Dear Reader,

You knew it was coming, my senior presentation. As I’ve said before, it’s a little risky putting this up, but since I did present it publicly (as the name would suggest) and the number of you reading these posts is reasonably small I figure I might as well. Below is pretty much word for word what I said (fortunately, sans the tears.)

A Journey Through The Wilderness

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

Every good journey has a beginning; mine began on Sunday, August 2, 1992 in Phoenix, Arizona. I was the first child of Hugh & Kathy Stoll and was dedicated to the church by Peter Wiebe at Trinity Mennonite Church on September 6, 1992. I don’t remember much from those earliest of years, but in addition to playing with our 2 dogs, Abby and Ragnar, and spending time with my nearby relatives I spent a decent amount of time
watching Disney movies. That is, in addition to watching Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, Star Trek, and Batman while spending the day with my grandma.

Water is an essential part of surviving any journey. In many ways, my family has been MY water, filling various roles, but always being there for me. I could talk about my family for hours but, today, I’ll just mention some of the bare essentials.

As I’ve said before, I am the oldest child of Hugh and Kathy Stoll. I have 2 siblings, Lydia and Eli. My parents have always encouraged me to trust my instincts, to take care of those around me to the best of my abilities, and to believe in a praise-worthy God. I can’t put into words how much their encouragement has impacted who I am, and what I believe today.

Mom and Dad- You guys have always been there as an example of people who know the meaning of hard work. Despite your sometimes long
hours, I’ve always known that you love me, and that I can come to you about anything. You gave me my love of reading, reading books like “The Education of Little Tree” (minus the cusswords,) “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and “Watership Down” with me sparked my interest in the written word, and you, better than most, know just how much I love reading. We bond in the oddest of ways, often just by staying up late and laughing over random things, like “They’re Made of Meat,” crazy music videos, or watching The Fugitive for the 100th time. You also gave me my love of music, yes Dad, even you. Waking up on Sunday mornings to a wide range of musical cultures and styles left me with a love of not only music, but of learning about new cultures.

In order to survive the journey, you need a pair of good walking shoes; they are one tool you cannot do without. My education has prepared me for life, and helped encourage my interests to grow. I attended Kettle Falls Elementary School for K, 2nd-4th grade. It was during these years that I participated in events like Math Is Cool, and Destination Imagination. Once, in fourth grade, an architect came in every day for a week. Throughout the week we learned about different “Zones” within a home, and each of us created our own floor plan. I fell in love with this idea of designing buildings and that floor plan remained on the fridge door for several weeks. I also excelled in reading, reading books many Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Novels, in addition to being introduced to classics like Lord of the Rings and A Tale of Two Cities.

In 5th Grade I moved up to the Middle school where I remember writing an essay every night for Mr. Richter’s class, becoming terrified of being late to class, beginning to develop a sense of self and discovering a close friend group.

6th grade was a transition year and I transferred to EMHS in November. The academics were harder and while I struggled at first, I quickly overcame the distance between my old and new schools. Since then I have been submerged in the community that is Eastern Mennonite. Chapels and Bible classes have been experiences that I cherish, and my neighbor group this past year has been absolutely wonderful. EMHS has provided me with so many amazing opportunities, taking me from Creative Writing in Stutzman’s classroom, to Puerto Rico with the Touring Choir. I also participated in this past fall’s musical, Fiddler on the Roof. True, I’ve struggled with getting assignments in on time (throughout my high school career,) yet I’ve enjoyed almost every class, even when I didn’t do well, or didn’t feel like I understood the material. It has been the teachers, for me, who have made even the most frustrating classes enjoyable with their accessibility as human beings and as people of faith. Their encouragement is amazing, and something I never could have found outside of EMHS.

Every good journey has a stop along the way. Whether you stop to be re-energized, to view the scenery, or just because, these stops can have a large impact on the rest of the trip. When I was 4 our family moved from the Phoenix area to Kettle Falls, WA, a little town in North Eastern Washington with approximately 5,000 inhabitants. At first I spent the majority of my time building grass nests with my close frien Heidi
Fish, later however, I participated in a number of other activities including over 5 years of Irish Dance lessons. I even played Mrs. Hawkins in my middle school’s production of Treasure Island: The Musical. In the last 2 years of living there, however, we experienced some rather large changes, a change in churches, an addition to our family (with the adoption of Nikita, and the birth of Eli) and the loss of two very important people from my life (My grandfather, Danny, and my dance teacher, Deirdre.) Then, in the summer between 5th and 6th grade I discovered that we would be moving to a place called Harrisonburg, VA.

To say that moving across the country was hard on me, would be an understatement. In many ways, I took the move harder than anyone else in the family. At that time, the move provided something, much needed for everyone in the family, (except, it seemed, me.) It takes a while for me to “warm up” to new people. It not that I don’t like people I don’t know, it’s just that, I struggle to show my personality, or to even talk to those I don’t know well. Being thrown into a new situation, in a new place, where everybody already had their friendship groups was hard for me. I spent the majority of that first year alone in my room, and began to struggle with phobias, my eating habits, weight, and self-image.

While 7th and 8th grade years were better, my struggle to find people I felt comfortable with wasn’t over. Freshman year at EMHS is hard, a wave of new faces arrive and, in my case, those faces can take the attention off of you and pull it towards them. It’s not that they purposefully come in to push you out of the way, it’s just that sometimes, when people discover new and exciting friendships, they gradually inch their way out of others. Throughout my freshman year, I felt this growing distance in most of my main friendships. And, ultimately, made a bad choice that alienated me from my friends, putting me right back where I had started.

My sophomore year was harder than I can ever express. I continued to struggle with bad eating habits and felt a sense of worthlessness. I told myself that I had been abandoned by my friends, but in the back of my mind I knew that I had closed the door, not them and in turn felt like a jerk that didn’t deserve friendship from anyone. My phobias also seemed to “take control,” making safe places into dangerous ones. To be honest, I can’t really remember what I did those two years. I don’t remember who I sat by at lunch, or who I talked to, if anyone, on a regular basis. My life back then is, in many ways a senseless black storm that left behind a trail of tears, loneliness, and self-hate.

In 7th grade I had joined SVCC or the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir. During my Freshman and Sophomore years, choir became a refuge, a place where I felt welcome, and secure. Music is healing, and SVCC became a place where I didn’t worry about the outside world, I could put my heart and soul into the music and remind myself of the joy I had a hard time remembering in other aspects of my life. When I look back at the time I spent as part of SVCC I can see that I received countless gifts, gifts of music, community, and reminders of self-worth, without which I don’t know how I would have survived those two years.

In my junior year, I seemed to magically make friends. Once again I can’t explain how it happened, all I know is that I’m proud to say that right now, I’ve got the best friends in the whole world. You have, unknowingly brought me out of the black pit I was wallowing in into your loving arms, and every day, I find myself thankful to have you guys in my life. We have drunk enough tea to fill the entire ocean, I’m sure, with our almost-weekly get-togethers for tea, Telephone Pictionary, and Brian Reagan. You have all brought so much laughter to my life that I don’t know what I would do without you. Thank you so much, for even though you may not have known what a large impact you have played on my life, it has been monumental.

I really didn’t want to single anyone out, for the sole purpose of not “missing” someone. Reading off a list of people who have played a part of bringing me out of my depression would take forever, would definitely miss someone by accident, and would include many people who probably would never expect to be on that list. However, there is one person who, if I didn’t single them out, it would be a disservice to the ridiculously large impact they have had on me.

Malinda- You have become my closest friend. We have gone faith-o-mapping more times than I can count, and our padiddle count is ridiculously high. I am at my most true self with you and you know better than anyone, just how loud I can be. You and I have had some hilarious times together, but we’ve also had serious times, times where we’ve taken care of each other. Your amazingly strong faith has both encouraged me
and challenged me, in the best ways possible. You have, have forced me to look at my faith, and question the reasons for my beliefs, making me grow in more ways than I could ever think possible, thank you so much.

Every journey needs a guiding light, and what better light than Christ? My relationship with Christ isn’t perfect, and there are many times, when I don’t take the time I should in order to maintain that relationship, however I can feel Christ’s very real presence in my life.

Every year Community Mennonite Church gives all the 12 year-olds “used bibles.” My Bible has been marked in by my parents, our pastor at the time, and other relatives. I enjoy looking at the marked verses and marking new verses that I know are favorites of important people in my life, don’t be surprised if I ask you to mark in your favorite verse before the end of the year. For me, this has been a way to connect my day-to-day life, and the people in it, to my relationship with God. One particularly moving experience regarding my used Bible occurred soon after I began to feel
the “storm clouds” lifted from before my eyes when I found this passage
underlined in Exodus 34

“Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on those I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ Then the LORD said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a
rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by, then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’”

Written in the margin was this note from my Great-Aunt Inez “God often covers us with his hand during hard times. It is usually all over by the time He takes His hand away then we see only the glory of his presence.” This was exactly what I needed right then, a reminder that the peace I had found came from God.

In the past few years I have begun to be more involved in church activities than I could ever expected, I attend MYF events as my schedule allows, and for the past year, have participated on the Worship Committee. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to feel a part of the church in this way, working “backstage” as it were, to plan  and organize our church’s worship services.

As I look to the future, I’m glad to say that many of my friends and I will not be parting ways. Yes, some ARE going to places other than EMU, but to those who are heading up the hill with me, here we go.

While I’m excited to move on to, what I assume will be bigger and better things, in addition to new and exciting friendships. I don’t think I would be able to handle a completely new group of people right now and I’m lucky to have such a close group of individuals to support me this next year. I can only hope that the impact I have on your life is a fraction of the impact you have had/will have on my life.

To those of you who don’t know, my goal in life, ever since 8th grade, has been to start a non-profit youth center. A place, of refuge. I hope to study to either be a school counselor or an art teacher, or perhaps even continue on to do graduate studies in art therapy. Looking back, I can see that God has used my struggles to lead me to a place where my goals in life line up with what I need. For when I look at what I want to do in this world I can see clearly that this goal will not only bring a place of refuge to others, but to myself.

After all, we can only hope that this journey we call life, will lead us, not into, but through the wilderness.

Well, there you go. My life story. To be honest with you (although I don’t know just how much more honest I can be) there is a very large chunk of my family life that has been left out, and no, I will NOT be getting into that anytime in the near future. Enjoy.

Love, Mandi Jo