a good last day // the eclipse, 2017.

The day before:

Everyone was talking about the roads, all day. Reports running up and down every news source on how it was expected to be the worst day of traffic history. My phone lit up in my pocket, messages of people looking for glasses as if they were necessary for survival.

The eclipse, the phenomenon my Mom had always talked about since it swept her skies in her junior year of high school. It had been a year since I had first heard it was coming myself, before the world went wild, before eclipse glasses were being sold on the streets for $30 a piece, before the interstate was blocked as early as Sunday morning. Where had the time gone?

There had been plans to travel far but those plans had turned into wonderings – was two minutes of totality worth an entire day of driving? Of course it would be, if it hadn’t been our last day.

Moving boxes, among other piles, had been filling up spare spaces for a while now. Change was inevitable, and had been for nearly nine months, ever since the wintertime, ever since New Years. Change that held promise, but was creeping up in a way that was unfamiliar.

The past year had been making familiar out of unfamiliar: getting used to certain brick buildings and crowded walkways, getting used to faces and stories they held, getting used to writing longer essays and carrying heavier books. The past year, ever since last August, when I first heard about the eclipse, and I first wrote about space; life before a year of calculating light years and studying eclipses by lights and objects in labs. Then came the summer, a whole summer abroad, driving down mountain roads, getting used to feeling the mass of darkness and the mass of a greater Glory; a summer of learning, of being changed, and coming home to nothing at all the same (inside and around). And now here we were, my parents driving five hours to their new home, and a second year starting for me.

That’s why a whole day seemed to take up more than a simple sum of 24 hours. A day just for the eclipse, just for driving, seemed a sum of certain eternities.

One year ago, last week:

Freshman year, the first week, and there I was writing about space. A book on my lap, full of thoughts about a universe and what space travel means (or if it means anything anymore). The subject of my essay: magnificent desolation, the two words Buzz Aldrin spoke of when he stepped onto the moon’s cold surface for the first time.

That’s how it all felt that summer, something mighty and something terrifying. A large mass of everything that could be twisted into poetry or be looked at as darkness. What waited, when the leaves turned from fresh and hopeful? What was lurking, there, in the coming shorter days? It felt horrifying, vast, unknown. Desolation.

The first day, my professor looked out to the group of students: Astronomy 151, a white room, kids wearing NASA t-shirts.

“There’s going to be a solar eclipse, a total one, this time next year, make plans to drive somewhere,” he said before syllabuses were passed out, before we talked about the sky.

Space was humbling, he said. The sky is humbling when you look at it, when you think about how it’s all so vast, how we’re always moving, how the stars we trace into constellations are always exploding light years away.

Plans, go ahead and make your plans, he had said. I imagined driving, somewhere. Quilts  stuffed in a car, the windows open, driving somewhere to see the sky turn dark. But a year was long enough to make plans. There would be an autumn soon enough, followed by a winter, followed by a spring, followed by a hot, long summer. All of that would be days upon days, full of hours all to plan something, somewhere. I could imagine it then: the sky growing darker, our voices mumbling. So much time. Magnificence.

The day of: 

9:05: Today, I woke up to light streaming through the windows and the day felt weighty.

There had been the plans but the traffic talk kept going. We made new plans in the morning, to drive up to the Church, to watch it all unfold on the top of the hill. A ten minute drive, a few hours of a day, not twenty four hours. That would be enough, we told ourselves.

Everyone was still talking about the traffic.

Everyone was talking about the end times, the signs in the sky regarding prophecies, as if solar eclipses were new, as if the world was never tinted by darkness. “This is the first time an eclipse has swept over just America, and the whole if it, so surely it means something,” I read on several occasions. If only America was the only country, I laughed to myself, if only this meant something because of it being in America.

1:04: We arrived, looking out from the safety of the grassy hill, looking to the neighborhoods below. Glasses beheld eyes to see the sun overlapped with a sliver of moon. You cannot see the moon in the light, yet there it, a piece bitten off the sun growing larger seemingly by five minute increments.

It was hot, not yet cool, so we ate watermelon, oranges, and various drinks (only ones with ‘sun’ somewhere in the title, my Dad’s doing) and hid in the shadows, while keeping eyes visible to the sun.

“I never realized how we never look at the sun,” my brother said. You don’t realize, until a day as today.

2:30: “LOOK, no not even at the sun, look behind!” The sun was setting, the sky was pink – the lights of the houses below were twinkling. Everything was lost in a shadow that passed over us all, yet there was nothing above – only the celestial, only the most ordinary. The crickets started up, for nothing indicated such a change, except for night.

And there it was: what everyone had marveled at, why people had rambled about traffic and bought thousands of dollars worth of t-shirts months in advance. All the talk that I once had been the first to share to people, after that first Astronomy lecture, and yet eventually had gotten tired of even thinking about myself.

I looked at everyone. I looked at myself, and my feet were running. We were all lost: lost in the sky, lost in something.

The darkness lasted for but a moment, and that moment seemed longer than the twenty four hours that seemed too long to waste.

You see the world dip into nothing, a ring of light remaining, and the light peaking out is illuminated by the darkness, and then the light is gone. The light is then within: you notice it is among the children’s voices, among the words that escape our mouths we forget soon after. The light suddenly is all around, again, no longer only voices, no longer nonsensical, no longer hidden by shadows and sunset.

There is much present darkness, and many incredible things: such a moment is no different, yet I do think it’s the rarity of it all. If perhaps, only once in 40 years the earth swallowed the sun in the golden rays of sunset, we’d rejoice over that too. We’d be crammed in parks, piled in groups of gathered camping chairs, we’d be looking up. We would marvel. Then we would back up our chairs, get back on the interstate, and resume.

A whole year, where things had been unfamiliar and now here we were again, another August, and it was over. Something new was beginning, for I could hear others talking through the next one – seven years from now. What would be the sum of the days, the hours, that would fill not one year – but seven? Many winters, many New Years. Surely, I would be faced with change again, a different change. Many Augusts to come and to go, and many lengths of darkness. A God, up in the heavens, who gives up darkness so we may see the light inside of us – even if just for 40 seconds.

Was it worth a day? Perhaps not. Yes, it was worth something, that minute: it was our own plan in our own place, down the road, our own sum of hours. I think back to that essay, back to the concept of magnificent desolation, of this life and the bulk of it among the changing seasons, the changing skies, the light among our darkness.

A good, good last day.

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theres’s so much I’d tell you.

A car honked window around 8:45 in the evening, and I looked up from the book in my lap. Startled, I quickly realized I wasn’t home. It feels hard to grasp I haven’t been here for very long, yet small things still startle me: a weird combination of discovering and settling in.

It’s been two years this week since I first stepped foot in Romania, and today while walking, I passed the building where I spent many hours of my first trip here and it silenced my thoughts a bit: what a journey it’s been, what love I’ve known in this city. This city has seen me in many different hours, hours of lacking, and hours of feeling as if I didn’t lack one single thing in the world.

A year ago I knew, sitting on a bench watching the sunlight glaze the mountains in the morning, that there would be more time for me in this country yet. I didn’t know then that by the end of the day, I would already be talking to people about this summer – still an abstract idea, but I knew then there was no mistake in thinking it. The Lord certainly led me here, years before and his purposes are still unfolding today. This trip has been the greatest means of grace in my life in learning to follow him, and I can barely comprehend I have a lifetime ahead of continuing to listen and to follow, by grace and grace alone.

How to describe this trip, so waited and prayed for, so lengthly written about in short letters and long journal entries, so perfectly orchestrated from every tiny detail I couldn’t even consider myself – seems impossible. There’s so much I want to tell, so much, and to so many people in particular; faces cross my mind constantly sunset after sunset, people who have been here with me, and who have prayed for overwhelming faithfulness for this country and for my time in it, which I can now write and say I have known.

I arrived in Romania on Saturday, after the quickest and easiest day of traveling. Navigating airports is surprisingly peaceful, quiet, and uneventful. The nine hour plane ride consisted of the guy beside me sleeping the entire trip as I didn’t sleep a second, but instead watched and cried over a movie for the first in years (the tears were about many things, I’m certain), drank lots of  water, tried to sleep, eagerly waited for the lights to return so I could read properly, and watched the flight tracker for too long. I arrived early to Bucharest, exhausted, and after a day of slowly getting back to Craiova, I made it to see the first sunset of my trip. Moments after arriving, I was welcomed into the sweetest surprise of my life with my dear friends from previous trips (words from missionary Adoniram Judson come to mind: “If such exquisite delights as we have enjoyed with these now in paradise, and with one another, are allowed to sinful creatures on earth, what must the joys of heaven be?”).

Monday, I started at the school where I’m instructing. I met students, who have already given me a thousand stories to tell (yes, there’s so much I’d tell so many, so much), and teachers who have been nothing but helpful in helping me learn the ways of the English school from showing me where to pour coffee to how to walk home. Following school, I come home to the young couple I’m living with asking me to join them for dinner. On free days, I’ve had such sweet meetings with some of the girls I met at the student camp last year, letting them show me around the city and tell me all that is happening in their lives.

“There’s so much I want to tell you,” several of them have said, and yes, I understand.

And that’s life: life here, which is not a list of accomplishments or highlights from a two week trip. Living here, if only for a summer, is different but in a way that is crafted morning by morning. Two weeks here, and I’ve just begun. I’ve just found the shortest walk home from work, and the prettiest. I now recognize the smell of the flowers that line the sidewalks. I’m learning what water to drink, the different names for different common foods.

Of all the things I so want to tell so many people, one stands out most of all that I’m discovering: the best thing you can do is to go somewhere far from the streets you’ve always known, not just for the views, and live there. Let it not be what you planned, but everything you hoped for. Learn what trees to pick fruit from, pick up words of the language from conversations. Keep your eyes plastered on the windows, as you drive through countryside and take note of every grand house and every lowly shack. Never forget how the sun rises, and sets, at different times. Listen to people of another tongue speak and sing of this grace. Go with little, come back with less, don’t take much anything for yourself, but come back with everything stored up in a far more precious way.

Not even two weeks in, and there’s much more to lose, so much more to gain.

the city in may.

Manhattan has always been sort of a mecca for me, a place I go not only with the intent of visiting but with the hope it’ll capture me up.

The last time I was in the city, it was a profoundly healing time. It was the end of my senior year of High School, the year I more or less discovered a whole lot of who I wanted to be through much redemption of two years fighting myself and doubting the very thoughts that uphold my life. Being in the city and learning to navigate the streets, I found peace in one of the busiest places in the world.

Now, more than a year later, I was anxious to visit to see what else I could find, what new revelations would resonate.  Like many trips, the trip striped back the surpassed layer of life that I often forget to peel away, burdening me with the bitter cup of this world. Yet it was such a time to be alive: to see my nine year old brother (the same age I was when I first visited) have his eyes excitedly lit with the lights of the city, to spend time with my family – whom I love with such a deep, overwhelming love that no time cannot make up for – before some time apart, to hear the wisdom of my Father who knows the city and life in a way I long to, and to walk the streets with my older brother discussing all things from the fine art that lines the walls of the MET to hip-hop.

Here is New York, captured by my camera in the way I choose to see it: bold, brave, tender, and wild:

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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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