Home is Not Places

Final Part of the “Home” series

Just like the source of my blog’s name, this song perfectly pinpoints how I felt when I was making the decision about what to do after college. For the longest time, well ever since my first visit to NPH El Salvador back in 2008, I was pushed and pulled in this direction. To be a volunteer not just within the greater NPH family, but specifically El Salvador. It’s as if God said, “This is your home too. Go.”

So, I went. I came. I am living here in El Salvador.

“Home is Not Places” by The Apache Relay is one of my favorite songs. It came into my life during college, right when my concept of what home was to me began to morph into something bigger than I could have ever imagined. In comparison to the other songs in this series, this song helps me understand and explain the feeling that I had to move, to leave. Rather, it helped me understand that my life was moving forward in a slightly different direction than most of my friends and peers…and that it was okay and perfectly normal. Granted, moving to another country and culture and simultaneously giving up your settled way of life is not something everyone does, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But it was for me.

Feel it burn in my soul.
Like a wound that is exposed.
I need to run, I need to go.
I took my time, I got no more.
So take me somewhere I don’t know
‘cause home is not places it is love.

There was this indescribable feeling within me. I’m pretty sure the decision had been made long before I was truly conscious of it, if that makes any sense. I knew that in order to be the person that God wants me to be, leaving was part of the deal. Be the person I think I should be, or be the person God calls me to be?

I would be lying if I said that it’s easy to be the God calls us to be. Sometimes that path is easy, but sometimes it is not so much a walk of cake rather that it is more like walking across hot coals (or cement that’s been baking in the sun all day, in my case ha!) However, in this particular point of my life, being the person God wants to me to be, making that step of coming to NPH El Salvador, that was easy. It isn’t often that I have those moments of clarity and know exactly what God asks of me. NPH was and is one of those things that God doesn’t have to hit me on the head to know.

Though I did take my time getting around to doing it, as the song says, I finally had no more time to keep this part of my life at bay. I have been here before, so I had a pretty good idea of what things looked like as a visitor. However, life as a truly entrenched member of this family is something completely different. So instead of coming to a place I didn’t know, in essence, I came to an unknown role.

The one thing I did and do know is that the song is right, home is not a place. It is love. I may not be back in Tennessee or Ohio with my family members and friends, but I feel their love and carry it with me. I am living in a place full of love. At first it was a few buildings and a room that looked nothing like my old apartment or parents’ house. Now, it is my big house. I’ve got a couple hundred people I love and who love me back.

And I, I don’t want no control,
‘cause home is not places it is love.
It is love.
It is love.
It is love.
It is love.

Part of our life’s journey and God’s plan may involve leaving what we think we know and are supposed to do. Take comfort in knowing that a home is not a place. A home is where there is love, where you feel it and give it in return. That can be anywhere in the world!

The time for me to leave NPH is rapidly approaching. I hate it. However, I take comfort in knowing that this will always be my home too. Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador has become (well, has been) part of the fabric of my being. It’s not a home or an institution, but rather a place of love.

And so, there is the conclusion to the Home series. I hope it helped you in figuring what home is and means to you!

Don’t forget to go to the main page to check out the song “Home is Not Places” by the ever wonderful The Apache Relay.

Paz y bien.

*Oh! Also! I couldn’t resist the connection as this song is too great to not mention more about my experience with the band. I’ve been lucky enough to see The Apache Relay four times. Not only are they incredibly talented musicians and put on a great show, but they are very humble and wonderful people to talk to. As is my penchant at any concert or for any artist, I like to hang around after shows in the event that I have the wicked cool opportunity to meet them.

I’ve talked to Michael, the lead singer a few times. The first time I met him was after my third time seeing them. Michael gave me this big old bear hug after I told him that I still hadn’t heard them play my favorite song of theirs live, “Home is Not Places.” We then chatted about some other things, and then right before we parted, he gave me a handwritten set list…which is so awesome!

A few days before I saw them in March 2013, I sent out a tweet to the band/Michael, casually but not so subtly asking if they might have tossed Home back into the set list. I realize that any band might get a bit tired of playing certain things, but I still had to see. The evening came. My sister and I drove an hour to see them, ate overpriced Chinese food next to the venue, got front row/stage view standing positions, and the show was awesome. After playing a mix of old and new tunes, the show had ended and Home was not played. Admittedly very bummed, I still was looking forward to the encore. Then Michael came back out on stage by himself with an acoustic guitar. I thought it was odd.

Then he started playing a stripped down version of Home is Not Places, and I almost cried it was so beautiful.

After the show was really over, Ape (my sister) and I hung around. I was fortunate enough to talk to Michael again, and I profusely thanked him for playing Home. “No problem!” he said. He told me that he had seen the tweet I sent, and instead of replying, he thought he’d make a surprise of it and just played it at the end of the show. How cool and sweet and awesome is he? Very. Moral of my concert story – people are awesome.

Now, for real. Paz y bien!

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Home (Falls)

Part 2 of the “Home” series

In spite of the fact that the first thing you hear is, Sure feel like escaping, so I hit the road, that’s not what I’m getting at. I believe that with Falls’ “Home” there are many interpretations. One obvious one for me is that of someone who ran away or at least deliberately decided to leave and then much later on realizes the value of home.

That would be a suitable interpretation, of course.

Though I did not run away or feel like escaping (as they sing), I did deliberately (but prayerfully and thoughtfully) make the decision to leave home and move to El Salvador and volunteer with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. As I mentioned in the first “Home” series post, I discovered through several experiences and over several years just what home means to me.

Home is not solely a tangible thing. It is not just a physical object, a pile of bricks with paint and glass and flowers out front. It is also the moment when you are surrounded by those you love. That moment or that special grouping of individuals doesn’t have to occur within a house.

On Easter Vigil night, I ventured out to the cancha (soccer field) while the boys were bringing out the cafeteria benches and setting up for the Easter sunrise Mass. That in itself was a comical and memorable experience, listening to some of them gripe at each other or argue about how to best set things up all while working with a few flashlights and very little light from the church’s floodlights, haha. There are no streetlights on the way to the field nor are there lights at the field. The field was in near darkness, save for the stars and sliver of moon. So, I found myself looking up at the sky. So big and so endless and so full of stars. I know that Tennessee is beautiful and that we have breathtaking views, but there is something about being in El Salvador, about being the person that I have become, that makes this sky view so much more special to me than any others I have seen.

We are far enough away and out in the country that I can’t see any lights from Santa Ana (the big city nearby) when I’m in the main part of the ciudadela (as we call it…which is to say, the main NPH campus); though, we do have our fair share of streetlights lining the roads and sidewalks that connect the houses and other buildings. Even in the cancha, one can see a few blinking tower lights and a small pocket of light from a nearby small town. However, the majority of the view is unobstructed by artificial structures, and light pollution is nonexistent.

Anyway, as the boys finished, only a few of them hung around to help with last minute tasks. While I was gazing at the sky, I started to pay attention to the three year of service boys standing a few feet away from me who weren’t actually doing any work, ha. “We’re supervising.” “Yeah…yeah! That’s right, we’re supervising.” Haha. They were cracking jokes, laughing, and having a merry old time standing in complete darkness. At that moment when I tuned in to their shenanigans, I realized I could tell the difference between the 3 of them though I could not see their faces: Wilfrido’s* almost high-pitched, infectious giggle that cracks me up every time; Abraham’s* serious and somber tone that masks a very funny and quick sense of humor; Alfonso’s* sarcastic quips and drawn out sentences pocketed with bouts of near silent laughter.

All 3 very different forms of expressing joy. All 3 forms united in one great big cacophony of joy and laughter. It was music to my ears. In that moment, I felt like my chest had grown in size, like my heart was about to burst. I was just so overwhelmed with how much I love them, these brothers of mine. I was overwhelmed with how at ease and how much at home I felt just by being able to hear them.

Falls sing:

And oh when those city lights are blinding, back across the bridge. Back into acceptance that this is where I live.

While there aren’t many city lights (as in, none) near NPH or even near my parents’ house and certainly not near my grandparents’ house, these “blinding lights” that draw me back toward home are people.

Just like my sisters, parents, and grandparents back in Tennessee as well as other loved ones in different states, I felt and feel like those 3 boys that Saturday night were lights pulling me in the direction of home. With and around them, I too feel loved. They are the blinding city lights that tell me I am home, that I am accepted.

And I know, yeah I know, it all comes back the moment I get home.

When I arrive at a place or moment when I am surrounded by the people that I love, I am reminded that I am home. The interestingly beautiful thing for me is that I have multiple places and many “city lights” with which to draw me home.

Many lights are put in our lives to help us get where we need to be. The blinding lights, at least for me, are the ones that guide me home and that lead me to the people that I love, wherever in the world that may be.

There’s song #2 in the Home series. There’s only one left! Stay tuned for that finalizing post to what’s been a fun series to write.

Don’t forget to give “Home” by Falls a listen on the main page. It’s a nice tune!

*Names changed to protect the pequeños’ privacy.

Home (Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes)

Part 1 of the “Home” series

I got the idea one day when I was scrolling through the song list in my iPhone. Three of my favorite songs happen to be right in a row because of the alphabet. It amazes me how even the tiniest things grab my attention. I often listen to them, without putting my phone on shuffle. They all have the word “home” in the title, and obviously the concept of home is a huge theme of the song. One day, many moons ago, the idea for the “Home” series occurred. Of course I’m just now getting around to it…

The definition of home has changed for me these last few years, but it has especially been sharply defined since I moved to El Salvador and became a volunteer with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos.

I remember redefining what home was when I first moved into Clement Hall my freshman year of college at the University of Tennessee. Of course, I still went home often to visit or do laundry. My room stayed the same, minus the few things I took with me to the dorm. However, I remember the first moments of confusion when I would talk with my parents about having to run home for something while I was out and about, etc. “Oh I’m on my way home.” “What, you’re coming by the house?” “No, I mean, I’m going back to the dorm. To my room.” That kind of stuff. Naturally, my dorm room and campus life became a home to me because I did live there.

Of course being accepted into college and then graduating high school months later was a humongous sign of growing up. For some reason though, it became clearer to me once I started having the “what is home” issue when I moved to campus. At first it was just about a physical place, but then it grew to my identity. Where was it rooted? Is it allowed to grow and change? Can my identity take on new colors and shapes and schemes or am I bound by the past and by my foundations? How do you learn and grow without losing who you are? How do I become my own person, an individual, without forsaking my family and friends?

I didn’t have a sheltered life, so I’m not too fond of this next cliché for what it implies, but it works for what I’m trying to say, which is…how do I cease being a caterpillar, break out of the cocoon, and become a butterfly? How can I be something different while still knowing my roots and acknowledging history and loving every moment and person along the way?

All of that started because of a seemingly simple problem of rationalizing my physical location because let’s face it, a lot of your identity can potentially be wrapped up in something physical, like a house.

I moved back to my parents for the summer after freshman year, then back to the dorms for sophomore year. However, the big change really took place when I didn’t move home pretty much at all the summer after sophomore year in 2011. I had a mini-term class which began the day after the spring semester officially ended. It was also 4 hours long, every day for 2 weeks. That’s a lot of driving from Lenoir City to campus for just one thing. Then, the day after the mini-term class ended, my summer class started. Fortunately for me, it only lasted for the first half of the summer term. The point is, when faced with such an odd class schedule and a new job that was only a few miles from campus, I couldn’t really bring myself to move home, to justify all that driving if I was presented with a more economical opportunity.

So for most of that summer, I camped out in my friend’s room at Tyson House, which is the Episcopal-Lutheran campus ministry house at UT. I had spent a lot of time there the first few years as a student. While Katie Ann was away being a camp counselor, her room became my new home for the summer. It was great. I lived with a few other Tyson House residents who were taking summer classes. (Fun fact – I was the only female resident for a few weeks until the other girl moved in. That was a new and neat experience as well!) I went back to my parents’ house almost every weekend though. After classes were over, I spent a week visiting family up in Ohio, and then I technically lived at my parents’ house for about week until I moved into my apartment right before the fall semester started.

I hadn’t spent that much time away from home in a long time. (Haha, well, until I moved out of the country. But we’re not there yet.) So what was home? While I still called the house in Lenoir City my home, I also frequently referred to it as “my parents’ house” and not just simply “home.” The change in my vocabulary was an indicator of the shift in my perception of what home was to me. Then, when my family entered a particularly difficult time during my last 2 years of college, we were faced with the possibility of not calling our home, home, anymore.

I remember the sense of panic, of what it would be like to not go back to the place that I call home. Now, I’ll admit to you that I put a lot of stock into physical things as ways of holding onto memories. That is, I keep things and hold onto them tightly because I think they serve as a valuable connection. Even though I wasn’t born in Tennessee, we’ve lived there the longest. I feel like I’ve mostly grown up there, especially in that house. So I found the possibility of saying goodbye to it very challenging.

Then one day, a thought occurred to me. If I can but for one moment lay aside my attachment to the house, what then do I define a home as, if it isn’t in fact a tangible object?

Suddenly, my worries seemed rather trite when I thought about that question. You know why? Because as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes sing,

Oh home, let me come home. Home is whenever I’m with you. Oh home, let me come home. Home is when I’m alone with you.

At least, that’s what they sing in the studio version of this song. I’ve got a live version from a Daytrotter session where they change things up a bit and instead sing,

Oh home, yes we are home. Home is wherever there is you. Oh home, yeah we are home. Home you are me and I am you.

Either as stand-alone verses or in thinking of them together, the message is clear to me. Home is being with the ones that we love. Home in this sense is not a place but instead is a gathering of or a union of the people that we love. Our family and our friends. Whenever we are with each other, we are home.

Now I know that I haven’t been with my family and friends for quite some time, almost 10 months as of this writing in fact. I miss them all very much. I’ve had very small bouts of homesickness. These tiny bouts don’t occur that often, actually. In the beginning I struggled with that feeling. Shouldn’t I feel weird that I’m not dying to go home? Well, the honest truth is no, I don’t have to feel weird. It all gradually became clear to me. I’ve always considered the pequeños of NPH El Salvador as family, so in a way when I came down, I just came back to a very big family. NPH isn’t the one that raised me, but it’s my family nonetheless.

One night, one of the high school girls and I were talking about when I was leaving and why. Though I didn’t have time to explain everything, I mentioned that I would like to see my family and friends. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them. She thought about that for a few seconds, and without missing a beat responded with, “Well, you don’t have to go back to the United States for that. Your family and your friends are right here.”

She’s right.

So if I’m in the US, El Salvador, or somewhere else entirely, what I do know is that whenever I am with the people that I love, I am home. Day by day, I am forming my identity outside of the physical house that I grew up in. I know for a fact that I am not the same person that I was when I started college, nor am I the same person that I was when I left the US. And that is such a good thing.

Change and growth are so beautiful when we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to it. So I acknowledge my roots and that physical home I grew up in, but I also now count an entirely different country and group of people as home and as family. That’s awesome.

So, there’s Part 1 of the “Home” series. In keeping with the original idea, the posts are in order of how the songs appear in my iPhone. Stay tuned for the next post.

Don’t forget to give “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes a listen on the main page! It just might change your life!

Wash Away

During the retreat with 4th grade, it started raining while we were in the chapel. At that time we were almost finished with the few kids brave enough to share a story (or stories) about how they know and feel that they are loved by God. There were some tears by those who talked, and there were also tears from those who simply listened. Though, it was more than just listening. It was feeling and perhaps reliving a story that they didn’t want to or just couldn’t share.

It was a “from the heart and deep within the soul” kind of moment. We’ve had a few retreats before with other grades of varying ages. Some shared more, others have shared less. But what made this particular retreat so different and so very special for me, and perhaps for them, was that it rained.

The rain not only washed away the stuffy heat inside the chapel, but it also washed away some of the hurt, I think. At least, it felt like a cleansing rain. During the brief shower, the kids also had to write something – a short letter to God. I didn’t want to hover or stare while they were writing, so I turned to look outside at the cornfields. I just stared and stared at the landscape and got lost in the view, in my thoughts, in my prayers of thanksgiving for the rain.

Out of nowhere, I started softly humming a song to myself. It was Joe Purdy’s “Wash Away (Reprise)”…

I got troubles oh but not today

Cause they’re gonna wash away, they’re gonna wash away

And I have sins oh but not today

Cause they’re gonna wash away, they’re gonna wash away

With each retreat, I learn something new, something different. For example – that the blood of Christ washed (and washes) away our sins. I have learned that in the pains and the sorrows of this life, we often struggle with our relationships – with our own selves, with family members, even with God. I have also seen that, at least through the stories shared, that even amidst the pains, sorrows, and tremendous hurts, God is there. He is always there, and oh how much He loves us. It’s an incalculable value. However, sometimes we fail to see Him. Sometimes we deliberately turn away.

Whatever the reason, sometimes there are blocks and walls between us and God. Despite our many shortcomings, God knows us well, and in all his infinite wisdom and love, He sent us the Way to wash away those sins, stumbling blocks, and pains.

The blood of Christ alone does the washing, but sometimes, God simply lets the rain do all the work.

(Now go listen to the song in the playlist on the main page!)

Investments

I’m not sure if this really counts as a post, since I’ve written so little. However, I want to pass along something to you, for posterity’s sake. Consider this as a precursor to an as yet to be written post.

I’ve also refrained from inundating you about Mumford & Sons, how much I love them, and how much their music has truly impacted my life. Ask anyone who knows me well…I could talk for quite some time about those gentlemen. That discussion will also come in another post.

For now, I ask you just as I ask myself – where are your investments? I mean, really think about the question. What do we put stock in? What and/or whom do we have faith in?

“Awake My Soul” is one of my favorite Mumford & Sons songs. Aside from it simply being awesome in its own right, the song has often pushed me to think about where my investments lie. The lyrics, the instrumentation, and yes, even seeing it performed live with gusto (which is already present in the studio version of the song)…all of it helps me along the way.

 

Watch the video/listen to the song if you’ve got the time, but at the very least, just consider these lyrics:

In these bodies we will live

In these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love

You invest your life.

Keep Your Head Up

As I mentioned previously, I was without a working laptop charger for 2 weeks. During that time, a lot happened. The biggest challenge that I faced during those weeks was being ill. What came of that trial was even greater than I expected. I woke up on the fifth day, sick. For a few days after, I thought I was getting better, only to find in the middle of the week that I had seemingly gotten worse.

I fully expected to get sick. That’s completely natural, here or in the United States or wherever I am. This is a completely different environment, so change and adjusting to it is inevitable! I just wasn’t prepared to get so sick, so early on in my time here. I’m also a big baby and don’t like being sick. I did not feel well at all, and I could tell it was affecting my interactions with others, simply for the fact that I wasn’t interacting a lot. Admittedly, I had a few desperate moments, tinged with doubt.

I feel much better now. It is wonderful! I expect I’ll get sick again, that’s just the nature of the beast. But what I discovered during my sick time was that you just have to keep your head up. Keep going forward. As terrible and gross as one may feel, as long as you have the ability to keep functioning, albeit in a somewhat diminished capacity, then go. Be. The world doesn’t stop on your account or mine. Life keeps going!

Admittedly, it took me a while to realize that. Music helped, naturally. One night, trying to wind down, I had the sudden need/urge to listen to Ben Howard. Right away, the song that got my attention was “Keep Your Head Up.” It’s very uplifting, as the title implies. And honestly, it was a song that I needed to hear.

Keep your head up.

Keep your heart strong.

Keep your mind set.

Keep your head on.

You see? He’s a nice lad with some pretty awesome tunes. And in case you were wondering…I have seen him live! The closest he was playing to home was in Washington, DC. So, my sister and I took an 8-9 hour bus ride. We couldn’t stay for the whole show because it started late and we had a bus to catch home…but what we were able to see took my breath away. My jaw dropped and stayed open for pretty much the entire first song, which I had never heard before. Incredible, just incredible seeing him live. What also made it even cooler was that we were 3 feet away from him, haha.

Anyway, I started to round the corner health-wise when a couple from Miami came to visit for a week. They are great people who helped me immensely, and I believe God had their visit timed so that our paths could cross. They also stayed in my room while they were here, and it was an enriching experience talking with them and especially drinking tea with them. (That’s a big deal because I’ve never been a tea drinker, but it’s a habit that I think I’ll keep up!) They left Friday morning, and I was a bit sad to see them go.

These last few weeks have been full of company outside of the children that live here (some friends from Tennessee were here for a week, Fr. Ron came down from Chicago for a few weeks, and Kyle the seminarian was here with me for a few weeks!) It’s been nice to be able to share my experience with others and to share in the lives of these children. NPH is something that needs to be shared. It’s my hope to do that with you all, even if you cannot come down here…though I strongly encourage you to do so.

Even ill, my experience has been one of growth. I found the strength within myself to keep going, through prayer and lots of phone calls home to Mom. In the end, I was able to keep my head up. I firmly believe that we are all capable of doing so, even in the toughest of situations. Sometimes it may take time to come to that point where we believe in ourselves, when we have unfailing trust in God. That day will come, if it hasn’t already. Just remember, keep your head up! Keep your heart strong! Keep your mind set! Keep your head on!

Paz y bien.

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise

One aspect of this blog that I haven’t explained is the musical component. So much of my life for the last few years has been greatly influenced and even sustained by music. I often struggle with how to describe what I am feeling or how I am affected by life in general. Musicians seem to be able to know, without knowing me of course, what my heart wants so desperately to explain.

So, on the main page (don’t have the time to move things around/experiment just yet) you’ll find “Leaving If Necessary – The Soundtrack.” Cheesy? Probably. It’ll feature (hopefully) a running/current playlist of songs that I mention or are key parts of posts.

Let’s begin, shall we? The first song on the playlist is “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” by the Avett Brothers. The whole song lyrically is awesome, but the earworm of the days preceding my travels to El Salvador and what is still stuck in my head is:

If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected. Decide what to be and go be it.

I am able to be here by the grace of God and the love of others. The love of my family, my friends, the parishioners of St. Thomas and from the people that I worked with…all that love has helped bring me to this point. I know that a lot of you wanted me to stay home, to remain with you, but in the same breath you also understood what serving NPH means to me. For that love and understanding, I am forever grateful. The title of the song also lends itself to some feelings I’ve been harboring, but I think that comes with the territory.

Most of the people I know associate me with going to concerts. I’ve gone to a lot of them in the last two years. Going to concerts and being part of a live music atmosphere makes me incredibly happy. In an odd way, it is fulfilling. At times, depending on the song and the gusto behind it, I find it very spiritual or appropriate for what’s going on in my life. I’ve only cried once during a concert…but I’ve almost cried a few times, haha, especially when I finally had the chance to see artists/groups that I absolutely love. A few weeks before I left Knoxville, I was able to finally see Avett Brothers. I’ve been waiting a long long long time to see them. And guess what song started the show? …Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise. God is good, all the time.

I leave you with a song and encourage you to give it a thorough listen. Maybe even look up the lyrics? Whatever your heart desires.

Paz y bien mis amigos. Hasta luego.