Roseburg Reflection

IMG_4228Roseburg is a small town in southern Oregon. My heart unexpectedly found this town through my service with AmeriCorps. While driving down I5 and into town, you can see picturesque building-less land in all directions. You see a vibrant blue sky, green hills, mountains, and trees, plenty of tall evergreen trees. A vision of never-ending greens and blues. A vision of pure beauty.

The town sits on the Umpqua River where the water is a colorful mosaic of every shade of blue. The area is peaceful and the land is serene. It is a place that was essentially my home for two years. It is the place where I grew up into the person I am today. It was in Roseburg where I learned about the human need for silence and alone time and the need to escape into a land of stillness. It was where I learned to truly appreciate the beauty in nature and in the world around me. It was while I lived in Roseburg that I fell in love with the small town feel. The small town community.

Last week I was in complete shock when I turned on the TV to see Roseburg on all of the national news channels. A mass shooting in Roseburg? That just cannot be. My second home was plastered on the screen. Literally my front yard, Umpqua Community College’s campus, and the house that I lived in, were on the screen right before my eyes. The community that I had called home, a small town not known by many, on TV revealed to the world because of the horrific tragedy that had occurred.

I watched the events of this tragedy unfold from my screen 3,000 miles away. My heart ached for Roseburg. It was broken for those who had lost their life, for the families of those who had lost loved ones, for those who had been injured, and for the community at large. I wished that I could have been there to help out, to comfort those in need, and to show my support at community events. I wanted to be a part of the healing process of this community that I hold so near and dear to my heart.

IMG_0558Roseburg and other small towns in the region are separated by miles of open land and peacefulness. When I went into town, I would certainly see at least one person that I knew. If I were to say that I was going to go to the grocery store in Roseburg it would be assumed that I would be going to one of three buildings with Sherms Thunderbird being at the top of the list. I would frequent the same check-out line in order to see my favorite cashier. If I wanted to go to a concert in the park during the warm dry summer you would know that I was going to go to Stewart Park, no questions asked. This is the simple life of the small town.

Something about the vast, rolling, beautiful landscape made every day life in Roseburg peaceful, slow paced, and meaningful. It made it easy to appreciate life and the life that was around me.

Sometimes things can seem so distant, so far away until it happens in your own town. We have become so use to these acts of violence that at times, they no longer affect us if we are not immediately impacted by them. You never know when a tragedy like what happened in Roseburg will happen in your area. You never know when your peaceful world will be rocked.

When a heartfelt connection is built through connecting with your community, purpose and belonging will be found. Become an active member of your town. Appreciate your community and do not ever take it for granted.


Follow your heart’s true joy-fulfilling passion

You may or may not have known, but I spent the past year serving with AmeriCorps at a Boys & Girls Club. Above all else, this experience has taught me about true fulfilling joy.


In sum what I have discovered is that true joy is not found through anything that you receive. You find true joy through what you give. It is found in celebrating the successes of others and in feeling a fulfillment you only experience when you embrace someone else’s reason to smile.

I have discovered a type of love that I have termed need-love. It is a love that can be directly connected with joy. When someone counts on you and you are willing to protect them and support them with all that you have. When a child loses a friend or family member, is struggling with who they are, struggling with their home life, there is nothing that makes you feel more needed or more internally fulfilled than the feeling of someone turning to you when they do not have that support elsewhere. One of the most fulfilling experiences of joy is through helping someone in their time of need return a smile back to their beautiful face.

This need love is not a one-way street. Although you may be fulfilling the needs of someone else, whether you know it or not, they are somehow filling a need that you may or may not know you had. You do not go about looking for these people. They just come, impact your life and you wonder what you ever could have done without them entering in. Soon you find yourself wanting to be there for them, which then brings you back to joy.

Deep, deep down inside of every heart is a hole– a hole that we all too often try to fill with materialistic things of this world. This year I had thought that I felt a distancing from God, but really I had just stopped looking for Him. While I was not pursuing Him, He was still pursuing me. What filled the hole for me was this deep feeling of joy that now when looking back on it, I know only came from the Lord and using the passion I had been given. He was with me from the start and this joy that I found was evidence that He lives inside of me and was working on me even when I could not see it. Now that I am back in Pennsylvania, I can see that I was connected to my faith all along. Maybe I just needed to leave Oregon so that my foggy vision could be made clear.

Everyone has been given a gift or a passion that can be used to help others. Everyone. God would not give us a true good-hearted passion that he would not want us to use.

Do you wake up in the morning and cannot wait to begin your day? Are you doing what you truly love and what you are most passionate about? Is your heart filled with this joy, with this feeling of completeness? Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did what they were passionate about everyday.

I have been asked a countless number of times since returning to PA, “What’s next?” When sharing a few potential ideas about my future I have been told, “That is a great step up from what you were doing” and that I will “keep working my way up”. Instead of looking at what the next step is, look at the now and analyze what gives you joy. We all too often like to plan our lives out with the overly used 5-year plan. By using this 5-year plan you may be missing out on your true joy and passion that is trying to reveal itself to you in the meantime.

I think of the path that I am to take with my degree. Sure, I could go down that road which would give me more money than some of my other avenues. But what is money when my joy lies elsewhere? At the end of my life am I going to wish that I settled into this mold that we call life or am I going to wish that I explored every path and avenue?

I will not be confined by what reality appears to be but only be the passion that is in my heart. When your heart sets your soul’s passion on fire, YOU are unstoppable.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love.” – Maya Angelou

When you follow your heart’s passion, the joy that you feel will be contagious.


“Bucket of Yellow”, aka “The Bucket of Happy”, aka “The Happy Bucket”

IMG_1580About halfway through the school year at the Boys & Girls Club I put a blue bucket in my room at the club. I called it the “Happy Bucket.” The idea was based off of a journal that I started a year and a half ago that contains things that make me happy, smile, laugh, or feel blessed. My book currently contains 980 items and I am getting quite excited for the happy dance that I will have when I reach 1,000. Some things are small and rather insignificant, while other items made a huge impact on my life. Items range from Here Comes the Sun Pandora, leftover board meeting food, and Frostys in Coos Bay to seaweed, sunshine in Eugene and the Barko’s Bible study.

My final year in college my Nana gave me a book entitled, 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. The book is essentially a list of things that make the author happy. After reading through a few of her items that made my roommates and I giggle, we decided to each start a book of our own.

In my room at the Boys & Girls Club sat this blue bucket filled with yellow slips of happy phrases. The directions were simple:

What makes you happy?

1. Take a slip of paper.

2. Write down something that made you happy today.

3. Put it in the bucket.

Let’s see how much happiness we can fill the bucket with.

The first day that I put the blue bucket out, it was one of my activities for the day. As members would enter my room I would direct them to this bucket. Eventually, this bucket was placed on my side counter next to my Member of the Month Bulletin Board, member’s artwork, the Bored Jar, and popular books that members would enjoy.

Sometimes I would gather a few members to walk around the Club with the bucket and ask other members to put some yellow in the bucket. It made me so happy to see these kids encouraging their peers to think about things that make them happy. For most of the year though, the bucket of happy would sit on the side counter and be visited daily by its usual visitors.

There were many members who would frequently stick a yellow slip into the bucket. Occasionally I would check out the new level of yellow and a smile would be brought to my face. How can your day not be made when you look at childrens’ happiness of bacon, God, video games, staff Katie, candy, or sunshine? How can your heart not be filled with joy after seeing what brings other’s joy?

Out of all of the members who slipped some happy into the bucket, there were two teen girls that I will never forget. Every day, and I mean every day, these two girls would giddily gallop into my room with huge smiles, take a slip of paper, and record their happy moment for the day. Sometimes when these girls would arrive, my room would not yet be opened. Many times I would be in the Games Room when they got to the Club, which was right outside of my door. I would usually wait in the Games Room until more members arrived before opening up my room for the rest of the day.

When I was not open, these girls would run up to me, yelling my name, and tell me that I HAD to open my room. They had something that they MUST add to the bucket. I would open my room just for them to go in and add their happy. Skipping to the bucket, they would put in their happy, thank me, and skip right back out of the room. One day was especially memorable as they brought a new friend who proceeded to sing and dance to the song Happy while his friends made their daily deposit.

Before leaving the Boys & Girls Club and returning back to Pennsylvania last week after my AmeriCorps service year ended, I gave each of these two girls a Happy Book of their own so that they could continue to record these memories and so they could look back on these items when they needed a boost or when they needed to be reminded of a happy time. I wrote each girl a note and ended with the following quote:

            Take your time.

            Take chances.

            Believe in possibility.

            Do something creative every day.

            Do what makes your heart sing.

            Inspire others.

            Inspire yourself.

On the very last day that I was at the Club, I asked one of the girls how her Happy Book was going. She told me that she had written something every day since she received the book three weeks before and that she even has her sister now writing in a Happy Book. I truly could not have been happier. As my Uncle Tim had once shared with me, “Joy is something deeper than happiness and is found in helping others.” This quote has taken on a whole new meaning in my life after spending a year at the Boys & Girls Club of the Umpqua Valley. Seeing a member laugh or smile is what made me truly love the opportunity that I was fortunate to have for the last year.

 Spread the Happy.

Pressing On

10523312_10152576702109859_3780536739924629184_nAn adventure awaited me on a path that was not yet paved. A long dirt path with hills, sharp turns, rocky terrain, and mountains was covered by trees waiting for my first footprints to be made in its surface. I knew that the path was long and that the terrain would constantly be changing along the way.

The stretches of flat dirt path were easy to take on. I knew where I was going and I stepped forward in confidence. In confidence that I could take on the journey and terrain ahead. I had my faith, was happy, and knew that this journey was going to be great. Although everything was going well I knew that there was something that I was looking for, so I continued pressing on.

Then there were stretches of path that were rocky. These parts took some effort to make sure that the ground that I was standing on was stable. I had to balance and I had to focus. Although there were rocks in my path at times, I still pressed on even though there was some resistance. But I knew that there was something that I was looking for, so I pressed on.

As I continued down the road I discovered that I began to climb a mountain. There were times on this mountain that I felt defeated, where I lost the faith and where I felt alone. But I knew that there was something that I was looking for, so I pressed on.

Although I knew something was lost, I did not know what it was. I did not know where to look or which way to turn. But I knew that there was something that I was looking for, so I pressed on.

I can see the end of this dirt path up ahead. This road has taken me to some beautiful places both on the outside and on the inside.

I have spoken up. I have stated what I believe. I have been honest with myself and with others.

I have gained new life perspectives, knowledge, and friendships.

I knew this whole time that there was something that I was looking for, so I continued pressing on. At the end of this dirt path I can see what it was that was lost. That something is now found.

And that something that I found, is me.

Get out of the Comfortable

When I graduated college in May of 2013, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I did know that I did not want to do much related to the degree that I graduated with. Growing up in the same home in the same town and going to college within a short IMG_0558distance from home gave me the itch to go somewhere new and see something different. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Although I had this itch, and even though I applied for a few AmeriCorps programs in Oregon, North Carolina, and Maryland, I never actually thought that I would go. I did not think that I was strong enough to take on such an adventure. I entertained the thoughts in the back of my head but felt protected in my bubble. In my comfort zone.

I chose to search out the AmeriCorps options as I have always enjoyed the experience of volunteering. My heart has always been for children and having the opportunity to give my time for a year to volunteer at a non-profit organization that supported and encouraged them sounded like a great way to spend a year.

When my summer was coming to a close and I was still at a loss for what my upcoming year would hold, I received a series of phone calls concerning potential positions–  two of which lead me nowhere, while the other call left me surprised as I was almost sure that I never finished filling out the application.

I had 3 days from the phone call to decide whether or not to go to Oregon two weeks later. While re-organizing some boxes from college I discovered the book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. I had purchased the book after team devotionals at the beginning of my last year in college but never got around to reading it. This was the perfect time to read it. Reading this book was one of those times when you feel that God is speaking directly to you. I recommend it to anyone and everyone. For me, it gave me a HUGE encouraging push to get out of the boat, out of the comfortable.

The only thing that would stop me from leaving home was fear. And it was because of this fear that I ultimately left. I would not let fear steal my dreams. I knew that God had a plan and would not bring me across the country for nothing.

With great struggle comes growth.
When fear is present, your dreams are dead.
While courage is needed to make the choice,
You know deep down where it is that you are called to go.
For when the Lord calls on you, you will know.
You will feel as though you have no choice but to obey,
To listen to the Lord.
It is a feeling.
A feeling that once you have, you know.
For true faith does not always seem clear in your head.
But when God tugs on your heart you will know.
And you will know exactly where it is that you are to be.

When I arrived in Oregon and was reunited with my car that had kindly been driven acrossIMG_0694 the country for me, I found a CD in the CD player that had been forgotten. The CD was The Shelter, by Jars of Clay. I played this CD from Newberg, Oregon to my new home in Roseburg. The CD remained in my player for the next 3 months straight and I listened to it practically every time I got in the car. It soon became what I have termed my Oregon Soundtrack. During my time here, it has given me much encouragement as the words always seem to speak at the right time. As I’ve said before, thank you for forgetting.

Pulling into Roseburg on that first day, I still remember thinking that I was not strong enough to make it through the year. While I knew that I was where I was suppose to be for this time of my life, my mind was still preventing me from fully trusting in God. Pulling into town that first day, these were the words that I heard on the CD. They have stuck with me ever since.

Set us free
Trust the mystery
Until our eyes are clear enough to see you
Where you lead us
We will follow
Where you lead us
We will follow
Open up our hearts and reach inside
Open up our hearts and reach inside (We Will Follow, Jars of Clay)

No journey is easy. Every journey has its ups and downs. It has times of success and times of struggle. It is in those times of struggle and change that you truly find yourself. Those times that you step out of the comfortable and into the unknown. You find out what you believe, what you stand for, and what you are living for.

1470101_10200921604870144_2006303707_nI knew from the start of my journey that I wanted to put this year aside to think about my life and think about the direction in which I wanted to take it and I could not be happier with what all God has shown me or lead me to discover. From the start of my journey I was shown true genuine love as I was taken in by the most loving family when I had nowhere to live. They did not know me; they did not ask questions. It was not an option to them– I did not have a home and they were going to take care of me for however long it took. I was fed, invited to family functions, and I felt like I was apart of the family. I am very grateful for the time that I spent with them and have been blessed by this genuine care and love that they have shown me.

AmeriCorps in Roseburg was the best decision that I could have made for this year. I have finally gotten out of the comfortable. I have learned to speak my mind and express what I believe is true. I have discovered why it is so important to be honest with yourself and to speak how you feel. I have discovered a confidence in the words I speak. I have learned that each person is a product of their environment and past experiences. I have learned that each person has their own story and that each person deserves your undivided attention. I have found peace in frequent journaling and relaxation in alone time. I have discovered a new appreciation for the sun and the light that it brings to the Earth.

I have personally experienced the fullfillness that a card of appreciation or thanks can bring. I have pondered my impact in this town but have been constantly reminded of the impact that this town has made on me. I witnessed how a simple compliment can make a day and how simply showing an interest in someone can turn their day around. I have seen love all around- from many, many hugs and excitement from the sound of your name, to seeing friend’s interactions with fiancés, to a hug from a stranger at church when you find yourself crying tears of confusion and sadness. Most of all I have been reminded that your life and your time on Earth is a precious gift. I have learned that in order to truly live, your body and your mind must be in the same place.

My journey is not yet over. I still have a few months until the end of my journey as an AmeriCorps member in Roseburg, Oregon. The end of this year’s journey will only mark the start of my next journey to come and the next boat for me to step out of.

I have learned this year that I am stronger than I think. 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”- 2 Corinthians 12:9

Do not let fear steal your dreams.