Category Archives: Traveling

Stuck in Montreal

I’m currently avoiding two research papers, so I thought I’d engage in some good, old fashioned procrastination and tell a story. A couple weeks ago, I told you a little about what the Lord was doing in my heart over our Spring Break adventure to Europe. This is one of many stories from that trip. It’s not a deep or profound story, just a funny one. It’s the story of fourteen college students who were just trying to make it back to the States. Sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy a laugh on this dreary Thursday night.

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It was a spring break for the books. What had initially started as a few friends dreaming about a post-graduation trip had spiraled into this much larger group of best friends planning to galavant through Europe for twelve days in March. The week was jam-packed with six countries, thousands of miles of driving rental cars, a new hostel every night, and long days of sightseeing and skiing. By the morning of our departure from Belgium, we were exhausted but our hearts were content. The week had been full of the kind of laughter and memories that don’t fade with time.

A 5am wake-up call on Tuesday morning had us all packed up and ready to make the 3 hour drive from Brugge back to Brussels. Speeding through traffic, the biggest concern of the morning was whether or not we would make it back to the airport for an 8:30 rental car drop off. There were also concerns about whether or not people were going to be sick in the cars; traveling sickness, dinners that don’t sit well, and fervent driving made for some tense moments. Yet, consistent with the flawlessness of the rest of the trip, each of three cars made it to the airport on time. Saying goodbye to the one member of the crew with a different flight (which would be to his ultimate benefit), our group of thirteen settled down at our gate. We boarded our 10:30am flight from Brussels to Montreal.

Knowing all about jet lag, we knew not to fall asleep on the flight. There was some light dozing, especially given our general exhaustion and early wake-up, but we knew that we were going east-to-west. And we knew that it was daytime in Chicago. We had to stay awake to reset our body clocks. So we entertained ourselves with movies, conversations, and reminiscing about the trip. We rotated seats, found comfortable positions, and shared all the food we had stowed in our carry-ons. Towards the end of the six hour flight, attention shifted from entertainment to preparation; we had 45 minutes to make our connecting flight and everyone needed to be ready to go. No one was getting left behind. We were all going to make it back to Wheaton by 5:30pm. We’d be back in time for people’s Tuesday night classes (after all, we’d already missed the rest of Monday and Tuesday classes – per a calculated decision to visit Paris and Brugge).

The flight debarked and we jogged through Canadian customs to our next gate. Delayed. We hadn’t yet sat down when we got wind of the storm that was looming overhead. Rumors of canceled flights buzzed all around us and the airport quickly turned into a ghost town. Canceled. Deliberations about what we would do if the storm got worse began, while everyone maintained hope that it wouldn’t come to that. After talking to AirCanada representatives, we were all put on an 8pm flight, optimistic that they were still going to try and get flights out in what was quickly becoming a dangerous blizzard. It hadn’t even been an hour after getting our new boarding passes that we were informed that all flights out of Montreal had been canceled. We were definitely not making it back to Wheaton by Tuesday.

We were given taxi, meal, and hotel vouchers for the night. Deciding to enjoy the now empty terminal, we took our time at dinner, enjoying another night of being together. We picked up our checked bags that had never even made it onto another plane. Through Canadian customs again, we finally made our way to the taxi pick-up. Little could have prepared us for what we saw next – a line wrapping around the baggage claim terminal several times. Shocked, we asked around to see just what this line was for and how quickly it was moving.

It was the line to get a taxi. It was rumored to be four hours long.

9pm turned into 10pm, which turned into 11pm Montreal time. On our Belgium schedule, it was nearing 5am. We’d officially been up for over 24 hours. And you could tell. Everyone was losing it.

Taxis were having trouble getting through the blizzard, meaning they were coming infrequently. And there were a lot of people trying to get out of the airport. Committed to the idea of sleeping in a hotel bed, and having already waited for three hours without much progress, we ordered Ubers. They weren’t coming fast, but it was more promising than the taxi situation. Splitting up, we said goodbye to half the group and piled in an Uber XL.

17265106_10203060488990244_7776941568471860566_nWhat followed was the most surreal Uber experience of my life, aided by the sleep deprivation I was operating from. Our Uber driver insisted on keeping the windows open, to keep them from fogging. As we were being snowed on in the backseat, traffic turned what should have been a 15 minute drive into a 2 hour one. We barely moved outside of the airport terminal for the first 45 minutes. Even though the other group’s Uber had left after ours, not taking the highway had saved them several minutes. Although, at one point they had gotten stuck in a snow back and had to push the car, so I suppose it all evens out. When they reached the hotel, apparently they asked if we had checked in yet. Obviously, we hadn’t. The only logical assumption was that we had crashed and died. Yet, without international data plans, they had no way of contacting us. And we had no way of reassuring them that we were still just stuck, wet, cold, and sleepy on the highway.

After the most expensive Uber of our lives, we finally pulled up to the hotel. The lady behind the desk handed me a key. I grabbed my backpack and upon finding that we were unable to work the elevator, we hiked up to our room. My friend following close behind, I unlocked the door and flew into the room, wanting to crash upon the bed. Much to my surprise, there were already people in the beds. Hm. We’d been given keys to someone else’s room. Pushing my friend out the door, shh-ing her along the way, I dropped my stuff and ran back down the stairs. I was hysterical. Uncontrollable laughter made it difficult to form coherent words. I managed, between laughs, to get out that someone was already in that room. The woman asked if I was serious. I was. It was 2am. I was very serious.

We finally got to sleep. In a room without other guests.

The next morning, we made our way over to the airport bright and early, ready to get home and convinced we couldn’t miss our 1:00pm flight. At least it wasn’t snowing anymore. We hadn’t even all gotten through customs and security when talk began circling back – the flight had been canceled. Sitting at the gate of yet another canceled flight, we watched this time as a plane took off for O’Hare. Too bad all the flights were full. Too bad the airports were all backed up.

The kind AirCanada woman informed us that the next open flight was scheduled for 11:15am – on Thursday. Everyone lost it, in their own personal way. Anger. Tears. Silence. Verbal processing. This meant missing almost an entire week of classes, job interviews, meetings, and appointments. Our homework was hundreds of miles away and we were still stuck in Montreal. Going back through customs to the front desk, we inquired about hotel and meal tickets. Since it was only 2pm on Wednesday, we had a long way to go until Thursday.

One of the guys who’d planned the trip chatted with the woman. Was there anyway that any of us could get on a flight before Thursday? I’m not sure what happened in those fifteen minutes that he talked to this attendant, but somewhere, in his persistence, she found 9 seats on a flight from Montreal to Toronto, then Toronto to O’Hare. The catch? It was leaving in thirty minutes.

Like in a scene from a movie, we threw nine passports at this woman and proceeded to have nine passports and eighteen boarding passes thrown back at us. We exchanged them while we ran. She said she’d work on the rest of the paperwork but that we needed to go. Calling the gate, she demanded that they keep it open for the nine students who would be running up to it. Then we sprinted. Through security. Through customs. With all of our luggage, because there was no time to check anything. This motley crew of college students was not about to miss the flight. And we didn’t.

Now, one would think that’s where the eventful proceedings end, except that when we got to Toronto, settled into the gate fifteen minutes before boarding, there was an announcement over the loud speaker: can I please see MacMath, McDonald, Westergren, LaRusso, Bergthold, Fritz, McGee . . . That’s us. We shuffled over, like the desperate students we were. She asked if we had any of the necessary paperwork to get on the flight, besides the boarding passes; we didn’t. She said she’d work on it while they began boarding. The paperwork never came. Even though we had boarding passes, they wouldn’t scan without the other documents. Whether because they sensed our desperation or were convinced they could work out the details later, the kind people of AirCanada let us on the flight. Officially undocumented, having been through Canadian customs multiple times, with a dozen previous flight registrations, and carrying luggage bigger than the overhead bins – we finally boarded our flight to O’Hare.

I’ve never been so relieved to see the Chicago skyline. There may or may not have been tears.

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And so concluded the extra day of spring break that none of us had anticipated. It was the most surreal traveling experience that I’ve had to date. A memorable 48-hours with some of the greatest people I’ve ever known.

And I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

Overseas.

I let the papers slide from my hand into the recycling bin and climbed onto my bed. Across the room I could still see the corner of the support letter papers I’d printed out, mocking me from the trash can. Pictures from previous trips lined the bottom of blank pages where I’d planned on writing heartfelt pleas for summer funding. If you didn’t want me overseas this summer, Lord, why not start with that? Why lead me to meeting after meeting, sorting through a dozen different opportunities and organizations, to find one that I was sure I sensed You moving in, only to have it all fall through?

I’ll spare you the details of my angered, and often one-sided, spats with the Lord and suffice it to say that those pleas of winter break 2015 led into what would become the transformative summer of 2016 – all without leaving Wheaton, Illinois.

You make me laugh, Jesus.

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A year ago, I couldn’t force my way overseas; I know because I tried. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – nothing fit, felt right, or worked out in the end. In typical, omniscient God fashion, He knew better. Little did I know that I needed both the refinement and redemption that would come from a summer working at World Relief in Wheaton. So, with initial begrudging, I let the Lord do what He wanted to do. I should’ve expected this, but as it turned out, the last year has been so clearly the Lord; way better than any plan I had tried to concoct for myself.

I could take you through the successive, crazy, it-has-to-be-the-Lord-because-otherwise-it-doesn’t-make-sense chain of events that has followed since the summer (but let’s be real, He’s been moving in those kinds of themes for a lot longer than the winter of 2015). I struggle to find a starting place and would you even believe me if I tried? Maybe later I’ll start writing down some of those individual stories. They aren’t necessarily grand or exciting, just lots of little moments and random connections that the Lord likes to break through in.

I’m looking at my calendar and three trips overseas sit in front of me – trips that I didn’t plan or go looking for. Trips that scream the name of Jesus and the continual call to simply trust what He’s doing. A trip to Europe with friends, better friends than my lonely and scared freshman year self could’ve dreamt up, exploring the countries where a missions organization that I’m considering works. A trip to the British Isles with family, an unexpected blessing that has opened the door to potentially meet missionaries working with refugees in a context that I’ve been praying about for awhile. And a vision trip, to a country in the Middle East, where I’ll get to experience what the Lord is doing in refugee camps up close, and tangibly discern further what He’s leading me into long term.

I say all of this for two reasons:

  1. because I would love your prayer as I go on these trips and take the next eight months to really press in, pray, and discern not only what the Lord is doing in the moment, but what He may be leading me into long term. It’s all the normal prayers for direction that anyone with an impending graduation date (although mine is a little extended because of a master’s program) needs, with a little extra tacked on because if He’s asking me to raise support and move halfway around the world, that can feel just a little daunting. (If you want a prayer card to tuck in your bible or stick on your fridge, let me know!)
  2. because every story, be it stories of the details or the overarching narrative of the past year, points directly back to the trustworthiness and faithfulness of Christ! I don’t know where you are at in terms of believing the Lord or what you need Him to do; I don’t know what He’s doing in your life or what situations of dependance He’s put you in (or perhaps you are running from). But I know this – He is more gracious, powerful, and wise than we often give Him credit for.

when do you become a cross-cultural worker?

Does it happen when you actually set foot in your new town or country? Is it when you raise support or when a missions agency agrees to take you on? Perhaps it is when you agree to live sacrificially and people associate your love for the Lord with what you do? Or does it happen when you make up your mind and resolve in your heart, that no matter the cost, you’ll follow the Lord wherever He leads, regardless of where that is or what it may look like?

I’ve felt “called” (whatever that even means) to ministry since I was little. While there were little dreams interspersed between my childhood, including becoming a cruise dancer or an actress, my journals and memories are full of “all I want to do is love Jesus and His people forever!” kind of remarks. I didn’t realize that might mean overseas until years later.

I caught a love for the nations when my grandparents took us on multiple trips overseas, but it wasn’t until my senior year of highschool, when I went to Asia, that I realized there was a deep-seated desire in me to serve cross-culturally. I just could’t shake this burden for people who didn’t know Jesus. After spending time with a missionary who had significant impact on my life, I returned to the states convinced of this illusive “call to missions.” The call hasn’t been without it’s ups and downs, questions, and clarifications, but one thing is sure: when the Lord says He goes before you, He does. However that ends up looking.

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At the end of the day, I’m still not sure what this “call to missions” is going to end up looking like. As I’ve started practically pursuing and talking with missions agencies, financial aid, and other incredible connections the Lord has put around me, I’ve been simultaneously amazed and overwhelmed at how prevalent His hand has been and will need to be in this process. If I end up overseas in a few years, it will be nothing short of a miracle, considering the things that would need to fall into place. Besides Jesus, who even knows what His plans are for the next season of my life?

Writing this is interesting because I feel like it’s the sort of thing people talk about when they are sure – when they’ve secured an agency, when they’ve raised support, or when they’ve decided on a team, country, or people group. I’m basically sure about nothing, other than that I can’t ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting in my heart and the ways people, opportunities, and wise counsel has almost seem to drop into my lap these past few months. It’s kind of crazy, but then again, what part of life with the Lord isn’t a little crazy?

Sometimes I think we do a great job of looking back and talking about the Lord’s faithfulness, but it’s often easy to forget reflection in the moment. I think it’s dangerous to think that I’m limited to sharing my life only when there are answers and conclusion paragraphs. This was some of my tension when I wrote 22 drafts; it might be easier to talk about becoming a missionary when things are more assured. What if I don’t end up overseas – do I look like a failure or an unfaithful follower? Like I can’t really hear or discern the Lord’s will for my life? I’m not even sure of what I’m learning or seeing in this season, so how am I supposed to write about that?

The thing is – people don’t just end up where they often pick their story up at. When I tell my story of coming to Wheaton, it’s a summary of how the Lord led me to that decision – the past-looking reflection doesn’t include all the nights of questions, tears, arguments with others, excitement about other schools, and pro/con sheets. There’s questions, tears, feelings, roadblocks, and diverted paths that pave the way to anywhere we end up. We aren’t always as excited to talk about these, often because they don’t feel helpful or important in the moment. But they are, because they remind us that the journey doesn’t always make sense or radiant a brilliant clarity. That doesn’t mean the Lord is any less present or that it’s any less significant.

All of that said, looking into becoming a missionary is an overwhelming process, with the reality of the fact that the door could shut at so many stages of the process. Recognizing that there’s a high chance that I’ll find myself wrestling with disappointment, unanswered prayers, and unmet expectations at multiple points in the journey. Yet there is also the reality that if this is what the Lord has, that going overseas won’t just be a dream anymore. It won’t just be “oh yeah I’ve always loved the nations; there’s some general regions that I have a heart for;” it will be a specific place, city, people, and team. It will be my real, tangible, day-to-day life. A life halfway across the world from everything and everyone I’ve ever known. Inevitably included in that life are nights of loneliness, missing family, seeing friend’s get married and have kids via Skype and pictures, and living a reality that many do not have a context for.

This season of praying, pursuing, and talking with lots of people about what my life could look like after I graduate with my masters, is full of wrestling, reflection, questions, and excitements. It’s meant meeting with lots of people, reading encouraging books, spending lots of time with my Bible, journal, and Jesus. Everyday feels like a new surrender – of my desires, my expectations, and my dreams – while simultaneously acknowledging more of how I was created, where my heart thrives, and places I feel the Holy Spirit moving. It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming, and ultimately, it’s just another stone of remembrance on this dusty path that I’m walking with my sweet Jesus.

The Windy City

As much as I love open fields and country nights, I have a special place in my heart for cities. And when people told me that Chicago is incredible and beautiful, they weren’t just being sympathetic to the fact that I had already decided to move there without visiting. The lights, the buildings, the noises, the movement. The multitudes of people, each with their own story.

The woman who checked us out at the art store who is in Chicago because she’s dating a Chicago firefighter. She’s really proud of him and happy to be living here.

The older lady who at some point in the morning looked in a mirror and decided that the tight purple pants, teal tye-dye shirt, flowered hat, and crocs composed the look she was going for.

The old man with the tan, flat-brimmed hat who kissed his wrinkled wife’s forehead as they walked together along the lakefront.

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I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks. To my new, wonderful city. I can’t wait to hear your stories, Chicago.

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