Fight the good fight – let me tell you about this semester.

Happy last first day of school from your favorite senior who’s not ready to admit that the countdown has begun!  I just left my first class of the semester: Western Military Thought, the capstone course for my history major.  Scribbled in the margins of my notes from the introduction of class is this: “You can’t have a strategy without a goal.”

I knew that coming into this school year, only a month and a half out of my time in Argentina, was clearly going to be an adjustment.  I needed a plan – to keep those lessons I learned at the front of my mind, create boundaries, promote health, and continue to seek after Christ.  And to create that plan, the heartbeat behind how and where I spend my time in this final semester of undergraduate classes, I made myself a list of goals.

I’ve pulled that list out several times since I’ve been back, just to remind myself what I’ve committed to, because already the enemy is flooding my system and my surroundings with busyness, anxieties, fears, missteps, and frustrations.  I tend to throw myself into defensive mode to counteract the barrage of information and activities to keep track of – and that only causes more problems than it solves.  Today  I was thinking – maybe it’s time to step out, not shrink back.

My mom has always had this saying – “Be a duck.” Let things roll right off your back.  Don’t get so worked up about the little things.  It’s good advice, even if my pride and stubbornness have held me back a long time from admitting it.

I am, by nature, the opposite of a duck, whatever kind of bird that is.  Things sit heavy on my head and heart; I get worked up about them quickly and it takes me a long time to come back down.  In my mind, there is a fine line between complacency and conflict – however harmless the remark, I can’t stand it when there’s no challenging an insult, a mark of disrespect, or miscommunication.  Even if it’s my remark, I would rather wade through the murky water of apologies up front than let the possibility of my thoughtlessness linger in someone else’s world.  They say pick and choose your battles – but what if all of my battles matter to me too much to put any of them down?

This is a year where I have to make choices.  I have to decide what my priorities are, what is the most important to me.  And in evaluating those, in every time I get worked up about something, I have to remind myself.  It’s okay to be a duck, it’s okay to let some things go; and it’s okay to fight for some things at the same time.  When it comes to our circumstances, Scripture has a caveat for how we respond and what we prioritize.

There are two kinds of fights.  There’s fighting for ourselves – for control, power, image or success.  For the things we want, for the things we don’t trust God to handle for us, for the things of the world.  Scripture has a response to that.

We do live in the world, but we do not fight in the same way the world fights. // 2 Corinthians 10:3

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still. // Exodus 14:14

To me, that’s not a fight at all.  That’s when I respond from a place of self-defense, not security; I lash out, rather than choosing love.

Then, there’s fighting for the Gospel. For our identities to be rooted in Christ.  For the light to shine in the darkness.  For truth to be louder than fear.  For the chance to know Him deeper and walk with Him more closely.  For the people around us to know love and be known.

Fight the good fight of faith, grabbing hold of the life that continues forever. You were called to have that life when you confessed the good confession before many witnesses. // 1 Timothy 6:12

I want the life that continues forever.

I choose to fight the good fight of faith.

These are the things I’m going to fight for this year.

I want to stop saying that in the next stage of my life, I’ll meet these goals or purse these activities.  I want to do them now.  Just like I want to stop saying that at the next turn, I’ll be the person I want to be, instead of being her now, when I’d like to be most.

I want to recapture the languid pace of life in Buenos Aires, the way the hours stretched by, and translate it in Vanderbilt’s environment.

I want to wake up at 6:30 every weekday morning, no exceptions.

I want to keep listening to podcasts while I get ready in the mornings.  I want to eat breakfast, then sit at the kitchen table and read my Bible.

I want to do my homework right after the class for which it’s assigned.  I want to leave that class with all of my ideas and notes bubbling at the surface, take an hour to sit down and organize myself for whatever work needs to be done for the upcoming week.  If my brain is worn out from class, it’s okay to kill half an hour first.  But it has to be started – at least looked at – that same day.

I want to pick a consistent time of day and place to sit and write or “work.”  I want to do what Anne Lamott said and just put down words on the paper, a one-inch picture frame at a time, whether it’s TWC prompts, HopeWriters, blog research, or just plain word vomit.  I want to do it every day that I’m able. I know I won’t always be able. I want to try anyway.

I want work out.  I want to do my ankle exercises, squats, lunges, pushups, sit-ups, planks every day. I want to go to yoga class, just one hour a week. And I want to go work out with somebody else.  Not all the times, but a couple of times.  Some times.

I want to pour into my friends and be poured into.  I want to pursue lunches, dinners, breakfasts, brunches, coffee dates, work nights, Starbs on Sundays, whatever it is, whatever it takes to love on them and be in community.  I want to put my phone away every time I sit down with someone. I want to talk about the messy parts of life and create spaces that are authentic.  I want to not overwhelm myself with people, to see time with them as rest, as a privilege, and not an obligation or an evaluation.

I want to work hard for Phi Lamb, and I want to work hard for band.  But I refuse to let either one of them work me up to the point where my identity, my joy, or my value is determined by how either are going.  I want to give what I can and walk away with my hands open and my head high and my gaze fixed on things that are more important.

I want to create meaningful relationships in Navs.  I want to go every week, and I want to do every week of the study.

I want to cook, budget, and meal prep.  I want to make actual recipes and learn what I’m doing even if it means I fail a few times.  I want to learn some basic dishes that I like, that are easy, and that I can freeze.  But I want to eat well and I want to teach myself what I’m doing, even if it means I have to block out some extra time.  Just look at it as mental health time.  Because that’s what it is.

I want to put my phone up at 10:30pm.  It gets plugged in across the room. If there’s not an outlet across the room, it goes in the living room.  Until I go to sleep, I want to read.

I want to be kind to myself.  I can’t do everything I want to, just everything I can.  The things that I’ve drug along as I’ve skated through the surface of life, making it from one day to the next by the skin of my teeth, carrying a load that I promise myself will lighten as soon as I reach the next milestone or checkpoint – when they start to weigh on me, I will let them fall.

 

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.

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 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.

 

 

Let me tell you why I’m a writer.

My mom tells me all the time, You’re going to be a writer.  I think writing is going to become something for you.

And thank God for sweet mamas like mine, because if I didn’t keep hearing that affirmation, I’m not sure I would believe it myself.  One of my favorite blog posts of all time is by Christina Hubbard at Creative & Free – “When You Want to Introduce Yourself as the Real You.”  She recounts a time she quick to brush off the significance of her role as a mother when someone asked her what she did for a living at a conference, and shares the value in learning to own who you are, whatever those identifiers may be, because we all have worth in our becoming.  Pretty often, I’m not quick to call myself a writer, because in every way that matters, I feel like I’m still very much in the process of becoming one.

For years, I’ve put pen to paper as a way to get out all of the thoughts rattling around in my brain.  Too long without writing a poem, a song, a paragraph, a page, or several, and my head starts to feel too full.  It’s not just that I’ve got too many thoughts and ideas bouncing around in there, it’s that I find myself choosing between being where I am in the moment and holding onto them.  When life happens and the only way to keep going is to take it one thing at a time, writing is the thing that falls to the bottom of that list.  And when I make that choice, those thoughts and ideas that are big – truth to tease out, questions to wrestle, sparks to fan into flames, all about who God is and what He’s doing in my life and who I am and what I’m doing with my life and the things of this world and my place in them – they happen, they flare up for a moment, and then they fade away before I can grasp hold of them and really find out what they have to tell me.  At the end of the long day, sometimes I just want to put in my headphones, lay down, and think about all the things I haven’t had time to fully think about yet.  And yet, it’s only a matter of minutes until I reach for my laptop or my journal or my phone and I capture that concept with words, I pin it to the page with letters and consonants and constructions that make it what it is, and make it mine.

Last week, I lingered after my strategies for academic production (read: writing) Spanish class as everyone else trooped out the door so that my professor could finish grading the last page of my paper. This is my favorite class and my favorite professor in Buenos Aires.  Not only am I becoming a better writer in Spanish, but my capacity to understand and engage on topics of construction and communication in writing in another language has reaffirmed my love for writing in such an unexpected way.  And my professor’s knowledge and understanding of how to use words to your advantage, how to construct your sentences to convey what you mean and not just what you say, blow me away every class.  So when she handed back my paper and complimented me on my writing, it was a compliment I took seriously.  What I wasn’t expecting was her next question: “Do you want to write after college?”

Do I want to write after college?  I never want to stop writing.  I see these beautifully designed blogs full to bursting with words on the web every day and I want to chase after that dream.  I want to dive into the world of ebooks and never come up for air, never look back.  But, I explained, stumbling over my words in Spanish, I also want to be a history teacher, I want to invest in students’ understanding of their own citizenship and the power they have in every moment to create what happens next.  I also want to read for the rest of my life, spend forever with my nose in all the books I can get my hands on, and I want to never stop learning about the past and the way it’s created my present.  I’m torn between these loves – education, writing, history – and I’m not sure where they’ll lead me.  “That’s my problem,” I said, half-joking, “I’ve just got too many interests. I’ve got to narrow it down.”

In an instant, something shifted in our lighthearted conversation, and my professor looked me square in the eye like she had truth to share and she knew it.

“That is not a problem.”

She went on to tell me her story, how she had pursued several different areas of study and even been down several different successful career paths before coming to linguistics and Spanish and the position she is in today.  She wanted me to leave knowing that it was possible to love more than one option, and chase them all.  I left that conversation struck by those words and wondering – how often do I see my passion as a problem?  How often do I see writing as something that interferes with my intentions for my life, or as merely a hobby rather than a habit?  How often do I deny myself worth in my becoming?

So let me introduce you to the real me.  I’m a lover of words and the power they have to let me put meaning to my story, to let me link it to the Bigger Story my God has been weaving together since the dawn of time, and letting me share those little snippets I glean of that during my time on this earth with the rest of the world.  I’m a lover of language, of its power to construct connections and to give each of us as individuals something in common, that you have the means to share the way your see the world and I have the means to receive it.  I’m a lot of different things, and I beginning to come to terms with the realization that I will never be easy for myself or anyone else to figure out.  But if I’m becoming a little more every day of the person God has created me to be, than that is something worth documenting.  And for that, I am a writer.

Let me tell you about the little victories.

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.

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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!

 

Let me tell you about fear.

When things are going wrong, or even somewhat poorly, my friends and I like to say that being a person is hard.  Just in general some days.  Life throws a lot at you, and sometimes you don’t know whether to take the hit or throw right back.  We all have days where we can’t bring ourselves to do either and we just try to hang on until it’s over, no matter where you are, where you’ve come from or where you’re going.  Being a person when the environment, the language, the people, the culture – everything – is brand new is also hard.  Just in a different way.  For me, being here, I’ve noticed that it’s more saturated with fear.  Not fear of being robbed or getting lost.  Not even fear of missing every opportunity or making the most of this experience.  No, I’m afraid at a more basic human level than that.

I’m afraid that people will leave me.  I’m afraid I’ll get to be too much for people and I’m afraid that I won’t be enough.  I’m afraid that I’m not doing my best in my classes, and I’m afraid I’m not loving others as well as I’m able.  I’m afraid of horror movies. I’m afraid of pigeons. I’m afraid of losing my keys and my phone.  I’m afraid of being single.  I’m afraid of being in a relationship.  I’m afraid of how fast time flies by and I’m afraid of how slowly the seconds tick by.   I’m afraid of pushing others away and I’m afraid of letting them get too close.  I’m afraid of being vulnerable and I’m afraid of being rejected.  I’m afraid of being alone and I’m afraid of being in a crowd.  I’m afraid of being inconvenient, of being overbearing, of being a burden.  I’m afraid of dragging others down, and I’m afraid of being too positive.

Fear is contradictory and paradoxical.  It takes the best pieces of ourselves and skews them so that when look in the mirror, we let ourselves perceive only what we hear we should be instead of who we are.  What the rest of the world says should be true about us instead of what God says is already true about us.  I wrote about fear previously for The Rubies Project over on Throwing Pinecones, and how my pastor described fear as what I experience “when I cherish something, and monsters come after that thing, and I find myself as the only thing standing between the two.”  I still agree with that definition.  But I also think that fear is deeply tied to how we see ourselves – that maybe what we cherish most are those best pieces of ourselves, the qualities and quirks God created us with that make us who we are, and that’s what satan likes to come after the most.  So we turn to protecting ourselves from the perceptions of the world, whatever that takes and whatever that looks like.

There’s good news for that, because another quote of Randy’s that I loved was “a Christian is not someone who is never afraid, it’s someone who knows where to take their fear.”  At the cross, my identity is not in how the world perceives me, or even how I perceive myself.  It’s only in the fact that Christ thought I was worth dying for so that God could call me his daughter and I could be transformed, coming to see myself the way He sees me and the way He created me.  That’s what I want to see when I look in the mirror.  It’s going to take some time to change my way of thinking in getting there, but that’s where I want to be.

Because I’m not afraid to say what’s on my heart.  I’m not afraid to be honest.  I’m not afraid to call things like I see them.  I’m not afraid to dream big.  I’m not afraid to write.  I’m not afraid to sing.  I’m not afraid to be a leader or a teacher.  I’m not afraid to stick up for myself.  I’m not afraid to stay in my comfort zone, and I’m not afraid to try something new.  I’m not afraid to trust people quickly, and I’m not afraid to love people deeply.  I’m not afraid to laugh loudly and I’m not afraid to fall down.  But sometimes, I am afraid to be exactly who God’s made me to be.  And that’s something I never want to hold me back, so that’s something I’m going to have to get up every single day and leave at the cross.  Because fear follows you, and if I let it, it’ll follow me all around Buenos Aires and back home. Above all else, I’m not afraid of how God plans to use this space and season to strip me of that spirit of fear.