A Day on El Camino

“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” –GK Chesterton

Never have I understood these words more than while walking the ancient pilgrimage called El Camino. It will be different for each peregrino, but my two weeks along The Way quickly became a steady parade of reminders for “how rare and beautiful it is to even exist” (song). As always, the peace comes just in time.

During my college years, I’d fallen in love with learning more than ever before. I became swept up in gathering information and hypothesizing about the world we live in, but from time to time, there was also an inner voice bidding me to be silent… to just take everything in. Through the hustle-bustle of costs, benefits, projects, and papers, I had willingly brushed aside my childlike capability for wonder. After four semesters too long, I finally rediscovered my balance– a sort of necessary rhythm emerging between fervent knowledge acquirement and quiet awe. Luckily, this is also exactly the kind of thing that a walking pilgrimage engrains within you. 🙂

To commemorate the end of that life-chapter, I’ve decided to write-up the happenings of a typical day on El Camino. The narrative is simple– walk, talk, eat, sleep– and the fluidity of the days made them nearly as a dream (save the very real blisters and ever-pressing laundry needs). Buen camino!

__________

5:53 am: Waking up seven minutes before my alarm (courtesy of my heavy Polish bunk-neighbor thumping to the ground), I gather that half the room has already emptied out. The older couples like to hit the trail before the day heats up. I emerge from my cocoon sleep-sack, since it’s usually smart to follow the older and wiser. 😉

6:00 am: The rest of our group begins to awake, and we greet each other with a sleepy nod and smile while stumbling to brush our teeth in the dorm-style bathroom. Wow, my nose and shoulders got some serious sun yesterday… those pack straps are going to feel grrrrreat!

6:30 am: On our way, at last! The air is magnificently fresh in the morning, and our group decides to stop at the next town over (someone said its “only 4km away”) for the usual chocolate croissants and cafe con leche. The sleep-soreness is worked out of my body as I hit my stepping rhythm.

8:00 am: We step onto those narrow cobble-stone streets, just as the special Camino cafes begin to open– since the usual opening time for any business in Spain is actually around 10am… (what a life!). It is very common to find that the cafe and hostal owners were once Camino peregrinos themselves, who have decided to stay. This establishment is no exception, and while I wait in line for my espresso, I gaze at their grainy old Camino photos on the walls.

11:30 am: Since we’ve fallen behind a km or so, Favorite Pilgrim and I decide to rest for a hot minute, snacking on almonds and taking in the poppy-speckled wheat fields that cloak the sun-soaked hillsides. Turns out, nature’s fruitful offering is more effective at healing aching bodies than Advil 🙂

1:30 pm: We’ve arrived into our final town for the day! This hostal looks divine– a neat, clean little gift from God. We bring out our pilgrim passports to be stamped while eagerly looking at the peaceful wading pool and hammocks that grace our newest residence.

2:00 pm: The cool showers can wait just a little while longer while we trade our boots for a pair of breathable flip-flops and stumble into the neighboring cafe for lunch sandwiches. It feels so good to sit around, eating and drinking and sharing stories from the other peregrinos we met today along the way. (It has been said that the Camino is the world’s largest walking group therapy…haha).

4:00 pm: Laundry hooray! These words will come back to bite me one day, but I actually have a real love of doing laundry… it’s sooo soothing.

5:00 pm: Interspersed exploration, chatting with other peregrinos (the “so why are you walking the Camino” conversation starter is a tried and true favorite) and card games until…

7:00 pm: Mass time! We pilgrims join the local daily-Mass-goers for the sacred celebration, which always concludes with a special pilgrim blessing. This time, the twinkly-eyed priest demanded that each nationality sings a hymn in their native tongue. Forced performance is good for humility, and I’ll never forget the Italian couple whose (clearly) polished performance put us all to shame 😉

8:00 pm: Dinner (at last). Bring forth the three courses of salad, seafood, ice cream and unlimited vino! I take a moment to admire the bubbling, cross-border camaraderie. People can be so good.

10:00 pm: Fortunately, the hostal curfew doesn’t mean the merriment has to end. Here’s to the nights of bunk-jumping, story-sharing, and giggling ourselves to sleep! Before submitting to the exhaustion, I lift up my heart to the One who gave me feet, food, friends, and the beautiful Christian faith… and I pray for the chance to do it all again tomorrow 🙂

_________

If there is anything I’m taking with me from the pilgrimage, and if there is any reason that you should consider El Camino, it is this:

“If you become Christ’s you will stumble upon wonder upon wonder, and every one of them true.” — St. Brendan of Birr

Advertisements

On Friends: Clive Staples vs. Ernest

“Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?” – C.S.Lewis

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates.” – Ernest Hemingway


The above lines reveal tension. Though incomplete, it is palpable enough to bear fruit upon contemplation. For the first author, friendship (particularly that of Christian friends) is an experience worthy of rhetorical awe and thanksgiving. The other argues that even if community can temporarily alleviate our islandhood, the best writer will refuse such pleasure for whole-hearted devotion to his work. There no difference in the object of reflection, and hardly one of context as both are prolific writers, so the true divide must come from the interior orientation of each. The second author sees himself and his work, while the first is most concerned with sharing a marvel. There is a difference of focus.

The question then remains: What is the best thing to focus on? The clearest way to answer this giant question is to put it into perspective– universal and inescapable perspective.  The answer arises from another question, the one that I firmly believe we will hear in the stillness of our last day: How much did you love? If loving is primarily accomplished through one’s writing and work, then very good! However, it is only as good as it is true. Every moment we get closer to the day when we can no longer comfortably deceive ourselves about how efficiently the scarcest resource has been spent.

Lewis has chosen the better part.

This is quite heavy, but I like to remind myself of this very, very often because I’m a natural Hemingway getting caught up in my books, and work, and solitude, and coffee, and melancholy stormy nights. But fortunately, with good friends and twinkly-eyed writers like Lewis, I usually come out on the other side, laughing at myself.

The Way to Flourish at College and Beyond

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” (C.S. Lewis)

Originally and politely suggested in an ISI email, it nevertheless took a long line at the DMV (sneaky payback for every speed limit I’ve ever scoffed at?) for me to finally resign myself to reading this article. For some reason, I have a hearty disdain and distrust of these kind of articles that sell sweeping fix-alls and revolutionary advice. Perhaps it’s my generation; perhaps it’s just me. But I quickly knew that this advice would be true and truly original, since the opening paragraphs were not afraid to tell me that I was very wrong in my thinking but that someone else was very right. “The Muses do not keep a calendar or follow a plan,” is the summery trap I found myself in recently, but luckily, we are given the antidote:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-12).

Funny me for muddling it all together. The river needs strong banks to channel its energy. The author proceeds to cite the fruitful routines of Lewis and Churchill to drive the point home (just mention Mr. C.S. Lewis and I’m all ears).

So– in my funny, long-winded way I’m politely suggesting that you read this article and take it’s advice to heart. Building routines in your life is like what happens in a simple piano piece when you merge the dancing right hand with the undercurrent of the left. Art is limitation. Games only work when we play by the rules. It’s yet another paradox of this life; know first what everything is for and then the mysteries of the world will flower before you.


Source: The Way to Flourish at College and Beyond

Kristin Collins on Genuine Love

Be forewarned that this is going to be a sentimental read 🙂

Sometimes we discover deep wisdom in the great books by great men and women; such are the blessings of tried-and-true tradition, or the “democracy of the dead” as Chesterton called it. But certain other times, we are lucky enough (and listen well enough) to find it over coffee and berry pancakes with our best friend. Kristin Collins is my best friend, and a few mornings ago, she (unknowingly) reminded me what genuine love means.

And because I wouldn’t be her BFF4EVER if I didn’t try to publicly embarrass her: when you fail at baking but taste sweet success in a food fight

I had to put the “genuine” in front of “love” because there is so much muddiness amidst the conflicting narratives we’re told these days. Genuine love does last forever, but only because it is a binding, daily decision (ah did someone say covenant?). Genuine love does inspire you to do great things (I mean look at this), but only because doing great things is a side-effect of wanting to make another person happy. Genuine love does mean becoming thoroughly vulnerable, but only because at the end of the day, you are two friends that see the same truth.

So in everyday life, genuine love looks a lot like being patient. Like holding yourself and those you love to the highest standard, but having mercy 70×7 times because no one is perfect.

It is relentless, when you ask your best friend (almost every night she’s home) if she wants to have a sleepover, even when she has rarely been able to the past seven years. It is embracing a sinner while denouncing a sin. It is sharing our small moments, because the present is the fullest gift we can give.

The bottom line is this: you are loved not because of what you do but because of who you are. Only then can we finally understand mercy– the over-abundant and unconditional form of love. The opposite delusion arises with the help of our falsely individualistic culture that removes us from the one place where we can best know ourselves– within our families. When the circumstances leave us with no answer for who we are, we are left to assign our worth to what we do. Unable to understand our personhood within the context of our family– think about how little brothers may always bring out our adventurous side and mothers, a passionate desire to be more hospitable– we are left jumping from place to place, dizzy since there is so much to  do and become distracted by.

This is why is is crucially important not to get caught up on a branch while trying to climb the tree. Work, business, and productivity are important things, but they are not the main thing (boy did I learn that the hard way this past semester). My dear Kristin reminded me that the real question I should be trying to answer is did you love?

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.


Additional reading: The Lesson that Took Me 20 Years to Learn

Walker & Sasse: Fathers for the Founding Fathers

If you are interested in models for the kind of political leadership that our Founding Fathers had in mind, look to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Nebraskan Senator Ben Sasse. These two continue to earn my deep respect as they have done great things for the states I call home and now are speaking up to hold our nation to the high standard for which we were founded.

And needless to say, their movement is coming just in time.

Both Walker and Sasse defend the free market and traditional values that are the bedrock of our great American society, though my particular admiration is sparked by how they do so. If you have ever cared to know what’s at stake when endless debates about politics seem to pollute the public square, I highly suggest this succinct speech by Senator Sasse about family. 

The rhetoric and actions of Governor Walker are courageous and straightforward, demonstrated as he stood firm about making Wisconsin a right-to-work state. The reality that such virtues demand respect was evidenced as he emerged victorious from the recall election by a greater margin than his original win. Secondly, he has the mind of a principled business leader as he balanced the budget, by lowering taxes, reducing regulation, and cut funding to Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin. And last, if this quote from his speech as he dropped out of the GOP race doesn’t embody the ideal of a servant leader, I’m not sure what does: 

“The Bible is full of stories about people called to be leaders… I believe I am being called to lead to help clear the field in this race.” 

My esteem of Senator Sasse arises because he has the well-rounded attributes of a great historian and communicator. Knowledge of history is indispensable for understanding why our founding principles are worthy of conservation in the first place (and I’m tempted to believe that there is a correlation between the quality of our public school history classes and the slipping sense of civic duty.) His scholarliness is evident in his speeches through easy references to Tocqueville’s notion of voluntary association, Burke’s conservative principles, Madison’s view on limited government, and even Aristotle on friendship, though his real wisdom is the way he presents these timeless truths with compassion and humor.

An argument may be valid, but it must also be understood to be great.

And last, exhibiting the difference between meaningful quotes and soundbites, Sasse has articulated the meaning of America in the best way I’ve yet heard:

“Limited government is not an end in itself. Limited government is a way to constrain the things that could displace those institutions and those transmission opportunities that define what is fully meaningful in human life.”

Piccoli Passi Possibile

Life has been a whirlwind lately. A powerful, exhilarating whirlwind– and better than I deserve to be sure. I’ve been fighting to maintain the delicate balance between my classes, internships, teaching, other positions, and the consistent presence of writing, reading and sheer spontaneity that I am fond of upholding throughout my weeks. Guess which portion has been sadly neglected? Though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my duties come first, especially those that involve the trust and reliance of others, my brain has been collecting thought-essays which have the stubborn habit of arising to the forefront of my mind, time and time again. Like little children tugging at my skirt begging to be picked-up, they beg to be written down. So, it is the day of rest, I have a free hour, and I submit!

I have picked a little, shining one to unburden first:

Piccoli Passi Possibile

(literally, “small, possible steps”)

I first encountered this phrase in this article about St. Chiara, an Italian mother who recently passed away after choosing her child’s life instead of aborting the unborn babies within her– three times.* The saying really struck a chord with me, since it was similar to a familiar phrase that my dear housemate Lexi often encourages me with, saying: “little victories.” Both revolve around the idea, “give us this day our daily bread.” Our human nature strongly tempts us to fixate on the future, anxiously making sense of the whole picture immediately so as to predict and control it. I have felt myself become paralyzed when I think of all the tasks I must accomplish, even just for the week. Leaving faith aside, there is clearly a sane logic in taking each day for what it’s worth. When you perform each action to the best of your ability, for example, spending the extra minutes to craft concise, clear and cheerful emails, people notice. There is something irresistible about a soul who lives life consciously.

If there is any grace that I have been taught this semester, it is to understand that this rich life is packaged into 24-hour portions for a reason. The genius is that each day brings the perfect amount of happenings that we can handle (though somehow still always flowing over with blessings, when we have the eyes to see.) Although I cannot write an economic research paper in one day, teach my confirmation class all I would love for them to know, or even learn a chapter of finance all at once, I have the daily power to spend an hour or two toward the desired goals. We trust that one day it will all make sense. Until then, piccoli passi possibile along this breathtakingly beautiful path.


And still, the best news is yet to come: at the end of the daily battles, our eyes will be opened to see that our goals were too tame, our sights set too low, and that there were unimaginable miracles in store for each of us all along.

cs-lewis-quote-we-are-far-too-easily-pleased

*Upon finishing the article with brimming eyes, I immediately ordered her biography (fully aware that an imperfect, yet enthusiastic essay-to-be lies in store when I finish it.) Stay tuned!

Glory

This particular piece has been knocking at the doors of both my heart and mind for quite some time now. I’m admittedly inexperienced and young, so please feel free to grin at the earnest naiveté of my delivery, but today, the understanding flooded over me: who am I to ignore this longing to write?

And so tonight, I find myself in the company of an almond milk latte and many mental puzzle pieces, trying to clarify this picture for myself and perchance for others. The topic that I’ve been turning over in my head is that of glory, specifically, the ageless notion that glory flows from the courageous human effort to undergo a present sacrifice in the anticipation of something greater in store. I invite you to buckle in and join me on the expedition, as my pen (well, keyboard, but that doesn’t sound as nice does it?) records this common thread of glory from the ancient Greeks, to Humans of New York, to Walden, to True Grit, and to the novel Unbroken.

If you emerge from this discourse with one thing, let it be this: glory requires sacrifice. What seems to be a one-time grand display of valor is always the logical fruition of a long-time habit of little courages. I think that’s the piece we forget a lot; that our short term decisions inevitably build the long term outcome. For those who don’t shy away from power and responsibility, this is great news. It means that there is an unseen weight to our everyday actions, a chance to conquer some tiny, new territory.

The ancient Greeks rooted their idea of heroism in the attainment of kleos aphthiton, literally, undying glory. This means that (rightly considered) every hardship encountered presented an opportunity to gain immortal fame, for if such difficulties were overcome by great manliness, the story would be sung for generations to come. This was the only kind of immortality the ancients believed that they had a fighting chance for– so fight they did. In fact, the great classic epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey are simply records of these very songs: through them, the Greek heroes truly did achieve kleos, and their memory lives on even today. Consider this resolution of the Trojan prince Hector, from Homer’s Iliad:

Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.

The blueprint for glory did not allow for a peaceful, comfortable life at home, but rather required that they seize ever opportunity to prove their courage. The prize of immortality was won by remaining in the minds and hearts of their lineage and would hopefully inspire the young men of women of ages to come to do the same. Only then, do the words of Homer’s later epic, The Odyssey, ring true:

Even his griefs are a joy long after to one that remembers all that he wrought and endured.

I remember first encountering kleos aphthiton in my favorite high school class as a freshman, history, like it happened just this morning. It was an interesting concept, but just that, a far-off notion accompanied by monsters, cheating warrior husbands (same thing), and goddesses whose vanity and jealousy put my high school clique and I to shame. It took me some time to realize that kleos was relevant to my life for the very reason the classics themselves are still relevant: they reveal fundamental truths about human nature. Tonight, I’m interested in the way this reminds me of a Humans of New York post that I read on Facebook my freshman year of college:

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 10.46.37 PM

Wow. I remember reading this for the first time and being hit hard. “And if you’re only true to your short term self, your long term self slowly decays.” So every day and night that I spent screwing around, I could have spent those hours progressing towards the woman that I want to be. Instead, I had been guilty of letting so much time slip away from me, and thoughtlessly becoming a woman that I did not want to be. In fact, what dawned on me was that little economic notion known as opportunity cost; I wasn’t just staying contentedly in place, no, I was forgoing opportunities to grow, opportunities that others had the decency to utilize. The real kicker is that not only does only living for the weekend cheat your future self from someday realizing your full potential, but the world loses a great person, a great mind, and a great example for future generations as well. 

Anyone can hit snooze, grab a triple latte, online shop during class, hit up a party and repeat. Now this is not to say that any of these things are necessarily bad, on the contrary, they’re very good, but the key is not to be caught consistently chasing after the little goods at the expense of a bigger great. It’s an unfortunate reality of our human condition, great things will require sacrifices. If I want to save up for that vacation in France, I can’t buy every dress that catches my eye; if I want to run a half marathon, I can’t indulge in ice cream every night of the week; if I want to become a diligent businesswoman, I can’t just stop learning when the classes cease. There is no glory in the path of least resistance. It takes grit to “reawaken and keep ourselves awake” as Thoreau triumphs in his book, Walden. One can imagine that this is what the Greek bards would have advocated for; this life lived in light of the perpetual future rather than the short-term gratification. Life is made of strong stuff, yes, but we must not water it down, as this washes away the good with the bad and replaces it with a cloudy, lukewarm existence. In the same passage, he later expands upon the glorious task of beautifying each day through our vigilant character:

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

Our first obstacle to glory, then, does not lie in a foreign enemy, but rather we encounter it when we are tempted to choose the short-term over the long-term, the good over the great, the path of least resistance over the extra mile. Therefore, we embark from our comfortable homes, our very own Ithacas, to pursue our life’s mission (though our deepest hearts remain at the familiar hearth.) For the Greeks, their glory-reward only came after facing death undaunted. I would argue that a far superior form of glory, that is unseen by the outside world, comes daily by the thought well thought, the word well said, and the deed well done. An uphill battle, the little sacrifices turn to joys as we soon see them building the sure foundation for a great life work, a corporeal form of immortality. It will take true grit (fabulous book, by the way) to become the hero of your life. And we all know that the world desperately needs heroes.

Perhaps you had the pleasure of reading the book Unbroken (movie, anyone?). If older brother Pete Zamperini’s advice was written off as too dramatic to challenge you personally, I’m convinced that you should think twice:

“A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.”

4 Business Lessons From Papa Jace

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

~St. Francis of Assisi

Maybe it’s because I miss playing hooky to walk and talk around the park, or perhaps it’s because I have no one to grill or make pancakes for me on demand here in Kansas City, but I miss my dad (the tiniest bit.) Bad jokes, overprotectiveness, lectures, annoying exuberance and all. How good it was these past two weeks to wake up (more like be jolted awake by all the Jace clan morning chaos) in my own bed! Those precious free weeks prior to my current internship were refreshing and put to good use. For ages now, I had been meaning to effectively summarize and articulate the lessons concerning business that I was taught by my biggest role model, and considering that the internship season of my life is in full bloom, there is no better time than this Thursday summer night. Not to mention that studying investment philosophies can only entertain a young girl for so long.

And something well worth noting: these little nuggets of wisdom were spoken out loud about 1% of the time and simply lived out the other 99%.

  1. Go the extra mile. No doubt that every individual would jot this down under their “good advice” mental note-to-self, but fewer have had the luxury of watching an example of this commendable habit throughout their entire life. In seizing the early hours of the morning to workout and cook breakfast for us kids, in driving hours upon hours for a family weekend at the cabin and still having the grit to mow the lawn and clean the house once we arrive, in red-eye flights to be my date for the Red Dress Gala, in forcing us to go to the art museum when all we want to do is lounge through our Sunday, and in the way you paid close attention to the items needed to make our new house a home, you give 100% to every person and situation. In the business world, we all want to work with true partners: the kind of people who know how to get excited about their work, the kind who will have burst of genius in the line at the grocery store because they didn’t just shut off their brains after a long day of work, the ones who stare life straight in the eyes and engage with each new adventure, situation and person to the best of their God-given ability. You engage. It is that very spirit that spurs you through the extra miles upon miles and inspires me to do likewise, personally as well as professionally.
  1. Grin and bear it. Sometimes, even those ordinary miles will hurt. You always forced me to follow through on my commitments, no matter if they had turned out to be painful mistakes (way too often.) Well kids, you’re learning an important lesson. There will be days, oh so many of them, when the only thing tiding you over is that cup of coffee (did someone say Redbull?) you’re clutching with your weary hands. I think that’s actually a good sign, and I know that I saw you power through many of these times with a big smile still on your face. Hard work is crucial, but it is hardly laudable without cheerfulness. To retain one’s optimism while relentlessly attack the tasks of the day, now that is rare. Somehow, you figured out the real art of laughing and learning from your failures and inspire me to do likewise, personally as well as professionally.
  2. The beauty of art, classical music, and nature is important. Sure these luxuries are nice, but how does this make you a better businessperson? Turns out the whole business side takes care of itself when you simply focus on becoming a better person from the start. Not only is beauty enchanting, but it has the joint power of motivating us to make something more beautiful out of the piece of work we call ourselves. There is an unmistakable challenge, a reawakening of our nursery curiosity, effusing from a work like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake or a dazzling sunset in Assisi. It may not seem like the most direct way, but learning to appreciate art, music and nature is a skill that will enhance any social circle and remind you to gaze upon the exquisiteness of this world with grateful eyes– even and especially in the office. The way that you and mom sacrificed so much time and effort to expose us to the majesty of man and nature, whether found in our local parks or in France, speaks to the fact that you find value in permitting yourself to be moved and elevated by our surroundings and inspires me to do the same, personally as well as professionally.
  3. Your life is not your own. By extension, neither are your successes, failures, trials and tribulations. And that is a very freeing thing. It is clear that there is a real atmosphere of ownership–of a strong individualistic focus– infused in the American business ecosystem today. To a certain extent, that is it’s biggest strength. Yet when we focus solely on ourselves and forget that, for better or worse, we are heirs to a family, organization, community, and nation larger than ourselves, our perception goes awry. In fact, there is a massive body of research that points to the fact that when we remember that we belong to each other, we are happier. There is this concept of the servant leader that comes to light time and time again in the business world, and I always think of you. You allow yourself to be humbled by the bigger mission and inspire me to do the same, both personally and professionally.
And on that note, happy early Fathers Day from your favorite child!
And on that note, happy early Fathers Day from your favorite child!

Living Abroad Brought Me Home

When we observe how some people know how to manage their experiences—their insignificant, everyday experiences—so that they become an arable soil that bears fruit three times a year, while others—and how many there are!—are driven through surging waves of destiny, the most multifarious currents of the times and the nations, and yet always remain on top, bobbing like a cork, then we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much. —Nietzsche

Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end. — Pico Iyer

It has been a full week since I kissed my studying and service semester in La República Dominicana adios, flew smoothly through a 10-hour travel day, and crossed the threshold of my good old Wisconsin home for the first time in five months. I had told myself earlier that I would resist the urge to pen one of those “How Studying Abroad Changed My Life For Ever & Ever” posts, since the Internet (or at least just my Facebook feed) is overly indulged with them; all preaching essentially the same “carpe diem” thing. Yes, you should go study abroad! Your life will never be the same (obviously)!

But these next few paragraphs will be about something quite distinct: how spending five months in a beautiful yet developing country turned out to be just what I needed. Because I didn’t find what I needed there.

The central question that made itself at home in the depths of my mind throughout the entire five months was “why am I here?” And before I am misunderstood, I must emphasize that Encuentro Dominicano was an incredible opportunity that I continue to be 100% indebted to for revealing to me the beauty of service and community. Even more, these past few months could be viewed as a rapid succession of thrilling adventures, in which the Comunidad 19 accomplished feats we had scarcely previously imagined, while doing our part to leave our temporary home better than we found it. I was inexplicably drawn to the service-learning program in La República Dominicana, but it continually bothered me that I could not quite put my finger on why I was there.

Seeking out the answer relentlessly, I stumbled upon the “little” reasons. I was here to learn the patient art of living in community with 15 to-be-friends; I was here to be an older sister to Caoli and Carelin, my siblings in the campo; I was here to belt out “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with the bright smiles of our Haitian school and teach them the English words for their favorite animals while a cuddly 2-year old was cradled at my hip; I was here to revel in the glamour of the open, glittering sea and to fail miserably at salsa dancing.

But by the time I had about three-fourths of the semester under my belt, I found in myself a desire that shocked me beyond belief, truly. Clara Elizabeth Jace just wanted to go home. This was astonishing because up until this summer, when someone would ask me where home is or where I am from, I took pride in explaining that I have moved a lot in my life and don’t really feel right calling just one place home. I was the independent, free-spirited wild child who wanted to discover and possess every aspect of life, intimately. And we all know that those kind of people are bitten by wanderlust and were made to explore the wide world rather than end each God-given day by watching Netflix at home in their suffocatingly comfortable beds. What was wrong with me? I became haunted by this aching desire to return home in order to carry out my unfinished business, business that was nothing more than a resolution to be a better person, both professionally and personally, to those who were ordained to remain in my life for longer than just five months. I especially couldn’t wait to start being a better daughter and older sister after relearning the value of family through the campo immersions. There is no denying the marvelous natural beauty of the Dominican Republic and of Misión ILAC (please believe me that some of my favorite nights were going on jogs around their tropical plant-enveloped trail) and it’s friendly culture. But while I was happy, my restlessness kept my thoughts turned homeward.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Living abroad taught me how to be thankful.  I had this intellectual sense of thankfulness before, where I knew instinctively that I needed to practice thankfulness in order to be happy, but it was only habituated for the obvious things– I was thankful when I had a major victory in school, pushed my limits on those evening runs, or enjoyed a fabulous night on the town with friends. When not only those things (which did actually appear in their Dominican form), but the general order and cleanliness I was accustomed to in the United States, every single one of my friends, and most of my material possessions were stripped away for those five months, I had to discover newer, “smaller” things to be thankful for. My list (yep, actually a note on my phone): the lull of the fans, yuca, the rocking chairs, the spiral staircases to reach the rooftop terraces, plantains, la bandera, the characters of the campo, Sunday mass in Spanish, the comunidad and our awesome teachers/friends, familiar books, bachata and merengue dancing, the powerful sun, childhood songs I had nearly forgotten, technology such as Skype and handwritten letters, spontaneous adventures due to the gauguas…the list is extensive while not nearly exhaustive. Currently resting on my peaceful back porch in the States, it may be said that my thankfulness count has increased exponentially. I notice the birds, plants, and whistling wind as if I were encountering them for the first time. We truly aren’t aware of how good we have it here.

Living abroad taught me how to understand beauty. And that is absolutely, inextricably linked to practicing thankfulness. My individual aesthetic ascribes beauty to a certain sophisticated elegance, for example, on the rainy days my heart wanders back towards the seductive wisdom, history and art of the museums in Rome, the lofty cathedrals of sacred Israel, and the rolling French countryside in which I picnicked on white wine and fresh bread last summer, surrounded by my family and friends. Though the Dominican Republic undeniably possesses an intriguing history and abundance of culture, our service-learning program revealed a novel kind of beauty to me. In particular, I was returned back to the basics. Though I was admittedly out of my comfort-zone in the simplicity of the campo, I only had to raise my eyes to admire the sublime mountain range that watches over the houses. Though the road was not paved and we didn’t have running water, I soon began to see the beauty in the careful manner in which my campo mom, Olga, thoroughly cleaned her house every day. Though there were no books to be found, I saw how the kindness and piety that was displayed by countless members of the community is purer than any worldly knowledge. I could continue on with precious pearls of experiences, but let it suffice to say that the gift of simplicity revealed itself to me. All the while, I still did not lose sight of my more learned loves and made it my personal mission to leave Carelin and Caoli with their own petite, classical library.

Living abroad taught me what home is. With my renewed understanding of thankfulness and beauty, I could not wait to rush back and behold the familiar as if it were magical once again, to treat my family and neighborhood like we were a real community. Though far away from our homes proper, our experience had been saturated with experiences of community and family. I have long held that one ought to practice the ability to cultivate a home wherever one is planted, no matter how transiently. I had not legitimately put that belief into practice until taking up residence in the Dominican Republic for those months, and I now realize the poverty of that view. What makes home “home” is that it’s irreplaceable, unable to be replicated. Sure, enough time might suffice to reconcile the disparity between strangeness and familiarity, but the object of the majority of travel is to return home. With new eyes, a rejuvenated perspective, and a new treasure chest of memories and friendships, yes, but nevertheless to return home. I profess that never have I been more enchanted with my home, more thankful for my country, or more in love with my family. I have my thrilling, difficult, interesting, uncomfortable, crazy and refreshing semester abroad to thank for that. Living abroad brought me home.

When we observe how some people know how to manage their experiences—their insignificant, everyday experiences—so that they become an arable soil that bears fruit three times a year, while others—and how many there are!—are driven through surging waves of destiny, the most multifarious currents of the times and the nations, and yet always remain on top, bobbing like a cork, then we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much. —Nietzsche

2014: A Few of My Favorite Things

Buenos días! I’m currently running on Dominican time, which means that although the working world has properly celebrated and moved on with the New Year, I am taking my sweet time to savor this new beginning. The idea hit me while I was eating toast and drinking juice this morning that it might be nice to compile an orderly summary of impactful, memorable pieces I encountered in 2014. So thus, here we are:

A Few of My Favorite Books:

1. Man’s Search For Meaning By: Viktor Frankl

There is no language strong enough to describe my love for this text. The reader faces a new portion of wisdom with each page, and consequently, the desire to share it with the world. If you do anything at all in the new year, READ THIS LITTLE BOOK.

2. Guns, Germs, and Steel By: Jared Diamond

While this is admittedly a formidable chunk of literature, it contains many answers to historical questions and a solidly thought-out thesis, making it well worth the time investment.

3. Walden By: Henry David Thoreau

Grab this classic piece of American literature to revel in next to a crackling fire and a cup of hot cocoa. Thoreau has some very healthy thoughts; we would do well to spend some time ruminating upon his perspective.

4. How to Win Friends and Influence People By: Dale Carnegie

This is basically an instruction manual for people. Even my 17-yr old bother – oh I mean brother – read it and liked it. Carnegie knew what it’s all about and successfully conveys that wisdom in his book.

5. Defending the Free Market By: Rev. Robert Sirico

I first encountered Fr. Sirico when my Macroeconomics class was lured from our warm beds earlier this year to catch his 8am speech. I was shocked to find myself 110% captivated by his words and even distraught when it was over. Immediately purchasing and reading his book, I’ve been a fan ever since. He succinctly professes common-sense truths that the reader will recognize are familiar to himself.

*Honorable Mention: The Beautiful and the Damned By: F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Few of My Favorite Recipes:

1. Whole Wheat Greek Yogurt Pancakes : Drizzle with honey and cinnamon and you get pure BLISS. And this is coming from a girl who typically doesn’t like pancakes.

2. Pumpkin and Chickpea Hot Pot : Stumbled upon this beauty while researching vegetarian recipes for my Fall service trip. It’s a perfect blend of homey yet exotic flavors.

3. Parker House Rolls Recipe : The credit goes to my little sister for first discovering this one– hands down the best rolls our Thanksgiving table ever saw, and that’s saying a lot.

4. Skinny Spinach and Artichoke Dip : My go-to when I’m expecting to entertain company. While that level of planning usually doesn’t happen in the collegiate lifestyle, it’s still a delicious back-pocket kind of deal.

5. Fairy Bread : There’s just something about it. 🙂

*Honorable Mention: Pandan Rice Cake. Watch the entirety of this video and you will get the daily crying-laughing bout you deserve. Also, will someone please actually make this and get back to me so I can try some.

A Few of My Favorite Articles:

1. 5 Lessons Running Has Taught Me

2014 was the year that I took up running at least 5x a week, and it has been the best decision I’ve made to date.

2. Looking For Home In All The Wrong Places, How Traveling Made The World My Home

“Traveling may not seem like it, but the feeling of pure bliss that I get when I see a place with my own eyes that I have admired for years from pictures and books, is the most consistent feeling I have ever known.”

3. Bakeries Around the World You Should Visit Before You Die

This. Only because I joke (but not really) that my backup plan in life is to move to Assisi, Italy and open a small bakery. Be prepared to massively crave the cutest carbs…

4. Writers and Their Books: Inside Famous Authors’ Personal Libraries

I just can’t wait to have a personal library of my own someday…

5. A Day in the Life of an Economic Officer

Absolutely exhilarating. It feels more than good to be working toward a goal, and this blog has been helpful beyond belief.

*Honorable Mention: Marriage Isn’t For You

A Few of My Favorite Places:

1. Milwaukee Public Market & Flavors

When an old friend makes an appearance in either Milwaukee or Omaha, these are the primary feeding locations that pop into my mind and rightfully so. Not only does each offer top-notch meals, snacks, or drinks, but the atmospheres are simply spot-on. Grab a few friends and do your tongue and tummy a favor.

2. Oriental Theater & Film Streams

My go-to movie locations. The Oriental is positively majestic and guarantees a breathtaking movie experience, while Film Streams is convenient, clean, and excellent at what they do.

3. St. John’s Church at Creighton

Two words: Bell tower.

4. Milwaukee Art Museum & Joslyn Art Museum

The kind of places you can wander through all day without even realizing it, and still leave wanting more.

5. Maxim’s & Fox and Hounds & WheatFields

Is there ANYTHING more heavenly than a properly done brunch?

*Honorable Mention: Fresh Fresh cafe in Cabarete

A Few of My Favorite Quotes:

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

“If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say.”

– Ann Patchett

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love
with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
-Fr. Arrupe

“I’m going to make everything around me beautiful — that will be my life.”

-Elsie de Wolfe

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

-Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest