Tuesday, October 7, 2014

When I Am With You, There’s No Place I’d Rather Be

I cannot even put into words how wonderful this weekend was.  After coming back to my hometown from living in Sweden for 10 months, I was once again moving back down to Clemson, South Carolina for another chapter of my life.  For the first time, I was not able to be a student-athlete at the collegiate level, and that comes with a lot of changes and adjustments.

A lot of people look at me in a confused way when they see me back on campus.  It’s one of those, “wait…where has she been for the past year” or “wait, I thought she graduated already” looks.  For those who don’t know, I’ll clarify what I am doing back in the magical city of Clemson. 

I was accepted into graduate school to major in student affairs counseling for higher education.  In order to be in this major at Clemson, having a graduate assistantship is a requirement.  This was extremely difficult to get considering I was living in Sweden during the interview weekend for all of the positions.  After frantically sending several emails and getting help from a lot of kind staff members at Clemson, I was offered the graduate assistantship to be the Director of Student-Athlete Community Engagement.  GA positions, at least in my department, pay entirely for school, so I will graduate with zero debt after getting my undergraduate and master’s degree from Clemson in May of 2016.  God is good!

As a former student-athlete at Clemson, I was involved in as many community service events as possible.  It is something that I have always been passionate about.  I struggled adjusting to my new assistantship when I first arrived in Clemson late in the summer to get prepared for school.  I was given an office in Vickery Hall, which is the athletic academic success building.  It is really strange having an office there, because that’s where I used to be an athlete getting help from tutors and athletic academic advisors.  Now I am working with them.
*The first picture is of me and my friend Jonah from the Men's Basketball team doing a community service event in 2011.  The second picture is the same school coming to visit Clemson in 2014, except this time I was in charge of organizing the event and finding student-athletes to participate.*

When I first moved from Ohio to South Carolina for school, I always told people I wanted to move down south…and then I lived in Europe for 10 months.  The few weeks I was home when I arrived back in the United States were amazing.  For the first time, I didn’t want to go back to school.  This was a new feeling for me.

At first, my graduate assistant position was a bit overwhelming, as most new jobs are.  I was always the student-athlete helping out with the events, and now I was in charge of reaching out to local schools and organizations to set up and implement service opportunities.  Along with working on getting my master’s degree and going to classes, helping out students with special needs at church, and the new GA position, I am constantly on the move.  It is crazy how fast time is going.  Now that it is October, I am much more comfortable with everything, and I'm enjoying each aspect of my graduate school experience.

My point in all of this background information is to explain my trip home this weekend.  I have had this trip planned for a very long time because one of my closest friends asked me to be in her wedding.  I flew home Friday morning, and was greeted by my parents and Lynn, my mom’s best friend of 45 years, who is also my godmother.  I don’t get to see Lynn very often because she lives in New Hampshire.  She just happened to be coming to town the exact same weekend as me.  The four of us went out to a nice lunch and laughed the whole time like we always do when we are together.

*Lynn and Mom*

After lunch, my parents and I drove back home.  I hung out there for a little bit until it was time to meet 3 of the greatest friends in the world: Jenna, Rachael, and Kat.  The four of us have crazy schedules. Jenna is balling out being a chemist at Lubrizol, Rachael is finishing up nursing school, and Kat is now officially a police officer.  The fact that we were all able to get together at 4:00 at our normal meeting spot (Olive Garden) before I had to leave for the wedding rehearsal was a miracle, and I am very thankful for the time I was able to spend with them.

When it was time to leave, I headed to Patterson Fruit Farm for the wedding rehearsal.  Patterson’s was and still is one of my favorite places.  They have the best apple cider and apple fritters.  With the leaves changing colors and the brisk 40 degree temperatures that kindly greeted me upon arrival to Cleveland, it was a perfect night to be there.   

When I walked in the door, the bride to be, Alana Prizzi, gave me the biggest hug.  Alana and I met in 7th grade and have been inseparable since then.  Frank, her soon to be husband, and Alana are perfect for one another.  I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time; to see two of my friends taking such a big step in their life was really exciting to see.  I have never been in a wedding party before, and I was truly honored that Alana asked me to be a bridesmaid.

*Top left: 10th grade homecoming.  Top right: A visit home from college.  Bottom picture: Alana's Birthday party in junior high.*

After the quick rehearsal, the whole wedding party went out to an Italian restaurant down the street.  You might be thinking to yourself…wow, Alexa has had a lot of food today, and you would be correct.  I couldn’t move when I got home.  Anyway, we all had a ton of fun at the restaurant.

The next day was the wedding day!!!  I got up early to hang out with my parents and to do a bunch of last minute errands.  The bridesmaids and Alana all met at Patterson’s at around 12:30.  We drank apple cider, got our hair and makeup done, and watched our beautiful friend in her last moments as a Prizzi.  The morning flew by, and before we knew it, it was time for the ceremony.

It was frigid outside.  There was a mixture of sleet and rain with huge gusts of wind throughout the day.  We knew how much our friend wanted her wedding to be outside, so we sucked it up!  It didn’t rain during the ceremony, so it worked out just fine, and the ceremony was beautiful.  As I saw Alana walk out with her dad, I couldn’t help but cry (typical).  She looked stunning.  I can remember when we were in junior high, having sleepovers and talking about boys, and now I got to stand next to her as she married her best friend.  The way that they looked at each other the entire day just melted my heart every time.  The reception was great!  Some of my closest friends from elementary school were there, and all of us just danced the night away with the new Mr. and Mrs. Russell.

*Some pictures from the wedding*

I slept very well Saturday night.  I’m pretty sure I fell asleep 2 seconds after my head hit the pillow.  I woke up in the morning, packed my bag, and went to breakfast with my parents.  On our way out, I ended up running into three of my former Mentor High School volleyball teammates: Lindsey Deitman, Amber Gibson, and Lauren Bogatay!  These girls were seniors when I was a junior at MHS, and we all made it to the state tournament together.  It was my favorite volleyball season to date, and running into these three girls who I haven’t seen in years was another miracle from this weekend.

My parents and I then went downtown to see Motown at the State Theater.  I am a huge fan of performing arts, and I still have dreams of being in the pit orchestra for Broadway musicals one day (I’m such a nerd, but I know that already).  For those who don’t know, Cleveland has the second largest theater district in the USA next to New York City.  Growing up in that environment always inspired me.  Anyway…the performers did a fantastic job.  It was one of those plays that you just walk out feeling happy for hours afterwards.

*The world's largest outdoor chandelier in the Cleveland Theater District*

As we were walking around Cleveland, reminiscing on the weekend, it made me realize how much I truly love this city.  Ohio will always have a piece of my heart.  I’m so thankful that I have this place to come home to.  When it comes to Clemson, I am beyond thankful for my graduate assistantship, the major that I am in, my professors, my roommates, and Kelly Gramlich and Karis Watson who keep me sane on a daily basis.  I wouldn’t trade in the experience and expertise I am getting there for anything.  I think that several people can agree with me though, including Dorothy herself: there’s no place like home.
At my small group that I joined on Monday nights, we talk about how we don’t have to feel overwhelmed.  We don’t have to worry about the future, because God has a plan, and His plan is way more important than what we make up in our heads from day to day.  God wants more for our lives than we could ever imagine.  I know I should stop thinking ahead and focus on each day as it comes; it’s just hard for me to not think about Ohio and where I will end up in a couple of years.  Whether I end up living in Alaska, Ohio, somewhere in Europe, somewhere in Africa, or even Antarctica, I’m going to focus more on the here and now.  Wherever God wants me to be, I will be there.  I know that wherever I am in the world, I always have a place to come home to, and this thought overwhelms me with joy.

A quick shout out to my mom and dad, Lynn, Jenna Golic, Kathleen Cox, Rachael Ritt, Alana and Frank, Heather Elzeer, Katelyn Horner, everyone at the wedding on Saturday, Lauren Bogatay, Lindsey Deitman, Amber Gibson, and Abbie Gortsema for making this weekend so special.  I love all of you!

“You find the most important people in your life when you’re the furthest away from them.  Distance makes the heart grow fonder but distance also makes the heart grow colder.  It could be ‘out of sign out of mind.’  You figure out who makes the effort to keep in touch with you and who doesn’t.  But more importantly, you figure out who you make the effort to keep in touch with and who you don’t.  You learn who you want to come back to.” -Evelyn Cheung

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