Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Seven years later, I remember

I remember the glittering snow that frigid April morning in Blacksburg.  I remember that half of my Ag. Econ class was missing. I remember the deaf girl delivering the news to us that there had been a shooting in the dorm; it always hit me as odd that the most informed person in the class of 200 couldn't hear. I remember seeing an ambulance rush past as I left class. I remember the fear that spread through the seventh floor of Slusher Hall when we heard there might be more shooters hiding in the dormitories. I remember eating ramen with my roommate, Liz. I remember the numbness and the news. We stayed in the dorm all day. I remember watching from across the drillfield as they carried the bodies out to the ambulances. I remember seeing the same things again on the television. I remember when the lockdown ended. I remember that the doors never unlocked again on campus. I remember going to the BCM that night. I remember wanting to be hugged. I remember Sarah running from person to person asking if anyone had heard from Brian. I remember the camera men who allowed her no space to grieve when she finally broke down. I hated them--the media.

I remember waking up the next morning to the list of names being read. The television was so loud beneath my loft bed. I remember locking myself in the bathroom stall to cry.  I remember standing in line to hear President Bush speak. As I left, I remember feeling lost in the swarm of broken Hokies. I remember Jamie finding me in the crowd to ask if I was okay--it was like I was drowning and someone had tossed me a life raft while I was pretending I knew how to swim.

I remember not wanting to leave campus. There was no need for words on campus; everyone already knew. On Wednesday, I remember Trip and Ashley driving our bible study out to the middle of a corn field to just be--it was so peaceful there. Out under the stars, I remember breathing. I remember the candle light vigil on Thursday. No one knew what to do. We gathered there with our black ribbons and flickering candles, but we didn't know why we were there. We just knew we needed to be together. I remember them singing Amazing Grace. We were so lost that night, but we wanted desperately to be found. I remember as the cheer broke out. "Let's go!" Then on the other side of the drillfield, "Hokies!" It continued on for a few minutes. I still can't hear that cheer without choking up just a bit. I remember a rescue vehicle rushing around the field with its lights and siren blasting.  I remember my whole body freezing--sirens, was it happening again? I remember wanting to be hugged.

I remember going back to classes. I remember an English professor as he openly cried in class, asking us if we were okay. I remember Dr. Ellerbrock, my Ag. Econ professor, blessing our entire class with holy water. I remember him telling us, "In my church we bless that which is precious to us. You are precious to me. May I bless you?" All 200 of us stood there in silence as he walked the auditorium. This sacred water--and his blessings--hit our faces and mingled with our tears.

I remember the summer that followed. I remember praying, and I remember God. I remember God stirring a desperation for revival on campus--we needed to be revived. Our hearts needed resurrection. I knew God had a plan to work this terrible evil for good. I came back in the fall with a passion for loving and knowing people. I didn't want to miss knowing anyone.

I remember the one year anniversary. Again we gathered on the drillfield, but this time we did it to celebrate the lives lived and the lives we are living. The drillfield was full of students grateful to be alive and together.

I remember talking with my sister as I began to forgive the media for intruding on such a fragile moment.

I remember going inside of Norris a few years later. I got a migraine almost instantly. I remember the tightness in my throat as I held back tears. I barely breathed. I remember being on edge the whole time.

I remember going to pray on campus with the Dwelling Place interns. We separated into groups and started off.  It was me and several guys. We walked and prayed. Eventually we stopped outside of Norris Hall to pray. The flashbacks started. I could see the bodies being carried out of the building. I wanted to be hugged. I kept praying. Then I felt unsafe, like at any moment someone was going to turn the corner to attack us. We moved on to the memorial. As we stopped to pray again a rescue vehicle rushed around the field with its lights and siren blasting. I lost it. I remember my intern brothers surrounding me like a tight, protective shield. As I wept (rather loudly), they prayed. It was like Jesus himself had come down to the drillfield; I finally felt safe.  We gathered with the rest of the group. The prayer continued. One of the intern leaders prayed for the flashbacks to stop happening. I haven't had I flashback since. It's nice to not have to remember now.

Seven years later, I still honor the lives of those who we lost. I pray for their families and friends. I'm thankful for the professors and administrators who loved us so much. I'm thankful for my "Hokie Hug"--a blanket sent by a church... somewhere. They made maroon and orange fleece knot-blankets and asked their children to hug them for us. I'm thankful for prayers and hugs. I'm thankful for the many people at Virginia Tech who changed my life. I remember the Hokies spread all around the world who still need healing. Seven years later, I remember that God is good and that He who began healing Virginia Tech will be faithful to complete that healing until the end.

Hug a Hokie today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Sept.11 most people remember 9-11, but I remember Melissa

Melissa and I at the Concert for Virginia Tech.

I remember when Melissa Cheliras first came to the Virginia Tech Baptist Collegiate Ministry as a staff member.  She'd been there before; she knew her way around, but I decided to make it my mission to be her welcoming committee anyway.  It was a phenomenal decision... Concerts, fish funerals, fairy stone hunting, and tea time; getting to know Melissa was a blast!

Melissa came the year after the shooting at Virginia Tech.  She came in the midst of us trying to process what had happened to our school.  I remember one night she talked about her friend that died in the 9-11 attacks.  Melissa told us how hard it was each year on September 11.  I decided to make sure Melissa remembered that she was loved every time that date rolled around.  I'm not sure she even realized the pattern, but every September 11 she got a text message.  It usually just said, "I love you."

N.C. roadtrip '08 for a Youth Conference
Melissa passed away in February.   She had been diagnosed with cancer that October.  I hadn't talked to her in months.  I'm pretty sure the last time I saw her was actually on the road.  We were both driving towards D.C. and passed each other on the road.  We freaked and called each other, we hung up with plans to catch up sometime.  I was so excited to see her. 

When she died it caught me by surprise.  I hadn't actually thought it would happen.  None of my friends had ever died before; I hadn't even lost a close family member.  I'd not experienced saying goodbye to someone who actively shaped my life, much less not getting to say goodbye.  When Lindsay told me that Melissa was "home," I thought it meant she'd been released from the hospital.  It took a little while for things to sink in. 
Sometimes Melissa's words terrified me; she had a knack for asking hard questions.  But more often her words brought me much life.  I remember one time... I was in over my head with meetings, school, ministries, friends, work, sorority, and the list goes on.  I had just signed up for a two year discipleship program with my church.  I had just retired from BCM leadership; I was a Bible study leader.  I loved both groups dearly, but was falling apart just trying to stay connected.  We were in the BCM parking lot.  Melissa said something that still brings tears to my eyes.  She said, "Amanda, I release you to be where God has called you to be."  She released me to leave and told me that I would always be family.  I never came back.  (Now, I don't think I staged my exit very well; I practically disappeared overnight.  But at that point I don't think I could have said goodbye properly.  I was too exhausted.) 

I fell apart for a day or two when I heard the news.  I fell apart again on her birthday, May 5.  Hers was the day after mine.  (She and I had a joint birthday party sophomore year--a bonfire by the river with all of our favorite people.)  It got harder this summer.  I drove past her old apartment everyday on the way to or from Richard's house. 

I miss her.  I know that I'll see her again.  I know she is with Jesus.  I know today she isn't sad because she misses her friend.  Today, I know that Melissa knows that she is loved. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Dancers Among Us" (I'm in love..)

Blogging from A to Z Challenge Day 4:  "D" 

So I ran across something on Pinterest a few weeks back... "Dancers Among Us."  It's a photography series by Jordan Matter in which Jordan goes all over the place with his camera and shoots photos of professional dancers doing INSANE dance moves in everyday-life scenarios.  I'm in love.  I'm in awe.  I'm also impatient for the book to finally be published!  It's due to hit book stores in the Fall of this year... I can't wait!  Matter's blog can be found at:  He shares several of the pics on his website too!

I love this because I love dancing and photography... At the point when I first ran across Matter's work, I knew I wanted to play with dancer photographs, but I' never really tried.  Now I have to!  There was a while that I really wanted to photograph dancers in old church sanctuaries, and beautiful outdoor scenes with dancers are sure to be a win as well.  But lately, I've started rolling around a new idea:  dancers in trees.  Jordan Matter has one beautiful picture of a dancer leaning back on a long tree branch with her leg up in an attitude... it's very pretty, but I wanted to take it a step farther.  I want to find a way to photograph dancers dancing in the trees!  I had no idea how to make this happen until my photography date with my boyfriend (yeah, the one where my shoes got dirty).  He boosted me up into a huge oak tree... 
Richard looking at the tree..
When I got up, I found that in the center there was a dirt-covered, perfectly flat place to stand; it's about 1ft x 3ft... It's perfect for a dancer to jump! And the branches are big enough for a photographer to perch on.

A few days later a found another spot; this one is more of a "tree house."  It has 4 or 5 plywood platforms at varying heights—can anyone else see where I'm going with this?? Multiple dancers!  The wood isn't sturdy, so no jumping, but there is still potential for epic posing. 

Now I guess I just need to find some willing dancers!  Good thing most of my friends are ballerinas and swing dancers! 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Blogging from A to Z Challenge Day 3:  "C" 

I'm really tired... so this one might be lame and short.  (You have been warned.)

I have one food that I very decidedly dislike—celery.  Some times I wish I could like celery.. and then I remember what it tastes like, and I'm become content again with the fact that not liking it, means not having to taste it.  It's one of those foods that you really should try to like.  It takes more calories to eat celery than there are calories in celery!   I've tried to like it... with buffalo wings, with veggie wraps, with peanut butter and raisins, in soup, in tuna and chicken salad, but alas, I still don't like it.  Anyone know any ways to make celery taste like something other than celery??  

"My Shoes are Dirty Because I Have a Boyfriend!"

Blogging from A to Z Challenge Day 2:  "B"  (Woops... This one's a day late.)  

"My Shoes are Dirty Because I Have a Boyfriend!"  I said to my friend Brittney.  I had to share the news somehow, and in that moment that seemed like the best way to announce it—saying, "Guess what! I have a boyfriend!" is fun, but I prefer to mix it up.. 

The gent's name is Richard.  On the aforementioned day my shoes really were dirty, and it was partially due to him.  I'm a photography dork and a child at heart, so earlier we wandered to the Virginia Tech Duck Pond to feed the ducks and play with my camera.   He lured them closer to my lens, and I chased them away with my clicking... and then we repeated.  It was good fun; though, I must admit very few of my pictures turned out well... And my absolutely adorable TOMS were smeared with mud.  It was worth it.  Richard won points when he boosted me and my camera up into an EPIC tree and then followed!  He even let me take pictures of him!   If the ability to go on a photo adventure with me was really a test, he definitely passed it.  (For the record: there are no tests or point systems actually being given!)  My shoes are still a mess, and he is still awesome.  

We've been going to the same church for years and never met till this past summer.  My first memory of him was at swing dancing.  Our dear friend Kristen made a habit in my earlier days of dancing to find me partners.  I had just finished dancing with someone and walked up to her to chat.  She grabs my hand, and the next thing I know she's placing it in the hand of some stranger.  He seemed as shocked as I did.  I introduced myself, to which he responded:  "I know, you're on the dance team at my church."  He began to question me about what swing moves I knew.  I told him I didn't know what I knew, but that I just knew I could follow.  His response: "Good, then I just try all of the hard moves, and we'll see what happens."  It was so much fun!  He instantly became one of my favorite dance partners.  

My first day at my new job we had our first "date."   He made me peanut butter, pickle, and mayo sandwiches and brought them to my office. (I swear they are actually really good when made the correct way!!)  We've been hanging out now since the end of January.  I'm kinda-really a fan of this guy!  I'm sure there will be more tales to come.. stay tuned!  (Pictures and all that other cute stuff to come eventually...)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Angry Bird

I apologize to those of you thinking this post would be about the video game, Angry Birds. And I wish I could say this was a funny post about the antics of a grumpy bird..  Alas, today it was me, and not the birds, that was angry.  

History:  I used to rarely get angry.  (I still rarely get angry.)  As a kid I just didn't a knowledge anger as a legitimate emotional responsewhich by the way isn't actually a good thing.  I did not like what I called "negative emotions," meaning any emotions that were associated with bad things. I liked to be happy and preferred to process the negatives of life privately or not at all.  If by some chance I actually did experience anger, I very rarely expressed it.  I used to always hear people say that if you shut up your emotions, eventually they will explode.  I used to always wonder when I would explode... I thought for sure one day I would snap.  

I can still remember one of the first times I got angry and let it out.  I was mad at my friend John (a paramedic) for not letting me walk on a badly sprained ankle.  It was a pride/independence issue... He was right, and I knew it.  But I was mad; I didn't like his solution, which was carrying me everywhere.  He scolded me.  I sat down, steamed, and started spewing.  My friends had never seen me angry before.  They started laughing.  When I realized what was happening, I'm pretty sure I started laughing too... Though I still hate being angry I usually laugh about it afterwards. 

Today:  Today I got angry.  It surprised me... I got angry while I was teaching.  I'm not used to having to disable anger, while being unable to walk away from the situation, while also having to express myself in front of people.  I got angry and all eyes were on me—eyes of kids I love and adore.  The last thing I wanted was to lash out, to communicate anything but love to them.  It was just me and Jesus standing there in front of them, and I'll admit I couldn't really locate Jesus in that moment; I sure hope they could see Him.  I hope He was standing in front of me... 

I was frazzled and frustrated.  It took a long time to diffuse, and the anger oozed into every situation.  I couldn't see my other relationships in love.  I was fearful and agitated.  I couldn't rest.  I couldn't find Jesus.  I came home and started spilling my woes to my awesome roommate and her fiance.  They listened and then sent me to my room to pray.  I got upstairs and knew what needed to be done—it was time to start repenting and forgiving.  I had a little come-to-Jesus meeting on my bed... That being done I felt a lot better, and the day began to look up again.

I can't remember the address, and I'm choosing to be lazy and not look it up, but... I remember reading once about Jesus getting angry with the Pharisees.  His first action was to heal someone in the crowd. I want to walk in such a way that when my authority as a teacher is being challenged I can respond by healing someone in the class.  I want my mouth to be full of grace and mercy and for my discipline to be laced with love and instruction.  I don't want to be angry, but if I am I want my first action to be healing.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Cussing, Cursing, & Four-letter Words: Potty Mouth Ponderings (No potty mouth words were used in the making of this post!)

It all started with a conversation:  A friend and I were chatting about an interaction we had with another friend recently.  The line of conversation went immediately from, "Was he/she cussing?" to, "Is he/she a Christian?" 

I've never been a fan of cussing.  I never really did it.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I could count on one hand the number of times I've ever cussed... One, two, three, four... yep (five, if you count that Shakespeare paper about Hamlet).  One hand, and there are stories to go with each of those.  (Number 1 for instance:  Kindergarten.  I came home from school and taught my Dad the word I learned in the bathroom at school.  My family still laughs about the "chalkboard incident.")  

Several of my Jesus-friends do it—which I don't particualrly like.  Several of my other Jesus-friends use not doing it as a standard/evidence of being Christian—which I don't agree with.   As a whole, the American church frowns upon cussing, cursing, and using four-letter words, but why?  Why do people do it, and why is it bad?  Why do I object to those words?

Often when it comes to language usage, culture is the one setting the standard of what is crude… But there are so many different sub-cultures with all of their own opinions (even within a single church conregation, there are sub-cultures).  (Luckily, I've yet to find a culture that shuns me for limiting my vocabulary.. Am I better safe than sorry?)  Examples: In South Africa, saying “crap” is the cultural equivalent dropping the f-bomb in America; whereas, here it’s synonymous for “poop” or “darn.”  In my house, as a kid, saying “that sucks” was grounds for major punishment (and not because we were complaining).  What makes curse words worse than their less-offensive synonymous counterparts? 

The only rule-like scripture (and I forget it's address) that comes to mind is, “let no foul or unwholesome word come out of your mouth.”   What makes a word rank or unhealthfy If "out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks," is it that which is in our heart what defiles a word?   Are the words an indicator of what fills our hearts, or are our hearts deciding what fills the words? Or both?  If "the power of life and death is in the tongue,"  then what kind of power is found in a potty mouth tongue?  What kind of power is found in the tongue spouting out lesser, culturally-accepted, but still crude words?    

How do I judge and sort out words?  What is the fruit of a word?  How do I determine the spirit and the soul and the flesh behind a word?   The word of God is like a double edged sword discerning between sould and spirit... How do I judge words with words?  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... Words. 

I want words laced with life...

And now for your listening amusement, a song my older brother used to sing to me:  (The singing doesn't happen till about 3min in..)