Part Three: The No Frills Version

Enough with all that fancy-pantsy music and poetry mumbo-jumbo!  This is the final part of my Christian Appalchian Project good-bye, and it’s written in plain old words.  I should have written this a while ago, but it’s better late than never, as they say.

Before I left (Holy Moly was that only three weeks ago?), demanding Mike asked me a question.  He asked me what I was going to miss most about Kentucky.  And I never really answered him.  So, if you’re reading this, sir, here’s your answer.

The Top Three things I’ll miss most about Kentucky (with number 1 being the one that I will miss the most!):

3.  The Hiking

One thing that I loved about Kentucky was the hiking and all of the cool outdoors-y experiences that I could have there; seeing different types of things that I wouldn’t be able to see in Michigan.  I lived right smack in the Daniel Boone National Forest and just a few miles away from Cumberland Falls.  There were hiking trails to explore all over the place.  Now, Kentucky hikes are usually a lot more work than Michigan hikes, but, as I got used to it, I grew to enjoy that.

I have to say that when I first visited Eastern Kentucky, I didn’t really like the landscape.  The mountains just kind of loomed over me and made me feel a little bit closed in.  They didn’t feel very welcoming.  Plus, from a farmer’s daughter’s point of view, this land just wasn’t very useful.  (Where are all the beautiful farm fields?!)

That’s why I surprised myself so much one day well into my CAP service when I was driving past Cumberland Falls and I happened to get a glimpse of the park and I thought:  “I love this place.”

Ah, Kentucky.  You really had to work hard at it, (we all know that I didn’t particularly want to love you) but you won me over a little bit, and I feel lucky to have been able to explore your hills.

2.  The Music

Before I came here, I did occasionally listen to bluegrass.  I liked some of it, but I didn’t love it.  Then I came here and I was able to see bluegrass music played live by a wide variety of people.  And I loved it.  And listening to it and seeing the local people play and sing just made me so happy.  I think it was because this music is so rooted in tradition for them.  It’s part of their history.  It’s part of their people.  It’s part of their land.  And I see and hear that when I see them play it live.  It was awesome.  And I will definitely miss that.  We don’t have that kind of musical tie here in Michigan (at least, not any that I’m aware of…).

There are a couple of bluegrass moments that will stick out in my mind.  One of them took place at a fundraiser that the parent council put on for the preschool at our community center.  They had some local bluegrass and country singers scheduled to play.  Then they had open mic, and one of the ladies that I worked with and some people who I am assuming were from her church came up and played a gospel song.  One of the men up there was missing all of his fingers on one hand and only had his thumb to strum the strings with.  None of them were beautiful singers.  But I loved it.  It was pure Appalachia.

1.  The People!

I got to meet so many awesome people while I was at CAP.  I got to know a lot of people that I would never have been able to get to know very well in any other situation.  I liked almost everyone I met who worked at the Christian Appalachian Project.  It is just such an amazing organization.  It almost felt like a family.  (I will even admit to feeling a bit of jealousy when I first found out that they had found a replacement for me.  WHAT?!  I’m being replaced?  I don’t want to hear about this!)

I will also miss seeing the kids that I got to work with in my program.  I will miss not getting to know anything about what happens to them in their future.  I was walking around my county fair yesterday and there were a couple of times I saw a kid and I thought “Hey, is that…” and then had to tell myself “No, stupid.  They’re in Kentucky.”  Those kids had a lot of difficult stuff to deal with and I hope and I pray that things will get better for them.  But I really don’t know.

People have a lot of stereotypes about Kentucky.  When I told people that I was going to come here, I heard a lot of negative things.  I heard a lot of hillbilly comments.  (I pointed out to my brother on one occasion that the people who live in our town are not exactly that far away from being classified as “hillbillies” and he said “Yes.  But these are REAL hillbillies.  It’s different.”)  There are a lot of “Deliverance” references.  I don’t think I heard a single positive stereotype about the Appalachian people.

There are just a lot of negative stereotypes, period.  And I’m not going to lie, a lot of them are true.  But this area has a lot of deeply rooted problems that negativity and ridicule are not going to help.  If you treat a person like they are without value, then they are going to start to believe it.  It would be better if we kept in mind that each and every one of us is struggling with our own demons and our own imperfections.  We were all created by the same God.

I think that my time in Kentucky has taught me this:  Look for God in each and every person you meet.  Look at each person for who they are and realize that you might have been in the same shoes as they are had you been born into a different situation.  Look for a way that you can give them a helping hand without simply tossing some food on their step or sticking a check in their mail box.  Only by doing these things can you really help anyone.

So, thank you, Kentucky.  I saw God in you.  I don’t know if I did you any good, but I know you certianly did a lot of good for me.

Part 2: The Poetic Version

To continue my Good-bye Christian Appalachian Project trilogy, I have a poem.

(First off, I have to say, I have yet to figure out how to make WordPress put the poems the way that I want them, with breaks between the stanzas.  So that is why I put the line between each stanza – because otherwise it would be one big stanza-less poem.)

Psalm 333

(A Psalm of Elizabeth)

                                               

What happens…

When you find an old friend is lost;

When you find a piece is missing?

It came, perhaps, from no fault of my own,

So many things got in the way…

But…no.

There’s more.

                                               

What happens…

When you find the world not as you thought;

When you crumple up in disappointment?

It came, slowly, creeping from behind,

A heavy weight was placed upon me,

More than disappointment…

A deep sorrow.

                                               

What happens…

When you find yourself depressed;

When you find yourself losing faith in all?

It came, quietly, from an unfamiliar place,

Afraid, lonely, I tucked myself away,

Kept myself hidden…

Locked in a box.

                                               

I’m sorry, God.

It was not right, I know.

Take me, O God,

And do with me what You will.

I wrote this poem the year before I came to CAP.  I was at college, sitting outside of the library next to the fountain.  I can even remember what I was wearing at the time.  I started writing the first stanza with a specific purpose and topic in mind, but then it morphed into something completely different.  I don’t know why I remember writing this poem so well, but I think it was because this was the first time that I really wrote out what was bothering me on paper.  It wasn’t something that I had to hide anymore.  It was something I could share.  It was the beginning of healing.

But the poem has a postscript.  When I wrote this poem, I was starting to feel better.  I was starting to feel like maybe I had finally shook all of these negative feelings that I had been dragging around for so long.  But I wasn’t sure.  I had a feeling that I might just be feeling that way because school was going well that semester and that the next time something didn’t go quite right I would be right back where I started.  I didn’t feel as worried or stressed out as I did before, but I didn’t feel particulary happy either.  I just felt tired.

So after I wrote this poem, I was afraid that it wasn’t completely honest.  And I believe that writing is a place where I can and should always be completely honest.  At the same time, I didn’t want to add any doubts to my poem, because I wanted it to be positive.  I wanted it to be true, whether I knew it to be so or not.  So I wrote this next part as a separate, yet connected, poem.

Postscript

                                               

I say it with my head,

but do I mean it with my heart?

Is my surrender that

of the joyful servant…

or the broken slave?

So, what does all of this have to do with my time at the Christian Appalachian Project?

Well, if you were to ask me what the best thing that CAP gave me was, the simplest answer that I could give would be that it gave me the answer to my postscript.  It gave me my freedom.

I am the joyful servant.

So thank you, CAP.  The time that I spent with you and that knowledge that you gave me is something that is irreplaceable.

Part 1: The Musical Version

Well, it came.  My last day at CAP.

As I locked the door of the office for the last time and stepped out into the hallway, I was greeted by (gah!) a baby snake.  I guess Kentucky couldn’t let me leave without seeing one more of it’s creepy crawlies.

My mom and my brother drove down from Michigan to pick me up.  I met them in the driveway as I was walking back to the house.  Their arrival resulted in a whirlwind of tourist-y activities (Bluegrass Jam, Hiking, Cumberland Falls, Natural Arch, The Grand Ole Opry (which, by the way, I loved (I think I would like to pay another visit to Nashville sometime – it seemed like a pretty cool place)), Mammoth Cave) and then the oh-so-fun nine hour drive back to the home state.

In all this rushing about, I didn’t really have a lot of time to feel sad as I loaded up the car and said good-bye to the McCreary House.  I was so busy thinking about what was ahead that I didn’t have time to think about what I was leaving behind.  But, that, I suppose, is the way it should be.

Anyway, as I started to think about how I would sum up my experience at the Christian Appalachian Project in a blog post, I realized that I couldn’t do it with just one.  And I couldn’t just say it in one way.  So you’re going to get it in trilogy form!  This first is what I’m going to call The Musical Version.

There is a short story by L. M. Montgomery called “Each in His Own Tongue” which I loved when I was in high school.  In simplified terms, it’s a story about how music can speak to people in ways that words can’t.  And as I’ve been trying to think of how to put what CAP has done for me into words, I’ve been finding that it’s a difficult thing to do.  Thus, the musical version.

If I were to give my time at CAP theme music, it would be compiled almost completely of Switchfoot and Jon Foreman’s solo work.  I liked Switchfoot music before I came here, but I hadn’t really discovered it yet.  I hadn’t taken it and listened to it over and over and taken it apart piece by piece.  I went to a Switchfoot concert right before I came to Kentucky.  Then, shortly after arriving in Kentucky, Ringleader Mike put on some tunes to work by.  And it was the new Switchfoot album.  Then someone left an old Switchfoot CD in the CAP car.  Then one of my friends back home (thank you, Ginger!) pointed out some of Jon Foreman’s solo work to me.  It was as if God was saying “Listen to this music!  This will help.”  And I listened.  And it did help.  (I also recommend Jon Foreman’s blog.  So good.)

When I came to CAP, I was struggling with a lot of doubts and fears, which I have written about before.  If there was one song that could describe some of the feelings that I had been struggling with when I came, it would be this one.  I cried the first time I really listened to this song.

No, I’m not alright

I know that I’m not right

Feel like I travel but I never arrive

I wanna thrive not just survive

I get so down, but I won’t give up

11 months later, I’m happy to say that I think I’ve finally let go of these negative thoughts.  Partly because of my experience at CAP, I think that if there was a song that could describe my feelings today, it would be this one.

So why do I worry?

Why do I freak out?

God knows what I need

You know what I need

Your love is strong.

The music having been sung, this is the end of part one.  Part two will come tomorrow.  (Hopefully.  Unless my trip to the dentist tomorrow crushes my poor little spirit.)