One year out and Seville still won’t let me go

She stole my heart much like a thief creeping about at dusk. Quietly, softly, and with such care that I didn’t even know it was gone. Now the day dawns and I know what has become of my heart once so tied down to the place from which I come.

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She took it piece by piece with kisses on the cheek. She took it with the dim yellow light of her narrow city streets. She took it with the beauty of her Parisian bridge. She took it with the slow passing of her emerald waters. She took it with the laughter resounding through the alley after nights meeting strangers in all her friendly pubs. She took it with afternoons spent out under the sun, a bottle of wine, a book, and a friend or two. She took it with the towers that speckled her skyline. She took it with the taste of Spanish oranges, fresh and ripe. She took it with her stars, though few, they shone above the city lights. She took it with the horsemen driving around their carriages. She took it with her church, the greatest I’ve ever seen. She took it with the sounds of people, dressed in red and white, shouting in the street.

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Even at first sight, she was quite unlike other loves. She didn’t charm me with a glittering smile, but intimidated me with a speechless beauty and mystery I was determined to know.
I can’t but wonder if she even meant to do it. For all that has happened, I never intended to have my heart stolen and I can’t help but wonder if she intended to steal it, or if it just happened that I found myself intertwined in the grasps of her gentle arms. If fate be so cruel to play upon a traveler the trick of unrequited love so unintentionally lured, then I find myself such a traveler.

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The kind thing about this sort of heartbreak is that I know she will still be there when I am ready to return. She will be different. We both will be. But she will still be there and that softens the plight of the days and miles between us.

 

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Perspective on the Past: Painting pictures of Egypt in 2017

And the places I long for the most
Are the places where I’ve been
They are calling out to me
Like a long lost friend

It’s the start of a new year, and somehow, in all my contemplation about what this new year will bring, I find myself caught in a whirlwind of nostalgia taking me back to the year I leave behind. For me, nostalgia is addictive, causing a typically stable heart to feel weak, to feel indescribably sensitive. So I pore over old pictures and listen to the songs that narrated my day to day during those times. And I begin to feel more and more deeply. This feeling can be good; it can be healing to look back on hurts and acknowledge each purpose to which I am now privy. It can squeeze the gratefulness out of me in tiny tears that softly coat my cheeks as I’m reminded of the people and places that have made me. However, it becomes dangerous when I allow this feeling to take a place in my future, for it belongs snugly tucked between each piece of my past, holding them all safely in my memory.
When we exchange hope of the future with longing for the past, we give way to hopelessness. After all, to hope to experience any moment in time more than once is a fool’s wish as it is entirely impossible in this world. Just ask Jay Gatsby. And the next best thing? Recreating moments past only to find that they are not much the same at all, and this all at the cost of new experiences yet to be created. For this reason, I am constantly at odds with my nostalgia-addicted heart during the start of the year.
Why is it that I so desire to go back to the places I have been? Is it because they are better? Has life peaked and now begun to go downhill? Our heads and hearts (I’m not sure which) trick us into believing that this must be true when we look back upon tender times. I seek to remember the smell by the Guadalquivir as the sun was setting or the taste of blackberries on the bank of the lake at the family farm or the sound of the crackling fire and the laughter of my closest friends under the October stars. Everything that is preserved in memory is sugar-coated before entering the vault. Each memory shaved of it’s reality until it’s preserved in, to some extent, perfection. What future could possibly compete with so perfect a past? It would take an intentional effort to dig up the parts of those moments for which our heads and hearts did not care. I have to really think to recall the way the river stank of sewage and the bats overhead seemed to fly viciously at us. I have to really think to recall how my skin stung with scratches from thorny branches picking berries at the farm or the way my legs were speckled with mosquito bites for weeks after. I have to really think to recall how helplessly lonely I was even though I was surrounded by my best friends at that bonfire in the fall. But no, I don’t want to think of the unpleasant things, so I dismiss them when they accidentally accompany the pleasant things in the procession of moments that flash through my mind. I’d much rather paint pictures of Egypt and leave out all it lacked.

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future feels so hard
And I want to go back

The other thing about the past is that it was perfectly fitted to accommodate the person that I was at the time. The person I am today can recall fondly so many instances before. However, not one could ever be the same even if every aspect were constant because I am not constant. We are changed by each moment in life, which, being the greatest conglomerate of moments known to each man, ought to be known as a process of continuous change. Often, we think of “who we were” and usually “at that time” when the truth is that we were not one particular person at a period in time any more than we are one particular person consistently today, tomorrow, and next week. I, for one, will be different five minutes from now, subtle as it may be. Granted, we can categorize ourselves, attempt to define who we were in periods by commonalities we carried day-to-day in a given range of days. “I was such a partier in Spain,” I may think, ignoring the nuances of each day that I changed the nature of what kind of “partier” I chose to be and all the rumination that caused such change. Drawing it all back in, if we are ever-evolving, there may be no disappointment in who we have “become” as compared to “who we were.” This is because “who we were” and “who we have become” are one in the same in that they are both distinct points in time at which we were and are undergoing the process of becoming, something we will spend each moment of our lives doing and at no point will it be complete upon this earth. Just ask the Velveteen Rabbit. I look back at the more obvious ways I have grown and changed throughout 2016 and I realize how each moment served its purpose. I was just tempted to say “its purpose in making me into who I am today” as if I have reached a point of stagnant identity, when who I am today is just as much a growing, moving, fluid entity. The purpose of which I speak is to mean each moment’s specific actualization of comprehensible change. 2016 presented me with challenges that offered opportunities to grow up in more obvious ways than any year before it, and for that, I am thankful. Because of these changes, it really is impossible to go back.  I won’t fit into those moments anymore. Simply by experiencing their existence, I have outgrown them.

But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
Those roads were closed off to me
While my back was turned

Despite such deep acknowledgment of the fact that the past ought to remain in the past, I still drift into this lackadaisical state of longing. I have inserted lyrics from on of my favorite songs by Sara Groves throughout this entry because she pokes and prods at just this sort of nostalgic yearning. If you haven’t listened to, “Painting Pictures of Egypt,” I would highly recommend doing so. Sara highlights the comfort we find in the familiarity of the past. Especially at times when our surroundings are about to change, be it going to college, moving to a new city, getting married, or any of the other major phases changes we undergo, dwelling on the past protects us temporarily from our fear of the future. Although, this American life, more often than not, has me striving to reach that next phase, to pass go and collect $200, I am ordinarily terrified when the time comes to do so. Because, somehow, as a continually changing creature, I am innately resistant to change, both perceived good and perceived bad. I think some people can relate to this more than others, but change has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember. It’s scary. It challenges our ability to maintain control because it is a substantial period of our lives during which not even we know what variables may come into play. Yet, as I hide in my old photos, traipse through albums, and stop to smell the rhododendrons, it is possible for the addictive comfort of the past to be replaced by the unwavering promise of the future.

The past is so tangible
I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy
To discard
I was dying for some freedom
But now I hesitate to go
I am caught between the Promise
And the things I know

Mark Twain once said, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” So with that strain of human reasoning that guides so much of our intellect, if I look back to find that my life has been unimaginably and beautifully cared for by my Creator in every year past, the only conclusion I find plausible is that it will be so in every year henceforth. And that, yes, that creates a hope that remains constant amidst life’s ephemeral troubles (though I cannot speak on true trouble nor trial, for I am yet to know these things as most know them).  It is with this rationale that remembering the past begins to play an integral role in the future. Still, apart from logic, the evidence of my Creator’s love and care for me in 2016 incites trust in his ability and willingness to do so in this next year. As 2017 kicks off, it’s time to replace hesitation with excitement and fear with courage. In the famous words of Corrie Ten Boom, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

 

Resources

Photo Credit: Caroline Clark
Lyrics: Sara Groves https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yC9cKaELnG8

 

 

 

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The greatest adventure so far

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Strait-up Priceless: A Weekend Trip

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Ronda y Setenil

A last-minute day trip? Sign me up, literally. I love being mere hours away from some of the most beautiful little towns in the world. Pictures below!!

A couple weeks ago, some friends and I took a spontaneous trip to the towns of Ronda and Setenil de las Bodegas, about two hours south of Seville. Thanks to an organization called WeLoveSpain, we were able to hop on a bus and tour both towns very inexpensively without having to coordinate our own transportation or tours.

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Ronda, whose existence dates back to the 6th century, sits atop cliffs and a midst the hills of the province of Málaga. The town is divided in two by a massive ravine separating the older part and the newer part. If you thought municipal expansion was hard before, the people of Ronda take it to a whole new level. Three bridges connect the two parts of the town, the most notorious being Puente Nuevo. The “New Bridge” is really not so new…construction began in 1751 and ended 41 years later. Another historic feature in Ronda is the Plaza de Toros. This particular bullring is one of the oldest in all of Spain and thus one of the places of origin for the tradition of bull fighting.

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Setenil de las Bodegas is a town of population 3,000. Buildings rise high up on the hills beside the olive orchards and they dip low into the valley. In the valley, homes, stores, and restaurants are built underneath and into the side of the stone face on either side with a stream and narrow streets in between. It’s a perfect place to get lost walking the tiny streets, a not-so-perfect place through which to drive a car (although, the locals do it!). The most remarkable moment of this trip was watching the sun set over the hills in Setenil. The sky was red, yellow, and blue, casting a soft pink light onto the white buildings and painting the whole valley with color. The picture above simply cannot do it justice.

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I just need to take a moment to appreciate these friends. No matter what amazing places I find on this journey, it’s the amazing people that I get experience them with that make it all the more worthwhile.

More to come…

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The Truth Behind the Beginning

2 days. 3 flights. Raleigh, NC to Sevilla, España.

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I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked if I’m excited for this day, this trip. I’ve spent the last month sliding back and forth between excitement and terror. The excitement, I find, most commonly accompanies my imaginings—riding a riverboat to the Loch Ness, touring the canals of Venice, visiting the Eiffel Tower. On the flip side, terror most commonly accompanies reality—turning in my visa application, purchasing my plane ticket, packing my bags. Today, my imaginings are becoming reality. It takes imagination to dream, intrepidity to do.
Others I know going abroad have been posting cute pictures documenting their excitement for such great adventure. My social inhibitions would have me do the same, but the honest-to-God truth is this: I am terrified. I may be the only one or I may speak for many, but I dare not make presumptions either way. I am so accustomed to thinking of myself as some sort of fearless adventurer. I couldn’t be farther from the truth.
My head is full of doubts and questions: “Are you sure this is what you want? Why the heck did you sign up for this? I don’t even speak Spanish. Do you know how many scary people there are all over the world? You’re just a naïve American; you’re going to get taken advantage of. This isn’t safe!” When these doubts (and many, many more) take over, sometimes, I imagine the little characters from Pixar’s “Inside Out” having conversations with each other deep in mind. Comical, but not comforting.
In the past, I have dealt with fear, doubt, and insecurity by immediately mentally “overcoming” them as soon as they enter my thoughtosphere. And by “overcome,” I mean, “shove under the rug and pretend I’m better than that.” This fear of a new place, new people, new challenges is not something so easily shaken off (Though I haven’t tried dancing to Taylor Swift yet so perhaps I should give that a go before saying so). The fact is, I am innately resistant to change. No matter how many ways I spin it, change is scary. Big changes, little changes, it doesn’t matter; they all cause an averse reaction at some level. In pondering my obstinacy to change (despite my ardent efforts to be flexible), I realize that it is all about my struggle for control.
Of course, this is not something I like to admit to myself nor anyone else for that matter. With nearly every piece of this trip planned, I am still so afraid. I am afraid because there are so many things beyond my control, because no matter how much I research, I cannot eliminate uncertainty. No matter how much I read, I can’t see the future.
I seem to forget that just because I am not in control of things does not mean things are out of control.  There’s no amount of logic, reason, or knowledge that can assuage the fear of the unknown. So what can? Am I subject to an anxious existence until I slowly become acquainted with my new living scenario? No, where logic, reason, and knowledge fail, faith prevails.
I guess this is the part where I talk about who is in control—karma, Fate, God? We can nix karma because that was a joke; we don’t always get what we deserve in accordance with our good and bad deeds. Then we come down to Fate and God. When given the choice to believe that every intricacy of our existence and every going-on is guided by an inanimate force that randomly defines billions of unique destinies or the intentional power of a living, supremely intelligent being, I’m gonna have to go with the latter. I mean, do you even science? The world runs WAY too perfectly to discount a creator. This conclusion is certainly not as simple as I have just described, but, for the sake of time, I’m going to leave the God controversy right there for now. Basically, I think He is in control and that is the comfort to which I cling.
Back to this extraordinary adventure I am embarking on: it’s out of my hands. With that in mind, I am excited, so excited, for the terrifying new experiences I am about to encounter. Instead of continuing in my efforts to “overcome” fear when it arises, it’s time to let faith counter fear and hold fast to the rock that is higher than I. This is only the beginning.

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Hypocrisy

We are taking turns being pots and kettles. I find it abominable that one should accost another for being that which we all indubitably are: human.

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