15 August, 2014

Well, I just got back from one of the best trips of my life! I'm surprised my face doesn't hurt because it seems like all I've been doing for the past two weeks is laughing and smiling!  Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a whitewater kayaking adventure with an awesome organization called First Descents.  The program "offers young adult cancer survivors a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle, and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives, and connect with others doing the same."

I flew into Spokane, WA, where I met up with the group, then drove for about three hours through Idaho and into Tarkio, MT.  There were twelve participants and about 13 others (FD leaders, camp moms, chefs (thats right, we had our own chefs!), a photographer, and kayaking instructors).  On the drive over, we each got assigned a camp nickname.  I was sharing about all of my travels this summer and somehow the name "Manx" stuck as my nickname.  The lodge we stayed at was gorgeous and located on the shore of the Clark Fork of the Columbia River.  My roommate "Radish" and I had the privilege of sharing the caboose: an old train car that had been converted into a camping space.  It got a little toasty in there at times, but was a fun adventure nonetheless!

We started kayaking Monday morning and I felt really unstable, was horrible at steering, and flipped over twice.  It was terrifying at first and doubts filled my head.  What if I flip over and can't get out?  What if I hit my head on a rock?  What if I'm not strong enough to paddle for very long?   But our instructors were amazing and extremely helpful.  By that afternoon, all my fears were gone.  The first thing they taught us was how to escape if we flipped over.  They taught us how to maintain stability and to gain better control of our kayaks.  After only one day of learning, we were all a hundred times better than that morning.  It was gratifying to experience so much improvement so quickly.

On Tuesday, we began learning how to use our paddles to roll ourselves upright if we flipped over.  It was/is extremely difficult, but invigorating when I got it right!  I am incredibly grateful for the patience and willingness of our instructors to teach us how to kayak!  They were absolutely amazing!  We spent the rest of the week practicing our rolls, going through rapids, and simply enjoying the river and one another's company.

In the afternoons and evenings, we hung out around the gorgeous lodge, talking, eating, laughing, and playing games together.  This was a group of truly amazing people!  Everyone was positive, accepting, and encouraging to one another.  And on top of that, we had an awful lot of fun!  I'm not sure I've ever laughed so much in my life!

We had a campfire after dinner each night.  We spent time sharing stories from the week and opening up to one another about our experiences with cancer.  We talked about the river as a metaphor for life and shared all the lessons we could learn from it.  Each campfire concluded with giving awards to one another.  I was awarded the pink wig for being "genuine, caring, and cheerful" (thanks, Tiny!).

I had so much fun and enjoyed every minute of it!  It seems like I could write a ton about the week but, seeing as "a picture is worth a thousand words," I figured these photos may paint a better picture of what the week was like.

While I was sick and going through chemotherapy, I got used to staying home and being by myself.  I'd grown to be much more introverted than before.  But I used to be outgoing; I used to be adventurous; I used to be energetic.  Somehow I lost those aspects of myself.  But this week truly rekindled the adventurous spirit that I had before I got sick.  I re-learned the resilience and strength of my own body.  Each morning I thought to myself, I'm too tired for this; I don't have enough energy or strength to go kayaking for six hours!  But then I did it and somehow, amidst the spending of my physical energy, I was energized emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  This experience restored a part of myself that I hadn't even realized I'd lost and I am incredibly grateful! I learned so much about myself, others, and life in general and am so thankful to everyone that was a part of this experience!


P.S.  Thanks to everyone who let me use their photos!!
P.P.S.  I took some video footage on my go pro and will be sure to post some of it soon!

26 June, 2014

I got back from Costa Rica on sunday. We spent a week in Tamarindo working at Capilla del Calvario de Villareal (Calvary Chapel Villa Real). There were seven of us total: Amy, Christina, Haley, James, Jared, Vanessa, and me. We left early monday morning, had a five-hour layover in Houston, TX, and made it to Liberia, Costa Rica around 8:00 that night.

On tuesday, wednesday, and thursday morning, we worked at the church. We pulled weeds, helped with landscaping, and turned over the fallow ground in preparation for planting grass seed. I also did some filing and painting. The work wasn't very difficult, but it was so incredibly hot and humid that we constantly needed breaks. But we seemed to get a lot of work done. I hope it was a blessing to them.

We ate our lunches at the home of Don Victor, one of the church's elders. Lunch usually consisted of rice, beans, some type of meat, plantains, and a fresh fruit juice. It sounds plain, but everything was extremely flavorful. It was delicious, especially after a morning of working in the heat.

After lunch, we usually headed back to our hotel for a rest and maybe some swimming or a shower. We got smoothies most days for 1,200 mil colones, or about $2.40. I discovered my new favorite fruit: the guanabana! It's called soursop in other cultures and I'd heard of it before because it's thought to be able to cure cancer. This was the first time I'd tried it and I loved it! Jared and I have been trying to describe what it tastes like and have compared it to all sorts of things: coconut, pineapple, strawberry, lemon; and it's really creamy. I had it every day in smoothies, as ice cream, or as juice. I'm going to try to find it at home because I loved it so much!

On tuesday, wednesday, and thursday afternoons we went back to the church to help with their children's ministry. We played games with the kids, gave them guitar lessons and english lessons, and did a little skit with them about the battle of Jericho. It was really fun and the kids were adorable!

In the evenings, we went back to Tamarindo for dinner. We usually got ice cream and went swimming. We also had a few nights of worship and prayer.

On friday morning, Costa Rica played Italy in the World Cup. We went over to Don Victor's house to watch it along with a lot of people from the church. There were nearly 20 people gathered around the tv. Costa Rica scored one goal and when they did, everyone went crazy cheering, singing, hugging, and jumping up and down. It was as if they'd all just won the lottery! Costa Rica won the game, which means they've made it through to the second round for the first time in twenty-four years. People were cheering and celebrating all day and all night. It was definitely an experience I'll never forget!

On thursday and friday after lunch, we walked around a couple neighborhoods inviting people to church and asking if they need any prayer. It was difficult because of the language barrier, so I let the spanish speakers do most of the talking. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, and most said they'd attend the church.

After that, all of our work was done. We worked hard, then we played hard. We spent about six hours in the pool on friday evening. We all got pretty silly and had a lot of fun. On saturday morning, Corey and Eddie (from the church in Villareal) took us to a beach called "Little Hawaii." We drove for about a half hour and parked in the jungle. We then went down a little pathway that eventually turned into a walkway of wooden planks surrounded by a marsh. The gray spindly branches grew up above the bridge, leaving an archway to walk through, It was unlike anything I've ever seen before. The walkway went for quite awhile, then ended in a grove of trees on the edge of the beach. We walked along the beach toward a good spot to sit where the waves were good for surfing. We had to cross the deep, rushing outlet of a river, which just added to the adventure. A few of us got smoothies from a nearby resort. We stayed at the beach for a couple hours, playing in the waves and surfing. It was gorgeous with white sand and turquoise water.

After the beach, we went back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a couple more hours. We had a sunset dinner on the beach with all of our friends from the church. We ate banana cream pie to celebrate Amy's 30th birthday! After dinner we (of course) went back into the pool.

We left early on sunday morning, had an eight-hour layover in Houston, and finally made it home to San Diego around 9:00pm. Nothing really glamorous happened, but we worked hard, tried to serve the church, and overall had a great trip. My least favorite parts were the heat, humidity, and bugs. My favorite parts were playing the with kids, experiencing the World Cup excitement, and spending time with the rest of the team. Thank you all for keeping us in your prayers! Pura vida!