the tonic of the wilderness

Every now and then, I come down with this sort of unabating desire to recluse into the wilderness and not come out until my soul is rested and my mind is cleared.

As Thoreau so perfectly put it: “We need the tonic of the wilderness.”

The calming silence of the forest, the solitude of the mountains, the freshness of the natural colors, the camaraderie of the animals who pass by quietly on the path: these are the things that make my spirit feel strong again. These are the things that allow me to absorb my human experience, instead of just trudging along and letting it happen to me.

I’m blessed by friends who also crave the tonic of the wilderness and who will explore it with me.

the return

I just discovered this blog that never got published. It was originally written on June 23rd, just days before I flew to Haiti.


 

I’m leading this trip to Haiti on Friday. I’ve been up to my neck in planning a thousand little details, hundreds of which are so fragile that they’ll surely unravel the moment we step off the plane into the Haitian humidity. Still I find myself driving down the road or laying down to sleep or standing at the sink and suddenly I’ll think, What’s my plan if someone gets injured? What do we do if luggage gets lost? What’s the address of the American Embassy again? 

I want to be over-prepared. And yet, I know better. I’ve traveled before, I’ve seen how this works. I know, at the end of the day, that preparation is good but often comically futile.

All of my obsessive preparation has sort of allowed me to block out the fact that I’ll actually be in Haiti on Saturday. I seemed to have missed the step in the preparation process where one gets Butterflies.

I can’t pinpoint why exactly I don’t feel joyfully overwhelmed about returning. If, however, I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably because I never expected that Haiti would be my first Return Trip.

I’ve been to a few different countries but believe it or not, I’ve never been to the same place twice. People often ask me though where I’d Return if given the opportunity. The Amazon, India, Turkey, China, Romania. Maybe Kenya, maybe the Philippines. It depends on my mood. It depends on a lot of things.

There are a handful of countries that I’ve had a sort of emotional connection with that one can’t fully comprehend unless one’s experienced a similar connection. It’s almost like I took a piece of my heart and buried it in the dirt and said I’ll be back someday. I promise. 

If I could be blunt for a moment, I’d have to admit that I’m a little bummed that Haiti is taking the place of my first Return Trip.

Don’t get me wrong. Haiti will always hold a very unique place in the maps of my memories. It was the first country I pioneered. Haiti was the first time I led an international team completely solo. It was the first country I visited after returning from the Race (which is a special thing that maybe only a former Racer could fully understand). So it’s not that I don’t have a love and a passion for Haiti. In fact, I’ve spent more time researching and reading about Haiti than any other country in the last year and I’d consider myself passionate about organizing and supporting on-going efforts for God’s Kingdom there.

But still.

I have this strange sense of jealousy. Is it jealousy? It could be bitterness. If I’d been given the choice to Return somewhere, I honestly never would have picked Haiti.

Nevertheless, on Saturday morning just a few hours after sunrise, our plane will (inshallah) sweep over the Caribbean Ocean and make the descent into the valley of Port-Au-Prince. There will be a tap-tap or two waiting for my team and I’ll know who to look for because I obsessively memorized those details. We’ll be swept away into the chaos of the city and I can promise you that as soon as I smell that familiar scent of the Developing World, my heart will be in a comfortable, easy place once again.

these sensations of summer

I like that feeling you get when you open your car door in the summer and a rush of heat swarms you and if you sit in it for too long your lungs begin to compress and the back of your neck gets sticky and you start to think it’s hard to breathe but some how you feel oddly comfortable in the torridness, almost relaxed. And then you remember for some reason what it was like in the barrenness of winter when such heat was unimaginable and you grin a little bit because That seems so far away.

I also love the sound of the early evening in summertime. When the locusts are so loud that you have to talk louder and the air is warm in this sweet sort of way and the light between the trees is some how more remarkable than you ever remembered it to be.

And these sensations of summer – the heat, the light, the smells, the sweat, the colors – conjure up a conglomeration of memories that don’t all fit together and yet are all notes in the same song. It’s a song that is most comfortable for me to sing, easy and familiar and smooth.

the (first) time I tried to out-run God

I remember this one time in college I knew the Lord was asking me to do something that I just didn’t want to do. I’d tried to avoid doing It for years actually, but this particular time when the Lord asked, I felt like I was pushed into a corner. I felt vulnerable and trapped, like I was swimming in waters too deep and the waves were choking me and I couldn’t stay afloat.

One afternoon while I was praying  arguing with God, I just got so frustrated with him that I walked away from the conversation, changed into my running shoes, and left. I had decided, quite literally, to run away from God.

It was early evening in early springtime in Austin – the perfect time and place for a run. I lived in a neighborhood just North of campus. It had a few high-traffic roads and lots of neighborhood streets with cute little North Campus houses.

I don’t remember the route I ran that night, only that I just started and didn’t stop for a long time. I know I took a left at the intersection and ran past the Hindu temple. I probably zig-zagged through the little neighborhoods towards campus. Eventually I curved back around and ran parallel with the #7 bus route.

My steps were hard and combative. I figured the harder I stomped, the more I could prove to God that I was pissed. I ran furiously fast, too fast for my fitness level at the time, but my only goal was to outrun God, to outrun his nagging.

I imagine he was irritated but amused by this effort of mine.

He probably ran right behind me, just far enough behind that he wouldn’t get kicked, but close enough so that he’d hear my thoughts.

It got dark and I made my way back home. Our house was on the high-traffic street, just in front of the #7 bus stop. We shared a driveway with our duplex neighbors, but their cars weren’t parked there that night. I jogged up to the place where the sidewalk met the driveway, and I collapsed on the ground. My spirit was far more exhausted than my body. My heart hurt in that way when you have to cry so much it hurts and then you’re confused about what hurts more – the thought of crying or the pain itself.

I don’t think I cried. I think I just sat there, heart beating and mind swirling with thoughts, staring at the city sky, listening to cars drive past, pressing my palms flat against the cool concrete. I felt stupid. I knew all along that I couldn’t out run God, I just wanted to at least prove to him that I wasn’t afraid to do it. I guess I just wanted to try so that I’d know in the future that it couldn’t be done.

I’m not sure how long I sat there, maybe 30 or 40 minutes. I was lost in thought when suddenly I saw a figure approaching me. I was startled for a moment until I recognized the body and then the familiar face of a dear friend. “What on Earth are you doing?” he said as he walked up to the driveway. “Running from God,” I said.

He paused and looked at me in this mysterious way, almost like he already knew that’s what I would say, then he said, simply, “You shouldn’t do that.” And then he walked past me into my house.

24 for 24

I’ve been working on this list for a couple weeks now and it’s been surprisingly tricky thinking of things. I wanted goals that are challenging but achievable, and I wanted a mixture of fun and serious things. Here’s where I’ve settled:

(in no particular order)

24 Goals for my 24th Year:

1. Run 10 miles – rollover goal from last year
2. Memorize the book of Philippians – also a rollover goal; I figured this time I’ll identify the book from the get-go and have enough discipline to actually do it.
3. Go camping
4. Cook a meal of at least 3 courses and serve it to a group/another person
5. Take the GRE
6. Do a yoga handstand
7. Run in a race – 
probably a 5k, 10k, or 12k
8. Go to an outdoor concert
9. Improve piano playing enough to play in public
10. Apply to grad school – contingent on how things play out, but if I don’t apply this year I at least want to have picked a program and have a timeline for application
11. Run a seven-minute mile
12. Write 2-3 songs
– I took a year-long hiatus from song writing after the WR. This happened for a few reasons, but I think it’s time to get after it again.
13. Invest in a new wardrobe – In the last three years, I’ve given away a significant amount of my possessions and clothing, what with finishing school and moving out of the country. I’m ready to start rebuilding now that I’m more financially stable and have a better understanding of what I need vs. what I want.
14. Take a one-month social media break – I do use social media for work very regularly, but other than that, I’d like to be completely off the grid.
15. Pull an all-nighter; watch the sunrise
16. Establish a fully-funded Emergency Fund – three to six months of living expenses
17. Take a really stunning photo – i.e. more photography in general!
18. Frame my favorite photos – I have so many awesome pictures from my travels, and I always said I would frame my favorites when I moved into a house/apartment. I just need to do it, even if I don’t move this year.
19. Go to a Longhorn football game – never been as an alumna!
20. Make intentional phone calls to long distance friends – I have so many really, really good friends and unfortunately, a lot of them live far away. I want to make sure I keep them in my life by calling and writing regularly, so I’ll probably set aside one day a week to make sure I do this.
21. Go to the movies by myself – The last time I did this was three years ago when HP8 came out and I was working in Houston for the summer. I enjoy doing things alone, so I want to do this again.
22. Reduce soda consumption to 1-2 per week – I know I should cut soda out entirely, but this is a realistic baby step in that direction. Hopefully by 2016 I can finally stop drinking soda altogether!
23. Get rid of road rage  – ya, I have road rage… I think it developed when I lived overseas (driving is so much more aggressive in many countries). I figured it would subside after I lived in the States longer, but oops… it didn’t. Time to re-learn some patience in driving.
24. Open a Roth IRA – I have several other financial goals like this, but I probably can’t realistically achieve them unless my finances change (read: unless I get a raise). But if my finances do change somehow, one of my goals is to get started on things like opening an IRA and finishing off my student loan payments.

I feel pretty good about this list and I look forward to chipping away at it this year.

Do you have any goals for your current year of life? What should I add as a bonus goal? Wanna join me in some of these?

those 23 things

Last year for my 23rd birthday, I came up with a list of twenty-three goals to accomplish before I turned 24. All year, I had this list in the back of my mind and it really did help me try new things, achieve some goals, and follow through.

You probably don’t care about how it turned out, but since you’re still reading this blog I’d guess you’re at least vaguely interested. For your entertainment, I’ve added some gifs from Parks and Rec and 30 Rock (since those were two shows I watched and LOVED this year).

Let us revisit those 23 things:

1. Sew something significant by hand (a pillow, a dress, etc.)
Uhh, I never really got around to this. I sewed some minor things and mostly I’m okay with that.

2. Run 10 miles straight
I started training for this goal in January, giving myself three months to achieve it. Several times I was set back by weather (ice, rain, freezing temps), so I ended up only getting to 8.5 miles straight by my 24th birthday. But, I do hope to accomplish this goal before the month is over because I’m certainly within arm’s reach. I just don’t want to run in icy rain so I’ll have to wait for the weather to clear up a bit.


3. Read two books per month
I pretty much did this and I’m so happy about that. Having the goal made a difference in my persistence of finding new books and finishing them in a timely manner.

4. Learn to play piano (anyone have a piano?)
I got a keyboard for Christmas so I’ve started teaching myself piano! Slowly but surely…

5. Leave the country
Haiti 2014, thank you, Jesus


6. Leave the state
Colorado, Ohio, Georgia, overnight stay in Florida

7. Go camping, preferably some where new
I went camping a few times last year. Colorado was definitely my favorite camping trip (hiking 26 miles in the Rocky Mountains with awesome friends – thank you, Jesus). I can never get enough camping though.

8. Learn to knit or crochet
Learned it. Wasn’t very interested in it. Will revisit it when I’m 70.

9. Read a book in Spanish, and brush up on my (really rusty) Turkish
I read a chapter of Harry Potter in Spanish and it took me weeks. So, I didn’t really succeed at this goal, but I’m satisfied with my attempt.


10. Go to a concert
I got invited to a Switchfoot concert last fall and it was a blast. It made me want to go to concerts a little more regularly, so maybe I’ll have this goal again this year.

11. Go country dancing
I never went out country dancing, but I did get plenty of country dances in at several weddings last year, so I semi-achieved this goal.


12. Go on a lengthy road trip with friends to somewhere new
I kind of did this? I went on a road trip to Houston, many times to Austin (does that even count?), and we did some driving in Colorado, Ohio, and Georgia. I never planned out a road trip, which was maybe the point, but I did embrace the opportunities to drive to new places with friends and spend time laughing and talking in the car.

13. Vertical gardening
I never did this. I’m not really in a living situation where this would be possible, but someday I would like to do this (i.e. when I move)

14. Memorize a book of the Bible
This is one goal that I really wanted to achieve but I never buckled down and followed through on it. Of the goals I did not meet, this is the one that haunts me the most.


15. Visit a friend who lives out of the city, state, or country
Thank you, World Race weddings

16. Get back into swimming (…if I can use a free pool… I’m not really into paying gym memberships)
I never got a gym membership and I never moved to an apartment with a pool. So, I didn’t meet this goal (but I feel fine about that since the condition was that a free pool would be available)


17. Get a hair cut
lol that this was a goal for me; yay that I achieve it.

18. Give up soda for one month
I did this in September. It was challenging at first, but ultimately it was a great exercise of discipline.

19. Give away any piece of clothing I don’t wear at least once a month
Having this goal made me conscious of the items in my closet that sat unworn for months at a time. Often I would rationalize by thinking, I’ll wear that next week or for another event or when the weather changes, but a lot of time I realized that I just didn’t wear the item because (usually) my style has changed and I just don’t wear it anymore. There’s no reason to keep it if I don’t use it, but I would find myself being fearful that if I gave it away, I would have less. Quickly I realized the irrationality of this poverty-complex. So, every 3-4 months I would take some of the unworn items out and donate them. It was a great lesson on living with hands open, appreciating what I do have, and practicing generosity (not a fear of scarcity).


20. Give away all the unnecessary and/or unused items in my bedroom
Same as above. Did it. Still doing it. Loving it.

21. Spend more intentional time with family and friends
Though this was ambiguous, I’d say I did do it. Having the goal in the back of my mind helped me be intentional about it.

22. Spend time at the ocean
I went to the beach in Haiti and went snorkeling with my dad, so that’s pretty cool.


23. Give feedback more often
Having this goal helped me in several key relationships last year. It encouraged me to be brave, communicate clearly, and give intentional affirmation to others. All good things!


So, I accomplished a good portion of my 23 goals and I feel good about it.


I’m currently developing my list of 24 things to achieve this year. What would should I put on it?

P.S. I haven’t seen the last season of Parks and Rec yet so don’t ruin it for me!

still becoming: slums and suburbs

I have this distinct memory of myself when I was a teenager, probably fifteen or sixteen years old. I was sitting on the green couch at my grandmother’s house, flipping through an issue of National Geographic Magazine. My grandma always had stacks and stacks of Nat Geo’s sitting in little towers around her house. That particular issue had a feature about neighborhoods from around the world: slums, suburbs, village huts, skyscraper apartments. The photos were stunning and colorful in the way that they have to be for Nat Geo, and the juxtaposition of shots was fascinating. As I flipped through the pages, I came across a two-page spread of a photo from a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The photo, I remember, was taken from the middle of a dirt alleyway so that on either side of the pages, there were rows and rows of one-room houses. Made of tin and cardboard and sheets of plastic, the houses were squashed together in a jagged, uneven line. In the muddy walkways in front of them there ran a putrid looking trickle of water and sewage. Even with just a glance, one could clearly note the unsanitary and unstable environment of that neighborhood. Fifteen-year-old me looked on with fascination, my hand stroking the picture as if touching the paper would transport me there. And I remember, very vividly, thinking: God, someday I would like to live in a place like that. I turned the page and saw that the next two-page spread was one of an aerial view of the suburbs outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. The contrast was not lost on me. Ugh, I thought with distaste as I scanned the rows and rows of identical, beige colored houses. Freshly manicured lawns, smooth streets, all of it symmetrical and square. The tidiness of the scene was almost nauseating. Everything was in order though – clean, controlled, organized, expected. And then, before I could think about it, before I could remember what I had JUST prayed, before I realized what I was even thinking, I prayed, God, please don’t ever make me live in a place like that.

a suburb in which I currently do ministry

It may seem like a falsified story, but I swear to you that all these years later, I still remember that afternoon. I can still see those photos in my mind’s eye. I can still hear the words of those prayers echoing somewhere down in the caverns of my soul. And as I think about that, I realize that I started to become who I am today a long time ago. Before I’d ever left America, before I’d ever been in a slum, before I had really any clue about what I wanted for my life, the Spirit was leading me to prayers like the ones I said on that afternoon. The Spirit was, without me knowing, shaping my heart and giving me passions. From my seat on the green couch at my grandma’s house, I could not have imagined that one day I would in fact live and work in slums all over the world. I couldn’t have dreamed that seven years later, I would walk down the alleyways of slums in Nairobi even! I also could not have predicted that at some point, the Lord would lead me back from the slums to work in the suburbs. I certainly couldn’t have guessed that the suburbs would end up being exponentially more challenging to me that the slums ever were. But that’s how things have gone. That’s how they’re still going. And if it’s true that I started to become who I am a long time ago, then I suppose I’m probably still on my way. I am still becoming.