Monday, December 7, 2015

No, I Have Not Disappeared Completely Off the Face of the Earth (or The Reason Why I Haven't Written in Over a Month)

          I know I haven’t blogged in about a month and I do feel terrible about that. But it’s time for some honesty. This past month has been tough in a lot of ways: physically, mentally, and spiritually. And for some reason I’ve had trouble summoning up the mental energy to put my thoughts into writing, a problem I haven’t had in quite a while. Usually, I love to write and express myself. But not lately. Allow me to explain.
          A few days after I wrote my first blog post for this trip, I came down with a case of food poisoning. This would have been nasty enough, especially since it’s the second time this year, but it was quickly followed by an intestinal infection that took advantage of my weak stomach and immune system to give me a rather unpleasant week. After finally getting rid of that problem with helpful antibiotics, I discovered I had been exposed to lice (which I thankfully never got). To my slightly obsessive self, this led to a whole day of home treatments and about a week of imaginary itches all over my scalp. No sooner was that over than I contracted what I thought was allergies to something in the air, but what I’m pretty certain is a bad head cold. On top of this, my stomach decided that this was the perfect time to have a bad reaction to something I ate. Which literally brings us up to this weekend.
          All this stuff would constitute a problem for a person with normally functioning emotional and mental responses. But mine aren’t normal, and haven’t been in about three years. In the spring of 2014, I was diagnosed with a depression and anxiety disorder which had managed to wreak all kinds of havoc in my life before I realized what was wrong. What does this mean practically? It means that oftentimes I have to be careful about how long I’m in a noisy or stimulating environment, as too much sound and activity can cause a panic attack. For me, this means shaking, trouble breathing, and sometimes a twisting feeling in my stomach. Although this is partially just the way my brain is wired, I obsess way too much over everything, playing back possible or real scenarios over and over again until I just want my brain to stop. Things that are insignificant in themselves break me when they pile up in one day. When it gets really severe (which is blessedly rare), I don’t want to talk to anyone but close friends or family members and often not even to them. I tend to hide inside myself, spending a lot of time in mindless activities that don’t require engagement. During these times, I’m exhausted inside, no matter how much I’ve slept the previous night. It takes all my energy to process the strictly necessary activities of the day. I don’t have the stamina to invest in others during these times; I just want to crawl in bed and stay there until I feel less empty.
          Thankfully, these incidents have grown rarer with counseling and treatment, but they’re unfortunate aspects of my life that I still have to consider when making decisions and plans. So I guess I wasn’t completely surprised when I had a major relapse during this trip. Right after the food poisoning and before I found out that I had an infection, I began to realize that I just felt bad. I spent most of the next 1-2 weeks in my room, playing Nancy Drew computer games and wishing I could go home. I went to my classes and taught, but they were all I had the energy to do. I had started volunteering at an orphanage (which you will totally get a blog post on soon!), but I stopped going there. I just couldn’t handle the extra stimulation. Besides, how was I supposed to explain a panic attack to a 2-year-old if it happened while I was there? “I’m sorry, but your screaming overstimulates me, so now I’m gonna sit in this corner and shake. Please give me some space and try to be a bit quieter so I can get back to normal.” Nope, not going to work at all. My anxiety began to subside when treatment for the infection began, and I slowly began doing things like eating out and interacting with people again. But I’m fairly sure I worried the people around me a lot, as talking about depression and anxiety is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. and doesn’t seem to happen a lot in Bolivia.
          So why did I come to Bolivia with the kind of problem I have? Change, stress, culture shock, pressure, sickness, separation from family and friends…all definite triggers for me. But I decided at the time of my diagnosis to live-and to hold back from this trip because of fear would not have been living. This kind of trip has been my dream since early in college, and I am blessed to have been able to come here. Has it been hard? Very much so. Has it always been fun? Nope. Am I going to say at the end that I now want to live here forever and ever? Unlikely.
          I was asked by a dear friend the other day whether, in spite of all the issues, my trip has been good. And I can unabashedly say yes. There have been some wonderful times, some great Spanish practice, some crazy adventures, and a slow, steady movement out of the spiritual darkness that depression and anxiety exacerbated. I have seen God move for the first time in forever (Did I actually quote a Frozen song there? Weirdly enough, that was unintentional). I have worshipped to random rap songs that are not necessarily “Christian material.” I have become “auntie” to seventeen little kids. I have met some incredible people, both from the places I am volunteering and randomly on the street. I have danced, laughed myself silly, crashed a wedding, and seen some of the most beautiful mountains in existence. I have lived. 

The Cathedral in Cochabamba where I accidentally walked in on the prep for a wedding 
(the roses are not standard church decorations)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rivers and Roads

Rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers till I reach you...
-Rivers and Roads,The Head and the Heart

"You can't step into the same river twice."
-Plato, as quoted by a good college friend

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by,  
And that has made all the difference. 
-The Road Less Traveled, Robert Frost

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 
-The Lord of the Rings, J.R,R. Tolkien

So I've been thinking a lot about rivers and roads. In some of the best literature, music, and art in human history, these two things have represented both the journey to places unknown and the journey home. The Bible quotes extensively about both roads and rivers-there were so many quotes about rivers that I couldn't pick one. Most significantly, Christian tradition talks about a river as the ultimate ending to our journeys: the river Jordan (symbolizing death) as the last barrier before reaching Paradise. Rivers and roads both represent life choices, adventure, joy, grief, leaving behind all familiarity, and returning to it once again. But despite all these meanings, they have one thing in common: the people who travel the rivers and roads of this world, whether mental or physical, never return unchanged.

This topic has been near to my heart and thoughts lately. Over the past year, I have seen 5 couples who are dear to me commit to each other for life. I graduated from college, got engaged, and planned the wedding and this Bolivia trip simultaneously. At some point over the summer, I realized that my journey is leading away from many cherished aspects of my life over the past four years: living with some of my best friends every day, learning as my primary job, adventuring for the summer in far-off places, and having my relationships stay the same. And I’m coming to the realization that I can never go back (I know, it only took me a year, right?). But I can journey on, knowing that this will make the reunion in both my earthly and heavenly homes sweeter.

What does all this have to do with teaching English in Cochabamba, Bolivia for 2 ½ months? That’s a great question! (which is what I’m constantly telling my English students). I’d wanted to live abroad on a more long-term basis since the beginning of college and had been actively seeking opportunities to get back out on the road since graduation. It’s sort of a long story, but it’s enough to say that God definitely came through and provided this opportunity. The Guerreros graciously agreed to host me for 2 ½ months, the mission board accepted me, and family and friends overwhelmingly provided me with the resources to be here. All since the beginning of August. It’s been a wild ride, but I am so happy to be here during this time of journeying on and letting go. This trip is a fulfillment of my last remaining college dream, but is also a bridge into other journeys, other rivers, other roads…

I know this blog post has been really delayed, but between trying to adjust and having a major case of writer’s block, this first post has been a process. Thanks for your patience and your prayers. I will try to write again with more about my activities shortly. J

Ciudad de Refugio (the place where I'm working)

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Road Goes Ever On and On...

Boat ride!!!

For those who don’t know yet, I’m home. Which means this is your last blog post from me for this adventure.  Since this is my last hurrah, I thought I’d base it around Lord of the Rings quotes. (sorry, couldn’t resist):

 “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

For anyone that doesn’t know, I hate crying in front of other people. And I’ve done that a lot this week. In front of friends, in front of family, when the song “She Will Be Loved” started playing as we exited the plane in Miami (I have no explanation for that one. Maybe I was just happy to be through with an 8-hour flight. Yeah, we’ll go with that). I even cried in front of a random Paraguayan storekeeper after I got through security in the airport (She promptly convinced me to buy something).
                Is it strange that I cried when I left Paraguay and cried when I got back to the U.S.? I don’t think so. Despite my general dislike of crying, I think it’s good. Because it means I felt something deep and powerful and wonderful that affected me deep inside. And I sort of expect it by now, because I’ve left a little part of my heart everywhere I’ve lived. And so a little piece of me is somewhere in South Korea and now another little piece is in Paraguay and there are pieces in the U.S., too. It hurts to leave any part of you behind, and it brings you to tears when you get to have it again for a while. But that’s why I find the idea of the new Earth so exciting. All those pieces and people that you loved and that were in Christ will be perfected and put back together beautifully. That’s worth the pain and the tears and definitely worth waiting for.

“Don't adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.”

                I guess this quote reminded me of a few things. First, this adventure isn’t really over, at least not until life is over. And then it gets transformed into a whole new kind of adventure. All my experiences in Paraguay won’t just stay in a little box marked “Paraguay Trip” in my mind and heart. They’ll flow through and inform the rest of my life. They’ll change the way I view things and be used by God to continue to “renew my mind.” Which is exciting to think about.
                And second, this story wasn’t primarily about me. There are great things happening in Paraguay, and great things still to come there. And all the Christians there were part of that story long before I got there and will continue advancing it long after my memory has faded from their minds. Any seeds planted by God’s grace during my short time there will have to be watered and brought to harvest by them with the Lord’s help. I might not get to see any results before I die-but that doesn’t mean that my time there was meaningless. So my adventure isn’t over-a hundred others are carrying on the story.

“There was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It's a dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’”

                Now for the question everyone will probably ask: ‘Will you go back?’ The simple answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know where the path will lead. But deep inside I hope it will “sweep me off” and I’ll find myself in Paraguay again. Maybe for a little while, maybe for longer than a little while. One thing I’ve learned, both God and life can be a bit unpredictable. But I’m slowly learning to embrace what comes, although I’m not very skilled at it yet. Even if it’s not Paraguay again, I’d be good with stepping out on the road in faith, losing my footing, and joining the flow again. Scary? Yep. Uncomfortable? You’re not kidding. Worth it? Absolutely.

 “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”

                This last quote is for you, since I’ve spent the last page talking about myself and my experience with leaving. First, I want to say thanks to opening yourself to a part of the world called Paraguay and helping me to go there. Thanks for the prayers, cards, support, and those who went out of their way to help me get there (especially a shout out to you, Mum and Dad).
                And one final challenge to you. This experience really stretched me in a lot of ways, and cracked my little “fenced -in area” wide open. I highly recommend it. I’m not saying you have to go to another country as quickly as possible (although I would definitely recommend it if the option is open). Look for ways to let the “wide world” into yourself, and to impact it for Christ. I’m hoping and praying that I’ll remember to do that myself, even though I’m back. And I hope you will too.

Thanks for pursuing this adventure with me,


Thursday, August 1, 2013

For Life's Dream, Open Your Eyes

                So graffiti. There’s a lot of it in Paraguay. Everything from your typical “María + Juan” message to political commentary to perky, brightly-colored murals can be found on walls and buildings. Some of it is completely undecipherable to this girl, mostly because of the Guaraní place names that I can´t pronounce, much less remember. Some of it was obviously for fun, and other messages seared my soul with the pain that their creator put into them. I´ve found them everywhere: down the street, across the city, in a memorial for the victims of a terrible fire. Today, as we were driving through a small town a few hours from the city, I happened to catch a glimpse of another message spray-painted on a wall: Para soñar la vida, abre los ojos. Roughly translated to English, this means (according to the missionaries I was with): For life´s dream, open your eyes.
                Hmmm. For the record, I have absolutely no clue what exactly the artist meant to express. But I can tell you a bit of what it meant to me as a result of my experiences in Paraguay. I think we run around with our eyes “closed” a lot of the time. I do, at least. As a person for whom patience doesn´t come easily, I tend to want to rush along to the next thing. I need to stop. I need to open my eyes. I need to see that this moment could very literally be the last part of “life´s dream.”
                But what does that mean exactly?  It means being flexible and taking what your day throws at you, whether it goes exactly according to your plan or not. It means willingness to accept the truth, even when it shakes your world. It means recognizing your own weaknesses and failures and letting God pry you loose from what´s holding you back. It means loving people and wanting the best for them, even when it´s inconvenient or annoying or even infuriating. Today is what you get. Open your eyes.
                It means appreciating the world around you-sunshine and flowers and little children and rivers and mountains and puppies and forests. It means learning to love God as He´s expressed himself in these things. It means trying to seek out the beauty in the people that you meet, and actually spending time with them instead of rushing off to the next thing. It means gleaning the good out of the most intense inner pain you´ve ever experienced. Be intentional. Open your eyes.

Ypacaraí Lake

                It means a willingness to recognize and enter into another´s pain. It means recognizing problems with the world and doing something about them. It means living to have eternal impact. It means being firmly rooted in who you are and what you believe. It means trusting God to take care of the seeds that you´ve sown. It means striving to let go of attitudes and feelings that won´t help you or other people. Don´t daydream through life. Open your eyes.

Site of the Ycuá Bolaños supermarket fire

                What that graffiti message said to me was that the real substance of life is not in our dreams. Not that I´m discouraging dreaming, since I do my share of that, too. But don´t let that be the point of your life. Recognize that the opportunities and people in your life now are supposed to have your attention. Open your eyes and your heart and every other part of you to how you´re supposed to handle the events of the day. Not that you´ll do everything perfectly. I´m perfect in a grand total of...none of these areas. Just because I decided to spend my summer on a mission field doesn´t mean I didn´t struggle with every single one of those issues during my time here. So I´m still trying to take my own advice. And I know firsthand that it´s tough.
                But I´m asking you to think about your life today. Are you opening your eyes and your life to what you should be doing right now? Join with me in thinking and praying about it. Expect one more blog post at the end of my trip.

Until next time,


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Expectations and Memories...That's What Moments Are Made Of

“And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back--if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?” –C.S. Lewis, from Out of the Silent Planet

                Ok, I had to start this with a C.S. Lewis quote. (anyone who knows me is not particularly surprised by this) And it is a pretty good point-much of the joy from an experience usually comes from expecting it and remembering it afterwards. So what does this have to do with Paraguay?
                First, the whole expectation thing. I figured out quickly that it’s pretty unwise to have lots of set-in-stone expectations about a trip like this. When I first came, I thought I’d be spending the whole six weeks out in the country teaching English. To say that some of my expectations were a bit off the mark would be correct. A few things that I didn’t expect:

1. I didn’t expect to live in Asunción for 3 weeks. It´s been a really great experience, but I didn´t exactly see it coming.

2. I didn´t expect that part of a missions trip would be chasing a dog around the mission house and playing tug-of-war (not that I´m complaining about that one).

Jake-the-dog, not to be confused with Jake-the-person, whom some of you may know

3. Neither did I anticipate having a bad cold that basically put me out of commission for the better part of a week. Yuck.

4. Cow barns with chandeliers and a Paraguayan fair that played Korean pop music were unanticipated experiences.

Awesome chandelier in a cow barn

5. I definitely didn´t expect this sunny, 70-80 degree weather during the Paraguayan winter. If I ever come here again, I´ll be bringing more shorts.

6. I didn´t expect passion fruit ice cream, juice, and quick bread to taste quite this good. I´m going to miss that so much when I go home.

7. I didn´t expect to adjust to some things quite this fast. For example, the random motorcyclist who has decided to take a shortcut on the sidewalk only prompts the following thought: “Hmm, I should probably move out of his way.”

                As for the memories, I´ll have a ton of those from this trip. But there are always a few that stick will stick with me, whether I have pictures of them or not. A few things I never want to forget:

1. The sound of all the Paraguayan passengers clapping when the plane landed safely on the runway in Asunción. This is apparently a Paraguayan tradition of sorts. I have to say, I agreed with them quite heartily (especially since the plane landed 7 hours behind schedule).

2. The taste of a fresh mandarina (tangerine), picked for me by half a dozen adorable elementary kids. Nothing tastes as good as fresh-picked fruit.

3. The sight of the hills, not flowing like ocean waves, but sticking straight out of the flat landscape like the fins of giant fish. And knowing that this sight is a broken shadow of the one in the world to come is even more awe-inspiring.
Just lovely

4. The smell of freshly made cocido (yerba mate tea with milk and sugar). While staying with a family in the village, I drank it every morning for breakfast.

5. The touch of about 40 other human beings crushing against my body on a public bus. All I could think about was (another) C.S. Lewis quote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare... There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal... it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

It´s hard to comprehend that this quote described every single person in the bus that night-not to mention every single person in this city. So many people that are loved, whether they know it or not.

6. The feeling of accomplishment when I was actually able to walk a block or two to the store and complete a transaction there by myself. Sometimes it´s healthy to get back to elementary school level.    

7. The laughter of little kids and big kids, too. That´s the same in any language.

My kids from English class

             So a moment is not just the moment itself. It´s the expectation, and how the reality differs from the expectation, and how we remember the moment days or years later. But they´re all a gift. I think that´s part of the reason why we don´t get to live the same moments over again-because we´d never get to enjoy all the other aspects of it if we could have the reality as often as we wanted. So savor your moments, cherish your memories, and hold loosely to your expectations (advice I´m still learning to take myself). You never know what unexpected things may come up in a life led by God.

Until next time,


Friday, July 5, 2013

Fear Factor: Paraguay Style

What are you afraid of? That´s a good question to ask yourself from time to time. What fears are driving you? Why do you avoid certain things, or do the things that you do? I don´t know about you, but I tend to let my fears drive the bus...right off a cliff. Which is ironic, because I´m scared of heights. But more on that later.
Fear can be a big factor when traveling to a new country-new food, new language, new culture, new people...and the list continues. So for this blog post, I thought I´d talk about a few fears I´ve dealt with in the past week.

Number 1: Of Cats and Passion Fruit...

I stayed with a neighbor of the Bowens over the weekend, and made friends with their 5-year-old daughter, Luz. She had lots of fun teaching me Guaraní words and listening to me trying to pronounce them. Words learned: mbarakaja and mburukuja. And I discovered the hard way that these two pronunciations are NOT interchangeable at all...
                Fast forward two days to church on Sunday in Asunción. There was a meal after the service (yummy!) and this prompted a discussion of Paraguayan food-all in Spanish, of course. A girl there was trying to explain to me how to make various kinds of Paraguayan food, and I wanted to tell her that I had tried some delicious juice. Now in English, this is passion fruit juice. But they use a Guaraní word here, which is one of the above. So I told her that I tried some “jugo de mbarakaja.” She looked at me a little strangely, then said “Do you mean mburukuja?” And then I realized what I´d said. In Guaraní, I had told her that I had tried “cat juice.” Oops. Well, at least we both got a good laugh out of it.
And I´m continuing to learn something that I started learning in South Korea last summer. Traveling is not exactly fantastic for your ego. It does unfortunate things to it, such as plunking you down in a country where you have the discourse level of a kindergartner. It forces you to consider that you don´t know everything, or even as much as you thought. It forces you to rely on other people more than you ever dreamed. And it makes you face your fear of looking stupid. Yes, I´m afraid that I´ll accidentally insult someone or say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing and hurt my witness or another person. In fact, there are days when I´d like to hide in the mission house, speak English, and not take any risks. But what would that really do? It would keep me from looking like a fool, but it would also cause me to miss out on some great opportunities and relationships.

Number 2: I Believe I Can Fly...NOT.

                So as mentioned before, I have a little problem with heights. Actually, that might be an understatement. My first flight, I gripped the arms of my chair, gasped and panted like I was dying, and stared dazedly at the seat in front of me. Now, the airplane fear is under control. But other high places? I get woozy ten feet off the ground.
But this week, I climbed a tree. (see picture below as proof) Admittedly, it took another WGM volunteer coaxing me-a lot. And some helpful advice from a missionary´s son while I was in the tree: “Don´t pass out.” And to make a full confession, I spent a good part of the experience with my arms wrapped all the way around the branches like a koala bear. But nevertheless, I can still credit myself with having climbed the tree. I was shaking when I got down, but I´m still glad I did it.

So what have I learned? (cue Veggie Tales music) That experiences that cause weakness are actually healthy...even though we might be afraid of them. That weakness itself is a good reminder that we are not able to do all things ourselves, without God and other people. That fear can make you look and feel terrible-but it’s pushing through it that counts.
And let’s see if Qwerty has a verse (still on a Veggie Tales kick)... “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (1 Cor. 12:9) So it’s the power of God that lets us overcome fears and weaknesses, after we admit to Him that we actually have them.
So what fears and weaknesses are controlling you? Is there some way in which God is challenging you right now? Think and pray about that this week. Thanks for reading. I’ll blog more very soon.

Until next time,


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mba'éichapa (and other highlights of the first week)

It's been an interesting first week in Paraguay! Mostly I´ve been learning a bit more about Paraguayan culture and language and spending time with the Bowen family. Insert pictures of adorable children here:

 Timmy and Lucas


So it´s been fun to get to know them and their parents, Andy and Lizet.
I´ve also been learning a little Guaraní, which is one of the official languages of Paraguay in addition to Spanish. So far, I can say “Mba’éichapa” (which means “Hello, how are you?” ). When I tried to say the word for “good,” all the students in the class I was teaching giggled. Maybe that´s an indication that I still have some work to do. :-)
And speaking of the class, I got to start it yesterday. I had seven students, ages 7-11. They were really bright and eager to learn. I hope I´ll have a picture of them to post really soon. We practiced saying “hello” and “goodbye,” and learned a few colors, too. Every once in a while, we played an elaborate game of charades/twenty questions when they asked for the English translation of a word I had never learned.
It´s really beautiful up here on the hill. The view is gorgeous, and I´m enjoying all the beautiful plants and flowers-especially the ones that happen to produce raspberries and lemons. :-)

View from the front porch 

Please continue to pray that the adjustment will be smooth, that the neighbors and I will be able to communicate well, and that I will be empowered to show what Jesus looks like in a new way.
Well, that´s all for now. Look for more soon and enjoy your own summers!

Until next time,