Presents in Presence

I take a wobbly step off of the dock and onto the small boat that will take us back from Playa Blanca, Colombia to Cartagena. It’s a pretty simple boat – a few rows of bench seats and the captain’s chair. Rachel and I are both a little sad to leave our Colombian island paradise, but we’re feeling rested, rejuvenated and ready for the next step in this adventure. The boat ride back to Cartagena is supposed to take about an hour, and honestly, I can’t wait!

Not because I love boats… I’m pretty indifferent about boats actually, but because I really appreciate a little quiet time. And as a natural introvert, sometimes I need time alone with my thoughts. Boats, buses and planes are perfect for this. They give me plenty of time to think through whatever happens to be on my mind.

We strap on our life vests and start motoring into the harbor; passing by another island on our way out to sea. Rachel and I jokingly termed this island the “Party Island” – basically because it’s a party island. Yesterday, we kayaked to this island with some new friends that we met at our resort, Francisca and Felipe. When we arrived, we laid on the beach, drank out of coconuts and watched as all the youngins danced to Justin Bieber on boats.

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Today, the island looks pretty much the same as we pass by. And in a few moments the “Captain” opens up the throttle and we start flying through the bay into the Caribbean Sea. Even though I’ve been here for a few days the water’s shade of blue-teal still amazes me. It looks so beautiful as it laps against the islands rocky shorelines and sandy coves. I take a deep breath, turn my face to the sun and happily prepare for my hour of quiet time.   The Captain quickly shifts the boat into a higher gear and we break away from the coast into the open Sea.

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The usual thoughts start filling my mind – what’s going on back in the US? How are my dogs doing? (They’re staying with my Mom in California while we travel internationally) And the classic question – what is my life going to look like when all of this is over?

My mind starts wandering down a few rabbit holes as I ponder these questions, and just as I’m settling in to my thoughts our Captain hits a huge wave at full speed and I fly up out of my seat. Two seconds later I’m hit in the face by a huge spray of salt water. “Wow,” I think to myself, “glad I didn’t shower before we left!” The ride is getting bumpier and bumpier, but I shake it off and try to go back into my reflections. Then we hit another wave. This time the entire boat flies into the air and we’re all sprayed with salt-water. I hear Francisca shriek from the back of the boat. I look at the Captain and to my surprise, he’s not slowing down. In fact, it looks like he’s smiling!

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He speeds up even more and barrels into the oncoming waves at full speed. I’m sitting in the front of the boat and I have grab ahold of the railing because I’m legitimately scared that I might be thrown out of this boat. And that’s when I hear it – the sound of Rachel laughing like crazy as the boat bounces from one wave to the next.

I look across the tiny walkway and see her giant smile as she bounces up and down. In this moment, I can’t help but start laughing too. I mean the rate at which we’re hitting these waves is so dangerous that it’s ridiculous! And as I bounce around in my seat, I think, “To hell with my alone time, this is actually pretty fun!”

All of a sudden, I start noticing things I hadn’t seen before. I look across the aisle at Alejandro, an employee of the resort who we’ve gotten to know over the past few days, and I see him starting to chuckle at our reaction to the boat. He’s sporting the uniquely Colombian style of acid-washed jeans, a Tommy Hillfiger T-shirt and huge gold sunglasses. He’s sitting next to another employee of the resort, who is somehow sleeping through this ridiculous boating experience. Next to them is a German couple that do not look amused. In fact, every time we hit a wave I see the wife’s face turn a slightly darker shade of green… yikes.

Then my eyes pan to the shoreline, where I can see the clear blue waters hitting the tan rocks and splashing up into the air. The boat takes a huge turn and my stomach drops as we catch some air and free-fall for a second or two. When we hit the water again, a huge ocean spray coats me, and I’m laughing.

“Remember this…” I think to myself.

We’ve been in South America for nearly six weeks and in a couple of days we’re leaving this continent to head for New Zealand. On our way there we’re meeting our friend Katy who’s decided to take a huge leap of faith and join us. But as exciting as it is to take the next step in this journey, it reminds me that this is only temporary.

So as we pull off of the choppy Sea and into the Cartagena harbor I look around, hoping to imprint every moment in my memory. Because someday soon, life will be different, and I won’t remember the thoughts I pondered during my alone time. I’ll close my eyes and think of the crazy boat ride we took during our amazing trip around the world. I’ll remember of the taste of the salt-water, the sound of the laughter and the look of the queasy Germans across the aisle… then I’ll smile and thank God for every moment.

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The Kiss

CAVEAT #1: So, I’ve never been one to kiss and tell, and certainly not in a public forum. And the fact that my parents (among others) read this blog makes me quite averse to writing this at all. But in the spirit of authenticity and sharing my heart, here goes:

It’s 10:30 p.m in Cartagena, Columbia, and Natalie and I are finishing a nice dinner outside in a plaza just off “Bourbon Street.”

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As a Louisiana native I know that apart from a few bars and balconies, this street is nothing like its namesake in New Orleans. But being that it’s still 80 degrees with 90% humidity, it does make it feel a bit more like home.

Natalie steps inside the restaurant to use the restroom when an attractive guy about my age approaches the table. He’s the “maroon-shirt guy” that I’ve caught looking at me at least a dozen times over the last hour from across the plaza.

“Do you speak English?” he asks in a broken accent that I can’t quite place. I nod my head yes, inwardly amused that even when it comes to pick-up lines, some questions come first when you are traveling internationally.

“I just had to come over here and say hello,” he begins, “I noticed you earlier and….I….you are really beautiful,” he stumbles.

“Thank you,” I respond with a smile. I have to give the guy credit for his courage and honesty, and I can’t say that I don’t appreciate the compliment.

Small talk ensues for a few minutes as I learn how he is from Portugal and here on business.

His friend/wingman (who must have seen that he hadn’t ‘crashed and burned’) approaches the table as Natalie returns. After brief introductions, they ask to sit down and join us for a drink and we agree.

Meeting new people is one of my favorite things about traveling. I love learning about their lives back home, reason for traveling and hopes and dreams for the future. Plus, it adds a certain level of novelty for Natalie and I who spend just about every waking moment together.

Turns out we hit the random guy jackpot. They are interesting, great conversationalists, nice and funny. Score. We laugh, take turns asking questions and even decide to engage the random hat vendor who approaches our table eager to make a sale. Apparently the guy Natalie is talking to really wants to take home an authentic Colombian sombrero.

We spend the next 15 minutes trying on a plethora of Fadoras, Indiana Jones-ish hats and a few extravagant (and pretty incredible) ones, though Natalie and I make it clear that we are NOT buying anything. Of all the things I need on a round-the-world trip, a huge, Jackie-O statement head-gear piece is definitely not one of them.

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We take photos and everything is fun and games until somehow the price is lowered to an unbelievable deal, the guys tell us how amazing we look in the hats and suddenly we are the not-so-proud owners of two, that’s right, TWO, gigantic hats that we have to find place for in our backpacks.

The irony of it all? Everyone BUT the guy who wanted a hat bought one. (This is why I can’t watch QVC or infomercials)

Needless to say, it’s now past midnight and with an eye glance and slight head nod, Natalie and I are in agreement. It’s time to head home. We’re a good ways from our hotel and considering that the streets were eerily empty earlier, when the guys offer to walk us back, we accept. Safety is paramount when traveling as young women and we try to be extremely vigilant – especially at night and with men. These two, I trust and I can tell Natalie does too.

With hats on heads we make our way down Bourbon street in pairs, me and maroon-shirt guy just behind Natalie and his friend.

We’re chatting and laughing like old friends. I’m genuinely enjoying his company until suddenly I realize he’s giving me “the look.” My stomach flips and my pulse quickens, but not in the way I want it to. I glance away immediately as multiple thoughts barrage my mind:

“Was that the look? I think that was look.”

“Oh no, I don’t want him to kiss me! What do I do?”

“Say something, Sherburne. Change the subject or at least make a joke….”

“Shit! Why can’t I think of a joke??”

I’m trying to come up with a way to kill the mood but before I have a millisecond to devise a strategy, he’s somehow found a way to access my face under my enormous hat and his lips are on mine.

SHIT! Abort, retreat, get away!

CAVEAT #2: This is not the first guy to kiss me in South America (sorry, Mom and Dad). And despite my reaction to this experience, let me just say that there have been others that I thoroughly enjoyed.

But in this moment, despite having zero desire to kiss this guy (though he’s perfectly nice and attractive), I let him kiss me. Why? Because I don’t want to embarrass him. Or hurt his feelings.

Yes, I know. In hindsight, this sounds totally lame. And though I claim to no longer need the approval of others, I clearly need to work on my ability to be assertive and speak up when someone crosses a boundary I don’t want them to cross.

CAVEAT #3: I do have boundaries! Despite the fact that it’s 2016, I’m a divorced, 34-year old traveling the world and casual sex is considered normal and often encouraged, that’s not what I’m looking for. (You can breathe easy, Mom and Dad)

So, after I’m free from the kiss I tell this guy that I’m a “Good Catholic girl” and “not going to sleep with him.” My turn to be direct. Thankfully he doesn’t push it any further and we join back with Natalie and his friend who are busy taking ridiculous photos with her new hat.

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A few minutes later we are back at our hotel and things end on a friendly, but slightly awkward note as I quickly say goodbye and head inside. Even though I stated my boundaries, I get the feeling he is hoping he can change my mind.

But I’m resolute.

It was my Catholic faith and a “True Love Waits Program” I attended in junior high that convinced me to remain a virgin until I got married and continues to call me to celibacy until I remarry. But it’s also my heart. As much as I’ve enjoyed some South American romance, I know that I want so much more than a kiss on Bourbon Street after midnight with a dude I’ve known less than 2 hours.

I want a real connection with a guy, who, while he might have initially found me beautiful from across the courtyard, finds my personality, heart, and Spirit even more-so when he really gets to know me. I want a relationship with a man who understands and respects my boundaries and knows that a holy, Godly woman is worth the wait. A man who pursues me and my heart second only to Jesus. A man who inspires me to be a better person with his faith, integrity and selflessness. And a man who knows what REAL love is and is ready to share that with someone.

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I’m not saying that I expect to find this after a few hours, a first kiss or even on this Great Enlivening. But I know this: if kissing is all I plan on doing before marriage, then I want it to mean something. Maybe that makes me sound old-fashioned. Maybe that means I’ll miss out on some make out sessions. Or maybe, just maybe, it means that the next time a man goes in for a kiss, the heart-pounding and stomach flipping will be a really good thing.

 

 

Earnin’ It

I look out over the crisp blue of the Caribbean Sea as the cool breeze blows against my skin, and for the first time in a while I feel – healthy, rested and balanced.

I’m sitting on the second floor deck of our hotel’s restaurant in Playa Blanca, Colombia. The view from up here is gorgeous, but every time someone walks by, the entire structure shakes. And it makes me wonder if I’m a few moments away from the entire thing crashing down. But the view is too good to move, so I stay.

 

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We arrived in Cartagena, Colombia a few days ago with no agenda besides relaxation. Which might seem a little crazy, since “world-traveler” isn’t exactly a stressful job description. But in the past five weeks Rachel and I racked up some pretty impressive stats:

  • We took 12 flights, 3 buses (two of which were overnight), 2 boats and 1 train
  • We slept in 16 different hotels or hostels
  • We took 6 cold showers (I didn’t bother counting the hot ones… for some reason they were less memorable)
  • We met and befriended 31 other world-travelers
  • We ate the most amazing ceviche on earth (thanks Peru!)
  • We contracted at least one, possibly two, parasites (thanks Bolivia!)
  • We saw countless animals including: Llamas, Alpacas, Emus, Deer, Butterflies, Tucans, Rabbits, Donkeys and Flamingos
  • And, we saw one of the New Seven Wonders of the World

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While all of this was amazing, we were craving a little rest and relaxation (and a few days without packing up our backpacks). Cartagena itself is a beautiful city, but everyone we met said that we needed to see the amazing beaches of the Rosario Islands – and they were right. The white-sand, the sparkling teal water and the coral reefs are spectacular.

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And that’s the view I’m enjoying now – a beautiful cove near Playa Blanca. We went for a swim this morning and found out that the water feels about as perfect as it looks, and it’s full of adorable little friends.

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And though there’s nothing on the agenda for the next few days, I am hoping to accomplish one very, very important task – to even out my tan lines. I know this sounds pretty vain, but please withhold judgment until you see the extent of the damage:

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It’s bad.

How did I do this to myself you ask? Well, it all started about a week ago when Rachel and I decided to check an item off of our respective bucket lists and climb Machu Picchu.

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There are several ways to access Machu Picchu, ranging from eight-day treks to thirty-minute bus rides. But we opted for the one-day route where you climb from the town of Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu. The hike itself takes about an hour and a half, and we trekked nearly five miles and ascended over 1,300 feet on a stone staircase.

 

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There weren’t many other people who chose this option, probably because the climb was… exhausting. But when we reached the top it was totally worth it. Instead of taking the fast track to the end, our sweaty brows and sore, shaky legs proved that we earned it!

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But in my hurry to see the ruins, I haphazardly used my sunscreen stick and forgot to rub it in. So now, I’m on the beach in Colombia, looking like a zebra. Or as Rachel puts it, looking like “someone took an eraser to my tan.”  Thanks Rach!

Oh well! I’ll have plenty of sun over the next few days to even it out. And the scenery here can’t be beat. Although, getting to this island was no easy task. In fact, there were a few moments when we didn’t know if we would make it at all. Rachel and I booked this hotel yesterday morning, but we neglected to think about the logistics involved with moving ourselves to an island. And unfortunately, we literally missed the boat.

And after a few phone calls with the hotel, they set it up for us to take a truck with four-wheel drive. There is a bridge to this island, but the roads themselves are not really roads. The only car we passed on the drive was stuck in the sand on the beach and I worried that we were about to succumb to the same fate.

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Yeah… we’re in a car, and that’s the ocean.

While we drove, I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of the sparkling ocean at sunset. It was a really unique, if not slightly dangerous, way to see the island. Luckily, we made it to our hotel about an hour later. And since then we’ve settled in to our few days of a stress-free agenda!

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Thinking back on the trip to this beautiful place, I realize that the most memorable moments of our journey happened when we took the path less traveled. The times we chose to climb the mountain rather than take the bus, or drive through the sea rather than sail over it. It may take more time, sweat, and sunburn to do it this way, but in the end – it’s worth it. And that’s a lesson I want to take with me on this Great Enlivening. Well that… and sunscreen.

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.

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Not to mention the walking tour of the city.

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

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Which made for some fun photos!

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

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….to volcanoes…

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…to lush green pastures with llamas…

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…to wind-shaped rocks…

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…and geysers!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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

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“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.

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Check out this video!

Before we were soaked under the falls…

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It was beyond magnificent.

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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.

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Who knew butterflies were so friendly!?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  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.

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  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.

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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!”

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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.
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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.

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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.

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And as it turns out – Ross is awesome!

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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.

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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?

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Huge.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

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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.

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“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!”

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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.

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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.

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

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The fashion here is, well, different.

IMG_4323Chunky sandals are all the rage for women.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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:

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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

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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)

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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…)

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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!

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.