This. Trip. Any time I think of this trip, I feel so full and warm and fuzzy inside. A little bit of backstory: Every year, my church H2O takes several different spring break trips. We haven’t gone on one in a while, but our good friend Dan, who is on staff with H2O, was planning the Smokies trip, and there were about 30 spots available. We’re already planning a big road trip in May, but I felt drawn to the Smokies anyway. At the interest meeting, he explained that the purpose of the week was to get away from life’s distractions and to be able to go out in nature, pray, read the Bible, and listen to what God wanted to say to us. It sounded like just the thing we needed! There ended up being 36 people, and only 7 of us were graduated adults. That’s 29 college students, people!
To be completely honest (a thing I strive to be), I should also add that I had some low, low expectations for this trip. People would ask me if I was excited and I wouldn’t know how to respond. I felt neutral (intensely excited + strongly nauseated = neutral) but I didn’t know why. Alex and I talked over it a few days beforehand and I realized I’m just really uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. Every spiritual retreat or service trip I had gone to was just uncomfortable, usually in physical ways—sleeping on floors, cramps, both of those things at the same time 💀, social situations, fasting. It was as if church trips were required to be miserable. Why would I look forward to that? I was either doing it wrong, not “good” enough, or I was just a diva. But I just really wanted this trip to have a baseline-of-comfort before I felt like I could focus.
Luckily, that’s precisely what happened. We got to stay in a cabin with the other couple on the trip; the cabin was called Diane’s Den but we affectionately just called her “Diane.” We had our own stash of Bent Tree in the mornings, our own shower and bathroom (baseline-of-comfort necessity! 😉), and a small sunroom in the front for my indoors-loving heart.
The only picture I got of the “smoke” …I think I usually woke up too late 🙃
Our first full day, we had a free day to do what we wanted. Most people went on an 8 mile hike, but seven of us stayed behind at the camp. We got to set up the lodge (where everyone would be staying—it had tons of bunk beds, a common area, a big porch, and a kitchen), I got to organize the pantry(!!), and we just enjoyed the quiet we already needed 😂.. Afterwards, Dan showed us this spot at Little Pigeon River that he had come to last year. A few people put up hammocks, we climbed rocks, and Dan jumped in the freezing cold river. Then it rained and we went home 😊
In the mornings, we would go to the chapel (above), sing worship songs, and Dan would introduce the book we were reading that day—sometimes with an anecdote, but always with his genuine, relatable, funny spin on things. He made God feel so accessible through his talks, which was just so cool. I was so glad all of those students got to see someone other than a pastor up there.
My spot the first reading day (solitude day? I don’t know what to call it) by a small but loud waterfall. I love me some white noise.
This day saw some really cool transformation through my reading time. It started out a bit rough, a bit confused, a bit dramatic (on my end). I was having trouble discerning what were good aspirations, etc. and by the end of the day, God showed me that they are good things, but they are not Him. That it’s okay to seek them, but in order to fulfill my roles well, He needs to be first. I’d heard it before, but I think I needed to wrestle with it and discover it myself to fully understand. And I have to say, almost three weeks later, I still feel peace about it. 🙌🏻
In the evenings, we all hung out and played (watched) volleyball, played games, sat by the campfire, and watched movies.
On our other free day, six of us went to Max Patch, a bald mountain in the Smokies. It was a short, easy hike with 360º views of mountains (and apparently four states!) which is what sold us old folk on it 😂
We stopped about halfway up, just beside where the Appalachian Trail cut through, and had lunch. We said hello to one guy who had already hiked 250 miles, and had 2,000 to go! I felt so lazy, haha.
The top of the mountain! It was so beautiful and quiet up there.
On my last day of reading, I got to learn more about how to live out my roles in ways that will honor God and ultimately bring me closer to Him and who He wants me to be. (s/o to Ephesians 5)
On the last evening, we had BBQ, wrote each other encouraging notes, sung more songs, and told stories about what was said to us that week (above). It was nothing but love, light, life, and praise.
I’ll never forget ya, #HolySmokes. Thanks for giving me life and a renewed love for this crazy amazing church community. ❤️