Category: God

A Colorado honeymoon

While the rain continued in Atlanta for the entire week after our wedding, Michael and I got to run away to beautiful Colorado for the week to celebrate our honeymoon.  The weather there was absolutely perfect – brilliant azure skies, fluffy white clouds, and just enough fall briskness in the air.

We spent most of the day on Monday traveling – to the Atlanta airport, flying to Denver, and then driving out to Steamboat Springs, which is about 3.5 hours northwest of Denver.  Mostly by luck, and because I was craving pizza, we happened upon an amazing pizza place called BeauJoe’s about halfway between Denver and Steamboat Springs.  They pride themselves on their “Colorado-style pizza”…I didn’t even know that was a thing, but apparently it means thick artisan braided crust, over which local honey is drizzled before eating.  Never in a million years would I have thought to put honey on pizza, but it was really tasty!

Michael had the whole week planned out, with just enough activity each day to keep us entertained but relaxed and not stressed out.  It was perfect.  We started out on Tuesday with breakfast at the Creekside Cafe, a little restaurant that came highly rated by friends and the internet alike.  Its fame was well-earned.  They had the most delicious sausage gravy and flaky biscuits I’ve ever had in my entire life – we liked it so much that we made a point to go back again before we left Steamboat Springs.  If you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods, get the Barn Burner – well worth the $12 a plate price tag!

After breakfast, we got a couple’s massage.  The price tag was a bit steep, but the masseuses were excellent, and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  It was a nice relaxing start to the week.  The rest of the day was spent exploring the quaint, picturesque town.  It’s definitely a seasonal tourist town, with a small concentrated city center and super friendly locals…visiting in the off season meant that we got to enjoy all of Steamboat’s charm without any of the crowds.  The best of both worlds!  I particularly enjoyed the hours posted on the shops in the downtown area – they said things like “10:00-ish to 5:00-ish, except when the fishing is good”, “probably not open on Saturdays, unless we are,” or “by appointment only, unless you’re lucky.”  Quite a character-filled little town.

Wednesday was probably the highlight of the trip – a hot air balloon ride over the city.  We got to do something that neither of us had experienced before – quite a feat considering our adventurous pasts!  I was a little nervous because I’m so uncomfortable around heights, but it was a fairly calm day and not really scary at all.  The only time I got queasy was when I decided to look straight down from 2,000 feet above the ground.  That probably wasn’t the best idea.  But we did get to see a moose from the air, which is apparently quite rare!  It was fun to see the town from a completely different view.  Watching the pilot wrangle the enormous balloon into a tiny little basket after we landed was rather amusing, too.  We celebrated our successful flight with a champagne toast in little paper cups.  Apparently that is a tradition that was started after the first successful hot air balloon ride (in a balloon made of paper!!), which was commissioned by the French king in the 1700’s (you know the French love their champagne! ;]).  Incidentally, the first person to fly in this monstrous paper contraption was named Pilatre de Rozier, which is where our modern term “pilot” comes from.

After the hot air balloon we grabbed an early dinner during happy hour at the local steakhouse, E3.  (By the way, eating during happy hour is a great way to get fantastic food at a fraction of the cost.  This is true across the country, not just in Steamboat Springs).  We had a local beer, lobster macaroni and cheese, a huge hamburger, loaded potato wedges, and a delicious been bourbon soup…all for about $30.  And with leftovers to spare!  We definitely ate well in Steamboat :D.

We also took a trip up to the famous Strawberry Park Hot Springs on Wednesday.  The hot springs are natural, although the pools and paths have been built up by humans…they’ve created quite a pleasant, relaxing hot springs experience, with differing temperatures in the various pools and lovely walkways and waterfalls and gardens throughout.  It was wonderful!  We met this young guy there with his friend who was such a hoot.  As soon as he found out that we were on our honeymoon, he became our biggest fan – taking pictures of us, asking us about our plans, even kicking people out of the private 2-person pool so we could have it.  It made me want to say we’re on our honeymoon every time we travel, lol.

Thursday was our last full day in Steamboat.  We decided to spend it following the advice of some locals and checking out some local haunts.  There are 2 lakes, Pearl Lake and Steamboat Lake, about a 30-45 minute drive north of the city that are also state parks.  We spent the day exploring them both.  On the way up we stopped at a popular general store, Clarke’s, which serves as the tiny town of Clarke’s general store, post office, local restaurant, bank, and tourist office.  We grabbed some lunch there, and then took it to Pearl Lake to eat.  We had the lake pretty much to ourselves (another benefit of visiting in the off season), so we lay on the ground to enjoy the view for a while.  But pretty soon the pebbly ground started hurting, so we went in search of Steamboat lake.  That one is much bigger and surrounded by nature walks, so we picked one of the shorter ones and took our time walking it.  Highlight of the walk was definitely the many deer we saw within a stones throw of the path!  Made me realize just how sick and malnourished the deer at Berry are, lol…

That evening, to celebrate our last night in Steamboat, we had a nice dinner in, making a yummy chicken marsala with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus.  I love having a partner in the kitchen! 🙂  And then we were off, heading back to Denver.  Our flight didn’t leave for a few more days still, but Michael had a surprise planned the next day, so we had to get back a little earlier.  On our way out of town we swung by Fish Creek Falls for a little while, a popular local attraction.  We got into town in Denver just in time for their monthly “Friday night art walk,” so we went out and casually checked it out.  The art walk is just an opportunity for local artists to exhibit their work and meet some new people.  I enjoyed seeing the artwork, we met some interesting new people…but the highlight for me was definitely the grown-up coloring book that one of the artists had out!  I liked it so much that Michael bought me my own when we got back to Atlanta :).

Saturday was it – the day of Michael’s big surprise!  It turned out to be a scavenger hunt, similar to what we’ve done in the past.  But the twist here was that there was a plot and props and real actors that you interacted with as you progressed through the hunt.  It was set around a famous robbery of the Denver mint that happened in the 1920’s – we were supposed to help one of the thieves recover their share of the loot, since they had to lay low and avoid the cops.  It was, admittedly, slightly cheesy, but I enjoyed the interaction with the actors and the code words and phrases that they made us give before they’d give us our next clue.  Michael’s very good at picking surprises that I will like.

We had another treat in store for us that evening.  Shiloh, a friend of mine that I met at Rachel’s wedding in Wyoming 3 years ago, lives about 45 minutes north of Denver, so he drove down and met us in town for dinner.  It was good to catch up with him, and I always enjoy introducing my friends to Michael.

The next day we went to a church that we had found online, Faith Mountain church.  They were very friendly and the message was very challenging.  I’m glad we went.  We didn’t do much the rest of the day, though…and then, just like that, we were on our way back home!  Back to the real world of full-time jobs and house cleaning and settling in from the wedding.  Considering the whirlwind our lives have been over the past year, a break with nothing to do was just what we needed, even if it only lasted 1 week! 🙂

Wedding love

Just over 3 weeks ago, I married my best friend.  My wedding weekend was the closest thing to perfect I could have asked for.  Despite rain the entire week before and after, including the night of the rehearsal, our wedding day stayed cloudy and cool all day long – perfect for pictures, not melting in the Georgia heat, and minimizing the mosquitoes.  It was, in fact, the only day without rain within a span of nearly 3 solid weeks.  Please remind me of that if I ever say God doesn’t answer prayer.

My wedding really was exactly what I had hoped for.  It went smoothly, with to my knowledge zero hiccups.  Everyone looked amazing, the decorations were beautiful, we were surrounded by people we love, we honored God, and it was a great party.  But that would have never been possible without the incredible amount of love and support we received from so many, many people.  The weekend and day of, of course, but also weeks and months prior.  From the beginning of our engagement, we’ve had people reach out to us and plan engagement parties, bridal showers, help us with logistics and details…much more than I could have ever hoped or dreamed of.  Michael’s parents hosted a lovely rehearsal dinner – with almost no input from me and Michael, which was definitely a blessing!  One less detail for us to worry about :).  We had people volunteer to make the wedding cake, run the sound equipment, do my hair and makeup, create a video recording of the ceremony.  We had friends meet together for weeks in advance so they could lead us in worship as our first act as a married couple.  Our minister and his wife met with and mentored us on several occasions.  My dad made us an exquisite “unity coffee table” – two separate slabs of wood representing me and Michael, joined together only by the symbolic wooden bonds of faith, hope and love.  It’s so beautiful.  I love it, even more so for the time and care that so obviously went into it.

Married life has not been a bed of roses.  I knew it would be hard, but the challenges we’ve faced so far have been unexpected, and thus caught us somewhat by surprise.  But I hope that I never forget how supported and loved I felt, how present God was in all of the details, how incredible my friends and family were (and are).  I honestly don’t have a lot more memories from my wedding, as the whole thing passed by in a bit of a blur.  However, a picture is worth 1,000 words, and I do have plenty of pictures to show you!  Enjoy the 2 albums below, from the rehearsal / rehearsal dinner and wedding day.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, the wedding day pictures are the same ones posted there.  There is also a video of the ceremony at the bottom – it’s about 40 minutes long, if you’d like to watch it.

The end of one chapter, the beginning of a new one

I alluded to it in my last entry, but my time at Brightlink has drawn to a close.  At the end of last month, I left Brightlink for (hopefully) vastly different things in my future.  I am still weighing my options on what exactly I want to pursue next, although I do know that I’m going to take a few weeks off to get ready for the wedding.  But in the meantime, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the good things that Brightlink has done for me over the past year.  There have been stressful times, of course, and I think that I am making the right decision in leaving.  However, I want to remember the good things, of which there are many.

Brightlink has provided a flexible work schedule and secure income that has allowed me to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have be able to do otherwise.  Most notably, working at Brightlink has allowed me to pay off the remainder of my student loans (which Michael and I celebrated by having dinner at the SunDial restaurant, a famous revolving restaurant on top of a hotel in downtown Atlanta that gives you a complete 360 degree view of the city every hour or so).  We will be starting off our marriage with 4 college degrees between the two of us and not a cent of debt to pay off, which feels AMAZING!

One of Brightlink’s main tenants was the importance of family and encouraging work / life balance, which they lived as well as lauded.  A month or two after Michael and I got engaged, Brightlink threw a “Spring Fling” party for the whole company + families.  They also happened to surprise us with a lovely cake celebrating our engagement.  It was nice to be reminded that the people we work with care about us not just for the work we do, but for who we are.

This flexible work schedule and focus on family also allowed Michael and I to get our engagement photos taken in the middle of the day at Oakland Cemetery, one of our favorite places in all of Atlanta.  It’s where he took me on one of our favorite dates, it’s where we participated in our first 5k together, and it’s where part of his scavenger-hunt proposal took me.  Needless to say, it’s a special place for us, and now it’s even more special because we can say we took our engagement photos there (hooray for being unique AND sentimental at the same time! :]).  I’ve included a few of our favorite shots below:

Anyway, there is not really a point to this post, and I know that I’m rambling and wandering somewhat.  But I mainly just wanted to remind myself of the good things that God has given me over the past year.  For all of my tears shed at Brightlink, all of my frustrations and the times I wanted to give up, I still think it was a good place and was good for me.  I learned so many skills, learned so much about myself and Michael, and got to work with some really amazing people while doing it.  This is why I love writing and recording things – because it’s so easy to forget, so easy to fixate on either all of the good or all of the bad, and forget about the other side of the coin.  Writing keeps me honest, helps me remember that there is always more to the story.  And recording memories like these reminds me that God’s always got my back, regardless of what it feels like in the moment.

Hooray for getting married in 2 weeks!! 😀

Closing thoughts

Because I had originally bought my return trip from Lima, I had to return back there from Andahuaylas – budget airlines like Spirit don’t deal kindly with itinerary changes.  I flew into Lima early on the morning of Wednesday, June 18th.  But my flight out of the country didn’t leave until that evening, so I met my Pastor Mario (from Korea) one more time before I left.  I found it rather fitting that he was both the first person and the last person I saw on my trip.  I’m not really entirely sure why, other than the fact that he is Peruvian, and is part of the reason I thought about coming to Peru in the first place.

I left my backpack in a locker at the airport, and then he took me to the city center and we spent most of the day there together.  Had lunch at a wonderful historic old restaurant – Zamantha made such a mess, it was awesome.  We saw a diplomatic convoy arrive at the presidential palace, which was really cool.  Such pomp and circumstance!  For all of the times I’ve said that I dislike Lima, I have to admit…historic Lima is pretty incredible.  The architecture alone makes it worth the visit.  We went on a city bus tour that enabled me to see much more of the city than I would have on my own, or even if Mario was just driving me around.  We also went inside a few buildings – my favorite was the catacombs under the grand old church.  There were flocks of birds swarming the courtyard of that church outside, which would have make for a very quaint painting, but was kinda creepy in real life.  I guess it matched well with the catacombs underneath it…

But the entire day definitely has strong undercurrents of sadness in it for me.  Without looking for it or even expecting it, I was realizing that Peru, like so many other places, had stolen my heart.  Except Peru did it even more forcefully, and in even less time than other places had.  I know that I’ve said this before…but there’s something special about Peru.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, other than to say that I knew that God was with me there – it was obvious, and it was incredible.

So as I boarded the plane to head back stateside, I decided to try a different tactic to avoid reverse culture shock on my return.  If the thing I loved most about Peru was the fact that I could see God there…why not try to do the same in my day-to-day life in Atlanta?  Get away from the hustle and bustle, and take time to see God working all around me.  He is no less sovereign and no less loving at home than He is abroad.  It is just easier for us to get comfortable and miss His provision when we’re at home.  I challenge all of you to do the same – make a conscious decision to look for the ways that God is working in and guiding your life.  Ask Him to show them to you.  You may be surprised by what you find.

The diplomatic procession:

The birds that I mentioned in the cathedral courtyard:

Views from my last Lima bus tour:

More than just a mission trip

My adventure in Pampachiri started long before I even got to the city.  I left from Chiclayo on Saturday morning, headed for the airport in Lima.  I got there late in the evening, and settled in to spend the night in the airport.  I got an email later from a few of the other people on the team who were also camping out at the airport and trying to connect with me, but I didn’t see it until later, so I just found an isolated corner of the airport, used my backpack as a pillow and pulled my jacket over my face, and went to sleep.  Thank goodness for earplugs :). Early the next morning, I got in line to check into my flight, and finally met up with the rest of the group – it’s pretty easy to spot a large group of foreigners with extensive amounts of medical supplies in the small airport in Lima.

The flight to Andahuaylas was fairly uneventful, other than the normal chaos that comes with transporting lots of bags and people.  After we landed in Andahuaylas, we had to hang around the airport for several hours until the buses came to get us on the 3 hour trip to Pampachiri.  And when it finally did arrive, it was too big to actually make it all the way to the “airport” (I use the term loosely), so we had to bring all of our bags and the medical supplies by foot until we got to the buses.  I was very glad at that point that I had packed so lightly – my backpack that I used for the entire month was actually much smaller than most of the other personal bags for the week and a half mission trip.  Always an adventure!  I love it ^_^.  It was even more complicated because of the enormous amount of medical supplies that they brought – it was too heavy to fit in the tiny plane from Lima to Andahuaylas, so it had to be bussed in several days earlier from Lima to make sure that it got there on time.

Before I met up with the group, I had some concerns about how I would assimilate with a group of people I had never met, especially since I had missed all of the training that they had together in the States before leaving.  I needn’t have worried.  They accepted me instantly.  By the time we got to Pampachiri, I felt like I had known them all my life.  Same thing with Ingrid and Carlos (our hosts), and the other Carlos (Ingrid’s cousin).  I like to call him Carlos the Second :).  In fact, as the week, went on, I found myself spending more and more time with the Peruvians in the evening, and less with the Americans.  I loved them all, but since I got to see so much of the Americans while we were at clinic during the day, I tried to spend my time in the evenings learning from the Peruvians.  They taught me slang Spanish, and Peruvian folk songs, and all about their national and personal histories.  It was really fascinating; definitely time well spent.  I really connected with the Peruvian culture and the people that I met while I was there.  It’s definitely a place that I will be going back to.

My job as part of the mission team, since I have absolutely no medical experience and zero desire to change that fact, was serving as a Spanish-English translator.  Definitely one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever done.  I would say that my Spanish is at a pretty decent conversational level; however, speaking medical Spanish is a completely different language.  Whew.  Many of these terms I didn’t even know in English, let alone Spanish.  On several occasions every day, I found myself having to ask the doctors what a word meant in English first, before I could move over and translate it into Spanish.  And then sometimes there was an added bonus if the patient only spoke Quechua; then we had to do the same process through 2 separate translators.  Yikes.  It was quite a challenge.  But it was fun.  Of course there were some times when I wanted to give up and go home, but overall I really enjoyed it.  Something I’ve noticed about when I travel: when I’m in the States I’m happy and comfortable, but when I’m abroad I feel….fulfilled.  In a way I’ve rarely or never felt when stateside.

The daily devotionals we had as a group were also a huge encouragement to me.  I particularly liked Tuesday’s devotional, which was on the story of Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter.  The title was “seeing the unseen,” and talked about how God is working behind the scenes to put the pieces of our lives together for our good.  We may not know or see how He’s doing that, but we can be confident that He is.  As I talked about in my previous blog, my trip to Pampachiri was the culmination of weeks of God teaching me just that very thing.  As a translator, I not only got to tell people about good health and hygiene, but I also got to tell them about Jesus and what he’s done in my life.

Aside from that, my ability to communication in Spanish meant that I was also able to enjoy a traditional festival that happened while we were in town, go on a couple of hikes with Ingrid and Carlos the Second and some people from the group, and have late night discussions with Carlos and a few of the younger doctors, with me serving as a translator and lots of laughter all around.  Pampachiri was more than just a mission trip.  It was a time of relaxation and rejuvenation, an answer to my prayers that my trip be more than just sightseeing, an encouragement and affirmation of my worth as a child of God, a reminder of His fervent desire to bring more people into that family, a glimpse into the lives of some very passionate and inspiring people from several different countries, a taste of human hardship – but also grit and determination – and what I can do to lessen that hardship.  It was truly an incredible week.  I can’t wait to go back!!!

A peek behind the curtain

I have mentioned in some of my previous posts about the random and unexpected series of circumstances that caused me to serve as a translator for a medical mission trip in southern Peru, rather than spend a week in the jungle with Caro like I had originally planned.  But there is much, much more to the story than a mere series of unexpected and fortuitous coincidences.  Before I go into the details of what actually happened while I was serving in Pampachiri, I would like to first take some time to talk more in depth about how I got there. I apologize if the story is a little disjointed.  I will do my best to be coherent, but you will see that the details themselves are quite scattered, which may make it difficult to have a linear tale.

I suppose my story – at least to the depth of my knowledge – begins about 4 weeks before I left for Peru.  I was trying to figure out what to pack; although I knew that I was going to be there during the Peruvian winter, Peru is also a fairly tropical country, so I wasn’t sure how cold it was actually going to get.  I talked to a very outdoorsy friend of mine, and she said that it would be better to be safe than sorry, and recommended that I buy a nice Patagonia winter jacket.  I listened to her advice, and purchased it; it arrived just a few days before I left the country.  But for most of the trip, I was regretting bringing it.  It was not far enough along in winter to need it in the south, and as we journeyed further north, closer to the equator, it became even warmer.  I found myself frustrated with myself for packing this heavy jacket, and in the end having to lug it all around the country without ever actually needing to wear it.  But then I ended up in Pampachiri, and wouldn’t you know, it got below freezing every single night.

But wait!  I have completely skipped over one of the most exciting details – how I actually got to Pampachiri in the first place!  About halfway through our trip, both Caroline and I, independently of each other, had started to come to the same conclusion – that 5 weeks of pure sightseeing is too long.  The idea of spending an entire week in the jungle was starting to seem like not worth the effort to both of us, and I was starting to really regret having left our friends in Cusco so early.  We had pushed so hard so that we could see everything (including the jungle), but now we didn’t even want to see the jungle!  It was frustrating.  On top of that, Caro was beginning to think about leaving me and flying down to Argentina to see her fiance’s family, who live down there.  It was around this time that we arrived in Chachapoyas – I remember that we arrived on a Saturday evening.  Little did I know, but a conference called JAQ (Jesus and the Q’uran) was happening at the same time back in Atlanta at Grace Snellville, the parent church of my own church.  When we checked into the hostel in Chachapoyas and I checked my email, I had a message from a woman I’d never met.  She said that her name was Julie, and that she had met a friend of mine, Monica, who was serving at the coffee counter at JAQ.  (If you want to take the story back even further, I found out later that Monica had been volunteering at JAQ for years, but she originally asked to serve at the registration tables.  They put her at the coffee bar instead, and when she realized the opportunity that serving there gave her to meet and talk with people, she started requesting the coffee bar every time she works at JAQ.  If she hadn’t done that, she and Julia never would have met.  Isn’t it crazy how far back this story goes?!?)  But anyway, Julie and Monica met, and they started chatting about Peru.  Julie said that she was heading down there next week to serve on a medical missions trip with Grace Snellville, and Monica mentioned that I was already there.  Since she didn’t have my contact information, Julie asked to use Monica’s Facebook account to send me a message inviting me to join them as a translator (I later found out that Julie almost didn’t act on the impulse she had to write to me.  I’m so very glad that she did!).

So, switch back to me in my hostel in Chachapoyas.  I received the message from Julie, and was very excited about it.  I had originally thought that she was one of the group leaders; it turns out that she wasn’t, which makes me even happier that she chose to act on her impulse and invite me anyway.  And immediately, I started seeing how God had been working behind the scenes (although it would be weeks before I got the full picture) to get me there my entire trip.  I was looking at the calendar, and realized that if we had stayed longer in Cusco like I had originally wanted to – particularly after deciding to not go to the jungle – I would not have had time to get back to Pampachiri in time, as I was pretty far away when I got Julie’s message.  Also, I just love that Caro and I had already independently decided not to go to the jungle and to split up, pretty much just a few hours before I received Julie’s message.  So there wasn’t even a concern about leaving Caro or disappointing her by not going to the jungle with her.  Little did I know that Julie did not have regular access to internet, and I certainly did not.  But her message came in right as I was checking into a hostel that did happen to have internet, so I was able to write back immediately and get another response from her with a bit more information.  Again, if the initial communication hadn’t been so quick, I wouldn’t have had time to purchase my plane ticket and meet the team on time.

Oh, the plane ticket is another incredible example of God’s provision.  Because I was so far away from Pampachiri when I received Julie’s message, I had to take a plane down to meet the team there.  I technically could have taken a bus – and I almost did when I saw the cost of the plane ticket – but I finally decided that I simply could not handle another long-distance bus through the mountains of Peru.  So I just bit the bullet and bought the plane ticket.  Right after I bought the ticket, I checked the balance on my bank account to make sure that I had enough left to last me the rest of the trip.  Wouldn’t you know it, I had an unexpected deposit from Georgia Tech – for the exact same amount that the plane ticket had cost.  If that’s not confirmation of divine guidance, I don’t know what is :).  In my hurry, I had even originally bought a ticket for the wrong day – and was able to change it (via spotty emails in Spanish to the customer service department, since I didn’t have phone service) without getting charged any sort of fee.  I’ve never heard of an airline that doesn’t charge you to change a flight less than a week before departure.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of numbers, I suppose I should mention my bag.  The weight limit for bringing a bag on this flight, since it was such a small plane, was pretty small.  I weighed my bag before getting to the airport, and it was half a kilo over the weight limit.  I had to bring all of my stuff with me, though, so I just went to the airport anyway.  I was planning on just begging them to let me on when I got there.  Wouldn’t you know, when the airport weighed my bag, it actually weighed almost a full kilo less than the weight limit.  And it weighed even less on my return trip, after I had bought a few souvenirs!

Pampachiri was really the summation of weeks of God gently (and sometimes not so gently) teaching me to let go and let Him lead.  Teaching me that He is looking out for me, even if I don’t know how, even if I can’t see it.  I probably wouldn’t have even considered signing up for the mission trip in the first place if I hadn’t already been in Peru – I didn’t have enough confidence in my Spanish skills to think that I would be able to translate at a medical clinic.  But because I was already in the country, I went, and I never regretted it for a second.  Pampachiri was so incredible…and seeing how God worked behind the scenes – gave me a “peek behind the curtain” – to get me there was extraordinarily humbling.  It really reminded me of why I love to travel in the first place – to learn more about myself and the world around me, and not just to learn about it, but to make a difference in it.  I’m so glad God chose to remind me – I had almost forgotten.  I’m just flabbergasted by His goodness.  Can’t wait to tell you what happened while I was there in the next installment of Sinbad’s adventures!

CouchSurfers redeemed

Our “overnight” bus to Chiclayo was really more of a half overnight bus. We left at 8:00 pm, and arrived at 4:00 in the morning. Our CouchSurfing host, Edgard, had said that he would pick us up. Unfortunately, though, I had told him we’d get there around 6:30. So we had several hours to while away in the bus station before he arrived.

Just when I had given up hope that he would come, he finally showed up. And boy,  it was worth the wait. As bad as the CouchSurfer was in Huaraz, Edgard was the total opposite. He has a large, lovely house – although he lives with his son, father, cousin, and aunt, we still had our own room all to ourselves. After letting us rest for a couple of hours, he fed us breakfast and then took us into town.

The first order of the day was to buy our bus tickets to Lima – although Caro and I were going to different places, we both had to take flights from Lima. Determined to get us the absolute best price and departure time, Edgard took us all over town to see the prices of every single bus company. Although it was tiring, it worked – I ended up paying 49 soles for a bus ticket that normally costs 110. I’m not really exactly sure why it was so cheap but hey, when fortune smiles on you don’t ask questions! 🙂  I’m used to paying more as a foreigner in Peru, so it was nice to experience the opposite for a change.

After buying our tickets, Edgard and his cousin Fernando took us out to lunch at a seafood place. They ordered a bunch of plates that they thought we should try, answered all of our questions and taught us plenty more that we didn’t even think to ask, and paid for everything. Truly swell, swell guys.

Edgard actually had to leave that evening for work in Lima. But before he left, he made sure to treat us one last time, this time to a fancy dessert. It was all made with stuff native to Peru – lúcuma ice cream and chirimoya cheesecake (both tropical fruits only grown in Peru) and pisco sour, the national drink of Peru that’s made of fermented corn and lemon juice.

Edgard had just enough time to take us there and pay for the food, and then he had to go catch his bus. So we were left on our own, enjoying the food and marveling over his hospitality. After we finished, we found a lovely little walkway in the middle of the city called the walkway of the muses. It has meandering paths and plenty of well-kept shrubbery, but it gets its name from the marble statues of the nine muses of Greek mythology. This place was also recommended to us by Edgard, and I’m really glad we found it. It’s amazing to me the things of beauty that can be literally right around the corner, but if you don’t know about it you may never find it. The only downside to the paseo de los muses was the clown that was walking around talking to people. Although for me, it was more funny than anything else – while I dislike clowns, Caro hates them, so it was rather amusing trying to distract the clown from her while she ran away and hid :D.

The next day, Thursday, we had the pleasure of seeing Robert, our friend from Chachapoyas, one last time. He was passing through Chiclayo on his way back home to Lima, so we met up with him and spent the day at the beach in Pimentel. Although it was a cloudy day, it was still fun. We walked around for a while, just seeing the sights – my favorite was watching a traditional fisherman go out into the water on his little reed boat.  After that, Robert and I started a 1-on-1 game of soccer while Caro wrote in her journal. He said that I played well, but I think he was going enormously easy on me. After a while we caught the attention of a couple of Peruvian boys, and we got a 2-on-2 game of volleyball going. Without a net it was a little strange, but I still enjoyed it. After all of the hours sitting in buses, it was really nice to do something active.

The next day, Fernando took me, Caro, and his aunt Irlanda to the ruins of Tucume and the museum of The Lord of Sipan, about 20 miles away from Chiclayo. I must admit, I think by that point I was a little spoiled. If Tucume had been the first place I’d gone to, I’m sure I would have loved it. But the fact that is already seen so many other impressive ruins I think left me a little jaded to the ruins of Tucume. I will say, however, that as interesting as all of these ruins have been, I’ve still seen all of them with a touch of sadness. The main focal point of pretty much all of these archeological sites were either temples or sacred sacrificial sites. None of these people knew the Lord. The fact that so many thousands, even millions, of people have died not even having a chance to know God really breaks my heart.

I wish there was something I could do to change that. But we can’t change the past, only work to make the future different. There is still so much darkness in Peru – “religious freedom, but spiritual oppression,” to use the term a friend coined. By the end of my time with Caro, I was really desiring to do something to change that.  And, would you believe it, but I got an opportunity to do just that before I even left the country!  Our plans changed drastically towards the end of the trip – rather than going to the jungle together, Caro flew down to Argentina and I went back down to southern Peru to translate in a medical mission trip.  It was truly the highlight of the trip – better than Machu Picchu, better than the great CouchSurfers, better than seeing Mario.  Make sure to read all of the details in my next few entries!! 🙂

Musings on traveling

Note: I wrote this note when I first arrived in Trujillo, after the craziness of getting to Chavin de Huantar, the CouchSurfer in Huaraz, and countless hours spent in buses (see my previous post for more details about that).  I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown, and seriously considering changing my return flight and coming back early.  I even contacted several people back home via phone and instant message, because I just really needed level-headed, unbiased advice and perspectives.  But my mom in particular gave me some very wise advice, and in the end I decided to stay.  By the end of the trip, I saw God work in such an awesome way, and I was sooooo glad that hadn’t given up when it got hard.  But still, there WAS a time when it was very very hard.  These were my thoughts in the middle of that struggling.  Even though they’re not particularly happy, I think that they’re important to share, important to keep in mind when things get difficult and you want to throw in the towel.

When people see my pictures from my travels, they are often jealous of the opportunities that I’ve had. I’m sure my writing style often doesn’t help, as I generally do my best to make them as upbeat as possible and only focus on the positives.

But I think it’s important to point out that what you see in the pictures and read in the writing isn’t the whole story. What I usually try to leave out are the countless hours spent in buses, the sleepless nights in freezing rooms, the rude natives who don’t like foreigners in their country, the lonely days filled with homesickness.

Those are the details that are overwhelming me right now. The trip from Cuzco to Trujillo, where I am now, was absolutely grueling. 40+ hours in buses within the span of 3 days, and I’m absolutely exhausted. Perhaps I can chalk it up to that exhaustion, but this morning I was seriously considering changing my plane ticket and coming home early. I was just done with it all.

But (at least for now) I’ve decided not to leave early. And here is why. The only other time in my life when I was this homesick, this tired, and this just over it all was when I first arrived in Korea. And that turned out to be the single most incredible year of my entire life. The people that I met, the things that I learned about God and myself, the insights into life and fun cultural experiences that I had while in Korea are absolutely priceless and completely irreplaceable.  And I think that the same can happen in Peru.  I really believe that if I’m willing to listen, there are amazing things that God can teach me about Him, myself, and people in general while I’m here. I just need to be willing to slow down and hear what He’s trying to tell me.

So that has been my prayer since I started struggling with all of this – simply that I would be able to just be still and listen. It’s so easy to miss important life lessons because we’re too busy trying to figure out the lesson on our own, and refuse to just be still and listen to the teaching.  While I am certainly enjoying seeing the sights of Peru, this trip – and really traveling in general for me – has never been solely about being a tourist and seeing cool sights. It’s about gaining more insight into the world around me and the One who created it.  And if I can do that, I think staying here the full 3 more weeks that I have left would be worth it.  I’m excited to see what God has to teach me!

Be careful what you wish for

Many of you may know this, many do not; but about a year ago, I was falsely arrested and spent a night in jail before my bail was paid and I was released.  Actually, it was exactly one year ago today, which is why I finally decided to post this.  Seemed like a good way to commemorate what God’s done in my life over the past year.

Anyway, what followed after my arrest last year was a continuing saga of lawyers, court dates, tears, and stress before my case was finally dismissed and my arrest record expunged just a couple of months ago.  I agonized over whether I should write about this at all; while an unexpected and certainly unpleasant experience, I wouldn’t want to cause any unnecessary concern.  At this point I’m totally fine, and I’d honestly prefer to let bygones be bygones.

But I finally decided that my story needed to be shared.  And here is why.  The last year has not been just a continuing saga of court dates and stress.  It has also been an even stronger story of growth and redemption.  For nearly 6 months after that fateful night, I had felt God calling me to start working in some sort of prison ministry.  It’s not something I would have ever thought of before, but after having been inside and met and talked with the people in there, I just really felt like God wanted me to love on these people that, quite frankly, nobody else loves.  But regardless of how strongly I felt about it, it doesn’t mean I wanted to do it.  What I wanted to do was stay as far away from any prison or police officer as possible.

But I digress.  I finally relented and started the lengthy process required to get cleared to volunteer.  The last step was my arrest expungement, which didn’t go through until November, but after that I was officially cleared to volunteer.  My first time was a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been several times since.  I have to admit….I was quaking when I walked into that facility.  But by the time I walked out…I’m not sure how to verbalize what was going on when I walked out.

For all the prayers, all the journaling, all the talking through things that I’ve done over the past year, I wasn’t even close to prepared for what I would experience.  Regardless of my negative initial experience, I was reminded over and over again that people, even people in prison, are still people.  They’re humans with hopes and dreams and frustrations, just like you and me.  They’ve been through some terrible things – some because of choices they’ve made, many through no fault of their own.  But, at the core of it all, they still are just hurting, broken individuals like the rest of us, people who need to be loved on and shown God’s grace and compassion.

It was really an incredible, eye-opening time for me…probably the best therapy I could have ever gotten.  For all of my talk about the importance of open-mindedness and sensitivity to others, working in this this ministry made me realize that I had a whole lot of latent prejudices that I didn’t even fully recognize.  On multiple occasions, I found my heart absolutely breaking for people that I didn’t even know 3 weeks ago – people that, even now, I still only know on a first-name basis.

The old adage, “be careful what you wish for,” is equally true when it comes to prayer.  For many years, I have prayed that God would give me His eyes, that He would break my heart by what breaks His.  Well it seems that I myself needed to be broken before I could break for someone else.  But over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve finally come to the point where I can honestly say that I’m grateful for my arrest, and I’m really looking forward to going back to the prison ministry.  God truly does work in mysterious ways!

La Huelga!!

Pop quiz! What major event happened in Spain on Wednesday, September 29, 2010? If you do not know the answer, you need to either read more news, learn Spanish (the answer is the title of this post), or both :). Mom, James, and Tyler have already passed the test…how did the rest of y’all do?

Anyway, yesterday there was a nation-wide strike in Spain. It was crazyyyyy. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life. The entire country simply shut down. In Seville, the vast majority of the shops were closed. There was no fresh fruit or vegetables or meat in the entire city. Thousands of people milled the streets with banners and stickers and signs – they estimated that over 70% of the Spanish labor force did not show up to work yesterday. Picketers blocked universities, refusing to let the teachers and students who wanted to be there enter. Public transportation was operating on a skeletal system, providing only the most basic services. The only talk on everyone’s mouths was that of “la huelga”. Although my school had class, nobody learned anything. Everyone wanted to go outside and watch the protests that were happening all over the city. I recognize that the United States government has its issues; but yesterday made me very grateful to live in such a relatively peaceful society and functioning government as I have grown up in.

Although this week started out almost as bad as the last one, it has ended quite splendiferously. I FINALLY got all of my applications submitted that I had been killing myself to get in on time – those to the Marshall Scholarship, Rhodes Scholarship, and Fulbright Teaching Assistantship. You have NO idea how much of a relief it is to not have to worry about that anymore. Whether I get accepted or not is no longer any of my concern; I’ve done my part, and can now move onto other things. Another source of stress is the fact that my class schedule has also been a mess, and I’ve been trying to work with my professors back home to get that straightened out. It’s not ideal, but it works, so that’s another thing that I don’t have to worry about. I’m just glad to have one less stress.

I had another tutoring session today. It went soooo much better than Monday. In my (super limited) spare time, I had spent the last few days looking for games and pertinent activities that I could play with my kids. I found some (and also made some up) that that made them think, and that also taught them things they needed to know. So I tried out several of those games today…they loved them! They were well-behaved and interested and involved, and I just had a grand time.

After tutoring I went and found an internet café and talked to Rachel for a while. It was great to catch up with her :). We also started discussing plans to go to a West Coast Swing workshop for New Years’ Eve / my birthday! It’s rather expensive, but it’s looking like it might actually happen…I’m excited!! I also got to talk to James for a few minutes on Skype, too. He was at work and my battery was dying, so we couldn’t talk long, but it was good to talk to him for at least a little bit – we haven’t really talked at all since I’ve gotten here.

Well, after all of that it was around 6:30. I was about to head home, but then I remembered that they had said something about a Bible study on Thursday at church on Sunday. I messaged Sarah asking her about it. Luckily she answered – even though she was in class – and told me that they were having it at 7:30. I’m sooo grateful that she answered – if she hadn’t, I would have missed an incredible evening. But anyway, I had no idea where it was, so I went back to school so I could walk with her. When we got there, there were about 10 people there, from incredibly varied backgrounds. Most were study abroad students, but studying all different things and in all different universities. There was one PhD student there doing an internship on the outskirts of the city. One woman has been serving as a missionary in Spain for 3 years. A Nigerian man who has been living in Spain for 5 years also showed up. We did ice-breakers and get-to-know-you activities (this was the first meeting of the semester), and then broke up after into small groups to pray. When I started praying, I was so overcome with emotion that I started crying. It was kinda awkward, crying in front of all these people that I had literally just met…but I was just so overcome by God’s goodness, I couldn’t help it. Me finding that group came about by such a bizarre train of circumstances that never should have happened. I originally never even planned to be here this semester – my original plan was to go the Spring of my junior year. If I had gone then, I would have never met Sarah, who would have never introduced me to this church. Sarah, too, only found out about it through a highly improbably set of circumstances. Also, I was originally in a class that was scheduled at the same time as the Bible study. I really wanted to take that class, and almost stayed in it…but I’m soooo glad I didn’t. This group is such a strong group of Christians. I can not wait until next Thursday. I’m already planning out my weeks to make sure that I’m always free on Thursday nights.

So all in all, I had an excellent day. My back is angry at me, because I spent all day lugging around my computer and massive Spanish-English dictionary around (I brought it with me to tutor; it made things much easier). But other than that, I can’t complain. Also, today (although technically Thursday) is my Friday – thus begins the semester of 3-day weekends! I’m super excited :). Going on a 2-day trip with some students tomorrow, and then I’ll have Sunday to go to church and relax. I’m quite psyched about that.