Parasites and Pity Parties in the Land of Peace

I used to have a blue stone with the word “Peace” printed in black letters on it. I can’t remember who gave it to me, only that it sat on my work desk for many years.

When my marriage was unraveling and peace was what I needed more than anything, I would look at that small stone by my keyboard several times a day. And when I felt particularly anguished and like my entire world was crumbling around me, sometimes I’d hold the smooth stone in my hand. I’d close my eyes, and pray that somehow God could supernaturally impart peace into my heart.

He did. But not always right away, and not without my cooperation.

Rarely was peace the result of a change in my circumstances. Rather, it was the fruit of a deepening relationship with my Heavenly Father. Peace found me when I intentionally sought God. When I took time to look at Him, instead of the world around me. When I choose to rest in His presence and love. And that’s when I would experience the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

I didn’t know how much I was craving this kind of peace until I tasted it firsthand. Then I was hooked, a lover and cultivator of peace in my own life. Perhaps that’s why when Natalie and I felt God calling us to La Paz, Bolivia, I was thrilled. Going to a place called, “The Peace?” Surely God was going to take me to a whole new “peace level.”

Over the last seven days we’ve had some incredible experiences, like the cable-car tour of La Paz we took to explore the city from new heights.

IMG_5213

IMG_3045

Not to mention the walking tour of the city.

IMG_3030

Then, there was the three-day excursion to check out the salt flats in Solar de Uyuni.

IMG_5294

Which made for some fun photos!

IMG_5518

The scenery was unbelievable and ranged from mountain lagoons with flamingoes…

IMG_3108

….to volcanoes…

IMG_3099

…to lush green pastures with llamas…

IMG_5517

…to wind-shaped rocks…

FullSizeRender 16

…and geysers!

IMG_5425

And it was just as breathtaking when we arrived to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca two days ago.

IMG_5560

IMG_5563

But despite being in a state called La Paz, peace hasn’t exactly been at a premium in my life over the last week.

Perhaps it’s the result of not sleeping well thanks to altitude sickness, uncomfortable beds and freezing hostels. Or being sick – I mean really sick to my stomach for 6 days. Or maybe, nearly a month into this whole trip, I’m just a little homesick. But whatever the reason, yesterday I woke up feeling the opposite of peace.

Besides feeling terrible, the clothes I tediously washed by hand in the bathroom sink, and hung to dry the night before, were still soaking wet.

IMG_3211

We had a 10+ hour overnight bus trip that evening and not wanting moldy clothes in my backpack, I knew I had to find a dryer. This doesn’t sound like a monumental task unless you understand that clothes dryers are a rarity in South America. It took asking three people, walking nearly two miles, and a frustrating exchange in Spanish with the man with said “dryer” (who wouldn’t actually tell me whether or not he had one) before I was back at the hotel.

I was hopeful that my clothes would be dried by the time I picked them five hours later, but more exhausted and annoyed than anything else. When Natalie woke up, I recounted my morning to her as the emotions spilled over into tears. “I don’t even know why I’m crying!” I lament. “I just think the S.H.I.T. factor is at all-time high.”

Natalie knows this acronym I coined years ago. It stands for the four major physical factors contributing to my overall well-being at any given moment:

S: Stress: Like when I pulled out my Macbook yesterday and discovered it’s now making a constant grinding noise (which is driving me crazy and I have no idea how I’m going to be able to fix since Apple stores and Best Buys don’t exist here). Or how 9 out of 10 times I try to use my debit card it doesn’t work – despite my repeated correspondence with my bank to let them know where I am.

H: Hunger: Like how I have to eat the bare minimum not to starve but also not to upset my already angry stomach. This was last night’s dinner.

IMG_3208

I: Imbalance: This can be hormonal, emotional, physical, whatever. Like right now with my stomach issues.  Let’s just say that I have to plan my entire day around the availability of a bathroom.

T: Tired: Like how I didn’t sleep a single minute the night before last and how I’m probably only averaging about 4-5 hours of sleep when I do.

Needless to say, Natalie and I agreed the S.H.I.T. factor was at play and decided the first thing we needed to do was be seen by a doctor. After our examination, we learned that while we both have some sort of bacterial infection, mine was “mas fuerte” [very strong] and would require some serious drugs to treat. Great. I was prescribed a concoction of antibiotics and anti-parasite medications to kill whatever has been wrecking havoc on my system.

IMG_3213

After that, we stopped in the nearby Cathedral to pray. But just as I began to quiet my mind and tune into God, I heard it. An awful wailing coming from behind me. I waited about 30 seconds before I turned around and spotted a very disheveled homeless woman sitting in the back of the Church with tears streaming down her face.

I whispered what I had seen to Natalie and then she asked, “Do you think we should go pray for her?”

“Yeah,” I said.

So, we got up and walked to the back of the Church before handing her and the other homeless woman near her some money. Then, I sat down in the pew next to the one weeping. There was an obvious language barrier, but after looking into her eyes and placing my hand on her shoulder I began to pray. I asked the Holy Spirit to ease her pain, fill her with God’s peace and remind her of how much He loves her. “Peace, peace, peace.” I whispered as her cries turned silent. The prayer seemed to have worked – at least in that moment.

After I finished praying, I looked into her tear-filled eyes and squeezed her hand. She nodded her head and said nothing. I didn’t know what else to do, so Natalie and I left the Church to walk back to our hotel.

As we stepped outside, I noticed a big wet spot on the right hip/thigh of my jeans exactly where my leg had been pressed against the homeless woman.

“Ummm, my leg is wet,” I say to Natalie as the thought dawns on me, “Oh my gosh, I hope she didn’t pee on me.”

Natalie grimaces and I just shake my head dejectedly. The S.H.I.T. factor is bad enough, do I seriously have to deal with pee too??

At this point I decide that I hate Bolivia and I’d rather wallow in my own pity party than talk, so I trail slowly behind Natalie until I can be alone.

I see her enter the hotel, but I’m not ready to go in. So, I plop down on the grassy shore of Lake Titicaca and pull out my journal.

In a flurry of words, I vent all of my frustrations on paper before I write, “God, why did you bring me to La Paz?”

In an instant, I know the answer: To remind me that peace is not found in ANYTHING in this world, only Him.

I know this is the truth, but I had temporarily lost sight of it. As I drop my head and take a deep breath, I notice a smooth stone near me. And with my pen and newfound conviction, I make my very own peace rock.

IMG_3216

I hold it in my hand and talk with God as tears began to spill down my cheeks. “Lord, give me your peace. Peace, peace, peace,” I pray.

And that’s when I detect a slight movement behind me. I quickly turn and less than a foot from my face is a gigantic mass of fur and two eyes.

“Oh my God!” I wince, bracing myself for an attack. Thankfully this huge, street dog isn’t affected by my reaction. He doesn’t even move. He just stares into my eyes and pants softly.

I reach tentatively to pet this “bear dog” and the minute my hand meets his face, he pushes lovingly into my hand.

IMG_3218

Again and I again I stoke his fur, amazed by his affection and the palpable peace he seems to exude. Street dogs in South America usually don’t even acknowledge humans, much less allow them to touch them. But sitting right next to me on the bank of Lake Titicaca is the sweetest dog I’ve ever met.

“Thank you, Lord,” I whisper, as fresh tears fill my eyes and my heart lightens.

As I sat on the bank with my new friend, I was reminded that God never asks us to suffer alone. Sometimes He sends a person to sit with us and be a channel of peace – like I had been to the homeless woman I prayed with earlier. Sometimes, he apparently also sends big, cuddly dogs.

But even after my furry friend left, I knew I wasn’t alone. God was with me, inviting me to rest in His love and cast my cares on Him. And reminding me once again that peace isn’t found in the absence of pain, in all the wonder and beauty of this Great Enlivening, or even in a place called “La Paz,” – but in Him, and Him alone.

Water, Wind & Fire

“Gracias, buen dia!” I say as I shut the taxi door. I hear his tires roll against the gravel behind me as he heads back down the mountain.

“Ok,” I think to myself, “no turning back now!”

I look around for a sign or something to mark the trailhead, but there’s nothing. There aren’t any people around either. But that’s when I hear it – the sound of rushing water. There’s a stream nearby, and I bet that’s where I can find the trail.

Rachel and I arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina a couple of days ago. It’s the southernmost city in the world and is lovingly (and accurately) referred to as “the end of the earth.”

When we arrived, Rachel mentioned that she wasn’t sure why we came to Ushuaia. But after the first day, she said “I think we’re here for you.” You see, I’ve been carrying a love around in my heart that I just couldn’t shake. And I was ready to let it go.  So in true poetic fashion, I tossed a token of that love into the sea, at the end of the earth.

IMG_4888
But that’s a story for another day.

Today, I’m hiking.  Alone.

Rachel wanted to come with me, but God made it clear that I was supposed to go by myself.

I can’t seem to find the trailhead, so I keep walking towards the sound of rushing water. I push my way through some trees and come into a clearing. I see the stream in front of me, and yes! To my left is the trailhead. Phew.

IMG_4893
I put my headphones in and start listening to Ed Sheeran’s “I see fire,” which has been stuck in my head all morning. And now I walk.

The incline is pretty steep. But I guess that makes sense. I am walking up a glacier after all. There are only a few other people on the trail, and as I pass them I give the obligatory “hola” and hope that my accent doesn’t make it too obvious that I’m a foreigner.

Argentina has a heavy European influence, so Rachel and I blend in pretty well here. But we’ve been told more than once that our Spanish sounds very “Mexican.”

The trail is following the stream. Zig-zagging back and forth. Sometimes there’s a bridge to cross the water, and other times I have to navigate the slippery rocks. It’s beautiful. But it doesn’t look much like a glacier.

IMG_4902

IMG_4913
After twenty minutes of hiking the trail curves away from the stream. And there it is – a giant, snow covered mountain.

IMG_5007
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but when I thought of climbing a “glacier” I didn’t think it was a mountain.  I can see the summit from here, and it’s at least 1,000 feet above where I’m standing. I take a deep breath and say, “ok, let’s do this.”

IMG_4963
As I walk, the terrain below my feet changes. First it’s gravel, then mud, then snow.


I’ve been walking for about an hour now, and I need a break. As I gaze up ahead, I see a curve in the trail and a boulder that looks like a perfect chair. I sit down and take a drink. I can feel the chill of the water making its way through my hot chest. And then, for the first time on this hike, I look back at where I came from.

IMG_4994
“Wow,” I say as I look down at the harbor below. My eyes lift and I see the mountain walls to the left and right. I feel a sense of awe wash over me as I realize that water and ice cut through this mountain and changed it forever. I don’t think I appreciated the power that water holds until this very moment.

I pull my rain jacket and hat out of my backpack and put them on. The higher I climb, the colder it’s getting.

I start walking again, and the trail is getting steeper. I need to slow my roll or I might slip. I’m thinking more about water, and my mind drifts to the other elements – air and fire.

They’re powerful in their own rights. Air gives life to everything on the earth and fire clears away the dead to make way for the new. I laugh at myself a little as I think “hiking always puts me in a tree-hugging mood.”

And then, two hours after I started, I’m here. The summit. “I can’t believe I’m on top of a glacier!” I say excitedly.

IMG_4966
I look around at the land below me, the rocks, the snow, and the grass in the distance. I think about the earth and realize that all of the elements impact it. Water changes the terrain, fire burns the brush, and air breathes life into the plants and animals. The earth is at the mercy of these elements. And for a moment, that doesn’t seem fair. Floods, fires and windstorms are traumatic and dangerous. Why does the earth just have to sit there and take it?

But that’s when I realize, that without all of that trauma, this beautiful place wouldn’t exist. There would be no flowing stream, no lush green grass, no snowy mountain top.

When this thought crosses my mind, tears fill my eyes. This is exactly what God is doing with me. I’m like the earth. By letting me experience pain, heartache and trauma, He’s changed the landscape of my soul forever. And he’s turning it into something more beautiful than before.

I take one final look around at the amazing view and smile.  I guess we did come to Ushuaia for me after all. I needed to let something go, so that God could show me something new – how he’s using everything for my good, and transforming me into the beautiful woman I’m meant to be.

IMG_4965

Lost in Translation and Losing It

Fierce. Blinding. Invigorating. The water rushes over me. I’m under a God-sized shower that has saturated every inch of my body. It’s coming so fast and powerful that I can’t keep my eyes open. But I feel the drops pelting my skin, and I’m smiling from ear to ear. A torrent of water pounds over me unexpectedly and I squeal with delight, laughing, as water fills my mouth. I don’t know if it’s safe to swallow, but it feels clean. I feel clean. Refreshed. And in awe.

There is no way this would happen in America. Taking a boat within feet of a waterfall bigger than Niagra Falls would be out of the question. Or if not, I would have had to sign my life away in order to do so. And probably pay a small fortune. But here I am in Iguazu Falls, Argentina, less than 4 feet from a gigantic stream of water that if I were directly under would likely drown me in a matter of minutes.

IMG_4756

There was no liability waiver. I just paid $650 Argentinian pesos (roughly $45 USD) for “La Gran Adventura.” And was it ever!

IMG_4801

“That was so cool!” I gush to Natalie after we are back on dry land. As soon as I say it, I realize how completely inadequate that word is to describe what we just experienced. “I mean, I’ve been skydiving, ridden in the back of an F-15 fighter jet pulling 8 Gs, but I think this might take the cake for most incredible thing I’ve ever done.”

I think about the rainbow we saw, the sheer power and intensity of the waterfalls, and the thrill of looking up to the top of the falls at the exact moment a majestic eagle soared directly overhead.

FullSizeRender 10

Check out this video!

Before we were soaked under the falls…

IMG_4778

It was beyond magnificent.

IMG_4586

IMG_4563

And dozens of photos and hours later we were still raving about our unbelievable boating adventure, not to mention the plethora of butterflies we encountered throughout the day.

FullSizeRender 8

FullSizeRender 7

Who knew butterflies were so friendly!?

IMG_4654

It was a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll never forget.

FullSizeRender 9

And thankfully one that made up for the less-than-awesome hotel we ended up staying in.

There’s a lot I could say – like how every time I tried to use my blow dryer I blew a fuse in our room. How my towel on the first day had huge makeup stains on it, the shower leaked, the vinegar bottle at the hotel restaurant had ants crawling on it and the power shut off completely during dinner. (The staff immediately set up two battery-powered lights on the buffet which leads me to believe this happens on a regular basis).

There was no comforter on our bed and the pool wasn’t very clean, but considering it was 95 degrees with 98% humidity, we were thankful for and took full advantage of it.

marcopolo-suites-iguazu

We decided to chuckle instead of grumble about these all things. After all, when you’re only paying $35 a night, you can’t really complain. But the best was the second and last night after a soak in the pool.

“You can shower first,” Natalie offers. “I’ll just take off my suit and wrap a towel around me while I wait.”

She does this and just as I’m about to step in the tub, I hear laughing. “Uh, Rachel, you need to see this.”

I wrap a towel around me and open the bathroom door. Natalie is just standing there with a silly grin on her face.

“What’s up?” I ask.

She turns around. It takes a moment to process what I’m looking at. And then I bust out laughing. There is a hole that is at least 5 inches in diameter in her towel.

I’m going to need to take a picture of that,” I announce, running to get my phone.

IMG_4849

I snap this photo and we both can’t stop laughing.

“I mean, how is that even possible?” I say incredulously. “Someone had to wash and fold that thing. And at what point did they think, ‘You know, that towel still has a good 8-10 washes left before it falls apart’?”

After regaining our composure we decide that this hotel is by far the dumpiest place we’ve ever stayed in. But it did give us a good opportunity to laugh – something we’ve been doing a lot of lately.

I’d like to think it’s because we’re settling into this whole international travel thing. We’re more relaxed, free spirited and able to just breathe and enjoy the world around us. And while that is part of it, there’s this other factor at play. Despite three months of Spanish lessons in Mexico and the fact that several native speakers have commented on how well I speak and understand the language, over the last week there have been a few epic blunders. Here, for your amusement, are my top five:

  1. I ordered an “espresso doble” at the airport café and instead of two shots of espresso, I got two cups. Unfortunately I didn’t realize the miscommunication until after Natalie ordered “lo mismo” (the same), and we ended up with four cups of espresso.

FullSizeRender 11

IMG_4532

  1. Hoping to refill my water bottle before our flight I asked an airport employee, “Hay una fountain de agua circa de aqui?” (Is there a water fountain near here?) He looked at me blankly and when it was clear that he didn’t understand what I was asking, I made repeated motions, bobbing my head up and down and demonstrating how to bend down and drink from a water fountain – which in hindsight probably communicated something else entirely. [For the record, there aren’t any water fountains at the Buenos Aires airport, but my impersonation of drinking out of one definitely made this guy smirk].
  1. I asked the receptionist at our hotel in Iguazu if they had a fitness center. “Si, claro, esta aqui,” (Of course, it’s here) she says pointing down the hall. After many minutes of searching and only finding the dinning room/game room, I can only assume she misunderstood me. Or that eating and playing pool are the only kind of exercise offered at this sketchy hotel.
  1. When we boarded our flight to Iguazu, Natalie’s seat was taken by someone else. So, the flight attendant began looking for places to seat us together. After a few moments she turns to us, pointing behind her and says, “There is room for you two in the overhead compartment.” Uh. Ok. I stifle a snicker and look where she is pointing. Turns out there are a few seats vacant in the exit row, so I figured she just mixed up her words and wasn’t actually suggesting that we would fit (at least not comfortably) in the overhead compartment. But considering the flight was oversold, it did make us a little concerned.

overhead bin

  1. While at breakfast our last morning in Iguazu, I discovered that like everything else we ate at this hotel, the scrambled eggs were pretty terrible, so salty I couldn’t even eat them. So, I asked the waitress if she had any “huevos naturales” (natural eggs)…” cocinado fuerte” (cooked strong). It wasn’t great, but the best I could do. She repeated something back to me that included “cocinado” and I nodded my head assuming she understood that I wanted hard-boiled eggs. “Cuantos?” (how many). “Dos, no, cuatro por favor.” (Two, no four please), I answered, knowing Natalie would like some also. A few minutes later she returned with our eggs and I was thrilled. I LOVE eggs. With great excitement I tapped one with my spoon to peel it…and that’s when I realized it was completely raw. eggs 010At that point, I was more baffled than disappointed. “What the heck am I going to do with raw eggs?” I ask Natalie. Thankfully when the waitress returned I was somehow able to communicate what I actually wanted and 20 minutes later she came back with four hard-boiled eggs.

Needless to say, we’ve had a lot of grins and giggles so far. We’re clearly not fluent in Spanish and I’m sure there will be many more miscommunications on this trip. But what God is communicating quite clearly to Natalie and me is that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. That this Great Enlivening is more than just novelty and adventure. It’s about finding levity in the world around us. It’s about taking time to laugh…regardless of whether it’s a result of a being right below an incredible waterfall, or seeing the most pathetic hotel towel in existence.

And not surprisingly, the more I laugh, the richer this experience becomes.

Little Love Stories

Ever since we arrived in Buenos Aires, my mind has been churning, turning and burning with thoughts on one topic – love.

Maybe this has something to do with being single on Valentine’s Day. Or perhaps it’s because I’m still finding my way through recent heartache. Or maybe it’s because couples in Buenos Aires spontaneously burst into make-out sessions ALL the time, all over the city.  Seriously.

Whatever the reason, the topic of love is at the forefront of my mind. Yet, when I think about “love” I tend to think of romance. And while romance is a beautiful facet of love, it’s not the whole picture. So in an effort to change my perspective, I decided to glance back at my Valentines week through a new lens. And I found some unexpected little love stories:

1) Elly’s Emergency

When we first arrived in Buenos Aires, we stayed at a hostel in the Palermo neighborhood. The location was great – close to restaurants, museums, nightlife, etc. But let’s just say that staying in a hostel in your thirties leaves something to be desired. Our room was approximately 45 square feet, sans air-conditioning (in 90 degree heat) and our continental breakfast included Cocoa Puffs.

Most of the other guests were in their early twenties and traveling on a shoestring budget. So after the first day, Rachel and I assumed we weren’t going to meet anyone who we felt a connection with. But that’s when we met Elly.

Elly is a fellow 30-something from Iran who’s taking a travel break before returning to Spain to finish her doctorate. Within minutes, we were all talking like old friends. But soon after we met, it was time to go our separate ways. Elly was heading to the Argentinian countryside for a few days, and Rachel and I were off to explore the city.

FullSizeRender_1

As Elly walked out the door I said “Hey, we’re getting an apartment, so when you get back on Friday, just let us know if you need a place to stay!”

“Ok, thanks!” She said.

And quickly I wondered if that was a really odd thing to offer to someone who I just met thirty minutes ago… “Oh well,” I thought to myself, “it’s nice to be nice!”

IMG_4257

Rachel and I spent the next few days taking in the urban skyline, the expansive green spaces and the tree-lined streets that make up Buenos Aires.
IMG_4321

There’s something about this city is completely energizing. We spent every night staying up later than we have in years. But after a few nights of that, it was time to catch up on our sleep.

IMG_4322So Friday night around 1AM, Rachel woke me up with a panicked voice. “Elly just messaged me. The hostel lost her reservation. She’s called a bunch of others but nobody has any availability!”

Yikes. The thought of being alone in a foreign country, in the middle of the night, with nowhere to stay is seriously scary, especially when you’re a young woman traveling by yourself. Oh yeah, and it was pouring down rain.

“Oh no… Tell her to come here!” I said groggily. Rachel agreed and sent her a message with our address inviting her over.

I started looking through closets to procure extra blankets and pillows. I found some and brought them into the living room. Rachel was standing by the couch, where she turned to me and said, “this couch is tiny! There’s no way she can sleep on this.”

I tried to lie down on the couch and had to prop my feet up on the armrest in order to fit. “Yep,” I said “way too small.”

So after a quick brainstorm we decide to create a makeshift bed on our living room floor out of yoga mats, blankets and throw pillows. We did this while we’re waiting for Elly to arrive. But after thirty minutes, she still wasn’t there, and we hadn’t heard from her

That’s one of the problems with international travel; you’re completely dependent on Wi-Fi to communicate. So there are periods of time when you’re completely out of touch.

But at this point, it’s about 2:30AM and we’re really worried. It’s late and she’s alone. So we did the only thing we could do at that point – we prayed. We prayed for her safety, and that God would quickly deliver her to her destination.

Just as we finish the prayer, my phone dinged with a text message, “Hey! I found a hostel with availability on my way over. Thanks for the offer, so sorry to keep you guys up!”

2) Ross da Boss

Ten days ago, we knew exactly one person in Buenos Aires – Ross. And we hadn’t even met him yet.

Ross is a friend of my good friends Megan and Jonathan. He’s an American who lives and works in Buenos Aires. And before we arrived, I linked up with him on Whatsapp. Which is apparently the only way that hip, young people connect these days.

IMG_4420

He sent us tons of recommendations and information about how to spend our time in Buenos Aires. And he even offered to meet us and show us around the Recoleta neighborhood.

cemetery

And as it turns out – Ross is awesome!

IMG_4416

We all hit it off and ended up hanging out a few more times. On our last free day in Buenos Aires, we planned to meet Ross at the National Cathedral, before walking through the San Telmo Market.

IMG_4418

So when Rachel and I got a taxi that morning, we told the driver to take us to “San Telmo” and assumed that the cathedral would be nearby. How big can one market be?

IMG_4433

Huge.

IMG_4450IMG_4445

The driver dropped us off at the opposite end of the market, and since we’re Wi-Fi dependent, we had no way to let Ross know that we were going to be late! So Rachel and I booked it to the other end of the market; which was at least two miles away.

IMG_4434

We showed up at the Cathedral 45 minutes late, and luckily, there was Ross! He looked relieved and said, “Hey! I was getting worried about you two!”

So after many apologies and jokes about our inability to navigate the city, we walked through the market together.

IMG_4451

3 – The Albino Bat

One of the perks of visiting Buenos Aires is its location. It’s perched right along the river’s mouth and on the Atlantic Ocean; which means it’s a one-hour ferry ride from Uruguay. We heard that Colonia, Uruguay is beautiful and since we’re eager to get as many stamps in our passports as possible, we decided to go!

IMG_4404IMG_4388

When we arrived in Colonia, we found that the town was cute, but boring, and incredibly hot (97 degrees). And we were stuck there for eight hours waiting on our return ferry. Ugh.

 

IMG_4353

The only thing to do in Colonia is walk. So we walked… and then walked some more. And as we walked, I said a silent prayer about our next steps on this journey. I knew with all certainty that God told us to go to Buenos Aires. I could feel it when we arrived. Everything about the city felt right.

But where to next? Our apartment rental would be up in a few days, and though we had some ideas about where to go, nothing felt certain.

We were thinking about heading to Iguazu Falls since, while we were in Mexico, Rachel had a vivid vision of a waterfall during yoga. But I was feeling unsure, so as we continued walking, I asked God to give me some confirmation about our next steps.

Just then, I turned my head back to the path in front of me and I saw a huge, white, winged creature flying directly towards my forehead. It came so close to me that I had to jump out of it’s flight path. That’s when I realized that it wasn’t an albino bat (my first guess) but the largest white butterfly I’d ever seen. In fact, it’s the only white butterfly I’ve seen since we arrived in South America.

IMG_4402

“That was weird!” I say to Rachel, as the butterfly heads off into the distance.

We walk to the church in the main square of Colonia to spend a little time in prayer and shade. But as I’m praying, my mind keeps drifting back to the butterfly. It’s all I can think about. So once we find Wi-Fi access, I Google South American butterflies and learn that Iguazu Falls is one of the largest natural butterfly preserves in the world.

I smile to myself and say “Touché Lord. I guess we’re headed to Igauzu!”

IMG_4855

Ok, I know what you’re thinking… where is she going with this? So here’s the point –

At first glance, these stories seem little… almost insignificant. There’s nothing earth shattering about them. But that’s just it – love is quality, not quantity. Love is opening your home to someone you’ve only known for thirty minutes – no questions asked. It’s waiting for 45 minutes in 97-degree heat for a couple of girls you barely know. And it’s having the faith that God will lead you to exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Love is giving, receiving and believing. It’s actions, not words. It’s shown through grandiose gestures or seemingly insignificant acts of kindness – but it’s all love. It can be palpable, or go completely unnoticed. But the result of loving isn’t the important part – the act of loving is what matters. And sometimes, I forget that. So when I look back at my Valentines week, I can see that I was surrounded by love the whole time, it just looked a little different than I’m used to.

IMG_4857

 

 

Drink the Wild Air

I’m sitting in Starbucks. Why Starbucks when there are tons of great coffee places in Buenos Aires? For one simple reason: They have air conditioning.

It’s 95 degrees, which means I have about 30 seconds from the time I step outside till I start perspiring. Which after three days, I still dislike but I’m getting used to. Air conditioning is a luxury here and neither the hostel we stayed in the first two nights nor the apartment we are now renting have it. It’s not that I’m opposed to sweating – I thoroughly enjoy an intense workout and “earning” my shower when I’m finished. It’s just that I don’t expect to continue sweating after I get out. I used to tell people that as a Southern Belle, “I don’t sweat, I glow.” But let me just be real, I’m way past glowing and glistening here.

But for now, in this Starbucks, I’m cool. I’m facing the window which means I’m completely distracted by the people walking by. Like this guy. That’s a lot of hair.

IMG_2855

IMG_2856

And then there’s this girl, whose shorts remind me of a pair of stonewashed jeans I wore in 2nd grade.

IMG_2857

The fashion here is, well, different.

IMG_4323Chunky sandals are all the rage for women.

IMG_2867

This is a trend I’ll never embrace. Not just because I don’t find them particularly attractive and elevating myself an extra 4-5 inches will make me feel more like an Amazon than I already do, but also because I’m pretty confident I would bust my ass if I tried to walk in shoes like that. Just saying.

Hold on. There’s a lady trying to talk to me.

Ok, I’m back.

Apparently this woman was warning Natalie and I to be careful about having our Apple computers in a public place because just yesterday when she left Starbucks at night with hers, a motorcyclist must have seen her put them in her car, because he smashed her window and stole it.

Only she told us the entire story in rapid-fire Spanish and was so intense and passionate that I wasn’t able to interject anything until the end when she looked at me for a response. “Yo hablo un poco de espanol,” I offer apologetically.

“You speak English?!” she exclaims before she starts to laugh. Meanwhile her teenage daughter behind her is cracking up. “Did you understand any of that??”

“Well, a little,” I respond. “I knew it had something to do with two Apple computers, your wallet, the night, Starbucks and a car…but I wasn’t entirely sure how it all went together.”

We all had a good laugh, but now just to be safe, I’ve placed my computer sleeve in front of my Apple logo and I am keeping my purse securely positioned on my body.

IMG_2865

I’m probably fine, but what’s that expression? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? I’m going with that.

I came here with the intention of writing. Of crafting some sort of inspiring blog post to share, but in this moment I’m just taking it all in. I like this city. I like its’ energy, all the trees that pepper the streets, the corner cafes, and the clean, soapy smell that most people exude. I’m wondering if Buenos Aires has a standard-issue body wash. And if so, how do I get some?

I like the variety of people, a merging of all different cultures, ages and economic backgrounds. I like that wearing my casual sundress, I blend in pretty well on the street – even if I’m not rocking platform sandals. It’s my first time in South America, my first week in this city, but it feels like a place I could one day call home. I don’t know how long we’ll be here, or if I’ll ever be back, but for now, I’m not concerned with that.

FullSizeRender 4

I just want to grasp every moment. To embrace the novelty of it all. To find God here– in all of His creation.

IMG_4170

IMG_4187

Buenos Aires literally means “Good airs.” I didn’t know that until about a month before we got here. When I was praying about why God had prompted us to go to this city – of all cities. When God reminded me that this trip was about learning how to really live. And what do you absolutely need to live? What can’t you go more than minutes without? Air.

So, here I am in a city with “good air.” A place where I’m feeling God calling me to slow down. To let go. To be present in each moment. And to simply breathe.

Yesterday, Natalie and I went to the National Cathedral for Ash Wednesday Mass.

IMG_2845

It’s a day of fasting to mark not only the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter, but it’s also a day to remember an important truth. From dust we were created, and to dust we will return.

We were reminded of that firsthand two days ago when we went to visit the world-renowned cemetery in Recoleta.

cemetery

Perhaps the first thing to understand about life in order to really live it fully, is to recognize how truly brief it is.

“You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.” James 4:14.

And that is the truth. I am not guaranteed next year any more than I am guaranteed tomorrow. So, right now, I’m going to unapologetically allow myself to simply be. I’m relinquishing the pressure I feel to craft a perfectly worded post with a riveting, earth shattering message that will “wow” you. Instead I’m going to sit here and gaze out of this window, watching the passers by, the leaves dancing gracefully in the breeze and the pigeons perching peacefully in front of me.

IMG_2869

And I’m going to breath. I’m going to draw deep, full breaths of all of this “good air” and be thankful for this gift called life that God has given me.

tumblr_m55oywUoZX1rt1levo1_1280

Pack it Up, Pack it In, Let me Begin…

“That’s not a lot of clothes for six months…” I say as I look at the apparel laid out on my bed. And it’s true. When this journey started, I had a hard enough time pairing my clothes down to three suitcases, and one (giant) duffel bag full of shoes! Now, I’m trying to fit everything I need for the next six months into one backpack. Yikes.

The Great Enlivening began in October and continued as we headed to Baja California, Mexico for three months.  Now, four months in to the journey, it’s time for the next phase. And after much prayer and consideration, we still don’t know exactly what this season will look like.

Sure, we could take out our travel bucket-lists of all the places we’ve ever wanted to go, and plan our journey that way. But this is a journey by faith. Which means that we’re letting God lead us to where we’re supposed to go.

“How on earth are we supposed to pack for this?” I ask Rachel, who’s packing her bag in the next room.

She walks in to my room and says “Well, I guess we just have to be ready for anything!”

IMG_3871

As it turns out, this is no easy task. Every item needs to have multiple purposes. I need to sleep, workout and go-out in as many combinations of these clothes as possible. Oh yeah, and it all needs to be wrinkle free… which pretty much means that Rayon/Spandex blends are my new love.

So here’s what made the list:

IMG_3866

The clothes:

  • Tank tops (x5)
  • Short Sleeve Tops (x2)
  • Long Sleeve Shirt (x1)
  • Dresses (x3)
  • Sports Bras (x2)
  • Convertible all-in one bra (x1)
  • Undies (x7)
  • Bathing Suit (x1)
  • Long Black Pants (x2)
  • Capri Black Pants (x1)
  • Black Shorts (x1)
  • Black Skirt (x1)
  • Jeans (x1)
  • Chambray Top (x1)
  • Rain Jacket (x1)
  • Khaki Jacket (x1)
  • Scarf (x1)
  • Cardigan Sweater (x2)
  • Baseball Cap
  • Beanie
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Shoes:
    • Gray Flats
    • Running Shoes
    • Flip Flops (aka – hostel shower shoes, ick!)
    • Sandals

IMG_3861

The “Practical & Pragmatic” Items:

  • Safety Whistle (because you can’t bring mace on a plane)
  • Tiny Flashlight
  • Eye Mask / Ear Plugs
  • Sleep Sack (bed-bug proof!)
  • Spork (yes, a spork)
  • Drain Stopper (I fear I’ll be doing a lot of laundry in the sink)
  • Laundry Soap Sheets (for all of my sink laundry…)
  • Door Stopper (for those lovely hostels without locks on the doors!)
  • Electronic Adapter Kit
  • iPhone Camera Lenses
  • Laptop & Charger (we are writing a blog after all…)
  • iPhone & Charger
  • Toiletries (so I’m clean)
  • Deck of cards (so I can win friends and influence people)

judgement-free-zone

And finally, the “Don’t Judge Me” items:

  • Hair Straightener (just because I’m living like a vagabond, doesn’t mean I have to look like one!)
  • Kate Spade Purse (see hair straightener comment)
  • Yoga Mat (I’m addicted now, I need this)
  • Neck Pillow (I’m pillow-particular. Like I said, don’t judge me.)
  • Selfie Stick (for all my selfies…)

FullSizeRender-1

Amazingly, all of this fits in one 45-liter backpack and a 15-liter daypack. When it’s all said and done it weighs about 28 pounds. It’s not light, but hey, it could be worse!

FullSizeRender

As our time in Mexico started drawing to an end, Rachel felt convicted to pray about where we should go next. And she was quickly led to research information about Argentina. Soon after that, the two of us were diligently typing away on our laptops, researching everything from Antarctic Penguins to Zika Virus.

“Man, Argentina is far-away!” I lament, as I looked at the twenty-four hour flight times. “And it’s really expensive to get there…” since every one-way ticket I can find costs somewhere between $1,100 and $1,200.

“Wait a minute!” Rachel exclaims, “What day did we want to leave?”

“February 6th” I say.

“Well I don’t know why this one is so cheap, but I think we should book it!” She says as she points to her computer screen. I look over and see that it lists a price of $599 for a flight from San Diego, California to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

IMG_4399

“Definitely! Let’s book it.” I start typing and I pull up the same website. I enter the search terms exactly as Rachel has them listed and I get… nothing. So I try it again, maybe I entered something incorrectly. But after typing in my parameters a second time, I’m left staring at a screen that reads “$1,100, $1,199, $1,205, etc.”

IMG_0189

After a few more tries, I clear my cookies and somehow keep getting the same results!  I look at Rachel and ask “what the heck is happening here?”  She laughs and says, “I have no idea!”

I think back to how Rachel was prompted to pray for our trip and how God told her to research Argentina, and it all starts to make sense.  I’m not saying that God is behind the technical workings of Kayak.com, but… he kind of is.  And by listening to his prompting, Rachel was able to book two tickets for us, at the price of one!

A few minutes later we’re busy planning our time in Argentina. We are a couple of type-A’s after all. But the more we plan, the more our plans just don’t work out. In fact, we even booked a couple of flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina that were cancelled by the airline as quickly as they were booked.

I start to feel a little frustrated and wonder if we really are supposed to go to Argentina, or if somehow we got our signals crossed. When I get a subtle reminder during our Morning Prayer time – “Stop trying to put this in a box.”

This is a reminder that God gives me fairly often. It means, “stop trying to look at this in a way that makes sense based on your experience and perspective.”  You see… I’m a problem solver. If I know the end-goal, my mind will start meticulously working through every scenario that could help me achieve it. But with God, we don’t always get to know the end goal. And if He tells me to go to Argentina without a plan, then I’m supposed to go, no questions asked.

This is SO much easier said than done. I’ve built my life inside carefully crafted boundaries that keep me safe and secure – financially, emotionally and physically. Boundaries are great that way; they’re designed to keep us safe. But sometimes, we become so comfortable living inside our risk-adjusted boxes, that we never leave them.

tumblr_nk18u6wIxi1une8zgo1_1280

That’s where I found myself a few years ago, stuck inside the box of my life. And though it was calm and cozy, something was missing. My heart was craving adventure, inspiration and novelty. And those things just can’t be found by staying inside the lines.

So in an effort to continue growing and becoming the person I wish to become, I decided to fully embrace the ambiguity of the next several months of my life – starting with Argentina.  On Saturday, Rachel and I leave for Buenos Aires with nothing more than a backpack, a one-way ticket and a three-day hostel reservation.  And though it doesn’t exactly feel cozy and comfortable, everything about it feels right.

leave-yourself-behind

PS – Mad props to the ‘House of Pain’ for my title… it’s a classic.

Some content on this page was disabled on April 23, 2018 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Summer Adams. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

https://en.support.wordpress.com/copyright-and-the-dmca/

Dental Drilling: Anybody Else Not a Fan?

“I’m sorry, how many cavities did you say I have?” I ask.

Surely I’ve misheard her.

“Eight,” she responds with certainty and at the same time a tone of apology. It’s obvious that this Mexican dentist doesn’t want to tell me this any more than I want to hear it.

“How is that possible?” I ask incredulously. “I’ve gone to the dentist every six months my entire life and I’ve never had a single cavity.”

“Well, at lot of times in the U.S., dentists wait until you need a root canal or crown to deal with things like this because the payout is better,” she explains. “But I want you to see for yourself, so I’m going to take some X-rays and photos.”

“OK,” I respond, silently praying that somehow she has this all wrong. After all, I was just coming in for a simple cleaning.

But minutes later she shows me the x-rays and the photos she’s taken with my iphone. There are in fact several, tiny, brown and black spots on my back molars – which I’d noticed before but assumed were just stains.

Cavities

“Luckily they haven’t gone past your enamel yet,” she says. “But if left untreated, over time they will go deeper until they cause you pain and require much more extensive treatment.”

I can’t argue with the evidence so instead I stare at her, processing a multitude of thoughts and emotions until they spill over… into tears. That’s right, I’m a newly-turned 34 year old crying in the dentist’s chair about some cavities.

crying

Why? Well, besides the fact that I just canceled my dental insurance last month and I’m afraid this might cost me a small fortune, there’s this other “little” factor called my ego rearing its ugly head. You see, I’m the girl with the “flawless smile,” the “perfect teeth,” – at least that’s what I’ve been told my entire life from dentists, friends and even perfect strangers.

For years, I’ve proudly worn my “no cavity” status like a badge of honor. But now, it’s been snatched away. And replaced with a “scarlet C.”

Scarlet C

And not just a “C,” a “C” with a BIG 8 in front of it!

Besides being embarrassed about my situation and response to it, I’m also angry that my American dentists never breathed a word to me about this and now, with no dental insurance, I’m having to deal with all of this in a foreign country.

“I know this is difficult to hear,” the dentist tells me handing me a tissue. “You don’t have to make a decision today, but it’s my job to tell you this so you can take care of these issues before they become more serious.”

I ponder her words and my bank account before I take a deep breath and respond.

“Can you fix all of them today?” I ask.

She nods.

“Then let’s do it.”

There’s no point in delaying the treatment. After all, why would I want to let problem areas fester when I can take care of them now?

Being a cavity virgin, I have no idea what is going to happen, which explains my shock when the dentist (without any prior warning), tightly squeezes both sides of one of my cheeks with her fingers, takes a gigantic syringe and sticks the needle into my flesh.

The prick isn’t bad, but I feel a slight burning sensation as whatever is in the syringe fills my cheek.

syringe

This happens three more times until she has effectively numbed every corner of my mouth.

I feel my cheeks growing heavy and fat, until I’m sure I look like a chipmunk.

“Isth thaa novocaine?” I try to ask, realizing that my tongue is no longer functioning properly. As a kid I had a terrible reaction to too much nitrous oxide which resulted in me throwing up all over some poor dental tech’s hair – a big, permed 90’s “do” if I remember correctly.

“Yes, you aren’t allergic to it, are you?”

I shake my head no but inwardly I think, “Well, it would be too late now if I was!”

After a 10 minute cleaning (apparently despite my 8 cavities, I don’t have a bit of tartar on any of my teeth), she begins the drilling. See video below.

The sound isn’t pleasant and I don’t realize I’m tensing every muscle in my body until after she’s given me a brief reprieve. “Breath. Relax.” I tell myself. Though I never understood why before, I’m beginning to appreciate why some 75% of adults apparently fear going to the dentist.

I think of Natalie, who had her cleaning before my appointment and is out in the waiting room. I send her a text: “Go head and get something to eat. Long story – it’s going to be a while.”

“Why?? Is everything ok?” comes the response.

I want to tell her the truth – that I’m currently dealing with 8 cavities, 4 shots of novocaine, an emotional breakdown and most likely a few more hours of what I would describe as a form of mild torture. But considering the dentist speaks English and can read what I write, I simply respond:

“Yep. I’ll let you know when I’m almost done.”

This drilling continues again and again. Intermittently she tells me “open a bit wider,” and I attempt to, though I swear my jaw is going to break if it hinges open any further.

For two hours she meticulously removes every last speck of decay from my teeth and then refills them until finally, she announces: “NOW, you have perfect teeth.”

She takes a few more photos to show me and I have to admit that she did an amazing job.

Fixed teeth

This makes me smile, but when I do, I realize the whole bottom half of my face is numb. I hope I’m not grimacing. Or drooling.

“Tho, when can I eath?” I ask. It’s 3 p.m. and after a morning run and yoga, I’m starved.

“Not until you have feeling back in your mouth. You might bite your cheeks or choke if you do now.”

As if on cue my stomach rumbles in protest. I nod my head sadly and pay the $280. This day certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but while I can’t say the experience was enjoyable, I know it was necessary.

The truth is that sometimes there are “cavities” in my life that are easy to overlook. Areas that, while seemingly innocuous or surface level, can turn into much more serious issues over time. If not dealt with properly, these little “problem areas” will go deep, attacking the very core of who I am and requiring a much more extensive removal process – one that will undoubtedly strike a nerve and cause a great deal of pain.

Like this dentist, God wants to bring them to my attention. Not to shame me or cause discomfort, but because he want to remove the “decay” from my life. He wants to ensure my health and help me strive toward Spiritual perfection – the only kind that really matters.

tumblr_lpafggfnTe1qzf1dro1_500

When I walk out into the waiting room, I can see the concern on Natalie’s face.

“Thith hath been the moth ridiculoth denthisth appointhmenth ever,” I explain.

I see the corners of her lips curl as she struggles to keep a serious expression.

“Oh, iths funny alrigth,” I respond as we both crack up. “I sounth like a completh idioth.”

I tell her about everything (as best I can) on the drive home and we have good laugh.

I know even after all this work my teeth aren’t “perfect” and they never will be. And that’s OK. That even with all of my brushing and flossing, I will likely have other “issues” to deal with in the future.

But this experience reminded me that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if I do have a few more “cavities” that need to be dug out. The process may not be enjoyable, but every time I face and work on my own shortcomings, I’m making progress – which is the most important thing.

tumblr_nnxjroaNVy1siboy7o1_500

And who knows, in the end, it might even be something I can laugh about.

 

 

Mexican Goggles and Matters of the Heart

“Ok, was it just me, or were those guys actually cute?” Rachel asked as we stepped outside.

“I know! They were good looking, and seemed really nice.” I said with surprise.

When we arrived in Mexico, Rachel and I made a discovery – there aren’t many attractive men here. And while I’m sure there are plenty of eligible bachelors in this country, they definitely don’t live in Baja. In fact, the majority of the population here seems to be well over the age of 60. At least in the circles that we’re running in.

Sometimes we’ve mistakenly thought that someone was cute, when it turns out they were only under the age of 50, and/or really friendly. We call this, “Wearing Mexican Goggles.” So because of this goggle-phenomenon, whenever one of us sees someone who might be attractive, we need to confirm it with the other.   And today, the two men we just met seem to fit the bill!

They’re in their early thirties, business owners and artists. Their English is better than our Spanish, which means it’s decent enough to hold a real conversation; and they were really polite and kind. So, they invited us to go out on a double date, and after we verified with Rachel’s running partner, Blanca, that they were in fact good guys, we said yes.

While this may not seem like a big deal to most, I don’t have much “dating” experience. I met my ex-husband when I was 18, married him at 22, and we divorced when I was 30. Since then, I’ve had two real forays into the dating world – the first ending with his broken heart, and the second, with mine.

So last summer, after my post-divorce dating bust, I prayed and asked God what I should do about relationships with men. His answer was clear – avoid them. Not forever, but for a season.

no-dating

Since Rachel was recently divorced as well, we both committed to spending the last half of 2015 single and unavailable for dating. So that’s exactly what we did.

I was in awe of the peace that this decision brought to my life. I used this season to examine my heart, and I began to see it as something alive and beautiful. I started to think of it as a flowing, fenced-in meadow. When I was in a good place emotionally and spiritually, the meadow was really fruitful. It fed me. And the fence kept the bad things out and the good things in.

mota_ru_9121401

But throughout the past few years, I experienced significant heartache. And that pain started to wreak havoc on the meadow. It poisoned the lush ground that was once fruitful, and it bulldozed parts of the fence. And as that happened, I started to let the wrong things into my meadow.

It was clearly time for some repair work.

I thought that the best way to do this was to start from scratch. First, I re-examined and redefined my values, prioritizing honesty and integrity at the top. Then I started to align my actions. I became determined to lead a life where my beliefs and my behaviors are congruent. And this meant kicking everything out of my heart that didn’t belong there – the habits that weren’t making me the greatest version of myself, the people who didn’t have my best interest at heart, and all of the negative emotions that I carried around for years.

IMG_2485

It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

And when 2016 rolled around, part of me felt excited by the prospect of dating, while another part felt completely terrified. The last thing I wanted was for anything to damage the meadow I spent so much time repairing.

IMG_3266

But that’s where the fences come in.

Fences are my boundaries. Fences… not walls. My heart isn’t a fortress that needs to be defended; it’s a meadow that needs to be respected. Fences let people walk up to the border of my heart and gaze inside, and they let the light in my heart shine out for everyone to see. But they also have gates that only allow certain people to enter. And whomever I decide to date doesn’t get to waltz right in to my meadow and set up camp.

So when these guys asked Rachel and I out, I knew it was going to be a different experience. Not only because we were going dancing in downtown Tijuana, but also because I was in a new place emotionally. My heart is whole and complete, and my boundaries are strong and well defined.

Later that day the guys came to pick us up for our date. We went out to dinner in Rosarito and then, we tried desperately to go dancing in Tijuana. But it was Wednesday… so our options were pretty limited. We ended up at an empty club where the four of us danced like fools to a mix of Justin Beiber and Mexican Salsa. Then we followed that up with some good ole karaoke and a game of pool. The guys were sweet, fun and total gentlemen. I was surprised at how taken aback I was when he opened my car door, pulled out my chair at the restaurant and let me take his arm when I crossed the street.

IMG_3743IMG_3746

While I may not have much dating experience, I think that this is the kind I need. It showed me that I don’t have to “date” in the way that the world defines “dating.” I don’t have to treat it like a job interview for a potential spouse or a litmus test for sexual chemistry. Dating can be about getting to know someone for who they are in their heart. And I’m so thankful that God allowed my first dating experience in 2016 to be with someone who felt the same way.

“El Nino” is a Punk

We’re on our way home when the text comes in. “Be REALLY careful driving.” It’s from our neighbor, Claudio, aka “Dad.”

He was nice enough to watch the dogs while Natalie and I went up to the San Diego airport to drop off my friend Sherri who came to visit. But since this is the second time he’s cautioned us today, I can tell he’s pretty worried.

“Why is everyone so freaked out by the rain?” I ask Natalie, bewildered as we make our way back toward the border.

“Oh, it’s just Californians” she explains matter-of-factly. “They’re not used to driving in it.”

Growing up in Alabama and Louisiana, rain was often part of everyday life. But here in SoCal and Baja California, it’s an anomaly and apparently something that causes a lot of concern and traffic accidents.

“But it’s just rain,” I say.

“It’s like how Southerners react to snow,” she counters.

Immediately I have a flash back of my first time driving in the snow in Virginia. When I misjudged the time it would take to slow down and make a turn and how I wasn’t able to. How my car skidded right up over the curb and directly onto the main road – which by the grace of God somehow had no on-coming traffic at that moment.

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” I acknowledge.

But inwardly I still think the reaction to rain (people not leaving their houses and being afraid to drive anywhere) is a bit over the top. I mean, it’s just a little water people.

We cross over into Mexico and then traffic comes to a stop. We’ve come to expect exceedingly long wait times heading into the U.S., but coming into Mexico is usually smooth sailing. Until today.

We inch along for about 30 minutes chalking it up to nothing more than some wicked rush-hour traffic until I see it: a section of the road that is completely covered in water and the wake of cars that are haphazardly trying to pass through it.

cars 1

It’s hard to tell how deep the water is but it’s completely covering the wheels of most of the cars, which makes me thankful we’re in an SUV.

cars 3

After safely crossing this “shallow river” we continue on the main road where I began to really appreciate Claudio’s concern for our safety. Turns out “El Nino” is no joke. And also that Mexican infrastructure is not made for substantial rain.

Muddy water pooled along the edges of the lanes makes hydroplaning a serious threat and newly deposited boulders strewn across the road have me concerned about landslides.

Just when we make it back to our house safely we get the news. We expected that the skylight in our entryway would be leaking (which has happened before and why we keep a spare bucket nearby).

Bucket

But in addition, all the excessive rain that has saturated the ground has seeped through a crack in the concrete walls completely flooding my bathroom and the utility closet.

When we talk to friends and neighbors later we hear similar reports; flooded houses and people stranded because of impassable, muddy roads. Even the beach where Natalie and I run is a mess. Massive waves took out some of the wooden umbrellas and tables and trash is strewn all along the sand.

?

Needless to say, I now understand the impact a “little rain” can have here. And I also think “El Nino” deserves a spanking for all the havoc he’s wreacked.

But more than anything I’ve come to a greater respect and appreciation for water.

On one hand we are surrounded by it – the Pacific ocean is literally right off our back patio. And on the other hand, we have to plan ahead to ensure we have what we need to live. You see, the water is not drinkable in Mexico. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you think about needing enough water for two adults and two dogs every day.

Before we left Virginia I purchased a top-of-the-line water filter that can basically take scummy pond water and make it potable.

water filer

It’s worked well, but it only filters about a gallon an hour. So, at least 6 times a day, I’m refilling the container, filling up our pitcher in the fridge and also allocating some water for the dogs.

If I fall behind in doing so, we run out. Which isn’t the end of the world, because we can always go to a “tienda” to buy some, but it does keep water at the forefront of my mind throughout my day.

In Mexico, I never leave the house without a water bottle. And when I go to the U.S. I always feel so grateful to have fresh, free water available at fountains in nearly every store – something I didn’t really appreciate before.

Two months into our time here, I’m pretty comfortable with the water situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve accidentally swallowed a big gulp after brushing my teeth (which always makes me feel sick – though whether it’s a physical or psychosomatic response, I’m not sure). Refilling the water filter is habitual these days and most of the time we have more than enough.

But beyond that, I’ve fallen in love…with the ocean.

Ocean

It’s something I admire each day on my porch or through my dinning room windows. I love to gaze at the beauty of sunlight dancing on the waves like diamonds. I breathe in the ocean air, walk along it’s rocky beaches and run along it’s sandy ones. The sound of the crashing waves has become a part of my life, the rhythm as natural as breathing to me, the sound calming my spirit and lulling me to sleep each night.

IMG_3688

Since November, I’ve enjoyed the presence of the ocean. But last week, in honor of a new year and my friend Sherri’s birthday, I opted for a more tangible experience –completely immersing myself in it.

For the last decade, nearly every January, I’ve had people invite me to do the “Polar Plunge” in Virginia Beach. And every year I’ve politely declined. Maybe because I’m a chicken, but also because running into freezing cold water in the middle of winter sounds miserable.

But this January I took the plunge on my own volition. See the video below.

Yes, it was a physical plunge (which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be and was actually quite refreshing). But more importantly, and on a much deeper level, I believe it was symbolic of a spiritual plunge. A willingness to go into deeper waters. To embrace a little discomfort. To explore more of who God is and the world He’s created. And to experience what I might otherwise just admire from afar.

On this “Great Enlivening,” I sense God calling me beyond the comfort and security of the shore. He’s asked me to get out of the boat and leave behind my life raft. To be completely dependent on Him. Which, in all honestly, is a bit scary.

I’ve seen the power of the waves crashing and the fierceness with which they can cause destruction. I’ve questioned whether or not I have the skills to swim in the midst of the inevitable storms I’ll face.

stormy

Yet, God continues to tell me to trust Him. That it’s not about my ability but my obedience. That if I listen to His still, small voice, He will sustain me, tell me which wave to ride and when to dive deep.

And also, that if I’m willing to step out on faith, I’ll get to experience the thrill of walking on water.


walk on water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patience, Positivity and Deep-Fried Dough

There are a lot of amazing things about living in Mexico. Since we arrived, Rachel and I have met some of the kindest, most selfless people I’ve ever known. We’ve eaten amazing food, learned the language (ish), and enjoyed the peace that comes with a slower pace of life. But living the expatriate life is not without it’s challenges, and today is no exception.

In fact, the biggest challenge we’ve faced since living here has nothing to do with Mexico, and has everything to do with the United States. Rachel and I live about thirty miles from the US/Mexico border crossing, and we cross it pretty frequently. There are certain things that we just can’t do in Mexico; for instance, buy dog food, go to Trader Joes, drink Starbucks and withdraw from an ATM that dispenses dollars, rather than pesos (dollars are preferred in this part of Mexico). So every week or two, we plan a day to drive up to San Diego and do our chores.

Crossing the border into the States is completely and utterly unpredictable. It can take us anywhere from five minutes to five hours to drive through the customs and border patrol inspection stations. We’ve tried to logically deduce when there will be the least amount of back up based on commuter schedules, weather and holidays; but it’s of no use. So we always plan about three hours of “wiggle room” into our schedule, just to be safe.

San-Ysidro-border-crossing

So today, Rachel and I are making our way to the border, and I’m praying for smooth sailing. Unfortunately, we pull up into the line, and it’s bad… really bad. We’ve learned to gauge our wait times based on our distance to the checkpoint – a quarter mile = 1 hour, a half mile = 2 hours, more than a half mile = at least 3 hours.   And today, we’re in the longest line I’ve ever seen.

And the longer the line, the more vendors there are on the street. There are hundreds of people selling anything you could ever want: burritos, blankets, NFL jerseys, statues of the Virgin Mary, tostilocos (pic below), jewelry and iPhone cases, to name a few.

o

“I guess this wasn’t the best day to bring the dogs with us!” I say jokingly to Rachel. We usually leave the pups at home, but today we have a ton of errands to run, so the they are coming along for the ride. This is their first time crossing the border back into the States, and I’m a little nervous that all of the vendors surrounding our car are going to freak them out.

IMG_3445

IMG_3440

“Oh my gosh, look at Nimitz’s face!” Rachel exclaims as she snaps a photo of him. He’s seen the vendors and is giving his best “What the hell is this?” look.

 

“Alright, I guess we just have to settle in and wait.” I lament. We’ve crossed the border enough to know that there’s no use in getting frustrated, especially not this early in the game.

But today, the wait is taking longer than I expected. I look at the clock and realize we’ve been sitting here for well over two hours, and we’re still at least a half-mile away from the inspection station.

“Ugh… This is the worst!” I exclaim and put my head on the steering wheel.

“I know,” Rachel says, “and now I have to pee.” This isn’t good. The border crossing is basically a line of cars on a highway with some pop-up vendor stands along the side. Finding a restroom, let alone a clean one, could prove to be tricky. “I’m going to get out and see if any of these vendors have a bathroom.”

“Ok,” I say, “I’ll be here!”

I watch Rachel walk over to one of the vendors, and it seems like she’s having some luck; until I see her turn around and walk back to the car.

“What happened?” I say.

“They wanted 75 pesos for the bathroom! Can you believe that? That’s like 5 dollars, and I am not paying 5 bucks to use the bathroom.”

IMG_3164

She gets back in the car and we continue to wait, but word of Rachel’s full bladder must have traveled quickly, because a few seconds later, a woman approaches our car window and lets us know that there’s another restroom that only costs a dollar. Armed with this information, she grabs a dollar and walks back over to the bathroom lady. I see her go inside and when she gets back to the car she tells me that on her second visit the woman changed the amount from 75 pesos to 75 cents. I’d like to think this was a simple miscommunication, but I think we know better.

We sit in silence for a few moments, looking around at the miserable line, before I turn to Rachel and say, “Well, it’s clear that we’re going to be stuck in this line for the rest of our lives, so we should at least eat something!”

I see a woman walking down the street selling churros and I flag her down. If you haven’t had churros, they’re these deliciously amazing strips of dough, deep-fried and then covered in sugar. “Yes, I think this is what we need!”

IMG_3441

We sit in the car and start munching on our churros, when suddenly, the entire mood in the car shifts. We start laughing and joking about the reality of our lives in Mexico. Then, I pull up to another vendor and ask for a bottle of water, I jokingly turn to Rachel and say “I wish I was ordering tequila instead of water!”

She gives me a mischievous look and says, “maybe we can order tequila… this is Mexico after all!” She rolls down her window and asks a woman if she has tequila. The woman replies with a laugh and says, “No!, Yo no tengo tequila!” but when she sees the disappointed looks on our faces she breaks into perfect English and says, “but if you seriously want tequila, I’ll get someone to bring it to you.”

We laugh and decide that taking a tequila shot from a random stranger on the street is probably a good way to get kidnapped, so we decline. But then Rachel turns to me and says, “Wait! I have an open bottle of two-buck chuck in the backseat from last night’s fiesta!” We have a quick discussion about the legality of drinking a bit of wine while in the car, and decide that since we’re only moving about 15 feet every 20 minutes, a small sip will probably be ok.  We start rifling through the glove box and find a couple of pre-wrapped glasses that we undoubtedly snagged from a hotel during our road trip. We each pour a splash of wine, grab a churro and toast to our new life.

IMG_3163

We spend the next hour talking, laughing and doing a lot of people watching. We even discuss the logistics of starting a flash mob at the border, and wonder if we would end up on YouTube, or in jail.   But finally, after three and a half hours, it’s our turn at the inspection station. At this point, the two-buck chuck and the churros have worn off. But the way we turned something miserable into something enjoyable will stick with me. It’s a skill we’ll need a lot over the next year as we travel the globe.

So as we pull through the inspection station and into San Diego, I can’t help but think – of all the ways I imagined starting 2016, this wasn’t one of them. I never thought I’d be living as an expat, and preparing for a journey around the world. But today, even with my four-hour commute, this is the only place I want to be.

Walt-Whitman-Happiness-not-in-another-place-but-in-this-place.-Not-in-another-hour-but-in-this-hour..1-jpg