In May I was gearing up for a pretty bleak summer filled with no planned trips and two summer classes – I was pretty mopey (shall I say, even whiney) about it because all I could envision were days full of monotony and evenings full of homework. Some how I miraculously had a change of heart and decided to grasp whatever was given to me and make the most of what came my way. I set aside my usual agendas and challenged myself to have a free-spirited attitude. Due to my newly acquired perspective, the past three months have been an unexpected blessing and in some ways life altering.
Through the generosity of our friends, my family and I were able to take a handful of short weekend trips and experience a whole new side to Nebraska. First, we traveled up to Orchard. You guys – this place is really in the middle of nowhere, but oh my goodness – the beauty! I’ve lived in Nebraska most of my life but have experienced little off the I-80 path so I was amazed at the scenery (I know… I need to get out more). While we were there I was able to spread my wings a bit and attempt things I have never had the opportunity to do before: I rode a four-wheeler for the first time (exhilarating!), I drove a four-wheeler for the first time (right into a tree… don’t worry, I was going really slow), shot a gun for the first time (I am woman hear me ROAR), and walked barefoot through a creek that could have came straight out of a fairy tale. My daughter also experienced something quite rare: she was able to run wild and free – she may or may not have gotten mud-soaked by falling into the creek…. I’m sure she’ll laugh about it when she’s older.
Later in the summer, some other friends graciously opened their arms and doors to us at their house by the Calamus Reservoir, which is yet another gorgeous piece of Nebraska I had never seen. They treated us to two consecutive weekends of pure bliss on the lake. People, let’s be real – I think I was born in the wrong state. I could have been a beach bum – living with sand in my hair, a constant sunburn, and water-wrinkled toes. Hours were spent floating on the lake during those two weekends and it soothed my soul. Sometimes all you need is some fresh air, a body of water, and no schedule to clear your brain and calm your heart. I relished the time I had to simply just sit and watch my daughter frolic in the water and dig in the sand. Of course, I also took this opportunity to attempt water skiing for the first time. Naturally, I had to try it several times and I am still determined to eventually glide across the water.
Most recently, I had the privilege of taking a four day trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. This is an annual voluntary immersion experience trip that students in my program have the opportunity of taking to broaden their cultural awareness and understanding. During this trip we were not tourists, but participants who were encouraged to have an open heart and mind as many of the things we saw and did are outside the norm for our mainstream society. We were welcomed to experience an Inipi ceremony (sweat lodge) and a Sun Dance during our stay. We were also able to visit several important historical sites (such as the mass gravesite for the massacre at Wounded Knee ) as well as hike to an area known as the sanctuary in the Badlands National Park. While this trip was over two weeks ago, I am still having difficulty putting into words the impact it has had on me. Many of the things we had the opportunity of immersing ourselves into were extremely meaningful and spiritual. Over the course of those four days I constantly had these words circling through my head: powerful, intense, beautiful. Not only did the experiences and scenery leave me speechless at times (amazing, I know), but I met and connected with some amazing people and was able to establish what I know will be long-lasting genuine friendships in just a matter of days.
I know some of my summer experiences may not seem earth shattering, but they had a profound impact on my outlook on life. I recently watched The Way in which the main character’s son tells him, “You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.” I have been thinking about that quote for weeks now because it so accurately describes how this summer has altered how I view my life. I want life to be something I get to boisterously jump into. Life is for living, for experiencing, for challenging, for growing. It is a gift and we need to suck every beautiful moment out of it. Interestingly, as I allowed myself to really immerse myself in this thinking, I was able to clear my head of all my junk and I found such peace – it was profoundly freeing. The more I let my agendas fall to the wayside and stopped my self-focused thinking, the more aware I was of the immense beauty that God has placed around me and I felt His presence more than I ever have. Interesting what happens when we live in the moment, instead of outside of it.
I’m still ruminating on these summer experiences but I do know that I have come away from the past few months knowing I want to have an adventurous spirit. I want to continue to throw myself into unexpected and life-changing experiences. I don’t exactly know what this will look like during this stage in my life but I do know that I don’t want to ever be done challenging myself or trying new things – we’ve got one chance at this life and I’m determined to make the most out of it.
So, what about you? What new experiences and challenges have you been throwing yourself in to?