I didn’t know what to expect as I drove to GSP to catch my flight to Atlanta and then to Little Rock for the YAV Discernment Event. I was hopeful for a year of service, a year of work in the real world, a year to better figure out what it is I might be called to do in my life. As the pot-hole-filled pavement of I-385 stretched out in front of me, I mulled over the sites I was considering–Little Rock, New Orleans, Denver, South Korea, and Scotland–but no single site stood out as a clear choice above all the others. They all looked exciting and interesting in their own, unique way, and whenever I read about one, that site would become my favorite for a time, at least until I looked at the next one. All in all, I felt content in thinking that I would be excited for any placement I received. What I didn’t expect was for things to veer off course in the way that they did, or that I would be so excited about this change in plans when it occurred.
Maybe it was flying that boosted my confidence. I don’t know what it is about traveling by myself, but the few times that I’ve ridden solo on a bus, train, or plane, I always get a rather strong sense of accomplishment upon reaching my destination. This probably has something to do with growing up in a small town with zero public transportation (the many trains that pass through Clinton carry coal and other freight, not people!). I know it seems silly–I just have to get myself to the terminal or station and my work in traveling is done–and yet arriving at the right place and (more or less) at the right time always manages to make me feel as if I’ve done something at least slightly substantial. I’m no longer stationary and complacent. I’ve moved, and, in moving, I’ve realize that what once seemed daunting is now manageable, if not even exciting.
But maybe it wasn’t so much my ability to make the trip on my own as it was the people who surrounded me in my traveling and discerning that gave me the confidence to move in a different direction while in Arkansas. Sure, I felt like I’d earned my big girl britches for arriving at the Bill & Hillary Clinton Airport unscathed (and one of the first out of our group, surprise surprise!), but traveling by air also reminded me of the incredible number of people (both known and unknown to me) who contributed to my getting there. The commitment shown in so many different jobs, however simple or complicated, made my trip possible and allowed people like me to feel as if we had taken a big step simply by reaching our destination.
I know that this is how it is in almost every aspect of life–my day-to-day activities are made possible by an amazing amount of work done by people who I seldom, if ever, see. Airports always manage to draw my attention to this matter. Even in the midst of rushing between terminals, it’s easy to look down the hall or glance out the window and see the multitude of jobs being done to help get everyone to where they need to be. On most days, it’s easy for me to ignore the work completed that allows me to live the privileged life that I lead. But, for some reason, watching as suitcases are unloaded from a plane and driven across the tarmac, then peering into the cramped, button-covered cockpit of a plane reawakens the part of my brain whose frequent hibernation gives me a false sense of self-importance, an inflated perception of my personal accomplishments. My choice to travel does not get my suitcase from here to there. My choice to travel does not get my body up in the air and from here to there. Instead, I have to rely on the effort put forth in so many different jobs, to trust the devotion of the people to their jobs, and realize that the majority of my trip is entirely out of my hands.
These traveling thoughts helped to prepare me for my time at Ferncliff Camp in Arkansas. Though the support I received while traveling was mostly anonymous, the support provided at the discernment event came in the form of around 30 wonderful people hailing from all over the world. The discernment event provided a time and a place for prospective YAVs to interview with international site coordinators, meet other applicants, staff, and alums, and spend time listening for and seeking God’s call in the process. Though only a four day event, it amazed me that such a strong sense of community could form in such a brief period of time. I think part of this can be attributed to the location–it’s easy to bond with others as you explore a new place, making discoveries together and enjoying the beauties of God’s creation (which were abundant at Ferncliff!). But another part can be attributed to the attitudes held by everyone there. Sure, everyone had different jobs to do and tasks to complete, but we also came to the event with our primary hope being for the clear discernment of God’s call. A crucial part of that discernment comes from spending intentional time with those present, be it through speaking, listening, or simply being, and the amazing thing is, when you’re intentional about forming a community, a community forms. I realize that this was a very short term living arrangement and that 4 days didn’t really warrant much time for struggles and disagreements, but living for that short time with those intentions showed me the incredible amount of support that could arise when a group was committed to being there for one another. It would have been extremely easy for me, introvert that I am, to talk to a few people and then keep to myself for the majority of the time, but the welcoming and supportive atmosphere that surrounded me there encouraged me to open up, accept that I was not in this alone, and listen to the unexpected call I felt to go to Zambia.
There are few times in my life that I have felt my heart guided so clearly as it was when I discerned, was offered, and accepted the YAV placement in Zambia. I think I will always remember this time at Ferncliff as one of those rare times (at least for me) when God’s faithfulness to and presence in our lives smacks us in the face and reminds us that God is still very much with us and guiding us at all times. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to leave (however briefly) my busy life at school to spend time in intentional community and actively discerning God’s call–two things that can so easily be swept under the rug in our hectic day-to-day lives–and I’m grateful for the people who helped me find the courage to accept God’s call.
In the months since the event, I’ve found that it’s almost too easy to get caught back up in my old routine, slowly forgetting that focused time of attentiveness to others and to God, settling back into the place I feel comfortable–the place so familiar that discerning God’s call seems less necessary in getting from one day to the next. As my departure for Zambia draws nearer, I’ve realized how much I’m looking forward to living somewhere so far outside of my comfort zone that, in many instances, I will have no choice but to rely on God in my day-to-day decisions. However, in the meantime, I have been incredibly humbled by the people here at home who have supported my decision to go to Zambia through their interest in talking to me about it, their prayers, and their donations. Just as I was reminded at the discernment event in April, my summer has also been filled with reminders of how intertwined my decisions are with the lives of others and how any progress I make depends on the support and guidance of others. I am so grateful for the ever-growing community surrounding me, and as I prepare for this adventure, I hope that I and others will constantly strive to live into the lyrics of “Ewe Thina,” a South African hymn whose catchy melody frequently filled the gathering room at Ferncliff, as “we walk God’s way” wherever we find ourselves.
(For those of you who made it to the end of this post, thank you! I realized in writing this that I am still programmed to write 12 page English papers, so I will do my best to be concise in future posts. Also, I’m still accepting suggestions for blog titles–clever names are not my strong suit.)