Finding God Abroad: Embracing the Quiddity of Life (Wales)

Wales

DAY 28:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

Studying abroad in Europe for three months taught me a lot about being adaptable and making the best of uncomfortable situations.

According to the locals, we were traveling through the U.K. during the wettest winter in twenty years.  Wet and cold combined is not a pretty picture when you’re trying to see historic outdoor sites, like we were this particular day in Wales.

This was our only shot at Wales–a one day tour to explore the ancient Roman ruins of Caerwent, the Norman Chepstow Castle, and Tintern Abbey of Wordsworth fame.  But our professors had warned us:  these sites were completely exposed to the elements, and the elements were going to be nasty.

By the end of it, after multiple stops and changes of clothes, we were tired and somehow still soaking wet underneath all our layers of clothing.

Wales

About this time in the semester, we were studying about C.S. Lewis’s life and teachings.  One distinct personality trait of Lewis was that he didn’t mind rain:  he found absolute joy in things like weather because it always does exactly what it is intended to do.

In Suprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, author Terry Lindvall writes:

“To surrender to the quiddity of life–which means, to surrender to whatever life sends you–can be an adventure of unexpected and neglected delight.  The commonplace becomes quite startling and marvelous when one actually pays attention to it and forgets oneself.”

Despite the bad conditions that day, it’s amazing how much fun we had!  Once we embraced the fact that the weather was going to be less than pleasant, it didn’t bother us all that much.

Rain is rain, it’s meant to be wet, and there’s nothing we could really do about it.

Wales

Chepstow Castle, sitting up above the overflowing River Wye, was a treasure trove of secret passages and winding staircases, and as we walked the ramparts pretending to be kings and queens, the rain evaporated in our minds.

In fact, to celebrate how much fun we were having, a couple of us decided to let out some energy by running and dancing in the rain.  It was a moment of pure freedom and delight that will always be the predominant memory of my short time in Wales.

That’s not to say I was always able to look on the bright side.  There were assuredly difficult days when I just couldn’t find the right bus or when the distance from home seemed unbearable.

But those difficulties, when faced with an attitude of contentment and gratitude, couldn’t override the ecstasy of being fully alive in the present moment–welcoming whatever may come.

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We’re nearing the end of my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters.  You can catch up on the rest of the series here.  

Enjoy travel?  You can find more types of these stories here.

 

 

The Road to Damascus

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DAY 27:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

My parents and I spent fall break in Abingdon, Virginia, and journeyed seventeen miles down a mountain via bike on the spectacular Virginia Creeper Trail.

As a person who was raised in church and who currently attends a Christian university, I laughed when I saw the name of the small town we ended up in–Damascus, Virginia.

In the Christian scriptures, a religious extremist named Saul is traveling to Damascus to kill Christians when a light blinds him and he encounters Jesus.

Saul was a scholar and devout man:  it would seem that he trying to be his best to please God.  But when we strip away his cultural presumptions about God, we can easily see that his brutal persecution of Christians was wrong and, in fact, counter to what God was doing at that time.

I’m constantly haunted by fears about this sort of thing.

What if the things I think I know about God aren’t actually consistent with His character?   How do I know I’m not just making a god in my own image?  What if the reason I’m a Christian is only because of the country and time I was born and the family that raised me?

Or the scariest of them all:  what if I just made all of this up?

We could ask these questions forever, rationalizing our beliefs away as nothing but unfounded or unreasonable, but the simple fact is that we can’t and won’t ever understand all that is God.

That’s the beauty of faith:  giving into something bigger than your own understanding.

I’ve learned to find confidence in a God who won’t zap me if, in the end, one detail of my doctrine is incorrect.  I’ve surrendered to a force that could judge or condemn me if He wished but instead, out of the overflowing love of His heart, embraces and reassures me.

Study and striving for understanding are almost a good thing, but at some point, we must accept the leading of our spiritual eyes and follow our flashlight of trust in the dark unknown, one step at a time.

My favorite podcast at the moment is from Michael Gungor’s project, The Liturgists.  In the most recent episode, liturgist Science Mike said this (which I absolutely love):

“The opposite of faith is not doubt:  it’s certainty.  What need do the certain have for faith?”

As I was coasting down that mountain on my way to Damascus, my revelation didn’t come in a flash of light but instead of peaceful echo in my mind:  “You have to trust my ability to speak more than your ability to listen.”

Paul gave finding God his most religious efforts, but it wasn’t until God found him that he actually changed.  Let’s have faith that, in the midst of our doubt and our doctrine, that Jesus will reveal Himself to us.

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I’m almost done with my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters.  You can catch up on the rest of the series here.  

 

 

Comparison Kills Contentment

DAY 26:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

Comparison Kills Comfort

Every year, I choose a word to focus on for the year.  For example, one year I reflected on faith, and last year I meditated on light.

But I should really be more careful how I pick my words.  The faith year, for instance, I was faced with more situations that required faith than I could handle.

This year, I picked contentment, and as in years past, my word has been the area of my life I’ve most struggled with this year.

…Which is utterly ridiculous because I’ve had some of the absolute best experiences of my life this year.  Yet I’ve learned that true contentment comes from within:  it has little to do with your external circumstances or temporary happiness.

The biggest roadblock on my pathway to contentment (which I fear may take the rest of my years) has been comparison.

One of the hardest things about living, working, or traveling with people is that it is so easy for us to compare our experiences to theirs.  From the perfect Instagrams to the stylish outfits, someone else’s life always looks much more glamorous than ours.

For proof that my social media profiles don’t always paint the truest picture, read “Ireland, Instagram, and Illusions About International Travel.”

I spent way too much of my time in the U.K. wondering why my trip didn’t feel as magical as other people on the study abroad seemed to be experiencing.

At one point, I finally understood the disconnect:  I could hear my own thoughts and see my own struggles, while I had no clue what they were going through.

It reminded me that I have no right to judge a person’s life from the outside–without understanding their heart.  Sure, they were having an amazing time, but I was too.

Our experiences were meant to be different because I’m different.  The sooner you find common ground with others and stop making everything a competition, the sooner you’ll find truer happiness.

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Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

 

 

Loving Yourself As Others

DAY 25:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

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I was taken aback by something that happened in class today.  We were turning in portfolios for my internship course, and one of the guys looked at me and said, “I bet yours is going to be the most put together one.”

I was slightly confused because I honestly feel like my entire life is anything but put together.

This got me thinking a lot about what other people think of me and whether they believe I’m put together or not, which ultimately doesn’t amount to much.

In the end, this experience just served as a reminder that I shouldn’t be as hard on myself as I usually am.  It’s amazing how nice we can be to perfect strangers (probably because we don’t know that much about them).

Jesus told his followers to love one another AS much as they loved themselves.  Yes, it’s important to prefer others above ourselves, with acts of service and surrender, but that doesn’t mean we should love others more than ourselves.

In fact, if you don’t love yourself well, you’ll always treat others badly.

So what are ways that you can practice self-compassion?  Tonight, I chose to buy a new album and take a drive on the interstate, for example.  I always love taking myself on a date or saying sweet affirmations to myself, like I would a close friend.

Let’s extend the same grace that we give our neighbors to those we persecute most often–ourselves.

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Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

 

A Day In Eden

DAY 24:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

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Happy Sabbath everyone!

I’ve been learning so much lately about resting and how to actually do it.  In our hurried culture, we spend a large amount of time running from place to place, trying to entertain ourselves without actually taking space to rejuvenate our minds, bodies, and spirits.

The concept of sabbath is so vital to a healthy spiritual life, and while most of our minds automatically go to a Sunday church service, community and worship just part of what it means to take a holy day.

While I always try to get to church, Sundays aren’t conducive for leisure, as I must prepare for the upcoming school week.  So I’ve chosen Saturday to be my day to unwind and do anything but school work.

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A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and another couple we’re close with headed to Blue Ridge, Georgia, to explore an apple orchard.  The day was so pleasant as we treasured each other’s company and truly escaped our midterm worries.

I love that God makes such a big deal about rest that He set the precedent for the prominent place it should have it our lives.  Taking time apart to heal makes your work infinitely more productive.

It seems that sabbath was never meant to be a big, legalistic production, just a loving reminder to enjoy the world we’ve been given.

Our problems can wait till tomorrow.

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DAY 23:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

I have tried and tried for hours today to write, but the words never came out, and that in itself has been a spiritual encounter.

Tonight I see that much of my self-worth is derived from my ability to perform and, in this case, write.  But identity based on my outward actions is circumstantial and subject to change, unlike the calm inner confidence that comes from simply accepting myself.

Instead of being frustrated, I chose not to get down on myself.  I’m valuable whether my life looks like a blank page or a book of accomplishments.

Don’t ever forget that you are enough.

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Finding God Abroad: Reflections from the Sea of Galilee by Brad LaChapell

Sea of Galilee

DAY 22:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

 

Brad LaChapell is one of the best guys I know.  A junior pastoral ministries major at Lee with me, he has edified me as an accountability group member and inspired me as the chaplain of my dorm.

With a heart full of grace, Brad lives out the Gospel daily amongst both the privileged and the destitute, finding God everywhere he looks.

Having taken the same trip to Israel as Valerie from “Unearthing Israel,” I had to share with you Brad’s moving story of his spiritual musings from the Sea of Galilee.  //

I really like stories. There is something about them that draws the attention, fixates the mind, and captivates the imagination.

Stories have the ability to take you along on a journey, thrusting you to the edge of your seat as you experience the narrative’s ebb and flow, awaiting its conclusion. The best stories will leave you walking away with a sense of wonder.

Countless stories have taken me on such journeys, but never has it been so easy to place myself within a story as it was sailing the Sea of Galilee. On those waters, the very waters that Jesus set foot upon, I felt so vividly immersed in the story of scripture.

Everything had been moving so quickly leading up to that point. It began with a four o’clock in the morning flight from Atlanta, and a few plane rides, conversations with strangers, and naps later, I was on the ground in Tel Aviv, Israel, for two weeks of touring the country–my first experience abroad.

The start of many endeavors in the Holy Land, my life stood still on those waters.

 

I think we all long to go on the adventure of a lifetime, to be a part of a grand story.

We are infatuated with travel and captivated by books and movies that can take us to another world. Like children when they first learn to crawl, we venture to explore unknown places. We seek to discover all things new in the world of study and research and create bucketlists to squeeze as much adventure into life as possible.

We long for a life of purpose, a journey that is meaningful. It is a part of what it is to be human.

I can imagine Peter had such a longing. Sailing this very sea two thousand years ago, in a boat similar to the one that I had been sailing in, Peter had been missing something deep in his soul, though he knew not exactly what.

That is, until he heard the two words that satisfied his longing. With two words, Jesus called Peter to the adventure of a lifetime:

“Follow Me.”

He was comforted and confounded as these two words created feelings so paradoxical. Jesus promised to make Peter, the fisherman, a “fisher of men.” Peter’s life would be changed to change lives.

Jesus took Peter’s ordinary everyday calling and reinvented it, breathing his divine life and purpose into it and establishing an even greater calling.

Now, Jesus beckons all people to the same: “Follow Me.”

It is hard to believe that it has been about three and a half years since I said “yes” to these words, yet it’s as if it has been a lifetime full of adventure.

Much of that time, I’ve spent in places of poverty and brokenness. Along the way I have met some of the most amazing people. Though some of these places and situations are heavy, I’ve seen God in these places as I’ve joined with Him in bringing restoration and hope to these broken places.

As God’s people, we are on this journey together, though it may look different for everyone. We have been invited into the grand narrative of redemptive history, and we have become vital characters in the story.

We all play a role in the unfolding of God’s redemptive purpose in the world, building a Kingdom whose reign will never end.

Like all of the best stories, ours will have times of great sorrow and great joy. While not every moment will produce adrenaline-filled excitement, Christianity should never be a boring existence, void of meaning.

Sea of Galilee

In both the mundane and the remarkable, journeying with Christ is an endlessly meaningful adventure. Following Jesus is like conquering the open sea.

But because we know we will arrive safely at shore, we are freed to enjoy the journey with our hearts at ease, exploring the depths of God, ourselves, humanity, and the rest of creation and discovering the beauty of God amidst it all.

I believe Jesus’ call to follow Him is an invitation to embark on the great adventure.  It’s like what C.S. Lewis notably described in The Last Battle as the “Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

As I stepped off of that boat onto the shore of the Sea of Galilee, I was filled with wonder as I realized I was not leaving a story but stepping back into one–the narrative of those beckoned by the call, “Follow me.”

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Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

You can read more adventures in travel from the Finding God Abroad series here.