What I say and what I do

Wow, talk about being super confronted about a passage in the bible. Do you ever get that gut-twisting feeling that as hard as you try to avoid, you just can't seem to run from it. So I've been traveling throughout Italy the past week with my family. We've been a part of a Disney-guided group and it really has been awesome, the Disney magic has been there the whole way through so far. Now there have been some changes to get used to, from traveling with a large group of people, to being able to eat ice cream every night, to actually sleeping in a nice bed. Sure those things have been fun, but there's also been this uneasy feeling in the back of my gut this whole time that I haven't fully been able to get rid of - and I think I just started to figure out what is causing it...

Over the past few days, we've done a ton of walking and have seen some incredible sights - from everything throughout Rome and the Vatican and now venturing into Florence. We've witnessed some of the incredible art and architecture, we've been able to taste the famous Italian cuisine, and along the way meet some wonderful people. But at the same time, I've found that it is much easier to ignore certain other people because of the whole experience. Now I didn't realize this at the time, and it took a song to really call me out on it.

Seventh Day Slumber has a song that is a lyrical form of the passage Matthew 25 and goes like this. Really take a few minutes to listen to the song.
I call myself a man of god, while laughing at my brother
I crossed the heart of a hungry man instead of giving him some bread
And what I say and what I do, they're not the same anymore
Who I slain, who I betray, lord have mercy on my soul
You were hungry, you were thirsty, you were lonely, you were cold
You were hurting, you were dying, and I just left you all alone

Watched a mother who had her children they're all three crying out for help
No one heard them, and I just passed them, and I screamed lady get a job
She took her own life, under the bridge that day, while her children sat and cried
I could have told her about my loving father, instead I spit in Jesus face, when I heard her voice

What you do unto the least of them, you do unto me
And when you see one of my hurting children, I want you to see me
Cause I was hungry, and I was thirsty, I was lonely, I was cold
That was me hurting, that was me dying, and you just left me all alone

I call myself a man of god, while laughing at my brother...
So as we've been passing through different areas of Italy, we've come across a lot of beggars on the streets, which is something I haven't crossed that much over the last year. Being a part of a tour group or with my entire family, I found it so much easier to walk by without stopping. When I'm traveling alone, it's not that I'm more aware of what's around me, but rather that I have no excuse to ignore what's around me. Being with a larger group (whether that's a family or tour group) I find myself justifying why I'm not able to stop and do something.
I crossed the heart of a hungry man instead of giving him some bread
And what I say and what I do, they're not the same anymore
And as fascinating as it was to think about the skill needed to build something like the Colosseum, the longer I walked around the Rome, the less I thought about the construction and the more I thought about how these same beggars have been here since the days when they were constructing the Colosseum. The song challenges us to see Jesus any time we see one of those among us hurting, suffering, or struggling. What do you see when you pass by those people on the street? Do you really see Jesus - I can't say I always do. I see them and start trying to figure out if it's a legitimate plea, what their back story is, and whether I can afford or have the right bills to donate. And typically all that thought process results in me already ten steps past and thinking it's too late to do anything about.

I guess I don't have as good of vision as I once thought.

But if we think about the fact that those beggars have been there throughout history, we can also see that Jesus and the work he desires to be done has been there all along as well. He's just waiting for the rest of us to open our eyes to him - Jesus is living in the poverty all around us, but what are we doing about it...

When I got back to the bus today and opened my computer to start writing, I flipped open the screen which has a huge sticker on it that says "Walk in Love." It was a Christmas gift and an awesome reminder in how to live our lives. But perhaps we need to stop walking and start sitting, eating, and dwelling in love - it's easy to focus on walking in love so much that we pass right by those who need it most. Maybe I should add some verbs to that sticker...

Take a second to really think about the hungry, thirsty, lonely, cold, hurting and dying around you - put a name to their face. Now go and read Matthew 25 and try and flip the page, I dare you. Are we really living like Jesus called us to live? What are we doing for them, and what if we can't even think of a name? I know my bookmark is stuck on Matthew 25, I'll let you know once I flip the page...

Learning to be amazed

Recently I've been struggling for words to describe certain feelings or experiences. Over the last three years, this blog has followed me to all corners of the earth - starting in the Serengetti, making it's way to Jamaica, Australia and Jordan, and most recently finding it's way to Europe and into the alps. I've grown more comfortable in translating certain thoughts to words, but there are still those experiences that seem impossible to verbalize. At times I've felt the urge to try and paint a picture or even make up new lyrics to a song - but it's still not always possible to capture the moment.

Sometimes I think I focus too much on trying to 'define' my experience with God. My relationship with Christ has changed my life like nothing else has, and I tend to have this feeling of needing to adequately express it publicly. It has made such a difference for me that it would be silly for me to keep that all to myself. But as I was listening to a song today, I was reminded that sometimes we don't need to constantly find new ways to praise God and share that experience with others. The lyrics go:
Can I accept that in a world of changes
You're not impressed with something new
If I don't understand the language of a heart that's after you

Can I put my pride aside and learn to sing in time with someone else's praises
I love you, I love you, I love you and nothing new
I love you, I love you, I love you and nothing new
As I catch this travel bug, I try to remind myself that with so many different cultures, views, people, places, foods, stories, and means of worship in the world - coming up with a new way of praising God does not impress God simply because it is new. Instead, he is impressed when we sincerely cry out from the language of our heart that we can do nothing more but love. Sure that will be different for each of us, but it is the sincerity that matters, not the fact that it is new. I have begun to find that language of my heart through this blog, and the more I write, the more sincere my posts have become.

As I've had the brief opportunity to do some hiking in the alps, I've had numerous moments where I've felt that there needs to be a way to capture the moment in it's entirety. Perhaps I've been searching too much for a new way of explaining that moment though. When I really sit and think about it - the message is so simple - it is God's way of saying "I love you" right back to me. It's amazing that I can focus so much attention on trying to re-word the feeling of love I have towards God, but in all that searching and writing and painting, I sometimes overlook the simple message that God is writing back, he loves me even more than I love him.

The song has another lyric in it:
Can I learn to be amazed by you
It's funny that we sometimes have to 'learn' to be amazed, you would think that that is something that just happens. But perhaps in this world of constant change, we complicate things too much and miss the simple moments of amazement and awe.

My pastor up at State College uses the term 'aweful' quite a lot - how can we learn to recognize those moments that fill us with awe?

It's always easy to find those moments of awe when you're traveling through the alps, and I am quite grateful for all the people and moments that have allowed me to travel to places like this, but I hope to learn to recognize the moments of amazement outside of these magnificent mountains. God is always finding innovative ways of telling each and every one of us that he loves us fully and unconditionally. Have we learned to open our hearts and ears enough to be able to hear that message though?

Quick stop in Austria

Well I've made it to the last city on my trek before meeting up with my family. I'm leaving Mayrhofen now after leaving Matt, McLean and Anna up in the Alps - I'm sure they'll manage to find a place to sleep for the night. On Tuesday morning I took a train from Fussen, Germany down to Innsbruck, Austria where I was meeting up with the gang. After arranging a hostel for the four of us, I then went to the train station a few times to pick everyone up and take them back to the hostel. Anna arrived first and then Matt and McLean showed up on a midnight train. Our hostel was an awesome find - it was in an old historic building in the middle of the old city in Innsbruck. We managed to get a private room for four which included a kitchen stocked with pasta and all kinds of cooking/eating items. So that took care of dinner for the night. The hostel was so old that they didn't even have machines for processing credit cards, so I am now officially out of all euros (although I'm still stocked on swedish kronas, swiss franks, and us dollars, none of which do me any good).

After everyone arrived into town, we hung out for a bit that night before getting some rest for the next day. The following morning we woke up and were treated to breakfast at the oldest cafe in the town (turns out we were not only in a hostel but a bed and breakfast, even better!). After some food, we packed up and headed for the train station where we caught a train to Mayrhofen, a small town about 1.5 hours outside of Innsbruck. Once we arrived, we glanced at a map, stashed some gear in lockers, grabbed a few key grocery items (bread, meat sticks and chocolate) and took off for the mountains. We spent the afternoon hiking up the mountain to Wasserfall, a one-building stop with a lake and lots of small waterfalls falling off the alps into the lake. It was a great hike and we managed to pass by numerous cows along the way (I'm not sure why, but there was kissing of the cows involved at one point...). Once we arrived at Mayrhofen, I found a bus that would take me back down the mountain towards the train station and the rest of the gang kept hiking off into the valley where they were hoping to stay at one of the hostel huts along the path. They will be hiking the alps for the next four days before McLean has to fly back to the US on Sunday. I'm now waiting in the train where I will eventually be arriving in Rome in the morning to meet the fam, where the real fun begins :) I'm fairly certain my mom will be bringing along a month's supply of underwear for me which will sufficiently overflow my backpack for the summer. So for now, my time in the alps is up and I'm off to see other parts of Europe, however I have a sneaky suspicion that I will find myself back here at some point in the near future, they're too addicting.

Picture update

Words can get pretty boring, so I apologize for the misproportion of text to images - so here's a few to hopefully make up - there's plenty more to come at some point though. The pictures below are from Amsterdam (and Oasis) and Interlaken. I still have some editing and uploading to do on the others.

Back in time

I was reading a good friend of mine's blog the other day and he was talking about the importance of putting God in control of our plans, rather than always relying on our own plans. I think this is one of those ideas that sounds so simple but we rarely implement in our own lives. After reading his post, God demonstrated for me the power of sitting back and letting him plan things by leading me straight into the middle of a transformed medieval city - let me explain...

At the beginning of the summer, I had come up with a detailed plan of what cities I wanted to visit and which trains I would need to take to get to all of those places. It seemed like common sense to make sure that I actually had a place to sleep for the many nights ahead of me before my family arrived at the end of June.

Well turns out things didn't quite go according to my plans...

There were many times when my plans were changed or switched up - trying to find a place to stay last minute in Amsterdam around midnight, loving Switzerland so much that I canceled most of the other cities I had planned to travel to, and luckily finding a way to ride the Glacier Express because my Swiss time was extended. Now those change in plans meant that I arrived in Germany a day later than I had originally expected, which didn't seem like a big deal, turns out it worked largely in my favor though :)

So I arrived in Stuttgart on Friday, just in time to watch the Germany world cup match. Sadly they lost the game but it was still a crazy experience to hang outside with thousands of germans watching the game together. After strolling around Stuttgart for a little bit, I jumped on the train towards a small town called Reutlingen where I was staying with a good friend of mine from MSLS, Tilman. Tilman made an awesome dinner (and I am sufficiently caught up on any lack of butter I may have been experiencing due to traveling and a limited budget, butter, butter and more butter!) and then I managed to steal his internet for awhile to catch up on some work.

We still hadn't planned what we were going to do on Saturday but had been talking about going to see a castle for quite some time. Well at the last minute, Tilman realized that because my plans had changed and I had arrived two days later - I was actually just in time to see a yearly 'spectacle' in a small town called Horb, about an hour away. Turns out that every year the town re-enacts what the area and people used to look like back in the medieval time period and have actors re-enacting important charters that were signed and parades held throughout the town. For those Pennsylvanians out there, imagine the Renaissance Fair times 100, located in an authentic medieval german town, and with nearly every visitor dressed up as well - it was absolutely insane. There was jousting and knight fights, crazy medieval food, a bagpipe band that made the eurovision winners from Finland look pathetic, and so many random things to buy that looked like they were directly out of Hogwartz (the fact that everything was in german probably didn't help when it came to determining what those random things actually were).

As we were riding back to Reutlingen where I was going to stay the night, I just couldn't help but smile at the odds of me randomly pushing back my plans which resulted in the chance to go see Horb, a town I would never have known existed beforehand. Over the years as I travel more and more, I've got quite used to going with the flow and adapting plans as they happen - for me that is getting quite easy to do for traveling - but I need to try and apply that to other aspects of my life as well.

I like to know how things are going to, or supposed to, happen in life. Perhaps that is the control-freak part of me coming out and it is quite hard to tame down. But when we hand over our desires for how life should be run and give it to God, crazy things happen.

Well the craziness continues for my traveling and tonight I am sleeping in Fussen, Germany before heading down to Austria tomorrow to meet up with McLean and Matt. Today I went and saw Neuschwenstein, the famous german castle that Disney used as inspiration for the Cinderella castle in Florida. It was quite impressive and the first completely touristy thing I've done all trip, but it was definitely worth it! The castle itself is massive, but only 16 rooms inside have been finished because the king died unexpectedly and all construction stopped. As has been the story throughout this trip so far, it continued to rain all day but it made for some cool views as the clouds engulfed the castle on top of the hill. Now it is Sunday night and I am sleeping in a hostel and happy to have a hot shower and comfy bed to sleep in for the night. Onto Austria in the morning!

Into the Alps

Well I believe I left off with me in Interlaken, Switzerland - time to catch you up on the past few days. On Thursday morning, I left my campsite in Interlaken and jumped on the train towards Brig where I just managed to catch the Glacier Express, known as the "slowest express train in the world." It has been called one of the most impressive train routes in all of Europe and after traveling on about half of it, I can easily see why.

But before boarding the train, I stopped into a local bakery to pick up some lunch for the ride. I grabbed a small sandwich and some chocolate which totaled 12 franks. With very little time to get to the train, I quickly swiped my card, signed, and bagged my purchases. For some reason, I managed to double glance down at the receipt as I started to walk away and noticed that instead of paying 12 franks, I had actually just paid 120 franks - slight difference. So after a jumbled attempt at trying to speak swiss german with the cashier, I eventually was able to get my money back with just enough time to get on the train.

Now the Glacier Express is a popular trip for older folks, and is nice for those wanting a relaxing ride through the mountains and a romantic meal along the way. My intention was slightly different, I just wanted to see glaciers and needed to get to the other side of switzerland at some point. So when I sat down in my seat, I found myself sitting across from a french couple (who spoke zero english) and found myself as the third wheel on their romantic little trip. Now typically one would buy a single seat for a single individual - not this couple. Of the four seats around our table, they bought three of the four - the two near the window and then another one so they could sit beside each other. So for half of the train they sat side by side, and then when dinner came, they sat across from one another for their romantic meal. Meanwhile, I sat in the fourth seat with my tiny sandwich in a plastic bag, a bar of chocolate, and a camera constantly shooting pictures over their shoulder. Fun times.

As their wine, full course meal, tiramisu, and a whole range of other things to keep them fed were served, I sat in awe of the sights around us (they didn't take a single picture the whole time we traveled, I'm not sure how that is possible, ha). The tracks that we traveled meandered their way through mountain range after mountain range, passing by tiny clusters of wooden homes darkened by the beating sun. A herd of cattle roam the hillside and we can hear their bells ringing as they move from patch to patch. The higher we climb, the closer we find ourselves to the glaciers that were only recently beckoning me to reach out and touch them back in Grindelwald. It's as if time has stopped - the glaciers stand so still as if they longed to be flowing down the mountain with the other waterfalls and streams trickling past us. Our train passes through a series of intricate tunnels and over beautifully-crafted bridges. A biker climbs the curving roads beneath us, just a speck in this massive landscape. I find myself staring out the window without really focusing on anything in particular.

As we pass by all the little towns beneath us, I started to think about how lucky I am to live in a place like Lancaster, or the US for that matter, where I have so many options and opportunities available to me. Now I'm sure the people who live in these towns love it, but I don't know if I could permanently live in such a solitary place. I began to notice that in many of these areas, there is typically only one church as well. Sometimes I forget how much of a privilege it is to be able to question the churches I grew up in and then have other options to choose from to find the one that fits best. We don't just have freedom of religion, but also numerous possibilities for religion.

Passing by the many small towns, we eventually arrive upon Chur, an old town in the center of the valley which consists of an elaborate network of back alleys and small squares. I decided this would be a good place to crash for the night. I left the train, leaving the french couple to actually enjoy the rest of their trip, and wandered into Chur looking for a place to stay. I eventually stumbled across an awesome hostel (with unlimited internet, got to love that) and unloaded my bags in one of the dorms. After strolling through the town for awhile, I went back to the hostel's sports bar and watched a few of the world cup games. There I met a guy from South Korea and we shared many of our stories from traveling around the world. The more I travel, the more I realize that there are so many other places to travel to - I think I'm going to have to make it a goal to every year or so go and see something new and inspiring. After the final game, I went back to my room and cleaned up a bit and got ready for the next train ride in the morning.

And that's where I find myself right now, riding on the train from Chur to Stuttgart where I am meeting a friend of mine from Sweden. It's just a few more days now until the family comes over and a whole new series of craziness ensues, as always, I'll be sure to keep you updated.

Hidden mysteries

Well I made it to Interlaken and am loving it here in Switzerland. Interlaken, as the name implies, is situated between two big lakes and is surrounded by the alps. If it weren't for the gigantic mountain range around me, I would think I was in the Caribbean because of the water color - it is the most clear blue/green water I've seen in quite some time.

I've been staying at the oldest privately owned hostel in all of Switzerland, and it sure has some character to it. I've been staying in their tent village which is situated a bit outside of the town out in a field - nothing like falling asleep to crickets once again. As luck would have it, as I was arriving to my tent, I was stopped by a photographer and asked to help him out for a second. Turns out he was shooting the new promotional material for the hostel and wanted to use me as the model for his shots, so for all of you coming to Interlaken in the future - don't be surprised when you roll out of the train station and see my face (well actually it's the back of my head, I was told it's my better side) and bags on many of the brochures and signs. Life is good, haha.

After checking in to the hostel, I met up with Andrea (my roommate over the last year) for the rest of the afternoon and took a boat out to some of the little castles scattered across the lakes. We then had the best food yet on this trip in a tiny little pub and afterwards I went home and crashed after a long day of traveling. Two important things I discovered however on this day. One: Interlaken has the coolest water fountains in the world. They are all gravity fed from pure spring water running off the lake, and they flow all over the place in old stone troughs. Two: I managed to leave all of my underwear in Karlskrona, bummer. Interlaken has been a city of "inside-outing"and it's soon time that I buy myself a souvenir of some nice swiss undies.

This morning I took the train up to Grindelwald, a tiny village situated in the heart of the alps. After wandering the town for a bit, I decided to take a gondola up one of the mountains and hike back down to the town. Great decision! After arriving at the top and beginning my hike down, I quickly realized that it is a poor idea to wear flip flops when traveling to the alps, note to self, the alps are steep and sandals have no support. Oh well, it just made the whole thing more memorable.

As I wandered down the path back towards Grindelwald, I found myself passing field upon field of yellow, purple and white flowers scattered across the slopes. Surrounded on all sides, I was blanketed by an ever-stretching cloud that dwarfed the valley. I found myself in a trance down the mountain - and then I lost my breath.

As I gazed up ahead of me to see where the path turned next, a parting in the clouds was revealing the most magnificent mountain I have ever seen. It's peak silhouetted by the clouds, it beckoned me to try and touch it. The snowy caps trickled down the grooves on its face and as fast as I tried to scribble down my thoughts on a sheet of paper, the blanket consumed the peak once again.

I was left standing full of awe and found myself spinning slowly, wondering what other peaks lie hidden behind the clouds. It's amazing how such a beautiful mystery can be so easily hidden, and I have no say or control as to when I can see it.

There's been a lot of times in my life where I go looking for miracles, but it seems that it is during the moments when we aren't even looking, and can't possibly fathom that something so incredible is surrounding us entirely, that the miracle hits. God is a beautiful and miraculous god.

After sitting on the path for a few minutes I managed to catch my breath again, but words still took awhile to come back.

One of my recent prayers has been for god to continually bug me and nudge me to learn and grow and find those moments of beauty. I get excited and can't wait to think about all the moments of revealing that God has in store for me in the future, but for now, this mountain will have to suffice :) As cool as it would have been to see the entire mountain range on a clear day, I don't think I would have appreciated them quite as much.

So after making it back into Grindelwald, I decided to head back to the train and return to the hostel. On my way down, I discovered I had been sneaking onto the trains with my Inter-rail pass that in fact didn't work on these trains, go figure. Good thing I had absolutely zero swiss franks on me and was unable to pay the ticket fee to the conductor when they came around checking for tickets. I think he was ready for his shift to be over and just told me not to do it again, I think that shouldn't be a problem considering I leave tomorrow.

Once returning to Interlaken, I popped by the hostel reception area where I watched Switzerland surprisingly beat Spain in the world cup and then took an early night back to my tent. It's been a good day, even though it was filled with rain, and I am so thankful for the things I get to witness.

Oasis Wrap-up

One city down, many more to go for this summer. I'm waiting in the Amsterdam train station to book my reservation for Interlaken, Switzerland later tonight (so I'm sorry if this post doesn't flow very well, it was typed up quite quick).

The past three days have been great and a much needed break from the student schedule of the last year. For the last two days, I have been involved with the Oasis Game, which is a process for bringing individuals together and realizing their dreams within their communities. Oasis was created in Brazil a few years ago and has since been expanding around the world. The idea is that a group of people come together (in this case, all over the world) and work alongside a community to make their dreams a reality. For our week, the community wanted to create a garden and a greenhouse, paint some murals and build soccer goals and a zipline for the kids. I was involved with building the zipline and greenhouse, and throughout the week dabbled in many of the other projects.

By far the biggest challenge was not being able to speak the language, and as a result, I had a very hard time interacting with the community and kids. Eventually you overcome that barrier and learn to interact in other means, but I was unable to go up to community members and ask them to join in or learn more about their life stories. But not being able to speak much meant that I was able to observe what was going on around me much more.

I was involved with the community for two days, but the entire event had been going on for a week before I arrived. The first day I was there, Saturday, was a bit of a learning experience for the group. We weren't able to get as much of the community involved as planned, we mostly had kids, and the organization for the different tasks that needed completed was lacking a tad. But with any project like this, you need those learning moments to know how to improve for the next time. Fortunately, we had a second day on Sunday, so at the end of the day on Saturday we talked as a group on how we wanted to engage the community more effectively and planned our working for the following day. The talk was quite helpful because Sunday was a huge improvement.

A large proportion of the community came out to help on Sunday and people were constantly bringing food and drinks if they weren't directly helping with the building, painting or gardening. In addition to the bonding with the community, it seemed that the core group for Oasis had begun to bond more tightly.

It was a whirlwind to get everything finished, and the greenhouse specifically took a lot of finishing details to get up and running. One of the keys about Oasis is that it uses only donated or recycled materials from the community. Most of the projects similar to Oasis I have been involved with (Jamaica, Lousianna, Tanzania) tend to have a more planned out system for obtaining materials, but in Oasis, we simply wandered around the community looking for anything we could find to use. For example, one group went to a shipyard and after talking with some people there, were able to find a large pulley to use for the zipline. For the greenhouse, we found some large metal poles, a lot of zipties and some plastic that we were able to strap up into something that surprisingly resembled a greenhouse.

One of the key things throughout the process was to ensure that the community was involved so that they would feel ownership and pride in continuing the project in the future. I wasn't sure how exactly this would turn out but I think it was most evident in the last two hours of our build time. Suddenly, people were coming out of their homes with hanging baskets for the greenhouse, different materials to make windchimes, and even an old rabbit house to place in the garden. It was neat to see how excited they were and willing to contribute.

The beauty behind Oasis however was not in the greenhouse that was built, the zipline that was created, or the murals that were painted, but rather in the community that was formed. It's amazing how little we tend to interact with our neighbors, and sometimes we just need a common activity to unite behind and hang out on the street corners talking with one another. It was almost like creating a mini Fourth of July in the community - just another reason to throw a party and BBQ.

Off we go

Alright folks, let the stories begin. Everyone can rest assured as I have made it to a bed for the night and am not left wandering the streets of Amsterdam tonight. But let me explain how I managed that first. So I spent all day roaming the streets of Amsterdam with my bags looking for places to kill time. I stumbled across a few touristy sites in addition to a street of sports bars with tons of TV's outside to watch the opening match of the World Cup - can't wait for the Netherlands game on Monday, I have a feeling it's going to be a little wild :) After wasting enough time, I headed towards a place just outside of downtown where I was planning on meeting the group that I am planning on working with for the next few days, Oasis. If you haven't heard about this group yet, go check out this video for a good idea of what they do - it's quite inspiring!

So after a good hour or so of crisscrossing the streets back and forth, I was convinced that google maps had taken me to the wrong location, as it appeared I was in the middle of a strange residential community, so I turned around and headed back to the central train station where I was hoping to find internet. It turns out that my phone doesn't work here in the Netherlands, or I just haven't quite figured it out yet, which made it difficult for me to reach Sophia, another girl in my program who had been here for a day already and I was planning on meeting at the event tonight. So I started walking and after about 30 minutes, looked up and who other do I see riding towards me on a bike, but Sophia!! So I flagged her down and we rearranged some seating on the bike and headed off together with another guy, Paulo from Brazil, back to where I had come from. Turns out google maps wasn't wrong after all and I just managed to miss the exact corner that this place was on. Fortunately a bike makes things much quicker!

For the rest of the night, we danced and ate and got to know one another better. I'm really becoming a fan of these circle dances where you all face one another, it really gets the energy flowing in a room (especially when brazilians are involved). Which reminds me, at one point in the evening, I found myself dancing with a brazilian lady who commented that I was a very good dancer because of my hip action - ha, who would have guessed they heard the day where a brazilian commented on my dancing ability! Needless to say the evening was a blast, and is also where I met Inge who warmly welcomed me into her home (can't say thank you enough!). And so that is where I am now.

I need to head to bed here soon but I thought I would reflect quickly on the night. I think one of the things that stood out to me is who you can create 'spiritual' spaces in any circumstance. Regardless of how we may define spiritual, there was something different about tonight, which for me, felt very spiritual. At the end of the dancing, we all found ourselves in a big circle, exchanging smiles and thinking back on the memories we were making with one another. As I glanced around the circle, I was able to identify that feeling that emerges in all of us every now and then that this - where we are right now and what we are doing - is right! It was the same feeling I felt after leaving Karlskrona. I am blessed that God keeps leading me into so many incredible groups of community and I am amazed at how quickly some communities form. As I head off to more and more countries this summer, I hope I can take a hint of that ability to ignite and sustain the communities that have impacted me so much - people are just too cool :)

To the impact makers

There are some people that really make the difference.

There are the ones that you lean on, and the ones that you trust in.
The ones that push you, and the ones that pick you up.
The ones that know how to laugh, and the ones that know how to cry.

Words don't really have the ability to sum up some experiences, and as hard as we try, and as much as we'd like them to, they can't replace the magic of the moment.

There's been a lot of those moments for me over the last year, and it's hard to try and think of how to write something like this. But I owe it to those who have made an impact and been there, to translate to emotions to words as best as I can.

When arriving in Sweden a few months ago, I entered a place completely foreign to me. New foods, new sites. New thoughts, and new people.

Throughout the program, we learned a lot about a process called backcasting, where you envision your ideal future and then develop solutions based upon where you are today to reach that goal. Well it's fair to say that I wasn't backcasting all that much from any understanding of what the next year would fully entail for me when I arrived back in August. I walked in blind to the next 10 months and was eager to see how my life would be impacted.

Needless to say, there was an impact.

From those who impacted me through patience and determination.

I was blessed to be able to work with an incredible thesis team over the last few months, and without their help, would not have learned nearly as much as I have this year, both about sustainability and myself. Most importantly, I learned what it was like to work with other "spud personalities." My teammates were incredible when it came to dedicating time to really crank out our thesis and put in the research and writing needed to complete the paper. Being able to work with others who were so passionate and committed to a project was inspiring, and a critical learning point for knowing how others interact with me and my passions on projects. Thinking back on forming groups back in December, it's incredible how much we have bonded as a group and I can do nothing but smile to think of how the future will connect us on further projects! Thank you for the many long hours of thesis discussions interspersed with discussions on life - I can't imagine this year without both of you along the journey :)

From those who impacted me through conversations of meaning.

Over the last year, I was able to get into some really neat conversations with folks here in the program - a few people jump to mind and I'm pretty sure you know who you are. Many of the blog posts that spilled onto this site over the last few months have largely been in response to those conversations. There were conversations about pacifism, others about unconditional love, some about living a life of purpose, and others about putting faith into practice. I tend to look on my faith as an act of learning, following, challenging and growing - all four of those stages have truly flourished and I owe it to those willing to sit up late at night talking or stop their work for a moment to take a walk - your commitment has been unwavering. Thank you for listening and thank you for your sincerity.

From those who impacted me through tears of laughter and tears of sadness.

No year is complete without it's own set of hills and valleys, and this year was no different. Most specifically, I found myself living in a community unlike any others I've lived in before. Back in August, I remember meeting a whole array of people over a relatively short period of time, but there was something that happened which found five of us sticking closer together. We eventually found an incredible apartment for the five of us and I can easily say that many of my most memorable moments from this past year has come from those individuals. Throughout the year, we managed to do community cooking nearly every night, and each dinner lasted around 1.5 - 3 hours. During that time, we got to know one another and learned to recognize each others laugh. Lea was known for the simplest of things sending her off in quite hysterical laughing sets. Matt had an incredible ability to thoroughly enjoy other people's laughter, and often found himself sitting slightly away from the table to avoid Andrea's feet while laughing at the shenanagans unfolding. Wyeth was typically responsible for many of our laughs, whether it be by smashing his toe in a chair or constantly mishearing others, but he was always quick to join in on the laughter. And Andrea had an incredible silent laughter which often resulted in tears streaming down her face. I'll miss those dinners quite a lot, but I know that the impact each of you made on me will remain and that our paths will most definitely connect in the future. Here's to an incredible year and helping me define the term community!

As Club Zebra slowly dwindled down and I was left to lock the door one last time, a tear streamed down my face. It was a confused tear - part sadness, part happiness. Part built on memories of laughter, part built on memories of difficulty. A lot happened within those walls, and as I closed the door, a flood of memories washed by. It was one of those cleansing tears, and when it stops running down your cheek you're left with a drying wet stream and the feeling of closing another chapter in life. Although we sometimes avoid those types of tears and the memories and emotions associated with them, they are truly one of the most precious things I have ever experienced. I'll take those tears any day - as hard as I may try to hold them back :)

As planes start to set off and carry with them some of those impact-makers in my life, I am reminded of the true mystery of a world we live in. Just stop and think about the fact that we have the ability to live in a completely mysterious place for just under a year with fairly mysterious people and the next thing you know it, those mysterious people are off on their journey's once again impacting other people that you will most likely never meet.

Here's to the not-so-mysterious-anymore people in my life, I can't imagine life without you.

Never stop dreaming, never stop reaching. Never stop hoping and never stop loving. You have all expressed love beyond comprehension and will never fully understand the impact that these words scribbled here have tried to encompass. I typically try and finish my blog posts feeling assured that they got across the point that I was hoping for, but as I read back through this one, it still doesn't seem justice. But as feeble an attempt it is, I promise it is from the heart. As MercyMe states in one song...
Everybody hopes that maybe somewhere down this road
We'd finally find that place where we belong
A place where we're complete, not one that occupies our dreams
A place we're lucky to call our home
Thank you to everyone for helping me further sculpt that place that I am privileged, honored, and proud to call home! I love you all :)

I just can't wait...

...to get back on the road again (well more like train tracks) so it's time to keep everyone posted on what I'm up to. Here's a quick itinerary that is still being formed, but hopefully it gives you a better idea of where I'll be and when.

June 10: Malmo, Sweden
June 11-14: Amsterdam, Netherlands
June 15: Luxembourg
June 16-17: Interlaken, Switzerland
June 18: Stuttgart, Germany
June 19-20: Berlin
June 21-22: Vienna, Austria
June 23: Rome, Italy
June 30: Venice, Italy
July 1-5: Paris, France
July 6-10: Southern France
July 11-18: Taize, France
July 19-21: Chinqueterra, Italy
July 31 - Aug 13: Istanbul, Turkey
Aug 14: Lancaster, USA

Throughout my trip, I will be talking with people along the way about sustainability and hopefully hearing a variety of perspectives, opinions and questions regarding the topic. The goal is to record and document these conversations and post them online to share with others. I've found that people are too often afraid to talk about issues they aren't fully knowledgeable of or comfortable with - I know I feel this way at times - but if we wait to talk about sustainability until we fully understand it, then we will most likely have missed our chance to capitalize on the urgent action needed to transform our society. My goal is to just spark some of those conversations, regardless of where they begin from.

I will be launching the website soon, along with a few other friends of mine who will be contributing to the project, and we'd love to hear your thoughts as well. Stay tuned for more information about it, until then, check out Curbside Conversations to get an idea of the larger purpose the trip will work towards.

Currently I'm in Malmo finalizing my visa for the summer (always an enjoyable experience) and then tonight I head off on the train towards Amsterdam where I will be arrive tomorrow morning. This upcoming weekend, I will be participating in an initiative called Oasis and working to revitalize and empower a local community in Amsterdam by helping them realize their own dreams. It should be an exciting opportunity and I can't wait for the opportunity to serve with others once again. I've realized that I miss moments like the Spring Break trips to Louisiana and helping at the orphanage in Tanzania, so my time in Amsterdam should be a perfect segway after finishing up my time in Sweden.

Well time to go pick up my visa and get this pack off of my back for a bit. Photography and videography is a blast - but someone should really invest in lightweight gear :) I hope to keep in touch with everyone this summer and do write comments on my posts with ideas or questions about what I'm up to, it always helps come up with future blog posts. Thanks for the support as always and hope to see many of you soon!

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