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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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.

Water, Wind & Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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But that’s a story for another day.

Today, I’m hiking.  Alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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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