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places.

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Today at around 9:54, I underlined my thesis of an in-class essay and walked out of my last final of freshman year. I walked outside to an almost empty campus. It’s strange to think that this time, last year, I hadn’t yet walked the streets of UT’s campus or changed in all the ways my first year would mold me. Today, I ran through campus and reflected on the thoughts and moments I’d spent walking those streets. This year was full of living, hours shaped by shadows and concrete. Living in different places: places to think, places to talk, places I’ll hold and remember and want to tell you about. Here are a few of the places that shaped my freshman year.

0A2A1573i. the amphitheater: My first day of college, I woke up feeling remarkable hopeful, swearing I had zero expectations but holding plenty. I picked up my orange journal, and I wrote about the light coming through the window and my Mom at the door, and how I realized one day I’d miss mornings in my room like that. “I never want to forget morning like these, ever,” I wrote. Hours later, I was in my first English class, and walked outside with a few friends to sit in the amphitheater outside the Humanities building. It felt all kinds of exciting, and I was still a bit unsure where I was going at all times (I walked to my next class forty-five minutes early because I didn’t yet know how far it took to get from one place to the other). Now, if I walk on those grassy steps, I always see someone I know. I can barely spend a moment alone there, and that view is one I associate with sweet community I’ve found. My hope was not displaced, this year has been the most wonderful I’ve known, and it’s because of people that have transformed my idea of life, love, and had conversations between classes and over coffee that opened my eyes and heart.

0A2A1590ii. the stairwell behind the art building: I took an art class my freshman year because I knew it was something I’d regret not doing otherwise, or not have the time later. While it took most of my time, I was grateful to be pushed as an artist in ways I normally don’t create. One afternoon, my professor told us to find a spot outside and sketch, so I ventured for a while until I was on the stairs, looking at the shadows on the wall. Sketching and I don’t get along well, so like most days, I ended up writing poetry instead, my fingers covered in granite. That three hour class flew by, as I wrote and enjoyed the peace of not having to rush anywhere as I watched the shadows grow longer in sweet solitude. This past year has made me enjoy the luxury of quiet far more when it’s granted to me in small packages.

0A2A1131iii. the JFG sign: one day, I decided to find the parking lot behind this sign, the opposite view of Knoxville from 11th street. It’s a place I also spent many hours talking, looking out to the city lights. Sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own city, but sometimes I feel like it’s forever home. Sitting under the JFG sign, I find it always the later.

0A2A5641iv. suttree park: My dear friend Emma took me to Suttree park on an evening I particularly cherish where we watched the city lights, and read lists of life loves we’d written in Asheville the weekend before. It was cold, and we were wrapped in quilts from my car. I’ve only spent a couple more evenings there, watching as the sun goes down, how the lights grow longer on the water. The way they sparkle, reminding me of other cities I’ve loved and people and moments I’ve loved inside, is something I never want to forget. Dusk is my favorite time of day, especially when paired with walks and nature overlooking buildings as their windows go on, and streets beneath coming to life.

0A2A9999v. this drive: Traveling has always been my therapy, my happy spot. I love feeling wind I don’t recognize brush my face from an open window, heading somewhere. Sometimes you just got to drive a tiny bit into a nature, another like minded soul by your side listening to folk and smelling that unknown yet so familiar new air. Sometimes fifteen minutes is all you need, and these corners we’ve driven on one particular drive are some of my favorite.

This past year has been full of uncertainty: I didn’t expect to be broken in certain ways, I didn’t expect to lose stability in the way my life was shaping up. Yet, I feel the Lord kindly whispering to me daily, “I’m good to not leave you where you were.” There is safety in what he is asking us to give up, and so often that is comfort. I’ve been learning a lot about loss. When he asks for us, he asks for all of us. When he asks us to forsake this world, that’s more than five star meals and possessions. He asks us to give up success, for circumstances we hold tighter than life, for safety, for our very will, for emotional baggage, for the bliss of all the time in the world with friendships, for time, for our wanting, for cities we’d rather be lost in, for not running after earthly love and answers, for our very selves. Yet, “indeed I count everything as loss”. My soul rests in my taken life.

That’s why I like traveling with destination, or driving to places unknown. That’s why so much of this past year has been full of escapes, as my heart escapes previous notions. It reminds me of the story the Lord is writing for me, and I’m falling in love with such a story unknown and wonderful as that. We’re always going, we never know where.

0A2A1625vi. 11th street parking garage: My favorite place, and there aren’t sufficient words, really. I’ve often found myself on the 9th floor, starring at the city scape full of thoughts. The Lord’s been kind to give me trials I’ve cried through up there, and prayed through sad and confusing hours. There were people I brought up there, ones I didn’t know existed or knew at all when starting college and I then talked to for hours pouring out moments that shaped us. I’ve journaled up there, writing some of my favorite words. The last day of my first semester, I spent an afternoon eating a donut and celebrating. The last day of my second semester was this morning, and I drank cold coffee and peacefully reflected.

One thing college will try to teach you is life is defined by seasons: moving out, joining a certain amount of clubs, you do this at this point, you apply for a job at another point, you make this friend and go to this formal on this day, and so on and so on. But Jesus works differently. I’ve been learning to mark my own seasons, not defined by time or worldly gain but by grace and awareness of the Lord’s hand in my life.

My favorite moments of this past year were probably spent on a parking garage, looking out to the lights and the way they look in other’s eyes. It was on a parking garage, I felt my heart break, had to bear burdens, and felt forever dissatisfied. It was on a parking garage, I cursed and doubted the very vessel the Lord’s granted me. It was on a parking garage, I realized the Lord wants so much of me than I ever dreamed. It was on a parking garage, I realized how lovely hidden places such as towers of concrete were, and how Lord uses even those places to teach us about life – about cracked and shadowed things – and the way his glory is in and of all things. It was on a parking garage, and many other places around downtown and The University, I filled the last pages of an orange journal and began and ended that first year.

That is my own very season, defined by grace. It has been good, and I have such confidence it the Lord is preparing only good for me – good that looks different and is shaped differently in small and wild ways. And I? I get to learn it all, day by day. In the words of a college-aged Elisabeth Elliot: “God can surely give me abundant life. May I never turn aside.”

the world behind me, the cross before me.

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// The window light is all white. My spoon dug into a grapefruit, my eyes scanned a book of poetry in front of me. It was January, 11:15 in the morning, and I felt quiet and small. I didn’t know then, although I desperately hoped, the New Year would be everything I wondered if it might be. But it all began quiet and small in the window light.

// It’s March, and I had just arrived in New York, the Subway shook the earth around me. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world, when the train dives into the earth and comes back out and you can see Queensboro bridge and the approaching city. It was the first time I’d gotten to the city when it was dark, and it seemed entirely different, yet it also felt like coming home. The next morning, I would wake up and follow a map to buy a warm bagel and find a hidden coffee shop. I’d feel dizzy and worn, absolutely wrecked with the thoughts a city gives you and makes you feel wild and alive. Before that day or the next two, I fell asleep in New York, feeling it must be valuable for every girl ending her High School years on the cusp of all things new to walk around in New York and know just how beautiful the world is.

// I graduated in late May, so my brother invited a few of my friends to all jump in our car and drive on top of the only parking garage in Knoxville where you can see the whole city. In a circle, we drank sparkling cider out of solo cup shot classes and laughed at stories from High School. I thought, looking out to the tiny skyline that had brought me my first eighteen years, that somehow, of all the people on the earth, it was grand I ended up here. It was good to have a home, one tucked away in mountains. It was good to say goodbye to one time and hello to a next all in one city.

// It was a rainy June day in Nashville, and I sat reading a Fitzgerald novel, listening to all the conversations happening around. Summer was a time of traveling, and ending up in coffee shops most day with a book in hand and a draft of some sort on the computer in front of me. Beside me, I overheard two aspiring writers discussing their future novels. I sat, almost wanting to pull a chair. I didn’t, but I felt strangely comforted hearing them speak. And after they left, it remained with me. That day I started a rule to never listen to headphones in coffee shops. It’s part of the gradual process I’m learning to let my thoughts out, and others in; I long for a constant flow where I lose track of where my stories end and those who weave in and out of my life begin.

// I’ll never forget last July in Romania, those memories are some of the kindest time’s given me. I’ll never forget my Dad telling me, “This is a different kind of work, it’s an eternal kind.” I’ll never forget the airport when we left: perhaps the most joyful moment I hold in my heart. So much remains with me. I’ll never forget the feeling of reunion, or when we took a seven hour bus ride when we were told it would be two hour one. I’ll never forget the exact winding pathways that led to the mountain sides. I’ll never forget the exact angle from my balcony or the wood table I sat and read my bible at each morning. I’ll never forget how it feels to see people come together so fast as inside jokes and life-changing conversations unfolded within days. I’ll never forget the moment it all made sense: I was sitting in the Church building, the strum of guitars playing as we worshipped together, two communities I had been knit to my whole life in ways deeper than words. Serving there, and never knowing anything else seemed enough.

// We were in the car when my brother asked me how I was doing my first week of college. I had a thousand things on my mind as we drove and listened to the CDs he always keeps in his car on low. How was I doing? The question took me off guard. In contrast to days before, I felt rest. Time and I are always at war: it goes too fast, I go too slow. Sometimes we catch up, and it feels right.

// On the last day of my first semester of college, I found myself standing on top of the parking garage, the same one I came to the night of my graduation. It’d been a safe place in many ways the past semester; it was a place to come and look out and think. I tried to sum up my thoughts on that semester. It was full of late nights eating donuts and road trips to the same mountain tops I love most and cities I’ve never seen. It was full of weak coffee and strong coffee. It was full of feeling tired, in the good ache kind of way. It was full of not forgetting my senior year I thought was lonely, but learning to cherish every second of that year that molded me. I had wanted that semester to echo all of my 2016, I wanted it to be ripe and whole.  And it had. Yet, that semester I came to understand in the kaleidoscopic seas, I have a fixed anchor. A few words from Luke 10 became my anthem in my best days and my emptiest: “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” In the roaring  of life, one thing is necessary. When life takes the shape of waiting, one thing is necessary. As the world around me fights for meaning and logic, one thing is necessary. For my life and the things I long for and am called towards, one thing is necessary. One of my favorite things Amy Carmichael ever wrote were the words: “it is a safe thing to trust Him to fulfill the desires which He creates.” One thing is necessary, and in that, I have a secure trust. And whether the Lord fulfills His desires for me tomorrow, or in thirty years, or if like Abraham, I am called to bring my answered prayer up a mountain, with faith to sacrifice it: I long for that one thing alone.

// It was the morning before New Years Eve, and I was in a car driving out of Indianapolis. The city sits still, the wind cold, the sky a light blue. I think to myself how tomorrow is the last day of the year. While normally panic and sadness follows, I felt strangely content.  The past year was a full to the brim year. It was to-the-brim whole, seeping out of the edges year. I told myself to never lose it: the wild wonder, the will to go anywhere, the trust to do anything. In that car, thinking back of the people I cherish and the moments we’d shared worshipping the past few days in the city, I realized I wasn’t afraid of losing it. I don’t think I could if I tried.

// It was the new year. I sat, starring at the sun hiding beneath the Tennessee hills. Over break, I longed for fires and familiar faces. I missed the old stomping grounds of campus and the places I found myself everyday. Looking out to the fading light and the fire roaring, it felt like home. It had been a warm winter break, but when it finally grew cold, I took out my coat for the first time in December, and found a folded up map of Manhattan. I remembered the feeling of wind on my face and the thought of being rocked to the bone alive. That feeling settles in a bliss as I stared at the setting sun, ready for the next chapter. My thoughts echoed the words of an old hymn, “the world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back.”

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makers after dark

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It’s no secret I’ve been a foodie since the day I was born. I truly and completely love every hidden hole-in-the-wall restaurant and world famous burger. This is a love I can trace back to my upbringing; traveling for my family always meant avoiding any kind of meal we could get back home and trying out the local spots. However, it’s just as special to try out the places that make your city special as it is while traveling. One particular bakery Knoxville holds is Makers Donuts, a gourmet donut place that offers different unique donuts each week from one with a combination of cherry, coke, and popcorn to their famous maple bacon. Last Friday night, Makers offered a ‘Donuts After Dark’ party, which simply meant they sold donuts through the evening instead of the usual closing time around noon. Hundreds showed up, leaving hour long wait lines.

While waiting in line, it was easy to question what brought all those people out that night. But, you know, that’s the beauty of good food: it brings people together. People go and do wild things not only for food, but for the community. Everyone in the line at Makers was there for donuts, although each of their days were different and brought them there from different paths. Whether it’s around the Thanksgiving table or in line for donuts at eleven at night, food is a really special thing we have to enjoy together. So, let’s enjoy the little things and go eat donuts at midnight or whatever adventure life might offer next.

eighteen.

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Then: I dreamed. Of the wide skies of something great, I dreamed and longed to run free without weariness. Of the simple rain drops, I dreamed, counting them as they fell upon the car window panes, pretending to imagine life into them. For my entire life, I’ve thrived on the imaginary. When I was young, I filled homemade paper books full of it. At night, my brother and I mapped out stories for hours. During the day, books and movies and music fed the hunger tearing me apart, aching to take the world around me and then create.

I began to live my own story, too. I grew to make friends; even those whom I no longer recognize became apart of me. When I was seven years old, my mother started homeschooling my brother and I, which would change our life tremendously and for the better. All along, I would feel a connection with my body and mind: finding freedom in dance when I was making peace with myself and when I grew anxious, pulling my own hair as if I was to blame for the feelings that trapped me. And when my body changed and I grew to hate it, I burned my confidence and began living in the ashes of self-loathing. Those were dark days, and thankfully, not long-lasting. For there was a beautiful day in its time when I was set free. At the age of thirteen, I learned grace and it was graciously showered on me. I was finally running free, with no constraints.

Oh, and the days that followed. I made friends, so many different faces and stories that would blend with my own. The sum of the experiences my parents allowed me to live would form the magic in which I now view the world. I would learn my passion for photography, a journey that would transform me both as an artist and as a human. Books would fill my spare time and my days would be spent reading about lives from long ago, lives painted by people such as I, the world around me, that beautiful force that drives us all, love stories tragic and tragically happy, and the issues that unite us and divide us. Sorrows would come into my life; I’d lose my Grandma in an unexpected blow of Autumn, forever touched by our days together and missing the way she loved life as simple as seashells on the shore. Never said goodbyes would haunt me and the heartbreak of ones I love more than myself would come slowly and surely. The city would fill my heart, pull me under its spell, and knit my desires to be swallowed whole by its wonders. And all along as I grew, I dreamed.

Now: I am eighteen years old. Today, I woke up and everything was golden. I got in the car to go to a new city, thinking to myself on how fine it all is.

I was afraid to turn eighteen. It seemed old and unfamiliar. Yet then, I thought of the city I so love, and how it is beautiful because it is worn, wasted, built by those who bypass and those who make a home there, tattooed by street art, and full of unfamiliar things coming every second. The city writes that orchestra every day, and I know it well for that song is my own. Now I know eighteen is another chapter to live and learn and be worn, wasted, and built.

The other day, one of my best friends and I were sitting in her car in the pouring rain, eating ice cream and talking about the future. We got distracted by the song that was playing in the background and one particular lyric: “from the day I started crawling, I was on my way to find you”. Isn’t it amazing, I thought, how there are asleep stories and people I have always been destined to find? My entire life has been a pathway to those exact stories: the people I will meet in college in the Autumn, all the people I will love and laugh with, all the people that will break my heart, and all the people that will cause me to think thoughts I can’t imagine now. They are living right now, walking their paths and I am on my way to find them in perfect time. We have such wonderful things waiting for us, don’t we?

One far-off day: I will be worn. Tiredness will overwhelm me, and time will have numbed me into a deep steadiness. I will rise and see the cracks in the windows where light is pouring in. There will be few treasures in that house, apart from the ones received from the true treasures: drawings from children, tidbits from travels, my own photographs mounting the walls. I will wash white plain dishes and let the light from the window be golden bright to my eyes and remember a time when I was so young and so full of wonder I could explode. I pray I think fondly of my past, yet thankful I know all that I will know, for I found that which was waiting for me. Nothing in my story was safe: it was blurry, cracked, oozing. It was uncertain, chapters spent on the edge of life. But beautiful things grew, died, and grew back. After it all, I hope I still have the wonder. And in that day, still I will dream.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up” – Louise Erdrich

 

in which I find a favorite coffee shop

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Coffee shop culture is an uprising roar of late. For writers, it’s equal to the office. Ink-stained fingers are replaced for coffee stained desks (or for me, I still have both). The atmosphere of people coming-and-going, the hum of city streets, and the bitter caffeinated lips on cold cups makes for a blank canvas; a canvas crying for cathedrals to be built by the loose cement of words.

There’s something new about trying new coffee shops to find new types of stories, however there is the same draw in finding your favorite corners. If you’re ever in Chelsea, go to Intelligentsia’s coffee bar in The Highline Hotel. Whether in the cozy inside or outside facing the city or in the enchanting garden area out back, this coffee shop is asking for the adventurous to build their cathedrals and everyone to share a drink and a conversation. After only an hour, this place left me in wonders, as all good coffee shops should.