Not An Adventure

I’d like to preface this whole thing by saying that this is a preemptive strike, or rather, post. Why?

Well, because I’d like to clear the air of something that’s been nagging me for the past year. That way, when the time comes (very soon, I might add) that finds me back in the United States, I want to be able to have conversations with people without losing my marbles. I want to share what I have learned, what I have seen. I want to share the love I have felt. I don’t want to share my bad mood that you might set off just by saying the wrong thing.

So here’s the thing. People frequently, with their good intentions, continue to wish me success, happiness, and the like while I am here at NPH El Salvador. Something akin to “on this adventure of yours” is almost always tacked on to the end of the sentence. Adventure. My adventures. My year full of adventures.

In a word, gross.

That’s not what this is. My presence and geographical location for the last year has not been an adventure. It’s not an escapade, a voyage, or what have you. Try out most of adventure’s synonyms and try to claim that what I am doing is in fact of an adventurous nature, and I’ll find a way to disagree with you.

For me, the word adventure implies a passing fancy or some thrill-seeking…thing, as if I just decided to take a year off after finishing college before entering the “work world” to go backpacking or gallivanting through Europe kind of adventure. (Not that that is bad. It’s not! I’d love to travel through Europe, someday.)

My volunteer service, nay, my time in community with my crazy big Salvadoran family is not an adventure.

I was not blown here by the wind. I didn’t blindly place my finger on a spinning globe to see where I should go on a whim. I didn’t look up a list of international volunteer/service organizations and choose one at random from a search engine result page.

All I did was come back to a place that my bones knew and called as yet another home for me. (See the Home Series posts #1, 2, and 3 for a better understanding.) It wasn’t just that I returned home to this family, to this place where I felt and feel loved. I was called back. God planted a seed many years ago and has lovingly nurtured it. I’m blessed to say that it has grown into an awesome little tree. And you know what? Trees keep growing! Life keeps growing and twisting and turning!

God’s plan for my life brought me here. Now granted I could have said no and refused. I could have said, you know what? I’m going to get a paying job and stay. But when you come to know a place like this, when you come to know such beautiful people, and when God says, hey why don’t you go live there? It’s pretty easy to make that choice (and would be definitely mind-boggling if you did say no!)

I love hiking in the mountains or near the lake at home. Sometimes I just love walking along the river near my old apartment for no reason. There’s something about physical paths that I am drawn to, so it makes logical sense that my favorite metaphorical figure for my life is in fact, a path or the trail.

My life, the path that I am walking on and have been on since the day I was born, has climbed up up up in altitude. Sometimes it gradually descends, sometimes rapidly. Then it ascends again with tortoise or hare-like velocity. Sometimes it’s full of switchbacks; sometimes it’s full of big ol’ lazy curves. When I came to NPH El Salvador, I wasn’t switching paths. I was and am continuing on the one I initially set off on, 23 years ago.

So…to bring it all back. It’s not that I don’t like the word adventure and what it means. Will I go on adventures? You bet! Do I think every day holds the possibility of being an adventure? Of course! Have I been on adventures while serving and living in El Salvador? Absolutely. I’ve got a whole mental list of stories at the ready to tell you.

But please, please, please do not mistake my time and presence in El Salvador as a whole as being an adventure. To be quite frank, I hate it when people say, “oh it’s an adventure.” “How exciting is this adventure for you!” What you are doing to me and to my kids here is compartmentalizing our lives, our experiences. We are not some item to check off on a list of things to do in the world and in life.

This is not a philanthropic volun-tourist thing. I didn’t come down to a country rife with poverty and violence to do “good” and make myself feel better, like people often do these days in their quests to “find themselves.” To say to myself, “yeah I have these big grandiose ideas about how I’m gonna change the world and eliminate suffering…okay I did my thing down here and now I can move on with my life.” That’s pretty shallow. If you are going to do service, wherever in the world it might be, do it for the right reasons. Do it because you are serving your neighbor, not serving yourself.

After having countless cup-runneth-over days here at NPH El Salvador, I seriously cannot imagine living out such a ludicrous notion of self-before-others. I came down not to make myself feel better or to change the world. I came down to be a part of someone’s life, to tell him and to tell her, hey you know, I love you. You’re going to be someone in this world. I believe in you.

St. Vincent Palloti says, “You must be holy in the way God asks you to be holy. God does not ask you to be a Trappist monk or a hermit. He wants you to sanctify the world and your everyday life.”

That’s pretty awesome, don’t you think? I’m doing my best to do what God asks of me, my call to holiness, as it were. So, NPH El Salvador isn’t an adventure. It’s the best way I know how to live out the call to holiness.

It’s my life.

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!

Update and A Slice of Happy

Well, this is embarrassing.

The whole point of this blog was to help in sharing my experiences. What have I done? I’ve been quiet for the last 2 months. My sincerest apologies!

I know it’s an easy way out, but it’s the truth when I say that I have been busy. There has been soooo much going on, it’s great! At times, it’s an exhausting kind of day when I get back to my room, so I tell myself, oh I’ll write tomorrow. Then I don’t.

My only disclaimer is that my Facebook friends have been kept up to speed…it’s way easier for me to post updates there. Though I also have more constraints with that medium. Here on the blog, it feels like the world is my oyster, so to speak. And I tend to go more in-depth with my experiences here (which requires more time than a quick Facebook status takes), few and far between though they may be.

Anyway…here’s a quick recap. Then I’ll start posting posts with some more meat to them, as they say.

I realized I never told you this, but back in the middle of October, I went to NPH Guatemala/Antigua/Panajachel, Guatemala for 6 days (note: got a post coming up that’s sort of related to the trip). A family that has been instrumental in supporting and fundraising for NPH, practically since its inception back in 1954, came for a visit. They have worked with NPH for what seems like forever, so it was a wonderful opportunity to have met them. It was almost like meeting Fr. Wasson himself with the stories that I heard. Anyway, the family’s original travel plans changed right before they left NPH El Salvador, so they “borrowed” me for a few days to help translate while they visited at NPH Guatemala and went to do a few tourist-y things. You could say that it was an awesome working vacation. It was great!

November came. I ceased working at the school because classes were over, so I went full time in the office. We had a lot of visitors for various reasons, and I had roommates for practically the entire month. We hosted a spiritual workshop for 5 of the NPH homes, a large group of sponsors from the US came to visit; we celebrated kindergarten and 9th grade graduations and quinceañeras for 12 of our beautiful girls. In the middle of all of those activities – which happened within the same week – I turned 23. It was the best birthday that I have ever had, seriously. I’ve never received so many surprises in one day. Who knew that 23 could be so awesome?

The last week of November, 25 of our kids went to NPH Guatemala to participate in the 7th annual NPH International Soccer Tournament. I was fortunate enough to go along and document the experience and be a caregiver for our girls’ team. For me, November was the month that was and wasn’t. It flew by so fast and there was so much going on, I sometimes don’t remember that it happened, though I have the photographic evidence to prove otherwise. In one November week alone, I took almost 4,000 pictures, and I’ve been here 6 months!

The majority of December has also been incredibly busy and packed full of many fun things. Of course, we’re still in December so more on those experiences and happenings later on.

As many of my friends who have visited and become a part of the NPH family can attest, NPH is a wonderful place and is creating positive change in the world one child at a time. In speaking with a friend, our mutual discovery was that you really can’t find this kind of happiness anywhere else outside of NPH. It’s almost unreal. Recently I’ve come across two magnificent quotes, and I’d like to share them with you. The first comes from this season’s Little Blue Book (daily reflections and prayer for the Advent season; they also make books for Lent and Easter – check it out!):

“Whatever God wants me to be is the happiest life I could ever have.”

This next quote is from Vicki L. Kucia:

“Life is too short not to do something you love every day.”

My challenge to you is (if you haven’t found it already) go find that something that makes you happy. Find that something that you love and invest yourself in it, heart and soul. I think it’s safe to say that I’m doing what God wants me to do, and I couldn’t be happier. I also can’t imagine not being here at NPH.

At NPH, we always say that our doors and our hearts are always open to you. So come visit! Perhaps being a part of the NPH family is just the “thing” for you.

Paz y bien, Ashley.