The Observer

Travel with no purpose other than seeing how big the world is. Look at the mountains, see the shores of a new ocean, eat strange and crunchy foods, talk to people in a language that is different than your own. Look at the city streets with big eyes. Take in all the savory (and sometimes revolting) smells. Cover your ears when the screeching buses drive by. Travel far beyond the land you know and learn how to exist in a new place. 

It’s easy to minimize the value of travel for the sake of travel. If you are a global-minded person like me, you might feel the need to travel with a very tangible purpose. You know, the classic mission to save the world kind of thing, build the new school house, teach the English class…

But why not travel just to see new places and faces? I don’t think we realize how wonderfully transforming, rewarding, and even generous it can be to enter a place as nothing more than an observer.

I just got back from a two and a half week backpacking adventure around Peru, and I think my eyes are still trying to come to terms with the beauty that they saw–everything from soaring mountains, rolling sand dunes, and waves over the Pacific Ocean to the sweetest of kittens, people with overwhelming pride for their country, and plenty of honest conversations about the world’s struggles. This trip as an observer was something special. Here is my best attempt to explain why that was the case:

  1. Marveling at the earth’s rugged, dangerous beauty. On this trip, we did many activities for the sole purpose of seeing more of the planet. We hiked canyons and climbed mountains and crossed streams while looking up at dazzling waterfalls, and we did most of this at elevations that would (seriously) take your breath away. It was truly amazing, and as cliche as it sounds, I really did gain a whole new appreciation for this amazing planet and the awesome power of the God who made it. I don’t think I would have come away in the same amount of awe if I didn’t take these hikes just so I could see more beautiful things.
  2. Seeing and appreciating a daily-life different than my own. I’ve been on several international trips that allowed me to participate in the day-to-day tasks of the locals. This trip gave me the chance to watch the daily activities from a distance, and in some ways (although definitely not all the ways) it was more authentic. This time around, people weren’t hosting me. They were just doing, and I liked to watch that. There is something to be said for simply watching how a person lives, noting the differences, and coming away with a better understanding of the person or people involved. I was able to remember how good I have things in the US (flushing toilet paper, drinking tap water, and air conditioning), while not getting stuck in the mindset of “oh these poor people are so impoverished and they have no idea what luxuries are out there in the rest of the world.” There was no looking down on the people or the situation, but there was plenty of learning and appreciating.
  3. Not being the hero. Going off of simply appreciating another way of living, I did not leave this trip feeling like I did something amazing for the people there. I was not the hero. I did not want to be the hero. I interacted with plenty of locals, heard their stories, and shared smiles. Without me coming with something to offer (in the form of English classes or donations) we were equals, and we got to share in the human experience of being equals…honestly, I wish I had the words for how insanely valuable this kind of interaction is. I don’t today, but I do know that it gives worth to everyone involved.
  4. Global conversations with global friends. Finally, one of my favorite parts of this entire trip was the may conversations I had with people from every corner of the world. Staying in hostels and going on group treks left me with friends from Brazil, Israel, Malaysia, Germany, Switzerland, England, and Canada. While observing all that Peru had to offer, we also had plenty of conversations about our own countries and their advantages and shortcomings. Getting an outsiders perspective on the American education system and Trump’s current presidency was a very enriching experience. It was even more enriching when you consider we were having such conversations while hiking through some of the prettiest mountains in the world. Sharing the journey with other observational traveller is one of the best parts of this kind of adventure.
  5. Getting dirty. You can’t do much observing from the comfort of a hotel room. This trip allowed me to fully embrace the joys of confusing grocery stores and jam-packed vans, but it also allowed me a real and true, up-close view of the country I was visiting. I wasn’t watching through a window, I was negotiating with taxi drivers and talking with the lady about her alpaca sweaters. Observational travel doesn’t mean ignoring the people, it means interacting without gifts or advice, just allowing yourself to live life alongside them.

Let me conclude by saying that this post isn’t written as an attack on mission trips or cruise ships. It’s just an attempt for me to reflect on my overwhelming thankfulness for this adventure I just experienced.

I know traveling isn’t easy or cheap, but if you ever get the chance to go…buy the plane ticket and the cheap hostel rooms, scramble along the mountain path, walk through the market, learn how to live in a new place, and look with wide eyes on the world in front of you. Its beyond worth it.

 

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Adventure near.

When I tell you to think of ADVENTURE, I bet you see mountain tops, airplanes, foreign markets, boats on big oceans, and weird foods (well, that’s what I’ve always thought of). However, as any big life event always does, graduation has caused me to revisit my definition of this sweet word that I love so much.

I just graduated–I’m going to keep saying that until the truth actually sets in–and with graduating, I wished a lot of special people good luck with their next adventure. Medical school in Kentucky. Graduate school in Georgia. Missions in the Middle East. Teaching in Colombia. You get the idea.

Leading up to the big day, I had countless conversations with friends that went something along the lines of “I can’t wait to get out of here! I’m so excited to start (fill in the blank with their next step). Can you believe we finally made it?!” And I sat there nodding along with a smile, because my next step wasn’t taking me very far.

I chose to stay. A few days before graduation I was offered my dream job. It just happened to be at the exact same school with the exact same department I had been working with for most of my undergraduate career. This job also gave me the opportunity to get my masters…in the same subject I had been studying for the last four years. As everyone was preparing to depart for the ends of the earth, I was preparing to invest even more deeply in the same community I had come to know so well. I was thrilled, but I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to express this thrill to others.

With graduation comes the pressure to move on to new things. You see, leading up to the big day I also had some conversations with friends that went along the lines of “I feel like I should do something different, but I really just want to stay where I have community. Is it wrong to stay here because I have connections? What if I am just staying here because it is comfortable? I have a good job lined up, but what if there is something better that I am ignoring because it is far away?”

Graduation is the time to start new adventures, but I think we are being foolish if we say adventure has to be far away.

My next step is an adventure. Again, I am someone that loves thoughts of airplanes and mountains and weird foods, but now I am also someone that believes it is possible to adventure near.

Investing in a community is adventure. Taking on a new role with more responsibilities is adventure. Diving into one’s studies is adventure.

I’m not one to argue that staying in your comfort zone is a good thing, but I also don’t think that the only way to get out of your comfort zone involves moving around the world. It is absolutely possible to step out of your comfort zone through daily actions–seek friendships that challenge you, do your job with excellence, ask the big questions–this is adventure too.

So friends, don’t limit yourself, but also don’t be afraid to adventure near, because you never know what discoveries that might hold.

 

 

Dare to…

In a month and a few days, I will be travelling to Peru with my best friend. We will spend two weeks there exploring the Andes and Machu Picchu, looking through markets, trying new foods, speaking with locals, hiking though canyons. We will figure out hostel situations and work through bus schedules. We will experience altitude. We will do all of these things that we have done before and love all the more because of it.

We love it. Our explorer hearts rejoice in this kind of thing.

But with the announcement of our summer plans comes the usual, well-meaning questions.

But aren’t you scared to travel just the two of you? Are your worried that the hostels won’t be very nice? Are you concerned about safety?

The answer is yes, but we dare to go anyway. Let me explain why.

There is this quote by Donald Miller that I love:

The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is “Do not fear.” It is in there over two hundred times. That means a couple things, if you think about it. It means we are going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn’t let fear boss us around.

No one should deny that travel (especially travel to foreign countries) can be scary, and it’s scary for a reason. There are legitimate dangers that need to be considered, and I do not want to minimize that in any way. Nevertheless, I argue that these fears/dangers/scary things should never keep us away from travel as a whole.

Fear should not rule our lives. If fear ruled my life, I would never have gone to Mexico with a group of 40 strangers. I wouldn’t have planned a trip to Colombia and Ecuador for me and my best friend. I wouldn’t have traveled alone to Colombia to teach English. I wouldn’t be planning for Peru this summer. But I dared to. I dared to take the risks. I dared to talk to strangers. I dared to try new things. I dared to be friends with people very different than me.

Can we be even more real about this for a second? If I let fear rule my life, I honestly doubt I would ever leave my room. Fear is real and crippling. I can look back and see many times in my life that I allowed it to control me, and those were not pretty times. Fear is real and scary. Fear itself is scary.

But you know the thing about fear? Even when we cannot get rid of it (if anyone has figured out a way to do this please let me know, because I haven’t been able to do that yet), we can look that fear in the face and dare to step beyond it.

Dare to live life in spite of fear.

Dare to travel.

Dare to make new friends.

Dare to speak in a new language.

Dare to explore a new place.

Dare to hike the mountain.

Dare to take the hard class.

Dare to speak up.

Dare to…

At the end of the day, dare to trust that there is a God who is greater than any fear we can ever encounter, and dare to believe that He wants you to live a life bigger than that fear.

Dare to.

Photo above: reaching the glacier on Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador. Elevation apprx. 16,000ft. 

The curve in the road.

I’ve been journeying down this road for a while now. For the longest time, I thought I knew exactly where it was taking me, but now I’m not so sure. There is a curve ahead, and I can’t see beyond it just yet. It gets closer every day I go forward, but I still don’t know what’s on the other side. I feel that it is good, but I do not know. Still, I keep going. 


I write this as I sit on my couch thinking about a big curve that’s coming up in my life–a curve called graduation. I don’t know what’s behind it, but I do feel that it is good. Most of the time…if I’m being honest, sometimes I’m just plain scared. The unknown curves can do that to you. Still, I can sit here most days and say that I believe there is good coming, and I say that because, even though the curve is unknown, I know the road and I know that the road is good.

Last semester I took a senior course for my major called Capstone, and in this class we talked a lot about calling. And even as I participated in many enjoyable and thought-provoking discussions about the topic, I struggled to identify God’s specific calling in my life. I was stuck waiting for some AHA! moment, an arrow in the sky, or some wise words that said “Yes. This is what you need to do. This is your calling.” And even though I knew my passions, any attempts at labeling a specific career path as “my calling” seemed more like my own created label rather than God’s hand in my life. It seemed limiting…probably because it was.

I’m walking on a road that has twists and turns and, more often than not, I don’t know exactly where I am going. Still I keep walking the road, because that is my calling. I know my calling is to love people. It’s simple, it’s broad, and I believe without a shadow of a doubt that it is a calling from God. I do not know what this calling will look like (even though I definitely have desires); I cannot see beyond the curves. Still I keep walking–in the face of scary interviews, possible rejection, and changes galore–because I know the road of loving people is good, and for this I feel that there is good ahead.