“You can’t imagine it unless you’ve been there.” | Watership Down | Richard Adams
You really can’t imagine it unless you’ve been there…at least not fully, but I’m going to endeavour to do just that. I’m going to attempt to paint it for you in such vivid strokes that you can’t help but imagine it.
PA holds a special place in my heart. Going there is like going home. Even though my physical home is in NJ, there’s just something about PA that speaks to my soul and makes me feel alive. Perhaps it’s the slower pace or the open stretches of land or the overwhelming quiet. Perhaps it’s all of those things and more. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I know what it is and if that’s not the height of beautiful irony, I don’t know what is.
Dtown and its environs are about two and a half hours from my NJ house. It’s not that long of a distance, really, enough to get in a playlist on Spotify and a nap or two. It’s practically a hop, skip, and a jump as the ancients would say.
I needed this weekend and I needed it badly. NJ was beginning to feel stale and weary and irritating for a variety of reasons. I needed peace and quiet and to clear my head and PA did not disappoint. I’d sort of lost sight of where I was going and what I was looking for and who I was, as cliche and cheesy as that sounds. I needed to feel alive again and on fire. I needed to look in the faces of tribe, my ride-or-dies, my family, the people who speak to my soul. You know the ones I’m talking about; the ones whom you feel so comfortable with that nothing is awkward, even silence or conversational pauses. Stuff just flows when you’re with them and every moment, every second is an adventure just waiting to happen. The ones who make you remember that there is Beauty and Joy in the mundane and that 2 am conversations are some of the grandest adventures of them all. Yeah, those ones.
Let’s digress for a few seconds. Hold onto the people who make you feel alive. Hold onto those ones. Hold them tightly and NEVER take them for granted ’cause life’s crazy and sometimes the people who are running with you at the beginning aren’t the same people who’ll be running with you at the end. I’ve learned that the hard way and I’m still learning it now. Build solid friendships while you’re young, the kind where you’re tight as a hand in a glove and you don’t mind distance. ‘Cause life’s gonna bring the distance and you’ve gotta be able to handle it. People are gonna move away and forge their own paths in life but the ones you’ve forged a bond with will always come home. So do the grunt work now, while you’re young, invest time and energy into the ones that set your heart ablaze so that when the storms come years down the road, you guys’ll be able to bow your heads and ride them out…together. If you don’t have the foundation, your tower will crumble.
Mmkay, off of my hobby horse and back to the matter at hand: DVYR 2019, the retreat that rekindled my heart. This was my sixth year trekking to PA in the cold January temps to have my soul fed and my fire rekindled and every year has been better than the one before. 2019 exceeded all expectations.
My friend and I left early on the Thursday evening with her parents and her sister’s friend. After a 10:30 pm Wal-Mart adventure for ice cream and brownies (where we ended up getting a smelly cashier and employees who seemed to have forgotten where exactly the bakery section was or even that it existed), we all made it to what I’ve dubbed our Safe House which was really my friend’s aunt and uncle’s house. But it sure seemed like a safe house. We arrived in the freezing cold in the dead of night and met an equally freezing, empty house. Snow was just beginning to fall from the dark heavens and we hurriedly dragged all our luggage inside. Our motley crew huddled in blankets and sleeping bags and heavy winter coats as we tried to figure out the heating system. I need to add that my friend’s aunt and uncle were AWOL and had allowed us to stay in their absence. It was just such an odd situation and a little hilarious. None of us owned the house and two of us weren’t even related to the owners in any form or fashion. It was like we were fugitives and this was our next stop on our way to freedom. Or perhaps it was just my author’s imagination kicking my tired brain into over-drive.
We somehow managed to wrangle the heating system into submission but barely. In defiance, it blew out just enough warmth to keep us alive and so we settled in for a long. cold night. The three other girls and I (my friend, her sister, and her sister’s friend), changed into our PJs and curled up in the den to finish watching High School Musical (which we had started at my friend’s house before we left NJ). 30 painful minutes later, HSM ended and we drifted off.
Next morning, my friend’s sister, her friend, and their parents packed into the car for a college visit so my friend and I had the rather spacious house to ourselves. We woke leisurely, had our devotions, chatted, finally ate breakfast at around noon, injured ourselves accidentally (she with a Cutco knife because those things are a menace and I with a percolater because those things are also a menace and I’m just lacking in basic common sense), chatted some more, watched YouTube, more chatting, sang and played piano, still more chatting, watched The Guersney Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while eating ice cream in front of a portable heater (ironic, I know, but we’re females so irrational behaviour just comes with the territory sometimes), and then dashed to get our belongings all packed up so we could make it to the church on time. One of the best Fridays I’ve had in a long time. Sometimes we just need those days when nothing’s really going on and you can take life as it comes and just be peaceful and happy. Treasure those breathers amidst a turbulent world and don’t guilt yourself for stopping to have them every now and again.
My friend’s parents dropped us girls off at the church, headed back to the Safe House, and DVYR officially began. We reconnected with old friends and met new ones and discovered, yet again, that the Most High’s plans are ALWAYS better than our own and that Joy does indeed come in the morning despite the blackness of the night. My friend and I were reunited with our family, our stellar, quirky, brilliant, dazzling, heart-warming, warrior-family and it was truly grand. Mama J and Papa J and The Daughters of J Squared. Never mind that me and one of the two other daughters are actually older than Mama J and Papa J by a year or two. Never mind that one of us has red hair while our parents have black and blonde hair. Never mind that we all live in separate states (NJ, DE, and PA). Never mind that calling ourselves a family and making up names is so high school. Never mind that we can only be all together once a year because of the miles between us. Never mind that none of us are related by blood. Never mind all of that. When we’re with each other, we’re home.
Mama J and Papa J moved houses and now have two adorable and terrifyingly energetic puppies that Mama J likes to call “the babes”, though she calls all of us “the babes” so yeah. Papa J grilled his daughters on the men in our lives (or the lack thereof) and offered his fatherly wisdom which, combined with his equally-fatherly beard, had the desired effect and impressed upon us girls the weight of his sagacity. Here, I should mention that the girls includes me, my friend, a girl from my church, and another girl from Papa J and Mama J’s church.
We talked into the wee hours of the morning (beating our 2018 record of 2 am by managing to stay up until 2:30 am Friday night) about any and everything while Mama J outdid herself as hostess in the kitchen, prepping breakfast in the crock-pot. Beau used the living room rug as a toilet and Mia utilized the front door mat for the same purpose which added some spice to the festivities but they’re puppies and one can hardly blame them and all was forgotten…mostly. We ate brownies and chips and buffalo chicken dip and cinnamon roll french toast and breakfast casserole and it was stellar.
Saturday was yet another whirlwind of adventure but it was the kind of adventure where you’re exhausted but happy and that’s the best kind. I spied on my friend and her Man of the Hour with the help of Papa J’s brother who just so happens to have access to the church’s surveillance cameras….Stay calm, everyone, the result was a perfectly-captured though faintly-blurred picture which my friend will treasure hopefully for years to come should the Man of the Hour turn out to be The One. The pastor who did the retreat (who also just so happens to be one of my pastors back home in NJ) challenged and encouraged and strengthened our souls and the Most High was present during it all. The day ended with a Smuggler’s Game Night where half of us were Mobsters and half of us were Cops and shenanigans ensued, mainly involving false arrests, gem heists, deception, fabulous 20s-era garb and music, dim lighting, candles, and of course, smuggling.
My family trekked back to our house, were greeted exuberantly by the pups, and we settled in for another evening of glorious conversation and food. Papa J took the dogs for a walk while Mama J and some of her daughters got down to business in the kitchen. I had a phone call to make but I looked on from the dining room table. Upon Papa J’s return, we dug into the leftover brownies and chatted our hearts out in the living room. Conversations are so underrated, lovely humans, so underrated. Time seems to stand still while you’re chatting with the right people and it’s mind-blowing how refreshing it is to just sit down, be still, and talk. We didn’t need a movie to quell any awkwardness and we didn’t need music to fill the silence. People like that are rare finds so if the Most High blesses you with one or a few, hold onto them, I can’t stress it enough. Hold onto them. Do your part to make sure the friendship doesn’t die because of laziness, apathy, or selfishness. I can promise you it’s for-sure-yes worth it.
Sunday dawned in a glorious array of snow and rain and our festivities were cut short at noon. We all parted ways, with sadness in our hearts but pictures on our phones. As we separated and the rest of the retreat-goers made their own treks back home to VA, NY, NJ, and DE, it struck me that we were all like little lights shooting off into the night. We’d been refueled and refilled and rekindled and we were going back out into the cold darkness of this cursed world to shed our light, to shed His Light. Although PRD–Post-Retreat Depression–hit hard as usual, my heart was glad. Time with family is time well-spent. It was short but indescribably sweet and we’re all planning the next reunion of Mama J, Papa J, and The Daughters of J Squared, hopefully before DVYR 2020.
So much more happened than can fit in this blog post but that’s beyond okay because some things Memory has to encapsulate and they’re not meant for other’s eyes or ears; only for the ones who experienced them. That part you can imagine, ’cause you’ve been there.
A stellar sunset my friend captured on our way to the church Friday night. Say hello to PA grandeur 🙂 P.S Head over to my first blog post entitled The Fellowship of the Unashamed which gives you a little glimpse into DVYR 2018!