spirituality, vocation

Chile: So, So Good to Me

I’ve been blessed with some great, great friends in my life. It’s a testament to my amazing friends that we still thrive despite long distance. My longest long-distance friendship is with my college roommate Katie who clocks in at over 5,000 miles in Santiago, Chile. End of September, I was able to visit her. What a blessing it was!

Both Katie and the Lord were so, so good to me in this little trip to Chile. It was exactly what my spirit needed as I’ve been facing some big doubts about my future. As you’ll soon see, I was so blessed that I’d rank myself spoiled.

My friend works for a major American consultant firm that was hired for a major retailer in Chile. Since she’s working so far from home, her company gives her two free flights a month. Katie graciously used a flight on me, so my $1000 flight was paid for by her company. FREE FLIGHT!? The biggest free thing I’ve ever won was a remote control holder off a Snapple top when I was young, and my sister still disputes that she won it. FREE FLIGHT!? Is this real life?

It was real life. And despite being chronically short staffed, I was able to get a day off from work to extend my time off. Most of my paid time off (PTO) was used for my friends’ weddings, so getting an extra day of PTO was a sweet, sweet surprise and allowed me to have a day to relax, continually research all the things that were freaking me out about my first solo international trip, and pack properly. Thankfully, my laptop didn’t die until after I returned, so I was able to do a lot of research into how to get from the airport to her hotel, for example. I spent a good 3 hours just researching that…

Finally, the day came. I was planning to just take a taxi to the airport, but my co-worker unexpectedly offered to drive me to the airport. She even made a pitstop so I could stock up on more snacks before going. I could tell I was already being spoiled by this trip, and the comfort plus section on the airplane just confirmed it.

Arriving to Chile was a little frightening. I took years of Spanish and can even get away with a simple patient assessment in the language, but I was tired from a lack of quality sleep on the plane and had absolutely no idea what people were saying. It doesn’t help that they have a very unique accent. Understanding their Spanish is like trying to understand a thick Glaswegian (Scottish) accent when English isn’t your second language. (See this video. I know I had issues understanding him!)

Too, there was a huge delay between immigration and customs. Apparently there was a strike going on, complete with yelling and drums. Great. My phone was trying to figure out how to be a phone in a foreign country, and somehow after an hour, I was able to get through customs, find a nice cab driver who didn’t look like he’d kidnap me, and arrived at the hotel.

After breathing a huge sign of relief, I wandered around the place to get my bearings. Katie got back shortly after work, and we got lunch before driving 5 hours north to a city called La Serena.

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Notice how long this country is? Makes our 5-hour drive look like nothing, seeing as it’d take over a day to drive it from north to south!

Pretty quickly, I knew the Lord was going to make Himself known in some fashion during this trip. A 83 meter (272 foot) cross is kind of a hard sign to miss:

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Cruz del Tercer Milenio in nearby Coquimbo. This was our view from our AirBNB. #spoiled

We had some traditional pisco sours (a brandy-like liquor made of grapes) with our dinner, went to bed, and Katie was excited to surprise me with our day trip for tomorrow.

Usually before a trip, I like to plan major activities I want to do and leave bits of the day to chance. But knowing Katie who is an amazing trip planner and knowing that she knows me, I gave (nearly) no direction. Sometimes, it pays to trust people. Katie picked the perfect day trip: an ecotour where I’d get to see PENGUINS!

I love penguins. Yes, they smell, but they’re just adorable. I have a painting above my stove of that penguins made with their footprints. I love them. Katie knew this and planned for us to do this amazing ecotour complete with wild llamas. Here’s a couple photos:

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The day was just gorgeous from the sun to the color of the water to everything:

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I was just in awe of the natural beauty of this mostly untouched land. After a full day of touring, we returned to La Serena, finding this really cool rock and roll-themed ceviche place (a seafood dish) and called it a night.

The next day, we went into the mountains to a place called Elqui Valley.

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Little did I know Elqui Valley is a prime place for stargazing, with observatories all along the small mountain peaks, but more on that later…

We spent the day visiting a winery, a brewery, and a pisco distillery. Being in the mountains is amazing, especially when they look like this:

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Too, while visiting a winery called Falerina, we encountered the one and only person who knew what Wisconsin was. Whenever people asked where we were from, people knew Chicago (Katie’s hometown) and probably thought Wisconsin (my homeland) was a funny word. But our tour guide at Falerina was delighted when she found out where I was from. Turns out, just a week or so earlier, she had hosted a group of astronomers from our alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, and loved them. Therefore, she loved us. And we were so excited to find a Badger abroad!

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They taught her well! 😀

That night, we were staying in an AirBNB with a sweet Chilean named Lily. Her house was adorable, and I loved how as we were driving the countryside, it was filled with roses, which was especially providential considering it was the feast of St. Therese (October 1st).

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I had been praying a novena (nine-day prayer with a specific intention) to St. Therese about my future and the mission God was calling me to, seeing as she’s the patron of missionaries and overall incredibly awesome. I took the ridiculous amount of roses I saw throughout the day as a palpable sign that my prayers were heard.

After touring all day, we stopped by to try to see our hostess Lily, but she had already packed up for the day. Instead we walked around the tiny town of Pisco Elqui. I especially noticed how beautiful the old church looked against the mountain:

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I knew with traveling the next day and being in a rural area without clear postings of Mass times, it’d be difficult if not impossible to go to Mass, so I stopped inside briefly. And I was blown away by what I saw:

The place was filled with roses and lilies. (The cynic in me is saying it’s not that full, but literally, every statue had lilies and roses under it. The trained optimist in me is going to say that this glass is half full.)

Whenever I have severe doubts about my future vocation to marriage, I have found great comfort in seeing roses (a sign of Mary) and lilies (a sign of Joseph) in churches. In my novena, I asked about clarification of my mission. Being still single at 26 going on 27 (yeah, I know it’s not that old), I often doubt if marriage is in the cards for me. This year, I was especially challenged at believing children are in my future after being diagnosed with PCOS.

Yet, in this simple church with ordinary flowers, I knew that the Lord was making it abundantly clear to me yet again that He wants me married. My future mission may not be anything radical like I’ve dreamed, but I think having a family and really dedicating yourself to it is one of the most radical things in this world.  I truly believe the words of St. Mother Teresa who said world peace begins at home. If that’s the mission I’m called to (and I think it is!), I’m excited to see what’s in store.

And as icing on the cake, we got to sit outside by a fire and look at the night sky. I’m a sucker for stars, as I’ve written before. Katie tried to have us go to an observatory that night, but it was deemed to be too cloudy. I thought we’d see nothing. But we saw something like this:

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Thousands upon thousands of stars, more than I had ever seen in my life, just with the naked eye! My neck hurt from having my head back, just staring at them and soaking them in. I almost didn’t want to go to bed! I was in awe of what light pollution blocks me from seeing every night. Just like light pollution blocking the septillion stars in the sky as well as my own natural inability to take them all in, I was reminded how my doubts, fears, insecurities, and misunderstandings of grace block my spirit from trusting in the abundance of good that God promises His children. I cannot adequately describe the sense of peace I had that day and the sense of peace I have just thinking back on it.

After a good night of sleep, we headed back to Santiago, toured around a little, and before I knew it, it was time to go to the airport and fly home.

During our ample time driving, Katie and I complete the 36 questions that psychologist Arthur Aron finds can lead to love. I had read about this study in a New York Times article, and was dying to do it. Being an introvert, I find myself frustrated with small talk after a while, and I like the depth and simplicity of the questions. It’s very much like throwing a toad into warm water and slowly heating it up. The toad doesn’t realize it’s boiling until it’s too late. With these questions, you don’t know you’ve entered really vulnerable territory until you’re there.

Katie and I have been through a lot together over the years, but these questions helped me to get to know her in a whole new way.  It was honestly one of the highlights of my time to go through these questions with her, laugh over our similarities to some of the questions, empathize with her doubts and frustrations about the future, and really get to know one of my best friends on a whole new level.

I often fear new relationships, friend and especially romantic, because of the vulnerability they require. Yet, doing this simple exercise reminded me that everyone is scared, broken, and looking to be loved for exactly who they are.  Too, it’s interesting how people talk about themselves compared to how we think of them. I know I’m very critical of myself, often focusing on the negative things I’ve done or experienced, whereas my friends and family don’t focus on those same things. This little exercise gave me hope and confidence in my ability to be vulnerable with someone new.

It’s hard to describe in words how grateful I am that Katie and the Lord were just so, so good to me during this unexpected trip. A lot of changes are coming up in my life, including (officially!) graduate school starting in January, and I’m nervous about my future. But I know from this trip that I have people who love me and will care for me, so I don’t have to worry as if the world and everything in it rests upon my shoulders.

I never expected to visit Chile. It was never on my radar as someplace worth visiting, even in doing various projects in Spanish class about Spanish speaking countries. But I’m learning from this experience that sometimes the most unexpected people and places are the ones we’ll end up cherishing the most. And for that lesson and all the little lessons I learned in Chile, I am most grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! I hope you too have an experience from this year that you are grateful for! 😀

Good to Me – Audrey Assad

 

 

 

 

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