A 5K, a Wedding, and Two Picnics

Friday afternoon as I returned to work after my lunch break, I passed a friend in the parking lot who said, “I’m so glad it’s finally Friday!”  Automatically I replied, “Oh yeah, me too!”  Then I thought, Well, when you work at a church, Friday is often like Sunday: it’s the day before everything gets crazy!  Now that it’s Monday morning, I can breathe and relax. 🙂

This weekend we kicked off the new school year in the life of the church with a bunch of awesome events that definitely kept me busy!  Saturday morning our church, in partnership with another church down the road, hosted a 5K.  We encouraged the youth group folks not only to run, but to dress up in costumes.  I couldn’t find a great costume, but I did find these fantastic purple “skapris” (oh yes, “skapris” are a skirt/capri combo) plus a purple sequin headband in the kids section at Target.  All I’m saying is that I looked pretty good. 😉

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I ran with my sweet high school friend Gena, and we rocked it!  I won my age group, and Gena placed second in hers (with a lot more competition.)  We had over 200 participants and raised a lot of money that is being donated to a couple local charities!!

Saturday afternoon, on our way to a wedding in Virginia Beach, we made a stop to visit our good friend Allison.  We ate lunch, watched the Virginia Tech football game, and so enjoyed catching up and laughing!

On Saturday evening we attended the wedding of my good friend and coworker Evan and his beautiful bride Kristina.  The day was perfect, the decorations and details were adorable, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people so excited to get married!  It was a sweet, joyful celebration.

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Just bein’ us

It was close to 1 AM when we arrived home from the wedding, and I had to be up pretty early for church, er, later that morning.  Rather than our usual three services (two traditional and one contemporary), we had one huge, blended service to bring everyone together as we kicked off the school year.  Even though I was operating on insufficient sleep, the morning was awesome!  I don’t know  how many people were there, but the sanctuary was PACKED, and we had overflow in our Welcome Center.  Some chose to sit on the floor with their kids.  The atmosphere was just relaxed and genuine as everyone came together as one community to worship God!

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After the service we had a picnic lunch, and people spread out all over the church grounds–inside and out–to share a meal with friends!

And because one picnic on a Sunday is never enough, that evening we had a youth ministry picnic at a local park to kick off the school year and welcome our new families.  I was unable to do a headcount, but I estimate we had 150-175 people (youth, parents, and siblings).  I felt a little bit overwhelmed…in a good way.  🙂

I am most definitely an introvert, so being in a crowd like this drains my energy.  As soon as everyone had eaten, I’d finished speaking, and we started to clean up, I was ready to lie down on a picnic table and sleep.  Hah!  It was awesome, though, and I am so excited to see what’s in store this year!

As great as the weekend was, I’m so glad it’s finally Monday!! (…aren’t you?  ;-))

What was the highlight of your weekend?

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Youth Group Hike (Dobie Mountain Round Two)

What’s better than hiking on a Thursday in perfect 75 degree weather?  When that hike technically counts toward your work week!  (Benefit #2028 of working in youth ministry :-D).  All the youth I work with are currently on summer break, so yesterday a group of us went hiking in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Back in May, when Andrew and I hiked Dobie Mountain, I made a mental note that it would be a great hike for a group of youth–nice views, not too long, and not too many steep uphills.  Overall, it was a big hit with the group yesterday, though I did forget just how steep one of the uphills was…

We started on the Albright Loop, which is made up of a lot of woods, rocky trails, and switchbacks.  At one point, as we walked single-file over a small stream, I heard the boy behind me say, “Ouch!”, then the girls behind him, “Ouch!” “Ahh! Ouch!” and so on down the line.  I turned around to see what was happening, and everyone behind me was swatting some insect away from their legs and arms.  I told them to keep walking past the water in case whatever it was had a nest there.  Once we were out of the ouch zone, I inspected the bites/stings.  They looked–and apparently felt–like bee stings, but the victims said the bugs looked like giant mosquitoes.  Anyone know what that is??  One girl’s bite was particularly red and puffy, and when I asked if she was allergic to bees she said, “I don’t know.  I’ve never been stung!”  Oh God, please do not let her have an allergic reaction…  We kept an eye on the wounds, and thankfully no one had any serious reaction!

After about two miles, we reached the intersection of the Appalachian Trail.  When Andrew and I hiked this, we continued south on the AT;  yesterday we decided to hike north for about half a mile to reach an additional overlook.

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After resting for a few minutes and enjoying the view, we began hiking south–all uphill at this point–to reach the bigger Glass Hollow Overlook and our lunch destination.  I love the sense of awe that everyone inevitably feels when stepping out onto an overlook like this:

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But seriously–could this be any more beautiful?

We ate lunch and hung out around this area for over an hour.  (Silly me–I thought I would have to convince them to simply be and enjoy the views, but as it turns out, the mountains are hypnotizing to more people than just me.  😉  I kept hearing, “I could stay here all day!”)

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We still had a few hours before we needed to drive back to Richmond, and the remainder of the hike would only take us about 30 minutes, so we decided to hike a little further on the AT.  We continued for a mile or so, during which I uttered the understatement of the day:  That particular stretch of trail was relatively flat, with soft dirt and lush greenery all around us.  I said, “This is nice little path we’re on!”, and quickly realizing the humor added, “And by ‘nice little path,’ I mean, ‘the Appalachian Trail.'”  Hah!  You know… that nice little path that runs from Maine to Georgia. 😉

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Our fierce, young hikers

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My new friend Juliet who came with us to help and was such a trooper!

We returned to the overlook for one final glimpse, then began the trek back to the parking lot.  This is the part of the hike for which I apparently had slope amnesia.  When we met back up with the Albright Loop, we only had one mile to go, but the first half of that mile was a serious uphill.  How did I not remember that?  After already hiking about six miles at that point, we were hurting!  Eventually we made it and began the trip back to Richmond.

The original plan was to hike 4 miles–the Albright Loop, plus the short trek on the AT to reach the Glass Hollow Overlook.  However, we added a mile to see the first overlook, then about two miles on the AT at the end, bringing our total to roughly seven miles.  Not bad!  When I started hiking yesterday, my legs and glutes were still sore from the cardio class I took Tuesday night.  After all those hills, I am hobbling. 🙂

As always, the hike provided an awesome workout with beautiful scenery to ease the pain.  Plus, I had great company yesterday. 😀

Have you hiked anywhere particularly cool lately?

NC Mission Trip Recap- Part 1

I am home from North Carolina and excited to give a full account of the week, but first, I must acknowledge what happened yesterday:  Andrew hijacked the blog.  It was a legitimate hijacking.  Not only did he not tell me he was writing a post, but he didn’t tell me he’d done it afterwards either!  I happened to glance at the stats page on my phone, saw a few notifications, and thought, two people commented on…what post?  Oh…  What a funny guy. 😀  Because the stolen post seemed to be well-received, Andrew has landed himself a contract job as a monthly guest blogger (he’s not getting paid for it.)  I hope those of you that we don’t know in real life enjoyed “meeting” Andrew!

Now the mission trip summary…I’ll do my best to keep in concise without leaving out any juicy details 🙂

The team:
Our team consisted of twelve middle school youth and four adults.  I’ve probably mentioned this on the blog before, but I love middle schoolers.  I think they are absolutely hilarious in that you never know what they will say or do.  In that regard, they did not disappoint this week.  Actually, they did not disappoint in any way this week;  I was impressed by how hard they all worked and the great attitudes they had despite the heat and persistent mosquitoes.

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The people we served:
As I mentioned in my midweek report, we worked with a man named Chuck and his two teenage daughters, Ashley and Haley, who are in a very tough spot in life at the moment.  Chuck is sharp, witty, knowledgeable about many, many subjects, and full of hilarious one-liners.  “She’s as tough as woodpecker lips.”  “At least my report card didn’t stutter;  yours kept saying, “D-D-D-D-D…”  More importantly, he has a deep love for his daughters and a rock-solid faith that was evident to all of us.  Despite losing his wife, job, and being left to raise teenage girls, his devotion to God has not been shaken.

In addition to teaching us some legitimately useful life skills, Chuck showed us how “we rednecks” get strong out of in the country:  using heavy metal bars and sledgehammers:

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And that block of wood they are pounding with the sledgehammer?  After we took turns hitting it all day, Chuck stood it up and split it in two with the sledgehammer, prompting this response from one of our boys:

“If I took a girl out on a date, and you were her dad, I would treat her so well…”  😀

The work:
Half of our team painted the outside of Chuck’s trailer, and half the team replaced the floor in a few rooms inside.  As I mentioned above, everyone worked incredibly hard and finished the tasks we set out to do.

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The funny (part 1):
The man living next door to Chuck owns a bunch of goats and keeps them in a barely charged electric fence.  Think static electricity.  Or a first grade science experiment using a battery and a light bulb (I know this to be true thanks to one of our awesome adults, Robin, who teaches science to elementary school students. :))  One afternoon Chuck showed a few of our youth what that fence feels like, and, because they are twelve years old, that entertained many of them for longer than you might think.  Weird, but harmless.  Well, the phone calls home that night sounded like this:

“Catherine let us electrocute ourselves on an electric fence today!  We kept shocking ourselves over and over!  What?  Why not?  Yeah, I’m okay… No, it didn’t hurt… No, we didn’t do it for very long…”

Oh boy.  Parents, I did not let your kids electrocute themselves.  Again, think static electricity, and please consider that your twelve-year-old may have exaggerated.  I do think, however, that a few of them seemed slightly more balanced afterwards… 😉

I will leave it here for now, but I have plenty more to report tomorrow.  Thanks for reading!

Gone to Carolina [in the Church Van]

In a few hours I will be on my way to North Carolina with a group of our middle school youth for a mission trip.  We are spending the week repairing homes near the coast (low-income areas… not people’s beach houses, as my mom suspected :)), and I am so looking forward to it.  Missions and local service projects are a key piece of our youth ministry, and here’s why:

In the book of James, chapter 2, James poses the question, “What good is it, brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace;  keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”

In other words, if all we ever do is sit around reading the Bible, then go about our lives and ignore those who are hurting in the world, what’s the point?  That type of faith is not sincere.  In light of that, I am humbled and thrilled to have opportunities like this trip as part of my job.  Plus, I get to hang out with all our crazy middle schoolers, whom I love dearly. 😀

I am not sure how much I will be able to blog while I’m there–maybe a few brief posts–but I plan to give it a try.  If not, I’ll be back next weekend!  In the meantime, please pray for our team, those we are helping, and Andrew, who has to hold down the fort by himself this week.

As the very talented James Taylor put it:  “Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in [the church van.]” (Or something like that. ;-))

Climbing Walls, Canoes, and Capture the Flag (Retreat Recap)

It’s Monday morning, and I feel like I must have been hit by a train this weekend.  Soreness everywhere.  Our youth group retreat was a huge success.  Here’s the play-by-play:

We arrived at Camp Willow Run Friday night just in time to catch the end of the sunset, settled in to our boxcars (the cabins are renovated boxcars… I realize that might sound weird, but it’s actually very cool, :)) and had our first session in our meeting room.  We played a few icebreaker games, including Extreme Elves, Wizards, and Giants (it’s like Rock, Paper, Scissors, with different/bigger motions, teams, and chasing.)

Elves, Wizards, Giants(Sorry for the blurry iphone photo…)

We ate some snacks, introduced our lesson theme for the weekend–What You’re Worth–and talked about how we are often our own biggest critic.

Saturday morning we made our way to the dining hall at 8:00 for breakfast–biscuits, sausage, gravy, grits, eggs, cereal, fruit… Mmm.  This was the first time I’ve been dairy-free at camp, and it was so tough to turn down those biscuits!  After breakfast we met for our second group session.  We played telephone charades, which is a hilarious game for those of you who haven’t played it!  The clue is given to the first person in line, then acted out person-to-person (getting skewed a bit along the way.)  The last person in line guesses.

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At one point the boys acted out “going on a first date,” which the last person guessed was, “kissing.” (Parents, you should probably have a chat with your boys ;-))  The girls acted out “whitewater rafting,” which the last person guessed was, “dying on a boat.”  Lots of laughs all around!  In our lesson that morning we discussed the impact other people have on our sense of self-worth and how we can tune out those negative messages we receive.

Before lunch we played capture the flag–always a favorite with this group.

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Headbands, eye black, game faces–we are serious about Capture the Flag.

We ran around in the woods for over an hour, sprinting after opponents, sprinting back to safety after jailbreaks.  Only a few band-aids were needed at the end of the game, so I consider it a success 😉  I did manage to sustain a 4-inch cut on the back of my thigh when I was forcefully tagged just before crossing back to my side.  Ahem.  Battle scars.

For lunch we ate burgers, fries, and fruit cocktail.  Power lunch for a busy afternoon!  After lunch we went canoeing…

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…played nine-square (like four-square, but bigger, and 3-D)…

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Nine-square was a huge hit;  we may need to invest in some PVC pipes!

…and climbed the wall and braved the Giant Swing…

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Whew, it was a full afternoon!  For dinner we had spaghetti and salads, then headed back outside to play some more nine-square (yes, every free moment we had was filled with nine-square.  To quote one of the boys, “Nine-square is life.” 😉 )

Later that evening we met inside for our third group session.  In my last post I mentioned that sometimes we play games whose sole purpose is to make me laugh.  Saturday night we played, “Sock Wars.”  It was one of those games that could either really be a hit or really flop…and turned out to be hilarious. The object of the game is simple:  be the last person with a sock on your foot.

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The result was total chaos.  It was like the Hunger Games, with socks instead of murder.  Some people hid.  Some people attacked.  Alliances were formed.  They were ruthless.  Unfortunately I was unable to upload the video, and the photos don’t quite capture the madness, but you get an idea. 🙂

For the sake of not making this post too much longer than it already is (thanks to anyone who is still reading!,) I’ll finish with a Cliff Notes version of the rest of the weekend:

Campfire.  S’mores.  Third lesson:  God is our biggest fan, and we are worth more to Him than we can comprehend.  Grog (outside, nighttime game in which one person is the “Grog” and tags people, and everyone else must find hidden pieces of a flashlight, assemble, and defeat the Grog by shining the light on them.  In other words, more running around :))  Sleeping hard.  Breakfast.  Games.  Fourth lesson:  building up others so they know how much they are worth to God.  Nine-square.  Home.

It was a full weekend, to say the least.  I loved being able to spend quality time with this group–laughing, playing, encouraging.  Retreats always remind me what a cool job I have, and what an awesome opportunity I have to be part of the lives of these youth.

They also remind me that I am getting older, and my body can’t endure as much as it once could.  Here’s to hobbling around like an old woman for a few days. 😉