Friday, June 17, 2011

Miss Misery

Okay, Okay... So maybe you all are sick of hearing about how much I miss everyone from Ionian Village. But, if you let me explain myself (or if my previous post wasn't proof enough), you would see that there are some perfectly validated reasons as to why I would lie down in traffic to get to go back tomorrow.

Reason #1. I miss sitting around and talking for 3+ hours for every meal. People just don't do that here.

2. I miss having Konstantine order our meals for us. Now when sitting at a restaurant, I am overcome with a sense of dread from my impending decision making.

3. I miss the dry heat. Oklahoma really sucks in the summer/always. Humidity is the bane of my existence.

4. I miss the tour bus. I slept so hard on that thing, it was like mobile Ambien. I'm like a case-study for insomnia now that I'm home. I also miss the parties in the back of that bus.

5. I miss counting the times a day in which John would find an excuse to take his shirt off.


6. I miss walking into a Church and literally not being able to speak. I couldn't describe the things I saw if I tried.

7. I miss laughing all day 'til my cheeks hurt. Every other thing out of everyone's mouths was hilarious.

8. I miss imagining what kinds of adventures the twins were getting themselves into.

9.  I miss the sea. The closest I get to the sea here is when I fill my sink with water to wash my face.

10. I miss Father Chris' Greek language lessons... Particularly his lesson on ordering water finding a life partner.

11. I miss the bartenders loving me. I forgot how expensive the bars here are.... Especially when you don't get 4 rounds of shots or 3 bottles of wine on the house.

12. I miss Helen's impromptu dance lessons and Sophia's turtle stories. Both are equally entertaining.

 *Note: No photograph could do either of these things justice.

13. I miss the whitewashed campgrounds. Everything was so simple and so quintessentially Greek.

14. I miss seeing something that impacted my faith every single day whether it be a relic, an icon, a Holy Mountain, or even just a chat in the woods.

15. I miss everyone. The 17 best friends that anyone ever had.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ionian Village: A Real Spiritual Odyssey

One of my favorite songs is called Re: Stacks by Bon Iver. The song begins with Justin Vernon singing that...

"This is my excavation and today is Qumran
Everything that happens is from now on"

I don't think I really had any clue what was meant by this until I went to Greece with Ionian Village. Qumran was the city in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It was a discovery that forever changed Christianity and validated it's relevance to many people. Just like the lyrics suggest, Spiritual Odyssey was my Qumran and from here on out everything in my life seems so much more substantiated. IV was the catalyst to live my life with greater faith, and with tremendous love.


A few weeks before I left for Greece, I was making arrangements to visit my grandfather in Athens while on my Ionian Village trip. It would be the first time I would see him since my YiaYia passed, and I was anxious to see him for what I felt would probably be the last time. My Papou was diagnosed with cancer shortly after my grandmother herself died last November, and although information was lacking on my end, I knew in my gut that things were not good. Nevertheless, I packed my bags and set off to NYC with Kate. We were scheduled to meet everyone and leave for Greece the next day, and I couldn't have been more excited. My dear friend Paul from my Real Break trip was kind enough to entertain Kate and me, and I was absolutely over the moon to see him. The evening was great, but when I returned to my hotel I received a call from my mother- My Papou had died earlier that day... and I had just missed my last chance to say goodbye.

Honestly, I was ,and am, completely heartbroken. My YiaYia and Papou meant the world to me, and it was because of them that I know Greek, and spent my summers in the most magical way you could ever imagine. I can't fathom what my life would have been like without their love and guidance. Losing my Papou so close to the death of my grandmother was a little more than I could handle at that given moment. So, in true 'Jenny' fashion, I sucked it up and acted as if all was well in my world. I wouldn't shy away from the subject, but I wasn't about to be emotional about it by any capacity on the trip. I can't say it was the easiest thing I've ever done.

Regardless, the next day I met everyone at the airport. (I guess I should say everyone but Fr. Jason, who's mother fell asleep in Lord a few days prior. My heart went out to him completely, and although I wished he could have been with us, I prayed that he and his family were able to find comfort in her passing.) After waiting in the airport for what seemed like forever, everyone finally arrived at JFK. We all seemed to hit it off really well, and half a day later, we were in Greece!

I guess it's not very often that you meet people that you will not only never forget, but will keep in your life forever. I have been blessed enough to meet two such groups of people in a matter of a few months. Real Break offered me an experience that will forever influence me, and Spiritual Odyssey offered another experience that solidified everything that I had learned in Constantinople. Better yet, at every stop on our itinerary, I pictured how elated my grandparents would have been to see me learn so much about my heritage and faith. I think if they could have met the 16 people that became my family, they would have been the happiest people in the world. When we were dancing in the streets of Thessaloniki, I could picture my Papou whistling and trying his best to get everyone to Greek dance with him. He would have been absolutely beaming. And when we visited the Monasteries of Meteora, I imagined my YiaYia singing a little tune about a bird high in the sky. I loved the sound of her voice! They were with us on every step of that trip, and for that I thank God.

As much as I wish I could have seen my Papou one last time, played one last card game, chatted on the veranda on last time, I know that for everything there is a plan. When Fr. Chris prayed a memorial service for my grandfather during our Sunday Liturgy, I definitely got a little emotional. In reality, I wasn't crying because I was sad. I was crying because I was so touched and truly, truly honored to be surrounded by the people I traveled with, and have them offer their prayers for my Papou. In retrospect, I think God wanted me to remember him at his finest; dressed in his daily suit, with a gold pen in his pocket, and a gladsome bit of rosiness on his round cheeks- The same cheeks he gave to me. I think this is why things worked out the way they did. I have to believe that.

What I really have to Thank God for isn't for the things I saw, or the places I went... What I have to thank God for is the people he has brought into my life. I can hardly think of a moment in which I wasn't laughing hysterically in Greece. We were such a mismatch group; the New Yorkers, the Southern Belle, the Cali girl, the Midwestern PK, the tanned Floridians, the Ninja, the small town and big city New Englanders, and of course.... the Okie best friends. I don't know how we became such fast friends, (let alone understand each other half the time on account of our dialects) but we certainly did. I never once felt at a loss for something to talk about, and when things were silent, it was often in reverence of something that I will probably never get to see again. Everything was so effortless between us all. I also have to extend my most sincere appreciation for the kind way that everyone treated my parents in Athens. I hate to speak for them, but I think they were relieved to see that I was enjoying myself with such an amazing group despite the recent circumstances. I'm so glad that they had the honor of meeting everyone.

When I think about it, one of my favorite things about my faith is the emphasis it places on relationships in the Church. I was always taught that the closer we become to one another, the closer we become to God, so it's my fervent prayer that we continue to stay in touch and can meet again very soon. I love you all and thank you for the most unforgettable trip. It meant, and still means the world to me. It will always mean the world to me.

Again, I leave you with the verse that I shared on our last morning in glorious Greece...
Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Real Break Constantinople- 2011

Here I am, sitting in my room staring at my computer screen, and regretting having not kept up with this blog more prudently. It's so much harder trying to find the words you want to say when there are so many of them backed up in your mind.... As most of you know, I recently returned from a mission trip to Constantinople. It was more than I ever hoped it could be, so forgive me while I struggle to give you a glimpse at what I have just experienced...

I think, for the most part, what we want most want in this life, is to find a little bit of the happiness we all so desperately seek. I also think that when we do taste just a tiny morsel of that happiness, we often don't know it before it's too late, and all we have are memories to sustain us until our next little opportunity. That, in a nutshell, is life.

Two things have occurred to me since I have returned home from Turkey. The first being that I have never been so acutely aware of how easy it can be to find happiness. We try so hard to make ourselves cognizant of joy, but it is a true blessing when it can come unexpectedly and effortlessly. This past week, I found myself laughing until I cried, and crying until laughter was the only sane response I could think of. There was nothing exhaustive about the process.

The second thing I came to realize was the notion that everything that I experienced in Turkey was magnified through the experiences of the people that I was traveling with. What I mean by that is that we are never monogamous in our experiences. When you feel emotion within a group as tightly knit as mine, the feeling is amplified and reverberates throughout one another with such clarity, that all you can do is enjoy that moment in time that much more.... I owe so much to the 15 amazing individuals that I came to know and love over the 10 days in that foreign land. I am not the same person that I was 2 weeks ago, and I'm not really sure if I can ever explain exactly why.

I can't ever be sure, but I suppose what made us so close was the fact that even though everything was so new to us, we could still fall back on our commonalities in regards to our faith and morals. We were able to forgive ourselves of our selfishness, guile, and insecurities because the only thing that mattered in that group was being with one another. In a way, we became a family not because we had to, but because we were already a family within Christ. We were family before we even knew each other.

Our group was led by Fr. Mark Leondis, and all I can say in regards to his mentorship, is that I will never forget the things he taught me. I truly hope that I can make him proud one day because he is an extraordinary person with a heart of pure gold.

With Fr. Mark's guidance, we saw things that I'm nearly certain that I will never get to see again, but the truth is, once is enough if it means that the friendships I made will last a lifetime. While visiting the Holy site of Vlacherna, where the Akathist hymn was first sung, I remember feeling a particularity stirring emotion that is hard to describe. I guess I was just fiercely proud to be singing this ancient hymn to the Theotokos with young adults who have proved to be champion leaders of The Faith, themselves. I have never been so proud to say that I was a member of 15 souls that did seemingly little to change the world, but everything to change our worlds. 

Having said all that, I still wonder if I can ever really find the words to thank everyone for the trip of a lifetime. If I have then Amen, but if I haven't then I leave you with a quote from The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis....

"What are we born for?" "For infinite happiness," said the Spirit. "You can step out into it at any moment..."

So my dear friends, here's to stepping out and finding our infinite happiness through Christ with each other again very soon. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snow Daze

Hey you guys, have you heard the news!? I mean, I'm sure no has mentioned the fact that my hometown got over a foot of snow dumped on it in less than 20 hours. I'm sure you haven't heard anyone call the blizzard of 2011 the Snowpocalypse or Snowmageddon.  I'm sure you haven't noticed the lack of salt, sand, and snowplows.... seeing as how this is Oklahoma. I'm sure you haven't noticed that the whole state has been out of commission for almost a week. And I'm sure you are not aware of any of this BECAUSE NOT A SINGLE FRIGGIN' PERSON IN THE WHOLE CITY HAS LEFT THEIR HOUSES IN 5 DAYS.... 

Now, please, don't get me wrong, I like love the snow more than anything else in the world. It's so whimsical, peaceful, and simply pretty, but my spirit is officially breaking. Nope.... wait for it.... it just broke. I can't take this anymore.

Let me tell you how the past snow-week has played out.

Day 1: My dad got his car stuck on the off ramp of the highway on his way home from work. A man driving a monster truck in cowboy boots and a fur lined stetson hat was kind enough to give my dad a ride. All in all, entertaining myself is a breeze this first day. Between watching the weather, movies, and staring at the winter wonderland being created before my eyes, life is dandy. Besides, I know my classes will be canceled for the week. I am in heaven.

Only a few hours into the storm, and my driveway has gone missing.
Day 2: Today is Groundhog's Day. I'm pretty sure Punxsatawney Phil never got a chance to see his shadow because the damn thing froze to death. The world is turning into Narnia.  Boredom has set in. I shovel my 2 car driveway complete with 5 foot snow drifts. My shoulders aim to make me miserable for the rest of the week. I pick up my dad's car from its resting place on the side of the street. The roads have yet to be touched by snowplows, and I realize I am not leaving the house again for a while when my friend tells me her neighbors snowplow got stuck in her driveway. My dog, however, is over the friggin' moon. I have never seen a creature love snow so much in my entire life. I still have hope.

Day 3: My plans to pick up a friend and share my misery have been dashed when I realize that the roads are only getting more and more awful. I have watched every movie I own. I start rummaging the house for tequila. No such luck. At least I have Grey's Anatomy and Community to look forward to.

Day 4: I have read every book that I own. I nap and dream of the day when I get to see humans again. When I wake up, I venture out to take my dog to her chemo appointment. The roads are still beyond miserable. It's the shits outside, and it looks like a zombie apocalypse. Cars are strewn into ditches every 15 feet. People are ambling through the snow drifts to get to the nearest corner store. We finally get to the vet's office and my dog hates her life. When we leave, it begins to snow again and I hate my life. It takes an hour to drive less than 6 miles.
More Snow
Day 5: The sun comes out to play!!!! I actually write my lesson plans for the next 2 weeks just to keep occupied. I look outside to see the snow turn to slush only to realize that it will refreeze tonight and stay frozen until Thursday. The lump in my throat has turned to sheer lunacy. My dog doesn't understand what is happening. I consider putting on a full production of Good Will Hunting with her because I must have watched it 20 times this week. I would be Matt Damon and she would obviously be Robin Williams.... She is plenty furry enough for the role.
Chloe finds solace in her hedgehog.
Also, more snow tomorrow, Monday, and up to another half a foot on Wednesday. I blink back tears, and swallow my pride because who doesn't love a little snow after all?