I'll be honest... the first two times that I came to visit you, I wasn't exactly what anyone might call a "fan." You're streets are dirty, your government is far from top notch, you have ten times the amount of bugs (and you know that by "bugs," I mean the mosquito population in particular) than I would ever be able to appreciate, and let's face it-- you're culture is irritatingly unorganized.
But this time was different. It's not that you changed a whole lot since my last visit, but this time when we came, you held your arms out to me as if in invitation-- an invitation to welcome me as one of your own and in turn, you became one of my own.
You and I both know that this process was not an easy one for me. I got sick a lot while visiting you, never really managed to sleep all that great and struggled to understand the general mentality of your people, but you were patient. You let me have my meltdowns, and then made me smile over and over by showing off your God-given beauty.
You filled my heart with memories. You gave me stories to tell to my future babies, and hopefully, to their future babies. You brought me some of the greatest people who are not only my friends, but family. You showed me part of my husband that I have never gotten to know... and now I love him all the more.
Some of my favorite things about you are your plants and your colors. Everything you have is bright and vivid. Even your dirt is the most brilliant copper red. Things like your mangoes, bananas, lemons, passion fruit and guava are unparalleled.
Even though I struggle to understand how your people think, I love how generous they are. I loved watching them with their families. I loved walking by them sitting in circles every couple hundred meters drinking terrere and laughing with authentic gusto.
Thank you for being a good home for Christian growing up. Thank you for being a good home for our family. Thank you for being so wonderful that it hurts my heart to leave.
It's bittersweet to be leaving you tomorrow, but I look forward to seeing you again.
With love + gratitude,
If you are/were anything like me, you might have found or even be finding yourself interested in a lot of various subjects and hobbies-- most of which you're good at. Some call this "dabbling." Maybe you're not amazing at them, but you're alright. And hey, you probably do them just because you like to do them. There's nothing wrong with doing different creative things because you enjoy them.
In my mid-twenties it felt like the people around me always had their "thing"-- you know, like they had always been really good at drawing or photography or fashion. They spent a lot of time doing their one or two activities and were super passionate about them.
But what about me? What about those of us that don't feel particularly drawn to just one or two things, but have the potential to be?
I really struggled to figure it out. I asked myself questions like, What things do I like more than others? What am I really passionate about?
The answers to these questions eventually came, and I will share with you exactly how later. But something that I didn't realize was that my identity was all screwed up, and I started to realize that my confusion in having so many interests was a manifestation of my identity crisis. It seemed that everyone around me was content with their gifts and knew what they were. Me? I was just scattered.
My real problem was that I spent all of this time evaluating myself based off of my surroundings (which are pretty much always fluid and changing) and the people around me who seemed valued because of what they could do. I wanted to feel valuable. I wanted to do something that made me feel valuable because it seemed that those who were doing were more valued, and because then... well... then I could have an identity. It became clear to me over time that if I wanted to know what things to really pour myself into, then I needed to figure out who I was, and none of us can figure out who we are until we understand our value apart from what we do and that our identity is not dependent on what we produce. Period.
In fact, I learned that it is our identity that gives us our value. If we don't let God give us our identity we will never rest in knowing that our identity automatically gives us our value, and we will chase finding our value in what we can produce. Then we will never know ourselves because we don't know God. If I don't think I am valued purely because of the identity that God has placed on me as one of his own, then what I actually believe about God is a lie. It means that I don't truly believe that God's love for me is unconditional and unchanging, and I don't believe that the love of the Creator bestowed on me through his unconditional grace makes me valuable. And if I don't believe that God's love and grace are unconditional and unchanging, then I believe that the Bible is a lie, and I don't truly believe that the sacrifice of Jesus was enough ("once and for all"). See, I knew all of these things, but there really is a huge difference between knowing and believing. Ultimately, these beliefs that I had unknowingly been holding onto demanded some severe repentance. (also see Rom. 8:38-39 (it's all right there))
This was the root of my problem. It's something I still have to remind myself to choose to believe daily. Only then could I find and appreciate for myself my practical gifts.
So how did I decide what interests to seriously pursue and which ones to lay aside as hobbies?
The thought occurred to me one day: Why don't I ask the people who have been in my inner circle what they think? Now, I'm not necessarily advocating that we should only do what other people think we should. No. But I value the input of those who are or have been closest to me.
I created a list of those inner circle people that I have had throughout my lifetime and composed a letter to them. I asked them to take time and consider my practical giftings. Were there things that I was pursuing that I'm not actually that good at? Were there things that I wasn't pursuing that I should be? What things was I doing that I should keep at and grow in?
I asked them to respond separately because I wanted to see what things they were saying that were common between them. What gifts popped up multiple times? Those things are the ones I would pray over as being the one(s) that I took seriously. The others I would just accept as hobbies. As it happened, the same three things popped up as my gifts in the nine responses to the twelve I asked.
There has been so much peace that has come since then. And so much assurance. I love what I'm pursuing with passion, and I love that I can now focus on three instead of on, say, ten.
I hope this can give you some things to think on, to pray about and to be encouraged by. I would love to know your journey into finding your gifts and what you've discovered they are.
Creativity is something that I am convinced all of us share, manifesting itself beautifully in a rainbow-like spectrum of ways. For example, the way you choose to dress, do your make-up, hair, etc. Other ways, like in my case for example, are not just inclusive of the way that I present myself outwardly, but also in my writing style, the way that I compose and edit my photographs, and in the way I like to cook. Everything from fixing a broken pipe to throwing paint on a canvas takes some level of creativity.
But what happens if you reach a point when you're not really feeling challenged creatively anymore? What happens when you start focusing on all of the other people out there doing something similar to you and, in your eyes, better?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon where practically every one of my peers was a budding creative entrepreneur. Have you ever been to Portland? If you have, that statement probably totally makes sense to you. Portland is a place that prides itself massively on local everything. Clothing? Yep. Leather goods? Yep. Food/Coffee? Yep. Intimidating much? Absolutely. Don't get me wrong. I am still convinced that Portland is the greatest place in the entire US of A. As a kid I spent massive amounts of time drawing, painting and writing short stories for the heck of it. As an adolescent all of the way up until after I graduated college I did this kind of stuff. I even threw photography into the mix, but not like... professionally.
But along with the rise of social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and even Facebook, my feeling of creative inadequacy rose too. Every time I opened one of those apps I saw someone doing something incredible with their imagination, and suddenly what I had to offer artistically just didn't seem to measure up.
Was/Is that true? Absolutely not.
Am I... Are we... individuals with unique perspectives that no one else can offer?
If you answered "yes" to believing that latter, that's great! But maybe you find yourself in a slump of sorts. Maybe you need a good push to get outside of your own creative comfort zone. Maybe you're wanting a new challenge.
I have been thinking through the things that I have done in the past, or currently do, in order to challenge myself in my own art. Here is what I've come up with, and hopefully you will find these useful:
#1. Take time to reflect. When we moved to Chicago, I left the familiar that is Portland behind. I knew Portland's general style. I even kind of felt moderately creatively suppressed there because it seemed like most people's styles were super similar (people who are generally more into "shades" than "colors" if you catch my drift), and I began wondering if their taste was actually my taste, or if I was just letting myself be persuaded that way. Enter Chicago-- a humongous city with an insanely diverse "everyone has their own style" creativity.
Here's the thing: when I arrived in Chicago it felt overwhelming until I quieted myself and made the effort to identify where I was creatively. Once I identified my strengths (the things I liked about what I produce, and the things I didn't), I was able to look at Chicago and see the differences. I was able to identify the areas in which I wanted to try to grow. What did Chicago have that I needed?
For me, I realized that I lived in a "shade" box. I also realized that there were many areas of creative interest that I had forgotten about like poetry, coffee tasting, and descriptive writing. It wasn't until I met certain people that other areas popped up.
#2. Be brave. You guys, social media can *sometimes* be a huge God-send. We moved to a brand new city and I didn't know a soul. So I decided I had to be proactive if I wanted to break the walls of my comfortable box and try new things. What did that look like? Well, it meant that I had to bite the bullet of my "fear of people" and just get out there.
At the time I had Instagram (and probably will get it again soon, to be honest), so I searched for people in Chicago. If I found profiles I really liked and that pushed my creative button, I messaged them and asked to meet for coffee and donuts (Chicago, for real, has THE BEST donuts). I ended up meeting some great photographers, designers and makers that way. Some of them I met up with semi-regularly and ended up celebrating holidays, birthdays and baby-showers with them. That was one of the best things I did, and you can do it too!
I also discovered that the local church in my neighborhood was hosting an art gallery. I decided to march myself over there and see if they needed help setting up, and sure enough, they did! It was while I was helping set up a display that I ended up meeting two of my most creatively influential people: Michael and Tyler.
As it would happen, Tyler is the #1 head shot photographer in Chicago. He is the type that takes an annual train ride around the US just so he can meet interesting people and write brief "journal" entries about them in whatever book of poetry he's currently holding. Michael is a black and white film photographer, specializing in street photography. When I met Michael, I told him of my interest in photography, after which he immediately invited me to go out street shooting with him, which I did. I have to tell you, it was through that very first experience with him that I learned the most about my camera. It also introduced me to a massive love of street photography (and film). Together, the three of us spent a day using Michael's free Art Museum pass and his collection of vintage film cameras running around taking photos of unsuspecting art appreciators. It is still one of my greatest Chi memories. This brings me to my next point...
#3. Spend time with people that creatively intimidate you. This is a big one, folks. Even if you just spend time around people that creatively intimidate you it will rub off. Trust me. This sort of ties back in with my point about being brave. The fact is, there will always be someone who is better than me (than you) at whatever art we are pursuing. If I want to get better, then I need to spend time with those who are better. That means driving downtown and sitting in the coffee shop with all of those tatted-up, pink-haired baristas and people reading books by Nietzsche. It means going to the modern art museum and actually pondering the seemingly weird statues and paintings. It means finding photographers in your area who's stuff you love, and emailing them to see if they'd be willing to meet you over coffee and talk shop.
I have been doing this recently, actually, with photographers back in Portland (since after the New Year that will be our place of residency for the next bit). I have been getting onto the websites of those photographers whose photos overwhelm me with beauty and (let's just be honest... jealousy) saying, "Hey, I really admire your work. Can I buy you a coffee and get your thoughts on what you do? Maybe even have you critique my work so far?" More often than not, they have replied with a hearty "Yes!"
This leads me to my final point:
#4. Humble yourself. This is hard for us to do as people, and it's especially hard for us to do as artists. It's scary to have another artist look over your website, photos or writing. Although, for many of us, we have already had to overcome the fear of critique in some way if we make our work view-able to the public. But there's something different about having someone else... someone who does what you do, only (in your eyes) better... critique your work. This doesn't, by any means, mean that we have to follow their criticism, but we should certainly listen and process through what they say, taking all, or some, or taking none.
Maybe for you this looks like asking a friend or an acquaintance who perhaps dresses more boldly than you to go shopping with you sometime. Maybe this means asking someone who is passionate about writing poetry to walk through their methods of inspiration with you. Maybe this means emailing a painter you admire to ask how they achieve a certain texture or look with their paint.
Sometimes, these people are super protective of their methods, and that's okay. You will never know unless you ask. But in my opinion, it's far better to create relationships and community through the arts than competition (a reason for which I really admire my friends over at Dapper & Wise).
There's certainly more that could be said on this subject. The ways to improve yourself are endless, whether by taking these tips to heart, reading books on creativity or your particular field of interest, or watching YouTube videos. I appreciate it if you made it this far. If this post has challenged you to get out there, then I am overjoyed! In fact, just going over this in my own head again has helped re-challenge me! Cheers to getting out of our creative comfort zones!
It finally happened. I finally, on my third trip to Paraguay, got to visit the nothing less than spectacular Iguazu waterfalls. Really, there's something great about seeing the world's wonders.
At the end of our first week back in the heart of South America, we as a family began our road trip around the southern end of Paraguay beginning with Encarnación for Opa's 85th birthday, a vivid pink sunrise and making a new friend over ice cream, then moving on to South America's largest hydroelectric plant (Itaipu), Ciudad del Este, and finally, Iguazu Fallls in Brazil!
This trip was incredible. A once in a lifetime opportunity. And in the process we were all sandwiched in a rental bus together with books, guitars, and terrere. We stopped what seemed to be about every couple of hours to pick up roadside empanadas or four-cheese chipas, and laughed when our bus drivers (two 35+ year old women) replaced their sunglasses with "little old lady" glasses so that the Brazilian security would be less likely to make us stop a border control (which worked, by the way).
Once we got to the falls, I knew that these moments were probably not going to come again. My eyes and mouth were wide as we walked (okay, I basically jogged) down the trail to the main part of the falls. I wanted to feel the fall's mist on my face and be close enough that the noise of the rushing water silenced the other sounds. Ultimately, it was a huge success. We're so thankful that we got to do this.
Here are some pictures of our experience.
Some phone pics:
you design with purpose
with intention walls are broken
with intention are built
stone to protect stone
so make it beat
an exchange of fortress for kingdom
of self for a cross
of stone for flesh
pride for meekness
and, with purpose,
begin with me.
We arrived back in the US on the 5th of September. It was great to be back in Chicago, but we had a super quick turnover time before it was time to pack up our car (which we had lent to a friend over the summer). Two days, to be exact.
So we quickly ran around hugging everyone, making a last trip to the thrift store, loaded our car with our few belongings and began our week-and-a-half drive back out to the west coast.
Although our final destination was my (LJ's) hometown of Portland, Oregon, we took a southbound route that would dump us in Albuquerque, New Mexico so that we could see my brother and his family for a few days. We rarely get to see them-- which means that we rarely get the opportunity to play Aunt and Uncle to their eight kids, which is really one of our top favorite things to do.
Obviously, I enjoy taking photos very much, and any opportunity to whip out my beautiful camera and freeze beautiful moments in time is something that gives me the greatest energy rush. Thankfully, the Lord saw fit to give us a gorgeous woman of a niece who also happens to have a huge interest in life behind (and for my sake, in front of) the camera.
Albuquerque is situated in such a breathtaking piece of desert with the Sandia Mountains framing the city on it's east side.
Now, it's extremely hard to keep this Pacific Northwest girl away from any available mountains or naural bodies of water, so Hannah (our niece), her boyfriend, Roberto (who we actually really, really like), our nephew, Daniel and Berto's little brother, Bubba, all piled into Berto's car and headed out into the mountains for some photos and to watch the sunset behind the city.
We had only a vague idea of where we were going (I mean, when you're in a desert and you're going to mountains, it's kind of hard to get lost...) and we ended up in this gorgeous spot with an old, abandoned stone house with huge windows looking out over the city. As the sun dropped down lower and lower to the western skyline, the city slowly began to light up against the purple atmosphere.
We sat on the thick, stone-lined window frames, our legs dangling over the outside edges, and quietly watched the view.
This moment was a precious one for me. Time like this with some of my most favorite people on this planet is something that I have carefully tucked away in the folds of my heart.
When we left Austria on the 29th of August, we flew to London to spend one week visiting some good friends and exploring this beautiful island (but there is SO MUCH MORE to explore there, and we can hardly wait to get back at it). It was a strange feeling to watch Vienna fade underneath the clouds from my small airplane window. We hated leaving. But knowing that it wouldn't be for long, and also knowing that there were great memories just over the horizon offered some comfort.
Folks, this English experience could not have been any better. We were welcomed to London by our friend, Kit, and her wonderful husband, Rich. We had served with Kit on the OM ship, Doulos, back in 2008, and it had been nine years (!!!) since we had last even spoken with her. If you can believe it, when we decided to take our week in England, we reached out and told her that we would love to see her and meet her husband over dinner.
Well, it turned out to be much more than a dinner....
Rich and Kit not only picked us up from the airport, but had us stay in their beautifully cozy fixer-upper home in Teddington, London, not far from the tranquil Bushy Park and the, less tranquil but convenient, London rail. Something that I hope to never take for granted is having old (and new) friends all over the world. Nine years ago, I would never have thought that I would see Kit again, but there I was, sitting on her living room sofa with a cuppa and biscuits catching up on all of the things the Lord had done for us.
We stayed with Kit and Rich for one day and two nights, ordered Chinese takeout (because com'on... yum), woke up early with coffee in our hands as we walked through chilled autumn air and dewy grass in the park, and watched the Queen's deer show off their impressive antlers. It was perfect.
After Kit headed off to work, we hopped the train into Waterloo Station to spend what turned out to be a very wet day in London. But would we have had it any other way? Absolutely not. After wandering around the Eye, Parliament, Westminster and Buckingham, we found ourselves in the Piccadilly neighborhood. Ironically, I was reading A Tale of Two Cities (my first Dickens) at the time, so when we ducked into a coffee house for a warm afternoon pick-me-up I was able to picture the places Dickens refers to in both London and Paris. How cool is that?
We left London the next morning by bus and headed to Chippenham, which lies just thirty minutes east of Bath. We were there for only one night to visit some great friends of ours and thoroughly enjoyed our visit, although it was definitely too short.
Our friends, Becky and Andy picked us up from Chippenham and we drove to Bath-- an old Roman city where the likes of Jane Austen, among others, lived and wrote. It's a beautiful city, and I would like to share a bit of my journal entry from this experience with you.
We arrived in Bath late last night (actually, early this morning) and now Becky and Andy are showing us around this beautiful city. Christian and I ate our first Cornish pasty, stopped by a tiny hole-in-the-wall pub for a beer, played the most hilarious game of mini golf, and went to see the Crescent. Apparently, the movie Persuasion takes place at the Crescent and the main character runs the entire length of it. The Crescent is where Andy proposed to Becky after she decided to run the length of it just like the movie. She kept shouting "The Crescent!" and we all laughed so much.We just finished a tour of Bath Abbey where we saw the giant bells and the clock tower, too.
Right now I am sitting in one of these old wooden pews surrounded by breathtaking stained glass windows and the most ornate ceilings, listening to perhaps twenty red-robed choir members lifting their voices in strong harmony. I already teared up listening to this. They vertically line the walls near the front of the abbey and are framing the largest of the windows, which is by far the most ornate. The church is bright, made with light sandstone. We found out that it was first built in 757 A.D., but became today's abbey in 1499. It was the last medieval cathedral built in England.
Just listening to these voices is unbelievable. I can hardly believe that the Lord has given me these moments in my twenty-eight years of life.
Concerning Lyme Regis:
We left Bath yesterday morning in order to head down to the southern coast. It was cold and wet, a curious contrast to the weather these previous days. In fact, it is still quite cold and wet. We made a quick stop for breakfast at McDonald's and then sped away through the English countryside. It really is just so beautiful, and looks just like the movies-- all these old stone walls dividing fields and roadways.There are tons of sheep scattered all over these hills, and strong oak trees trailing in between.
On our way to Lyme, we stopped in Becky's hometown of Chard to see her old house and the church where she and Andy were married. It was so beautiful! The church was old, classical Anglican, built with pointed wooden doors and complete with that cold, wooden, musty smell that floods your nose when you walk in. The narrow streets had these fun carnival-like banners crossing back and forth overhead due to the previous day being Chard's annual "faire." We ended up stopping by the home of an older couple who Becky says are like her second parents, John and Dorothy. We needed to use their toilets which they were more than happy to lend, and they greeted us with warm hugs. John is a wood craftsman and their home is filled with his beautiful shelves and cupboards. The front sitting room was completed with built-in, arched bookshelves and a large brick fireplace-- the kind with the deep-set stove and surrounding hole filled with odds and ends, including wood. They had old classics on their shelves along with the complete works of author, Roald Dahl. (I like it when adults have sets of children's books along with their classics and gardening books. They act as proof that just because you get older doesn't mean you have to grow up.) Dorothy loaded us up with leftover cake (honestly, the most delicious cakes I have ever tasted) that the townspeople made from scratch for the fair, and we were on our way.
As we drove the sky decided to pour its rain and the clouds lowered themselves to become a moody fog. We laughed and had great conversation the whole way to Lyme Regis and, once we had parked the car, we grabbed our day bags and made our way to the beach which was lined with pastel colored changing huts, stacked surf boards and the most quintessential coastal restaurants. It was actually colder outside than in the water, so Andy and Becky went in and swam a bit. I only put my legs in knee-deep, then when Becky and Andy went to change, Christian and I walked along an old stone wall which protected the fishing boats from the unpredictable sea waves. I could well understand why Lyme was a favorite writing place for Jane Austen. The grey skies, the salty smell, the sound of waves and the white lines stretching out as far as the eye can see set the tone for great inspiration.
After the four of us walked on the curved stone wall and had some of those massive waves shower us with salt water, we decided to head into town to look at some shops and get ourselves some fish n' chips. Of course after that we got ourselves some hot tea to carry around with us as we meandered around in the rain before quickly running back to the car before we were soaked through.
The drive to Portsmouth (where Andy and Becky live) was much like the way to Lyme Regis, but this time, much to my great happiness, I found out that B & A are also huge fans of Christmas. So we listened to the entirety of Michael Buble's Christmas album and sang at the top of our lungs. Christian hated it. I mean... it was only September....
We spent the next couple of days laying low and resting in Portsmouth, playing Ticket to Ride, watching Jane Austen movies and drinking several pots of tea. Visiting Becky and Andy was such an incredible memory. They were so incredibly generous, so thoughtful, and so loving.
We could truly not be more grateful to all of our incredible friends who gave us one of our greatest life memories and experiences: England. We pray that the Lord will allow us many opportunities to love you all the same way that you loved us this year. We can hardly wait to see you all again!
Okay, Schiestlhaus was one of those experiences that, even though it was the most physically insane thing I've ever done, it was also one of the best.
**note: I left these photos unedited. The display that God allowed us to witness on the top of this mountain is one of his great masterpieces, and I think more lovely than any edit I could make.**
In early August, our buddy Simon picked us up and we drove out into the heart of the Austrian Alps to a place called, Seewiesen. Christian and I didn't know exactly where we were going, and it wasn't a place that Simon (who is one of those mega-outdoorsy types) had hiked before. Apparently the internet told him that the hike was supposed to take only about four hours....
No. Not even if the world's greatest mountaineer took a 5 Hour Energy drink and ran the whole way. This is what we discovered once we finally reached the summit eight hours later. And it was really, really hard.
As it happens, the hike was, in total, just over twenty-one miles with the last quarter of it being along the side of a steep cliff face where it was less hiking and more rock climbing... with no rails... and no climbing gear... and our hiking packs on. For the entirety of the time I was having a serious Cheryl Strayed meets John Muir experience, meanwhile Simon is jumping from rock to rock like the Austrian mountain goat that he is and Christian played the silent pilgrim.
With that, I leave you my journal entry of this memory:
The weather was lovely. Warm and sunny mixed with clouds here and there. The first bit of the hike was making our way through loose rock riverbeds with decent sized rocks that we needed to be careful of so that we wouldn't hurt our ankles. About two hours into the hike I was feeling exhausted. That is when we saw the first hütte, but it was abandoned. The trees were beautiful with the sun streaming through all of the different shades of green and onto the path. We heard the beautiful sounds of so many birds.... This is something else that I actually noticed about Austria shortly after arriving-- the beauty of the songs that the birds sing. We noticed a small waterfall as we were hiking along a cliff edge which dropped off a ways to the stream from which the waterfall came. We walked through a fairly flat valley for a brief time, giving our legs a nice break from all of the climbing.
When I looked from left to right on the sides of the path, a meadow stretched out which was covered in bright yellow flowers-- the kind that have these small buds all clustered together-- and the air smelled sweet.
We passed the second hütte after a one-hour lunch break under some pine trees and discovered a small mountain spring with ice cold water which we used to splash our sweaty faces and fill our water bottles.
The water that I drank from streams in the mountains is easily the best water I have ever tasted.
We finally made it through a green and stoney valley that made me think of what the Scottish Highlands must look like in landscape, and then found ourselves having to climb a steep cliff-side to get to the top of the mountain range. The view from the top was surreal with dark clouds making their way toward us at a fast pace-- full of lightening and thunder-- and we still needed to go up. It felt good to finally be up high, but with nothing around to cover us, and being on top of a mountain, that lightening didn't make us feel great.
We began to hurry as much as our legs would allow and after going through a narrow pass, we ran into a heard of huge mountain goats grazing on the summit. I counted fourteen of these massive animals-- they were brown with large ribbed and slightly curved horns. While Simon and I decided to make a wide circle around them, Christian approached them with no fear, whistling and hollering at them so they would move off the trail. I could tell he used to be a shepherd.
Well, we finally reached our hütte about thirty minutes later. The building looked so strange in contrast to its setting. A large, grey, rectangular box with solar panels sitting on the top of this incredibly scenic mountain range.... Thankfully we got there just before the storm hit. As we approached the building we noticed Himalayan flags in the primary colors strung up all around.
We came into a very simple building from the outside, but the inside was a total contrast. It was eclectic and looked similar to a summer camp lodge. We settled, changed, and ordered dinner. That was probably the best spaghetti I have ever had. The dining room was filling with all sorts of people, but they all had one thing in common: love of outdoor adventure. It was like sitting in an Patagonia catalog, and I have to say-- I loved being surrounded by people who are proactive about living fully. It's inspiring. It was while we were eating that the storm came and settled over the mountain for the night. It arrived in a dense white fog and soon became a forest of lightening. It was amazing to watch and lasted well after we went to bed.
The room all three of us were in was a series of bunk beds with two to three mattresses in each slot. We were sharing the room with a good sized family, so the three of us shared a bunk on the top. Unfortunately we all found that we could hardly sleep at all. Simon slept the most with a total of maybe three hours. Initially we had all wanted to watch the sunset together, but due to the storm that was impossible. Instead, we decided to stand up at 05:00, get dressed, and head out for the sunrise at 05:15.
The wind was blowing fiercely as we walked up and suddenly there it was-- one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, outshining the sunrise we saw when we slept on the island rocks on Hydra. I didn't think anything could be more incredible than that moment.
There were multi-colored clouds and red sun coming up and through them, the rays forcing their ways in bright streams down onto the earth. Another layer of white clouds covered the range and wove in between the smaller peaks as they jetted up through the billowy air masses.
After breakfast we headed back down the mountain, taking only five and a half hours this time. Our feet felt awful and, shortly before getting into the car, we found a stream of cold water in the town where we took off our shoes and soaked our bloody, blistered feet for a while.
The trip was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Thank you, Jesus, for this experience.
There is just so much to say. It's been about three months, with my last entry being about my whimsical time in Paris visiting a couple of great friends.
So much has happened in these last three months... it feels like it's been a dream. This is precisely the reason why I carry my Moleskine journal just about everywhere. I never know when a moment that I wish I could freeze forever will happen, and writing it all down right away proves to be an effective way to help me later transport my mind right back to everything that moment had to offer-- the smells, the sounds, the textures-- those things that a photo simply cannot do justice.
Since I was so terrible at keeping up with my online journal during this time, I thought that instead of trying to quickly re-cap everything, instead I would bring you into a couple of our greatest memories over these last few months.These memories have not been categorized as just some of our favorite of the summer, but some of our favorites in life.
On the twentieth of July, Christian and I jumped in the back of our friend's minivan and headed out with him and his wife to Hallstatt-- a beautiful, storybook town in the middle of the Austrian Alps. The town is not built wide, but rather up since it is situated on the side of a mountain alongside a large lake, and only nine-hundred or so people call it "home." As it would happen, a family from the church in Baden own one of these homes which has been in their family for two-hundred of the four-hundred years of its existence. Here is my journal entry of this memory:
The drive to Hallstatt was beautiful. The sun covered the farmed Styrian valleys, and the mountains surrounded the land like great stone protectors. Hallstatt itself is even more beautiful than I could have imagined. Sitting on the very edge of a large lake, Hallstatt, we learned, dates back as a permanent settlement all the way to 2500 B.C., but they have found things even older here.
Chris met us in the parking lot and walked us up to their family home in the town center. He was accompanied by his youngest son, Jonathan.
The roads are narrow and the residences climb upwards on the side of the mountain. We walked up many old stone steps before we reached the house. We noticed the wood, the two-hundred-year-old ceramic tiles, the extra-low ceilings complimenting the extra-wide doors. There are small knick-knacks everywhere from Chris' family including a traditional three-hundred-year-old shepherd's coat hanging in the entry. As it happens, Chris' grandfather was a local potter and painter for twenty-five years, so the home is filled with his handmade mugs, plates, bowls....
After getting some groceries at the market, we went on a short evening walk in the rain. (I don't think I have ever regretted walking in the rain.) The clouds had settled around the mountains giving the town a dark, romantic look and feel which made me think of that type of literature-- the kind that the Brontë sisters would write.
I also observed the lone, white castle across the lake. It sits by itself, ruins of a time when it once saw what I imagine to be a great companionship. A beautiful place, now empty-- forgotten looking. I noticed the clouds rolling over the mountains like waves in slow motion, ebbing and flowing between the great stone crevasses and over the bold peaks. I like that mountains are like nature's steeples, pointing upward toward the heavens. I wish to be more like the mountains-- at the mercy of my Creator by steadfast, strong, confidently unique in my way of pointing the otherwise wandering eye heavenward.
This morning, Christian and I woke up early to watch the sunrise. We read Psalm 90, made some espresso, which we poured into two of those clay mugs, and walked down to the lake. There is a small island off the shore that is attached by a bridge. The island has a couple of narrow wooden benches which we sat on while we watched the town. It was so quiet and still-- the sun had not yet shone its face over the peaks.
Around 08:45, our hosts, Chris and Katie, their two sons (Simon and Jonathan) and the four of us visitors went up the mountain (where their house is built) to a lookout. After walking around up there, seeing the old Celtic ruins and taking it all in, Chris, Katie, their sons and Christian and I decided to continue on a roundabout hike which continued upward and around the backside of the mountain. The views were unreal.
We walked behind a huge rock face with five waterfalls, through a glacier pass and then through these mountain meadows filled with the such colorful wildflowers. We filled our water bottles in mountain streams, played alphabet games, and climbed around in the clearest, aquamarine pools.The most excellent way to finish up our Hallstatt experience.
I am so glad that I get to share this memory with you guys, and I hope it succeeded in transporting you into this small but profound piece of the world for the minutes it took to read this.
Up next: our crazy hike up to Schiestlhaus!
A few months ago, back when we were looking up flights to come to Austria, I curiously checked to see how much it would cost for me to fly from Vienna to Paris to see some good friends of ours who live there. It's not a secret that once you're in Europe, flights between major cities can be dirt cheap, so I figured, "Hey, I can dream, right?"
As it would turn out, I found a flight that I like to refer to as "destiny." A round-trip ticket to Paris from Vienna for less than $100!!!
Since my birthday was coming up, Christian and I agreed that this would be a great treat for me to be able to fly to Paris for a few days to see our friends, using our own money, as not only a birthday gift, but also Christian's sweet way of saying "thank you" for walking through six years of studies with him.
Paris was... just... wow. I will admit that I thought that most people that I knew who had gone to Paris were romanticizing it just a little too much, but I also love the history that Paris holds of all these wonderful artists who have found inspiration there.
Immediately after I got there, I took a few different trains to this one cafe where one of my friends happened to be competing in a barista competition. It was so fun to watch her do her thing and to meet so many interesting people from Parisian cafes all over the city. As it would happen, I was dressed identically (I mean, IDENTICALLY (same hair, same socks, same everything)) as an Australian girl who was also competing. Don't worry, we got a picture together. It was lightly raining and the air smelled like wet concrete mixed with ground coffee beans. It was perfect. And things only got better from there.
You guys, Paris blew me away. It took all of five minutes for me to fall in love with that city.
Of course, it rained almost the whole time I was there, but I decided it's true: Paris is the most beautiful in the rain. My trip was filled with the most walking and rain-soaked bicycle riding and I wouldn't trade a second of it. The first time I saw Notre Dame was at night, all lit up and beautiful against the sky. The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower was when I cycled around a corner and it was staring all huge and beautiful right at me. It made me catch my breath. I got a coffee at Shakespeare and Company and bought myself a copy of The Little Prince (one of my favorites). My friends also showed me their favorite bookshop that was only a few blocks away from S&Co. It was a tiny hole in the wall bookstore with old books and new. It had that musty smell-- a combination of yellowed book pages and three-hundred year old cellars. It was there that I found used copies of my first Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It was so tightly packed that I could barely walk through without knocking high piles of free standing books all over the floor.
I also discovered a new favorite cafe. An adorable place with lots of natural light, exposed brick, robin's egg blue tables with fresh wildflowers and a neon pink sign. I can't even handle how much I loved this cafe.
I was able to eat my first eclair on the steps of the trocadero. I was able to eat pain au chocolat on the steps of Sacre Coeur, overlooking the city.
Basically, this was the best birthday/thank you gift Christian could have given me. Thanks, love.
Here are some photos of this incredible place, friends! I hope they will inspire you to go, yourself!