Not Painting the Sea

Being in British Columbia made me wish that I was a painter. Despite usually feeling like my words are sufficient to paint images in people’s minds, these views had me speechless which happens very rarely.

One day I went hiking with my family and left them to continue the trail while I climbed down to the rocky beach. Kicking off my sandals and walking out onto the rocks, I feel more like a foreigner than anything else. My feet are soft, from summers spent on sandy shores in Georgian Bay, years of running through Beausoleil Island and Killbear Provincial Park. This pebbled beach, rolling under my feet and pricking the soles when a bit of shell peaks through, it feels different. It’s hard to believe this is the same Canada I know and love.

I get to the edge of the water, breathe deeply through my nose, inhaling the salty smell. This too is new. Canada, from sea to sea to sea, for me has always been a land of lakes, where I can dive deep, look up and watch the sunlight filter through the marbled green and blue water. I will not even try to open my eyes in the ocean.

The waves lap against my toes and my feet remind me that they are hurting on the rocks; the sooner I go in, the sooner I can float and let them rest. But the water is cold and it is not a hot day. My favourite black bathing suit, which I’ve been carrying around for days hoping to get close to the ocean, has been left in the car. I didn’t expect this hiking trail to led me to the water. Still, my red jumpsuit will dry quickly I suspect and I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to swim this trip. Now or never.

I clumsily walk into the waves, trying not to fall. A little girl runs toward the water a few meters away from me; clearly she is BC grown because she doesn’t even flinch at the rocks splaying out from under her feet. Her grandma trails behind and we look at each, smiling. I remember that I now look more adult than girl.

“Is it cold?” She asks me.

I smile again and nod. “I’m trying to convince myself to do it, just to dunk and get it over with.”

“It’s not bad, come on!” the little girl is kicking and splashing between us.

She’s right. My legs and feet have adjusted and I know the rest of me will too as soon as I convince myself to get in. I turn around to face the shore, count to three and fall backwards into the shadowy, rolling water. It’s a trick that always works but my breath still catches for a minute as the cold water engulfs me.

And then I let myself breath deeply. Lake or sea, water is water and I always feel at home when I’m floating. My clothes billow out around me but for some reason, it doesn’t feel scary, like swimming in clothes sometimes can. My lips taste the salt and my hair, loose and long, fans out around me, bits of it sticking around my neck and chest. The grandma has taken the plunge too and she and the girl are pretending to be dolphins; I can’t help but grin, remembering all the hours I spent kicking and spinning in the lake back home, sunlight dancing in patches on my skin, as I pretended to be a mermaid. To see me now, in the sea itself, long hair and bright eyes, I can almost fall back into the fantasy.

I start paddling out, awe struck by the mountains on the horizon. It’s this moment that leaves me feeling without adequate words, this moment where I curse my “lack of creativity” and wish my fingers knew the secrets of replicating the Artist’s greatest works. It’s a view all made of blue, the sea the sky and mountains layered in the distance. As if someone started at the bottom and ran out of ink as they shaded skyward, the mountains rise in groups of bluish gray, getting lighter as they dance towards the sky. Mountains always seem to me to be to be vibrating with their own rhythm and life, despite their strongly grounded roots.  The trees here look different too. Like Christmas trees in fairytale giants’ homes, they cluster around the base of the jagged hill. From far away, they don’t look green, but rather almost black, a contrasting border to the mountain shades. How wondrous it is that this fairytale view too is the country I call home.

I’m not sure how long I floated there, thinking about how small I was. Just floating in the sea and wondering at the mountains. Eventually my family comes into view over the ridge high above the beach and I know it’s time to go. My uncle is coming down for a minute; I think he wants to touch the sea before we leave. As I climb out of the water, my hair and clothes suctioned to my body, my uncle and the little girl’s mother on the beach are staring at something just behind me. My uncle points and I turn around.
“Orcas” someone shouts.

I stare at the horizon, straining without my glasses to see something far away. To my surprise, I see a fin rise up much closer than anticipated, maybe 100 feet or less from where I had floated minutes before. I watch, mouthing “wow” to myself again and again, unable to come up with anything else, as the rolling waves reveal three orca whales passing by close to the beach. I can hardly believe how lucky I feel; I shared water with these creatures. Their smooth black and white bodies are clear to see, despite my lack of distance vision. My uncle is trying to get a picture or a video but I feel rooted to the rocks, my tender feet forgotten. I want to be present in this moment with Creation. The rollercoaster movement of the orcas, up and down, coming into view further left each time, feels like a gift, handed specifically to me by the Creator. Lord, if you wanted me to fall in love with B.C., you’re doing a really good job of it.

Eventually, we can’t see them anymore as they round the corner of the island. The women tells us that despite coming here, to this beach, every summer of her life, she has never seen whales here, not ever before. I can’t keep the smile off my face; what a gift God has given me today. My feet could dance, even on the rocky shore.

I grab my shoes. I take one more deep breath of ocean air. Nature has so many smells and I’ve grown to love each one. From the mossy dampness of the forest, when you crawl out of your tent in the quiet morning after a storm, to the sprigs of lavender that dot the path in the meadow in late August, to now this salty, brisk, wild smell of sea in British Colombia, a new puzzle piece in my Canadian mosaic. I take one last look at the view. Even though the whale friends have disappeared, this view can hold it’s own for awe and wonder. The mountains in their magnitude, crashing into the bluer sky and melting into the untamed waves evokes in me gratitude, hope and a sense of adventure that fills my soul and reminds me, the way something beautiful does everyday, how glad I am to be alive.

I feel a moment of sadness, knowing that I am not a painter; I will never be able to replicate with misty edges and smudged colours, this picture that my mind will slowly let fade. But it’s ok. this feeling of foreignness and home, of wonder and of awe, of being small and one with Creation. This feeling will come again. I serve the Greatest Painter and He is always sharing with me His favourite pieces of art.

41340169_2057746481202808_1643554916116987904_n

You Guat’a be kidding me

Hey there my friends! How is everyone?

So many drafts saved, so few posts published! The saga continues with the tension of this internet space, as I discover more and more about who God has created me to be, think about how to express my thoughts, figure out what I want to share here and ponder what, if any, my influence is through writing. It’s a fun journey but one that sometimes means not much actually makes its way past a draft!! To make up for it, here’s a reallllly long one with lots of pretty pictures!

Anyyyyyway. If you follow me on social media or know me in real life, you probably know that I went on a little adventure last month to a place I’d never been before – Guatemala! Wahoo! This was my first time in Latin America as a “backpacker” (LOL) since previously I’ve visited with my family but stayed mostly on the resorts, hanging out on the beaches. This was a very different experience! I also got to travel with one of my best friends and we had just the most fun time. Fair warning, this post may just be a jumble of photos and little stories!

Last year I decided to stop talking and writing so much about desiring adventure and travel and just friggin’ do it. I went to Iceland by myself and it was a really freeing and wonderful experience that I think helped me grow a lot as a person. It’s that “shut up and go” attitude that I’ve tried to carry over into my everyday life since then, from spontaneous weekend trips to Montreal, to canoeing in new places, to trying out a new hobby, to “adventuring” in my own city to find new places to study and explore.

That said, there is something very unique about international travel that I simply love. I love the process of going from one place to another, the fact that I can sit down in this mental tube and a few hours later be someplace totally different. I love, love, love the process of planning and dreaming, only to find myself totally winging it when I get there.  I love meeting people I don’t interact with in my everyday life whether that means locals or other backpackers. I love the tension and being kept on my toes and having everything just be a little out of my hands. I love trying to practice new languages (I got out a little easy this time because Nick’s Spanish is a lot better than mine and he bailed me out a bit hehe!)

Not to mention, the world is crazy beautiful.

Suffice to say, Iceland lit a fire under my feet and had me checking flight prices all winter and spring. After a while, I realized that my cheapest option was probably going to be Guatemala. So I started telling all my friends that I was going and that they were invited. Some people showed interest, a couple seriously. Eventually my dear friend Nick agreed to come along and we booked flights. Over the next couple months we laughed often about the fact that we were ACTUALLY going to go.

IMG_3728
Friend!! He put up with me being bossy and sick and bad at Spanish for a whole week! What a guy!!

So here’s 10 things I learned over reading week in Guatemala:

  1. You can be as careful as you like, but you still might get sick. Nick and I were pretty careful about where and what we ate and drank because we had heard that lots of people get sick while in Guatemala (and developing countries in general) but OF COURSE, the day we were supposed to go hiking, we both ended up really sick with some kind of brutal stomach bug or food poisoning. It had us out for the count for a full day/day and a half and didn’t fully go away until more than a week after we’d been home. I actually got it worse a second time after we were home and had to take antibiotics. All that to say a) you can’t control these things and b) you can’t be bitter about it and let it ruin your whole trip. I did warn Nick on day 1 that if anything bad could happen, it would surely happen to me/us. Y’all know the deal #samproblems

 

 

IMG_3744
A real-life view of what travel sometimes looks like #dying

2. Travelling with a friend is very different than travelling alone. Not better or worse, just different. When I went to Iceland, I loved that I was totally in control of my own time and that I was only responsible for myself. Travelling with Nick, I suddenly was aware that all my decisions had to work for another person too! There was some tension with that because I had planned most of our trip and felt responsible for whether or not Nick had fun. At the same time, he is an adult and can take of himself. So it was interesting to figure out how to balance those things and how to travel together and how to let each other do their own thing but also be together most of the time. At the end of our trip we had a really good talk about communication and sharing planning responsibilities and how to learn from this trip for future adventures together!

Also, I noticed that I am more chill of a traveller than maybe I realized? I don’t really stress and stay pretty calm in situations that could become concerning and even though I knew that about myself, it was interesting to…notice I guess, what others find stressful about travel. Nick noticed things that I didn’t even think to be concerned about and it was good for both of us to balance each other out in that way because it forced me to consider things more carefully and question my assumptions and I encouraged him to relax a bit. On the flip side (this is going to sound very contradictory), I think I am still a pretty cautious traveller. Like I said, it’s a balance. I don’t act rashly but I also don’t worry once I have made a decision.

Overall, it was super nice to have someone with me along the way, especially since Nick is one of my best friends and he and I haven’t gotten much one on one time since moving out of residence in first year so our time together was really precious to me!

3. “Dangerous” is a relative term and a little common sense can go a long way. Speaking of stress or fear or danger and using common sense, I think it’s worth noting that I never felt unsafe in Guatemala. Before we went, several people voiced concern for us because statistically, Guat has high levels of crime. However that is mostly gang related and concentrated in the capital where we did not stay.  There was one situation in a taxi where Nick thought we were potentially in danger but that was more due to a miscommunication in Spanish than anything else and everything ended up being ok. One other time, we were told a particular hike was unsafe unless in larger groups due to reports of tourists being mugged which, just that stipulation made me a little nervous. But honestly, we never felt like we were in particularly dangerous place. On our part, we took some precautions like not wandering around at night or flaunting expensive things around. In general we found Guatemalans to be very welcoming people who were open to sharing their culture (although sometimes they were pushy sales people lol)

4. A week isn’t long enough to appreciate the complexity of a countries history, politics and culture. Honestly, I have little to say about this except to say that I regret not learning more about Guatemala’s history before I went, that I really loved how present and prevalent the Indigenous culture still was and that I am constantly amazed by my own ignorance to other countries’ political climates, even though I am studying international development.  I have so much to learn.

IMG_4815

5. On that note, I’m still learning how studying development shapes my world view. I felt uncomfortable by how many people assumed my trip to Guatemala was to volunteer or do some kind of development work. Aside from the fact that I am still working through how I feel about “voluntourism”, the comments also felt a little accusative, as if my chosen field of study disallows me from travelling in the developing world for my own enjoyment. Yet, in a strange way, it does. Because of my education, I see things differently. I found myself hyper aware of my privilege as a visitor, painfully aware of my relative wealth. Although I am all for tourism because it is a source of income for many people, it’s impossible to visit Guatemala and not see the inequalities, the lack of drinkable water, the poverty.

Yet, as a student of development, I was ALSO really interested in the efforts I saw being made towards empowerment – Indigenous owned coffee companies, a newly opened restaurant that was part of a women’s co-op and vocational school, Spanish schools that teach the language through politics and education on colonial history. I could see small projects and changes happening. On my end, I am constantly learning and travel is just a small part of that. Even though this was a vacation and not an experiential learning opportunity, my education has changed the lens with which I travel and it continues to challenge the way I think and look at the world.

P.s. Like I said I have a lot of mixed feelings but a definition of voluntourism I would feel comfortable with would definitely involve way more awareness and knowledge of Guat than I had and would require longer term investment than one week – but that’s for another blog post.

6. Try to speak the local language. Just try a little. In Guatemala, you kind of had to know at least some Spanish. Although, in the villages, Spanish was actually the second language for many people who spoke one of 20+ Indigenous languages as a mother tongue! Although my speaking isn’t all that great, my comprehension in Spanish is ok and because of that, I got to barter and chat and hear bits of people’s stories – my favourite was talking to our taxi driver about swimming, a favourite activity we both shared. P.s. shout out to Nick for his Spanish skills saving me when I floundered 2 out of 3 times.

IMG_4744.JPG

7. Backpacker culture is different in different parts of the world. Previously when I’ve stayed in hostels I have found it easy to make friends and fit into the backpacker culture. In Guatemala I found it more difficult to “fit in”. Many people I spoke to had very different perceptions than I do of what traveling looks like, what it’s purpose is and why one should do it. Although I love talking to people with different points of view, I found the backpacking culture in Guat to be a little toooooo “go with the flow” for me. Not that being flexible is bad but everyone I talked to seemed to be traveling indefinitely, with no plans and no purpose, to the point where some of them were rather rude about the fact that Nick and I were in school – because in their mind, school couldn’t possibly be about anything other than conforming to societal expectations. Along with this, I found many of them didn’t seem to understand that their ability to travel in this manner is not a way of fighting back against the capitalist societal norms but actually a result of their Western privilege – hanging out at a hostel for months on end means you are wealthy enough to travel and CHOOSE an alternative to the corporate world. I don’t mean this as a judgement or to paint all Central American backpackers in a bad light because obviously there are many types of people who travel for various reasons, it was just an overall attitude difference than what I have seen other places. That said, Nick and I did of course meet some really interesting people, from a new friend from Colombia to a group Irish girls on their grad trip to a really cool German couple and an older woman on a spiritual journey. Travel always, always, always opens my mind to the diversity of people.

8. 20 is apparently still too young to be travelling. When I was 19 in Iceland I was “just a baby”. Apparently going to Guatemala at 20 still warrants “awww”s and disbelief that young people can take airplanes without adult supervision

IMG_3726

9. Splurge on some activities but don’t forget that just being present in a new environment is an amazing way to spend time. I absolutely adored going zip lining in a National Park and I am so glad we spent a day in Chichi at the largest market in Central America. But my favourite memory from our trip is when one morning we got up and went swimming in the volcanic lake. Here’s a little blurb I wrote in my journal that day:

“This morning when I got up, I looked out and saw nothing but trees. With only two walls and no electricity, our hostel room feels more like a secret club house than a bedroom. I got up and wandered down to the lake where the sky was clear and the tops of the volcanoes were visible, towering on the other side of the lake. Carefully picking my way along the boardwalk, I went to a quiet swimming place and jumped in, the clear, cold water enveloping me and then buoying me back up to the surface. As I turned back to shore,  I can hardly believe my eyes. Mountains reach up and up, covered in lush, dense jungle and spotted with coloured houses. Around the summits, fog swirls. Nick and I keep laughing because it honestly feels like we must be in a movie, it’s just so beautiful.”

The sheer joy of being a new place, seeing beauty I had never seen before, floating in blue water and laughing with my friend is a wonderful as any activity I could have planned. When travelling, make sure to take time to just be present in the place.

10. Travel always revives my sense of wonder and reminds me of God’s glory and creativity. Wow, wow, wow you guys. Guatemala is seriously incredible! And it just makes me want to see other places all the more. Seeing natural beauty and diversity always just makes me want to draw close to the Lord and praise Him for all He has created and blessed me with. One morning when I couldn’t sleep because I was sick, I went down and sat on a dock around 4am and sang worship songs as the sun rose up from behind the volcanos ringing the lake. It’s as beautiful as it sounds. Traveling around  and exploring Guatemala revived my child-like sense of wonder and made me grateful all over again for the world God created.

IMG_4610

SO that’s about all I’ve got for now I think. I guess I had quite a bit to say! I’m just so grateful for the opportunities I have to explore and live life to the fullest. Thanks as always for reading, for putting up with my ramblings and for following me along on this ever changing, ever challenging, ever exciting and ever grander adventure.

Until next time,

Sam

(Don’t) talk to strangers?

IMG_3424
I met these friends just two days before our adventure to Gatineau Park

Every little kid knows the rule growing up: don’t talk to strangers. And fair enough! The world is a dangerous place. Kids are vulnerable. You never know people’s true intentions. However as we get older, the narrative continues. Especially as a girl, I am continually encouraged to keep my guard up around people I just met, not to trust too quickly. Stranger danger becomes a way of life, a way of looking at the world.

While we definitely need to be thoughtful, wise and aware, I think that the intense and immediate distrust of strangers, the assumption that people are bad or dangerous until proven otherwise, is a communal mindset that drives us towards a more individualistic and frankly, more boring society. As children, yes, a blanket rule of thumb is required for safety. But as adults? I would argue that we all could use some more stranger “danger” in our lives. Not literal danger y’all, just a couple steps outside our comfort zones will do!

Choosing to interact with people you don’t know in a genuine and engaged way brings so much joy and interest to our day to day lives. It teaches teaches us about what true hospitality looks like and helps foster an encompassing sense of community that humanizes the “other”.

Friends have, I’m sure, heard me say it before, I may have even written it in the blog, that “strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet”. I don’t say that to be naïve. I’m not assuming everyone will like me and I’m not disregarding the fact that there are indeed dangerous people out there with malicious intentions. However, that is not the majority. Everyone you have ever known was a stranger at some point. Maybe you were introduced by a friend or had a class together and you got to know each other in what is societally considered a safe space.

But

Who’s to say that guy reading a book in the park isn’t also going to be super cool and share your love of skiing?

Unless you ask her, how will you know that the women sitting next to you on the bus has walked the entire Great Wall of China or that she has her pilots license or that she and her husband have the best love story you’ve never heard?

If you don’t talk to strangers you may never hear why someone would want to be vegan or how one goes about building their own sailboat or what it’s like to work in a brewery or what it’s like to be a diplomat in Syria. My parents always told me, “you can’t do everything”. They were right! But SOMEONE out there has done everything. Don’t you want to hear their stories?

Aside from being purely interesting, it also teaches us how to love more fully. Inviting someone into your life and into your space isn’t always easy and it may require a little bit of sacrifice. But choosing community and choosing hospitality is SO WORTH IT.

IMG_3423 2
In the woods, exploring with Remi, Jess and Mike

As many of you probably read last week I ended up going to Montréal by myself. While we’re on the subject, thank you all so much for the support! I received countless messages of encouragement after my plans got flipped on their head. Spontaneity and risk taking y’all, it pays off.  Now I could have spent all weekend exploring by myself but where’s the fun in that? I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason and so I couldn’t wait to get to know these people that had been unexpectedly thrown into my life. Getting to know people and hearing their life stories was one of my favourite parts about my trip to Iceland and I didn’t see why Montreal had to be any different!

 

I ended up meeting people from all over: Scotland, England, France, Germany, China, Australia, Brazil, etc. Everyone had different reasons for traveling, they were of all different ages and we spoke about all kinds of things, from music to politics to language learning to sailing to what it’s like to be Canadian. I wasn’t just talking to strangers. I made friends. 

And although it might have made my mom uneasy, I actually ended up inviting a couple of guys, David and Frank to stay at my apartment back in Ottawa with my roommates and I as they continued their Canadian adventures. You know what? It made my week having them there. Aside from the fact that they were completely respectable houseguests, they were also fun guys! We took them to see the light show on Parliament Hill, went to a karaoke bar, went to Blue’s fest and also just chatted. My roommates and I felt a little lonely when they finally moved onto the next leg of their trips, after each having spent 4 nights sleeping on our couch!

IMG_3692
David and Frank, our couch surfers. They were trying to see if the cucumber would scare our cat?

They were strangers. Who quickly became friends.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made fast friends about people and welcomed them into my life. There are a couple of people I’ve met through blogging/Youtube who I’ve actually met and hung out with in real life. There are a couple of girls I connected with on Facebook before coming to university who are still friends of mine. My host family in Switzerland were total strangers and they were some of the most wonderful and kind souls. Speaking of exchange, my current roommate is a girl I met in the airport on my way to Switzerland 3 years ago. Our other roommate was literally a stranger.  And you know what? I love them both so much it’s crazy.

IMG_3779
Roomie love

I’ve made friends with strangers in the park and random people on buses and in coffee shops. I’ve had fantastic conversations with people I will never see again. I’ve gotten to go on outdoor adventures with friends of friends of friends because I decided to talk to them.

IMG_2747
More strangers turned friends!

It’s scary to talk to strangers. They represent a total unknown. They could be rude. They could be having a bad day (in which case maybe a friendly banter with you is exactly what they need?). Maybe they re someone unlike anyone else you know – and maybe that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe they have incredible stories to tell and maybe you’ll find them incredibly boring.

But try. Invite someone to have coffee with you. Treat acquaintances with more warmth and hospitality than they are expecting. Smile at the man standing next to you at the cross walk. Take time to step outside of the individual bubble we’ve all taught ourselves to walk about in. Start seeing people as the complex, puzzling, dazzling pieces of art that they are. I promise that your life will become infinitely richer with each story you tell, each face that becomes familiar and each human being you choose to call friend instead of stranger.

Until next time

 

Sam

IMG_3219
Ready for an afternoon paddle – with a bunch of total “strangers” as per the usual!

 

 

 

 

 

Canoe with me

There’s something about sharing a canoe with someone.

You’re in each other’s space.

Moving forward as one, you can’t leave this person

behind.

Sometimes there is silence.

Except it’s never really silence because

your paddles are swishing through the water,

sending droplets flying and crashing down,

making noise in nature.

But when the other person says nothing, not even the biggest splash

can break the barrier.

Other times,

the banter flies back and forth without effort.

You make each other laugh and share silly stories

about the time you fell in a mud puddle at a school cross country race

or when you melted your compass into the plastic map case,

leaving it too close to the fire.

Voices echoing into the wide wild that surrounds,

two people connect

IMG_3419

 

Skál and Bless

img_2350

Where to begin?

Well, I’ve been home from Iceland for just more than 24 hours and I’ve already figured out where I want to go next reading week and scoped out the cheapest flights, if that tells you anything. I’ve travelled before but this was the first time by myself and the first time in this way. Going on exchange in Switzerland, visiting family in Ireland and spending time at resorts in Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican are very different than staying in a hostel and travelling just for the pureness of it.

It truly was a whirlwind 5 days. Between hours spent on buses, planes and waiting around for the two former, I lost all of Sunday and most of Thursday to travel so in reality, I had just THREE days in Iceland. Call me crazy (and some did) for taking such a quick trip but it was exactly what I needed to wet my feet and get out of this city. Don’t worry Ottawa, I still love ya but the change of scenery and sense of adventure, independence and autonomy was so good for my restless soul.

A long time ago, just after coming home from my exchange I wrote a spoken word poem that I posted here, about the intense desire I felt to see more of the world, as well as about how I expected travel to shape and change me. I look back now on my exchange and I am so incredibly grateful of the afternoons I spent wandering around my adopted city (Geneva) and the road trips my lovely host family took me on; it allowed me to see so much of their mountainous country. It was then that I first learned a new language, that mountains became so dear to my heart and that I made friends because hey, they happened to be sitting next to me! My trip to Iceland brought all of these memories rushing back.

And the fact that I wrote “I want to get lost in unknown cities and find Sam in the process”  makes me laugh because I really did get lost in Reykjavik one day and rather than panic or get upset about having lost a good chunk of my day, I just went with the flow and had a perfectly “Sam” adventure. It ended with me standing knee deep in the North Atlantic Ocean in February, staring up in awe at Mount Esja, up close and personal.

I had also written about wanting to meet “people rushing about, strangers who were really just friends I hadn’t yet met” and that certainly came true on this trip, to an extent even I hadn’t expected. I noticed that there is something about being a solo traveler in particular that draws friends to you. I’m not sure if it’s because you’re less intimidating/more approachable, if they just don’t want you to be alone or what but I was constantly being invited to do things. That was a common theme in the hostel as well as on tours or even just in the streets. Every traveller I met was eager to meet other people, which was SO refreshing. In my everyday life, I find that we are all  so focused on our own busy lives that we rarely look up to see the strangers with whom we could have SUCH GREAT conversations, if only we made the time. As people have been asking me my favourite part of the trip, this actually has been sticking out, above even all the incredible natural wonders that Iceland had to offer and my own adventurous spirit being satisfied. I enjoyed meeting diverse and interesting people everywhere I went.  Some of them, I spoke to for just minutes and others hours. Some I am connected with on social media and others I will never hear from again. Some were “recurring characters” so to say  (those in my hostel room in particular), well others were part of only one scene like the teachers from New York that I met on my first day at 6am. These “characters” are what fill out an adventure. The beauty of a place is important yes, but those conversations had floating in the lagoon or chatting over drinks are what will stick with me the most I think.

That said, Iceland itself was beautiful. With such a short time frame I didn’t see as much of it as some others. And I missed seeing the Aurora Borealis booooooo. Still, that which I did see was breathtaking. On my second day, I took a bus tour out of the city and around the “Golden Circle”: three popular tourist sights that essentially give a good taste of what Iceland has to offer while being a relatively short drive from the capital. We saw a geyser called Strokkur, a waterfall called Gulfoss and visited the national park Pingvellir (a UNESCO world heritage site) where we walked between tectonic plates and saw the site of the first democratic parliament. My particular tour also included a stop at the so-called “Secret” Lagoon which may have been one of my favourite parts of my trip. Just picture hanging out in a giant natural hot tub beside steaming hot mud pits and a boiling geysir that are feeding directly into the pool. So friggin cool. One of the most interesting things about Iceland is the geothermal energy that runs through the country in plenty.

That said, I didn’t feel the intense connection and draw to Iceland the way I have with other places I’ve visited. I know a lot of people adore the country and many travellers return time and again; maybe I just didn’t have enough time to really appreciate it or maybe I spent too much time in the city and not enough out in nature but I don’t feel a desire to return anytime soon. Not to say I didn’t like it, honestly it’s difficult to explain. Just that I’m glad I’ve been but I wouldn’t rush to be back. And this might also sound strange but (sorry Mom and Dad), it kind of felt too safe. Someone I met put it really well: Reykjavik felt almost like a theme park. It was just so peaceful, everyone spoke English, the capital was small and easy to wander. Again, not to say I didn’t love my trip because I did but it was almost like being in this travel bubble where I had huge margins for error and nothing could go wrong. It definitely took away some of the adventurous feel. And I didn’t feel like I got to experience or see a different culture which for me is a huge and important aspect of travel. Definitely, I’ll go back someday if I get the chance and maybe road trip around, see more, but I’d choose to see somewhere new before going to Iceland again. I think I’ve seen enough of Europe for now though actually…I want to be really immersed in cultures very different than my own.

Overall, it was an amazing experience to travel alone, to meet new people and breathe fresh air in a different country. And like I mentioned, I’m already planning my next trip. Although this experience satisfied me for now, it also reinforced the desire to explore and see more. So skál (cheers) and bless (goodbye) to Iceland and to reading week, and another hello to Sam’s continuing, changing and growing grand adventure.

img_2174

-Until next time, Sam

Soul-Deep Contentment 


My mouth is dry and my legs ache. They’ve been contained, squished into small seat rows for the last 9 and a half hours. I’m out of water and I need to pee but the people beside me are both asleep. I’m not tired although I wish I could sleep to make the time pass faster. I also wish I had food other than a crumpled half eaten chocolate bar. 

And yet, there is this soul deep, contentment in my bones. I am on an adventure, a knowledge that keeps a smile dancing on my lips all day and ushers a long exhale of peace from my lungs. So many times I’ve prayed, begging God to give me opportunities to explore, to experience the world. Now here I am. Tired and cramped but soaring above the sea, headed to a place I’ve never been. My heart is so full of anticipation. Today all I’ve been able to think about is how GOOD my God is and how he truly does give us the desires of our hearts. It’s not always when we expect Him to, or in the way we hope but He gives great gifts. 

Like 3 short days in a magical country because He knows it will refresh and sustain my soul’s craving for adventure. He made me an adventurer, a risk taker, an off the beaten path, challenging the status quo, all heart and curiosity questioner. He KNOWS what I need to be fulfilled. Obviously I can’t (at this point in my life) just up and travel the world whenever I so please but it’s these little gifts – the kind of crazy ideas that I get and just feel in my gut that the Lord is telling me to go for – these little things that remind me again and again how much he cares for us. 

As I’ve acknowledged here more than once I do have a bit of a one track mind – I tend to latch onto an idea and go after it with all that I have. What can I say, I’m a passionate woman. This all in attitude however can also make me miss the small gifts that come in between the big milestones in life. Over the last couple of years, God has been teaching me more and more how to let go of the reins so to speak. To trust that the big things will come…and to embrace all the little detours in between. Just because I’m a student doesn’t mean I can’t also be a traveller. And just because a particular adventure doesn’t seem to lead towards a future goal doesn’t mean it’s not worth having. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering when I’ll get to go to Nepal and forgetting that there are SO many other places in this work I want to see. God wants me in Nepal, He’ll get me there when the time is right. Until then, I need to start grasping every opportunity I get that makes my eyes light up and my soul feel alive. Whether it’s taking an afternoon off studying to go skating or booking a trip to Iceland just for the pure joy of it, life is for living. And that’s something I’m trying to learn to be “all in” for. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop pursuing my future – I believe God calls us all to make full use of every moment we have. Sometimes, the best and fullest use of my time is studying hard and going to 3 meetings, 4 classes, a study group and a volunteer commitment before going home and cooking dinner (heck yeah I love being busy!). And other times, I’m coming to learn, God gives us times that are MEANT to renew us and bring us pure joy – GIFTS rather than things to accomplish.  I can’t believe that I’m lucky enough to know a God who creates opportunities for me to travel and meet new people and breath in fresh Arctic air. 

I’m also oddly excited to be by myself. Probably the first time any of you have heard that coming from this extrovert 😂. But it’s freeing to just be totally self-governed for a few days. No one else to consult or worry about or check up on. I can do whatever I want whenever I want. Want to stop and have a coffee in a cute cafe? Imma do it! Want to spend forever in the museum? I can! I’m really excited to just have totally autonomy and control over my adventure. It’s really Sam’s grand adventure and no one else’s! The other side of it is that I’m excited to meet other people. The type that frequent hostels tend to have all kinds of stories and experiences to share and I can’t wait to hang out and listen and learn from other adventurers. 

So yeah, I’m not super comfy at the moment. But my heart is happy and I am grateful to be in motion. Over the Christmas break I saw the new Disney movie Moana and ever since I’ve been telling anyone who listen (which is not a lot of people hahaha) that I’ve never identified so strongly with a Disney princess before. It might sound silly since she’s a Polyonuasian girl who sails the sea with a Demi God and I am a Canadian university student but for real, hear me out. I’ve always felt really connected to nature and particularly to water – swimming, sailing, canoing, rowing. You name it and if it means I can be on the water, I’m there. But that’s the shallow part. Her intense desire to see more than what is in front of her and her craving to explore resonated so deeply with me. Her stubbornness in learning to wayfind reminded me of the way I myself have dug in my heels to perfect skills – navigation aptly included. Her love for her family combined with her inner pull to voyage reminded me of my exchange – everything seemed to go wrong and my parents wanted it all to just stop but I pushed back because I KNEW it was part of God’s plan for me. The desires and passions that seem to literally feel like a fire in my heart drive me. Just like Moana feels the call to the sea in every fibre of her being because it is who her people were meant to be, I feel the wanderlust and pull to the mountains so deeply that I can only believe that God created me this way. 

Most of all, Moana goes after her dreams and she has an incredible adventure that alters the entire future of her people. I want to be someone who goes after her destiny and leaves an impact on this world. I don’t need fortune or fame. But I want to use all my energy, talent, passion, intelligence, love and time to DO SOMETHING and show other people what it means to live a life of all out, soulful pursuit. 

My trip to Iceland may not be the epic journey that Moana takes to the island of Ta’fiti but I does give me a settled assurance that but by bit, day by day, bus by train by plane, I am following the complex and beautiful plan that God has for  me. Who knows who I’ll meet and how it will shape the way I approach my future adventures? If nothing else, I will get to explore beside towering waterfalls, have conversations with strangers over cups of coffee and breathe deeply in Creation. My soul will be satisfied by the place but more importantly by the knowledge that the One who created it cares for the desires of my heart. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me. For now, I’ll watch the stars just out my window and dream about the geysers, glaciers and hot springs that await me. 

-until next time, Sam

“At night we name every star, we know who we are, we know who we are, who we are…we are explorers reading every sign” -We Know the Way, Moana. 


Illuminating Faith

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I have seen it but because by it I see everything else – C. S. Lewis

img_1185

I wrote this quote in my journal on Sunday, intending to ponder it some more when I got some spare time (hahahahah) and today it suddenly started appearing everywhere I looked. I saw it on Twitter, it was used as two Instagram captions on my feed and a friend quoted it out loud to me. I figured I was supposed to take notice. Here are my thoughts today.

This weekend I went on a canoe trip with a bunch of complete strangers. I have to say, no matter who you are with, there is something absolutely magical about sitting around a campfire, dark skies and crackling wood. I, for one, am mesmerized by fire. Aside from the beauty of it, campfires seem to spark vulnerability. 

Strangers. A diverse group. Undergrads and PhD candidates and people who weren’t even students anymore. Canadians and exchange students. 9 people in the woods together by chance. And yet sitting around a campfire answering questions like “what do you care about”, “what is your biggest dream in life”, “tell us about a place that means something to you”. Vulnerability. All weekend, I had this total peace of being exactly where I was supposed to be, knowing firmly that God had placed me on this trip, with these people for reasons I will never fully comprehend.

In the canoe during the day, mentioning my faith and ending up having life chats about how good and faithful my God is. Praying with and being prayed for by a total stranger because my God doesn’t do randomness; He always has a plan.

In the tent at night having long discussions about faith in the darkness, trying desperately to explain how present Jesus can be in my life; struggling to show two new friends (both atheists) how I look around at the fiery changing trees and the lake, misty at dawn, and see the hand of an incredible artist. How it makes me want to shout praises at the top of my lungs. How faith is so much more than naively pushing logic aside to feel comfortable. Not being very convincing and yet having one of them ask me the next morning as I sat by the water if I was thinking about God’s role in my life. I think he was teasing me and yet, my heart smiled at the thought that something I said had stuck with him even a bit.

img_1200

Being able to breath in fresh air.

Listening to stories as sparks rise up in the smoke. Getting to know people’s passions and histories and dreams and senses of humour.

Getting lost on the way there and getting locked out of the car on the way home.

Climbing to the top of a cliff to look out over the trees and water, having to sit and catch my breath but knowing in that moment how blessed I am to be able bodied and alive.

Writing a list in my journal titled “Things I am Grateful for Today” and having it spill over and fill more than 4 pages.

Lazily waking up to the sound of rain on the tent walls, smiling at a friend while everyone else still sleeps and not moving, just enjoying the quiet of morning.

The way nature has a way of evoking prayer from my every breath, connecting me to Creator God and making every other thought one of praise and thanks.

Laughter

Singing

Cold mud squishing between my toes as I push a canoe off the shore, almost tipping it over

Kneeling alone in a canoe pivoting and paddling, circling the small island where everyone sits eating lunch. Pride and contentment in the satisfaction of practicing skills I worked so hard for. Getting to share those skills with others, sharing my passions

img_1226

Sharing “no-bakes” with people

Racing the other boats, laughing and yelling as the two boys in my boat splash me in our excitement to win.

Cooking food over a fire, slightly burnt and smoky, better than anything I’ve had in weeks

Hugging goodbye at the end of the weekend, promises of sharing pictures, Facebook requests, catching each other for a drink sometime. Hugs from friends, no longer strangers

This weekend was one of complete rejuvenation. It filled my soul and gave me joy. In a place I’d never been, God catered to my heart’s desire for adventure. He gave me people to love even for just a short period of time. He gave me natural beauty and deep questions and conversations that went past the surface. He gave me a time of prayer and vision and hope for the future.

img_1235

I don’t believe in Jesus just because of faith. I believe in Jesus because I see Him permeate every aspect of my life. He is active and present. He gives GOOD gifts. He is faithful. He fulfills the desires of our hearts. He rejoices in our success and is the quiet whisper of peace and grace when we struggle. He is a master storyteller, weaving threads I would have missed, never forgetting a single detail, introducing characters at just the right time, crafting a plot of adventure and victory. Like the sun, He illuminates my days, allowing me to see the world as a place that is inherently good and full of light, despite the darkness that seems to swallow the streets and fill the news.

Today, I had a hard day. Mondays are long for me and this was not a very nice one. But God is present. Today, this quote by C.S. Lewis (one of my favourite authors) was all the reminder I needed of His faithfulness today and everyday.

This weekend is my answer to my friends in the tent when they ask how I know God is real.

Faith is the choice to put God’s perfect gifts into perspective.

Joyful until next time, Sam

img_1213

 

 

Like a Bird

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:31

I’m starting to truly realize how transient life as a student can be. Thinking back, in the last two years I have lived in 3 different cities, not including the two months I spent on an island at camp. Right now I live in a residence building with a lease of just 8 months and then I will be back on the island for 3-4 months. 6 months from now I’ll presumably be back in Ottawa but as of now, I haven’t got a clue where I’ll be resting my head. Home (as in Barrie) isn’t home anymore. But neither is Ottawa. And what about when I start co-op terms? I’ll be displaced to different cities for 4 month stints where again and again I will have to make friends and try to carve out space for myself. It’s kind of scary. It’s kind of exciting. It makes me feel sort of floaty and untied. I was never the kid who moved around a lot when I was younger. I went to my elementary school for 10 years and my high school for 4. We changed houses a few times but I always lived in the same 5 kilometre radius. I’m not used to being so unanchored. When I went back to Barrie at Christmas, I drove around and just looked at all the familiarity. The gas stations, parks, schools, intersections and street corners that had made up my childhood world.

I don’t know why this makes me feel so strange. After all, the wanderlust is strong. I love exploring new cities and breathing the air of new places. I thrive off of meeting new people. I think it’s not so much the fear of what’s new but the loss of what’s old that makes me feel uncomfortable. These may seem like one and the same but I don’t think they are. Switzerland was incredible and stretching and a learning experience. But I always knew I was coming home at the end. Now, I don’t even know where home is. I mentioned in one of my posts at the end of last year that I realized how important family is but missing family is not the same as missing home. 

Just out of curiosity, I looked up the definition of the word home. There were several definitions, especially because the word can have so many functions within a sentence. Two of them however really caught my eye.

Home, noun: the place where one lives permanently, particularly as part of a family or household

Home, verb: to move or be aimed toward (a target or destination) with great accuracy 

Ok, so I’ve pretty much accepted that for my time as a student I am not going to have somewhere that I “live permanently”. What about the second definition? To be aimed toward with great accuracy. This reminded me of a homing pigeon, which can find it’s way where it needs to go and yet always knows it’s way back to where it came from 

I am homing. I do not have “a” home, but I am homing. I will navigate these next years, always moving, always aimed towards something new and fresh and yet I will remember my home; I will find my way back from time to time. And one day, one day, I will settle and be permanent. But for now I am in transit like a bird.

What’s the target? I don’t know. I’m trusting God with that one. I do know that if I keep trusting Him, my steps will continue to have great accuracy. I will get to explore and learn and find new corners of my heart for each person and place that I learn to love. And in that way, I will always be “home”.

-Until next time, Sam

Some pictures of places I’ve called home the past two years. Where will be next?