I sighed in satisfaction as I stepped off the big white bus, which was
parked in front of a University of the Cumberlands dormitory in
Williamsburg, Kentucky. It had been an hour-long trip from Knoxville
(with only a 45-minute dinner break in between) to Williamsburg.
The high school boys were instructed to unload the girl's bags from
the trunk compartment of the bus. They formed a line, and handed each
Vera Bradley duffel bag down until the line ended, where the person on
the end would (literally) throw it to the ground.
After a while, the kid at the front of the line pulled out a huge
maroon suitcase. "Whose is this? What's in here, a 50 pound weight?"
He complained. "That's mine," I reluctantly replied, slightly
embarrassed. I had fit everything on the packing list into the
suitcase (including my bedding and a pillow), so at least I would be
the most prepared.
I found my (other) pillow (sitting on the grass - didn't really
appreciate that), and took my things inside the dormitory. A UC
dormitory employee was calling out who would be rooming with who, in
what hall. I had been assigned to a room with Alice (who I said I
wanted to room with on the submission form) in a hall with Symphony,
Elle, Sara, Caroline, Ava, and Abigail. Alice and I were so excited.
Three whole nights together! That meant (as we later learned) staying
up until 3am talking about homework and politics. When we're together,
that's our kind of fun.
Our room was small and narrow, about 20' by 40'. It held two plain,
ancient wooden wardrobes, two desks, two bureaus, two chairs, and a
bunk bed. There was a wardrobe on either side of the room when you
entered through the door, the bunk bed on the right wall, the two
bureaus across from it on the left wall, and a desk and chair on
either wall. I had to put my enormous suitcase on the desk for the
entirety of the trip; I wasn't planning on doing any homework, anyway.
Everything, except the white ceiling and cinder-block walls, was
either a dull green or wooden brown. We later learned that, yes, we
had been rooming in a dormitory that, during the school year, was
occupied by college-aged boys. (Sigh.)
After that, we met at the very small church we'd be helping with VBS
at. We had some worship, then talked about our teams. I was on Team A
with some of my friends, while Alice was on Team B (which Blair, the
high school pastor, had once accidentally called Plan B, which made us
feel better) with the other half of our church group. Each group would
do a VBS and revive a playground at a different community in
Williamsburg. "Remember why we're here, guys. We're here to serve
Jesus and bring others to Him," Blair repeated all week.
I heard his words, reminded myself of his words, understood his words,
but, somehow, did not serve according to his words.
Why was I here?
A day later:
Dress code had said to wear fingertip-length shorts and no tank tops
(to avert distraction). So here I was (the only one who had completely
obeyed dress code), in an old T-shirt and some "yoga shorts" that
ended just above my knees (which made my muscular swimmer's legs look
chubby and horrendous, though my mother said I looked "cute"),
sweating to death on the last week of July. The sun seemed to drench
me in sweat as I pulled up the various green weeds that sprung up out
of the mulch. There was no shade here; it was like someone had
absent-mindedly dropped this playground in the middle of some tan
townhouses. My long blonde hair was only further encouraging the
sweat, even though it was in French braids. I had worked on unearthing
the weeds for so long. Having forgotten a drawstring backpack (the one
thing I thought I wouldn't need!), I had to carry my medical bag,
Gatorade, garden gloves, sunglasses, shower shoes, and other items
around in a trash bag for the entire week. Embarrassing! I felt
fabulous. How come I'm (still) always toting around all of the
supplies, and everyone else seems to have invisible pockets?
Later that smelting July afternoon, Team A had arrived back at the
dormitory before Team B. I was so grimy my skin was a shade darker
than usual, even for the summertime, when I'm tan. My shirt was soaked
with sweat, my hair was damp and oily, and my feet were boiling over
in my dirty orange socks.
The hall bathroom was right across from our dorm room. I headed for my
room, ready to get my towel and shower items and get wet! (Well, wet
with water...) I approached the door and pushed the handle downward.
Wait. The handle didn't turn. I frantically jerked the handle up and
down. It was locked. That's right. The door was locked and Alice, who
was with Team B, a half hour behind us and not even on their way back
to the dorms, was wearing the red UC lanyard with the key to the door
around her neck.
I moaned. ALL OF MY SHOWER STUFF WAS RIGHT BEHIND THAT SILLY DOOR,
JUST SITTING ON MY BUREAU! I was getting in that shower, regardless.
Thankfully, I'd put my Chacos in my garbage bag that morning (not
wanting them to be stolen), so at least I could borrow someone else's
shampoo (or just run the water over myself) for a half hour until
I took my clothes off and put my Chacos on. Sara lent me her shampoo
and conditioner (I did use the shampoo for body wash, if you were
wondering), and several girls generously offered me their towels.
However, my "no sharing shower towels" rule is pretty similar to my
"no eating or drinking after anyone" rule, so I took the water bill
for a hike during the following seven minutes.
Finally, Alice arrived. The other girls told her to unlock the door,
get my towel, and give it to me! Thankfully, we decided against
locking the door again (because who's really going to break in to
steal some smelly, dirty girl's socks anyway?).
The next day, the flannel-type material arrived. This meant we had to
dig up the old material, rip it out, then put the new material in,
then pile mulch on top of it. It was so hot, I was working so hard,
and I was so sweaty. The saying of the week was, "Hydrate Before You
Diedrate". This phrase was never more widely welcomed. The boys, of
course, were opening their mouths under the spouts of the big Gatorade
thermoses to get the last of the icy-cold water, which was gross for
me, since I don't eat or drink after people, so I stuck to my
The only problem was, this whole time while digging up the flannel
stuff, I was trying to prove that I'm not a dumb, weak blonde girl who
overestimates herself. I was trying to prove (mostly to the jerks)
that I was strong and could handle the weight and push harder. That
was me feeling threatened by them, since one boy consistently, when
the mulch arrived later, "offered" to roll my wheelbarrow for me. It
wasn't an offer; I knew he though I couldn't do it, so I strove to
prove him wrong, wrong, wrong. In reality, I am very strong, able, and
driven, though you might not suspect so by just looking at me and not
knowing me well. I knew God didn't want me to be doing the work to
impress other people; he wanted me to do it for His glory. Somehow I
forgot that. Somehow I had let what people thought about me really get
to me and destroy the fact that only God's opinion matters in the long
run, though that's sometimes really hard to live by. I had never let
this happen before. But now, looking back, when I let it happen by
getting on that bus in Knoxville with the mindset that I was going to
show people what I look like in action, I completely disgraced the
purpose of the trip.
During my experience in Williamsburg, I didn't feel like Team A was
really doing much. I mean, I'd say 98% of the kids at our VBS already
attended that church and believed in Jesus. There weren't really very
many kids who showed up at the playground we were working on, whereas
Team B had miraculous stories of kids who they had made a difference
for or impacted with a lingering change. I wondered if I was really
making that much of a difference at all.
I learned three extremely important things about life that event-filled week:
1. Don't let what people think about you control you. The facts are,
they're probably struggling with insecurity, and hurting you makes
them feel better about themselves.
2. Little things can make a difference. For instance, my friend Gavin
and I taught a VBS class to the 4 and 5 year olds in Williamsburg.
Maybe listening for five minutes to one of those kids just talk about
something they were proud of made them think, "Wow, this girl is
really excited about my new socks!" Maybe, even though those types of
things seem immature, childish, or silly to us as cool teenagers, they
can make a really big difference to the kid. They may not have parents
or siblings at home who care about anything they have to say, so being
all ears for them can really help them know their thoughts are
3. Even if you're not making a difference at all, which you might not
be, there's another lesson in your experience that you're meant to
learn. Whether you're always fighting with your parent(s) and you
don't understand the problem behind the arguments, if you don't know
if you'll be able to graduate from high school, or if you find
yourself wondering if you even have a purpose or should still be
alive, I know that God is trying to show you something. Maybe he's
trying to teach you a lesson you never thought could be learned.
The Williamsburg church trip is going to be offered to the high school
ministry again this summer. I'm planning on going. But this time, I'm
going to do it the right way; and, if I happen to make an impression
on someone along the way, that's not my own work, and I'm willing to
accept that. I want to start over in Williamsburg only with the happy,
funny memories and the lessons I learned, not the deceiving thoughts
that plagued me that week. I'm doing it all over again, and, in a
sense, for the first time in my life.