Midwesterners Under the Eastern Sun

Three years ago one of my friends persuaded a group of us “young adults” to go with her to a Young Adults’ Retreat in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. It was a 12 hour drive for a 2 day conference, but it was definitely worth the drive! We heard excellent preaching and were able to fellowship with other young Christians. In the past couple years we’ve recruited 7 people to go on this trip, but due to the timing this year (not being on Memorial Day), there were only 3 of us. However…since I had purchased my first smartphone a few days previously, I made up for the lack of people with an abundance of documentation. While driving to Chicago on Thursday night, I decided to use Instagram as my platform for doing this. And then Elizabeth and I started brainstorming on a fun hashtag for all the pictures. The theme of this year’s conference was “Life and Death under the Sun” so we finally settled on #midwesternersundertheeasternsun to communicate our journeying from Illinois to Pennsylvania for this conference. I wanted to give semi-live updates to friends and family following our adventures, but I also didn’t want to be one of those annoying people who misses out on the real experience because they’re too busy sharing it on social media. So, I tried to be pretty brief with  my pictures and not take a lot time to explain what was happening. If you want to look at those pictures, you can go to my Instagram page here. But I took a lot more pictures than I ever had time to post, and now that I’m home (and caught up on sleep!) I wanted to a blog post with those extra photos and more explanation of how the weekend went.

Thursday, May 29th 

Elizabeth and I originally planned to leave Rockford around 1pm, but we both had a lot to get done, and after realizing there was no hurry to get to Tinley Park, we took our time and didn’t actually leave until about 5.30pm. It was during this drive that we came up with our hashtag, stopped for Subway (and had a terribly awkward time trying to decide what to get on our sub), and sampled the licorice Elizabeth brought along for the trip.

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Friday, May 30th 

This day started at the early hour of 4.15am, at which time we bravely roused ourselves and went to meet our fellow-traveler, Daniel, at a nearby friend’s house in Tinley Park. If I had not been half asleep, I would have gotten a picture of him standing in their driveway, a pile of bags at his feet, looking like the archetypal hitchhiker.  We had quite the time getting all our stuff arranged in the car; I was trying to strategize about the best location for each item, but unfortunately I was not sufficiently awake yet to communicate coherently. We finally figured out what we were all wanting to do, and somehow got everything situated in the ideal place. I don’t remember much about the next hour or so, but then suddenly Elizabeth said, “are we supposed to be in Michigan?” She had assured me that she was familiar with this part of the trip, so I didn’t need to help her navigate. However, upon hearing her question, Daniel and I quickly pulled out our smartphones to assess the situation. I’m not sure what ensued in the next few minutes. I remember that we determined we had indeed taken a wrong turn and were not supposed to be heading north into Michigan. But somehow in trying to get back to I-80 in Indiana, we found ourselves on an overgrown backwoods lane which boasted a superabundance of rabbits. And from that lovely road (path?) we were suddenly driving down what was presumably a road but which would be better called “the world’s greatest concentration of potholes.” Let’s just say, first it was hard to see the forest for the trees, but then we couldn’t see the road for the potholes. I have no explanation for how we escaped from this predicament and ended up back on I-80, but it somehow did happen.

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The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful, besides another wrong turn somewhere in Pennsylvania, which was thankfully corrected quickly. We arrived at Grace Baptist Church in Chambersburg at about 5.15pm. It was fantastic to see old friends again and catch up with people we hadn’t seen for a year! I think each year at the conference just gets better because of all the friends we see again and all the new friends we make.  We had dinner at church and the first conference session and small group discussion. There was social time after that, but after the long day we were ready to call it a night by the time things wrapped up at 9.30am. Elizabeth and I were hosted by the Harris family. Craig Harris is the pastor at Grace Baptist and his daughter, Lindsay, has become a good friend of mine since meeting at this event last year. Although we didn’t had a lot of spare time at their house to hang out (or watch Doctor Who, which sadly we weren’t able to fit in), we really enjoyed staying with them!

 

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Saturday, May 31st 

On Saturday morning we had a prayer meeting and then another session. The weekend speaker was Pastor Foreman, from another church in Pennsylvania. The topic, “Life and Death under the Sun,” was based on the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes, which Pastor Foreman expounded upon during the conference. It was a really good reminder of where we find our purpose and meaning in life. Through hearing his messages, I realized that Ecclesiastes is the perfect cure for an existential crisis. Solomon honestly confronts the futility and confusion we experience in this life, but he doesn’t stop there—he presents Christ as the one who has broken the meaningless cycle and who offers us salvation both from eternal condemnation after death and from absurd purposeless in life.

After a couple sessions, small groups, and lunch, we headed to a nearby park for the afternoon. Typically the athletic attendees would play volleyball and the rest of us would watch or walk on the lovely park paths. This year there was a new activity, however. One of the church members is an artist and she offered to do an afternoon art class with those who were interested. It was so much fun to sit out in the park painting for the afternoon! It was a relaxing activity to do, and I got to take home a painting of a monarch butterfly! Late afternoon we all headed back to our host homes to clean up and get ready for the “Farmer’s Ball.” This turned out to be a really nice catered dinner at the church followed by square dancing! This is an example of where I gave up documenting the event and just participated, so I don’t have photos of the dinner or dancing, but I’ll just say it was really enjoyable! After that we enjoyed some delicious apple pies while playing games.

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Sunday, June 1st 

On Sunday morning we heard messages from Pastor Foreman on the role of the local church in missions (during Sunday School), and on the Israelites during the first few days of deliverance from the Egyptians. The latter was about how the Israelites so quickly forgot the Lord’s mercy to them and complained about being saved from slavery—saying that they’d rather be back in Egypt than wander in the desert. This was especially the case after searching for water and finding only the bitter waters of Marah. But God graciously intervened again and turned the water sweet. The application of this is that we need to be constantly reminded of God’s mercy to us, and that we so easily forget what He’s done—focusing only on what we want Him to do now.  After the service there was a church-wide potluck lunch and then we all went to nearby church member’s home for the afternoon. It has become a tradition to take a walk on Sunday afternoon, so those ambitious enough for a walk (or hike, considering the Pennsylvania terrain) set out for a walk. It was really lovely, and perfect weather. However, I think we were all very happy to get back and rest for a while! There was an impromptu hymn-sing, led by Elizabeth, while some of us (such as I) took the time to chill out and listen to the singing. We all then headed back to church for the evening service. Following that there was an official hymn sing, led by Pastor Foreman, who is an amazing pianist! In previous years, most people stayed through Monday (since it has been Memorial Day weekend) but this year was different. So instead of being some of the first to leave, we were actually part of the last lingering group on Sunday night. It was sad to see all of our friends leaving, but at least that made it a little easier for us to set our minds towards home. We said good-bye to the Harris family Sunday night and set our alarms for 1.30am.

 

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Monday, June 2nd

When you only sleep for a couple hours, morning seems to come very early! We embarked on our journey home at about 2am, hoping to be back in the Chicago area by 1pm at the latest. The reasoning for this insane time of departure was that Elizabeth had to start her summer job at 2pm on Monday. Since we had Elizabeth’s car, I didn’t really want to drive, so I ended up with the enviable job of keeping Elizabeth and Daniel awake for the 12 hour drive. Since we had been better rested on Friday, the drive out hadn’t been as difficult, but going home after 3 hours of sleep was definitely a challenge! We were well-stocked with food, coffee, and music (I had compiled a 30 hour playlist just for the occasion!) and it turned out to be better than I had expected. After spending several days socializing and going on little sleep, I was slightly concerned that I’d have some kind of sleep-deprivation/introvert breakdown and utterly fail in my duty to keep the drivers awake. While I was running out of things to say by the time we reached Rockford, we did make it! And I’m proud to say there was only one wrong turn on the entire trip back, and that was mostly caused by our exit being closed.

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Overall, the trip was a really great experience, and though we missed the rest of our Midwest gang, we managed to have a good time! : ) It was fun to be under the eastern sun, but we’re glad to back under the midwestern sun again! Although the conference reminded us that our only hope and purpose in life is not found under this sun, but in the Son of God.

 

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