Emily Okawara spent her fall break at Bethlehem Farm this year with a great group from Notre Dame. After returning to campus, she wrote us a letter reflecting on her time at the farm, sharing the challenges and successes of trying to integrate her experience back at school. Thanks, Emily! Here it is:
Today marks a little under two weeks since I have been back at Notre Dame after my week at Bethlehem Farm. I can very confidently say that there has not been a single day in which I have not thought about our week – in fact some days I just can’t stop thinking about it. Today is one of those days so I wanted to write and share a little bit of the experience with all of you, who had such a huge part in making it so great. First of all, I just want to talk about the tremendous respect I have for the lifestyle you live in simplicity, community, prayer, and service. In my week at BFarm I did so many things that would have seemed crazy or unappealing to me in the context of a normal day in my everyday life – using a sawdust toilet, completely disconnecting from time, screens, and media, using a sledgehammer to demolish a house, or hauling chicken litter at 7:00 in the morning. Now, though, I find myself wishing I could just take another bucket shower (spiders and all) under the stars or be convinced by Carley to eat a raw clove of garlic with honey. I find myself listening periodically to “Country Roads” and reminiscing about hearing it while waking up for a day of hard work – and just love anything that takes me back to the farm in some way.
I think it has definitely been hard for me to transition back to the crazy-paced, loud, and stressful college life – I was late to breakfast with my friend the day after we got back (She went to BFarm last year and when I got there she said, “Emily, you are NOT on God’s time anymore!) and hated jumping right back into having so many hours of homework and class and rehearsal and meetings that I didn’t have the time I wanted for reflection and prayer. I also felt like I had built such amazing and truthful relationships with the people on my Appalachia team that talking about grades and social media seemed so topical – I craved the conversations on the porch swing about soul ages or philosophical questions over washing dishes or thinking about God and love by the pond.
After a couple weeks though, I have picked out some little ways I can take what I had at Bethlehem Farm and translate it to the rest of my life. Although I haven’t quite figured out how to get the university to approve my south-quad-bucket-shower construction project, I have put a washcloth in my shower caddy so that when I wash my hands I’m not using paper towels or the dryer. And although I don’t hold hands in prayer at least three times a day, it’s amazing to give and get a hug whenever I see BFarm family around campus. In a less concrete way, I have been thinking and reflecting about what really matters to me.
When people ask me how my fall break was, I don’t hesitate to say, “Incredible. It changed my life.” Not only did my week change the way I thought about things, immerse me in an intentional community, allow me to connect with Appalachian community members, and do things I had never done before, but I also built wonderful life friendships and had some of the best FUN I have ever had in my life. We laughed a lot. I think there is something so special about an environment that fully disconnects you from technology, stressors, and distractions so that you can be so present in every moment. It was such a luxury to sit amongst others, just have time to look out on a beautiful view of creation, and allow conversation to go wherever it wanted (or to choose to just think and not have conversation at all). The gift of time, peace, stillness, and presence that Bethlehem Farm gave me is one I will never forget.
It is an understatement to say that BFarm left me inspired. Not only inspired by the fact that Jarusha manages to match her clothes to her glasses and hard hat every day to go out for demolition (although this was quite inspiring), but inspired to center myself in what matters and remember to take the time for prayer and community that Bethlehem Farm reminded me I needed so much.
Thank you for an amazing week – there is so much love in my heart for each and everyone of you! You are doing great things and truly impacting the lives not only of the people you help in the community, but also the people you bring to the farm!
Emily Okawara, University of Notre Dame