In Mexico people are desperate for you to buy stuff from them. A lot of it is pretty worthless. Cheesy t-shirts (Marijuana spelled like the McDonalds logo, anyone?), fragile wooden toys, slightly outlandish jewelry, bags of all shapes and sizes made from colorful woven yarn, and ponchos in ridiculous colors. The vendors will do anything to get your American dollars including lie, (“I remember you! You’ll like this, I promise!”) and make you feel guilty (“oh...no, I can’t sell for lower. I have to feed my family!”).
In Mongolia it’s a little different. The giant market is full of all kinds of useful things including canvas and rope to build your own home, saddles and bridles for horses, electrical plug adaptors, sunglasses, purses, warm clothing made from camel hair, richly colorful traditional wrestling boots and robes, musical instruments, bright orange furniture with painted flowers and designs, pocket knives, leather wallets, and vintage swords. No one is calling out, begging for your attention, desperate to exchange goods for money. In fact, they don’t even take US dollars. I still have a wallet full of Mongolian tugrik if there are any takers, by the way.
I can’t believe it was only a year ago that, donning a party hat and lei, I welcomed in 2012 with a toast of sparkling cider at my good friend’s house, way past our bedtimes. I had no idea what an amazing, life changing, wonderful 365 days was ahead of me.
I had no idea that it would bring a trip halfway around the world to the most beautiful country I had ever seen.
I had no inkling of the children that I would fall in love with, wrap my arms around, and wish to never leave behind.
I had no idea that some of my best friends were waiting for me in states across the country.
I had no idea that I would, over the course of the summer, board an airplane 9 different times for a total of nearly 50 hours, not including the 7 hours I wandered up and down O’Hare waiting for United to get their act together so I could fly across Lake Michigan.
I had no idea that I would stand on stage and receive the 3rd place trophy for Lincoln Douglas debate at the Concordia Challenge.
I had no idea that I would be the only girl standing in the picture of the top 8 finalists in debate at NITOC.
I had no idea how much diving into the Gospel of Mark could bring depth and answers and inspiration to my life.
I had no idea what challenges and joys my relationships would bring me.
Trying as hard as I can to avoid cliché in this blog post, 2012 was genuinely the best year ever. I learned so much and have so many incredible memories. If you think about it, the lessons and experiences you gather from a year have a lot in common with the souvenirs you bring home from a trip. Sometimes you have to pay a painful amount but afterwards are so glad to have them. Sometimes they turn out to be useless junk you wish you’d never seen. Sometimes people are desperate to convince you to adopt their own worldviews and ideas, but everything they have to offer is fake and clumsy and does more harm than good. Sometimes they are wonderful to find, wonderful to have, and wonderful to remember. And sometimes they come by surprise and without charge, like a gift.
2012 brought me valuable self-confidence and maturity. Taking French at the community college stretched my perceptions of myself and others and life itself. I’m happy to report that now, the tiny stinging criticisms that used to deflate me into a rubbery, subservient mess, now bounce off and merely add to the fun and interest of being around people.
It brought me almost daily resolve to be as kind and loving as possible toward others, because that is my duty and purpose as a human. People are messy. That’s one well-hammered lesson. People are also starving for love, as I learned in both Mexico and Mongolia. The mission trip to Mongolia was probably the hardest week of my life. It wasn’t even the Mongolians that changed me so much as my own teammates, from my own country. The amount of pain and struggling hidden inside almost every single person was heartbreaking. Thankfully a lot of healing happened on that trip and the terrible stories that people I’d come to love--after only knowing them for a week!--shared had happy endings. But they opened my eyes to the amount of suffering that goes on beneath the surface for more people than you think. A lot more. It creates a gaping, desperate need to love, love, love people as hard as we can. I still have far to go, but this year’s lessons helped me find the path.
It brought me trust that everything is going to be okay. God is good and He really does work everything out for the best because He loves us. I wasn’t always okay this year. Turning 18 brought me a trial by fire of being an adult. I had some really tough things happen and encounters with terrible people. Try working 14 hours straight with a possibly demon possessed woman who mocks and harasses you at every turn: for eating, for texting, for talking, for being quiet, for doing your job thoroughly and correctly, for not getting drunk, for being polite, and for not talking more like a gay person does. By the end of the day I was in tears but after the frustration left I was okay and stronger because of it.
It brought me a new sense of adventure, and dedication to the idea that life is beautiful and it’s our job to pursue it and help others to see it and never forget just how crazy and wonderful every single minute can be if we know how to look. Never pass up the chance to gallop a wild stallion up a valley in the middle of Asia. Even if it means abandoning the guide. I promise I didn’t, uh, intend to leave him behind.
It brought me closer to people that I want to spend the rest of my life with because they are the best things about being alive. Hugs, conversations, hanging out and laughing with family and friends, those were really the best memories I could have made.
So here lies my dedication to the old year, and my toast to the new! 2013 is going to be even better, I know it. I’m thrilled about both what I know this year holds and the things that will surprise me. Here’s my list.
This year I will:
Be the nursery teacher for my local Community Bible Study classes. I get to be in charge of the babies and play with them for two hours every week! I’m so excited!
Continue to coach and judge speech and debate tournaments.
Have my first regular job and save lots of money. Currently crossing my fingers that Pier One finally calls me back.
Open my own Etsy shop.
Complete or be well on my way to finishing my AA and BA.
Be more efficient with my time.
Ruthlessly dig through my desk and closet and get rid of anything I don’t use or love.
Try to be kinder and more loving every day than I was the day before.
Blog as regularly as possible. Write, write, write.
These souvenirs of another year lived and enjoyed may cost a lot. They may be hidden among a lot of things I’d rather not have seen or heard (I’m looking at you, Mexico, with your unseemly t-shirts on display). But they’ll be worth it because really, what about life doesn’t make you glad for every single second and thrilled to death because you can’t wait to learn more?
Happy New Year. :)