Let me tell you about living loved.

When I was in high school, I had this friend from church.  We didn’t see each other very often; she was homeschooled and I was at a public high school, but we talked in Sunday School and we visited each other’s houses in the summers and we caught up on life when we could.  Somewhere in the middle of my senior year, amidst all the other stress and strain of college applications, AP exams and normal teenage angst, she started texting me every morning.  Some days it was “Have a good day!” but most days it was just “Good morning Allie!”  It was a little thing, and after a week or so I had to admit I was perplexed and a little bit flustered by the pressure to reply, day after day.  But despite my hesitation, it didn’t take long for that exchange – just that quick little “Good morning!” or “You, too!” – to become a part of my everyday routine rather than another item on my to-do list.  We’ve lost touch over the years and I’m still not really sure why she choose then and there to reach out to me, morning after morning.  All I know is that we settled into a rhythm of supporting each other in the smallest way possible, and every day, it made me feel valued.

Recently I reconnected with a boy who makes me smile and now that we’re dating, he typically texts me good morning, too.  About a month into our relationship, he was out of the country for eight days and I wondered at how quickly something and someone can become a part of the rhythm of your life.

I haven’t written in a long time and there’s a lot of reasons for that, but the most obvious in my mind is that there’s very little rhythm to my life right now.  Senior year is supposed to be the time when you enjoy the ride – I’m not sure what kind of ride everyone else is on, but mine is a roller coaster and I’m clinging to the handles of my seat for dear life.  Here’s the thing though: I love roller coasters.  They taught me a lot about life about a year ago and the context has changed since then, but all the important things have stayed the same.  Life is messy and complicated and I make mistakes a lot, I get scared a lot, I get in scrapes a lot.  But a lot of times the beauty happens when I’m flat on my back, because the Lord uses those moments to get my whole entire attention instead of just a bit of it.

And then those are the moments remind me to give my whole entire attention to the people in my life that are dear to me when I’m with them, instead of just a bit of it.  This coaster might have some loops that tear my sight from one spot on the horizon to another, but the position of the sun doesn’t change and that is the community in my world.  Last week I laid flat on my back under a tree and stared at the sky with my headphones in my ears and I just let my brain think until all the thoughts ran dry.  And by the end of my mental wild-goose-chase, all I had left in me was to thank God that there are sunshiney days and rainy days and that He shows me the beauty in both when I’m on my back.

This is what I’m trying to say, wrapping up all the thoughts I’ve not gotten down on this corner of the Internet in the past few months: When there’s no other routine to follow, we have to find our rhythm in loving the people around us as hard as they’ll let us, as long as we can.  And if we’re going to commit to that, we have to open ourselves up to the belief that we are loved back, and trust God to fill in the gaps going each way with a love we’ll spend this whole life chasing to comprehend more deeply and fully.

It looks like a lot of things, but right now, for me, it looks like jumping out of an airplane or daring to ride the tallest coaster.  It looks like doing instead of analyzing, speaking truth instead of sitting in fear, and writing for myself when I should be writing for school.  It looks like spur-of-the-moment Colony House concerts with brand-new friends, like matching elephant pants, like Oreo truffles, like learning how to use chopsticks, like driving down Natchez Trace with Ben Rector on the radio.  It looks like losing control for the sake of living loved.

When do I feel it?
When do I feel it in my bones?
That kind of breathing
Whispering mysteries to my soul

I think it’s when I lose control
I think it’s when I lose control
We can’t keep fighting for a steady life, so
I’ll ride the wind like a feather toward home

Lose Control // Colony House

It may be a while since I’ve written over here – but I actually had the beautiful opportunity to write a post on living loved for my friend Emily Conrad’s February series! Check it out here.

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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 Ben & friendship.

I don’t think any of us planned to wind up there together last Saturday evening.  We all had tickets to see Ben Rector’s Nashville stop on his “Biggest Tour I have Ever Done” – me and Jess, Kathryn and Lexie, and Minta, and we all decided it would be much more efficient to carpool than to try to drive and park in downtown Nashville separately.  Once we got there, we all had seats for the lawn, so what was the sense in splitting up?  Even though a few of us had just met each other as we were loading the trunk and piling into my car that afternoon, when we walked into Ascend Amphitheater, giddy with anticipation and the fact that we were able to bring food into the venue – we were a band of five.

The grass was soaked from an afternoon thunderstorm, the kind I could swear is native only to Nashville, and we threw together all the blankets, towels, and rain gear we’d brought in an effort to claim a spot and keep ourselves dry.  We were in line early enough to have first dibs at the lawn, and wound up right at the front – for once in my life, I wasn’t going to have to strategically shift my weight around to be able to see at a general admission concert.  We got ourselves set up, then made a beeline for the merch stand and all came back with guilty-pleasure concert t-shirts, justifying each others’ choices, planning what we would wear them with and how often.  Steve Moakler performed as we snacked on the picnic dinners we’d brought, then Colony House took the stage, and I hummed along as we tried to wait patiently for the main event.

The other thing about that night – it wasn’t the easiest day of our lives.  We all had things weighing heavy on our hearts when we got there, or that cropped up somewhere in the middle, or that were already pulling at us in the days to come.  We shared some bits and pieces, but not everyone knew everyone else’s story.  But we all wanted to be there, and we all choose to be there with each other – so it wasn’t the thing that mattered.

We waited to stand up til the first notes of “Fear” echoed through the energy of the crowd as Ben took the stage.  The lights, the cheers, the melody reverberated off the river and into the core of each of the towering downtown buildings around us.  Something about an outdoor concert in the twilight of summer made me feel like the city was singing with us.  Maybe it was because Ben’s music is so honest, or maybe because it’s so easy to dance to, but every song struck a chord in each of us, in different ways.  Some we just listened, some we danced like fools, and to all of them, we sang every word together.

I’ve been to concerts where my head was somewhere else.  And I’ve been to concerts that were more about the person I was watching than the people I was with.  Every second of this night, I was all in, and so were the friends alongside me.  We didn’t just listen, we lived and breathed that moment in together.  And that’s what makes a night unforgettable – the fact that it’s tangible, it was real and it was electric and it was exhilarating.

When I saw Taylor live last year, she talked about how each night of her tour was one of those moments of pure joy she would pull out of a drawer in the back of her mind when the world wasn’t going the way she had planned, she would let herself go back to that moment and let herself feel what she felt then.  This was that night for me.  Senior year is crazy, and transitions are challenging, but there is so much wonder to be found in the in-between if you keep your eyes open for it.

And if you haven’t heard White Dress live on Spotify? Or watched Ben take six fans to Six Flags instead of making a music video?  If you made it reading this far, you’ve got to be curious now.  Go find your own wonder, whatever that looks like – but give Ben a whirl while you’re at it.

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Let me tell you about coming home.

I wake up in the morning to sunshine streaming in my window, a breeze rustling the tree right outside, birds chattering to one another, with Hamilton lyrics drifting through my mind – “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

I wake up in a queen-sized bed surrounded by four pink walls in a room that belongs to just me.  When I finally drag myself down the hall, I wash my face in a bathroom I share with my younger brother, with hot water and my own towel.  I come down the stairs and pick from one of five or six boxes of cereal.  At the touch of a button, I can make myself a cup of French vanilla coffee or vanilla caramel chai tea.

When I go upstairs to get dressed, I choose from an entire closet full of clothes and shoes, not counting the dresser drawers of t-shirts and shorts.  When I leave for the day, I don’t have to shut my door to keep the cats out.

It seems like everything I’ve done these past few days has been another tally mark on the list of things that set home apart from the last five months.  I texted a friend last Friday night, the moment I’ve felt most overwhelmed so far.  “There’s so much space in America,” I said.  “And so much stuff.”

Deadlines, e-mails, writing projects, books to read, quiet times, unpacking, cleaning up, talking to friends, and spending time with family.  Have you ever felt like there is an intense amount of stuff hovering around your head, fighting tooth and nail for your attention?

I think one of my favorite parts of studying abroad was that it revealed the strings that hold those things up, crowding my thoughts and my time, and sliced clean through them.  All of my stuff fell away in the reality of immersing myself in a completely different culture.

Coming home, I was completely prepared for the “reverse culture shock” – hearing everything in English, summer instead of winter, the fast-food chains and the pop radio playing and the everyday convenience of our culture.  I wasn’t, however, prepared for the simple shift in the way I had been living daily life.  Suddenly, instead of taking care of myself and spending most of my time alone, walking everywhere and relying on public transportation, I was helping out around the house and spending most of my time with my family.  I had a set of car keys and walking became a leisure activity, not a practical one.  Suddenly, when I don’t respond to texts or calls or emails, I don’t have the excuse of poor Internet or living in another country any longer.  Just like that, all of my stuff came swirling up around me again.  Those cords knit themselves back together the moment the plane touched down.

The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with the stuff that we’re continuously seeking to balance in our lives.  A lot of my stuff – community, family, creativity, my education – are wonderful things.  It’s just that I have this tendency to let my stuff tell me how well I’m doing in the game of life.  I evaluate my own value – I define who and how I am in the world – by how well I’m measuring up to my own impossible expectations.  When my head hits the pillow, my mind starts to swirl – Did I get what I wanted done today? What did I push off to tomorrow? How will I get it all done then?

God is calling us from the hollowness of self-made perfection to the wholeness of God-given completion.  He is doing a perfecting work in us, freeing us day by day from our false image of perfection, until we live in the freedom, joy and fullness of life for which we were made.

Amy Carroll, Proverbs 31 Ministries

When I listen to those voices, I base my identity in a self-made perfectionist’s false perception of performance.  What’s worse, I tune out the voice of God which tells me that freedom, joy, and fullness of life are things that are true about me already, without me having to do anything but claim them.

If you hang out with me on this corner of the Internet very often, you might have noticed a theme in my last few blog posts.  I walked away from Argentina knowing quite a bit more Spanish, but also knowing this: God made each of us with such intentionality.  I really like the person He made me to be.  Since being home, I’ve amended that statement.  Study abroad taught me a lot about who I am and who I’d like to be, but most of all, it taught me that every day is a choice: to let who I am be dictated by my stuff, or to own who I am – or rather, whose I am and who He says I am.  I think that means realizing something – the strings that hold all of our stuff around our heads aren’t really tethered to anything at all.  If we let them go, they’ll fall, and we can walk out of the haze of responsibilities and requirements and into the freedom of being who we really are.

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.