Intentional Living

I just finished the book Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist and while I was reading it, I found myself not wanting to put it down. Okay fine, that’s how I am with most the books I read, but something was different about this book. It was genuine; it was raw; and it was touching.

Niequist is, was, a perfectionist, like so many of us try to be. She ran herself ragged chasing after a career that left her feeling empty. As a result, she was neglecting her husband and her children, the people that mattered the most to her in the world.

The book was her story and her journey of saying no to the things and the people that she didn’t hold close to her heart and saying yes to more of the things that brought her joy, saying yes to what was going to benefit the well-being of her soul and her people’s as well.

The few days it took me to read the book I was consciously aware of how unconnected I was to the world around me. And it broke my heart. I don’t want to wake up and simply trudge through the day. I don’t want to go through the motions and never actually truly enjoy anything.

But who’s to blame me for feeling like I live this way? We live in a culture where phone screens lit up at the dinner table are the norm, it’s easier to send an email about a problem than to actually have a face to face conversation, our cars basically drive themselves. No wonder we never have to really feel anything. No wonder people have to go on journeys to find themselves.

But what can we do? Delete all social media? Unrealistic. Go back to hand written letters? Not gonna happen. 

I don’t want to wake up one day and find that I spent more time worrying how many likes my post on Instagram got than I did talking to someone I love after they had a rough day.

My core group leader used the word intentional a lot this past year. At first, I wasn’t real sure what she meant by it. Obviously I know what the word means, but wasn’t sure how you could live intentionally.

Slowly, but surely, I find that living intentionally is a way we can be present instead of stressing to be perfect. I haven’t seemed to master this yet, and I’m not sure if I ever will, but I’m working on it. As am I working on connecting better to the people physically close to me and the people close to my heart.

I can’t wait to go home and be with my people. I can’t wait to hear their stories from the summer and tell them mine. I can’t wait to make new memories and go on more adventures. I can’t wait to watch the sunset at the lake surrounded by all my cousins as we laugh at each other and roast marsh-mellows. But until them I’m being present. I’m done trying to live a “perfect” life – not like I was anyways. 

And as my mom says, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

 

A Weekend in Montreal

Thursday night around nine when one of my roommates and I got off work, we loaded down our car and headed to Canada for a weekend of exploring.

The drive was about seven hours and about thirty minutes after we crossed the border, we decided we were too tired to drive anymore, so we began searching for a hotel – which turned out to be way more complicated than it should of been. First off, neither of us had any cell service – I ended up not having any all weekend, but thankfully she had international data. Secondly, it was two in the morning and 24 hour hotels weren’t a thing in this small town. The third problem was that all the road signs were in French and kilometers – isn’t the United States supposed to convert to the metric system any day now?

We parked outside of a small motel – that happened to be right across from a cemetery and decided to sleep in the car. Twenty minutes later, with a blue light shining in the car and our minds still racing, aggravated there wasn’t a clerk at the front desk, we realized that neither of us would be getting any sleep.

“Want me to keep driving?” I asked, my eyes still closed.

“Yup,” she replied, not bothering to move.

So we drove about another two hours, deeper into the heart of Canada toward Montreal, before my eyes began to become heavier than my mom would be happy to hear about. The loud beat of the music was no longer doing it’s job of keeping me focused. The coffee had long wore off. I was tired.

After stopping at another half dozen hotels, only to find the lights off and the door closed, I pulled into a brightly lit gas station. I was well prepared to call it quits for the night and sleep curled up in the car, but my friend was not. She googled and called several more hotels, finally getting an answer on the last ring at the last hotel.

We booked an overpriced room that was three miles up the road. Best money I ever spent. 

“You should know by now that I’m not taking no for an answer,” she told me as we pulled into the small hotel’s parking lot. I was too tired to thank her for being more stubborn that I was that night, but I think she received my gratitude as I passed out, at four in the morning, within two minutes of walking in the hotel room.

The next morning, we slept in until around ten. Fortunately, Canadian hotels serve breakfast until three in the morning. At least they got something right. 

 

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When we finally got to Montreal, we went to check into our hostel. This was my first time ever staying in one so I was pretty amazed. The lobby had a lounge area, a full kitchen, and a couple of computers. It was buzzing with energy and there were conversations going on in multiple languages. The downstairs had a bar, pool tables, a small stage, and couches. The rooms were set up like dorms, bunk beds lining the walls and a shared bathroom. Each bed had a thick curtain around it for privacy and everyone talked in whispers in case someone else was sleeping.

After we dropped off everything and got our car parked, we set off on foot to explore the city. The road right beside our hostel had beads hanging down that stretched on for miles. I thought they were so neat, all the colors visible down the road. Anytime that weekend we got in the area with the pink beads, we knew we were close to “home”. We found the metro and went downtown to get homemade Arepas – a Venezuelan food. I was a little skeptical to order one, but I’m really glad that I did. Fried cornmeal bread stuffed with chicken, grilled veggies, sauteed onions, and fresh avocado was presented to me and I ate in about, uh, six minutes. So good. 

 

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On the walk back, we took lots of pictures, admired the vintage-looking houses, and got Starbucks coffee; creatures of habit, I guess. 

 

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That night we hung out in the downstairs area of our hostel. We were sitting on the couches, waiting for a band to play, when two awkward guys came up to us and asked if we wanted to play pool. We looked at each other and kinda shrugged, not wanting to lose our seats.

“Look, if you win, I’ll give you one of these Cuban cigars,” one of the guys said, pulling out a plastic bag of several supposed expensive cigars.

“Sure, we’ll play,” we decided. Mainly because I’m ridiculously competitive.

I first want to say that I’m pretty bad at pool. My brother will vouch for that. He absolutely kicks my butt anytime we play on the lopsided pool table that sits in our garage. And the friend I was with is worse than me and she’ll tell you so while laughing.

But I guess something about being in Canada at a cool little hostel made us better, because we ended up beating him. Well actually, I ended up beating him because my friend got bored and dropped the game about two turns in. (When I told my brother about this his first response was to ask if the guy was in a wheelchair or had a condition with his brain.) Ouch.

We won the cigar and he annoyingly handed it over. It was pretty cool for about two minutes until I remembered that I didn’t smoke and I now had an $86 cigar. I threw it in my pocket and soon forgot about it. Apparently this is a cringe worthy matter for expensive cigar lovers.  

The next morning I drug Lauren out of bed and we ate the frozen waffles our hostel offered and geared up for the walking tour down by a worker at the hostel.

The tour was pretty cool and our to our guide was absolutely adorable. He had the longest eyelashes and the clearest blue eyes and his French accent was so fascinating to me. I probably could of have listened to him talk all day I loved it so much. The tour itself was pretty neat. We saw city hall, the state bank, and the church Celine Dion got married in.

After the tour, we went to cute restaurant with a live jazz band. While we were waiting in line, I noticed a girl who was staying in our hostel and who had been on our walking tour. We chatted with her some before she asked if she could have lunch with us. Of course we said yes, we were both captivated by her adorable Australian accent.

She was so fun to be around. We learned that she took seven weeks off from her nursing job and was traveling around North America by herself meeting up with friends in various states. I would never have the nerve to be able to do that, but I was so fascinated that she did. She’d been to thirty – four countries and more states in America than I have.

At the end of our lunch, she told us she was meeting up with a friend that was from there. She told us that he was going to show her around the rest of the day and offered to let us tag along. Of course we were beyond excited.

Her friend was so fun and we had a blast letting him be our tour guide for the day. We walked up and down the streets admiring the street art, sampling appetizers at restaurants, eating gelato, and doing some shopping, but of course, my favorite part was listening to him talk to people in French.

To me, when someone speaks another language, it sounds like gibberish. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that it actually makes sense to people. I wonder what each word means in my language. Learning a new language and becoming bilingual is pretty high on my bucket list. I do think I managed a couple of French words, but just the basics. Okay fine, all I know how to say is hello and thank you, but I’m gonna work on it. 

That night we went to a place where you throw axes at a target. It was pretty cool, but we decided not to stay and do it since you had to stay for at least an hour. So we left and continued to walk down the street when we came upon a show of some short. We all agreed to stop and see what was going on, but that we wouldn’t stay too long. It seemed to be a sort of gymnastic show. People were involved in choreographed dances, tightrope walks, and calla-static activities.There was a huge spotlight and you could see the shadows dancing on the building. We ended up staying until the end of show we were so intrigued.

 

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As we continued our walk down the street, we came upon a small street festival. I heard that if you’re ever bored in Montreal then it’s your own fault and after this weekend, I 100% believe that. The festival was kinda like the fair, minus the rides and the strange employees. We ate a waffle on a stick that was drenched in chocolate that was so delicious my mouth is still watering.

After walking around there for an hour or so, we decided we needed actual food since it was a little past midnight and we hadn’t technically had dinner. So we felt obligated to grab poutines – a famous Canadian food consisting of fries smothered in gravy and cheese and we added some pulled pork on there. So good. 

We ended the night laughing with full bellies, as we walked back to the hostel listening to people’s conversations that we couldn’t understand.

The next morning after we checked out, we drove to Mount Royal for a view of the city. It was a short walk to the top and the air was refreshing after breathing in city air for a couple of days. It was the perfect way to wrap up a fun, eventual weekend.

 

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At the border on the way back, we got asked the usual questions. Any alcohol in the car? No. Tobacco? No. Firearms or weapons? No. 

And then we were asked to pop our trunk, which I thought was normal procedure, but apparently it wasn’t. After a few minutes, the guy came back up to our window and gave us a funny look.

“You guys lied to me,” he said. We thought he was joking or had a weird sense of humor since we couldn’t think of what we could of possibly lied about. We awkward laughed and waited to see where this was going.

“That Cuban cigar contains tobacco,” he told us. Ours eyebrows shot up.

“I completely forgot I had that,” I told him.
“Yeah yeah, it’s fine,” he said as he opened the gate to let us cross over to America.

It felt nice to be back in familiar territory so we celebrated by blasting music and rolling our windows down, letting the wind whip our hair in every direction.

 

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A Little Bit of Growing Up

I’ve been very absent in the blog world lately but I’m sure that only a handful of people have noticed. It seems like every time I try to write, something juts feels off. I’m not sure if it’s because my world has been spun in so many directions these past few months or if I just needed some time to breathe and think without expressing those thoughts. Either way, I feel like I’m well over due a post.

As I accepted this internship and prepared to head out, I’m not sure what my expectations were. I knew I wanted to see more of the country; I wanted to make more friends outside of my circle; and I wanted to learn more about myself. I think that all three of those have pretty much been met. As I flipped back in my journal to the days when I first found out I would be coming up here, I was so excited. It seemed to be all I could talk or write about. I was initially disappointed I wasn’t going to be going to Hawaii or some where tropical, but I also felt like there was a reason I was chosen to come up here instead. I can’t say that there aren’t days that I wish I was laying in the sunshine on an island somewhere, because there definitley are. But I also can’t say I would redo anything if I was given the chance – not that I would be anwyays.

If I would have gotten sent to a different location everything would be different. I would have never met any of the people that I have this summer. I wouldn’t have gotten to experience the beauty of this really weird state. Not only have I learned to live with girls from different states, we’ve learned to rely on each other and be there for each other. Being 1,300 miles away from my support system has been difficult, to say the least. On days when I simply wanted to go to my sister’s room and plop down on her bed to chat, I had to instead go to my roommate’s. On nights when I just wanted my mom to cook me dinner, I had to cook something myself or make a sandwich. To say that I’ve grown up and became more independent is an understatement.

I debated a lot about throwing in the towel and coming home early these last couple of weeks. I had many conversations with my family and friends about what I should do. Do I stick it out? Do I come home and enjoy the last few weeks of summer with my people? Do I say screw my contract? Or do I honor it out and suck it up?

I’ll be honest here, I actually bought a plane ticket. I was gonna board a plane and come back to Nashville with my best friend after her visit. I was gonna do it. I was so excited. But I had a knot in my stomach immediately after I bought it. It didn’t feel right. Quitting isn’t in my blood. My parents hadn’t raised me to bail when things got tough, no matter how much we missed each other. From as early as I can remember my parents have taught me to push through difficult situations and try to make the most of them.

One night, my mom called me and told me how proud she was that I had been up here for so long when I’ve been pretty homesick. She told me that it would be okay if I ended things a little bit early. She told me she would support me no matter what I did and that she wanted me to do what was going to be best for myself. I wanted to go home and hug her so badly. But I knew I would look back and be frustrated with myself. I’d feel like I gave up, like I wasn’t tough enough to finish something that I had started. And the thought of that was greater than my homesickness right then, and that was a lot.

So I refunded my plane ticket; I put my suitcase back in my closet; I decided to suck it up and do what I’d been taught to do. As much as I love traveling and experiencing new things, I’m not sure if being away from my family long term is what’s best for me right now. I still want to see so many places and do so many things. I want to study abroad for a semester; I want to hike the AT through, but I also wanna hang out with my parents on a Friday night, laughing as my dad makes fun of my mom for falling asleep at nine pm.

In a perfect world, I could bring my people with me everywhere that I go. But life is complicated and messy and some of the things that I desire and crave aren’t the desires of the people that I love the most in this world. I guess this summer I’ve learned to be okay with.

I have a couple of weekend trips planned with my roommates to wrap up the summer that I’m really looking forward to, but I’m also looking forward to boarding a plane that flashes Nashville. 

1,300 miles away and I still feel the love and support of my people. I still have a place to call home even if I haven’t seen it in a couple of months. I still have a life waiting for me back in the mountains, even when my time here feels endless. And I’m not sure if things could get any better than that.