Symphoneo: let me tell you about the conductor.

One month, two papers, three projects and two home games into the school year.  That’s how long it took for me to throw up my hands and hit rock bottom.

So far, this year is not what I expected it to be.  Taking 13 credit hours was supposed to be easier, not more difficult.  My classes were supposed to be constructive and critical, not draining and daunting.  I knew that I was stepping into what Peabody College calls our “professional” year: I just didn’t realize that role and responsibility was going to threaten my last true semester as a student, not a student teacher.

While walking this fine line between educator and educated, there are lessons learned and truths taught that began writing themselves on my heart in Buenos Aires and are still telling their story.  Our very first day of class, our literature professor, Gaby, described the city as a broken mirror: the store window, the water in the street reflect a piece of you, but never the whole picture.  The rhythms and rhymes of urban life show you who you are, but break you apart first.  That’s exactly how I felt as I walked through Buenos Aires: those streets shattered everything I knew about myself, but everywhere I looked,  I caught sight of another piece of my self.  I picked them up one by one and God began revealing deep things to my heart about where I’ve come from and where I’m going.  And I wrapped those shards up carefully, stowed them in my carry-on and shared them on this blog, and I brought them home with me and took them back out.  Lately, it’s feeling like when all I want to do is press into the truth of who I am and bring that comfort in my own skin with me into my world at Vanderbilt, the pieces of who I am that I pick up grow jagged edges, leaving scratches on my hands.  I know how important it is to me to find time to go deep into the Word, to get a good night’s sleep, and to spend time in community with other believers, to invest in the time I spend with my friends and my family, and to sit down day after day and put words to paper.  I know that the time I spend on these things is valuable.  Crucial, even, to being the person God made me to be.  What I don’t know is why, when life picks up and schoolwork becomes the first priority, those things are the first to fall to the bottom of my to-do list – somewhere they don’t belong in the first place.  What I don’t know is why it feels impossible to be the me that I felt like I found in another continent in the place that I call home.

If we think He doesn’t hear us sometimes, it’s because we are so driven by discord that we don’t hear him.

Beth Moore, Living Proof Live

Did you catch that?

How often do I feel driven by discord, like I am living out of a desperate mission to create harmony from notes that were never meant to be played together.  As a musician, you would think that dissonance would set my hair on end and grind my teeth together.  But instead, there is something in me that drives me towards discord because I think can find the solution.

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This past weekend, I had the chance to fly home for the weekend and get together with some of my favorite, favorite ladies – my mom, my three aunts, my basically-aunt, and my cousin.  We all trekked up to Chicago and met up to hear Beth Moore, one of our favorite Christian writers, speak at Living Proof Live, her ministry simulcast event.  I left that weekend feeling so filled – from the worship, from the fellowship, but especially from Beth’s sessions and the musical metaphor she described to us.

In the New Testament, there is a Greek word frequently to talk about agreement in the body of believers.  It means to be in accord, to be in unison.  This word is symphoneo.  Its English cognate is symphony.  From the beginning of the conference, she made it clear that this was the fundamental point on which she would build the rest of her teaching: we all have a seat in a divine symphony.  There are so many nuances to this metaphor that Beth fleshed out for us through Scripture, but I want to go deep with one at a time with you in this space.

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Nugget number one: we must keep our eyes on our conductor.

When you think about a symphony, what comes to mind is a glorious setup of instruments and musicians, each with their own part to play, coming together to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  There are solos and there are features, but at the height of a powerful chord, no one individual is more important than the others.  There is one individual, however, who is most important.  He has the most responsibility as well as the most stake in the success of his symphony.  I can say this, because for two years, I stood in front of my high school marching band and played his same role.  A symphony succeeds when every person is seated so that they can see the conductor.

But what if I can’t see Him from where I am?

What if the deadlines and disruptions are piled high around me?  What if my obligations and organizations are tugging at me from all directions?  If I crane my neck, will I see him? Will I catch a glimpse as these commitments whirl me in dizzying circles?

These are the questions that come to mind for me. I am so, so quick to blame a lack of control over my circumstances, context and conditions for my failure, my fear, and my flailing.  This is the definition of discord, and you would think I would run – but instead, in response, I fixate.  I do everything in my power to acquire a control that I was never meant to have.  And in doing so, I take my eyes off of my conductor.  As Beth put it, my gaze determines that the very thing I did not want to have control now does.  The thing that is in the way of me and my conductor has become my conductor.

For me, it feels like this is what school does.  It sucks my time and my energy dry – I am convinced – because my professors are unfair, because I had another commitment, or because my schedule was busy.  At the end of the day, this breaks down to reveal a failure on my part to maintain good control – of my schedule, of my commitments, and of my life.  Control not only assumes that have power to change my circumstance, it implies responsibility. So I make my class work more of a priority, frightened by the possibility of failure – because failure now represents so much more than a grade.  It has become the determination of my worth – how well my instrument is playing, if you’ll indulge the metaphor.  I give my work priority above my needs, my community, and my walk with God – and in doing so, I give up those pieces of truth I brought home with me from Argentina and settle for letting half-truths and lies tell me who I am.  I forget that who I am is who God is making me to be. I give the very thing I never wanted to have power over me complete control of the tempo, the rhythm, and the melody of my life.  

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:11-14 (NIV)

God wants to be our conductor because He has so much more in store for us than this cycle of control.  The narrative, the song of our lives is not about us.  He has already given me value, worth and purpose, inside and outside of my success in school, by calling me to a seat in His symphony, to join in the song He is writing across all time and space – to the praise of His glory.  There is this whole movement taking place, for which the world was created – to the praise of His glory.   And until we take our seat, we have no idea.

So park your rear in chair, pick up what you have, and sit up straight.  When your gaze is on Him, Conductor of our divine symphony, you will never have to worry about being in the wrong measure, missing a beat, or what to play next.  Something big is in store for us on this stage – I can feel it in my bones.  Dive into the calling of who He is calling you to be, as we move into the next movement of the divine symphony.

Let me tell you about saying goodbye.

If you know me at all, you know that I hate starting over.

I think that’s one thing I wasn’t expecting on this trip – I figured I would have to balance the world I was in and the world that was going on without me back home, I was braced for culture shock and of course, language immersion – but I didn’t expect daily life Buenos Aires to feel so utterly and completely different, in everything from community to commuting.  I wasn’t quite ready for that feeling of starting from scratch here.

As life does, there were pieces of my past and of my story and of my home that followed me here.  Some really amazing – many, many, endless thanks to the friends back home who made such conscious efforts to stay in touch with me, you don’t know how much that means – and some that were pretty tough.  But I quickly found that when I was completely cut off from the context, it put the tough stuff in perspective.  I quickly learned that here, I had no expectations or obligations.  It was an incredibly freeing opportunity to lean extra hard on God and just figure out what it looked like to be the me that He made me to be.

Going back, it’s not starting over.  It’s coming home, and I can’t wait to see my family and jump back into my community at Vanderbilt and, a little selfishly, have some familiarity and creature comforts back in my life again.  It’s jumping back into the life that I know, but it’s also saying goodbye.

And when I thought about saying goodbye, there was a piece of the trip I thought I would be absolutely ready to peace out right that second.  And that’s when I began making this list. There are two things you should know about this trip and this list.

First, is that everyone says you come back from this kind of experience changed or as a new person.  I think I’ve changed, but I’ve only become more of the person I’ve always been and always wanted to be becoming.  Secondly, is that as grateful as I am for every individual moment and memory, they could have been mediocre, and this trip would have still been incredible, simply because it happened and I was here.

Places I went/spent time in Buenos Aires

  • Obelisco
  • Plaza Italia
  • Facultad de Medicina
  • Plaza Rodriguez Peña
  • Plaza de Mayo
  • Plaza de General Las Heras
  • La feria de San Telmo
  • La feria de Recoleta
  • Recoleta Cemetery
  • Plaza Francia
  • El Tigre
  • Alvear Palace Hotel
  • Café Tortoni
  • Galería Güemes
  • Calle Florida
  • Museo de Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Arte Decorativo
  • Bosques de Palermo
  • Puerto Madero
  • Teatro Colón
  • La ESMA
  • Museo Malvinas
  • Hora de té / tea hour at Las Violetas
  • Caballito
  • Villa Crespo
  • Amalgro
  • Palermo
  • Palacio Paz
  • La Boca

Favorite Places I Ate

  • Café Malvon
  • Café Le Blé
  • El Montañes
  • MaturieLBambu – my favorite empanada place on the same block as FLACSO
  • La Napolitana – a pizza place close to school
  • Taco Box – sometimes you just need a little Tex-Mex, Argentine style in your life
  • El Gato Negro – traditional café that specializes in tea

Things I did

  • Visited most of the cafes within a 5-6 block radius of my house (despite appearances, I did NOT spend every day at Starbucks! Just most of the days. Kidding, of course.)
  • Ordered food in Spanish and had no idea what I was ordering or when it came what it was (some kind of pork stew. It was pretty good. That wasn’t the last time, either)
  • Gone and gotten dulce de leche McFlurrys at midnight, just because
  • Translated for my parents with street vendors at both San Telmo and the Recoleta street fair
  • Went to a tango show (twice!)
  • Saw a movie as part of BAFICI, the Buenos Aires international film festival (It was in English and from the 70s, but I got to hear the director introduce it, and it was hilarious, so still pretty cool)
  • Found a home church and went every week (woo Hillsong!)
  • Got on the subte with a group of friends and had no idea where we were going (something everyone should try)
  • Had asado – essentially Argentine barbecue, but not the way we know it! I didn’t try any distinctive parts of the cow – because trust me, they use the whole cow – but I did eat some of the best cuts of meat I’ve ever had in my life
  • Celebrated the Revolución of 1810 – essentially Argentina’s first independence day that celebrates their break from Spain – with a traditional dish called locro with twelve or so of my best friends here at our sweet friend Lexi’s house with her host parents
  • Went to the empanada place down the street from FLACSO so often that the girl working there learned my name and my order – if I was going to become a regular somewhere, I’m very okay with it being the empanada place
  • Watched the sun set over the city from the roof of my friend Alison’s apartment 34 stories up
  • Made friends in my UBA class – or rather, had a cohesive conversation with two of the girls from my group in a class activity and learned their names, and at least one of them greets me with a beso when I come to class every week!
  • Had multiple intense discussions with our tutor for my UBA class about the pros & cons (mostly cons) of capitalism and learned a lot about the way Latin America perceives the U.S. and why
  • Made a porteño friend, and gone with him to a discussion group at his school where I got to listen to Argentine teenagers debate big themes of today like what it means for a topic to be “taboo” and whether abortion should be legal in Spanish
  • Gone to the movies in Spanish
  • Seen a show at Teatro Colón!
  • Traveled around Argentina to the provinces of La Rioja, San Juan, and Mendoza
  • Went to a hot springs spa in Mendoza
  • Toured three wineries and an olive oil factory in Mendoza
  • Traveled to Uruguay for a day

Things I’m grateful for about my life in Buenos Aires

  • My room. It’s not very big, but it’s really cozy. It feels like coming home.
  • My street, and the way the sun shines through the trees in the afternoon. It’s quiet, but it’s got a kind of energy all its own.  I can tell you exactly which businesses line either side of the road, but I couldn’t tell you how many people live in the different apartment buildings.  We all live separate lives, but we cross paths every day of them.
  • The area I live. It took me awhile to explore it, but once I did, I couldn’t stop! (That’s a fun story. I accidentally told my host parents I was going to church when there wasn’t actually a church service to go to and I ended up going on a two hour walk.) Most of where I live is residential – seven or eight story apartment buildings that look exactly like the one where I live, maybe with a different style of balcony.  But hidden among them are some of the cutest cafes I’ve found in the city.
  • Living so close to Alison and Jon. Who would have thought that I would have friends right off the bat in Buenos Aires, especially friends who used to work with my dad?  Alison and I have the best conversations, she’s a great combination of friend and big sister.  I love how at home I feel at their apartment.  Their security guards know me now, and I can fall asleep on their couch or their balcony or help set the table without having to ask.  They have the most gorgeous view from their balcony, and Alison makes the best food!  I didn’t know I would have some place to go that felt so much like home, but I’m really greatful that I do.
  • The fact that when I got here, I was terrified to speak to anyone, for anyone to speak to me, or to go anywhere alone – everything was new and unfamiliar. And now when I have a few hours to kill, I feel right at home walking into a café I’ve never visited and ordering a café con leche, or striking up a conversation with the person next to me at the bus stop, or offering, not just asking for, directions – all in Spanish and all by myself.
  • The colectivos. Crazy, right? Everywhere else, we see public transportation as a last resort, or at the very least, a pain. And I’m certainly not saying that the bus (or subway) system here is entirely reliable all the time.  But I will say that because I rode the bus to class every day, and to get to most other parts of the city as well, I saw a lot more of Buenos Aires than I would have otherwise.  I learned the geographical ropes fairly quickly, and I people-watched a LOT.  I got to know the heart and the spirit of the city in the best way possible – its daily routines – and that made a huge difference in what I took away from it.
  • How generous and open with their time and friendship Argentines are, generally. Not only did I feel like I was welcome most places I went, but I had a lot of wonderful, sporadic conversations with waiters, people in line – and found genuine friendships in many of my professors, and even an incredibly kind vendor who carved Biblical scenes at the Recoleta street fair who met with me on her day off to deliver an order and chatted with me over coffee.

“Worst Nightmare” scenarios

  • Losing my phone – Miraculously, even though my iPhone 5 is on its last leg, this is the one part of the trip that went smoothly. I got a pay-as-you-go mobile chip with a plan that gave me data every day so I could use things like WhatsApp, Google Maps and Facebook on the go and it worked really well!
  • Not being able to get cash – EVERYTHING in Buenos Aires runs on cash – en efectivo. You can get discounts if you pay for things like shoes in cash instead of with card, and if you go somewhere with a group of people, forget about paying separately – you’re all on one check and you divvy up the change the best you can!  So cash is key.  And apparently when your bank ships a new card to your house with no warning, they shut off the one you have in a foreign country.  That’s why you bring emergency dollars and keep an eye on the exchange rate.
  • Getting lost – Almost every day for the first month, but the very worst was the day of my visa appointment when I couldn’t find the Office of Migrations, which is not in a very good neighborhood, and I was 20 minutes late after a saintly elderly lady found me and aggressively took me with her to find directions. People are wonderful, am I right?  And the Office of Migrations turned out to be a cheerful version of the DMV, where I still had to wait in a lot of lines and go through a lot of procedures but everyone was quite kind and no one minded I was late.
  • Not being able to communicate – I mean, this was bound to happen, but I hope you can see from my other stories that even when my lack of command of the language frustrated Argentines, there was always someone around to help me get where I was going. And by May, “De dónde sos?” was no longer the first question, and I was getting more people saying as I met them – in the line at the bus stop, in Starbucks, at the grocery store – how well I spoke.
  • Getting hurt – Remember the La Rioja trip I went on with my program? I stepped off the curb off-balance that morning rushing to catch the bus and twisted my ankle.  I knew the second I put weight on it that it was sprained.  But there’s not a whole lot you can do for a sprain besides ice and rest, and I’ve sprained this same ankle before and already brought my brace with me, just in case.  So, quick shoutout to my friends who have been incredibly patient and kind with me since then as I develop an addiction to Advil and limp around everywhere.  Especially to sweet Julianna who insisted I take her arnica cream which worked WONDERS on my stiff ankle, and to Griffin who let me pester him with sports medicine questions and had great answers.
  • Getting sick – One Sunday night after we’d eaten at our usual Chinese buffet restaurant after church, affectionately nicknamed “the black place” for its sparse exterior, my poor friend Kyler got a text from me around 1am that said “Are you throwing up? Because I’m throwing up.” I know food poisoning when I see it – and I hadn’t gotten sick like that in a good five or six years.  Laying on the floor of a bathroom in a house that’s not your own in the middle of the night, shaking and trying not to be sick, in a foreign country, is terrifying.  I will be endlessly thankful to Kyler for responding right away and being sympathetic (read: and letting me moan and complain despite the late hour), my wonderful mama for praying and being there for me, my host mom for getting up and getting me medicine in the middle of the night, and Alison for making me soup the next day and letting me take a nap on her balcony in the sun instead of going to class.  For the record, I’m the only one that got sick and we still don’t know what it was I ate.  My host parents’ theories, in case you were wondering, range from nerves, to missing my family, to having met a boy in Colonia the day before, and finally to food poisoning. (I didn’t acquire a boy but I did acquire a dog. That’s a story for another day)
  • Having to go to the hospital – at least at the end of the day, it could have always been worse!

Funniest things that happened

  • When my family was here visiting, we were walking around after dinner one night with my friend Kyler. We had just stepped off the curb when a motorcycle came roaring around the corner and nearly ran us over.  I jumped back, but Kyler yelled “Calláte!” – “shut up!” Apparently it was the first angry Spanish phrase that came to mind, but I couldn’t help it – I busted up laughing.
  • On my first visit to La Boca, my friends Dawson & Miranda and I were wandering around a museum, taking in the view from a second-story floor-to-ceiling window, when we noticed a street vendor right outside – selling clothes for dogs. The best part is, she had brought three or four dogs of her own to serve as models.  They were all wandering around the little square outside wearing jean overalls with fake subway passes stuffed in their back pockets and cellphones clipped to their belts, complete with clashing hats.   It was easily the most entertaining thing I’ve ever seen, but we felt so bad for the poor dogs!

Weirdest thing that happened

  • I’m gonna have to go with getting followed off the bus by a really cute Argentine guy who’d I’d made the mistake of smiling back at when he caught my gaze on the colectivo. It was really flattering, but also 9pm, pitch black, and raining while he walked me halfway home and tried to convince me to give him my number.  Truthfully I think he meant well (and it did turn out he lived on the same street, thank goodness) and if it had been daylight I wouldn’t have been nearly so creeped out!

Things I’ll Miss

  • You can stay at a café or a restaurant for hours, and the waiter will never once ask you if you’re ready for the check.
  • Being able to walk into just about any establishment in the entire city and being able to get a good cup of café con leche
  • The random, casual, but always interesting conversations I strike up with strangers (or rather, they strike up with me) on the streets, on the buses, in cafes – I’ve been a lot of places but these are the friendliest and most open people I’ve found.
  • Getting a craving for an alfajor and being able to duck into one of six or so kioscos on whatever block I’m on to pick one up for about a dollar. Also, alfajores.  And dulce de leche.  Don’t even get me started on how much I’ll miss dulce de leche . . .
  • Making a habit out of going to church every week at Hillsong with friends, and going out to dinner afterwards

Things I won’t miss

  • Dog poop. EVERYWHERE.
  • Being constantly on alert for pickpocketers
  • Eating out every day for lunch – and in general, not having a whole lot of control over what I ate
  • You know how you’re supposed to walk on the right side of the sidewalk? Nobody does that here.
  • Waiting – on public transportation, or for professors who are late for class, or for things that are just running on argentiempo. I’m good with ten or twenty minutes, but forty-five is a lot.

Lessons that I learned

  • How to write (more) like a native Spanish speaker
  • How rich and deep my community back home is, and how considerate and generous with their time my friends are
  • The basic framework of Argentina’s history as a nation and how it affects their world today
  • The basics of the Argentine political system
  • When to use tampoco instead of también (just for you, Kyler)
  • How to stop apologizing unintentionally (love you, Steph Moss)
  • To take ownership over how I feel, what I want to do, and who I am (shoutout to my mama)
  • That when you own who you are, you make the friends you’re supposed to have
  • Everyone’s story is still being written. Mine, included.
  • Worship knows no language or cultural boundaries. Hillsong Buenos Aires will always be home to me.

Most importantly . . .

  • God made each of us with such intentionality and purpose, and I really like the person He made me to be.

Let me tell you about Buenos Aires – cafe edition.

Our very first night in Buenos Aires, I noticed that the paper napkins at the pizza place had the name and the logo printed on the side.  Scrapbook-ortunity, I thought to myself, slipping one into my purse.  What started out as a cute way to remember where I’d been in the city quickly became something of a collection, and now I’ve got a long list of places I’ve been, with the logo-emblazoned, wax-paper napkins to prove it.

Buenos Aires is known for cafes on every corner – some are more traditional, some are very hip and modern, and some fall in between – but I decided to share just a few of my favorites.  The ones you see here are really something special, either because they were great places to get my caffeine fix while I did work, or because they were perfect spaces to come together with the friends I’ve made in my time here and talk life over great food and a cup of cafe con leche.  Plus, what better way to get out of the house than to do some internet research and go on a cafe adventure through the city?

Full City Coffeehouse – Palermo

French toast, cafe con leche, and hip exposed brick vibes

Felix Felicis & Co. – Palermo

Cozy space, hand-painted benches, chai latte, whimsy, and Harry Potter references galore

El Gato Negro – Corrientes

Vanilla & cinnamon tea, Monday night life chats with my dear friend Miranda, classic charm, and the black cat motif on every surface

Ninina Bakery – Palermo

Birthday brunch date with my sweet friend Alison, high ceilings and plenty of natural light, pancakes with fruit, tea, and the nicest waiter in the world

NEGRO – Microcentro

Cozy space, delicious food, lemonade with just a little too much lemon, cafe con leche, and wonderful company in my sweet friend Molly.

La Biela – Recoleta

A last-minute meeting with a friend I made in one of the street vendors at Feria Recoleta, waiters using professionalism to mask their sense of humor, hot tea that you pour through a strainer into your cup, and a wonderful example of a more traditional Buenos Aires cafe.

Le Ble – Caballito & Recoleta

One of my favorites! French-inspired menu and decor with locations throughout the city, home of bread bowls, spiced green chai tea, hours of conversation, and coffee mugs the size of my head.

Cafe Malvon – Villa Crespo

My favorite cafe in all of Buenos Aires.  Boasts whimsical decor, cozy seating, and ridiculously wonderful brunch options – from apple french toast to apple chicken sausage – in addition to friendly staff.  Quickly became our favorite brunch spot this semester! 

Just be – let me tell you.

The last five months, I’ve been learning the rhythms of life in a big city: street noise, concrete, buses and bustling traffic.  In the middle of it all, thousands of individuals crossing paths with one another every moment, layer upon layer of stories being written every day.  In my mind, the city is a blank canvas, every person a nuanced shade, tracing trails of color as they go about their day, creating something that is ever changing and was never there before.  I never know who my trail is going to intersect with, what the colors will add up to be after we’ve all come and gone, and that’s how I’ve discovered beauty in the unexpected.

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Yesterday, I was visiting the MALBA, Buenos Aires’ Latin American art museum, wandering around the galleries with my friend Miranda when a painting caught my eye.  Just as quickly, so did the figure sitting in front of it, hunched over a notebook, filling its pages intently.  Something about him made me look twice; he looked up, and we both started laughing.  Out of all of the thousands of people who come in and out of the museum every day, what were the odds that my one and only porteño friend would be who I bump into? I quickly took a seat beside him and my friend Jero pulled me into a hug.  We sat like that for a solid minute, and this is one of the reasons I adore Jero: A couple times, I tried to say “Cómo estás?” o “Qué tal?” but I found that the hug wasn’t over.  It was a total surprise to bump into each other, I have a sneaking suspicion we had both had a long day, and we just needed to sit like that for a minute there.

Once Miranda had joined us on the floor and we’d began talking about the new Yoko Ono exhibit upstairs, Jero held up a little paper tag.  Part of the exhibit was a cluster of three trees, and the idea was for individuals to pick a dream, jot it down, and hang it on the trees until the white covered the green.  “Do either of you have a dream?” he asked.  “I can’t think of one – I guess probably because I try to be living in the moment.”

The image of the trees is much like my image of the city: the echoes of the existence of a thousand individuals, adding up to become something that can stand alone.  But still, I smiled at the irony in Jero’s statement – we all have dreams, we all have things we are striving towards, whether they’re nebulous and we’re not sure what we’re chasing, or we’ve already contained them with our words.  Yet, at the same time, I think a dream – a goal, a wish, a hope, a desire – for many of us is to be present in every moment.

One of my dreams for Argentina was to become the person I’d always wanted to be.  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.  And I miss so much of the moment, and I create so many wasted dreams.

Being and dreaming – they go hand in hand.  But the trick to stop dreaming of who you could be or you should be, and instead, sculpt your dreams from who and whose you already are.

Have you ever tried to plan a monthly devotional for yourself, only to fail a few days in?  I know I have.  My dreams to walk closer with the Lord and dedicate my time in the Word crumble faster than my hands can put the pieces back together, and shame washes over me.  I could be better.  I should be better.  Read more, journal more, pray more, do more.  But it’s only when I stop seeing the Gospel as a goal to reach that I allow it to tell me who and whose I am, and that allows me to be the person God has already made me to be.  And I like that person.  She doesn’t have to schedule in her quiet time, because she wants to be with the Lord.  She has wild, crazy, wonderful dreams for her life that flow out of that being, because she is grounded in a Being much greater than herself.

Every morning, I wake up a little more determined to be that girl – the one that He has already made me to be – and learning more about her when I least expect it.  On the canvas of our busy lives, there are moments that God uses to get our attention – a slant of the sun, a song in the air – or a hug in the middle of an art gallery.  As we sat there, I realized how quick I am to start a conversation, to jump in with both feet, to do and say the right thing – when sometimes, I simply need to just be.  Future and present, dreaming and being – it’s a paradox worth exploring, because only God is capable of the contradictions.

Let me tell you about Sisterhood.

We had been singing for a good twenty minutes, dancing, arms raised, sharing grins with strangers, bound together by the giddiness of the men of the church dressed in suits handing us little pink cupcakes at the door, the flower crowns and the click of the camera, the massages and manicures being offered in the lobby. The music that swept through the room in a crazy crescendo of lights.  The fact that we are celebrating womanhood tonight, exploring what it means to be women in the body of Christ that is the church.  Less so for me, but I know for the people around me: exploring what it means to be a woman in this body of Christ and this church that is Hillsong Buenos Aires.

It was a full house, and I’d been sent straight to standing room on the balcony, just barely snagged a spot at the rail to prop myself up on, with a good view of the stage.  When this girl with a curly mane of dark hair and a star-speckled top nudges up against me during the prayer.  I give her a look, and she smiles at me, not a hint of aggression or irony, a real smile, friend-to-friend.  She nudges up against my shoulder, pushes past me, and I step back in surprise.  It becomes clear as her face lights up – she just wants a spot at the rail. She cranes her neck – she just wants to see the pastor’s wife, Lucy, as she sets up her Bible on the podium to speak.  The trouble is, so do I – one hand firmly planted on the railing, I grit my teeth and prepare to dig my heels in.  But then I take a second look at her.  And I pick up my bag and my coat and I went to lean against the wall to listen to the sermon.

Because let me tell you, this girl was electric.  She was humming.  The energy that had been crackling in the room had taken root inside her – everything she touched sparked under her fingers.  You could see it in the back of her eyes, in the grin that may have permanently stretched from ear to ear, in the way she pulled off the cap of her pen with her teeth and poised it over her notebook, attention riveted on Lucy’s words.  This girl was sisterhood.

Because sisterhood is about wanting to see, not be seen.

Because sisterhood is not about defending your place at the railing.

Sisterhood is a worldwide movement for women by Hillsong Church.  There is declaration, written by Hillsong principal pastor and Sisterhood founder Bobby Houston.  We read it last night in Spanish, and I looked it up in English when I got home.

I AM SISTERHOOD is a declaration.

It is our collective here and now – and belongs to any feminine soul, who somehow believes that she was born for more than what is temporal and fleeting.

It’s for women of all ages and background, personality and style, colour and vibrancy. It’s for the bold and bodacious, the demure and unassuming.

It’s the sisterhood that perhaps heaven imagined when a very intentional Creator created His girls. It’s strong and beautiful, feminine and gracious, authoritative and gentle and above all else, welcomes the broken and discarded.

Welcomes the broken and discarded.

Whichever way you see or understand it, it is a growing movement of women across the earth.

Applause thundered through the theater as Lucy spoke, fighting back tears the whole time.  The depth of her affection for us as her sisters in Christ and for the women of these church was evident by the emotion in every syllable.  But for every moment that her voice broke, there were a hundred more in which it boomed through the room without a tremor of doubt as she empowered and encouraged us as women with words of truth.  You are unique.  You are special.  You are created in the image of God.  There is greatness in you.  Don’t believe the enemy, who wants to limit you.  You were created to get up and overcome darkness, you were created to show your light, for Him to shine through you.  Open your life!  My heart sang as I recognized that this was both the what now and the why, that who I am is who I am because of what God says is true about me and who I am shapes what I do and what I do has purpose designed by the Creator of all living things.

And I am special, I am purposed, I am able but I am not alone.  When we are able to realize that we are uniquely created, we are able to disentangle ourselves from competition.  And when we are filled with confidence and conviction of who we are as women of God, it overflows into the way we see other women as women of God, women of purpose, women of greatness.  It doesn’t make us perfect, and it doesn’t make them perfect either, but it does make us powerful.

And this process is hard but it’s worth it, because sisterhood is messy, but marvelous.  Sisterhood is the idea that you see someone’s beauty before you see their brokenness.  You see their soul before you see their shortcoming.  You recognize that someone else was born for more than what is temporal and fleeting, and that gives them something in common with you.  It’s the truth that utterly changes who you are and when you’re changed, it changes who they are to you.

It’s not becoming something new, it’s stepping into the reality and the richness of who we’ve always been.  Daughters of the King, sisters in the Lord.  The three goals of Sisterhood are to come together, to equip, and to mobilize.  We are an army of women who know our worth, and we are going to change the world.  One shared smile at a time.

Want more on the Sisterhood movement from Hillsong? Click here.

Let me tell you about hills & valleys.

A week and a half ago, just when I was craving open skies and fresh air and an escape from the city, went on a girls’ trip to the beautiful Argentine province of Mendoza.  Unfortunately for those nature dreams of mine, it’s winter here and Mendoza is tucked away at the foot of the Andes mountains running between Argentina and Chile, so the weather was pretty yucky.  So much so that while we’d hoped to go hiking in the Andes (because how many times do you get that chance?!) there was too much snow and all of the excursions were shut down.  Hence why this post is about hills and not mountains.  However, the grey skies and showers didn’t stop us from going on a wineries tour, exploring the city, making friends at a local parrilla, hitting up the hot springs, and finally, going to Plaza General San Martín in search of an overlook that, according to the lady checking us in at our hostel, had the best panoramic views of the city.  Doing everyday life in the city, I walk or take public transportation or walk to take public transportation just about everywhere I go – but I sprained my ankle in April, so it’s been awhile since I really hiked.  And somewhat to our surprise, reaching this overlook turned out to be much more of a trek than it was a leisurely walk, especially as the sun slipped behind the buildings and the light began to grow dim.

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The lovely friends I spent the weekend with – halfway up the hill at Cerro de la Gloria!

As we walked, and my legs began burning, I let my mind wander far and free, flipping through images of my trip so far and processing what this experience has looked like for me.  And while one half of my brain did that, the other half reminded me how tired I was, how late we’d gone to bed, and how far we were from the top still. Shush – just imagine how good it will feel when we get to the top, I thought to myself.  In that moment, the two sides of my head collided, and I realized something about hills and valleys.

Many thanks to Miranda for the photos – my phone was dead!

Last semester, I got a little lost.  I thought I was climbing a hill towards one thing, and then another, and then another, until one by one I watched them disappear.  Relationships, leadership positions, community.  They all sort of fell apart at the same time.  That’s not to say I didn’t have a lot to be grateful for, had I stopped my climbing and taken a good look around.  But I was just so sure there was something waiting for me at the top of that hill.  I deserved something more – I was doubtful.  I craved that feeling of success – I was prideful.  I never found what I thought I was looking for – I was lost.

Going by the proverbial image of hills & valleys, the valleys in life are where peace is found, where we can rest.  Makes sense, but it’s just not for me – I’m a mountain kind of girl.  I’ve got my eyes fixed and my heart set on what’s waiting for me at the peak.  That’s where I think I’ll find peace and rest and whatever else you can imagine, and it takes a lot to stop my striving – which I’m convinced is why God picked me up and put me in Argentina for four and a half months.

There’s something about traveling that reveals to me immediately the places of this world that I’ve staked my hope instead of the Gospel and my God, because it strips me of them completely.  No community, no comforts, no complacency.  The moment I got off the plane, everything I found myself deeply rooted and invested in suddenly felt very far away.  Everything I’d thought was at the peak of my mountain no longer felt so pressing or possessive – so I wondered, what was?

It took me a couple of months to find out.  Halfway through this semester, I lay where I’d fallen, the most broken I’ve ever been, scrapes on my palms from the sharp rocks, miles of effort lost, when I realized that maybe I was trying to reach something I was never promised in the first place.  God promises that I can know Him, He promises wisdom, He promises joy, He promises a life after this one, He promises His plans are for my good and His glory.  But He never promises that I’ll always live up to the expectations of the world or of others or myself.  He never promised me a boyfriend.  He never even promised me community, or success, or smooth sailing.

I thought, what if I started acting in faith on what He has promised instead of turning my heart towards what He hasn’t?

He promises joy – I bought myself some books and spent an afternoon at the park reading and eating cookies, I joined some blogging groups on Facebook and started dreaming about the places this corner of the Internet could take me, I picked up writing fiction for the first time in years.  I pursued the paths I knew my soul already loved and I asked God to walk in that with me, and I found my joy again.  He promises His plans are for His glory and my good – so I committed to being the person God made me to be – not the person the world, other people, or even I say I am or should be, but just how He made me, even if it’s too much or not enough.  I realized that when you are yourself, you’re drawn to the people who get you, the people who you can invest and who will love and support you right back, just as you are – and I found my community again.  He promises I can know Him – I got this itch to spend time in the Word that I can’t even explain, and I found a Bible study & journaling method that actually works for me.  I fell deeper in love with Scripture than I ever have before, and it started to stick in my mind and my heart and spill over into everything I do in new ways – and I found my self again.

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I felt like I was at a new high, and it scared me to think of taking all this transformation and time home with me and staying true to the truth I know now.  I never want to feel as lost and low as I did before.  But what I realized as I trudged along up Cerro de la Gloria – which, appropriately enough, is Spanish for “Hill of Glory” – is that life is one big hill.

Take relationships, for example – you walk for years trying to follow the right path and the right person, and I know I’ve felt like I was climbing, expecting that perfect relationship to fall into my lap at the top.  But if you’ve ever known a married couple, you know finding the person God has for you isn’t the end of that hill.  Marriage takes work and has its challenges, too.  When I meet that guy, it might feel like I’ve finally reached the top – but that journey ain’t over.  So if that hill has a false peak – what’s the real one?

The ultimate summit, what we’re always striving towards, is being with God.  It’s going to encompass our entire life, and some parts of that mountain will be easier to climb than others.  But along the way, as we walk, we have the chance to be ever becoming more like Him.  Sometimes, I’m going to go the wrong direction, or I’m going to fall down, or that hill’s gonna get steep.  That’s why it’s so important to me to know what I’m walking towards, so I can keep going – and so as I pass people struggling up their own hills, I can share this with them, look them in the eyes and say – hang in there, we have hope, and there is SO much more ahead.

Because that view from the top of Cerro de la Gloria, watching the final fragments of the pink-and-orange sunset through the trees as the lights turned on, twinkling in the city below?  It made that journey priceless.  And God promises so much more than just a pretty view when we reach everlasting.

So if you want to know the biggest thing I’ve learned in Argentina, it has nothing to do with Spanish, but everything to do with God.  I’ll forever be climbing this hill called life, but goodness, do I now more than ever feel equipped to take it on.

 

 

Life in two languages – let me tell you.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to hear Brian Houston – founder and principal pastor of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia – speak at the Hillsong Buenos Aires branch that has become our home church here.  I’ve loved Hillsong’s music and mission for years, so it was incredibly exciting to hear him speak – and then something funny happened.  When he took the stage, his Australian accent was so thick coming through the PA system that sometimes, it was easier to understand Chris’ translating in Spanish than Brian speaking in English!  We all looked at each other in disbelief, and kept cracking up about it all the way home.  But listening to that sermon in two languages made me think about all the other ways my brain jumps from one to the other, and how far I’ve come in my ability to balance both since I’ve been here.

The place was PACKED  – this was pretty much the best view I got of Brian. Still an incredible message and a fantastic opportunity to hear him speak!

Something you should know about me: my mind is constantly juggling five or six thoughts at once.  They might cross paths peacefully, or they might collide, and sparks fly as they fight one another for my undivided attention – something I’m beginning to think doesn’t even exist.  Sometimes it’s distracting, like in the middle of a conversation, and focus is something to work on, but sometimes it’s useful, like for writing papers or thinking ahead.  I’ve gotten used to the idea of my mind as a computer’s internet browser, cluttered with tabs opened all at once.  I just never knew that those tabs had the capacity to run in different languages at the same time.

That’s the fascinating thing about my experience abroad for liberal arts language studies – I’m never wholly immersed in one language or the other.  Maybe the experience would be enhanced, more effective, if I was – but I don’t necessarily think so.  All of my classes are in Spanish, but I still get to a certain point where I need to process some of the more complex information in English to really learn.  When I leave the house, I’m usually listening to music in English, but the second I walk out the door, a part of my brain shifts to Spanish.  I’ve discovered it’s possible to hear both Taylor Swift in my earbuds and the couple talking next to me on the colectivo at the same time, and understand both.  I can place my order with the waiter in a café at the same time that I type a quick text back to my mom.  It’s not so much that I’ve gotten good at translating – it’s just that I’ve had one foot in both worlds for so long now that I’ve become capable of linguistic multitasking, I can process both simultaneously.  Thinking about what I’d like to do with my abilities in Spanish moving forward, this makes perfect sense.  If I’m teaching language in a secondary school, I will constantly have to be speaking both languages to transfer my students’ understanding from one to the other.  So I can’t complain – I’m literally practicing everyday what I’ll be doing as a teacher.

But thinking in two languages has its challenges: I find I’ve settled into a habit.  My stream of consciousness is a mix, darting back and forth between one and the other in the same breath, with misplaced words and haphazard sentences.  Anytime I buy anything here, the transaction takes place in Spanish.  When I grab breakfast at the Miami airport during my layover on the way home next month, what language my words will come out in, I have no idea.  Those little phrases that I use walking down the street – gracias, chau, permiso, perdon, dale – they’re going to make an out-of-place appearance my first month back in the States, more than a few times.  A world where everyone speaks English will probably scramble my brain for a bit.  But the familiar always has its advantages: speaking Spanish is always hardest for me first thing in the morning, while I’m still half awake, unfortunately for my poor host parents.  Sometimes when I wake up, it takes some extra energy to get me out of bed, knowing that I’ll have to push reset on the connection between thinking and speaking as soon as I open my door.  I’m sure I’ll be astonished the first time I mumble some jumbled mess of good morning at my roommate only to have her respond without blinking an eye.  Being understood on the first try, or with my mouth full, or when I’m looking the other direction, or when my pronunciation is off, is something I’ll never take for granted again.

There’s another part of going home that makes me nervous, even though I brushed off my advisor’s concern back in March.  I’m finishing my Spanish minor here out of necessity – two majors and a minor and graduating on time, oh my – so the question becomes not, what happens when I’m no longer speaking Spanish daily, but rather – what happens when I’m not speaking Spanish at all?  How quickly will I lose the command I’ve gained here over the language?

The Vanderbilt Spanish department sends me weekly emails during the school year about events and workshops on campus – I’ll admit I’ve ignored them in the past, but that’s about to change.  The Spanish department also sponsors a service organization and for the first time, I filled out their fall interest survey and plan to participate somehow.  I have some books in Spanish.  I know some songs in Spanish.  I have quite a few friends who also speak Spanish.  The intentionality behind it just changes – it becomes my responsibility to find ways to learn the language I’ve grown to love.  And that makes me appreciate these last four weeks here even more than I already do – because I’ll kind of miss living in two languages.