My driver's name was Nayo.
He seemed really polite, asked lots of questions about my family and made me feel really comfortable being in that red Toyota Corolla alone together as he brought me to the airport. But that's your job, isn't it, Nayo? To make sure I feel really comfortable and unsuspecting... I see right through you.
Nayo gets another phone call and answers, too mumbly and too Spanish for me to comprehend. That's the fourth call in thirty minutes, Nayo. I see right through you.
That's when I am once again thankful that I kept my sweater on my lap in the front seat with me. I did that intentionally, you see, just in case I need to use it fashioned as a protective glove when I punch a window open. In that moment, I'm also once again thankful I'm wearing my glasses just in case I need to break them and use the pieces to pick a lock or as a sharp weapon. And as I'm memorizing significant landmarks along our journey in case I need to give someone emergency directions to where I am being held captive, I'm thankful that I saw Taken 2 (even though it freaked me out at the time) -- because now I'm a pro at this. You should have blind-folded me, Nayo. This is way too easy. At least make it a challenge.
Unfortunately, (and by "unfortunately" I mean "fortunately") I didn't have to use any of my international kidnapping survival "expertise". Nayo brought me to the airport safely and was very sweet when I gave him the lamest tip ever because I barely had any cash. I felt bad then, as I walked into the airport to check my bag, assuming so poorly of kind Nayo. The guilt soon was displaced by an uncontainable mental laughing at myself for being so silly. It set the tone for an overall silly day of traveling as I left Guatemala. But this was a big day, a day signifying the end of my Guatemalan season. And while it was a good thing, I was feeling so much and, well, sometimes if you don't laugh you cry.
I didn't need to cry, though. Even though I was missing the Doese family like crazy, I was feeling weirdly, sillily good. I threw my luggage to the lady behind the check-in desk, spun around, whipped my carry-on and guitar over my shoulder and sang (very powerfully but still to myself), "This girl is on fire!!!!!!!!!! This girl is on fiiiIIIIIiiiiire!!!" Reflecting on my 5 weeks in Guatemala, I had never felt like myself less and had never felt like myself more.
When you're in a place completely different than the world you're accustomed to, you find out a lot about who you are. When you don't have your comfy bed, don't have a fully functioning toilet, and haven't had a hot shower in four weeks, you can figure a lot of stuff out. You realize that comfort is a luxury and something one creates, but not something to be pursued and certainly not something for which anything should be sacrificed. You begin to fully appreciate people and relationships, even the light, on-the-surface-I-probably-will-never-see-you-again-but-I-hope-I-do relationships. You realize that you're actually a pretty maternal woman and you're really excited about all of the little and big ways life has and will completely enamor you.
I've said it before:
I think the most significant reason why you go away and travel, is so that you can come back.
Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
While I was in Guatemala, I told friend after friend, "I know this is exactly where God wants me." But now that I'm back in the States, I feel new wave after crashing wave of why it was so precisely perfect for me to live in Guatemala for 5 weeks. Perfect is a word we throw around a lot, but rarely ever truly experience, but it's a Heavenly experience when we do.
In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert says this, "I've come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call 'The Physics of The Quest' — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself... then truth will not be withheld from you. Or so I've come to believe."
I've come to believe so, too.
The tortillas are hot and the guacamole radiates lime and onion as everyone at the table (in at least four different languages: English, Spanish, Dutch or Portuguese) inquires and answers about the day’s recent unfolding. I look around at these people sitting around one table. A family of five hearts I have come to love as if I’ve known them my whole life. A girl a little older than me who is from my home country, the Netherlands, with the accent and poise to match. A married couple from South America who met in the Netherlands and abandoned anything resembling a home to now traveling the world together. I look at these people, who only two weeks ago a few were strangers to me, and I can’t imagine my life not having spent this time with them. We didn’t really go through a lot together. No, for the most part, we truly only shared meals three times a day. All the same, after celebrating Diana’s 30th birthday with cakes and songs, after quietly drinking coffee early in the morning with swollen eyes, after sharing the same dysfunctional toilet, and after making this random household in Antigua our home – it saddens me to leave this place in two days to continue adventuring in Guatemala.
The coast is calling and beckoning me to make a home there for the next few weeks. And while I am truly excited for the unknown, I think of Telma – who runs this household, not only taking care of her own large family, but then spoiling us houseguests as only a grandma-figure can. And I pray, pray, pray that through my growing Spanish that she understands how thankful I am for her, for the time she’s worked in the kitchen to prepare expectation-exceeding Guatemalan meals everyday, for her kind conversation, for her smile, for her heart. I think of this house of clay, tile, and corrugated steal roof panels – how distant it felt walking in for the first time, and now how much I’ll miss my bed’s corner, I’ll miss playing my guitar on the roof, I’ll miss hearing the rain dance carelessly on the tin outside. Home.
For the first time in my entire life, I do not crave comfort or security. They are simply not things I desire or want for my life during this season. After eradicating every idea I had of who I was and what I wanted, God is showing me how this girl – originally a homebody, a planner, a comfort-seeker – can truly make a home wherever He leads her. And it’s so freeing. To think I am excited to go to this new home on the coast, of which I know nothing about – a month ago that would be truly inconceivable. Preconceived notions are not promises or definitions or destinations. They are chapters, only a part of the story. A great, grand, beautiful story that far surpasses anything scribbled in a book, anything desired in a heart. And I come back to this over and over again: it is all grace, it is all His generosity. His pure generosity – I will never know the depths of it. That He should honor me so much to pull me into the light and dance with me. That He should bend to reach for me – through the stench and the clouding of my sin, He does not hesitate – and lift me from despair and into unquenchable joy. There is so much joy, I can hardly think and it massacres my grammar, but I don’t care because it’s joy.
Please know, this great, grand, story is for you, too. The pain, hopelessness or sadness you feel are irrelevant, not even factors, not even indicators of your future. There is always more light, more love, more hope and peace. Let today be the last day you allow something that keeps you from the beautiful life He is dreaming for you. Do not hold onto that struggle, that distraction, that him, that her, or that fear out of a desire to avoid depression or anxiety. If you have to experience insecurity or loneliness for a while to reach that beautiful life – so be it. Don’t be afraid of it.
“I think you deserve something beautiful,” He whispers, “let’s make room for the new.”
Open up your life so that your future can be filled with surprises yet to come.
I cried on the eve of my 5th birthday. Balled, actually. I was told upon turning five one is expected to go to school all day and carry more responsibility. That was all so very vague to me; therefore, I was terrified of turning five and cried in my mom’s arms. Needless to say, if I can go from being paralyzed by the unknown (as I have cried about it once or twice in the last 15 years) to excitingly making room for the new – everyone can.
Except for maybe Ireland, I’ve never taken to a new place as quickly as I have to Antigua: the ruins, the colors, the coffee shops, the markets, the hospitality and the garden courtyards. This is a new ability for me – to embrace and absorb and thrive off of that. It’s been fun and good, truly good – but this free woman’s heart is happily beating for the new, the unknown adventure ahead. Who would have thought? (;
Some more Instagram snapshots:
It's been a little over a week since I've arrived in Guatemala. My first five days here were spent with the Trades of Hope Vision Team -- a seriously beautiful group of women who are so invested in seeing lives change through job creation. We had the incredible privilege of visiting our Trades of Hope artisans here (which I’ll share more on later). Being around their hearts, their stories, their support was such a blessing and balm to my soul. I remember sitting in MonoLoco (a sports bar themed restaurant where a cartoon “loco” monkey is painted on every wall), thinking to myself, “Am I really here? At this table, with the most glorious nachos in front of me, the most inspiring women around me, and all of the sounds and smells of Guatemala enveloping me?”
Guatemala has the same beauty I anticipate Heaven will also have. There are courtyards and pockets of secret gardens everywhere. And from every flourishing garden, there are views of mountains and volcanoes surrounding. Also at every turn are fallen ruins, silently telling stories of history and destruction, but also of hope. Since being here, I have made chocolate from cocoa beans, taken salsa dancing classes, climbed mountains into the clouds, sipped wine while walking through an organic farm, and spent a lot of time working on my Spanish.
I'm really all about long-term travel now. (Not to say I would turn down a 5-7 day trip to, well, anywhere, but that’s not the point.) Already, I feel like an Antigua local. I'm staying in a sweet, old woman's home where I eat delicious (sometimes wonderfully questionable) authentic Guatemalan food three times a day. I step out of the front door onto a 10-inch sidewalk, right next to a tiny convenience store (which we tenderly call the snack shack). There are always these dudes standing in front of the snack shack, whose gross stares, which lack subtly, I always pretend to be too oblivious to notice. But the fact I see them daily makes me feel like Antigua is home. In the States, walking to my front door or drinking coffee on my couch would give such a warm feeling, but this will do.
Like any local, I know the shop that sells the strawberry and Nutella crepes, and I know where to get the coffee and bacon flavored ice cream. I also know the ”exotic ice cream” shop owner’s story and that he just got the proofs for his eleventh book back today. These places are holes in the wall, but then again, everything in Antigua outside of Central Park is a hole in the wall. I like it that way. You have to try hard to find all of the amazing things Antigua has to offer. Perhaps I like it so much because maybe that means someday someone will take the time to find out all the things I have to offer, and somehow think that's pretty cool, too. Or perhaps I just really like strawberry and Nutella crepes.
I see people I know while walking down the streets already. Some of them attend the Spanish school (even though I've really only had in-depth conversations with the lady who mans the snack booth -- Pringles: the red can or green can?). Some of them are people who work in the markets. Some of them are people who regularly beg on the street. Either way, a familiar face is a familiar face, and that does allow some home-y feelings (which is probably more appropriate that the despicable guys outside the snack shack).
In addition to the sweet old woman, her family, and the family I am here with in Guatemala, some very sweet souls are staying in the house. I befriended two girls who are 20 as well. They remind me that I, too, am still a 20-year-old girl (despite the fact I feel 40). And I fantasize about going back with them to their lives of dorms and classes at NC State in August. I long for the securing arms that college seem to wrap around girls my age. SEU kicked me out after handing me my diploma, but maybe NC State will embrace me? I coo to that part of me that longs for comfort, "Sure, Liz, you can go back with them," as if I'm telling a child, “Yes, of course Santa Claus is real.”
Also living with us is a man form Brazil who lived in the Netherlands for five years. We talk in Dutch and reminisce about all of the Dutch foods until we can no longer stand the hunger for them. We talk geography, we talk customs, and again, there it is: that home-y warmth.
My days mainly consist of playing with three of the most creative and considerate little kids I know in the morning and exploring the country in the afternoons. And I feel so blessed. I am so thankful. For this place, for its beauty, for what I'm learning. I'm realizing my biggest fear was my life not turning out the way I had always planned: making lots of money, being married in my early twenties, feeling secure. The reality of my life now is more acute to: spending all my life's saving on traveling the world's cultures alone, being single alone, feeling anything but secure alone. And it's good. I'm realizing I was only afraid of these things because I didn't plan them, and that's no reason to be afraid. It's okay to take the time to feel alone, to feel like you're floating, to feel desires unfulfilled. Don't ignore those feelings, don't let them give you anxiety. For once I'm choosing to sit with them. Make a map of them. Welcome to the human experience in its entirety.
It all started yesterday. I was in the loft of an apartment in Guatemala saying out loud how much I regretted not bringing with me a copy of Eat, Pray, Lo---
It all started last March when I watched Eat, Pray, Love for the first time. I was so captivated by frames of Julia Roberts depicting this free-spirit traveling all around the world. The film, based on a book about and written by Elizabeth Gilbert, fed my soul in a seemingly-silly but thorough way. Elizabeth (called Liz in the book and film) and I share more than a name. Her life of reckless abandonment, her spiritual and self-sufficient joy, and her fearless adventure was a life that I knew my heart was made for, at least for a season.
Two months after, I graduated from Southeastern University with a Bachelors of Science in Journalism/PR and Graphic Design. Only two days after my commencement ceremony, I packed everything I would need for at least four weeks in one suit case, and I moved to a country I have never been to before. I moved to Guatemala.
Four days into my trip (yesterday), I decided to google "eat, pray, love quotes by elizabeth gilbert" and the results fed my soul in a way that surprised me. I read and was touched by lines like:
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”
“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person's body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”
“I'm choosing happiness over suffering, I know I am. I'm making space for the unknown future to fill up my life with yet-to-come surprises.”
"I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential."
I read things like this and felt like I could have written them myself (and not just because my name is Liz).
So today, as I was walking through the markets in Guatemala, my eye was caught by four towering-tall book shelves. Being a writer, reader and overall book lover, I naturally walked over to there. As soon as I reached them, I heard God say, "Eat, Pray, Love is in there."
What? A chick flick, American best seller is in these dusty bookshelves in the middle of Guatemala? I don't know...
"No, I'm telling you, it's in there, Elisabeth," He said again. He's so patient with me.
So I looked under the G section for Gilbert, and I looked under the E section for Elizabeth. It wasn't there, and I wasn't surprised. I looked under Biographies/Memiors. Nope, but still He spoke to me, "Eat, Pray, Love is in here. You wanted it, and it's in here." I looked under Travel. Nothing. I was just about to give up when I turned around and saw it just like this:
My. Heart. Dropped. I thought it was a wishful-thinking-mirage. But after a few breaths of staring, I (snapped a few photos and) touched it. It didn't disappear or disintegrate. It was real. Miracles are real. Faith is real. Trust is real.
He spoke to me again, "See?! You KNOW My voice, Elisabeth, daughter. Never question it again. You know My voice. You knew My voice before. You knew it just now when you searched through old bookshelves in Central America for a book you've been wanting. And you will know it in the future. Never question again if you heard My voice in the past or if you will know My voice in the future. You hear Me."
Wow. So much more than a silly, girly, border-line-heretical book -- God used the seemingly insignificant desire of my heart to read that book (a book I believe He will use in my life in a myriad of ways) to comfort deep places in my heart that was wondering: do I know His voice? Yes. Have I misheard Him? No. Are our hearts as close as I think they are? Yes, perhaps even closer.
Everything is grace. Everything is His generosity.
This life I'm currently living is so crazy. I'm constantly uncomfortable -- living out of a suitcase, soaking in a very different culture, not knowing what my life will be like 10 minutes before it happens. This is very different for this girl who used to be a planner and control freak. I'm scared and I'm in love with it! I'm so thankful for it. This life I'm living, it would not be what I would have ideally wished for myself. But God wouldn't let me settle for my ideal. I always knew my heart was able to live an adventure like this of abounding trust, minimal belongings, and absolutely without a care in the world. Ever since I was 12 years-old, I toyed with the idea of living in a developing country for a season. At 20 years-old, here I am. And while I have no idea where I'm going, I do know so much:
Now I know what kind of woman I am, what kind of woman I am when my heart gets broken. I am not the kind of girl who calls him 1,000 times in a row and cries her heart out to his voicemail. I am not the kind of girl who tries to fill herself with men, alcohol or denial. I am not the kind of girl who victimizes herself, tries to make others look bad, or sulks in disappointments.
I am the kind of woman who feels it all, healthily works through every emotion, at the feet of Jesus. I allow Him to come close to me and feel it with me. I am the kind of woman who can recognize God's voice and is emotionally capable to follow it. I am the kind of woman who spontaneously moves to a country she's never been to before to find herself again. To pour herself out to show others that even when the world feels so bleak, there is always more light, always more love, always more hope in the world! There truly, truly is. And you know what? That may not mean much to many people, but I like that. I like that woman. I like God's generosity and grace. And to this woman who is losing herself in the many cultures of this world for this season, that's more enough for me right now.
Thank you so much for following whatever this thing is God has me on, for praying for me and encouraging me. For those who are interested, more details of my adventures will be photographed and scribbled here. And probably definitely tons of Eat, Pray, Love quotes in my Twitter feed. (: