Sunday, May 19, 2013

That Texas Sky

If y'all remember, my very first blog post was about driving through Texas (Waco to Houston) on the way to the airport for my european adventure.  There was a gorgeous sunset in the incredible Texas sky, and I appreciated it's beauty as I said goodbye.

Now, I want to tell you about driving through Texas (Houston to Waco) on the way back to Baylor from the airport, after finishing my european adventure.

(But I didn't take any pictures this time, sorry.  And it will be a bit more emotional.  Sorry.)

My friend Thomas was driving Jaime & I back to Waco, but we had not found a ride to his car, which was parked in Houston, but not at the airport.  Luckily after spending three months in Europe and mastering every city's public transportation system in every language, finding a bus into the city from the airport and a train from a bus stop to a place near where his car was parked was a breeze.  I mean, duh, it was all in english.

Anyways, I wasn't really excited to come back to the states, to say the least.  As soon as we got on the road on the bus from the airport, I noticed how insanely ugly all the buildings are, and I was just disgusted.  I sat there trying to think positive thoughts and remind myself over and over again the few things that I like better about America "ice.  free water.  free bathrooms.  ice.  free water.  free bathrooms..." but it wasn't really working.

Until I caught sight of downtown Houston.  I think my jaw literally dropped.  I just starred for a while.  The buildings made me think of outer space; they looked so new, so foreign, so modern, so huge!  I had gotten used to european cities and forgotten what american cities looked like.  Of course, I like Europe better, but I was just stricken by how incredible our cities are here.  Growing up right outside of Chicago, I guess I had always just taken them for granted, but american city skylines from the outside looking in are actually insanely cool.

Anyways, after our american public transportation adventure and realizing there was not nearly enough room in Thomas's car for all our stuff, but by some miracle fitting it all in, we got on the road to Waco.

Now, there is something about driving through Texas that's just right.  We had a blast singing, dancing, joking, laughing, and eating taco bell, but we also had three hours to debrief and talk about the transition.  We all weren't ready to leave each other and go back to our separate Baylor friends that we were scared we could no longer relate to, and we were trying to figure out how to live like we did on the trip, but back in Waco.  I don't remember everything that was said, but I do remember that it was absolutely perfect.

And God provided the most beautiful sunset I think I have seen in my whole life.  As we drove it just took over the sky for maybe an hour, slowly descending and gradually painting the sky each color, one by one, in the most indescribably beautiful way possible.  As we watched the sky turn colors and listen to the perfect song, we all held back tears as we realized that our adventure doesn't have to be over.  We can still travel.  We are changed people, and just because we are returning to the states doesn't mean we have to turn back into the people we were when we last lived here.  We shared a beautiful life-changing semester, and we will never be the same.

When the sun finally fell completely, the sky was left with a perfect rainbow on the horizon all around.  It was absolutely beautiful.

On that car ride, I realized something that probably seems obvious to you, but was a huge deal to me: Life isn't ending just because the most amazing three months of my life so far are ending.  Every day is an adventure and an opportunity to explore and learn and grow.  God's plans for my life are bigger than the last three months.

It's so good to reflect and reminisce on the amazing time I had studying abroad, but I am also excited to move forward.

In July, I will be taking off for a month in Kenya to serve the people, teach them skills to equipe them for a better future, share the Light and Love of Christ, and preach God's Word.

I am beyond blessed that I get to do this, especially right after God has so clearly put the rest of the world on my heart.  It's been so evident that He has a plan in all this, and I am really just along for the ride.  Sometimes I don't get why, often I doubt, and occasionally I get frustrated at Him, but lately He has overwhelmed me with signs of Himself working in my life and giving me peace.  It has been absolutely incredible.

So now that study abroad is over, as I move forward on my journey and head to Kenya, this blog will transform to document my experiences there.  So if you want to know how the trip is going, this is the place to be!

If you would like to help me on my trip, I still have some needs for humanitarian donation items to bring, finances, and lots and lots and LOTS of prayer.  So please let me know if you're interested in helping me out in any of these and I can give you more information!  It was be greatly appreciated!

I can't wait to watch God move.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Italy Part Two: Rome, etc.

Throughout the second half of our time spent in Italy, we explored the more southern parts of Italy, starting in Rome.

We spent two days in Rome; the first seeing all the old, classic Rome places.  I am going to tell you about my experience at each of these by including a bit of my journal entry from each one, since it's been so long!

Circo Massimo: "When we got out of the train station and headed towards the old Roman sites, we randomly came across a huge field full of people dressed up in ancient roman gear, acting like their outfit choices are completely natural: sitting with friends, eating, drinking water, talking, feeding babies... it was the strangest thing.... Hundreds.  Everywhere.  An unimaginable amount.

That was the weirdest part.... It did kind of serve to get us in the mood for our day of exploring ancient Rome and get us excited about it as we imagined being one of them dressed up in a beautiful toga with flowers in our hair and falling in love with a gladiator... we were ready to see the ruins."

Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum: "Walking through the gardens and stadiums and houses and various aspects of ancient roman life... made the craziness of history and particularly Bible times really come alive.  Seeing how people lived so far from God and actually witnessing evidence of Pagan worship.... Seeing the places where this stuff happened was insane and eyeopening.  Feeling so close to antiquity made me realize how insignificant right now is and how we are just another tiny piece of a huge, fascinating, weird history."

The Colleseum: "The building was amazing, sure, but it was hard... to be joyful and excited and cheery about it as all the tourists around us seamed to be.  We were reflecting on what went down in the place we were standing about 2000 years ago and how utterly heartbreaking ancient roman society is.  It's weird because they were brillant intellectually, artistically, and architecturally, but they had such ridiculously nonexistent morals."

The Pantheon: "Exhausted, lost, and laughing, we finally found the Pantheon only to find it had just been converted into another basilica (which we've seen about a million of) completely crowded with tourists." (Despite our lack of enthusiasm, it is really cool because it is the best surviving structure from ancient Rome.  So there's that.)

Trevi Fountain: "The Trevi Fountain shocked me a little bit-- it was beautiful.... And it was kind of a magical place.  Everyone happily throwing coins in (and knowing the money goes to charity!) and joyfully making wishes... it was such a happy, perfect place where EVERYONE believed in magic, even if just for a moment.  Any age, from anywhere, everyone was enchanted by Rome and embracing the magic of the city... Chances are everyone is really wishing for the same things: travel, love, or prosperity.  it's funny how, when it comes down to it, everyone wants the same things.  Which is just another reminder that we need God!"

For, our second day in Rome, we went to Vatican City and explored the Vatican Museum all afternoon, after waiting in line for over an hour in the rain!  It was very worth it though; it was probably my favorite museum that I have been to in all of Europe.  I will explain about my two favorite parts of the museum using exerts from my journal (again, I know, I'm getting tired of blogging, sorry, I can no longer come up with new things to say in here so I just copy parts of my journal).

Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" in the Sistine Chapel: "Looking at the little square right in the middle of the ceiling of the most gorgeously painted room ever (the walls and ceiling completely covered by Michael Angelo's depictions of various Bible stories or Christian imagery)... what really hit me was the message of the painting.  God reaching down to us, humanity, but we are too lazy to make the tiny extra stretch to grab his reaching hand.  It hurts my heart to look at that picture and see how our sin separates us and so evidently prevents us from getting to God."

(sorry I don't have a picture for this one, they are not permitted in the Sistine Chapel!)

Raphael's Room of Segnatura (one of the four reception rooms of the Palace of the Vatican covered in frescoes painted by Raphael): "This room is split into four parts by the four walls all the way through the ceiling, each section filled with paintings representing one of the branches of humanistic learning: Poetry, Philosophy, Justice, and Theology.  The main, huge painting on the wall for philosophy was "The School of Athens," a painting I had studied a bit in class last year, and I was completely awestricken upon seeing it.  I starred at the painting, recognizing Raphael's depictions of the famous philosophers and noticing my favorites.... I felt like I was a part of something.  I've studied and read and know these philosophers just like Raphael...  I'm connected to this ancient painter....  The previous reception rooms that Raphael painted had frescoes of Christian history and Bible stories, many of which I could recognize their story upon first glance.  I stood in this incredible room, under this incredible painting, feeling like I understand.  Feeling very small, but a part of something very big."
Unrelated: Also in Vatican City, I had one of my absolute FAVORITE pieces of pizza in Italy: fresh out of the ovan and completely covered in fresh veggies!  Yum!

After our time in Rome for the end of our independent travel, we got to stay with Jaime's parents for two days because they decided to take a trip to Italy while Jaime was in Europe!  We stayed in a lovely little apartment in the middle of a national park outside of Isernia with an absolutely gorgeous view.

With Jaime's parents, we took day trips (by car!  Absolutely crazy-- we hadn't been in a car since we got to Europe!) to Pompeii and Caserta, and explored some other parts of the more southern parts of Italy.

Walking through the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii was a really neat experience.  Pompeii was a city in ancient Rome that was not far from a dormant volcano, which the ancient romans thought was just a mountain, until it exploded, completely destroying the city and killing everyone.  Since then, the ruins have been uncovered, revealing what typical life in ancient Rome looked like.  As has become the norm for this final travel blog post, I will include an exert from my journal to explain some of my thoughts while exploring:

"They were so smart and advanced and shockingly civilized for how long ago it was.  Some of their architecture, ideas, lifestyle, etc. just amazed me.  The thing that once again hit me (but way way way harder this time) was how huge their sin and unpleasing attitude toward God was: we saw depressing brothels where there were paintings on the walls from which you could order what you wanted from the prostitute like a menu at a restaurant-- it was sickening.  We saw pagan temples and places where sacrifices were made to gods that do not exist.  We saw evidence of a culture of self-service, greed, power, and self worship around every corner.  We saw the remains of a city that was completely neglecting God.  Even worse was realizing how much our modern civilization and culture mirrors all of it."

We still had a ton of fun wandering around the ruins, imagining what life was like for the highly civilized ancient romans.

On a more positive note, afterwards, we drove along the Amalfi coast, witnessing the classic beautiful Italian scenery, and stopped for gelato and a bit of shopping.

For our last day in Italy, we explored the breathtakingly gorgeous gardens of the Reggia de Caserta, the palace where previous Italian monarchs lived.  It was absolutely beautiful, and as we walked around, we would find random chapels, temples, baths, buildings, and other beautiful old Italian architecture in the midst of the gardens.  We walked, chatted, climbed a tree, relaxed, and watched school kids play football (soccer) on the lawn.

Inside the apartments of the palace was also incredible, marble everywhere!  The coolest part about the inside was that one of the rooms was just randomly a chapel.  I was thinking how it would just be so cool to have your own gorgeous chapel in your house to worship in, and then I remembered that I did living in memorial last year and in the fall!

Getting to go to Baylor is such a huge blessing.  It's crazy to find a reminder of how awesome my school is in a palace in Europe, but God works in mysterious ways, and a reminder of how awesome Baylor is was exactly what I needed as I had to say my good-byes to traveling Europe.

And that sums up the remainder of my time in Italy, the very end of my frolicking through Europe!  How crazy!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Stalis, Crete, Greece

After a less than perfect travel day, Jaime, Kristin, and I arrived at our amazing hotel in the tiny beach town of Stalis on the greek island of Crete.  We spent four days here for our mini vacation, and although the weather was less than ideal, it was possibly the most relaxing and fun time of the whole trip!

Since it was still the end of April and the season for tourism officially starts in May, the beautiful beaches of this common tourist destination for the wealthy British were desserted, many of the shops were closed, and everything was fairly vacant.  We absolutely loved it.  It gave us the chance to get to know the locals and fully appreciate their hospitality.  It felt like we had the whole island to ourselves.

On our first night for Kristin's birthday dinner, we went to the tavern next to our hotel for dinner and our first taste of incredible greek food.  Unexpectedly, we also got a taste of greek culture and the kindness and openness of the people.  The place was owned by a very kind, older couple: the woman was the waiter and the man the chef.  They were welcoming and giving, showering free desserts on us, wanting to get to know us, and caring about us.  We received warm hugs that made us feel like family and instantly decided that this woman would be our adopted greek mama!  It was a perfect and loving experience, unlike anything I would have expected or imagined.

We mostly spent our days walking around, relaxing, and eating.  There was a little mountain range so we did a bit of hiking.

The beach was just a five minute walk from the hotel, so we enjoyed walking along the beach, especially because it held the most perfect, soft sand I have ever felt-- completely incomparable to anywhere else I have ever been.  The waves and the blue water were just breathtaking; it was overall one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to, although the sand was the absolute best.

The main town was about an hour's walk, so we only made that trek once; we preferred to get well acquainted with where we were.  On the walk, we got to talk in all the beauty of the island: the mountains, the beach, the neat greek architecture, and tons of beautiful flowers.

One day when walking along the beach, as we passed a bar with a couple people in it, we heard some girls calling for us, so we decided to see what they wanted.  They asked us if we were british and told us that they were spending the summer working at a hotel on the beach here, and invited us to a roast with them that evening.  When we returned for the roast, we were showered with a delicious combination between greek and british food, more than we could ever eat, all homemade by one of the three girls.  We spent the evening getting to know them, learning about Crete through the locals that were there, and telling them about ourselves!  We talked with them for hours, and even taught them how to two-step and learned some card 'magic' tricks from the greek!  The meal included snails, lamb, chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables  and was probably one of the best meals I have had in Europe!

We had a ton of fun enjoying each other's company and the amazing people, culture, and food of Crete.   It was absolutely lovely!