I’ll have to say, November was a pretty solid month. It started out at Camp Oak Hill in Oxford, NC at a Fellows Conference about social justice. Our Raleigh Fellows group had the job of providing snacks for the weekend, emceeing the Open Mic night, and welcoming all of the other eastern division fellows groups. As the other fellows groups arrived, our welcome music quickly turned into a welcome dance party where we cheered on each arriving group and danced ridiculously in between (cue spirit fingers and a LOT of Beyoncé). Thankfully the dancing continued into the weekend with the spontaneous dance parties that erupted each night after all of our scheduled events were finished. The best was the night of November 5th, where all of the fellows dance-partied until midnight to ring in my birthday on the 6th. The night hilariously started out with Zach teaching us a new rendition of the Cupid Shuffle and me busting the dance floor, and then my jeans when I tried dancing a little too hard. After I discretely slipped out to change into “comfy clothes,” the fellows joyfully sang “Happy Birthday” and then ushered me onstage to give my best Lil Mama “Lip Gloss” performance (thanks for the documentation of that, Ash). The rest of the day consisted of my fellow friends intentionally loving me, from “making” me wear a birthday crown and sash until we left the retreat, to going shopping with me at my favorite stores at the Crabtree mall, to surprising me later that night at my host family’s house with another AWESOME dance party (all of the creds to my host fam the Byron’s for putting that surprise together). All in all, the weekend was full of laughter, embarrassing dance moves, and sweet time with my fellow fellows.

Aside from all of the sweet and joyous memories I took away from our Fellows Retreat, I also took away an incredible lesson about what it looks like to press into the hard things. “Ok McKenzie, that’s a fancy phrase, but define it for us please.” To me, pressing into the hard things means to step into the things that are difficult, uncomfortable, or seem a little out of the norm. I’ll give you an example. I grew up in a very conservative Presbyterian church. We dressed in our finest Sunday attire each Sunday and sang all of our songs from Hymnals (you know, those old books with the words and musical notes printed in them). When I first came to college, the “free/ Spirit-filled” worship seemed foreign to me. There wasn’t much structure or order to the worship and that left me feeling uncomfortable, like I didn’t know what to do next. In Raleigh, there’s an awesome event on Monday nights that has worship similar to this. Feast and Feast includes a time of eating with each other and then moves into spontaneous worship. Being a part of Spirit-filled, no agenda worship has been extremely stretching for me, since it’s not what I’m used to, but it’s been really cool in the way it’s allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and literally rely on the Spirit to lead me instead of my printed bulletin. Am I suggesting that this is the only or even best way to worship? By no means. I’ve heard from my friends who have grown up in these Spirit-filled churches that following a more traditional worship schedule that is thoughtful, intentional, and planned has been extremely stretching and growing for them, where as it might seem more natural for me. Pressing into the hard things doesn’t suggest that things should be done a certain way. For me, it means that God speaks to me in stepping out in faith and trying something that’s not easy for me, stepping into a place where I HAVE to rely on the Lord. During the month of November, that’s looked like taking time to turn off the radio in the car or at work and practicing the spiritual discipline silence. It’s been choosing to ask my coworker about her family when I’d rather just focus on getting my job done. It’s been asking real questions to my friends when I may rather settle for surface conversation. It’s been being vulnerable about how I’m really doing instead of responding with the easy “I’m fine.”

On the Fellows retreat, we got to hear about this idea first hand from a man who “presses into the hard things” on a regular basis. John Cotton Richmond is prosecutor that specializes in human trafficking.  To him, social justice and pressing into the hard things are one and the same. In his life, pressing into the hard things has looked like living in a neighborhood that was below his social status in order to know and care for those who don’t look like him. It’s looked like moving to India in order to free human slaves by working inside their criminal justice system. It’s looked like entering into extremely “unsafe” places in India to declare freedom for slaves who have been caught in human trafficking. It’s looked like moving back to the United States before he wanted in an effort to listen to the Lord’s calling. To John, social justice starts with going out of your way to do the things that are maybe difficult, uncomfortable, or seem a little out of the norm.

So as the 2016 year is coming to a close and we're about to enter into the next half of the Fellow’s Program, I’m starting to think about what it would mean to seek a career that would allow me to press into the hard things in order to further God’s redemptive plan for creation, instead of one that would bring me the most glory or comfort. But for tomorrow, I’m going to drive in the slow lane because for me right now that’s pressing into the hard things.