the balkans in 7 days: albania

as for the first week of my summer adventure, we embarked on a 7 day adventure around the balkans region! this trip consisted of MANY hours on a bus, which ended up not being too bad of a thing. these hours on the bus resulted in many long talks getting to know friends, JAM sessions, naps, and countless laughs.

our first day we packed up and out the door by 7 a.m. (after getting in as the last person at 10 pm the night before, talk about jetlag!).

before getting to our destination of kruje, albania, we made a stop at a rest stop with possible the best macchiato’s i have EVER had. we sat with our new friends, chatted, and spent some time enjoying the coffee and eachother. the thing that struck me right off the bat was the mountains. in kosovo you can obviously see the mountains, but out in the open terrain of albania, they seemed so much more prominent. i obviously had to have my new friend isabella take a picture for me in front of them. ūüôā

albania 1

we next arrived in kruje, albania. WOW. everything about kruje was so aesthetically pleasing. not even the monuments we visited (though they were stunning as well and held a wealth of knowledge) but the landscape views were more than enough for me. the mix of mountains, kruje’s simply beautiful skyline, and the peep of the adriatic sea in the distance made for the most beautiful introduction to the region.

as well, i included some pictures with my fellow program members because they have really made this trip for me!

we made our way to shengjin to stay the night, and get some beach time! the beaches of this region are so incredibly beautiful and i spent time walking down the beach with my new friend jenna and getting to know eachother! thankfully, we’ve proven to be incredibly similar, which has made for an even better trip. who’d have thought you’d meet people you vibe with so well across the world! i’ve included a picture of us at the kruje castle in albania as well.

overall, albania was the perfect place to start off our trip. i was completely overwhelmed by the simple beauty of the region, as has been a theme with every place we visit.

next post coming soon: montenegro!

hh

europe.

wow.

that has been my internal monologue basically every day since i arrived in europe. everything about this place is incredible to say the least. everywhere that we have gone- from Albania, to Montenegro, to Serbia, etc. – has had the most incredible views i have ever seen. mountains are growing to be one of my most very favorite sights and the thought of leaving them in a month makes me sad already. ūüė¶ we’ve seen everything from castles, to the ocean, to islands, and even more historically significant places.

oh, and also- the WATER. i have never in my life seen water so clear and beautiful until arriving in Montenegro and getting to swim in the Adriatic Sea. incredible. and again once we arrived in Croatia. the water was so incredibly blue and clear. looking out and not seeing land on the other side, but just an endless stretch of blue, is one of the most incredible feelings i have ever experienced. much like the feeling i experienced while on the plane; there is just something about these sights that has the ability to make you feel so small and irrelevant and at the same time so capable and purposeful. needless to say, i am less than ready to return to Iowa yet.

the best part of this trip so far though has easily been the people. i have met some of the very best people throughout just the last two weeks. the individuals i have spent the last two weeks are by far some of the very most intelligent and driven that i have ever encountered, and it’s honestly incredibly inspiring. interacting with such individuals sets off a fire in me to follow this lead. when it is said that “you become who you associate yourself with” do not take this phrase lightly. even in just two weeks of growing close with some of the intelligent and independent women on this trip, i can already feel a change within myself.

with talking about people, it seems appropriate to touch on the cultural phenomenons i’ve observed so far.

firstly, the people of this region are so interesting. the politeness was one of the very first things i noticed. wherever you go, the hosts pour your drinks for you, check back very frequently, and go the extra mile without even blinking an eye. this is a common phenomenon in any eatery, regardless of the ‘class level’. and not even this, but everyone seems so chill. so often in the states, especially working in a food service job, you really see the worst side of people. more than once have i served and/or been a part of parties where there was at least one dramatized moment (the check being wrong, the food being wrong, etc.) but not once while here have i observed a moment like this. not only do the food service workers take their job very seriously and with a sense of pride, but there is a different atmosphere among the customers as well. you see more people staying for hours in restaurants and just talking. the world seems like it is slowed down almost, compared to the atmosphere we are accustomed to in the states. it’s an incredible new way to observe life and remind myself to slow down.

conversations over coffee, on a crusty bus, sitting on a hotel patio, or even hotel stairs at 3 am, and genuinely getting to know another person have become frequent parts of every day life while in this area, and i cannot express how refreshing it is. even a 15 minute conversation with the host while waiting for our food this past week proved to be one of the most eye-opening and fulfilling conversations i can pinpoint from the last two weeks. i am amazed at the amount of genuine people ive been lucky to interact with over the past few weeks, and i find myself drawing inspiration from those i interact with a little more every day. ‘lucky’¬†isn’t a strong enough word to describe how i feel in regards to this experience.

there are so many more insights i intend to share about this beautiful place, but not enough time in the day. more updates will be to come later!

hh

purpose & other falsities.

okay, so that is not entirely true. a lot of things have purpose. there was a purpose to why your mom made you bathe every night growing up when you didn’t want to. there is a purpose as to why clubs and organizations have meetings. there is a purpose to why you take certain classes and why we wake when the sun comes up and sleep when it goes back down (okay for¬†most¬†of us, anyways).

but very often, we find there is no purpose to things and we are consumed by why this is. what is the purpose for the birds that sing so loudly first thing in the morning? what could the purpose be to cheating on a committed and loving significant other? and what could POSSIBLY be the purpose for mosquitos? I MEAN HONESTLY, WHY?

okay, some of these examples are silly, but you get my drift. on a serious note, purpose is a concept that some individuals work towards their entire lives. purpose is a very real and important concept to the vast majority of the population and we are almost consumed by our acquisition of it, or maybe more of our obsession with it. this very obsession has the potential to drive some people to deep depression, or keep others just endlessly searching, never feeling quite content without knowing their purpose.

i’m not trying to say purpose is a total falsity, because obviously it is not. people find purpose in a vast amount of ways. it could be assumed that members of groups such as missionaries, professional athletes, musicians, and numerous other groups have found some sense of purpose in what they do. missionaries find a sense of purpose in spreading their faith. many professional athletes find purpose in¬†using their platforms to promote or show support for issues¬†they care for. musicians find purpose in writing music that speaks to the souls of their listeners. you could go on with examples and I am sure if you asked members of these groups, their purposes would all differ, or maybe not even exist yet, or at least not in their full form. and they would all agree that they were not aware of what this purpose was destined to be 5, 10, or 20 years ago. and still, they have no inkling of where they will eventually end up. perhaps what they currently believe is their purpose will change eventually, and this possibility is completely possibly and acceptable.

the falsity lies in this idea that you have to be 22, graduated from college, and have your whole life figured out. there is this idea in society that you must enter a job after college. then the next step is to fall in love, pop out some kids, make terrible “dad jokes” for the rest of your life, and die, not happy but not totally disappointed either, after a subpar life, because you followed societies¬†to-do list¬†for your life¬†instead of your own.

you do not have to be a homeowner at 25, and you do not have to be a college graduate at that age either. (fun fact: you don’t actually have to be a college graduate at any age and still do fairly well, incase you hadn’t been told). you can spend your life in¬†Haiti¬†building houses, or¬†working on tax exemptions, or whatever it is. if it sets your soul on fire,¬† follow it¬†to no avail. and if that fire goes out,¬†start another¬†somewhere else.¬†search for¬†purpose, but do not feel discouraged while on your journey of acquisition. embrace the journey.

if you are one of the few that has already seemed to have found your purpose, I applaud you and wish you wonders. if you are like me though, still searching, virtually still clueless what your eventual purpose will turn out to be, take a breath. there is no rush. you must walk before you can run, and run before you can fly. and you will fly.

hh

if i had no fear.

This past weekend I and a few of my peers attended a conference in Chicago, Illinois based around the concept of leadership. We went to numerous breakout sessions and listened to keynote speakers as is the usual with such conferences, yet there was one moment that stood out in particular to me since it happened and has been rolling over in my head again and again since.

The last speaker brought up the topic of fear.

Fear. The definition of fear is “an¬†unpleasant¬†emotion¬†caused¬†by the belief that someone or something is¬†dangerous,¬†likely¬†to¬†cause¬†pain, or a threat”. Fear is natural. Fear is human. Fear is instinctual even. But what if for a second, fear subsided? What would you do with a second of unparalleled courage?¬†What would you do if you had no fear?

This speaker turned the presentation over to the spectators in the room, over 2500 students and adults at this conference. He asked us to stand and give our declarations over what we would do if we had no fear. Numerous youth and adults stood and spoke, and overall there are few times I can pinpoint that I have felt more empowered by those around me. Just by hearing what others are passionate, yet scared of. Hearing others say that if they didn’t have fear, they would apologize. They would mend bridges that they have burnt. They would fart in front of their boyfriend. ¬†They would tell their parents they were sorry. They would become the president. They would come out to their family. They would tell someone that they love them.

But they don’t do these things, because they do in fact have fear.

This idea may not be as impacting for every other person as it was for me. But it got me thinking, what would I do if I had no fear? Why am I scared of these things? Am I scared of rejection? Of failure? Of success? No matter what the reason is, this irrelevant, imagined scenario sticks in my head and stops me, and everyone else from all of these acts that we would do.

The thought of rejection stops a youth from coming out to their parents, it stops us from saying we are sorry, stops us from attempting to mend a bridge, and it stops us from telling those we care about that we even care about them.

So that brings me to think, what would I do if I had no fear?

I would travel. I would impact people. I would let others impact me. I would use my voice. I would stand up for others, no matter the response I got. I would love unconditionally. I would be a division 1 athlete. I would speak publicly to promote suicide awareness. I would apologize to my parents more often. I would mend my own bridges.¬†At one point, I would’ve said that I would start a blog.¬†Yet here I am.

I am not here to tell you fear is always irrational. Fear is some cases in a totally natural response to an unpleasant situation. It is natural to be a little fearful before you talk in front of a crowd, and it is natural to be somewhat fearful also before a big test or interview. But when we succumb to this fear, we orphan our hope. We look it dead in the eye and say “I’m sorry, but I can’t”, and we walk away.

Our passion, our drive, our fire. When we let fear overtake us, we close our souls up with lock and key and do not give them air to breathe. We suffocate our hope, our drive, and any chance we would have ever had at our dreams. We let ourselves down, yes, but even more impactful, we let our world down.

Take this thought and run with it. What athletes would we look up to today, if not for fear? What could doctors have discovered by now, if not for fear? What inventions would we have? What relationships would we have? Where could we have propelled ourselves to, if not for our fear?

I’m not here to tell you that everything doesn’t happen as it should. I believe whole-heartedly that there is a reason for every event. I’m not trying to tell you that fear isn’t sometimes totally justified, or that whatever you believe in is wrong.

But I’m telling you that whatever you are scared of, whatever leaves you shaking in your seat or makes you heart swell with anxiety, is nothing more than just an idea in your head. A possible scenario, yes. But there are countless possible scenarios, failure is just one of them, yet we let it be the most present scenario in our minds. We let it keep us from our dreams, we let it be a decider in our lives at times rather than a driver.¬†I will leave you with this thought. Think to yourself:

If I had no fear, what would I do?

Let this thought impact you. Let it leave you thinking for hours as it did with me. Let it drive you to change yourself and your world. Make a list and tape it to your bathroom mirror to see every morning while you’re brushing your teeth to remind you where you true passion lies.¬†If you feel appropriate, share in a comment what you would do if you had no fear. I am sure your ideas are as important and impactful as any.

Until next time.

things of importance.

The delay in my writing another post has come from the immense amount of thought I have put into this post. I read a book lately that talked about the topic I am about to touch on, and found real inspiration in what I read to make some changes in my life. The topic thus far has been forgiveness. I know this is a common topic that we are taught as kindergartners but I feel the further we get in life, the more complex of a topic it really becomes. Questions have gone through my head lately such as:

Why should I forgive?

Do I even have to apologize directly to someone to forgive them?

How do I know I’ve forgiven someone?

I as well as many of you I am sure have fallen victim to the trap that is unforgiving. It’s hard. Really hard. I get it. When someone hurts me my first instinct is to put a wall up between that person and myself that is a mile high and then sit behind that wall and remind myself what this person has done to me and why I should hate them forever. I have been guilty of just this many times for reasons of varying degree, and I am certain there are people who have felt this way towards me. Yet, the more I have thought about it recently, the more I have realized why not being forgiving is such an awful burden to place on ourselves.

Forgiveness is freeing.

I have never realized until recent the amount of ropes tying me down from grudges I didn’t even know I still held. The second I felt myself cut those ropes and forgive the ones who have hurt me,¬†I¬†felt free.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying to go back to every person who has wronged you and to be their best friend, to give them another chance, or to even contact them in any way. I didn’t do any of these things actually. I have come to the conclusion that these things are not required in the process of actual forgiveness, but only to an individual in a situation where they¬†see it fit. I have only come to the conclusion that to truly forgive, you have to forgive yourself¬†first.¬†Only then can you truly forgive those who have wronged you.¬†

I will be the first to admit I am a terrible victim of this habit. I have realized that I looked for in others what I should have looked for in myself, and when they didn’t give it to me I felt towards these people the resentment I felt for myself. Self degradation is a term I have become very familiar with over the years as I am sure many of you have also. Unfortunately, this is a very common phenomenon. But trust me, until you break this habit, you won’t be able to forgive. I thought to myself numerous times:

This wouldn’t have¬†happened if I weren’t so stubborn.

Maybe if I were better things would have worked out.

Only when I was able to tell myself in actual confidence that these things weren’t true did I feel relief. Only when I was able to say to myself, “I am flawed, I will make mistakes, and that is okay” was I able to look at the people I have held grudges against and been able to finally say to myself, “They are flawed, they will make mistakes, and that too is okay”.

Finally forgiving takes all of the hate, disappointment, and anger you have held onto for so long and makes room for peace and love. Letting trivial emotions such as hate and general disdain hold room in our hearts is such a waste of the lives we’ve been gifted. We are flawed beings and are programmed to fail. When others wrong us, let me tell you,¬†it is okay.¬†We will all wrong each other, and ourselves, and we must forgive. Forgiving does not mean that things will be the same as they were before, but certain peace is associated with forgiveness. In my case, I have noticed my mood has lifted. I do not feel anger anymore when thinking of certain situations I have experienced, I instead think with a more mature understanding of the situation and the other person/people involved. I am able to reflect on better times and instead of thinking “Oh no, it’s them” when I see people I held hard feelings against before, I can just go about my day. I don’t give those people or the situations a second thought anymore. I don’t feel resentment or any emotion in particular in these situations, just a general peace.

I do not allow myself to hold hate and unforgiving in my heart anymore. Obviously sometimes I mess up.¬†We¬†all¬†mess up. It’s okay. This is why we forgive. Another quote that has resonated with me lately is the following:

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who¬†persecute you. -Matthew 5:44”

Hold love in your heart instead of hate and the changes that will immediately happen in your life are remarkable.

what i know.

I’ve considered starting a blog for a quite some time now. I am sure the thoughts I have have also run through many of your heads, and that you are able to relate in one way or another. My goal is only to lift up those around me with my writings, and hopefully bring them closer to whatever type of faith they have. My wish is to be able to give others the type of hope I’ve needed through periods of my life thus far.

I will be the first to say, I don’t know much. I frequently like to think I do, but the truth is that I do not. I have no idea what I want to do with my future. I have no clue what exactly I want to spend the rest of my life doing, or where I see myself in 5, 10, or 20 years. I don’t even know what I had for breakfast most days. But I do know some things, and I feel that I can share these things and that they’ll be appreciated and understood by people with similar experiences as me.

I know that there is a purpose behind everything. Behind every action, every word you hear or say, every experience and situation you find yourself in, there is a purpose.

Frequently I consider ways my life could have been different thus far. I could have made many different decisions that would put me at a totally different place than the place I am at now. In turn, there are many different ways that the world around me could’ve changed me from where I am now.

You see, the things I’ve experienced up to now have challenged my faith a lot. I’m sure anyone reading this has had at least a moment of this as well. There’s been mornings my alarm hasn’t gone off and I’ve been late to first period and I think to myself:

“Really God, couldn’t¬†you have helped me out?”

Obviously this is a silly example, but this is comparable to other events in our lives where we have questioned God and his presence in situations. In the past 3 years since I began high school I’ve often found myself in these situations where I just ask:

“Why God?”¬†

A few years ago I lost a person in my life that I had not been close to for some time. Nonetheless, this loss shook me to the core though it had been quite some time since I had ¬†spoken to this person. The months following this loss were very difficult for me as well as others I’m sure, and I increasingly found myself questioning my faith. As the months passed and it just seemed as though life’s sole intention was to keep kicking me while I was down, I questioned my faith a lot.

Does everything really happen for a reason? What could the reason possibly be for this? God has to see how I’m struggling, why does he not intervene?¬†

Since then, hindsight has become a good friend of mine. I met people through this period of time that helped me through my struggles and helped me to gain understanding of the situations I found myself in. I learned how to find peace within myself, and learned much about my true self and what I am capable of. I am thankful for the people I have met that if not for the awful circumstances I found myself in, I never would have had the privilege to know. I have found a home for myself in many people and places in the 3 years since I was a freshman in high school with no idea what was ahead of me. I have learned so much that I am not able to put into words how grateful I am for the experiences that brought me to where I am.

If you would have asked me at the end of my sophomore year of high school where I saw myself today, I have no doubts I would’ve either laughed or cried (probably both honestly) and I wouldn’t have been able to give an answer. Many types of loss have shaped how I have dealt with the last few years of life, and until only recently was I able to finally see the amount I have also gained during this time period.

I’m writing this so that in case you are sitting in your car crying because you just really aren’t sure how you’re going to make it through the next week, I promise you it’s possible, and that there is a purpose.¬†You have a purpose. As I said earlier I do not know much, but this is something I know.

I saw a quote the other day that resonates nicely with this post and I felt the need to share it. It reads:

Those who leave¬†everything in Gods hands will¬†eventually see God’s hands in everything.¬†

Give yourself time to see how this quote really does apply to life. I promise, sooner or later, you will be able to see it. Until next time ūüôā