This is the Story of a Car Named Frida

Once upon a time in 2013, Frida was born in a Nissan Factory in Japan. When she was only a young carling, she boarded a boat and went to a far away land called New Zealand.

When she arrived, she was adopted by a rental car company in Auckland. Frida was happy with her life, she liked meeting the tourists and business travelers and taking them to different places around the city.

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But as the years went on, Frida started to feel a bit bored. She was tired of driving the same old roads to the same old places. She yearned for something new… something exciting.

Then one sunny day in 2016, three girls from the United States, Natalie, Katy and Rachel, arrived in Auckland. It was early in the morning, but the girls were laughing and dancing and seemed so excited to be in New Zealand!

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But Frida was a little worried… because Americans have a hard time driving on the left side of the road, while sitting on the right side of the car. But after a few minor mistakes – turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker, and constantly going to the wrong “driver’s” side of the car – the girls got the hang of driving Frida. And Frida was hopeful that the adventure she longed for had finally arrived.

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When they left Auckland, their first stop was a town called Rotorua. Here, they visited a beautiful lake with black swans and walked through a park with natural hot springs and geysers. In the park, they found out why the town is called ROTorua – because everything smells like rotting eggs. Ick.

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From here, they journeyed to the city of Napier. Napier is an art-deco style town that sits on the East Coast of the North Island. The girls decided to go for a run along the beach with their new friends, Clem and Franck, before leaving for Wellington.

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Of course, they did make a few pit stops along the way…

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Then they arrived in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. Here they enjoyed beautiful views, museums, yoga on the beach and even a little karaoke!

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When the time came to leave Wellington, the girls told Frida that they were all going to the South Island on a Ferry. Frida couldn’t believe it! She hadn’t been on a boat since she was a little carling coming to New Zealand for the first time.

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Frida loved being on the boat, but was even more excited to see the South Island. She heard that it was the most beautiful place in all of New Zealand. So they drove from Picton to Nelson and started to see the amazing scenery.

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After Nelson, they cut through a mountain pass and headed to Christchurch. Navigating the mountain pass was a little tricky, because Frida’s engine only has four cylinders! But what she lacks in power, she makes up for in style. And after struggling up a few hills, they made it to Christchurch. Here the girls ran into a friend named Rose, who they met in Wellington. What a small world!

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The girls spent Easter in Christchurch, before heading to the West Coast.

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Once they reached the West Coast, they all stayed in a little town called Greymouth for a few days. In Greymouth, they hiked the pancake rocks, zip-lined off a cliff, tubed down a river, and even spelunked a few caves!

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After this, the girls were pretty tired and needed a little R&R. So they drove back across the island to go to the home of Natalie’s favorite wine – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

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But sadly, after this, it was time to return to the North Island. When they arrived, the girls were feeling outdoorsy, so they decided to stop in Tongariro to hike “The Crossing.” At least, that was the plan… but the sky decided to pour and pour and forced the girls to head to Taupo early.

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In Taupo, the girls hiked to the bluest water they’ve ever seen at a place called Huka Falls!

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After Taupo, the girls set the GPS for Auckland, and that’s when Frida started to get sad. She knew that this trip was almost over, and that she would be back to her regular life soon. But on the way back, the girls started blasting Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and car dancing like fools. They even started a “car dancing battle” with the car next door… that they won, of course.

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So when she dropped the girls off at the airport, Frida expected feel really blue. But instead, she just smiled and honked when she drove away, thankful for the fun times they had together. Because in the end, Frida realized that it’s better to feel a little sad when the adventure is over, than to never embark on it in the first place.

Shaken. Not Stirred.

The first thing I notice about Christchurch, New Zealand, is the construction. Everywhere.

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There are buildings adorned with scaffolding, detours and road closures and various broken and demolished infrastructure nearly everywhere I look.

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But I guess that’s what happens when the epicenter of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake strikes only 10 kilometers from the heart of a city.

I don’t have any experience with earthquakes other than a random small one that hit Virginia a few years ago, but when Natalie, Katy and I decide to go on a free walking tour of the city, I learn a lot more about the devastation and destruction they can cause.

“The earthquake that hit on February 22, 2011, killed 185 people,” explains Michael, our gangly, Kiwi guide. Our group of about 25 is gathered at the site where a building once stood housing several small businesses. “One hundred and fifteen of them died right here,” he says.

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Silence.

My mind races to thoughts of the victims, the families and friends they left behind and the emergency personnel who responded to the tragedy that day. I feel the heaviness in my heart. I can’t imagine what they went through, what they are still going through, but I assume that when an earthquake like that strikes, things are never quite the same.

While the breakdown of my marriage isn’t something that can be measured on a Richter scale, it also happened in 2011, and for me, it felt like an earthquake. The solid foundation I’d known, trusted and built my life upon was rocked. My confidence was crushed, my heart splintered and exposed and my hopes and dreams for the future cracked and weak.

Someone once told me that my experience doesn’t qualify as a tragedy. Maybe they are right. In the big scheme of things, I know that I am beyond blessed and my broken marriage is a drop in the bucket compared to what some people have to endure in this life. And yet, when something unexpectedly strikes your heart, there is damage, even if it’s not visible to the naked eye.

Five years ago my heart probably looked a lot like Christchurch after the earthquake. There was so much destruction, I didn’t even know where to begin. But I knew one thing: I wanted a quick fix. Either a wrecking ball to take it all out so I could start over again, or a whole construction crew to come in and tackle the repairs.

Turns out “heart work” doesn’t work like that. There was no giant crane or team of skilled men with hardhats and tools to sweep in and fix everything. While I had amazing support from incredible friends and family, I soon learned that what I really needed was only possible through God. I needed the divine Carpenter to work with me to clean out the brokenness and rebuild the fractured parts of my heart.

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He did, and He is. It isn’t easy and it’s not always enjoyable. Sometimes the buildings I think are salvageable God gently lets me know are “condemned.” The choice is always mine whether to hold on or make space to build something new. Something good, safe and healthy. And though I don’t always immediately opt for God’s way, I’ve learned that it is always infinitely better in the long run.

Today, my heart is still under construction.

heartWhile there is a lot of work left to do, I’ve been intentional about seeking peace, cultivating internal beauty and allowing my creativity to shine. And when I walk around Christchurch I see that they have done the same thing.

I love the beautiful murals they have painted on the sides of buildings and continue to add.

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The “tranquility parks” established around the city to allow space for people to relax and enjoy nature are brilliant.

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And the “Dance O Mat” (an outdoor space where you can plug in your phone to a rigged up washing machine with external speakers and have your very own dance party with a laminated floor, lights and disco ball) is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.

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These things wouldn’t have existed had there not been an earthquake. And while no one would ever wish for that tragedy, I can tell from the walking tour and the pride with which Michael shows us these things, that good has come from it.

The same is true for my life. I always joke that if God had given me a “brochure of life options,” I wouldn’t have chosen this one. But as Michael so eloquently puts it as he concludes the tour, “hope has made all the difference.” I couldn’t agree more.

On Easter Sunday, I celebrated my reason for hope – Christ’s victory on the cross.

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It’s hands down my favorite holiday of the year. One that reminds me again and again that nothing is impossible for God. After all, if He can overcome sin and the grave, He can certainly repair my wounded heart and bring beauty from the ashes.

Today, as I enjoy the botanical gardens here in Christchurch, I have peace and hope.

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I realize that while the earthquake had a tremendous affect on this city, it does not define it. Just like my divorce doesn’t define me. It’s something I’ll always remember, something that has shaped me into the woman I am today, but it’s part of my past.

I may still be a work in progress, but I’m also the beloved daughter of the Most-High God. I’m a daughter, sister, aunt and friend. Dreamer, dancer, doer. Ice-cream, popcorn and wine-loving world traveler. I don’t know what God has in store for my future, but I believe it will be exactly what I need to become the person He created me to be.

As I stop to smell the roses and I am thankful for the flowers and fruitfulness here and in my own heart.

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I’m thankful for the falling leaves, reminding me that seasons change…

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I’m thankful for the winding path I get to walk with those I love…

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And the unknown adventure that lies ahead.

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.

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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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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