Saturday, December 7, 2013


I cannot seem to think of a proper beginning to this blog post seeing as it most likely marks another end. A couple weekends ago I climbed to the top of Misti, a 19, 393 foot volcano with sixteen other Calvin students. It was physically the hardest thing I have ever accomplished, but also the most beautiful. Though I would love to pour out thoughts from this experience, I will save the stories for later. I would like to dedicate this last post to a few strong women.

The strong women I encountered in Arequipa altered my life in more ways than one.

My mamá Lupe: Lupe has a rare faith. She displays a life of one fully devoted to God. She helped me to develop a profound respect and desire for God in all circumstances. She taught me how God provides the peace, joy, and grace to complete the day in his work. She has loved me and cared for me. She calls me daughter.

My sister Carmen: Carmen has a depth of wisdom, but also deep joy. She shares with me wisdom from her many life experiences, but she brings abundant laughter to my days. She takes me out dancing and she is the most animated, delightful storyteller I have ever met. Each day we eat lunch together and she recounts the adventures of the day, tells stories of faith, or we simply “be” together.

Gabi: Since the beginning Gabi has affectionately steered me in the right direction when she notices me veer off course. She generously gives hugs and genuinely takes time to get to know my deepest self. Gabi shows maturity beyond her years and because we have spent the most time together, she knows many of my quirks and flaws yet shamelessly loves me anyways. She knows my knack for getting into sticky situations, my incapability to eat a meal (or snack) without spilling on myself, my bubbly excitement each day when I first see her, or my sleepiness after a long night of studies. One particularly difficult week, she remarked, “Emi, let’s go shopping” and she bought me a caramel latte and loved on me extra.

Marina: Marina works for my family as a cook and a nanny for Joaquín. In one word, Marina is strength. Her life has been a constant struggle to stay afloat, yet the sound of her laugh rings through the house and her faith in the Lord is courageous. She narrated many of her life stories through our days together and cared for me as a friend.

Azucena: When I arrived at my first art class, I sat at a table covered with fragments of paint and pencil shavings. I stared at the colors feeling unlike my usual extraverted self.  I felt like someone had plastered a sign on me that read, “Who wants to sit with the foreigner?” Azucena did. She sat down next to me and commenced a stream of friendly chatter. I was struck by her evident kindness, genuine heart, and personality, though I wasn’t entirely sure if her company was a charity or real.

I soon found out, it was most definitely real. Five hours of class each week we chatted, painted, laughed and created. I watched in delight as our friendship effloresced over time and our trust in one another deepened. A few weeks ago, Azucena’s mamá passed away. I went to the hospital that day with tears and prayers. Azucena’s friendship and trust are unforgettable gifts. Even after her mom passed, she persisted in full joy. She continued to tell me stories of her incredible mamá and she loved me in patience and kindness.

These strong women have each transformed me in many ways. They audaciously face each day with a desire to fully live. With their guidance, I realized that I too, am a strong woman. I’ve learned weakness when I attempt control and watched as all the pieces I tried to hold quickly scattered to the wind. But I’ve learned strength in God.

Ordinarily, the future represents an abyss of unknown, but God is always known. He takes me by the hand and offers energy, joy and peace sufficient for the day. Though each step I take may bring me to unknown places, I am a strong woman with the Lord’s constant presence. The joy of the Lord is my strength and indeed it is well with my soul.

Monday I leave Arequipa to head to Lima. Goodbyes will hurt, but also remind me of the blessings. As my friend Jamie says, life is a game of catch with God in which we are the playful puppies. Sometimes, life tempts us to hold the ball in our mouth because the time has been so sweet, but it would be far more exciting if we let it go and let God throw it once again.

I’m letting the ball down. I’m seeking presence in the day whether presence means baking tres leches with Lupe, cuddling with Joaquín, gazing at the rosy volcanoes at dusk, or moving on to the next adventure. Where will you throw the ball next? Who will I encounter? In what ways will I be transformed?

“Language barriers
Made no difference at all.
When you’re truly cared for,
There’s no purpose for walls.”
- Sleeping At Last

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Social Healing

As you may have all guessed by the explosion of photos and giddy posts on Facebook, we have returned from our excursion to Cusco and we have been wonderstruck.

Here’s the thing about excursions, not only are we learning intriguing history and visiting stunning places, but excursions also provide social healing. As much as we all adore our Peruvian families, a part of us misses the daily social interactions with our peers that were so easily accessible at Calvin. After an excursion we come back feeling awed and refreshed.

Due to our trip lasting four days rather than two, we were rewarded with more free time to explore. As soon as we were let loose, we gallivanted around the city marveling at the toasty brown rooftops and beautiful colonial architecture endemic to Cusco. When I asked the other Calvin students what their favorite part of Cusco had been, many of them responded with memories of laughter echoing throughout our hotel, nights spent drinking hot chocolate in a discovered café, reenacting traditional dances from Sunday dinner, or devotions together in Saqsawaman. Each memory involved fellowship and was enhanced by simply being together.

On the day we were meant to journey to Machu Picchu we awoke to the smells and sounds of rainfall. Typical tourists we were not. Jamie commented, “I’ve never seen so many people excited to wake up to rain on a day they are going to spend touring outdoors. Michiganders will complain about the rain and the changing weather until you put them in sunshine for three months…then they rejoice.” So like the pluviophiles we all are, we donned our raincoats and happily skipped outside. As we took the bus up to Machu Picchu, the mummer of thrilled whispers gathered in the air. We gazed out the window at exotic mountains and foliage enveloped in wisps of clouds. Upon arriving, clouds hung thickly over the ruins shrouding them from view, but we trekked on. Together, we climbed the steep steps of Huayna Picchu, but stood disappointed at the top as a blanket of white blocked our view from one of the wonders of the world. Thankfully, just as we were about to head down, the clouds parted to reveal Machu Picchu. The company of my Calvin group made exploring and learning more about Machu Picchu even more incredible. Wonder is even more beautiful when shared.

When our group gathers together in one place laughter is a given, conversation swells, and we fill with giddy joy. This was exemplified when we were trapped on the train back to Cusco due to an unexpected rockslide. Most of the other passengers were annoyed and frustrated when the two-hour trip became a six-hour wait, but as Lori described it, our Calvin group was in “very rare form.” Very rare form meaning boisterous laughter, loud conversation, and four hours of card tournaments. I was slightly worried about the animosity of the other passengers as we filed off the train before everyone else, but one lady said to me, “I am glad someone could enjoy the trip.”

And we did. Not only did we enjoy the train ride, but also we enjoyed the excursion as a whole and we enjoyed one another. I am so thankful to grow and share wonder with each person in our Calvin group.

Community. Social Healing. Worship. It all runs hand in hand.


our community (and our incredibly guide Jesús)

preparing to worship

delighting in the misty jungle

beautiful Cusco architecture

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Over two weeks past, our group of travelers had the opportunity to travel for an entire week. I gallivanted with five other friends to Paracas as well as Huacachina. The week was filled with enchantment, creativity and wonderful fellowship.

My first impression of Paracas was one of shock and excitement as I gazed out the bus window at the tropical desert surrounding us. That week, this exotic desert and our hostel, “Paracas Backpacker’s House” became home and my five Calvin friends as well as a few of our closest hostel amigos became family. I was struck by sonder as we sauntered around our hostel the first day meeting people from Austrailia, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Sweden and more. I love the hostel culture. I love the easy friendships, the shared stories, the diversity of people, and the simplicity of life.

I will say though, it was a bit of a culture shock when suddenly the common language changed from Spanish to English. My role altered from the gringo concentrating to catch every word to the helper who needed to speak slowly and clearly in my native language. Our newly made friendships inspired me to learn more about the different cultures in the world and also filled me with wanderlust.

Though truthfully I missed Spanish, the fellowship of the week overflowed me with joy.  The moments spent cooking meals together in our hostel kitchen (one night with the help of our friend Christian from Australia who was a professional chef!), chatting late into the night in the cozy hammocks, faithfully watching the sunset, and exploring the beauties of the city led to thought provoking conversations and laughter. It also provided the social healing I needed. As much as I love my sweet Peruvian family, I missed living with friends on a daily basis. It was a delight to get to know my friends’ quirks and depth through living together.

The most enchanting journeys we took were to the Ballestas Islands and the National Perverse. The Ballestas Islands displayed an assortment of wild life from penguins to sea lions. I also have never seen so many birds in one place-but thankfully we escaped with only one battle wound: a patch of guano on Carmen’s sleeve. Earlier in the week we had promised the boys a “bro-day.” They sweetly made us all of our meals and even sang us a song. In turn we took out quads to the National Preserve of Paracas. I was wonderstruck as we rumbled through the red and brown hued desert juxtaposed with gorgeous ocean views and cliffs. Each of the beaches displayed a unique personality: the beach of shells in exquisite shades, the white beach with the turquoise waters and stunning rock formations, the beach with clear waters and rocky caves begging for exploration, and the rare red beach that marked one of three red beaches in the world.

God reminded me that week of the importance of prayer and simply being with him and growing in him rather than feeling the need to always “do” things for him. He also continued to leave me stunned and giddy. What a creative God we serve! In our last stop, Huacachina, Paco, Joe, and I climbed a high-arching dune and watched a rosy sunset over the rolling hills of sand. I had spent the week amazed by the creativity of the ocean, the exotic plant life, the unique beaches, and the diverse people, but here again was an unexpected artistry…even the simplicity of the wind-crafted sand displays his creativity.

"I'm afraid to speak or move for fear that all this wonderful beauty will just vanish... like a broken silence." L.M. Montgomery


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Holy Whispers

Have you ever sat down and thought about love? I mean really thought about it?
Lately, I have been pondering love. Love manifests itself in many ways, but my favorites are the love whispers.

Last week in Arequipa and this weekend in Puno, I began to intentionally listen for love whispers. Listening for the voice of the Spirit and folding up my jumbled thoughts of Spanglish proved to be quite difficult, but I found that love whispers sometimes come in unexpected ways. God heard my frustration and a friend, Megan, showed me a new route to school. Then, I truly began to notice.

Love whispers in Arequipa:

The whimsical, wooden chimes strung from a high terrace.

Sweet bird song, rather than screeching.

Springtime flowers in hues of fuchsia, tangerine, and violet.

Grinning babies on the combi.

Wind playing with my hair.

Invariable azure skies and warm sunshine.

The first day of whistling happy tunes on my walk to school and not receiving any whistling cat calls in my direction.

Sharing giddy God-love with a dear friend.

Hand-written letters littered with exotic looking postmarks.

Fluid conversations with new Peruvian friends.

A cake festival with my lovely host family.

Tears of joy when talking with one of my pseudo sisters from home.

Soft morning light.

The moment after I helped a crippled old woman down the stairs. (She grabbed my wrist tight, stared soul deep, and told me, “Eres hermosa.” )

Those are only a few from Arequipa. This weekend our Calvin group traveled to Puno and Lago Titicaca. For those of you who have not heard of Lake Titicaca, it is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12, 500 feet above sea level and I spent the weekend stunned in amazement.
The lake glittered turquoise, surrounded by yellow-green reeds. The floating man-made islands displayed rich culture. The juicy reeds that we cautiously chewed surprised us with sweetness. The indigenous children captured our hearts with their smiles. We learned intriguing history and witnessed Peruvian pride. We all wished to linger on the mountainous trail overlooking lake and village. We cuddled on top of the boat avoiding chilly lake breezes and watched a rose and saffron sunset. We raised imperfect voices in worship and I was love full. I enjoyed deep fellowship with my beloved Calvin group and two Peruvian friends who joined us. We listened to live Peruvian music with cheerful pan flute.  I wrote love letters to God with a few friends while we basked in the beauty of silence.

My thoughts spin with hoards of other memories from the weekend, but I am sure your eyes have already glazed over from too much description. (I miss the use of adjectives in daily life!) Needless to say, I am enamored of God. I am still working on learning to listen, but encountering a new side of God in Peru leaves me thrilled to wake each morning. After consistently being filled, I hope I am learning to properly love across cultural boundaries and pour some back out.
Testing out the "cañas"...they came with mixed reviews   
Carmen and I were the most graceful going down the cement slide      

Meandering and perusing the handmade work of the women on the floating islands. One of the large wall hangings takes over a month to make!

Incan courage 
                                                          Emily and I were chompa twins! 

Sights of Puno and Lago Titicaca

These are a few shots from my new route to the University. Isn't it whimsical? The sign under the flowers is translated to: "The existence and preservation of the environment depend on the care and love that you give me." Though care of the environment in Arequipa remains a problem, many signs like this one have been appearing on the foliage and trees in the city. HOPE.