" This trip will only be as fun as you make it" - Erik
I heard Erik say that and new that I wanted to have a really good time on this trip, I knew that how much fun I had was entirely in my own hands. So instead of complaining about the long lines and the weather and the lack of sleep, I completely embraced it. That is why sitting here on the bus on my way home, for the first time in my life, I really don't want to go home, I want to still be in New Orleans with every single person in our group. I'm finding it extremely difficult to come up with the right words to accurately describe what happened this week, and I'm not sure if the words will ever come. But here's my best effort at explaining what happened to me over the past week.
I learned a lot about myself and my faith over this week. It was our first night in the dome and the service started out with welcoming all of us. The speaker used the analogy of us all being the ingredients to God's pot of gumbo. Saying that no matter what our race is, our sexual orientation, whether you're poor or rich, smart or not, strong in your faith or still figuring things out, we were all welcome in God's pot of gumbo, and we were all needed in his pot of gumbo. It was after he said that that I knew the gathering was exactly where I needed to be. I have struggled with my faith for many years and I knew at that moment in the dome that that was perfectly okay. For the first time, I was perfectly content with where I am with faith.
A big theme within the gathering was tearing down walls, walls the we had built up and created, and how we need to tear them down and encompass everybody with love and God's grace. I think this is something that for the rest of my life I will take with me and continue to work on and try my best to do. Walls that are extremely high, and very thick, made of the worlds strongest materials. And if I am able to make even a small dent in one of these walls, I know that I have made a difference.
My faith may still be on a roller coaster ride, and may potentially be for my entire life, and that's quite alright. But living out my faith, and using it to help others of all kinds is where my faith grew and became stronger.
Many unexpected things happened on this trip also. For instance, my ability to go with the flow, and embrace everything that happened, instead of worrying about what we were going to do next, or if we were going to make it in time, trying to plan everything, i just went with whatever happened. If you weren't able to find your inner patience, the gathering was going to be hell for you. Simply trying to get on the elevator to get to your room was a 20 minute task, resulting in 20 people in the elevator at a time, and we being in the back of it, but naturally being the first ones who needed off. Getting food wasnt a quick task either, McDonalds moved us through the fastest and with the line halfway to the door it still took over 15 minutes.
One aspect of the trip that I wasn't thinking was going to have such an impact on me was New Orleans itself. I think by the end of the week I'd fallen in love with the culture and history of it. I can honestly say that I believe New Orleans has been through some very rough times, and we in Iowa have been through nothing compared to them, and yet the people of New Orleans seems to have a bigger heart, and the ability to let loose and have a great time and truly embrace who they are. Sure, they have their rough spots, Bourbon Street in itself is like nothing we have in Des Moines, but the again, Des Moines has nothing like the true soul jazz that emcompasses New Orleans, and it's people. Going to Preservation Hall changed my entire opinion of jazz. I have never liked jazz, jazz band was always something my parents made me do, not something I wanted to do. I still dont like the sound of jazz in Iowa, it's too Midwestern. But, if I lived in New orleans, jazz would be my thing!
From Daisy Dukes, to Cafe du Monde, Mothers, to Dooky Chase, there was no shortage of opportunities to try the real taste of New Orleans cuisine. I found that I really like gumbo, beignets, and po boys, and that if I just try things, I might realize how much I really like food of different cultures.
I realize that in this blog I left out one of the biggest aspects of my trip, and that was the friendships I made with each person from our congregation that went. I have left this out on purpose. Not because I dont want to share them with you, but because I don't have the words to explain it correctly to you. They're too important to me and too close to my heart to falsely represent them to you all. If you are at church you will see these friendships and how close we all got on this trip. You will hear us laughing at the jokes that were created, and reminiscing about the trip and the great time we had together. And my hope is that instead of reading about the friendships that were created, you will be able to see them and watch them.
This short blog hasnt even made a dent in sharing the experience that happened to me on this trip. If you want to hear more about what happened on the trip and how it was for me please don't hesitate to ask, I'd love to share! This trip is something that I'm so greatful I got the opportunity to take part in, and so glad that I embraced the trip the way I did, I have absolutely no regrets.
May I be the change to help tear down those walls.
~ Julia Ratekin