*Warning: this is a LONG entry…
I am in the middle of studying for my Lithuanian Language final and decided to take a small break and write this entry. With four days left in Lithuania, I look back in amazement at how many things have happened over the course of the last four months. A couple days ago, I went back and read through my first couple blog posts. I almost had to snicker to myself as I read those words…I have come so far since then! Some of this might be a repeat of what I have written in other entries, but in this post, I want to detail some of the most significant lessons I have learned during my time here.
Let us take one day at a time. This is the first, and probably hardest, thing I learned. What exactly does it mean to live in the moment? How do we live in the present without becoming irresponsible by not preparing for the future? These were some of the questions I wrestled with before this semester. As I dealt with my homesickness, overwhelmed feelings, weakness, and culture shock, I learned the answer to these questions: have faith. My whole life I have desired clarity and understanding. I like to have a plan and know which step comes next. When I left home in January, I was forced to live in the present, never knowing what the next day would hold. If I even tried to think about the future, those awful homesick feelings came rushing in like a tidal wave. The future was too vast for me to handle. Also, I had to trust God for the strength and grace necessary to make it through each day as they came. I did not know anything about the place I was in or the people I was with, so I had no choice but to trust God to provide the tools He knew I needed. As the semester moved on, the homesickness went away, I learned how to live in Lithuania, I made new friends, and I figured out a routine for the semester. But, new challenges always came up. As a result, I have had four months of practice in trusting God, one day at a time – living in the moment and making the most of it. Now, it feels natural to live this way. I am at peace with not knowing everything or having the next three weeks planned out. I have faith in the fact that God knows what He is doing and He will provide what I need when I need it.
People are people everywhere you go, and this is a beautiful thing. We all come from different backgrounds, countries, cultures, families, and experiences, but when it comes down to it, we are all the same. We are all children, made in the image of God, imperfect in our human nature, looking for our place in this world. Even when we do not speak the same language, we can smile, laugh, and cry together. There are certain things that transcend cultural boundaries. My roommates hate Monday mornings just like I do. Russian guys confuse Russian girls just like American guys confuse American girls. Chocolate is international. We can all use a hug, back scratch, shoulder massage, vent session, or tissue every now and then. No one’s life is perfect. No one is perfect. Even skinny European girls struggle with body image. It has been so cool to realize that this big world is still small in some ways. Every place and every person has unique qualities, but every place and every person also has the signature of God inscribed within. There is a certain beauty in the realization that we can all relate on some level or another while still maintaining our diversity.
Learn and grow through experience. With so many new things to adjust to, I discovered that the best way to learn and grow is to simply try…and not be afraid of failure. For example, the best way to learn how to use the public transportation system was to go out with a destination in mind and see if I could get there. The best way to learn Lithuanian was to try using it. The best way to make friends was to get involved in different activities. And the best way to learn how to navigate Old Town was to go on an adventure and see if I could get lost. I learned that there are certain Lithuanian foods that I do not like, but there are a whole lot more that I do like. I learned that I love the Lithuanian language and want to keep learning it so I can, someday, become fluent.
There is always something more to be learned. Whether it is cultural, personal, spiritual, relational, or any other category, there are new things to be learned every day. And so much of these things can be learned from the people around us. However, we have to take the initiative to be interested and choose to be a learner. In life, we all have our times to be teachers, and our times to be learners. Life is made richer by this give and take of experiences. However, we have to choose to participate. It is easy to go through life in a contented, stationary way. But what is the point of that kind of living? We come out better people when we accept the challenge of being stretched by new opportunities of learning and teaching. In these moments, we are blessed by being able to connect with other people and invest in their lives, as well as by having others invest in us. This semester has provided countless opportunities for me to be a student and a teacher, inside and outside of my LCC classrooms. I have learned lessons in every category – academic to relational, spiritual to cultural, personal to daily living, and everything in between. I learned that spanking your children in illegal in Norway, Lithuanians wear wedding rings on their right hands, the Baltic countries have White Nights in the summer, спасибо is how you say “thank you” in Russian, singing can unite a country in efforts to win their freedom, I am family to orphans and widows, buckwheat is delicious, and being a criminal justice major in Easter Europe is super weird. I have also learned that God will take us wherever He needs to in order to teach us the lessons He wants us to learn. In these places, we find ourselves teaching things that we did not even know we knew, like how I know God is real, why I eat cookies in a circle, how to navigate the London Underground, why a sock monkey represents a piece of home traveling with me everywhere I go, and which form of an English word is the correct one for a specific sentence.
People are the most important. Of all the major lessons I have learned this semester, I think this is my favorite. #choosepeople became very real for me…much more than just a hash tag to use with my Instagram pictures. I am sad to admit that, before this semester, people were not at the top of my priority list. I wanted them to be, but could not let go of my perfectionistic desires enough to allow people to surpass schoolwork in the lineup of things to do on any given day. Before even arriving here, I knew that this was something I wanted to learn while here. It was one of the lessons that I felt like God wanted to teach me. Performing in classes on a less-than-perfect level was a challenge, but having extra time to spend with people was well worth the struggle.
The greatest thing about all the lessons I have learned is that they do not take up any room in my suitcase. They can go home with me, without adding extra weight, as the best souvenirs I could ever hope to have. I can continue to use them as I apply them to my life in Bryan, Ohio; Marion, Indiana; or anywhere else I go. Thanks to this semester, I know how to live one day at a time. When I land in Chicago on May 8th, I can start over as a new Katie who is not worried about the future or how everything will happen just right. I can enjoy life from a new perspective: one of peace, grace, faith, and intentionality. Now I have more appreciation for all the people I interact with at home and the beauty they each hold. I know a little more about how to love these people, despite the differences we might have. As I learned here in Lithuania, people at home are not perfect either. I am not alone in my insecurities and shortcomings, no matter where I am on this globe we call Earth. I know now that it is entirely worth it to jump in, take risks, and go on adventures. If I do not try, I will never know what I could have experienced. Failures are inevitable, but it is what I do with them that matters. If I keep pressing on, without fear of failing again, I will find things and grow in ways that I never could have without those experiences. And, now I know that I can teach and learn wherever I go. By engaging with those around me, I gain the opportunity to learn from their lives and share my own. In this way, I can be connected in the type of community God created us to have. Whether I am in the Midwest United States or on the opposite side of the globe, I can engage with others in this way. And all of this can only happen if I use that last lesson: choose people. Now I know how to reorder my to do list and use my time more effectively so that I always have time for people. Life is a million times better when it is shared with great people.
The impact that this semester has had on me is so great; it is hard to accurately put it all into words. I am not a different person in the aspect that my family will not know me when I come home, but I have become a better version of myself. I have learned to love a new corner of the world, complete with its culture, language, geological environment, architecture, and people. I will miss the unavoidable challenges that come with living in a different country and have forced me to grow and learn. Most of all, I will always feel like I am part Lithuanian. I do not think I will ever stop looking at the time and thinking, “It is 3:00pm. That means it is 10:00pm in Lithuania… I wonder how their day was today…”
Whew! Sorry that was so long! If you made it to this point, congratulations on finishing! ;) And thank you…I appreciate every person who has been following my adventure so faithfully. When my last four days here are over, I will have four days in Paris. Then, I’ll be crossing back over the pond to the great United States of America. I will post a few more times before landing at home. I will probably also continue to post on occasion about how I am handling re-entry shock and any new lessons I learn when back in the US. So, please continue reading…my adventure is still far from over… J
PS: Be looking tomorrow or Thursday for the entry that includes an update about the donation many of you made to the Baby House orphanage!
This video was our final Cross-Cultural project. It's another flip book video, but the editing credit goes to my roommate Pearl on this one. It was a fun project because I had the pleasure of completing it with four girls that have become such great friends this semester. Emma and I did most of the "acting", Julia did the animations/artwork, and Pearl, Danielle, and I did photography. This is a good video to watch if you are wondering about what it looked like to actually live here, as well as to show you
Devyni is the Lithuanian word for “nine”. That’s how many days I have left in Lithuania. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it. In some ways, it feels like I have been here for years. But in others, it feels like just yesterday, I was introduced to this incredible country for the first time. I remember laying in bed those first few nights thinking that I would never survive four months here…wondering how I could get myself sent home. Now, this really has become my home away from home. Now, I am wondering how I will handle the transition process of returning home and working through re-entry shock. It still doesn’t feel real that I will actually be leaving in nine days, but as the number gets smaller, the fact sinks in a little more.
However, there are still nine days…nine days to make the most of. Nine days to continue learning. Nine days to keep growing. Nine days to spend with amazing people. Nine days to enjoy the Baltic. Nine days to speak in Lithuanian. Nine days to live one at a time.
This afternoon, I went to the children’s hospital again to visit Domantas. I checked in at the reception desk and went upstairs to his unit. When I stopped at the desk to tell his nurse that I was there, she paused for a moment and searched for the right words. After a couple minutes of nervous waiting, I was relieved to here her say, “He go home.” As I went past reception again on my way out, the receptionist (who, by now, knows who I am and who I come to visit) asked me why I was leaving so soon. I couldn’t think of a full sentence to explain it, so I said, “Sveikas.” This means, “He’s healthy.” She responded by asking me if he had gone home (which was a phrase I understood), and I replied, “Taip.” (Yes.) She smiled, I thanked her for her help, and continued on my way. I was excited to know that he was well enough to be released this morning but I couldn’t stop pondering the nurse’s words… “He go home.” My first thought was, “Home. Hmm…that’s not his home.” I can’t even explain exactly why, but the wording just made me sad. To me, home means so much more than the place one dwells. I understand that I am a native English speaker with context for all of my words and the nurse’s English was very limited. But these were the thoughts on my heart. On the positive side, Domantas is no longer alone in the hospital room. He at least has the companionship of the other children in the orphanage. Also, I will get to see him one more time when I go for my last day at the orphanage on Wednesday. I just keep praying that God blesses him with a loving, Christian family and home.
I am going to be incredibly transparent in this post. Today is Easter Sunday, and I sit here in Lithuania reflecting back on the work God has done in my life over the past twelve months. Last Easter, I was the picture of a broken little girl. I remember sitting on the steps of my Aunt’s house with my mom, sobbing. Life had gotten the best of me and Easter brought about my breakdown. I was struggling with low self-esteem, frustration, disordered eating, illness and pain, loneliness, depression, and feeling like I had no purpose. I wanted to give up. The worst part is that I was so good at hiding all of it…I put on my happy face and did all the things people expected me to do, but was breaking apart inside. I didn’t see how God could possibly use me for anything good.
Today, I find joy in my identity as a child of God, made complete in His death and resurrection. I am set free from my earthly burdens by His grace and love. This is a hard feeling to explain, but I feel like my heart is literally overflowing today…like it could just burst out of my chest. This has been a very different Easter Sunday, compared to all those of my past, but it might be the most significant so far. Here are the main points…
Intentional Community: For Easter lunch, I joined in a “family” meal with several other study abroad girls. We all helped prepare the food, then sat down together to break bread in community. It was a beautiful way to celebrate this day and its significance while away from our homes and families.
The Least of These: This afternoon, I went to the children’s hospital to visit Domantas again. I went yesterday, but was unable to get in, so I wasn’t sure that I would have success today. Thankfully, the door was unlocked. I made my way up to his room and was pleased to see he was awake when I got there, sitting in his crib making random sounds to himself. We enjoyed some time together playing, singing, smiling, and laughing. He seemed more energetic and was very vocal today…signs that, I hope, mean he is getting better. He does not actually speak real words yet, but he likes to “talk” to me with very serious and dramatic baby talk. The look on his face always conveys that he has some very important things to tell me. I was pleased to see today that he remembered some of the things I taught him on Friday, such as the rhythm of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and our little game with his rattles. It was such a blessing to me to be able to share some love with him on this Easter Sunday.
Purposeful Accidents: On my way to visit Dom this afternoon, I decided to take the bus instead of walking. My goal was to get there faster so I could spend more time with him before going to church. I knew that the #5 and #14 busses would take me in the right direction for the children’s hospital, but they were not going to come to my stop for over 25 minutes…which would not save me any time. The #9 bus was scheduled to come much sooner and, judging by the street names on it’s route, I thought it went into town. However, when I got on, I realized that I had misunderstood and it went toward town, but then turned to take the route over by the seaport – the opposite direction from the hospital. While I sat there, trying to figure out when I should get off so I could go where I need to go, an elderly women sitting across the aisle in the row behind me started talking to me. I didn’t realize at first that she was trying to get my attention, but when I heard “mergaitė” (young girl) for the second time, I knew she was talking to me. I turned around but couldn’t understand what she said. I sadly responded with, “Nesuprantu Lietuviškai. Aš kalbu angliškai...” She looked at me with understanding and kindness in her eyes, pointed at my wrist, gesturing that she wanted to see my bracelet. This is the MudLove bracelet that says “set free” on it. I lifted my hand so she could see, she read it, nodded and smiled as if she understood, and said a phrase that I did not know. I smiled in response but wished so much that I knew the right words to explain the meaning behind those two words. Given that she is of the older generation, I can say with near certainty that she probably only speaks Lithuanian and Russian, so I doubt she knew what “set free” meant. But, looking back on it, I wish I had thought fast enough to use an alternative form of communication. I could have drawn a cross on a piece of paper and written “Jesus Christ”, then a person with the word “aš” (me), and a heart to signify love. This wouldn’t have been perfect, but I think she would have understood what it meant. However, after thinking through all of this and being disappointed that I failed to communicate effectively with her when given the chance, I realized that maybe God had a different purpose for this interaction. I don’t think He had me get on the wrong bus and interact with this woman for no reason…God always has a reason. Not to mention that, in this culture, the fact that she approached me – a complete stranger – is unusual in itself. I wear this bracelet every day, but I think God used this woman to get my attention and remind me of the milestone that is today. He used this moment to bring back memories from last Easter and say to me, “My dear daughter…I AM faithful. You are mine and you are beautiful. You are free, and I am using you.” Some may say I am silly or I over-spiritualize things, but I believe there are angels among us. As I remember this woman and the kindness I saw in her eyes, I wonder if she was one of them.
This Easter, I know who I am, but more importantly, I know Whose I am. No, life is not perfect or easy. In fact, it is far from either of those things. In some ways, it feels like the more I pursue God, the more difficult like becomes. But, while there is a negative correlation between pursuit of God and ease of life, there is a positive correlation between pursuit of God and joy. Sometimes it makes me giggle when I think about how much joy I have when I see the beauty of my Lord all around me, even when life is less than kind. So, my prayer today is that, in some way, my testimony can encourage you. May you also find joy and hope on this Easter Sunday, as well as every day to come. Christ is alive and working!
I was supposed to go to Poland this weekend…spend tonight in Warsaw, take a bus to Krakow Saturday morning, and visit Auschwitz Concentration Camp and Schindler’s factory. Then, enjoy Krakow on Sunday and take a bus from Warsaw back to Lithuania on Monday. I was so excited about this because it was the most important trip that I planned to make during this semester. However, on Tuesday, I decided to change this plan for several reasons. In Lithuania, the Monday after Easter is the recognized holiday, instead of Good Friday, so we do not have classes. There is a big cultural event in Lithuania on Monday including a large open-air museum depicting major parts of Lithuania’s history. I didn’t want to miss this. After a tough consideration of both opportunities, I chose to stay in Lithuania based on this philosophy: I will only be a student in Lithuania one time in my life…now. I want to be as immersed in this country and culture as I can possibly be. Lord willing, I will have other times in my life when I can travel to Europe and visit Poland. And, now that I have quite a bit of travel experience, I know how to make that happen. So, I was sad to say goodbye to my chance at seeing Auschwitz this weekend, but excited to experience more of beautiful Lithuania before the semester comes to an end.
As it turns out, God also used this change in plans to open another door for me. I mentioned in my last update that Domantas is in the hospital. This morning, I went to the study abroad office to ask Viktorija to call the orphanage and ask if I could go visit him. Well, she was not in the office today, but God didn’t close the door. Orinta – the woman who works with the European students to help them study abroad – offered to call the Baby House for me. When she called, they said it would be fine for me to visit him and that they would call the hospital to let them know I was clear to be there. Then, Orinta asked me if I was going to bring a Lithuanian speaker with me to help translate if necessary. I told her I had planned to just go on my own since Dom doesn’t really speak, but I thought it might be good to have someone in case I needed to speak with any of the medical personnel. After asking me what time I would go, Orinta volunteered to go with me. She said, “It is good to help people who do good for little ones.”
At 1:30 this afternoon, Orinta and I went to the Klaipėda Children’s Hospital. She spoke with the receptionist for me to find out what room Dom was in. After climbing the stairs to the third floor and walking through hallways covered in finger paintings, we entered a bare room with two empty beds, an empty crib, and a crib with one little sleeping baby boy. He was all alone in a room with no signs of love…no stuffed animals, pictures on the wall, flowers, or cards. His pacifier and raddles were on the floor under his crib. He was lying on his belly, his thumb in his mouth, peacefully breathing as he slept. The first thing Orinta said was, “Awe, he is so cute…so little.” After speaking with the doctor for me, and staying for a few minutes, Orinta left me to take care of a few other things she needed to do. The children’s hospital is not far from campus so I knew how to get back on my own, and the doctor told me to stay as long as I wanted. So, I sat on one of the empty beds while little Dom slept. After about ten minutes, he awoke and sat up in his crib. Still rather groggy, he looked at me in confusion through the cold, white, metal bars of his hospital crib. I greeted him, “Labas, Domantė.” After a few minutes of talking to him, as he woke up a bit more, he realized who I was. Thus began my hour and a half visit with this little boy. We sang songs. He played with my phone. We played peek-a-boo. I held him so he could see out the window. We paced up and down the tiny room several times. I retrieved his pacifier for him and he retrieved the rattles on his own. He sat contentedly in my lap for several minutes, holding my hands in his, clapping them together and saying, “Clap, clap, clap…oopah!” We played a game of “Kur yra…? Čia yra!” (Where is it? Here it is! – Basically, I just made this up on the spot to help him cheer up when it was time for me to leave. It involved me hiding one rattle behind my back, him hiding the other behind his back, pulling them out randomly, shaking them, and hiding them again.)
One of the coolest parts is that I was able to give him my baby blanket. My mom gave me a blanket that was mine when I was a baby so I could give it to the orphanage. My plan was to give it to the orphanage on my last day. I decided last night to give it to Dom instead. When he woke up from his nap, I laid the blanket on him and explained that it was mine, but it is his now. I’m not going to lie…I shed two small tears when I said, “You get to keep it so you can remember me when I can’t come see you anymore.” Even though I said that in English, he must have understood my sadness because he started to cry, too. I forced myself to quickly cheer up and say, “Viskas gerai. Viskas gerai.” (It’s all good. It’s all good.)
If I could have, I would have stayed all afternoon and evening. But, the time came for me to leave. He was not happy about this. After our little game to stop the tears, I told him goodbye and that I would see him later. As I walked backwards out his door, I felt like my heart was breaking at the knowledge that this little boy with sad eyes would be staying in that room all by himself with the exception of the occasional check by a nurse or doctor. I have a feeling I will be spending a significant amount of my weekend in that hospital room…
So, my decision to stay here instead of traveling to Poland turned out to be the best change of plans. I am so glad I can be a visitor for Dom in his time of illness. I saw more than enough smiles and heard more than enough laughter in that hour and a half to know that it’s all worth it.
Well, I haven’t written an update in a long time. Sorry about that! I feel like all my creative juices have been sucked out of me right now, and I am not sure what to write about. A lot has happened, but I don’t know how to write it down. It’s a very strange feeling for me…
I think God has been challenging me on the lessons He has taught me so far this semester. I know it sounds somewhat silly, but it’s like I have a faith final exam along with all of my final academic requirements. The last couple weeks have been very challenging, indeed. They have been good, but difficult. I will attempt to summarize the main points:
100 Days – This past Sunday marked my 100th day away from home. There is now a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions occurring inside my heart and mind. How can the time have gone by this quickly? I have less than 30 days left! Is this real life? How will I pack up all my stuff? What will life be like when I get back home? How can I leave my beautiful little ones at the Baby House? Will I ever see any of them again? Will I ever see my new friends again? What will God do with me next? How can I make sure to continue growing when I get home? Will home be comfortable and familiar like it was when I left, or will everything feel different now? Wow…I was so different when I boarded that plane in Cleveland on January 4th. I am so excited to see my family! I want to show them everything I have learned and share all my stories! Will anyone want to hear all of this? Do the past four months matter to anyone else besides me? I’ve now experienced over 100 days of living intentionally and constantly challenging myself to grow in faith and character…I want to live this way the rest of my life. What does that look like in Bryan, Ohio and Marion, Indiana? God, please give me strength…
Looking at Life Through New Lenses – Alright, here comes a lot of metaphorical speaking. I got new glasses last week (literally). I also spent Friday-Sunday in Estonia and Latvia. Not only did I have new glasses through which to view the world, I also gained a more complete view of life through the eyes of a citizen of the Baltic countries. During our walking tour of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, I stuck up a conversation with our guide, Heli. She is a 23-year-old native Estonian and was an incredible tour guide. During part of the tour, she mentioned that Estonians have a rather morbid sense of humor and typically expect bad things to happen, but they know how to laugh and keep pressing on. While I was talking with her, I said, “So, Estonians aren’t the most optimistic people…” She said, “Hahaha, nope!” I asked her why that was. She said that when you live in a little country on a seacoast, you just learn to expect that everyone is going to want to control you. Estonia’s past has followed a distinct trend: every time it looks like it is safe to say, “Yes, things are going well,” something bad happens. So, Estonians are not very positive people, but they have learned to laugh. This is the important part. Even though I prefer to look on the bright side and hope for good things, none of us can deny that there are times in life when we have to accept a negative reality. In those times, we have to learn to laugh…to see life through Estonian lenses. Laughter helps us make a bright side, and renews our ability to keep looking for the good that is to come. Estonia has experienced an entire past of domination and control. However, they have managed to keep their culture, language, and land. Now, they are celebrating 22 years of independence…the longest amount of time they have ever gone without being invaded by another country.
This isn’t all. Along with my new spectacles and my Estonian view, God has been challenging me to look at my life in new ways. There is so much more to my life that I could ever realize…Before coming to Lithuania, I thought I knew where God wanted me and what I was supposed to do with my life. Now I see so many other possibilities. It is difficult to think that I may have to let go of the things that I thought I was supposed to do. After believing for a while that this was the path He was leading me on, it became my dream for my future. But, I am realizing that God may have had a different idea all along. There are so many ways in which He can use me. I am excited to see which doors He decides to keep open. It’s kind of funny…each stage of my walk with Christ gets harder and harder. He challenges me a little more each day. And yet, I fall more in love with Him in every passing moment, and become increasingly excited about His plan for me. More importantly than seeing life through new glasses or an Estonian perspective, I want to see life through God’s lenses.
Moose Sighting – No joke…I saw a moose today…in real life! I was on the bus, coming back to school from the orphanage, and all of a sudden, this moose nonchalantly meanders across the road right in front of the bus! When we went by, she was only about four feet from my window! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my phone out fast enough to take a picture! I am sure that the people sitting behind me probably got a kick out of my reaction. It went something like this: gasp, jaw drops, head swivels to follow moose, giggle, squirm with excitement in seat, attempt to get phone out of purse as quickly as possible, then whisper (not-so-quietly) to self, “Whoa…that was a moose! Awesome!” I was so excited because it was one of my goals for the semester to see a moose. Check!
Baby News – I noticed at the orphanage yesterday that Domantas was gone. The whole time I was there, I wanted to ask where he went, but I did not know if it would be appropriate for me to do that. When he still wasn’t back today, I decided to ask. “Kur yra Domantas?” (Where is Domantas?) The nurse answered, “Ligoninėje.” (In the hospital.) Me, “Nesveikas?” (He’s sick?) Her: “Taip, nesveikas.” I do not have a large enough Lithuanian vocabulary to go any more in depth than this, so I don’t know what kind of sick or how bad he is. I can gather, though, that it is pretty bad. The kids at the orphanage get sick ALL the time, but are usually treated on site. All of the nurses I work with have medical training. Also, there is a quarantine area in the orphanage. So, I know it has to be rather severe for a child to be taken to the hospital. I am going to attempt to find out tomorrow if I can go visit him. Since he doesn’t have parents, I’m sure he has no visitors, and having people come visit can make a big difference in the healing process. I don’t know that they will let me, but I am going to try my best. Please pray for little Dom and that he returns to health very soon!
Fun Lithuanian Fact – We now have more daylight in Klaipėda than what Ohio has during most of the summer. It is 9:15pm as I write this and it is still light outside! The official sunrise and sunset times for today are 14.5 hours apart, but we have over 15 hours of light. It’s a huge contrast to the amount of daylight we had in January!
Okay, I could write a lot more, but this entry is already super long. I will try to be more consistent in my updates for the next three weeks so they don’t have to be so long each time.
Hello! I just wanted to let you all know that I have not fallen off the face of the Earth. Sorry I have gone so long without writing an update! I have struggled to find enough time to get everything done these past couple weeks, and when I do find the time, I can't find the energy! Ha! Anyway, it is 1:30am here as I write this little paragraph. I just wanted to write something to say, "Don't give up on me!" I am working on a more thorough (and hopefully entertaining) update now, but am not finished yet. So, I am going to get some sleep, with the goal of finishing it tomorrow. Look for it in the next 24 hours! Thanks for your patience!
Finally! It's here! After several hours...actually, several days...of photography and editing, here is my video of Klaipėda. I did a flip-book style video, which means I used my camera to take continuous shots, then compiled all of the still photos to show movement. Over 1,000 photos later, and you get a 3 minute, 39 second video! This is my first complete flip-book project, so it's not the best. I have definitely learned several things from the process that will help me make future videos better. But hopefully it still gives you a good idea of what it is like here. Enjoy!
A week ago today, I hopped on a plane with two of my roommates, Pearl and Danielle, bound for Milan, Italy. It was the most spontaneous adventure I have ever taken! We set out with almost no plans, just taking each moment in stride, finding whatever we could find and going wherever we could go. We didn’t really even know where we were going to sleep each night. But it all worked out and we made some great memories in the process. As a result, it ended up being one of the best weekends!
Our only set housing arrangement was Wednesday night, when we first landed in Milan. We had an evening flight, allowing us to go to Wednesday classes, so we got to Milan around 11:00pm. On previous trips, we have stayed in hostels to keep our housing costs down. Hostels are cheaper than hotels because they are set up like dormitories. Basically, you are only paying for a bed, which could be one of 4, 6, 8, or even 10 beds in a room. As long as you do your research, you can find nice hostels that are safe and clean, but you do not have control over who else ends up in your room. On this trip, we decided to try Couchsurfing for the first time. For those of you who are not familiar with this, Couchsurfing is when local people host tourists overnight for free. The idea is that this allows the tourists to connect with the culture more and get tips on where to go, what to see, and how to get places. It also provides the host with an opportunity to learn about the tourists’ culture and home country. The concept is really neat, but it can be tricky finding a good host. The Couchsuring website is where people set up profiles to become hosts/surfers. They also run background checks. However, this is still something I would never do if I were traveling alone. Since there were three of us this time, we gave it a try. When Danielle set up the agreement with our hosts for the first night, she and Pearl tried to convince me that they went with the nudist that sent an offer…thankfully, I have roommates who are smarter than this. They politely declined the offer from the nudist and went with another person. Anyway, or first Couchsuring experience was less than ideal, but we survived – starting our first full day in Milan as closer friends with new memories and lessons learned for choosing Couchsurfing hosts in the future.
Thursday began with our search for a coffee shop that provided free wifi. We needed to get online to respond to our other Couchsurfing requests. But, after the way the first night went, we decided to go with one of our “just in case” hostels for the middle two nights, and only Couchsurf again on the last night. Turns out, there are not very many coffee shops in Milan…and even fewer that have wifi. But, in the process of looking for one, we stumbled upon Milan’s GIANT open-air market. None of us knew about this market, but we were so glad we came across it. I don’t remember how many blocks it covered, but it was probably between one and two miles long, with booths lining both sides of the street. One side was almost entirely fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, and flowers. The other side had everything else – jewelry, clothing, sunglasses, crafts, school supplies, shoes, umbrellas, even underwear. And prices were cheap! Danielle’s boot broke when she was going through security at the airport so she bought a new pair of shoes. We also got a container of strawberries to share…they were delicious! We each found a few other things, as well. After several hours perusing the market (we made it through the whole thing!), we continued our search for wifi, which we found in a gelateria! Of course…it only makes sense that Italy’s version of a coffee shop would be a gelato shop! Thus, we enjoyed our first serving of real Italian gelato and took care of our internet business.
In the evening, we walked through Milan’s high-end shopping district, filled with all kinds of brand name stores, on our way to the Duomo. We decided that no one needs those high-priced stores when you can find everything you need at the market for a fraction of the cost! :) On our way through this part of town, before arriving at the Duomo, we stumbled upon another of Milan’s hidden gems. It was a large, green, beautiful park located amidst the crowded city streets. Since we had no agenda, we took the time to walk through the park and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Then, a little ways down from the park, we stopped in a neat little pedestrian street for an impromptu photo shoot. The best part about this is that I am pretty sure we had half of the people who passed us fooled into believing we were legitimate photographers/models. It was funny to watch them and how they reacted to us. It led to what became somewhat of a motto for this trip: just move about confidently and no one will know that we have no idea what we are doing.
When we arrived at the Duomo, I was caught a bit off guard. The setting was different than that of all the other old churches I have seen during my European travels. There we were, at the end of one of the most expensive shopping streets, surrounded by other city buildings, with this huge 14th century cathedral in the middle of it all. The contrast was incredible! What I liked about it was that it felt more real to me than many of the other cathedrals I’ve visited. It was not all blocked off from everything else. There were people siting on the front steps and crowds of people mingling all around. We even had pigeons land on us…so friendly. (Ha!)
Friday was an independent day. Danielle and Pearl took a train to Verona, the “home” of Romeo and Juliet. I took a train in the opposite direction to a tiny town called Breme. This is where I had the pleasure of spending the day with two Pioneer Bible Translator missionaries – Estel and my “Aunt” Wendy. What a great day! Estel and her husband have been working in Africa and just recently moved back to Italy. They are still working on their projects with the African people, but are doing so from Italy (for several logistical reasons). Estel actually works with orphans and the women who end up raising them when the mothers die. She has saved over 800 orphans by teaching proper feeding and medical procedures! I loved hearing about all of her work and seeing the pictures of so many sweet babies. I also talked with her about my work in the orphanage here in Lithuania. It was such a blessing to spend the day with these wonderful women, talking about God, life, and our mutual passion for the lives of God’s children. Also, Estel spoiled me with some authentic, homemade Italian food…
After a little bit of chaos with the train system, I was reunited with my traveling buddies in Milan Friday evening. We stayed again at our hostel and woke up early Saturday morning to catch another train. This time, we were headed for the beach! After a side stop in Genova – Christopher Columbus’ hometown – we found ourselves in beautiful Arenzano. And it did not take us long to fall in love with this place. Literally, we walked out of the train station, crossed the street, a walked down a path into the prettiest park I have ever seen. There were palm trees, waterfalls, colorful flowers, deep green grass, and peacocks! On the other side of this park was the Italian coast and the clear blue Ligurian Sea. We had perfect weather, too. Throughout the day, we explored the town, walked a path on the edge of the cliffs by the sea, dipped our feet in the waves, and spent several hours relaxing on the sand. We also learned a really neat fact about the culture of this town: Everyone takes lunch at the same time. All of the shops close at 12:30 and reopen between 2:00 and 3:30. During this time, the restaurants become super busy because everyone goes out to lunch together, enjoying the community. Then, they go back to work. This was so cool to me! I loved how people-focused the Italian culture is.
At the end of the day, we were reluctant to leave. But, it was time to catch our train back to Milan. It helped a little that it cooled off quite a bit when the sun set. Still, it had been such a fun day! We got back to Milan and prepared ourselves for our second Couchsurfing experience. Thankfully, this one was much better than the first! In the morning, it was off to the airport and back to Lithuania. And let me tell you…it sure felt cold during our walk from the bus station to LCC!
Start to finish, it was a superb weekend. I experienced four Italian cities, took tons of pictures, laughed a whole lot, learned how to say “Thank you” in yet another language, successfully maneuvered another system of public transportation, learned even more about God and myself, and did it all with two great friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better Italian experience.
Well, it has been a crazy couple of weeks…and it just keeps being crazy. I struggled today because I simply reached a point of being completely exhausted with still so much to do. There is something about this exhausted feeling that makes me long for home and the love of my family. I was reminded once again that I must look to God for strength and peace. I am here now and only have this day with which to work. All I can do is my best to fly on the wings of my Father and trust Him to help me carry my load. It made me think of the phrase “a brighter tomorrow.” I have a tendency to think, “Tomorrow will be a better day.” Now, there is nothing wrong with this…it is good to have an optimistic outlook. But, why do I not choose to see today as a brighter today? It might not be perfect or easy or going the way I want it to go, but I can still make the most of it! After all, it’s still a gift from God. That alone makes it worthwhile. I mean, think about that in tangible terms: God shows up at your doorstep with a package in His hands, wrapped up in a bow, with a tag that says, “A gift to you, with love, from God.” Inside is a slimy, muddy, smelly worm and a note that reads, “This is my creation and I am entrusting you with it. PS: I have a hope and a future for you.” Are you going to freak out about the worm, throw it out in the lawn, and say, “Well, He has a hope and future for me so He will bring something better another day”? No way! You’re going to take that worm out, wash him up, post pictures of him on Facebook, brag about him to your friends, and do anything you can with him. Who cares that he is a worm? God gave him to you!!! Sure, you don’t know why God gave you this worm, or what His plan is for the future (whether that be three seconds from now or three years from now). But none of that changes the fact that God gave you this gift with love and purpose.
This is how I am going to view each day. It might be as appealing as a worm, but it’s going to be the best worm that ever was. That’s how I want to see each day for other people, too. Maybe, if I see the hope God gives them, they will be more likely to see it, as well. Like my little ones in the orphanage…even they have a purpose, each and every day. I want them to know that. I want them to know that this is why I spend time with them three days a week…because God doesn’t make mistakes.
Well, it’s currently after 2:00am. So, I am going to leave you with this food for thought. You can look forward to my Italy update tomorrow. (I hope!) Thanks for reading and being patient with me when I can’t write as consistently as I would like!
Hi, I'm Katie... just a girl, living this adventure for the glory of God. Thanks for reading!