Autumn Road Trip Through the Smokies

Three weeks ago, I packed my bags, rented a car, and set off on a nine hour drive to North Carolina.

I like car rides.  I know this may seem hard to believe.  But I kinda grew up with road trips.  Most of my family is from Indiana and some of my best memories come from piling into my mother’s Volvo and driving six hours to visit our cousins and grandfather.  Road trips meant adventure.  Road trips meant listening to my favorite music, singing every song in The Lion King, playing games with my brothers, feasting on fast food and junk food, before finally arriving at my cousins’ house.

When I got my license, I discovered that I enjoyed driving long distances.  I’m an introvert, which means I need recharge time.  There are a lot of times when I need to just shut myself up alone with a book, six seasons of Gilmore Girls, or some variant–and block out the world.  Having nine hours to myself to just listen to the new Kate Voegele album, think about my life, pray, and enjoy the scenery…well, that was valuable.  Refreshing to the point where I may just make an autumn road trip an annual tradition.

The leaves changed late this season.  I was worried that I planned my trip too late, that I’d miss the leaves changing on the Smoky Mountains.  But it turns out I left at precisely the right time.  It was so beautiful driving through the hills of Tennessee into the Smoky Mountains, with this incredible masterpiece of colors lining the road.  It gave me shivers driving past.

The colors on these mountains were just insane.

There was one beautiful moment, where I was listening to the Heath McNease song “The Four Loves”–there is a line, “This is the Love that saved my soul…” and right at that moment, a gust of wind blew this shower of golden leaves across my windshield.  I actually teared up, suddenly feeling so incredibly loved by the Creator of the universe.

Anyway, in the evening I finally arrived at my friend Rebecca’s apartment.  I met Rebecca in Oxford last July and we got on like a house on fire, bonding over everything from Hamilton the musical to theology to Oxford in general.  It was so good to see her again and talking to her again felt like we were in Oxford, excitedly debating animal sentience and the future of artificial intelligence.

Rebecca graciously let me crash on her floor and was fully amenable to me dragging her off into the middle of nowhere to a house party where Heath McNease was performing.  We arrived at a small house filled with people–that Rebecca knew!  Unbeknownst to her, a lot of people from her work and area had come for the show too.

Speaking of–the show was amazing.  Heath McNease has an incredible ability to weave humor, sincerity, passion, and holiness into a patchwork of a performance that has no rhyme or reason to it, but somehow fits together seamlessly.  He was a joy to watch and listen to.  I felt incredibly blessed to be there.  He played one of my favorite songs of his, “The Great Divorce”, even mentioned my connection to it–I first heard the song two years ago off of his album “The Weight of Glory” and it reminded me strongly of my grandfather.  I even played a version for my grandfather’s memorial service.  Hearing him play it live brought me to tears.

Wearing flannel was a great idea on the car ride, not so well thought out at the event itself.

Somewhere during that performance, I turned to Rebecca and said, “This is Oxford.”  She knew exactly what I meant.  There are moments in my life (and in hers) that are…Oxford.  This indescribable feeling of possibility and excitement, where you feel inspired and blessed, where you know exactly what God put you on earth to do.  I’ve compared that Oxford feeling to falling in love and that is absolutely true, but it applies to so much–my relationship with my friends who inspire me, my spiritual journey during its twists and turns, my writing, my music, my art–all of it is Oxford.

After the performance, me and several others ended up at Waffle House (you do not go to Waffle House, you end up at Waffle House) where we talked about music and books and God.  Who knew you could have an Oxford conversation at a Waffle House?  (My roommate’s assessment was “you must like that musician a lot for you to step foot in a Waffle House”…she’s not wrong.)  Rebecca and I had a serious talk about our futures and where we want to go from this point.  We’re both at a sort of crossroads in our lives and it was encouraging to be with someone else who longed for Oxford but felt guilty for leaving the safety net.

I needed this trip.  I needed the reminder that I’m not in this alone, that God has a plan for me, and that God has lots of Oxford moments planned for me.

I did not get to stay in North Carolina for long–only one night.  (The next day I would be driving to Indianapolis, to see my old college friends and go to a Kate Voegele concert–this was a great weekend for music!)  The next morning, I got a coffee at the Dripolater and drove to a little tiny church to watch Heath McNease lead worship.  I love small churches.  They feel like what Christianity started out as, a bunch of families huddled together, praying for each other, taking communion together.  Everyone was incredibly kind and loving–it was hard to leave.  Heath played this haunting rendition of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”.  The service was perfect and I was so grateful to be there.

I set out in my car for the seven hour drive to Indianapolis.  I found myself crying a little as I left–and I’m still not really sure why.  But what can I say?  That Oxford feeling does things to you.


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