October 13, 2015

This is not the end.

     Wow. I'm sitting here at the kitchen table, eating all things pumpkin-spiced, taking in this gorgeous Fall weather, and I'm thinking to myself, "A year?! It's already been a year since I left for Greece?" And as I look back on past entries, I'm ashamed to realize that I haven't written anything since FEBRUARY. No excuse.
     So, as I try to look back, reflect, and write about these adventures, I find that I often get lost in a thought or memory and then I'm back to looking at pictures and trying to connect with people there without ever actually jotting a word here. That entire experience -  I don't even have words. Truly. It still feels like a dream. Sometimes I have to find a tangible piece of evidence that I brought home with me, just to help me believe that the experience actually happened. (I usually settle for the German chocolate).  I've travelled to places I only ever dreamed of. I've seen some of God's most beautiful creations. I've met people that have forever changed my life. I think that's what sticks with me the most. All of the incredible people. Since then, I've recognized a passion that just burns in my heart for foreigners. I LOVE the fact that 2 people from completely different cultures and backgrounds can come together, and share a moment, no matter how small, in kindness. I mean, isn't that what it's all about? Expanding our bubble. Loving others. Reaching out. Sharing joy and showing kindness. I lovelovelove it! 
    Those last few months in Spain were all about taking in each day, exploring my surroundings, and spending time with the friends around me. Oh, and doing what I was paid to do, of course. :) I was constantly blown away by the beauty.  I thought of all the goodness that God has shown me. I mean really - to be provided with a roommate with one of the kindest hearts I've ever known, to live among mountains and the ocean (a TWO minute walk to the ocean and a FIVE minute walk to work), in the heart of the city, paying $215 a month in a location that I've never felt safer in in my entire life. Then, to bless me with some AMAZING people on top of it? I just feel humbled and undeserving. It was definitely living a dream. 
     Now, it's back to reality. Home. Well, my temporary home. I have such mixed feelings. I came back in the beginning of the summer with the intentions of returning there. I looked forward to spending time with friends and family, and meeting my beautiful nephew, but then I was to go back! I was to live another year in the untravelled excitement that awaited me. But, obviously God had other plans. For whatever reason, nothing was working out to return. The flights I had tried looking at, the visa, the money. If last year everything fell into place and the doors flew wide open with every step, then this year by comparison was a brick wall with no door. I dreaded the day that my boss would write me, asking me whether I had decided to return to the teaching job that awaited me there. It was a response I consistently neglected and put off, hoping the circumstances would've changed by then. When she finally did write, around late September, I knew I had to make a decision. I prayed long and hard, (and had many others praying for me as well - just for clear discernment and direction) and I had to come to the realization that it wasn't going to happen. And I cried. and cried. and cried. It seriously felt like a breakup. I saw a picture, heard a song, received a text from a friend over there, and I would lose it all over again. Don't get me wrong, being home has been a blessing, and a wonderful time of rest and catching up. Not to mention I could finally work at losing some of that European food that came home with me... if you know what I mean. ;) But I'm wired for adventure. Excitement. I need something new! And for whatever reason, that just wasn't in the cards for me. Yet. 
     That brings me to my next "a-ha" moment. After a wonderful sermon given by our pastor a few weeks ago, he said something that really just stuck with me. Simply put, it was about being ME. Not who I think others expect of me. But to just be me. Who I am, with what I've been given. I think one of the biggest struggles of being back home is in the pain it's caused in my pride. Here I went from one of the biggest -no wait, THE biggest adventure of my entire life, loving each day, loving EVERYTHING about it, being able to post exciting things, and have others actually curious about my life, to coming back home to what feels like the bottom again, with turning 30 only a few short months away, and none of the things or accomplishments that typical people my age have. Back under my parents roof, no husband and kids, (Not that I'm in any way ready for kids), no car, working as a fill-in only one day a week, living off of the money I have leftover from savings, no apartment... I could go on. And as I've fought and cried and prayed and argued as to WHY in the world God would bring me away from there, just to leave me here, I have to remind myself of what I believe He's been saying all along. "Trust me Jessica. I haven't failed you yet!" I mean, if He brought me there to experience all of those amazing things, and worked out EVERY SINGLE DETAIL, if He took me and changed me over those 12 months for the better, growing and shaping me into the woman I am now, He can certainly open doors and guide the way for whatever lies ahead. When I look back at the scared-to-death girl I was when I flew out of O'Hare, September 12th, 2014, to the girl who travelled Europe by herself, learned different cultures, currencies, languages, and other things, who, thanks to the encouragement of a great friend, FINALLY took surfing lessons and surfed her first waves, (something I had always wanted to do), to taking 5 flights home in 5 different countries with complete ease, despite all of the hiccups along the way, I'm blown away. 
     On my flight home, I had one night in Athens and decided I wasn't going to waste my time there by doing nothing. So, I booked my own hotel, had them call a taxi for me, and I hopped in and told the taxi driver, " I want to soak in everything I can in this beautiful city for this one night, because I have to leave at 4:00 in the morning tomorrow! Take me to the Acropolis!" And my wonderful Greek driver, whom I absolutely ADORED, and who clearly shared a sense of adventure, not only drove me to the Acropolis and parked and waited for me outside, but took me all over the city, as my own personal tour guide; he would pull over and let me explore places, he drove down roads he wasn't supposed to be on so that I could try his favorite spot for Souvlaki, and since it was their voting day, (July 5th), he took me to the Greek Parliament. For THREE hours he drove me around, and only charged me 50 Euros!! I gave him a big tip and a hug. I went to bed that night feeling the most liberated I ever have. It may not seem like a big deal to someone else, but to me it was breaking new ground. The younger me most likely would've just stayed in her hotel room and watched tv because she was too nervous to go out alone. But I've learned over the years that I can't let the fear of something ever stop me from doing what I want! Gosh, I have a million more stories I could tell. But that'll be another time.
     So, when I think about just being ME, it takes such a load off of my shoulders. I've gone through moments where I've panicked being back home, thinking God's forgotten me, thinking I've been punished for some reason, not knowing how I'll find a job to then googling all of these companies only to find that I in no way match up to the job requirements and qualifications, to hating my degree and getting angry with God for not giving me better talents and gifts. (pathetic, but true). But if I just focus on me, and not what I "should be", it gives me such peace. And isn't that the problem so many of us face? Tell me I'm not the only one? We are in this society that CONSTANTLY compares! We compare on Facebook, we compare our jobs, we compare our families, we compare our outfits and bodies and vacations and what we do on a Friday night. We compare our pictures and our likes and followers on Instagram. We get so focused on what everyone is doing and what we're not, that we forget to LIVE. Everyone has seasons of pain, confusion, and difficulty in their lives. Maybe even seasons of intense boredom. (#amiright? -->hand raised) And we also have seasons of rejoicing and celebrating. Things that come to an end and things that are just beginning. For me, in this moment, it happens to be a difficult season. Again. But, I know and rejoice that this is not the end and there are greater times ahead that are yet to be lived. You never know what adventure lies around the corner! I want to celebrate who I am, who I was created to be, the gifts and talents I've been given, and just. be. me. 
     Think about that. What makes you YOU? You're unique. One-of-a-kind. You've been given certain quirks, talents, abilities, likes and dislikes. You're the only combination of you that will ever walk this planet. 
     For me, maybe, ok clearly, I don't have the gift of playing any form of a sport, BUT I do have the gift of encouragement. I LOVE to encourage people and to cheer people on, lift them up, and bring happiness to others. Perhaps, for the moment anyway, it's not a gift that will put food on the table. But if it can help others to believe in themselves, and to keep hoping and keep moving forward, that I'd say I've been blessed indeed. :) 
    So, until the next door opens and this new journey unfolds, I will live my ordinary life and celebrate the little steps along the way. 

Ecclesiastes 3 says:
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven...a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to grieve and a time to dance...yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end. So I conclude there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 

P.S. If this in any way encouraged you, I'd love to hear about what's going on in your life, or ask that you share it with someone that maybe needs to hear it today! 

***While it's impossible to share ALL of the pictures, here are some of my favorites you can look through, if I haven't taken up enough of your time yet... (in no particular order)

Gijon, San Lorenzo Beach. 

A group of Spanish bikers we met on a mountain, who shared their food with us. 
A surprise birthday dinner with these wonderful people. I felt so loved! :D
Blissfully Happy in Luarca.

We loved having some dinner parties. (I cooked. :)

One of my good friends Fernando, who was always taking me to explore new sights.
Some of the incredible friends I made there. 
We had a weekly game night every Sunday night! (Trivia in English/Spanish). We were "Los Guiris". The Foreigners

The hiking was always so beautiful! And having great company certainly didn't hurt either! 

Selfie at the Acropolis

Kate, who is one of the most beautiful people inside and out, was my surfing buddy! This was after our second class in Salinas. 

Paddle Boarding was SO fun there!
Some of my students made this doll for me for my birthday. (It's supposed to be me. haha)

I didn't get any pictures of me actually surfing, but this was afterwards

Love these ladies!
Welcome Home!