A couple of weekends ago when I met the one and only Mary Kathryn, I was able to cross off something else from my 32 Things list: Visit One Other Southern State.
When I was still an Illinoisan, I often went to Wisconsin or Indiana (well, really I'd drive through Indiana to get to the Warren Dunes in Michigan) for day or weekend trips. Easy, quick drives and a good way to get a change of scenery. I decided when I made my list that I needed to familiarize myself with the South. My past experience includes two trips to Florida, my 30th birthday in Asheville, and an interesting road trip to New Orleans so my friends and I could see Incubus perform. So really, I know nothing about the other Southern states.
I needed to find my Southern version of Wisconsin.
Kim and I first connected over books. She asked if we might read something together, a sort of virtual Book Club. We decided to read Blood Done Sign My Name, which MK happened to be finishing around the same time. Through email discussion, Kim mentioned the Civil Rights Museum that resides in Birmingham. Then she mentioned that Mary Kathryn would be visiting one weekend in May to help with a youth retreat.
That is when I shamelessly invited myself to be a part of the weekend so we could go to the Civil Rights Museum together.
As the weekend drew closer, I started to feel as though I should help out with the retreat, even though I didn't know anything about it. I emailed Kim and said I could drive down Saturday and be her pack mule. Then she emailed that she had hoped Mary Kathryn and I would facilitate some sort of painting activity Saturday morning. I can't pass up an opportunity involving paint! I decided to drive down Friday night instead.
I wasn't nervous about meeting my blog friends. I knew that I would like them in real life, just as I liked their bloggy beings. I was more nervous that they wouldn't like me. (Just when I think I've mastered an area of insecurity...)
I needn't have worried. The three of us connected right from the start.
I arrived just in time for worship and communion. Tired and loopy, I sat in the dark illuminated by votives and observed these kids flat out worshiping their Savior. I don't remember having that depth when I was their age. Feeling depleted as I was by the past few weeks, I wasn't sure whether I had that depth now or if I could be of use to anyone.
The teens were encouraged to talk to a leader during worship and as I was a pseudo-leader, one girl approached me for a word of encouragement. When she first started talking, my mind was blank. I'm trained to counsel but I felt so unqualified in that moment of spiritual import. What did I have to offer her? Yet as we talked, God provided the words and she did seem to walk away encouraged.
These moments occurred throughout the weekend.
Whether I was facilitating the painting of two large canvases, eating a meal, or sitting on a couch, connections continued. Maybe I was there to lead and help, but I felt I learned more than I taught.
I learned that I still love to counsel and listen and that I probably love it best when I'm not being paid to do so.
I learned more about my identity, not in what I do but who God created me to be.
I learned that I need to let my past church issues stay in the past. They no longer define me and I might miss out on the good that God is doing by letting innocuous things trigger old memories.
I learned that Mary Kathryn and Kim are beautiful, wonderful women who God undoubtedly placed in my life. Words fail me to express my gratitude for their friendship and encouragement. We have so much more of our stories to share. We never did make it to the Civil Rights Museum so you know what that means!
I learned that "y'all come" is an open invitation, which I have now earned to Kim's home and family. I valued getting to know her husband and children and only wish I'd had more time to chat with them.
I learned that Alabama is my new Wisconsin and I'm already plotting how I can get back for another trip.
How many Southern states have you visited? Which one is your favorite?