New York City’s Gallery

IMG_6217

I have felt for a while that I can not truly appreciate other cities and other cultures unless I take the time to look in depth at my own. The best way to understand a country is to move around in it, to explore its cities as well as its countrysides. Living overseas made me realize that I need to see more of the United States as well. Arriving in New York City from South America was an opportunity to do just that.

Every since I was a little girl, I wanted to visit New York City. I once had a guidebook for the city that I would read like I read a piece of classic literature. For me, visiting was much more than mere sightseeing. It was about finding a core understanding.

The city has always seemed larger than life, but I was surprised to find a logical rhythm, a pulse that made sense to walk in. In many ways, the city feels like the cultural heartbeat of this nation. Yet, I know that if you only experience this part of the United States and live ignorant of what lies beyond, you only understand in part. More than anything else, the city seems to represent a gateway flowing out into the vast land IMG_6195and the diverse people living in it.

In the mid 19th century and onward, diversity increased as immigrants, arriving with sparks of hope and fear, took up residency in New York City. In the face of time and change, diversity and the ebbs and flows of hope mingled with fear still remain today.

I enjoyed New York City because it is a place filled with people from all walks of life, people who are growing and struggling and leaving traces of their lives upon the generations who came before them.

It is a museum inhabited by the thousands. It is a gallery of architecture, sound, and smell. It is history moving and becoming.

And this, truly, is any and all great cities withstanding the test of time.

IMG_6171
Brooklyn Bridge

 

IMG_6201
St. Patricks Cathedral

 

 

IMG_6200
5th Avenue

 

 

 

I Am Not Defeated

IMG_5566 (2)

It coils itself around me, squeezing and choking the life out of every ounce of hope and joy I have. The world around me grows darker as I watch life move around me, but I find myself unable to participate, unable to feel what others feel. Their joy seems foreign and uncomfortable. Their pain is too much because I cannot help. All I feel is the pain: pain that pulses with grief and ices over with numbness.

There is an inky black heaviness that hangs on me. I cannot clean it off. I look up searching for help only to find myself sinking. The light above me grows dimmer.

It is here that I sit. Choaking, dirty, and out of reach.

The only option is to hide. I tell myself that if I hide I will not be too much. I can fade into the background of life itself, which is exactly where I want to be, and I will be safe there. I will not disappoint, but I will comfortably remain disappointed in myself. Except, this is a lie. This place hurts people. It hurts the people I love. This is a burden I cannot bear, and so I sink deeper.

I tell myself that if I push people away they will leave, and I will feel justified. And so I sink deeper.

The real war rages not against the people around me. It rages against myself. There is an internal hatred so cunning, so clever, that I do not know how to fight.

This, as I have learned over the years, is depression. It has been a constant companion for as far back as I can remember. What an oxymoron. The truth is, I did not know that I struggled with depression until I was in my third year of university. I thought that this was simply the result of my melancholy personality. Granted, it was a part of my personality that I abhorred. It was also something that I passively accepted.

I can still remember the moment my eyes opened the fact that I was struggling with something that I thought to be intrinsic to who I was as a person. I wish I could say that, upon this realization, I was delivered and free. Yet, realization and resolution mark only the beginnings of change.

Every time I find myself in this place, before the initial realization of what this place is and after, it has been accompanied by a deep shame. The shame is not simply wrapped in the fact that I am broken. We are all broken people in the process of healing, wishing the healing to be accomplished because the process is painful. The shame is the result of my relationship with God.

This place feels so far from God. In fact, more times than not, this place feels as if God is absent. I cannot see Him here; I cannot hear Him here. Worst of all, I cannot feel His love here. I cannot understand why His salvation does not eradicate my struggle. I cannot understand why His love is not powerful enough to pull me out of this place. I want to know where the instantaneous rescue is when I am here. I need all of the triggers to be identified and abolished. I need the healing, not the process.

This leads me to the present. Just this past month, I struggled with my most longstanding bought of depression. As the weeks turned into a month, I sank further into the realms of hopelessness and confusion. Standing on the other side of this, I can say that I have been wading through a place of aftershock. I am having to rebuild, to some extent, my very theology.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to share my testimony at a Bible study. I wanted to fight against this because I have often felt so discouraged with the lack of clear and exact deliverance in my story. But a testimony is not the radical shift from imperfection to perfection. It is a process of grace. It is a loving God working through our dirt and chokeholds to move us toward healing. At least, this is what I have been learning.

If my life is anything, it is a testimony to the fact that God holds on to those He loves. It does not seem to matter how far down I sunk or how much I doubted His love and capability in this midst of this place. He has always been there. He is the thin strand of light that somehow pierces through the darkness that seems to choke the life out all that is good in my life. He is the relationship that will not leave no matter how much I try to push it away. He is also a provider.

Over the past five years, as I have gone through the process of discovering what my battle is and actually attempting to fight to stand in a healthy place, He has provided relationships in my life that, by His grace alone, continue to fight for me and love me, even in the darkest places.

I continue to learn the painful joy of vulnerability in relationships. I continue to step into a classroom and find joy in the hearts and minds of my students even if, just moments before, my eyes were rimmed with tears and strength seemed absent. I continue to disappoint, and I continue to be forgiven.

It is here that I stand. Free, found, and breathing in the depth of life.

As I stand here at the beginning of twenty-six years, I have no idea what the next twenty-six have in store. I can retell countless joys in my life, and I can dive into an ocean of overwhelming sorrow. I wish I could tell you that I once struggled with depression, but thanks be to God I overcame.

I can tell you that I struggle with depression, and thanks be to God I am not defeated.

 

 

 

Touristing in Bogotá

IMG_5633
Plaza de Bolivar

Some of my favorite adventures so far have been ones that I could not give you an exact geographical location for until I got there. My geographical understanding of Latin America continues to increase. Last week I took a last minute trip to Bogotá, Colombia, and it turned out to be the perfect getaway.

I originally planned on staying in Caracas for spring break, but I quickly realized that I needed a little more than endless downtime at home. I love exploring, and I was able to do so much of it in Bogotá.

Bogotá, from what I have been told, has evolved much over the past several years. It is IMG_5626becoming such a cultural destination. To me, it felt like a combination of cultural encounters. The city seemed to combine traits of Latin America, Europe, and the United States, and there was much diversity of people within the city.

Just yesterday I was thinking back over this trip, trying to gather together the bits of experience in order to create a stronger sense of understanding. I could not help but wonder if the city would have felt a little different if I had not lived in Caracas for the past year and a half. Would the European and Stateside city undertones be a little less, well, vibrant? Would I only see one culture instead of a cultural myriad?

In this, it felt like an ideal getaway. The food was fantastic, and, for me, food is such a part of any experience. The sights were a breath of fresh air, and the freedom to walk around and simply be a tourist was ideal.

The truth is, I love being a tourist, but I want to be the type of tourist who does not merely bring a monocultural expectation. I want to be open and engaged in wherever I am.

IMG_5663.JPG
Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Carmen

I also love simply getting lost in a city and wandering around until I find one of those idealistic destinations on my list. My first day of actual exploration was spent wandering around, finding myself in little cafés and restaurants completely unplanned, finding myself standing in Plaza de Bolívar, and stumbling upon a candy-cane striped church.

I discovered a few distinctive cultural differences between Caracas and Bogotá, as well as some similarities, while I was there.

First, arepas and empanadas in the two counties are different. I did not necessarily think they would be the same, but it was fun to discover how they are different. I do not know that I could choose a favorite.

Another difference is the transportation systems. In Caracas, the main means of transportation is the metro underground and the bus above ground. In Bogotá, the bus and metro are seemingly combined into what is called the transmilenio. There is some controversy over the effectiveness of the transmilenio, but I enjoyed it, even if it was confusing for me because I was able to see more of the city this way. IMG_5648

A similarity between Caracas and Bogotá is the use of distinctive keywords. For example, I was not sure if both countries used “chao” to say goodbye, but it seems that they do.

There was also that ever-present warmth about the people in Bogotá, just as there is in Carcas. My favorite encounter occurred while riding the transmilenio into the heart of the city. A sweet lady was sitting beside me, and she attempted to start up a conversation. My Spanish is the bare minimum, so I told her I do not speak much of the language at all. She just smiled and said, “Esta bien. Me gustan los extranjeros.” (“That’s okay. I like foreigners.”)

Memories That Move Us Forward

If I tried to recount all that life has entailed in the past year, I would find a common theme throughout. There is a theme of the power of memory. More than this, as much as memories can be somewhat painful, they are nothing short of a gift.

Life is a compilation of memories. It seems to be these very memories that move us forward. Perhaps they are somewhat of the symphonic sounds interplaying with time itself.

Some memories stay with us, strong and vibrant. Others fade and sometimes seemingly disappear. You can learn a lot about a person by the memories that are vivid and the ones that have faded away.

I have collected memories over the course of this past year. The painful ones, including the loss of friendship and the death of a student, along with all the memories that go with each of these, are reminders that life is a gift but this world is not enough. They serve to show that we are incapable of loving the way another needs to be loved, but, because of grace, we can allow God to love others through us, if even for a season.

The joyful memories include being engulfed in the beauty of creation, times when the family is piled into the living room, heartfelt voices singing out, the kindness of students, and long conversations with dear friends. Each of these reminds me that we are created for community and that joy is often a result of knowing sorrow.

Memories are threaded through tears cried because we feel overwhelmed and incapable. They are the testimony of His faithfulness when we doubt it and when we feel it most present in our lives. They are proof of battles that, in His strength, we have overcome, and reminders that when we fail again, we are neither desolate nor abandoned.

In the stillness of this afternoon, I am overwhelmed by joy and sorrow that flows in and out of my life. I am overwhelmed by the memories. Most of all, I am thankful for the memories. All of them. They go with me into this new year. They add to the collection of new memories that will be made.

Canaima: A Place Where Time Stands Still

“Keep close to nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” -John Muir

img_5129

The beauty of Canaima itself went far beyond expectations. The best way I can find to describe it to people is that it is a place that feels somewhat untouched by time. It’s a place where time seems to stands still.

img_5125
Where the hike to Angel Falls begins

I spent three days there. The days were filled with hikes, boat rides, and glorious waters. The evenings were still and peaceful. The hushed roar of a waterfall could be heard in the distance, and the stars were oh so bright.

img_5052
Means of travel

I’ve come to find that some of the most brightly painted memories in my mind are those of first moments. They are moments of turning a corner, moments of encounter. In these moments, longing meets reality or, at least, the potential thereof.

img_5174
Angel Falls from the camp

The moment the boat reached the place in the river where I beheld Angel Falls for the first time, and the moments I hiked through trees until I beheld the waterfall in all of its magnitude, these are some those brightly colored moments.

img_5145
One of my personal favorites
img_5076
This is another fantastic waterfall in Canaima. I went behind this roaring wall to get to the spot I was standing at.
img_5091
This is the top of the waterfall pictured above.
img_5098
Yet another powerful display
img_5061
This is the waterfall above as seen from the boat.

Mountaintops and Things that Matter

IMG_4073Tomorrow I fly home. It’s hard to believe that it has been six months since I last saw family and friends, but it has been. I cannot say that I did not give it my all, that I did not pray and invest every part of me into being all here. It was my intention to do so, and, by God’s grace, in many ways I did. There were days when I was tired, days when it was hard to focus, days when I dreamt of being in a thousand other places.

I am reminded that the things I invested in mattered, even during the times when I felt like I didn’t. The students mattered more than they probably realize. My teaching mattered, even if it often seemed like nothing more convoluted attempts. My relationships with co-workers and locals mattered, even in the midst of chaotic transition. The many adventures I found myself on mattered because I often found myself tested, and living, and learning.

Last Saturday I hiked all the way to the top of El Avila. I climbed mountains and challenged myself physically as well as mentally. I’m thankful that I did not do it alone because that eight-hour hike was a reminder of how much I need people.

The hike was worth every step. Sitting at the top, looking out over the city, I was reminded of why mountains act as metaphors. It takes work to get to the top, and the thing that matters most is the fact that there are many mountaintops, but the valleys, the descending and ascending, all of this is what makes the experience.

IMG_4067

That hike mattered.

The choice to continue matters.

Above all, the One who created all of the things that matter and whose presence is infused into them matters most of all. I cannot wrap my mind and my heart around all that God is. I can sit on top of a mountain; I can cry sorrow drenched tears; I can laugh until my sides ache; I can follow the Spirit wherever the Father leads, but I cannot completely comprehend all that He is. Yet, He is the most worthy investment. All other things that I invest my mind, body, heart, and spirit in fade like the moon without the sun’s reflection, without His reflection on the things in my life.

A Little Glimpse of Aruba

I’m no photographer, but these are my attempts to capture this tiny island’s beauty through the lens of my phone. Aruba does not hold quite as much culture as some of the other destinations because its main focus is tourism. It does offer gorgeous sunsets and crystal blue water.

IMG_3701 (2)
Spring Break meant a hop and a skip away to the tiny island of Aruba.
IMG_3707
There’s something incredibly peaceful, even freeing, about watching the sunset no matter where you are in the world.
IMG_3777
Boats of all shapes and sizes constantly move in and out of the island’s shores.
IMG_3704
The island is one of the ABC (Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire)  islands in the Carribean.
IMG_3729
Salt, sand, shade, and a good book makes for a blissful break.