a second. College is like a trial run for adulthood. We’re just a bunch of kids pretending that we know what we’re doing, trying not to drown in a sea of procrastination, papers, exams, jobs, bills, food, relationships, drinks, friends, internships, and the biggest decisions of your life. Seriously, I wake up and go to work and class and do my homework and work out and spend time with my friends and try to call my mom (love you, Mommy, you da real MVP), and pay my bills, and try to cook food that doesn’t involve the microwave, and go to church, and do my quiet time, and still somehow keep my sanity. And on the outside I’m like “Yeah, guys, I’ve got this. I have direction,  I know what I’m doing.” But on the inside I’m like “…..I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING……(halp. SOS. Send real food. And money.)”

^ College, am I right?

Anyway, but let’s talk about college for a second, just one more time. College is like the coolest place on earth. I have the strongest, most insanely wonderful support system I’ve ever had. I am literally surrounded with people who love me more than I ever thought I could be loved. And while we’re all treading water in that sea of chaos (see above paragraph), there hasn’t been a single moment in this Semester of Sorrow where one of us was hurting and the rest of us didn’t drop everything to come alongside them.

Here is a tacky collage featuring just some of my incredible support:

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And that, my sweet and wonderful friends, is grace in action.

I have seen the grace of God in the faces of my friends in these Months of Mourning.

And yeah, my soul is still crying out. It still hurts. Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes, can I get an “Amen?” (SO to TSwizz)

But I’ve learned so much in these months. By far, though, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that this is a broken world.

You don’t have to go through a Time of Tears to learn that. For heaven’s sake, just turn on the news.

This is a broken world.

Bad things happen to good people. I actually hate that phrase because what does it even mean to be “good” and why does that matter? Bad things happen to people. Day in and day out. People are massacred. Hostages are taken. Hateful things are said between enemies. Hateful things are said between friends. People die. People get hurt. The list goes on. And my soul cries out. Ouch.

But the Lord is in the midst of us. He draws near to the brokenhearted. He binds up their wounds. God is among us.

And I don’t have silly things to say about how time will heal, or just pray harder and it won’t hurt, or go to church and bad things will stop happening. None of that is true and I’ve found that it’s words like that that hurt people more. We have to stop telling people how to feel or when it gets better. Just let them be hurt and let God work in His own time. All you need to do is love them through their Time of Tears.

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But what I want to say from all of this- what I’ve learned through all of this (took the long way to get there, I know), is three things:

  1. Remember that this life is temporary. We are but dust, and to dust we shall return. All this pain we feel now, all this torment and mourning and “ouch” will go away. Revelation 21:4 says “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Better times are coming, friends. And maybe you won’t feel better. Maybe we are marked forever in this life by the scars of our sufferings. But one day, this will all fade away and we will be restored to wholeness in a kingdom that in and of itself defines joy and love.

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2.  God’s grace can be seen in the faces of those around us. This is a two way street, folks. You can see an extension of God’s grace in the people around you, but you can also be an extension of God’s grace. Jesus calls us to love God and to love each other, Peter calls us to love each other deeply. Paul calls us to live in peace with one another. So, like, lets just do that, ok?

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My Months of Mourning have been filled with tears and sadness and sorrow and all those things that make you cry out, “ouch.”But they’ve also been filled with person after person extending a helping hand to another, pulling them up, and dusting them off. It’s been marked by late night conversations and great big hugs and drop-every-thing- now (meet me in the pouring rain–shh TSwiz, not right now) moments. It’s been filled with deep belly laughs in the middle of good hard cries because sometimes you have to laugh about crying in the baked goods aisle of the grocery store at closing time. It’s been filled with people being the hands and feet of Christ- being an extension of His grace and love. And yeah, those are all limited to my tiny little world in my peaceful little corner of Eau Claire, WI. But imagine what a world this would be if we all could be extensions of God’s grace.

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3. Comfort is found in the arms of my maker. God is here, you guys. (That’s kind of like an advent theme- Emmanuel- I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you, but JESUS’ BIRTHDAY IS COMING UP- God with us…but I digress…)

I look up at the end of every day (sometimes before the end- like at dinner time, or maybe after my second class, or sometimes after breakfast…or really sometimes when I open my eyes first thing in the morning) and cry out “ouch.” And when I take the time to realize it, my heavenly Papa bends down, scoops me up and holds me in His embrace. I’m his baby girl. He doesn’t want to see me in pain. Just like He doesn’t want to see you in pain. And He’s not going to wipe sadness from your life because we are made to feel sadness, we are made to feel sorrow, we are made to mourn. But He’s going to bend down and scoop you up and hold you tight if you let Him. And sometimes God holding you tight looks like reading the Bible or singing a worship song, or praying. And sometimes God holding you tight looks like your best friend holding your sobbing body on the porch at 2am. And sometimes God holding you tight looks like watching the sunrise on a cool morning run. And sometimes God holding you tight is laughing until your stomach hurts. And sometimes God holding you tight is crawling into bed at the end of the day, tears streaming down your face, knowing that even though it was hard, you made it through another day. God holds us tight when we let him. He draws near to the broken hearted. He binds up their wounds.

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So I guess all of my inner ramblings just want to tell you that if you’re experiencing “ouch,” you’re not alone. I joke about being in an “ouch” season and I use humor to deflect actual “feelings” (wut even r they) but being in an “ouch” season is real. And it’s hard. And it eats away at you because day in and day out you actually have to sit down and actively try to remind yourself that there is good in the world. “Ouch” seasons suck. And if you’re there, you’re not alone. I’m there, too, friend. I’m not “okay.”  I’m not going to be skipping in a field of daisies telling you that life gets better and you feel happy all the time again. But I finally stopped and listened to the cries of my soul.

I finally stopped and realized that I couldn’t be an over-booked, deep feeling extrovert alone and make it out alive. I need God to come alongside me and take these burdens from me. And boy has He. These last few weeks I’ve relied on Him more than I ever thought possible. It’s not easy, and I slip up a lot. I want to be in charge and I want to do it all by myself. I’m not good at giving things up to anyone, even our Maker. But I’m trying. And I’m doing better. My soul is on the road to recovery.

Everyday is a battle for this deep feeling heart of mine in this broken world. But when I look around and see the beautiful people I have and spend time with the great and able God I have, I know that I can keep going.

You have to listen to the whispers of your soul.

What is your soul crying out?

 

 

 

Rachel Mills presents: 19 Things I learned at #fdlcamp2k15

What do you get when you mix two recent high school graduates, five college students, a graduate student, five adults, and 30 middle schoolers?

A great week at camp, that’s what.

I’m so fortunate to have spent a week co-directing Middler Camp for the Diocese of Fond du Lac, where we studied God’s #Relentless Pursuit of His People. It was undoubtedly one of the best and most impactful weeks of my life, and as I’ve been reflecting on my time there, I’ve assembled a list of things I learned.

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So without further ado, Rachel Mills presents: 19 Things I learned at #fdlcamp2k15

1. In the words of my boo thang Julius Campbell, “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.”

Julius, although being sassy when he said this, was right. The attitude of our campers was impeccable. Now, I know what you’re thinking, a week of middle schoolers at camp must have been filled with drama and tension. And I would’ve thought that, too. But oh, how wrong we are. Our week was filled with campers who never muttered a disgruntled word (ok, there were a few disgruntled words, but not many!). The kiddos we were blessed enough to work with had such positive attitudes about everything! And that’s a direct reflection of the leadership of our counseling staff. Man, oh man, did we have awesome counselors who were quick to show their excitement and enthusiasm all week! When things got #cray, our counselors kept their cool every time and exhibited such positive attitudes that our campers couldn’t help but catch the positivity bug, too. You want an awesome week with awesome kids? Start with awesome leadership.

2. Buoyant force is important.

Just kidding, I hate physics. What I’m really trying to say is that kiddos rise or sink to the expectations you set for them. Middle schoolers are AWESOME and if you treat them like you believe that and hold them accountable to act that way, they follow through. I’m a firm believer that middle schoolers are hurdlers, not limbo masters- meaning wherever you set the bar, they’re going to do their best to jump over it, not slide under it. Just give them expectations that challenge them enough to want to hurdle.

3. Tutus are making a fierce comeback.

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4. Turtle calls are weird, but swimming is fun.

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me! Mutual respect is key.

Hi, um, don’t treat kids like they’re the scum of the earth. I’ve noticed this phenomenon when I tell people that I co-directed a camp for middle schoolers where they contort their faces into an expression that would make you think I just told them that I dropped cockroaches into their mouths at night. I said it once, and I’ll say it again: Middle schoolers are AWESOME. All kids are. In fact, people in general are mostly awesome if you treat them kindly. So stop acting disgusted by middle schoolers. When you respect them and treat them with the dignity that every human being deserves, regardless of their age, they’ll respect you, too. And then you can, like, have fun together and stuff instead of just yelling at them all the time.

6. If you find yourself despairing at youth- spend some time with them.

Maybe this is just a post about how much I love middle schoolers because that seems to be all I can talk about- but for real, spend time with youth! It’s good for you! Kids will surprise you with how clever, quick-witted, kind, hilarious, smart, sweet, and goofy they can be. Plus, as a member of an older generation, you have, in some way, contributed to raising this generation. So, why are you so intent on being disappointed with them? Dudes, you’ve helped them become who they are- and once you get to know them better, you’ll see that that is something you should be so proud of! In case you missed it the first two times, middle schoolers are AWESOME! So stop despairing at the idea of youth, get to know them, and start to love them! They rock! I mean, if the world would treat each other with as much kindness as our middle schoolers treated one another this week at camp, we’d be a heck of a lot closer to God’s kingdom being here on earth. We can learn a lot from this generation. These kiddos are growing up in a world of Sandy Hook Shootings, human trafficking rates on the climb, and increased teen suicides. They know first hand what the damage of bullying and unkind actions can do, and they’re passionate about stopping it. Talk to these goofballs about how people should be treated and get ready to be inspired. This age group is nothing to despair over at all.

7. Ga-ga! It’s the single greatest community builder out there.

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There’s this game called Gaga, and it’s #thebomb. It’s hard to explain, so I’d advise just googling it- but the point is, you’d think that throwing a bunch of 11-14 year olds into something called a Gaga pit where they whack a ball as hard as they can at each other would be a bad idea, but it’s actually the coolest. It’s an elimination game where people are constantly being kicked out of the pit for “not being good enough,” and you’d think that would create problems- and maybe sometimes it does- but this week, we got to watch as our sweet campers would cheer each other on and encourage them when they got out- where they reminded each other to be sportsmanlike, and where they forced each other to say kind things about one another instead of cheering against each other. Need to build a community? Forget the high-ropes course- throw your team into the Gaga pit and watch their true colors be revealed. I love me some Gaga, and I love watching campers walk away from the pit with smiles on their faces in spite of wickedly competitive tournaments. Yet another reason middle schoolers rock.

8. Small beings have the capability to cause a huge reaction. For example: mosquitos.

Mosquitos suck. Literally. HA! But for real, for being so “young,” there were several times our campers brought one or more of the counselors to tears by their ideas or actions. And on a larger scale than human emotions, these kids are going to go on to change the world. That may sound cliche, but truly, these kids will soon become adults who are taking charge in industries, families, governments, charities- everywhere. And as they continue to rise up and become leaders, they’re going to make such a positive impact on the world. I can see how they’ve already impacted one another and our staff. #worldchangers

9. God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.

I feel as though this doesn’t need much elaboration. My mom and I co-directed Middler camp- we did everything from write the curriculum, to run errands, to roast s’mores. And I will be the first to tell you, none of it came from me. This week was made possible by the strength of the Lord and by His guidance in every moment. The messy, chaotic, less-than-mediocre week my mom and I would’ve planned on our own was crafted into a week of beauty, full of God’s love and glory. His pursuit of us is indeed #relentless, and he undoubtedly pursued us as counselors and campers this week.

10. Waffle fries are still one of the highest form of potato.

11. Sharing is caring.

Sharing stories- struggles, successes, worries, excitements- everything- is a blessing. It’s through sharing stories with one another that we become vulnerable and let people into our hearts. And it’s through hearing others share that we experience that truly magical moment of realizing that we are not alone in our pain. We are given the gift of not only having someone to rely on who can relate to our struggles, but we are able to become someone on whom others can rely. That’s community, man. And watching that unfold in middle schoolers is crazy cool.

12. Sometimes, you just have to decorate a boring room, blast some music and dance like there’s no tomorrow. It cures a multitude of ills.

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13. Timothy knows what’s up.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”

This one goes out to all my “young” friends out there. Keep on keepin’ on, y’all. You are an example for me and for others who are my age and older. We have a lot to learn from you.

14. Greater is the One living inside of me, than he who is living in the world. In the woooooorld, (where) IN THE WOOOOOOORLD

15. Give a kid ice cream, and they’ll like you for a while- trick kids into thinking you’re taking them to Culvers and then lead them blindfolded all over camp and give them ice cream sandwiches instead, and they’ll be surprisingly forgiving.

16. Don’t be a grumblite.

(Cheers to you, Jon for being awesome and coming up with this name!) For crying out loud, stop grumbling like the Israelites did just because God’s plan doesn’t match yours. Be flexible, yo. As I taught this week to the Middlers, God always provides and He is always sufficient for you- and as I learned this week from the Middlers, God’s provision will often times exceed your expectations.

17. In the words of Kesha or someone like that, rain is a good thang.

Just hang out in the rain with a smile on your face. It’s good for you.

18. I have been changed for the better. Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

If you have the opportunity to volunteer at a camp or youth group or anything where kids are involved- DO IT! I promise you, you will learn more, be more impacted, and change more than you could ever imagine. (Not to mention, there’s nothing cooler than having kids come back years later to tell you what a difference you made in their lives.)

19. You are #holy, #righteous, and #redeemed.

I care. And so I run.

Hello friends!!

If you’re reading this, it must mean that you’ve endured 4 months of endless badgering about Team World Vision on various forms of social media, so thanks for putting up with that! And thanks for choosing to read even more about my immeasurable passion for these kiddos and this organization!

I just wanted to share what God has done in my heart over these last few months. It’s been a crazy, exciting, life-changing journey, and I am so excited to share it with you!

For those of you who don’t know, I participated in the half marathon for Team World Vision last year. But unfortunately, I didn’t really take it seriously. I trained when I could, enjoyed the weather, and posted a few times on Facebook, bringing in $520. I ran-walked the half-marathon because honestly, I was afraid to run. I thought I was taking the easy way out by run-walking. But, as I learned the hard way, run-walking is hard. It’s physically exhausting in ways that running isn’t, and it presents a mental block that is so, so hard to overcome. And I never did overcome it. As a result, I didn’t like training. I didn’t want to do it. But I had already signed up, so begrudgingly, I did the half-marathon. (And now my BIGGEST props go out to people who run-walk- it’s an underrated gift that few people can master. Trust me y’all. It’s hard.)

On that race day, for reasons I don’t know and in ways beyond my comprehension, God broke my heart for people in Africa who lack clean water. I crossed the finish line in tears and resolved to do the half marathon the next year with my heart beating for those kids in Africa, and my eyes looking to the cross.

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This year would be about sacrificial running. I would have to conquer my fear of running. I’d have to build some self-discipline, and I’d have to push hard to get donations for those kiddos.

And friends, let me tell you, these last 4 months have been hard. I’ve never considered myself a runner. I’ve always hated running. And for the first 3 months of training, I complained endlessly about running. God bless my poor roommates who heard everyday how much I hated running and how I didn’t want to go for a run, I didn’t want to train, I didn’t want to sacrifice my time and energy to run.

About a month ago, it became very clear to me that all along I had been trying to make this about me, when in reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Around that time, one of my best friends from middle school passed away and my world shook. Her name was Brianna, and she was one of the kindest, most loving, and genuine people I’ve ever known. She had a heart to serve and a gift with kids. And when I found out about her passing, after countless tears, prayers, and difficult conversations, I knew that I had to run in honor of her.

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This race was no longer about me. It was about bringing sweet kids clean water for life in honor of Brianna. It was about sucking it up and running, even though I hated it, because a few months of hard training in exchange for lives, in honor of a life, is worth it. It was about carrying on Brianna’s legacy as a soul who cared so well for others. It was about giving kiddos a chance to go to school, a mom the peace of knowing her kids were safe, a family the assurance that today their loved one’s would live because they have clean water. It was about living out the Gospel and sacrificially serving God’s people.

A fire started within me unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I began spending my free time researching the devastating effects of drinking dirty water. In my down time, I watched easily over a hundred videos about the hardship in communities without clean water, and the incredible impact of bringing them clean water. I was living and breathing Team World Vision, and with every passing moment, my heart broke more and more for these people.

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Two nights before the race our Eau Claire team had our team dinner and I looked around the room at the joy and life that surrounded me and all I could think was “How did we get so lucky?”

After the dinner, I spent some time in prayer and in tears overlooking the river, staring at the water, begging and pleading with God to help me understand why I am so fortunate and others have lived a life of loss, pain, heartbreak, fear, and exhaustion, because they don’t have clean water.

I wish I could tell you that God revealed His reasoning to me, and now I know why we have clean water and others don’t, but I can’t. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know.

What I do know is that I didn’t do anything to deserve my circumstances, and unless I pick up and intentionally move to a place without clean water, there’s not much I can do to change them. And the 783 million people in the world who don’t have clean water didn’t do anything to deserve their circumstances, and there’s not much they can do to change them.

But there is something I can do to change their circumstances.

And if there’s something I can do- anything I can do- I must do it.

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And just like that, it was race day again.

Race day was HOT, y’all. Like, real hot. And for a bunch of Wisconsinites who began training in January- in sub-zero temps, a balmy 83 and sunny was not something we had prepared for.

Water stations quickly ran out of water.

There wasn’t much shade.

The morning wore on, bringing an even hotter mid-day.

And as we ran, our team saw several people collapse with heat stroke. Spectators began handing runners their own water bottles. Houses along the race route brought their hoses and their own kitchen cups out, handing them to runners.

And it struck me, as our Team World Vision team ran for water (in more than one way), that as we saw runner after runner collapsing with heat stroke, there wasn’t one among us, runners or spectators who, if they had water, wouldn’t give it to that poor, dehydrated soul.

Not a one of us could look at that person, shrug our shoulders, and carry on. We could not overlook that runner who was collapsing with heat stroke because they didn’t have enough water, so how can we overlook 783 million people who are dying because they don’t have clean water?

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The Lord has broken my heart for communities without clean water, and my life will be forever changed because of it. I hope and pray that He continues to break my heart and that I never, not even for a second, become complacent with the fact that people are dying because they don’t have something as fundamental as clean water.

My hope and prayer is that God will break your hearts as He has broken mine.

By the grace of God, I was able to run the half-marathon for Team World Vision this year. Through injury, impatience, intolerance, and discouragement, I have endured- because of the kids, because of Brianna, and through the strength of the God I serve. To the glory of God, 43 kids were given clean water for life. In memory of Brianna, 43 kids will live, and in doing so, preserve her legacy. Through no talent or ability of mine, $2,165 were given by gracious donors.

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I am overwhelmed by thankfulness for everyone who donated, prayed, encouraged, and cheered me on this year. Words cannot express how grateful I am. However, our work here is not done. There are still lives to be saved and races to be run.

It’s not too late to donate for this year. I think it’s fair game that, for as long as my muscles ache, I should be allowed to accept donations! So please consider helping transform lives in Africa. I challenge you to donate, and not have it change your life, too.

Click here to donate and learn more about the work Team World Vision does: http://www.teamworldvision.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=9204

If you’re interested in running a race for Team World Vision in the future, please don’t hesitate to ask me about it!

With that, I want to offer my immense gratitude for the support I’ve been given this year. Thank you all for your love and encouragement!

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