This past Sunday, I hit up Parque de la Costa with two of my girlfriends from the program to get out of the city, celebrate a birthday, and ride some rollercoasters. Not gonna lie, my first thought when I heard of this plan was surprise that something as typical as an amusement park had been waiting for us all along an hour’s train ride away, but I’m a sucker for fast rides and good company, so you didn’t have to ask me twice. When we got there, we discovered there were only one or two big coasters open, so we grudgingly paid our $25/365 pesos to enter and climbed on one of the kid’s rides first thing, joking that we would ride everything in the park to get our money’s worth. Little did we know that Argentine standards for amusement park rides are definitely not the same as those in the United States. Every ride we went on – no matter how lame it may have looked – went much faster and had more twists, turns and spins than ever would have been legal at King’s Island or Six Flags. We had the time of our lives – and at the end of the day, we sprinted back to the park’s biggest coaster to go on one last ride.
This was no ordinary coaster – it was the kind where your feet were dangling, it had about six loops, and it was the most insane thing I’ve ever experienced (I know, I know, I don’t get out much). Seriously, I adore roller coasters, and I can say with full confidence that there will never be another that even comes close to the thrill of this one. It had been a long week, an even longer weekend, but flying through the air, I felt like I had left all of that on the ground. Spinning and squinting through the stands of hair that wind and acceleration whipped across my face, I was exactly the person I was always supposed to be – nothing more and nothing less. I could see everything, but it couldn’t touch me. I could scream and no one would know it was me (the teenage boy sitting next to me who 100% was pointing at me and laughing when reunited with his group of friends after the ride would probably beg to differ, but you get the idea).
When I got back, I tried to hang onto that feeling of freedom, of fearlessness, of flying. I tried to recreate it for myself, and I tried to take comfort in the little, everyday victories of being here. I got a paper back from my literature professor with only one correction and high praise for my writing. I found myself a used bookstore and bought a couple of new books in Spanish – and actually started reading them. I heard some American students speaking English in Starbucks, swallowed my self-consciousness, introduced myself and asked where they were from. I had a really long conversation with my host mom about everything from food to sports to classes to religion after dinner, and I kept up my end of the conversation in Spanish more comfortably than I have before. A couple of bloggers I look up to were kind enough to share my last blog post. All of these things made me really happy, but it wasn’t a happy that lasted very long. Instead, I started to get homesick. I started to count down the days til I would be back, til it would be fall again, til I would go back to band camp, til I was surrounded by my people who know me and love me with all my faults, fears and failures, til I was back in the place that I love – that would make everything better.
And I realized that I do this thing where I keep waiting to get to the next place or the next stage or the next season of life and I look ahead longingly and think, There – there is where I’ll really be the person I’m supposed to be. Instead of waking up in the morning and being her now, in the moment, when I really want it more than anything. I realized I’m tired of waiting to live in the power of the Gospel. I’m tired of having to come up with a plan to hold myself together when life is unpredictable and things go wrong. I’m tired of carrying around pain and shame and fear and letting them sit in my passenger seat and tell me where to go and how to live (thanks Arielle for the metaphor!). I’m tired. And I’d like to not be anymore.
Enter my dear sweet friend Rachael, who listened and sent some loving words my way and then said firmly, “I think you should read this ebook.” So today, when I was procrastinating my history midterm paper, I did.
Sometimes, I knew, we want to embark on a journey but are afraid to leave one shore. We set sail but stay tied to the dock, leaving us stuck halfway between one dock and the new life we want.
Maybe that’s where I was—stuck to one dock because I wasn’t fully ready to let go. Maybe that’s why I’d never made it to the other side, to the “better” I thought God had given me a peek of when I was in Spain. Maybe I needed to let go completely before I could see what He was capable of doing in my life.
I’ve read a lot of books, and there are exactly two books that have profoundly shaped my spiritual walk. They are Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner, and Love Does by Bob Goff. And now I have a third: Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson. In its 82 pages, I was met by the story of her own trip studying abroad – where she touched down in Spain carrying expectations of fresh starts, clean canvases, and healing – and how God met her in those and exceeded them in ways she never would have seen coming. I got teary-eyed as I read her words, a story so similar to my own but so unique at the same time. And as I kept reading, I ran right into the quote above. And I sat there and let those words wash over me, I sat there and stared at them for awhile, and they stared at me right back.
Maybe I hadn’t felt myself flying because I was afraid to leave the ground.
Maybe I wasn’t fully ready to let go. Maybe that’s why I’d never made it to the other side, why I thought there was a “better” I could never get to.
Maybe because I couldn’t get me to it, but God could.
Later in the same chapter, Stephanie describes the victory that was her and her best friend’s baptism.
Her baptism described it perfectly—when she became a Christian it really did seem like all the dead, hurting, broken parts of her were washed away, and what was left in their place was like nothing I’d ever seen before. She looked like her, like my best friend, the way she was always meant to be. I knew she couldn’t have done that on her own. God had to be real.
I wanted Him to be that real in my life too. I needed a declaration, a once-and-for-all proclamation that I was breaking free of the shore I had been so afraid to leave. I wanted to cut the rope and sail off someplace new. I wanted to see what God was capable of. I wanted to dive in fully, giving Him my map and my best laid plans, and see what He could make of the life I’d been trying to make on my own for so long.
I don’t care about making the most of every cultural experience or learning opportunity that Argentina brings my way. There will be enough of those that cross my path – there already have been – for me to carry with me my whole life just by living here, because God is good in that. And I don’t care about the little victories – all these things that I look at as proof that I can do this, that I am doing this thing called life or called study abroad or called confidence – which is maybe why by day 2, they start to feel hollow.
I care about being all in for God. I want to see what God is capable of, I want to dive in fully. I want my knees to hit the floor first thing each morning, and I want to hand over my plans for that day to the One who already has my day under control. Because I believe that the only victory that ever really changed the game was the one where the curtain tore in two and the stone was rolled away. And just like Stephanie’s story reassured me, it’s okay for there to be a lot of ups and downs while I learn how to do that. It’s okay if that’s what this time is for. It’s okay to be a person in progress.
So shoutout to Parque de la Costa for already putting me in the mindset to hear this truth. Imagine how hard I laughed when I read these last two paragraph’s of Lipstick Gospel –
Life with God is wilder than the wildest roller coaster ride, and safer than your childhood bedroom. It’s more thrilling than the greatest adventure, and more delicious than an Italian cappuccino—if you can even believe it.
He’s just waiting for us to go all in—for us to cut the rope that’s been keeping us at the dock, and for us to trust Him with our map. And when we do that, when we go all in, letting Him navigate, we’ll go places that are so amazing, we wouldn’t believe them even if we were told.
Here’s to all the stories to come!
P.S. – Lipstick Gospel is a free download from Stephanie’s website! Click here now to get yours!