Karissa and I at the Mosque of Muhammad Ali in Cairo (April 2012)
I’m excited for this very first guest post! My incredible friend Karissa ventured out about a month ago and landed this past week in Lisbon, which she loved. She wasn’t able to post anywhere, so I thought it would be fun to share her impressions with you, especially since she’s such a great writer. There is a qualifier though. Karissa is traveling alone and is finding it pretty tough. The road can get lonely. We talked for a while yesterday morning via FaceTime. She asked me to make sure the readers know Lisbon was a highlight—beautiful city and fun acquaintances—but it’s important not to romanticize the idea of leaving friends and family to go exploring. I know you’ll enjoy this post!
So cheesy. So wonderful.
That’s how I ended my day at the hostel in Lisbon today. It’s crazy how when you’re traveling you can bond with people so quickly. Really see them. Cut out all the other stuff and just be with people and experience them.
I’ve known Naamah for all of two days, but Max (the other group hugger) thought we had known each other for ages. She has a stunning face and an impossible to mistake laugh that says her happiness is more than just momentary. I was drawn to her immediately. And get this! She knows Chris Fearon, a dear friend who I met seven years ago through my outdoors small group in D.C. They go to church together where they both currently live, in San Francisco. I love improbable, small-world stories. Reminds me of how connected we are and how God provides. And because of how things went in Dublin this week, I really needed a friend this week. God is good.
I met Max last night. German, free-spirit type who used to have dreads down to his knees. If you’re wondering, that took ten years to grow! He’s a painter and a photographer who has murals up in discos in Berlin. His mother is Irish so his English is nearly perfect, while he’s traveled the world with his father, a well-regarded journalist for Germany’s biggest newspaper. He’s basically wicked cool. But, above all, he’s a genuine soul with an expression that says “I accept you, I see you and I’m going to assume we are already friends.” When I realized this and how comfortable I was as a result, I thought immediately that I could learn something from him. From my view, to be told that someone feels comfortable around me and that they can be themselves is a compliment of the highest order. Oh and he looks like Jesus. You know, the Jesus that we see in pictures and the movies that probably doesn’t look much like the real Jesus at all—green eyes rather than brown with a sharp nose. I know it may sound like I’ve fallen for this guy—who nicknamed himself “sexy Jesus,” but it’s not quite like that. The connection is different – soulful, but yet not romantic. And I definitely know I could never be with someone who is accustomed to open relationships!
Twenty four hours later we’d all talked about our families, played in the waves, ate mint ice cream. We all need this kind of connection really. It makes us feel human and divine all at once. Ice cream itself might be divine as well. But, alas, I digress.
Right before I left Max took my portrait for a gallery show he’s doing in Berlin at the end of his travels, showcasing photographs of a journey that will take him through five European countries in as many weeks. What a cool memento that will be!
I began most of my evenings at dinner at Home hostel, where “mamma,” the owner’s mother, cooks homemade meals for the guests every night for 10 euros. She was so sweet and pressed her face against mine when she greeted me like I was an old friend, instead of one of thousands she sees ever year. When I bought her Portuguese cookbook and asked her to sign it, she lit up, asked me the spelling of my name and then that of my mother’s. When I told her that my mother was gone, she smiled sadly and said “No!” and pointed to my heart. I started to tear up but got it together for a photo with her.
Amazing how we never get over losing someone. Even now, 18 years after her death, I can’t help but cry as I write this from a bus on my way to the next stop. But she’s here and most importantly up there. I must remember that. Oh mommy, if you could see me now. Not for what I’ve done, but to be with me. If you could tell me the secrets of your heart and teach me my own…
Okay, gettin’ it together…
That same evening, I went to a restaurant with Naamah that was recommended to us. After spending a delightful evening chatting next to a crazy-in-a-good-way German couple (the Germans are everywhere!), we were given several post cards as mementos by our smiley waiter Antonio.
Não tenha medo – Don’t be afraid
Written on one of them were the words “Não tenha medo.” I was astounded and deeply touched when I learned that it meant “Don’t be afraid” in Portuguese. That was exactly what I heard when I was running from the shooters at Columbine. “Don’t be afraid” was a love letter from God. It was a reminder of a moment we shared. It was something only he could have arranged. It was an expression of his love for me.
With Jazza Nomadica and Aaron at the beach
Another highlight was taking the train, then a bus up a windy road to the local beach. On our way, we also stumbled across the lookout point for the westernmost part of continental Europe. Up until 600 years ago or so, many believed this was the edge of the world. The adventure was taken with Aaron the German and an Australian who goes by the name Jazza Nomadica on Facebook. You see, Jazza won a World Nomads competition to do travel writing in Portugal and Spain, so he found a secluded beach that he assured us was beautiful. He goes doesn’t eat for 2 or 3 days at a time because he thinks it’s better for your health—interesting guy with a good heart. After we took in the view at the lookout point, we walked about 15 minutes toward the beach, thumbs out, with me explaining that this fell out of fashion in the U.S. due to a string of serial killers in the 1970’s—haha. As we went from that to conversations about our travels, we finally came across a promising sign. We pushed forward, expecting to see the beach on the horizon at any moment.
It wasn’t that easy.
With just flip flops to conquer the steep, rocky hill we had to climb down to get to the beach, I was unprepared and after a few minutes more than ready to get there. Twenty minutes later I arrived, feeling less in shape then when I began, but happy and full of joy for the beauty that God saw fit to make for us. And feeling grateful for His endless creativity. The beach was rocky, yet gorgeous.
When I was trekking down that hill, I was not in a great place, but I still found something beautiful. A little piece of God. An example of his love for us and his desire for us to enjoy the world he created for us. It was a little piece of God. Even in life’s tough stuff there is still beauty and there is still God. In struggle we find appreciation.
I know, I know, that’s cheesy.
Sometimes the best things in life are cheesy.
Take, for example, group hugs…and love letters ;-
All my love,
A great day!