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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

sunset from golden gardens, seattle

Related to my previous post about culture shock and readjustment, I’ve written down a few things I’ve thought about throughout our trip that I’d like to change in my life, especially once home.  It helps to share because, maybe it will encourage or inspire others, you’ll find others to talk to it about, and, they can hold you accountable. I’m sure Tyler has his only list that maybe he’ll share with some of you one day as well.  I also have a list of recipes to make at home someday, which I’m sure you all will find much easier to hold me accountable to. 🙂

A lot of times life is so different at home than from when you were traveling, or wherever you were, that it’s easy to just separate the two, letting “what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas” and losing all those little treasures you’ve built up in your journey.  Christians talk about returning home from the mission trip or field as being the most challenging, the time when the Enemy is most likely trying to attack, and the usual approach is by allowing you to get caught up in your old life, thinking it’s too difficult to process what you’ve went through, that you have no one to share your experiences with, and so you slowly forget what you experienced and let go of how you’ve changed.  In order to try to prevent that, I’m going to build this little landmark, or altar if you will, of what I’ve been thinking throughout the last year, and how God has been faithful to us.

1.     Do the things you don’t want to do now and you’ll feel better in the long-run.  It’s a simple lesson I feel most people learn early in life: you don’t want to do laundry but you should, and once those clothes are folded and put away, you feel a certain sense of relief and accomplishment.  You don’t want to go to the gym but you feel better afterwards, especially after months of going start to show results.  I tend to put these things off as long as possible, spending that time complaining and wishing they were done, as if I could do nothing about it.  Stressed that I needed to wash my car, instead of just washing it.  Stressed that I was running late to work, instead of just getting up when my alarm went off instead of hitting snooze three times.  Annoyed at the pile of papers I need to file or recycle, or the things I need to put away, instead of just turning on some music and getting things done. Depressed that an entire Saturday passed by and I did nothing but watch TV, depressed that I missed church three weeks in a row because I was “too tired” to get up on time, when I could JUST DO IT (thanks Nike).

 I do this a lot, and I’m trying to change it in all aspects of my life, but especially beginning with my morning routine.  I’m certainly not a morning person; I sleep in until the last possible minute, eat breakfast in my car, if at all, and only spend about 20 minutes getting myself ready for the day.  This is disrespectful to myself and insufficient.  When I get up earlier, my day has a more peaceful start and I feel more centered and balanced all day, especially if it includes breakfast, coffee, and some reading.  The problem is, I’m always tired, always.  But, what I always forget is that I’m not any more tired by getting up a little earlier. In fact, being tired is a fact of life I frankly need to get over already.  I get enough sleep, that’s not why I’m tired, so why not treat myself to a longer morning that will make my whole day more enjoyable?  It’s not what I want the moment my alarm is going off, but it’s better in the long-run.

Related, since I’m not a morning person, I’m not about to get up at 6 a.m. right now.  I am, however, trying to get up before noon each day, which you may laugh at, but is actually quite difficult for me, someone who struggles with depression, and frankly, is only getting up to sit on my computer and look for work most days (a struggle for motivation).  So, I’m focusing in setting an alarm 8-9 hours from when I go to bed, and getting up when it goes off.  I’m trying not to stay up ridiculously late so I can get up at a reasonable hour.  What’s important, however, is that I don’t just get up and sit around in my pajamas all day, brushing my teeth at 5 p.m. and never really “getting ready” for the day.  I need to get up, wash, brush my teeth, make myself look presentable, get fully dressed, eat breakfast, and then do whatever I have to do on the computer that day.  This may sound incredibly simple and self-evident to everyone else, but it’s a daily struggle for me and something I really hope I can change, especially now that I can sort of ease into it now during this transition time, making it less difficult when we have jobs.  So far, some days have certainly been better than others, but I’ve certainly made progress.

 2.       Giving when the giving gets toughIt can be hard to be generous when you’re traveling: you’re on a tight budget; you want to bargain so you don’t feel taken advantage of, and frankly, it’s easy to become self-centered.   We wrestled with this a lot while traveling – wanting to tip less or haggle more to save money, but ultimately one dollar to us means a lot more to someone in Bolivia, so it’s not worth the added stress or the effort. What we were reminded of abroad was to give, and give freely. What matters at home is how to be generous when it’s tempting to save every penny you have, because you don’t have very many and you’re almost surely going to need all of them before you find a job.  Well, this isn’t how the Bible teaches us to life our life.  So, we’re trying to continue giving – supporting friends, supporting churches, missionaries, whatever, because we’re meant to give out of generosity, not obligation.  And we’re meant to give even when we have very little, trusting that God will provide for us.  This might mean that even though we give we’ll end up homeless (doubtful) but it’s all part of God’s plan for us, however unpleasant it might be, and we’re meant to learn from every situation.  So while we’re trying to be prudent and make wise decisions, we’re also trying to give freely and live with a happy heart, because, like they say, mo’ money, mo’ problems. So with each penny we give away, we’re also giving away the stress it brings with it, and the opportunity for God to show his faithfulness to us.

 3.       Slow down, take pleasure in the moment, stay focused, and seek balance. I mentioned this is in my previous post, but I would like to continue living my life feeling balanced, and centered.  I like to be busy, and I like to do a lot of things, and that’s all fine, as long as I can do each one in turn, fully absorbing and enjoying the moment I’m in.  I also need to do these and remember to take care of myself, and I’m not talking spa days here, but simple tasks like taking even minimal care of nails, skin, and teeth, keeping my room clean and listening to music (which is something I often neglect even though it’s so important to me – see #4!).

We heard a sermon our first weekend back where the priest challenged us to try doing just one thing a day. It sounds simply, but think about it: we read while drinking coffee and listening to music.  We eat and watch TV. We talk about something while our thoughts are a million miles away.   I laughed and said,’ I already did that! I just drank my cup of coffee this morning and looked out the window, doing nothing else.’  It was true, and I did it without thinking, and I hope I can continue to live my life that way, enjoying the small moments and keeping an eye on the big picture, without getting too caught up in it all, and remembering what matters most.

 4.       It takes effort to do the things you love. This is something I actually learned in the year or so before we left for South America, but I still want to share it and keep doing it.  In high school, I loved the outdoors: I loved camping and snowboarding and backpacking and going to the beach.  I let those things slide in college and the years afterward, filling my time with school and work.  I found myself years later overweight watching What Not to Wear marathons on sunny Saturday afternoons, depressed about “not doing anything.”   I was shaken awake when by chance a co-worker invited me to go on a backpacking trip to the Enchantment Lakes in the Northern Cascades of Washington, known as the most beautiful area of the state.  The 3-day trip was stunningly beautiful, but it was also shocking how bad I was at what I claimed to love.  I wasn’t in proper condition, I didn’t have the proper gear or knowledge, or even experience.  I realized I had let something I really loved doing fade away, and fought to get it back, spending a year going to the gym regularly, finding hiking partners and books, joining the Seattle Mountaineers, learning to rock climb, continuing to pursue rock climbing in Argentina, and hiking and backpacking all over South America.  I’m trying to continue that here in Oregon, hence the recent hikes and kayak trip, trying to build mental and physical endurance by jogging the SE Salem hills every other day, and I’m planning on climbing South Sister in September, joining the Portland Mazama’s, and continuing to enjoy and love the beautiful countryside around me.

What’s important is the realization that the things I love don’t just happen…”you gotta make it happen…” as Oasis would say.   It takes effort, and sacrifice and planning.  It takes getting up at 6 a.m. when I don’t want to, knowing I won’t regret it for a second when I’m standing between two glaciers on Mt. Hood on a beautiful sunny day.  To do these things I have to train, and I have to practice, I have to pursue friends and organizations with similar interests, and I have to stay committed and persevere.   The same goes for my love of Spanish: I’ve got to keep getting out there to conversation groups, get to Powells to buy books in Spanish, and apply for jobs where I can use my skills.  It takes effort, but it’s worth it because I find enjoyment in these things.

5.     Live Simply.  Related to my post about consumerism and materialism, I’m going to continue to try to focus on what’s important (people, not things).  I’m going to continue to try to find joy in cooking meals that take time to prepare, as well as ones that I throw together quickly at the last minute.  Instead of complaining about washing the dishes by hand if we don’t have a dishwasher, I’m going to try to remember it’s a common, everyday reality for most of the world.  Instead of envying the newest gadget or gizmo, I’m going to try to be satisfied in what I already have.  I’ll try to recycle and creatively re-purpose things, and make environmentally supportive choices, like buying local, organic produce when I can afford to, and walking instead of driving.  I’m going to keep finding joy in making things from scratch, whether it’s bread, jam, cookies, cakes, beer,  or even soap.   I’m going to keep getting excited about the small things, like seeing hummingbirds outside or a serve yourself local honey stand or a ‘free land for brew-pub’ sign.  I’m going to try to remember that even if things don’t look the best, if they’re functional, they’re fine.   I’m going to try to keep the TV gone, watching only shows and movies that I actually like, and find funny, witty, informative, or moving, and I’m going to try to keep reading more.  Instead of turning to the usual suspects for comfort or zoning out (hulu, TV) I’ll turn to God, and to more productive things (exercise, writing, reading, contemplation). In short, I’m going to keep trying to learn to be content, in the midst of this world that always seems to want to make us the opposite.

 6.       Stop worrying, and have more faith: relax and enjoy!  It’s hard for anyone not to worry these days, and that’s a theme a lot of people have been talking about lately: transition, and change.  I tend to over-think things a lot.  Recently I pulled up an entry I never posted about Spiritual ADD.  Without getting into details, I talked about how I (and many others in my generation) have a lot of interests and I’m sort of, all over the place, making lots of short-term commitments to different “things.”  While the need for commitment is real, I also, frankly, fret too much over the whole subject.  Sure, I’ve traveled around a lot, I’ve been involved in a lot of different issues, I have doubts about the choices we’ve made, but I’ve also got to have faith that “in all things God works for the good of those that love him” (Romans 8:28) and that God has a plan for mine, and Tyler’s lives (Jeremiah 29:11).  We may not always make the best decisions, but God’s strength is shown through our weaknesses nonetheless (2 Corinthians 12:9). I had to memorize these and 48 other key Bible verses way back when at a whacky, conservative, southern Christian missions camp in the Florida swamplands, and looky-here, they’re still verses I turn to today, because since I was forced to memorize them, well, they come to me, even if haven’t read the Bible in ages.  And even though this point was brought up in a sermon this past Sunday, by a guest preacher I immediately disliked, holy-hell it’s still true, and God can even speak through people you dislike! There’s a testimony of God’s faithfulness right there, and I would have missed it if I put off writing this blog.  God is faithful to us all the time, speaking to us and leading us all the time, if we only try to listen and look more often.

So, in the meantime, I could have a lot I could worry about (and believe me, sometimes I do, but I’m always learning): bills to pay with a shrinking savings account and no income, no permanent home, looking for a job in a double-dip recession, but hey, I’ve got the Maker of the Universe on my side, and if he can take care of the lilies on the fields, the Israelites in the desert, I think he can handle us too.  We’re blessed to have a wonderful family that feeds us and gives us a place to stay, could we really ask for much more? With each job application, with each interview, I’m trying not worry, I’m trying to see it as a learning opportunity, and if I don’t get the position then hey, it must not have been meant to be.  And while I’ve got all this free time, I’d better put it to good use (see other commitments above), and at the very least, remember one of my favorite Psalms, made so crystal clear to me on that balmy night in Indonesia six years ago, with my beloved banana crepes: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (34:8).

In closing, these are just a few of the big thoughts I’ve been thinking lately, that I’d like to hold onto and build my new life in Oregon around.  (Other inspirations have been the movie Hook, my beloved Naruto anime series, and Trigun, but that’s all material for another day).  I hope I can stay true to my goals, and receive grace when I don’t.  I hope it was somehow meaningful to anyone who reads it, and, as always, feel free to share your thoughts.  We always love hearing from you.

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A friend asked me how re-adjusting to life in the US was.  I simply replied: “readjusting = boo” and she understood completely.  I can’t believe I’ve been putting off writing an entry for a month now (cause for my next post).  At first there was too much too say that was too difficult to put into words, and now I’m trying to piece those lost thoughts back together; they’ve grown fuzzy after focusing on getting our life together, applying for jobs, and seeing long-lost friends and family.

First, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about “culture shock.”  Not that I don’t love talking about it, but I thought this would be a good place to reflect more deeply about it.  Culture shock, to me, has two parts: getting using to everyday things that are profoundly differently to live in another culture, and getting used to how you’ve profoundly, fundamentally changed after living in another culture.   The everyday things come with time and patience; the profound change can be lost without vigilance.

The everyday things that are hard to adjust to are numerous, but one of those is consumerism and materialism.  This has always been a shocker after returning to the US from every trip I’ve gone it, and though it’s no surprise, it’s still a demon to wrestle with.  What was shocking about that recycled, recyclable cutting board at EZ Orchards wasn’t just its existence as a commodity; it was that I wanted it.  I want it so I start to justify buying it, coming up with a reasonable plan.  At the same time I remember how ridiculous this is compared to the billion people who go hungry each day.  Needs versus wants: the keystone to learning to live a balanced life.  It’s funny to hear people justify buying this or that because it will make something easier, or save time, or look better. Sure, it will do all those things, but doesn’t anyone stop to think about how sick our culture is if we can’t truly accept someone because their house isn’t big enough, their dishes don’t match, it’s not well-decorated, their lawn isn’t manicured enough, because they don’t have this or that useless commodity?  We need to buy certain things to fit in.  We need to buy certain time-saving things (i.e. dishwasher, washer and dryer) because we have to live overly busy, “productive” lives to be a normal “American.” Sure, a stainless steel compost container looks better than an old plastic yogurt container, and maybe it keeps flies away and helps with smells, but really? Is that necessary? Do you really need it? I want it, and many other things, and that is a strange shock, because I know better.  Do you ever wonder how you end up with over-stuffed closets and garages?  It’s because we justify buying things, then buying things for our things, then buying things to store our things, and then buying bigger houses with more storage, so we can buy more things: the multiplication of wants.  While traveling we learned to live with very little, and now the amount of stuff we have is stressful.  Unpacking boxes is fun, but with it comes the stress of: where do I put it? Do I even still want it?  While we gave away probably half of our belongings before we left for this trip, I’m looking forward to weeding out even more unnecessary stuff whenever it is we finally get to unpack.   And while I find the amount of things available, and the amount of things I find myself wanting, overwhelming, I do understand that there needs to be a balance, so I’m not going to go around making myself feel guilty all the time or live like a Spartan, because that’s not sustainable either.

This “everyday shock” is related to a profound one: a firm understanding of what matters most.  I used to only want to live in cool cities where I didn’t have to drive, where I had fun places to eat and drink, where I had beautiful parks, and cool things to go to and do.  I still want to, but I frankly don’t care anymore.  I don’t care if I live in Salem or Portland or Seattle, or Sacramento or Texas, because it just doesn’t matter.  Some people may think I should be applying for jobs all the time, and not going out kayaking or hiking, but that doesn’t matter either.  What matters, in my opinion, is being fully present and focused on whatever’s going on “in the moment” and having quality time with those you love, whether that’s family or friends.   So, yes, I’m applying for jobs a lot, but I’m not stressing out about it all the time.  I’m only applying for jobs I really want, and I’m keep a schedule that allows me to have free time, and take advantage of the flexibility we have now, because who knows when we’ll have it again.  And I’m applying for jobs in Portland, not just because it’s a great city with more opportunities, but because it’s where our dear friends live, yet it’s still close to at least some of our family. And while I’m doing all this I’m trying to learn about my new surroundings and continue to pursue things I’m passionate about, hence trips to the outdoors, bouldering, going to parks, breweries, Timbers games, restaurants, and food carts.  If there’s anything we learned while traveling, it’s that you can be in the coolest city in the world, or the most beautiful place, or having the greatest experience of your life, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have someone to share it with.   And if you can learn to say, trust God, and therefore be fully present in whatever your given situation is, you’ll find yourself relatively worry-free, able to enjoy life even though you’re in a rough transition right now.  That’s where I find myself most days now, and I pray it will last.

mt. hood

A few other everyday shocks I’ve noticed revolve around cell phones: I find texts irritating now, and would rather just call to talk to someone, which if you know anything about my weird irrational fear of talking on the phone, is quite the big deal.  I find myself wanting to turn my cell phone off, like our parents do, which I used to say defeated the purpose of having a cell phone.   I love that we’re finally close to friends and family, but I want to see them and talk to them, not hear my phone buzz.  I also find it strange that I seemed to have lost my US pedestrian skills, which granted, maybe weren’t great to begin with, as I’m always had a certain affinity for the chaotic systems our Southern neighbors use.  At any rate, cross-walks: annoying.  Walking in front of cars: normal.  Suddenly breaking for pedestrians or cars, being cut off, passed, whatever: normal, not cause for alarm or anger.  I hear people around me commenting about such and such traffic situation and getting really worked up about it, and I think, why bother? Everyone’s just fine.  I suppose these relates to a profound change in our pace of life.  We move slowly, and I like it.  I feel centered and balanced, and I hope I can maintain it, even when work begins again.

Also, I find speaking English strange, and find it difficult to read and write at the level I used to, needing extra time to think of the correct word or to having to re-read things to catch the subtle nuances.  I also do this with Spanish, meaning, I now struggle in both languages instead of just one.  This has been amusing as well as frustrating, especially when writing cover letters or talking in job interviews.  I also find it strange to order food in English, and almost always pause before speaking to make sure I’m thinking the right thing to say. I forget people can overhear and understand our conversations, and that tone and mannerisms suddenly matter a great deal more than they did in South America.  I also can’t stand commercials now (I feel like they’re simultaneously screaming at me and making my brain go in 1000 directions at once) nor can I really stand most TV programs, even the mindless ones I used to love so much (cooking shows, etc.).  30 Rock has been a saving grace.  These, among many others, are the funny, more light-hearted shocks to coming home.

So, those are just a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head lately about coming home.  So far, it’s been pretty great; truly enjoyable and wonderful, so great to see family and friends, and have good food and drinks again, but, the reality of being back is just beginning to set in I think, so I’m sure we’ll face many other challenges to come.

For those interested, pictures of our recent trip to Seattle can be found HERE, more kayaking pictures can be found HERE, pictures from around Portland HERE, and pictures from a recent hike near Mt. Hood can be found HERE.

Enjoy!

Sharon

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Faith My Eyes

south american hay bales

The other night after a long day, we came back to our hotel room and weren’t sure what to do.  We had purchased some “Sony” headphones (less than $3 each – what a deal!) and I wanted to see if they actually worked so I started playing a few songs on the computer.  Tyler did the same.  We weren’t sure if we were going to watch a movie, go to bed, etc, and it turned into just listening to music while I read books in bed.  And Tyler, being the genius that he is, played this song, which I think expresses a lot of feelings we’ve had lately.  I’ll let it speak for itself.

As I survey the ground for ants
Looking for a place to sit and read
I’m reminded of the streets of my hometown
How they’re much like this concrete that’s warm beneath my feet

And how I’m all wrapped up in my mother’s face
With a touch of my father just up around the eyes
And the sound of my brother’s laugh
But more wrapped up in what binds our ever distant lives

But if I must go
Things I trust will be better off without me
But I don’t want to know
Life is better off a mystery

So keep’em coming these lines on the road
And keep me responsible be it a light or heavy load
And keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I’ll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

Hometown weather is on TV
I imagine the lives of the people living there
And I’m curious if they imagine me
Cause they just wanna leave; I wish that I could stay

And to visit places from my past
But only for an hour or so
Which is long enough to smell the air
To tell the tale and find the door

But I get turned around
I mistake some happiness for blessing
But I’m blessed as the poor
Still I judge success by how I’m dressing

So I’ll sing a song of my hometown
I’ll breathe the air and walk the streets
Maybe find a place to sit and read
And the ants are welcome company

And I’ll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes
And I’ll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

— “Faith My Eyes”,  Caedman’s Call, 40 Acres

*Still a great band!!

For those of you that want a listen check this YouTube version here: Faith My Eyes.

Another song I was listening to on the bus from Copacabana to Cusco (where we are now) by Caedmon’s Call was “Table for Two” and a few of those lyrics stuck out to me as well. Always lots of time for reflection on a 12 hour bus ride when you can’t sleep. 🙂

Danny and I
Spent anther late night over pancakes
Talkin’ ’bout soccer
And how every man’s just the same.
We made speculation
On the who’s and the when’s of our futures
And how everyone’s lonely
But still we just couldn’t complain.

And how we just hate being alone.
Could I have missed my only chance,
And now I’m just wasting my time
By lookin’ around

But ya know I know better,
I’m not gonna worry ’bout nothin’.
Cause if the birds and the flowers survive,
Then I’ll make it okay.
I’m given a chance and a rock;
see which one breaks a window.
See which one keeps me up all night and into the day.

Because I’m so scared of being alone
That I forget what house i live in.
But it’s not my job to wait by the phone
For her to call.

Well this day’s been crazy
But everything’s happened on schedule,
from the rain and the cold
To the drink that I spilled on my shirt.
‘Cause You knew how You’d save me
before I fell dead in the garden,
And You knew this day
long before You made me out of dirt.

And You know the plans that You have for me
And You can’t plan the end and not plan the means
And so I suppose I just need some peace,
Just to get me to sleep

Also, there’s some recent pictures of Copacabana and Isal del Sol HERE.

Love,

Sharon and Tyler

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Quick Update…

 

view from the bus on the ruta de siete lagos

 

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started.” – T.S. Elliot

I read this quote in our pastor’s blog today, and I’m probably going to think about it for a long, long time.  Maybe its because we’re back in Bariloche again for a night, having finally taken the scenic Ruta de Siete Lagos back (pictures HERE, I also added a few more the San Martin album). The irony is not lost on me that our pastor has been all about settling down and growing roots while we’re in the midst of wandering an entire continent, but this piece of poetry gives me peace somehow. I think we both realize that this might be the last time in our lives we can take an extended trip like this (unless, by chance, one of us lands a job abroad, still an option we’d like to keep open, but aren’t necessarily actively pursuing) before the things I would refer to as “chains” or “anchors” start appearing in our lives: family, house, careers.  These things are starting to look more and more appealing to us, and we’re truly looking forward to settling down and getting to know our little community in Portland.  But, before we make those types of commitments, we at least have one last hurrah to take some time to figure some things out and gain some valuable experiences.  The funny thing is, every new place we go, we try to compare it to home: this looks like the San Juans, this town is like Lake Tahoe, this forest looks like it could be in Oregon… and so on.  We look for little pieces of home wherever we go.

Anyway, just a quick, very unfinished thought. Next up, I’ll share the itinerary we spent a good chunk of time today setting up, since at our new hostel we have wifi from our bed 🙂

Feb. 6th: take the bus bright and early down to El Calafate in the south of Patagonia. Should be interesting as I think it’s 28 hours long, and we’re in the second-cheapest class.

Feb. 7th – 9th: El Calafate – mostly known for being close to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually still growing, by up to 6 feet a day!  I can’t wait to see (and hear!) this amazing creation!

Feb. 9th – 13th: El Chalten – only a few hours from El Calafate, this town is famous for the toothy Fitz Roy mountain range, home to climbing, hiking, glacier trekking…should be both amazing and exhausting.

After that we either head all the way down to the “end of the world:” Ushuaia, or make and early break for Chile.  Haven’t decided yet. We hear that since these towns in Southern Patagonia are so isolated (ATM usage isn’t even guaranteed so we have to stock up on cash!), and since there’s going to be so many interesting and exciting things to do, we might not post much for the next few days, but we’ll try our best.  You know I like uploading the photos!

We miss you all, and think about you all the time.

Love,

Us

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We can hardly believe it – in less than two weeks it will be time to move on!

When we came back from our trip to Mendoza, somehow it was already January, and that surreal feeling that the world is moving out of your control was just starting to happen.  Now it is in full motion – time swirling by faster than expected, the list of things to do and time to do it wrestling with each other.  Boxes to mail home, music and movies to download (no laws on that here), pictures to back up, iPod to update, laundry, saying goodbye to our favorite places and people.  The fears and doubts of this trip – what next?  Uh, like, where should we go?  Home? Continue on?  And the hardest questions – how and why.

Buenos Aires and the little side-trips we’ve made have been fun, some of it, even great.  We both wish we had done a few things differently…spent only 3 months here in the city being the major one.  Convincing our friend from Portland to take back a bag of fall clothes and souvenirs for us another.  Having the newest edition of the Lonely Planet so our budget wasn’t blown to pieces.  And the usual suspects are all around us: I wish I’d studied more Spanish, taken more classes, gone to the climbing gyms sooner, made a bigger effort to find a church community.  But, it’s time to just remember the best, try to put into words and cohesive thoughts the lessons we’ve learned, and move on.

And speaking of the lessons we’re learning, why don’t I share a few, before I get into the thick of things?

Being fully present in the moment. I like my friends at home; I don’t like making new friends much and I don’t care for acquaintances.  I’d rather save my energy for those deep relationships that sustain me.  This has some validity, I think, but it’s also quite wrong.  Here, the only friends we can hope for aren’t going to be forever, and we can choose to run from that, or embrace it.  Eventually, I gave in, and I remember one moment, in the most unlikely of places (a bar) someone I had just met, shared a vulnerable history of a twisted past. I was shocked that he would share something so personal to near-strangers (and no, it wasn’t the alcohol talking) and was inspired by it.  This is a lesson I’m always being taught, re-taught, and reminded of, but it was refreshing to revisit it here.

Interruptions and Slow Walking. Life here is always being interrupted.  Strange, sudden government holidays, people coming and going, power outages, traffic jams, subte strikes, you name it.  The Type A part of me doesn’t like when my plans “get messed with” and I don’t like when things aren’t efficient. But, it happens here, and people have the great flexibility to just make the most of it, and I too, am slowly learning. Related to this is the fact that people here walk like tourists at the Space Needle.  They walk painfully slow, randomly stop with no warning, and are generally irritating.  But they’re never in a hurry; they’re enjoying the walk, and they’re smarter for it.  Not only because they’re not allowing stress to enter their realm, but because when you walk slow you don’t get as hot or sweaty.  I enjoy my slow saunters to and from work, and enjoy taking the bus even if it takes longer than the subte (it has better views).  I’m slowly learning not to think about tomorrow, or later today (though I still think planning has a place), but just enjoy the now.

Listening and the art of communication. Having to learn another language has many benefits, but I’ve recently been reminded of one I’d never paid much attention to before.  Listening.  I can understand a lot more Spanish than I can say, in the moment.  I can read books, I can watch movies, but I can’t always respond before the subject changes.  I was painfully reminded of this the other night at a bouldering gym with new friends; I could follow their conversation, but by the time I thought of the correct way to say something, the topic had changed. Now this can also be a lesson in letting go of perfectionism, too.  But, listening.  I’ve always admired people that can get shy people to talk – who just listen and ask questions, rarely talking about themselves, expect to sympathize or relate. I try to do this, and fail miserably, when I’m speaking English.  In Spanish, I find myself listening for long stretches of conversation, being forced to ask questions to clarify or get more information, and rarely talking at all, much less about myself.  And its quite refreshing, and something I hope I can apply to my daily life and interactions back home.

Related to this is communication in general, something I absolutely hate learning (I am a firm believer that one should be allowed to communicate in their natural manner, and that anything else is cheapened), but I do it for my marriage and for my work, and, well, as a general life/social skill I guess.  I am not a good communicator, by any means.  Learning other languages helps with this on a social level, but being, what sometimes feels like trapped, in a so-so city with your spouse in one room, forces one to learn communication in a different light.  Its been difficult, but its also something we never dedicated enough time to in the States because we were “too busy.” Well, now we have worlds of time, and its been interesting to see just how different we are, and also to see just how easy (and hard) some of the fixes can be.  These are lessons we’re just beginning to learn, but I hope they continue, and that God grants us the grace to do so in a loving manner.

Future “Plans”: the how

We’re not sure what the plan is yet (can you believe that?! Me not having a plan, less than two weeks out?! This trip must really be getting to me!).  I bought tickets to spend a day in Colonia, Uruguay Friday to get another stamp to brag about in our passport (it happens, even if you try not to), and consequently renew (hopefully) our tourist visa for another 90 days so we don’t have to rush out of here.  After that our general, sort of plan is “go to Patagonia” but we’re not quite sure how to go about that.  We have some ideas, and we’ll probably end up buying bus tickets to Bariloche next week and hoping it all works out.  We’ve heard rumors its can get expensive down there, which I find strange, as I mostly just want to hike around and look at stuff, maybe even camp if we come across equipment, but we’ll just have to see how it goes.

The idea after that is to make it all the way down to the tip of the continent, Ushuaia, and then? “Up through Chile” however that works out.  There’s been talk of volunteering on an organic farm (WWOOFing) along the way, talk of staying at YYAM bases to save money, of hitchhiking and couchsurfing.  Dreams of making it to Bolivia and Peru, to Guatemala, Mexico, and Cuba. That is to say, we really don’t have many answers on the “how”s of the trip, but we have this, perhaps naive, faith that it will all work out, for better or for worse.  Should be interesting.

As for when we’re coming home, well, a recent chat with a friend, among other things, reminded me to keep that on our radar.  We’re still not sure.  There’s been talk of packing up and calling it quits directly from Buenos Aires, or directly after Patagonia, depending on the budget.  There’s been more talk on trying to hold out until at least May or June, and there’s been some talk about coming back in August or September, “if all goes well.”  There’s also been whispers in the back of my head of staying…for as long as…?; of course I have no idea or plan yet, but if some opportunity came along, well…if I can get my cat down there it’d be hard to pass up.  But, no such opportunities exist for us as of yet.

Doubts and the Why’s

As for the “why,” this is more difficult, and I’ve actually written an entire separate blog about it, which I still haven’t finished. I keep asking myself, is this worth it? Why are we here?  Why did we do this again? We could be at home, with my cat, having a normal life where I can eat all the cheap, spicy Mexican food I please and hang out with people I love everyday.  So, why are we here, spending all this money?  Is it just to learn a language? Just to experience a culture?  Haven’t I done that already? Are we actually doing what God wants for us, or are we doing some mumbled, half-assed version of what God wants? Why can’t I be given clarity, or peace? We have an idea, a romanticizing idea, of this great exploratory travel, where we spend hardly any money and meet great people and have revelatory experiences along the way. Not only has this been done before, it’s very hard to do in today’s world.  So then, what’s left?  We’re not with a church…we’re not missionaries…we’re not with any kind of program…we’re not in any kind of commitment.  I like these things because they lend me structure and security (but are those false?), but here without those things on this trip, I am haunted and full of doubt.  I try to have peace that it will make sense someday, that some opportunity will come along and it will be great, that when it’s all said and done I’ll say, this was the trip of a lifetime, totally worth it!  But most of the time, I just feel overly privileged and lost.

Tyler and I have been talking a lot about this tension I have, and many others have as well. We grew up in what some would call a sort of legalistic, hyper-emotional Christianity.  If we didn’t do our devotionals every day, if we didn’t cry at worship and retreats, we were bad Christians, riddled with guilt, our relationship with God nearly salvageable. Sounds silly now, but that’s what it felt like, in many ways.  So, later in life, as the classic cycle goes, we rebelled.  We’re all about the emergent church, we don’t need structure, we don’t need rules, it’s all about the heart-relationship, and that’s personal.  While this has many benefits, it’s not quite right either.  Because of this, I see many friends who live in hip “communities” with a lax mission, many of them eventually “realizing” they don’t need the Christian faith anyway.  A slippery slope, either way.  And thus, the circle comes ’round again, and I find myself saying, spiritually (and let’s be honest, physically) I’m a spoiled brat. I barely have an ounce of spiritual discipline (and I always eat exactly what I want). I need to take some things from that legalism (the discipline side) and add it into that flexible emergent stuff, and see what happens!  Well that’s all great, but, how do we add in the discipline to this, very lax, emergent-style trip? We get the obvious (read our Bible and pray, duh! and yet, that seems so hard), but..what else can we do? And how do we keep the balance of freedom/grace/discipline without it turning into that old enemy legalism?  An interesting journey indeed…

After all is said and done, I’m still excited about some of the lessons I/we am/are learning. And I comfort myself with the fact that God can use any experience to His good, and that even if we’re doing things the wrong way (have I made a grave mistake?!) we’re still learning important lessons, and they’re still going to be used in some awesome way in the future, and someday we’ll realize all that.

Thoughts?  Comments?  We always appreciate hearing from everyone (we also got quite a few Christmas cards – thanks!).

Love,

Sharon

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Over the weekend, we did something I’ve been longing to do: we finally took the pile of clothes, old sleeping bags, shoes, books, wedding presents we never used in the past three years, movies we never watch, and furniture that holds things we don’t need, and donated it all to Goodwill.

Don’t get me wrong, we live in small apartment that’s maybe…800 square feet (?), and has exactly two tiny closets, one kitchen counter only two feet wide, one small kitchen sink, and strangely gigantic bathroom.  We didn’t have a lot of stuff by American means.  But by global means, we had (and still have) much more than we need.  We held onto things because, well, we had the space.  We didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings; we kept thinking that maybe we might need something someday.  Now, we have an excuse to purge.

Over the last three years, I’ve wanted to move several times, always to a place that’s not necessarily bigger in terms of square footage, but that had more storage, a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, and a balcony or deck; better flow.  But storage was always the key; just the other day I visited a friend who just moved, and marveled at how they had not one, not two, but four huge closets. I was truly jealous. That was also due to the fact that they had a dishwasher, and a back-porch, and a parking space, but wow, the storage!  So, I’ve looked at a lot of apartments, and I’ve found some great ones.  One was in Uwajimaya Village, which, if you don’t have a car, you should definitely live there because they have cheap options (income-qualified units), they are awesome, and it’s a great location.  But, parking made it expensive, and there was a lack of storage, so we moved on.  Next we went to Welch Plaza, which also has income-qualified units, a fitness center, parking, dishwashers, and washer and dryers in unit.  We toured a few different options, but in the end, we decided it was a no, because we couldn’t fit our furniture in; not enough storage.  Now, I think back on that, and wonder that I was thinking.  Our furniture doesn’t fit, so no to cheaper rent, a free gym, and no more arguing over washing dishes!  I guess at the time I just wasn’t in the right mindset; I was too comfortable, too attached. Oops.  At least I generally learn from my mistakes.

On this past gloomy Saturday, I spent eight hours sorting, organizing, packing, and cleaning. Somehow in all that time, I only ended up with one sealed box (Christmas ornaments) and several almost full, unsealed boxes, thinking we might add or discard things later.  I spent a lot of time packing our “sentimental crap and mementos” boxes, reminiscing, being nostalgic, and generally a bit mopey, lonely and depressed.  But, that is part of the packing/moving experience, so I actually enjoyed it (I had my good friend, music, to keep me company, and a floppy, confused kitten). On Sunday, I packed most of our books, our movies, and some clothes.  Still some open boxes, because, hey, we might want to watch a movie or wear some old clothes in the next three weeks.  But, what really made an impact was curtains and carpet.  Yes, curtains.

When we first moved into the apartment, I had a great job that unfortunately only paid exactly $848 a month; Tyler worked at Starbucks.  You can imagine the arithmetic. Thus, we didn’t have money to make a lot of investments in making our apartment comfortable.  We didn’t have money to come up with great “storage solutions” or to create coordinating décor. As our apartment did have painted blue hardwood floors in the living room, we did manage to find a great deal on a gigantic area rug at Home Depo before we moved in, that covered most the space.  It made it a little quieter; a littler warmer; a little bit cozier.

After that job ended and I was home alone, unemployed, getting rejected daily in my job search, I had had enough.  I would use our savings to make a little investment.  My mother always said curtains make a place feel more home-like. So, despite the fact that I was unemployed and the “Great Recession” had just begun, I was going to make myself feel better with curtains.  I would comfort myself with shopping; a typical consumerist American dream.  I am ashamed to admit it.  So, I walked the mile or so to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and looked at curtains.  Why – why?! Are curtains so expensive?!  Who knew, I mean really, who knew.  But, I was committed; this would help me feel better now that I had to spend all this time at home.  So, I got some curtains.  I put them up in our living room.  I found an old sari Tyler had bought in India, and made a drape with it (it was quite creative and matched perfectly; you should be impressed).  Now, I was on my way, to a status of having color palettes and accents.  I think I even bought a decorative pillow that day.

Now, curtains are an awkward thing to carry home over a mile, with the rods sticking out of the bags and whatnot.  As I walked home with my gigantic bags, struggling to keep circulation in my hands as they were being cutoff by plastic, someone on the street pointed and called out to me: “this woman is single-handedly saving our economy!  Someone’s got to do it!”  I thought it was funny (remember the ridiculous Bush speech about how we needed to shop to save our county?), but I was also embarrassed.  A necessary pain for the joy of curtains.  When Tyler came home from work that day, I announced: “Look husband, I’ve built you this palace!” It was a little harem-like, with silk curtains and sari drapes; in burnt orange and deep red nonetheless.  It also made the room darker.  But, my Mom was right; it was pleasant; we felt snug.  It was the beginning to our road to comfortableness.  Later we would buy a futon and get rid of the old loveseat; we would get Tyler a computer desk and re-arrange the furniture; get a new dressers, a coat-rack, and some odd little tables.  Most of this was new in the sense that it was new to us; most of it we found in the alley behind our apartment, or got from friends.  But, it made our little apartment homely. Sure, we went through stuff every few months and donated a few bags and boxes to Goodwill, but we slowly acquired things.  We got used to it.  We became complacent.  I started watched TV when I hadn’t done that much since my senior year of high school; I kept watching it even after we lost our free cable.  I just wanted to zone out, to have a “mind-numbing activity.”  It started taking me longer to finish books, and I started gaining more weight.  Sure, we were happy, we had friends over for anime night, we cooked, we went wine tasting, we watched movies.  It was fun to stay in; we were comfortable.

Comfortable makes it hard to leave; hard to move; hard to pack. People, Tyler included, thought it was a bit odd that I wanted to start to pack now, three weeks before we move.  I had my reasons: 1. I really want to do a mid-week backpacking trip before we leave 2. I really want to enjoy our last three weeks in Seattle and not be stressed by the move; so why not take advantage of a rainy weekend? and 3. the great unknown feeling in my soul.  Now that the boxes are filling up, that our stuff has been given away (TV included), the curtains have been taken down, and the carpet rolled up and thrown out, I understand the great unknown.  Somewhere, deep inside me, I remembered that I should be uncomfortable with being comfortable, all the time at least.  Comfort is something to be enjoyed every once in a while; a treat like gelato or the “El Diablo” dessert at Tango.  I remembered I used to be more active; more motivated, when I lived with less.  When I went to bed last night; I felt like one of those characters in the commercials to quit smoking; when they have to re-learn how to do all their daily activities they would do with cigarettes; driving, eating breakfast.  I think I actually asked, out loud, “what did I used to do before bed?” when I didn’t watch TV?  Then it came to me: I would talk to Tyler on the phone, and I would read.  I would also listen to music.  So, I read, a book a friend gave me months ago, that’s just been sitting, lost in the masses of books in our bookshelves.  Now that they’re empty, with only a few books we haven’t read pulled out, I can focus on the ones I’ve been wanting to read. I am free to do that (and also forced, a little bit, but by choice).  And it’s a fantastic!  Now, maybe the things that have been on my to-do list for months (filing taxes, anyone?) will finally get done because I can’t make excuses anymore.  I have nothing else to do; I have a new clarity of mind.  Our change in circumstances, my little reality check, has generated more energy. I can see things in a new light (literally, not only is it brighter in our apartment without curtains, I get to use my favorite lamp, finally!), and I like it. Sure, there will still be temptations (Hulu) and it will still be a struggle in self-discipline, but I am happy to take on the challenge.  I think these next few weeks will teach us real lessons of preparation for Buenos Aires, where we’ll live in one room with a home-stay, and for our travels thereafter.  And when God answers my prayers to give me open eyes and ears for his lessons, I get excited.

Sure, it might not be all that pleasant to walk barefoot in our house anymore, as we discovered what basically amounted to a beach underneath our cozy carpet/rug, and enough dust bunnies to make at least one spare kitten.  Sure, I may have to tip-toe around piles of stuff, my clothes are in big Tupperware bins; our bed is now in the center of our room, the frame dismantled in the living room, and I may have made a nightstand out of my tabla (an Egyptian drum) and my old hula-dancer lamp, but it feels strangely liberating; it feels good.  I can find contentment knowing that our home is anywhere we’re together, anywhere with Christ, even if where we live doesn’t feel “homey” anymore. Our place might be kind of a disaster and not the most inviting for friends, but, if our friends judge us by the space (or lack thereof) we live in, maybe we should question the basis of our friendship.  If we can’t find enjoyable entertainment in any space with our friends, when, what are doing?

As for my love of great storage, I’ve realized: I don’t need it.*  I never needed it; what I needed to do was let go; give it up. We realized that at least three pieces of furniture that we had planned so much around when looking at potential apartments, weren’t even worth donating.  And they were demolished so easily; we literally kicked them to pieces in minutes, and just like that, they were flattened and in our dumpster.  Amazing how quickly something dismantles and disappears; all those years, all those memories and it’s gone, just like that. And what caught my attention was how easy it was, and how relieved I felt afterwards.

With the recession still dragging on, there’s been a lot of talk about cutting back; there’s even a great article in it in the New York Times. There’s been a lot of talk at our church, and in the books I’ve been reading, about living simply.  It’s something Tyler and I have talked about a lot, and generally try to practice; only now we intend to bring it to a different level.  Live simply, so we can work less, and have time to do more.  Plan our lives strategically so this can be a reality. People can argue with me, but I truly believe in the core of my being, that we weren’t meant to work 40+ hours a week and to commute daily in cars. I’ve done it, and I’m relieved to be leaving it behind me.  I would rather work less, and be able to afford less, than to live in a stressed and frenzied world. This may require more creativity, a more radical living situation (intentional community, anyone?), an acceptance that less is more, and discernment in purchasing decisions. I think it is a major piece in the puzzle of happiness and contentment, and I am happy that we’re pushing ourselves in the right direction.

We’ll see what I think after three weeks of living in this mess. 😉

Thank You’s

But for now, I’d like to give a big shout of thanks to Haley, who graciously gave up her Sunday afternoon to make a Goodwill caravan run with me; and to her friend Hayden, who amazingly gave up an entire day to do boring things like clean mold, sweep, and watch the Genki Sushi commercial, when he’s visiting here for only a month from Australia.  And, praise the Lord for the amazing mold and mildew cleaner Becka lent me; the word “destroy” on the label truly does not lie.

Also, I apologize for the lack of pictures – I know it’s hard to read without the words being broken up by a fun image. I’ll be working on that soon, now that I’ve been liberated to be productive.  🙂

Question

On a related note, I would like to pose a question.  I obviously like this idea of living simply and having less.  However, there is an issue that sits uneasily with me.  As someone who has wandered and moved a lot, a lot of things don’t have a lot of value.  Our alley furniture and hand-me-downs aren’t worth holding onto for the storage fee. But, does this notion of “expendable” equate to a lifestyle of glorified consumerism?  Where we get rid of old clothes just to justify making room for new clothes (as my husband accused me of doing last night…and I must admit, is often a motivation)?  A lifestyle were we just cycle through furniture, clothes, and goods as we move from one place to another, or exchange one piece of alley furniture for the next? Sure, we might not be buying new clothes or new furniture each time, we might be recycling and donating things, but doesn’t it still perpetuate the same destructive mindset?  I wonder about that. On another hand, as we were donating my nightstand I’ve had for 16 years, I had a thought that next time we’d just save up until we could get something nice; something we really wanted, something that we wouldn’t want to donate.  Is this the right response? Or is this too, perpetuating the myth of nice things = happiness?  Thoughts, anyone?

*Disclaimer

Well, ok, before you go on calling me a hypocrite, yes, we are still planning on renting a storage unit while we’re traveling, because we realized its cheaper to store a few things than try to replace certain ones (i.e. our bed, Tyler’s computer, those damned expensive curtains) that we’re pretty sure we’ll need when (if?) we come back.  Maybe we are supposed to give up all our possessions and follow; maybe when we think closely about our needs versus wants, we’ll see that we don’t really need any of the stuff we plan to store; that it’ll just make things easier when we come back – but maybe we think it’s worth it, for now at least? I’ve been toying with the idea of just getting rid of it all anyway, but I can’t discern if that’s rash or wise just yet, so I’ll continue with the current path of action.  Maybe we’re just supposed to be willing to give it all up, like a test, but if we pass we get to keep it?  (Yes, sometimes I still think like a child).  Basically, all I know is that I don’t have all the answers; that I know we’ve made a big step in the right direction, and that I’ll just have to have faith that God shows me what we’re supposed to do next, and that it will be awesome.

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We had to watch the Motorcycle Diaries for Spanish class this week, one of my favorite films.  The first time I watched it was with my dear “EMP – Experience Mexico Project” friends in Mexico City, 2007.  It was to start a thoughtful discussion on how travelling and experiencing the world changes you.  I remember Tyler, who has a severe phobia of needles, grabbed my arm with so much force it left finger-bruises when they gave Ernesto Guevara a shot for his asthma in the movie.  To be honest, I don’t remember much of our discussions, because the sum of our experience was greater than the individual parts.  It endeared this movie to me, so much so that I later used it in Bible studies for high school youth groups.  And now, here I was again, watching this time without subtitles, trying to prepare my mind for that dreaded Argentinean accent. I could speak volumes on how this movie relates to our aspirations for this trip (no, we are not going to start a violent revolution), but what was most impactful this time, was not in the film itself.

In the bonus features there is an interview with the real-life Alberto Granado; a content old man with liver spots and white hair. Speaking about his journey across Latin America with Ernesto Guevara, he says that, in order to travel so that the world changes you, you have to be a bad son, a bad brother, bad uncle, and a bad boyfriend. You have to leave all your attachments behind to truly travel and experience the world.  Are we ready for this?

Maybe I’m just getting older; maybe I just love my kitten too much, I just want to finally be with our dear friends, maybe I am lazy and comfortable in my life and don’t want to face the challenges that lie ahead. Maybe it’s past my time to keep moving.  Maybe the thought of going without a plan, of leaving the option open to not come back…ever…is too much for me. I have long been a planner, someone who constantly looks beyond the horizon. How long will we stay?  Our reply has generally been a shrug and a “not sure, at least four months…”  Lately, I’ve been inclined to say: “as long as it takes.”  “As long as it takes for what?” is the usual response.  I’m not sure what the answer is: long enough to speak Spanish at the level I want to, long enough to be transformed again by our learning and experiences, long enough to let go, long enough to be satisfied in any place, long enough to strengthen our marriage?  I’m not sure that either one of us knows, but I know God does.  Maybe it will just be the four months, maybe six, maybe eight, maybe more, or maybe less?  We will just have to see what happens.

I’m fully aware of the challenges of being a foreigner; a traveler. And of course, with God’s perfect timing and sense of humor, this is just the time that we are leaving, after we finally want to stay.  He tells me to stay when I want to run; He tells me to go when I long to stay. And it is with equally unique logic that because of these feelings I have: hesitation, fear, a longing to remain, that I know without a doubt we are going where God wants us to be. We are letting it all go, trusting in this community of love we’ve built, having faith that God will be with us wherever we go.  Knowing that new, unimaginable joys await us in lands of new faces, new customs, new landscape, language, and food; new lessons that we’ll be grateful for.

Meanwhile, my head is swarming with things that need to get done before we move.  Mail to forward, addresses to change, utilities to stop, memberships to cancel, things to throw out and donate, things to pack, things to buy so that we can pack, food to consume, people to see, walls to spackle and paint, things to clean, things to organize, mold to remove…bank accounts to open and close. And yet we still want our last three weeks in Seattle to be fun and enjoyable; we still want to go outdoors, rock climb, eat at our favorite places, see friends, and relax.  For now I’m choosing to focus on this challenge, and let my mind continue to ruminate on our upcoming trip. Change is exciting and thrilling, but also terrifying.  I think part of the lesson God is teaching me is to take it one-day at a time, and let Him worry about the rest.

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