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.

 

 

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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Lost in Translation and Losing It

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

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

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

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

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

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Check out this video!

Before we were soaked under the falls…

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It was beyond magnificent.

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

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Who knew butterflies were so friendly!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s up?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Love Stories

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

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

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

1) Elly’s Emergency

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

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

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

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

“Ok, thanks!” She said.

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

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Rachel and I spent the next few days taking in the urban skyline, the expansive green spaces and the tree-lined streets that make up Buenos Aires.
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There’s something about this city is completely energizing. We spent every night staying up later than we have in years. But after a few nights of that, it was time to catch up on our sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Ross da Boss

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

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

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

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And as it turns out – Ross is awesome!

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

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

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Huge.

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

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

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

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3 – The Albino Bat

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Finding the Soft Edge

“Just a little bit farther…” Hannah says as she grabs my foot and places it in my hand. I feel all of my muscles stretching deeply from my shoulder through my hip; and my heart starts to pound. I’m not so sure that my body was meant to bend this way. My peripheral vision is getting a little sparkly, so I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am thankful for this yoga class.   Although as I hold this pose, I’m struggling to remember why…

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Rachel and I met Hannah the week that we arrived in Mexico. She’s a 30-something, former gymnast with the flexibility of Gumby who owns a yoga studio nearby. Yoga is something I’ve literally never been interested in. I always assumed that it was more breathing and drum circles than real exercise. So when I met Hannah, I had zero desire to take her class.

But when she invited us to a class at a winery in the beautiful Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley), followed by a wine tasting and five course meal, how could I say no? The Valle de Guadalupe is the Mexican version of Napa Valley, and it’s about forty-five minutes from our house.

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Yoga in the Vineyard

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The reward for doing Yoga in the Vineyard…

The outdoor setting was serene and peaceful, so I went into the class expecting it to be easy. After all, I’m the kind of girl who appreciates a tough workout – running, volleyball, swimming – as long as I end up sweaty and exhausted, count me in! But Hannah’s class was challenging… to put it mildly. In fact, I spent the entire hour on the verge of collapse.

Now, I think I’m in pretty good shape, so the fact that I struggled so much during that first class lit a fire of determination and stubbornness inside me. I decided to master this yoga business, even if it’s the last thing I do in Mexico!

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So after several weeks of downward dogs, bound pigeons and cow faced poses, I can safely say that Rachel and I are getting… better! And we definitely have a new appreciation for yoga.

“Now breathe, and press your hips toward the sky…” Hannah says as she transitions us into another challenging pose. As I move into position, I hear someone tip over behind me. I breathe a sigh of relief, because although I know that Yoga isn’t a competition, I’m pretty happy I’m still standing.

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“And now take a soft child’s pose…” Hannah says in her calming tone.

“Hallelujah,” I think to myself, “I thought I was going to pass out in that last position.”

I lay on the mat and as my breath starts to come back to me, so does my appreciation for this class. My mind drifts to the Thanksgiving dinner that Rachel and I had a couple weeks ago. It was completely atypical and not very American. For the first time in years I wasn’t surrounded by friends and family, and I didn’t spend the whole day cooking. In fact, it was just Rachel and I, and we went out to eat at a local steakhouse.   We listened to mariachi music and ate tortillas soaked in butter. Instead of pumpkin pie, we finished the evening with a slice of dulce de leche cake. It was fantastic.

 

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At thanksgiving we talked about all of the things we’re thankful for in this new season of life – this amazing adventure, the support of friends and family, the beautiful home we’re staying in, two sweet dogs, and yes, this yoga class. Aside from giving us an amazing workout four days a week, it’s a wonderful new experience that pushed us out of our comfort zone.

Hannah snaps me back to reality when she says it’s time for another challenging pose. As we get into position, she encourages us to find the “soft edge” in our exercise. She describes this edge as a place just beyond comfort. It’s a place where we’re stretched beyond our norm and forced to grow. While I know she’s talking about our muscles, I can’t help but think that maybe the “soft edge” applies to everything in this life.

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I contemplate this thought as Hannah finally puts us into the Shavasana (aka- the corpse pose), signaling the end of the practice. In this pose, you lay on your back, close your eyes, and rest. It’s simple but powerful, and it’s basically the best time of the day.

As I lay here on the floor, I think through the concept of the soft edge and what it represents – growth, determination, and continual learning. I like that idea. What if I shifted my perspective and pushed myself to the soft edge in every facet of my life, like self-awareness, faith, and relationships? I’m not entirely sure what that would look like, but maybe that’s what this adventure is all about: discovering the soft edges in life that will gently push me to grow into the beautiful person God designed.