“Order and Chaos”: A Perspective on my time in China

A reflection on living in China during a pandemic by a dear friend.


I would first like to take a moment to express my gratitude towards the amazing Miss Camille LaRocca for allowing me the space to share my experiences through words on this post. My name is 歐尼. I am 23 years old and graduated in 2019 from Pacific Lutheran University in the same cohort as Camille. I studied Sport Psychology, Chinese, and majored in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science. In 2018, I joined a study abroad program through my university and at the beginning of September until late December I travelled and studied in China. I visited Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Tibet, and the majority of my time, I studied at Sichuan University in Chengdu City. In December I returned home to Washington to finish my last semester at PLU, graduating in May 2019. However, since boarding the return flight home to America until I walked across the stage at graduation, I could not get China out of my mind. I knew my four months was too short and I had to return. There was something luring about China. The opportunities, the weekly new endless events, beautiful women, fast development, convenience of living constant stimulation of senses, rich history and special culture.

The Unknown

We live in a time where the future is unknown. This has always been true; however no time is more impactful to us than the present moment. Few people if any could have predicted the chaos that would consume the world’s minds that the pandemic would in 2020. Our parents instil in us the same message that humans have been striving for since the beginning of our ancestry ~ stability (food, water, shelter, income, etc.), safety, and order. Upon further contemplation and research, we can learn that life is a combination of order and chaos, 阴阳 (Yin and Yang), good and evil. However, life or “Being” is in a constant tilt towards “entropy” or disorder, chaos. Chaos is thus the default of our biology and life around us. For example, it is easier to tear down then to construct a building. It is easy and attractive to be lazy, procrastinate, drink alcohol, do drugs, be anxious, angry, depressed and seek immediate pleasures. Getting up when you are still tired, choosing to be calm, putting your life in order, working at a job you do not like day in and day out, or doing something that will lead to happiness in the future but not in the present moment are incredibly difficult and unattractive. They are difficult because we are working against the natural law of entropy. Although humans have always lived in a time of uncertainty, and entropy has always existed, nonetheless, our future is still unknown and life is still undeniably difficult and chaotic. Many of uswake up and do not know when we will return to our jobs, when the pandemic will “go way”, when we can return to what our lives once were…Unfortunately, this pandemic is an example of chaos wreaking havoc in our lives. The order we once knew and took for granted is not present in our lives anymore. Our jobs, income, food, water, hobbies, social life, future plans, travelling, family life, corrupt and idiotic leadership uprooted and destroyed our order within the span of a year… In a time of complete chaos everywhere we look, where do we find order? Although, I do not have the answer, I believe looking toward China’s modern history may offer some answers or at least a framework to help perceive one’s own chaos.

Brief History of Modern Chinese History

​I have now lived in Chengdu, China for a cumulative time period of a year and a half working and studying. I have noticed several trends of the Chinese culture and more specifically Sichuan culture. Most people know China has the largest population in the world, however, few understand the effects of such a large population on politics, agriculture and day to day life. For the readers, who are unfamiliar with modern Chinese history or are in need of a refresher, I would like to share some background. When previously mentioning “change” and “entropy”, I argue there is no better place to analyse the increase quality, quantity and speed of change than in China. 

After several millennia of order under Dynasty rule, in the early 1900’s the Chinese dynasty collapsed. Relative consistent order had been kept for 1000’s of years ~ tradition, culture, philosophy, cuisine, political ruling style, and values. In the early 1900’s China had a significant civil conflict over their new identity with new leaders rising from different sections in China declaring themselves the rightful leader of the country and fighting anyone else who disagreed…complete chaos. During world war one, China was dealing with their own internal problems and civil wars. Not to mention other problems in the late 30’s when Japan had motives to take land from China as they felt deserving of more land, amongst other reasons I encourage one to research in their free time. Eventually, the civil war evolved into two sides: The Nationalists led by Chiang Kai Shek and Communists led by Mao Zi Dong. The Nationalists were the former “entitled” rulers of China officially recognised by other countries rulers, including Western nations. Russia started to support the Communists with America supporting the Nationalists. Eventually the Communists beat the Nationalists making them join the Communist rule or be exiled to Taiwan. In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party was established. Following this came ambitious, aggressive and radical attempts for ORDER after decades of internal and external war and occupation. Although China was weak and fragile, however, they had ambitious goals for the people and country. Chairman Mao and the CCP dreamed of becoming the most powerful country in the world and lifting every Chinese citizen from poverty. Unfortunately, in the decades to follow, arguably the most CHAOTIC years in the history of the country, with an estimated 50-80 million Chinese deaths during the Great Leap Forward.

The Great Leap Forward was an attempt for China to catch up to the superpower nations of the world, and to be recognized globally as a powerful, respectable, rich nation. The intention was in essence, if we (China) want to become the #1 nation in the world, we must copy what #1 nations are doing. Watch, learn from and work twice or three times as hard(with almost a billion people) to catch up until surpassing them. I will not go into the details of the Great Leap Forward as I encourage readers to learn from the thousands of books written about this subject. However, I will say that the Great Leap Forward had good intentions. The primary intention was to make everyone equal (men, women, elders, children, teachers, students), to equally divide money, resources, and overall outcomes. The intention is Edenic, paradise on Earth. It is a noble idea…However, the results were filled with disaster. Inefficient tactics, technology, and planning led to great famine, poverty, thirst, overworking conditionsleading to the death of 50-80 million people. I want to reiterate the magnitude of this: national shame, famine, poverty, thirst, overworking, inefficiency and 50-80 million countrymen casualties. Moreover, the children alive during this time are elders alive today!!! WITHIN A LIFETIME, elders I walk by daily that lived during the time of this shame, famine, poverty, thirst, overworking conditions, inefficiency and death of millions of their friends, family members, and countrymen, NOW carry 5G smartphones, have unlimited food, cheap and convenient subway, bike or bus transportation systems and live in the country of the second strongest military and economy in the world… IN TWO GENERATIONS!!! Although the 20th century was filled with unimaginable chaos for China, how were they then able to become such a powerful, rich and ordered society and country? Within 50 years nonetheless?


Order and Chaos are not inherently good or bad. A chaotic mind is one that can lead to the world’s most brilliant and creative creations or without control can lead to depression, anxiety or schizophrenia. An ordered mind can create stability, routine, efficiency, but could also lead to a boring, mundane life or obsessive-compulsive disorder. A chaotic society is definitely not the most humane structure for a large group of people as one can conclude based on Hitler’s Germany, Mao’s China or Trump’s America. However, since life is in a constant state of leaning towards entropy, I believe human beings are constantly trying to respond by reacting or planning ahead to limit the inevitable chaos. We must work together towards a collective aim of an ordered society. For the ALTERNATIVE is far worse… Trump’s America with rampant increases in hate violence, murders, protesting, division, combined with no justice and punishment for terrible acts going against the so call law… The ALTERNATIVE is Mao’s China where the people’s resources were destroyed and remade with terrible quality, where teachers were persecuted, and where people were not trained properly for their occupations causing horrendous chaos and tens of millions of lives lost. This is definitely not good. Hilter’s Germany and spread of Nazism across Europe or Stalin’s Russia:death camps, inhumane human experiments, murder in the thousands and suppression of speech. We must collectively strive for an ordered society while striving to avoid falling into the uninventable abyss of chaos. But what can I do to create and support order in my community, society, country and world?

China and America

Throughout my time living in China, I have noticed one significant difference between China and America. Americans believe every person has the right to life (or safety), free SPEECH, and free EXPRESSION of themselves and others (as long as other laws are not being broken in the process).Chinese people in contrast are content without certain freedoms as long as they have SECURITY, SAFETY, and CONVENIENCE. While Americans and Chinese can both agree that safety, and security are important, we cannot agree as much when it comes to the method for this or the importance or freedom (much less be able to define freedom). Are Chinese people free? Is China a free country? Why would Chinese people care less about freedom then Americans? Maslow’s Hierarchy can help us navigate these questions.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory that explains human’s motivation in life, based on their needs met. In the structure of a five-tier pyramid, at the bottom is physiological needs: food, water, warmth, and rest. At the Second tier is safety needs: safety and security. At the Third tier is Belongingness and love needs: intimate relationships, marriage, children, friends, family, and community. At the fourth tier is Esteem needs: prestige, feeling of accomplishment, individual improvement. At the top of the five-tier hierarchy is Self-Actualization: achieving one’s potential, including creative activities, improving one’s community. I hypothesize that freedom of speech and freedom of expression would fall at the highest level, rather than the bottom levels.

Two generations ago, the Chinese people did not have the bottom two level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs met: not enough adequate food, water, safety, security, shelter…In other words, basic “ORDER”. TWO GENERATIONS! Every day, I walk by and interact with individuals who lived during this time, whose parents lived during this time of great suffering and chaos. To say the horrendous chaos that occurred under Mao’s China is not affecting the minds and culture of the people of China today is simply not true.

Security and stability are what I have found to be most important to the (especially) older and middle generations. Basic needs being met are far more important than the top two tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which many Americans, including myself were raised to learn about and think about. The older and middle generations are focused on accomplishing the bottom three levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy: physiological needs, safety needs, and belongingness and love needs. Even once obtained, there is still a fear of it being taken away with a snaps of the finger.

The older and middle generations instil Chinese children with several ideologies for “success”. They tell the kids that stability, is most important. To achieve stability, one must educate themselves to the highest level they can (as expressed in high grades), then go to a good college (preferable ivy league school), then find a high paying and secure job, find a marriage before 30 (if a woman) and 40 (if a man), have children, work to support your kid’s future, and work even harder for a house and car to then retire at 60 (once your kids have a job). Once retired, one can focus on the higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

Stability is most important and thus education is of high importance in China. Education is seen to directly correlate to a stable life including, high salary, owning a house, supporting family and finding a suitable spouse. However, since the population is so great, class sizes are anywhere from 30-50 children in primary, middle, high schools and colleges. The teacher thus, must adopt an authoritarian lecture style of lecturing in order to teach this many children. Standardized tests are the only realistic way to manage and measure the success of this many students. There is not enough time for questions, critical thinking or student’s opinions. The alternative would be an infinite amount of work for the teachers and administration…Now imagine this on a larger scale…China’s population is 1.4 billion people. The government must adopt an authoritarian, style of leadership to control such a large amount of people to accept and work towards the collective goals stated and ORDER. There is not enough time or energy from those at the top or for the people below to argue, ask questions, voice or express their opinions or critically think. Moreover, the government recognizes the slippery slope of people asking questions, voicing and expressing opinions or critically thinking.  The single greatest threat to this type of society is critical thinking and expression of thoughts through actions in large enough and unified numbers, especially ones that contradict the ideals and actions of the government. Thus, is it the secondary goal of China (and America) to create an illusion that the countrymen are happy, free and safe. How do you keep people from questioning authority? Harsh punishment, lack of education regarding critical thinking and keeping the people tired and busy working. Check and check. Furthermore, the people must be influenced in a way that make them feel not motivated to voice and express their opinions while simultaneously making the people think they do have freedom to voice and express their opinions.

The future of China: A revolution or greater control

The future of every country is unknown…COVID-19, economy, jobs, finances, the environment, technology…Everything is unknown, “CHAOS”. However, we do know that once a person, country and society have the first level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs satisfied, they will strive for the next higher tier. Chengdu is one of the fastest developing cities in China with a strong economy. Five new subway lines were completed this last year, a new airport was completed and life has returned to normal with less than 10 Coronavirus cases *knock on wood*. People are becoming more comfortable, stable and the society is becoming more orderly and poverty is decreasing at a steady rate for the last several decades. What’s next?

The younger generation is special. Almost every single high schooler has a VPN and thus access to Instagram, Google, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. The younger generation is aware and fairly educated about world news, politics and life outside of China, generally more than the middle and older generations. The younger generation is slowly starting to increase their world view. More and more foreign music, culture, language, cuisine, entertainment and people are coming to Chengdu and greater China. Soon, the younger generation will find themselves asking the same questions that we ask back home in WA and America: “What do I want to do with my life?”, “What makes me happy?” “Should I stay with this marriage/job/relationship even though I am not happy?”, “Should I voice my truth or stay quiet and comfortable?”, “Should I risk my freedom and safety for what I believe is moral?” The more these questions are asked, talked about and acted upon, the more likely conflict and arguments will occur between everyday life, culture, government and humans, thus, “CHAOS”. China can no longer offer/force blinders to the people. The younger generation is growing up with all their bottom tier needs met. These days, more and more of the younger generation are striving for Self-Actualization at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Technology has allowed the people to see EVERYTHING! China has a huge choice to make: “bad cop”: increase control, punishment, and limit freedom creating conflict with the highest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, or “good cop”: act as friends to the people and offer some freedoms; enough for the people to feel and believe they are free. Either way, I believe there will be great conflict and chaos ahead as the motivation for the people and the government are in conflict. The people and China both do not want chaos, but chaos will come (as it naturally will). How will ORDER continue to stay? This will continue to be a question asked in 2021 for China and every country around the world.


The pandemic has brought chaos to at least one part of our lives to everyone I know and I’m sure everyone else who is reading. In a time of complete chaos everywhere we look, where how can we create and maintain order? I personally believe we must first acknowledge and accept that chaos is a natural part of life. Acknowledge that there are things in life, we cannot control. Once acknowledging this, we can now begin to bring order into our lives, specifically bring order to what WE CAN CONTROL. Dr. Jordan Peterson wrote a book about order and chaos; I highly encourage readers to add to their reading list, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.” Dr. Peterson suggests that in order to bring order into one’s life, it is best to start with simple things that one can control as thinking about trying to solve terrible, large problems can overwhelm and depress anyone.  He says “set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world”. Bring order to your own house before focusing or criticising greater problems outside your “house”. Dr. Peterson’s meaning of “house” is not only your physical living space, but it also, and perhaps more importantly your mind (one’s internal house). Make your bed. Find one thing that is disordered in your physical space and create order. Then find one more disordered thing and this will create a positive feedback loop to propel one to continue bringing order in many areas of their lives. Marie Kondo is an expert at bringingorder into one’s physical home (I recommend her book and Netflix special as a productive framework to bringing order and love into one’s physical space).Once the positive feedback loop continues to propel you, keep going. Make a schedule for yourself doing things that make you 1% better or even .0001% better today than yesterday. Or at least not .0001% worse today than yesterday. A schedule filled with healthy mental and physical routines for one’s day is incredibly helpful for physical and mental order. In the morning, drink a glass of water, journal three (or more) things you are grateful for. Write three (or more) affirmations of the person you want to be (writing in the present tense i.e. “I am a handsome man with vibrant health”). Read 10 minutes (or more). Meditate for 5 or 10 minutes (or more). Do something physically active for 10 minutes or more (running, walking, workout, yoga, etc.). Visualize what you want in your life. Find little ways to bring order to your internal and physical “house” and the little positive changes will propel you. If you increase order in your life .01% everyday and every other person increases order themselves .01% everyday, that is a 3.56% increase for the entire population only after one year, 17.8% in five years and 35.6% improvement in a decade. This community, society and country would be unimaginably better for everyone. For the alternative is far too easy to become nihilistic and destroy oneself and then fall into internal and external chaosindividually and as a collective. Let’s collectively work together to move far away from the default chaotic society and keep each other accountable for the most ordered individual lives and most ordered community, society, nation and world!

A world with more masks.

I had the opportunity to ask my friend Laila, who is living and working in Taiwan, how the pandemic has affect her life there. Laila and I met at university and I’ve enjoyed keeping up on her travels and experience abroad.

What did the pandemic feel like to you when it first “began?” How has that changed over time? What has your experience been with the pandemic in terms of where you are in the world? In terms of culture? How do you feel it has changed you? Have you learned anything? Has it been painful? Traumatic?

I’ve been living in Taiwan. For me, the pandemic had a very real and tangible start date. During the Chinese New Year holiday, my parents had come to visit me and we had all traveled in Cambodia for about 10 days. January 28, 2020, my parents flew back to the US wearing masks for the first and certainly not last time, as news broke about the first COVID case in Cambodia. January 29, 2020 I flew back to Taiwan wearing my mask and landed to dozens of messages from my Taiwanese boss about how masks would be required at work and what type to get. I remember feeling so stressed and panicked as I realized I’d been wearing the wrong type of mask on my flight, and that masks were already sold out so many places. For maybe the first couple of months, you could line up at any pharmacy or convenience store with your national health card to get masks. You could only go every couple of days to prevent people from hoarding masks. There was only one time when we were worried about going into lockdown, so I tried to stock up on some food and toilet paper, which was all readily available., However, stores and public places remained open during the first couple of months, when people were most nervous. We still have not gone into lockdown or quarantine over a year later. Temperatures are checked before going in anywhere and alcohol to sanitize your hands is available everywhere. Otherwise, life has continued mostly as normal.

I remember feeling panicked for about a week, the first week of teaching with a mask and moving all the desks to be socially distanced. We would sanitize the desks before and after class, but otherwise class proceeded as normal. It was hard for my students to adjust to learning English with masks. For the first 5 months I had been teaching with my class of completely new English learners, we had really focused on how the shape and placement of your mouth and tongue affects the sound. Now, they couldn’t see my mouth and I couldn’t see theirs to help them, so sounds like short “a” and short “e” became very difficult for them to distinguish. 

I felt strangely calm as we got used to it all because it became very clear the government had a plan and that everyone was going to follow it and do their part. Living in Taiwan, there is much more of a sense of collective duty and responsibility. Wearing a mask when you are sick is already a part of the culture, so shifting to wearing masks all the time was rather easy. 

What has been most difficult probably is watching from afar as the rest of the world struggles so much from this. Things like hearing how other people from PLU who were living abroad were forced to return to the US, all while I sat safe and sound in my apartment in Taiwan. Hearing about food shortages and toilet paper shortages, while I walked past fully stocked stores everyday. Hearing about people losing their jobs and their homes, while I continued to work as normal. I started to worry my parents or brother would catch COVID and that I would be halfway around the world, unable to say goodbye if the worst nightmare came true. I had called my dad to ask if he thought I should go home, and he said with such intensity that I should stay in Taiwan, where it is safe to go out and eat at restaurants, where I can work, where I can live normally.  

It seems cruel and selfish to feel sad about my safe and healthy situation in Taiwan when so many people have been through much worse. I didn’t realize how much I would feel isolated and alienated from the rest of the world, but in a completely different way than others have been alienated and isolated by lockdowns and quarantines. When talking to friends back home, we sometimes have little to say, because their life has remained in the bubble of working from home, while I have traveled throughout Taiwan. We are cautious and careful here, but because everyone complied with government safety and prevention measures, life has continued essentially as normal, just with more masks.

There’s nothing like loving and being loved.

Interview with Jennifer and Andrew Dashwood-Begg [transcribed from audio recording]

I love a good love story. Especially one that is realistic and shows the highs and the lows. And this one certainly is that. And it comes with a whole lot of spectacular advice for couples. As someone recently engaged, this conversation with Jennifer and Andrew was very special to me. They are a lovely couple. They’re funny and kind and radiate warmth. I hope that you get as much out of this as I did. Jennifer and Andy live in England and have a daughter, Sofia. Here is their experience with COVID-19, being in a pandemic with your partner while raising a young daughter, and what they have to say to couples starting relationships. 

How was your experience with COVID-19 and the pandemic while being with your significant other?

Jennifer: It feels weird to call it “our COVID story,” but that’s really what it was. I work at an international school so we have students flying in and out all the time, so I ended up getting COVID in February. At the time they were just calling it an outbreak and we didn’t realize it was going to be a pandemic. I went to the doctor a couple of times, my chest was getting infected and I wasn’t getting better. It was very early so they weren’t doing testing at that time. I was sick for about a month. Andy also got it and did okay the first time. It lasted for a very long time though. It was very up and down for a long time. And then in November our parents got COVID, we started feeling ill, and we got tested, and we had COVID again. We are still recovering. I’m using my inhaler a lot and we have been feeling very tired. 

Andy: It’s miserable like a flu when you have it, but afterwards, people don’t realize it, but you’re still exhausted. It’s like going uphill all the time with no energy at all. 

Jennifer: Yeah, it’s like if you do anything you get tired and out of breath. 

Andy: It’s been interesting. Over here in the UK there’s been a few national lockdowns. We leave the house as little as possible. We are housebound pretty much. We are both lucky that we can work from home so we didn’t have to go in, but it was interesting. Sophia’s schooling was hard. It was closed for a while so we had her here full time while also working full time. They very briefly went back for a little bit but then they closed again because it was spreading like wildfire. So it’s been the three of us in our apartment for most of the last year. It’s a mixed bag and there have been some good aspects. Normally I have to commute back and forth for work. I’m a lawyer and I have to commute and I often leave the house before Sophia’s up and I get back just before she goes to bed so in one sense it’s been quite nice to actually see them more than I would normally. But it does mean that you are fully on top of one another. It’s tough to juggle that sense of having work and also home schooling. 

Jennifer: Yean I feel that having a sense of what is going on around the world and how it’s been for other people, I have felt very lucky all things considered. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for people who have been going through this alone. I’m pretty introverted and I like being by myself, I’m comfortable being alone, but even as an introvert I can imagine that it would be hard. People aren’t built to be by themselves for lots of reasons. People need other people. I think it could really wear on a person. They have the saying that you are supposed to have like twelve hugs a day. Being held by somebody releases endorphins and having that contact is good for people. Us not being alone was a very lucky thing. I read a story about a woman in New York whose husband died like twelve days before the lockdown started and so she was going through it both without him and also grieving him and without the support of the people who would have been there for her. I am aware of how it could be and I have empathy for others. I feel lucky. I absolutely love Andy and he’s my best friend. We’ve been blessed with the most incredible daughter. So yeah, I think it’s actually been–I feel bad saying it because it’s been a pandemic and people have died, so without meaning to undermine or be disrespectful of that–it has in many ways been really wonderful. 

Andy: It’s interesting since we’ve also been really sick for long periods of time with this thing. One of the symptoms is exhaustion so between us we have just been really tired and having to sleep for lots of days and it comes and goes. Some days you have more energy but then other days it catches up to you. Our daughter is a bundle of energy. She does karate and gymnastics and she’s all go all the time. If it had just been one person it would have been different, but we’ve been able to tag-team. It’s even like we’re in different time zones. One of us takes the morning shift and then ends up crashing out and the other one sleeps in and then takes the evening shift. 

Well it sounds like you are a good team and, I mean, that’s also part of the point of marriage is being able to lift each other up and lean on each other and enjoy each other’s company even in the simplest of moments when you can’t necessarily do a lot. 

How did you meet? What is your love story? Where did you grow up?

Jennifer: Well our individual backstories are that my mother is Guatemalan and she came to the UK working as an au pair and met my dad and then they got married and lived in the UK. We lived in Guatemala for a few years as well. Andy’s parents were actually missionaries.

Andy: I was born in India! We kind of detoured to Australia and then back to England. My dad is a New Zealander and my mom is English. I have grown up most of my life here. And then Jennifer and I met at university. I was studying law and she was studying physiotherapy and we met at the university fencing club. A friend of ours who was in one of the flats above us had become president of the fencing club and was trying to draft us all in to join the club. So I joined that way, I didn’t know fencing at all. But then I ended up being the club treasurer the second year and Jen joined my third year and so I got to help teach people. And when Jen came she didn’t seem interested in fencing at all, but she was very good at the social aspect. She became the unofficial social secretary. It kind of just grew from there.

Jennifer: Yeah, I tried fencing and ended up making some of the most important friendships of my life and in fact the most important friendship of my life really. Andy and I were friends within the group and then we became best friends. And then one night I realized I had kind of a crush on him. I had then gone to Guatemala in the summer for my grandma’s birthday and every minute I had free I had gone to see if Andy was on MSN Messenger and we would just chat. Every minute we would be chatting. When I got back from Guatemala and I went back to university we’d spend every minute we could together. And at the end of it he asked me if he could kiss me.

Andy: Yes, it was a slow burn. We had been friends for a long time first. 

Jennifer: Which is a really great basis for a relationship. 

Andy: We were friends for almost a year. So it was a long time. After a while it becomes a big deal to take the next step. I definitely recommend that, to have that basis. 

Jennifer: You also have to really like the person. I think liking the person you love is wonderful and also like we really knew each other so when I realized I loved him I really knew who I loved. I think making sure that friendship is part of your love for a person, that it’s not just romantic, but you also enjoy each other’s company and you can invest in your friendship even when it’s romantic. Just be friends with the person you love, as well. So after university we both were going to head home to our families. We were both Christian, I was Catholic. We both felt we wanted to be married before moving in together. We both headed back to our families and knew that within the next two years we’d want to figure out the logistics. Andy lived further up north and I lived further south. We got engaged. My grandma gave my mom her engagement ring for Andy and I to use when we got engaged. 

Andy: And it’s been almost exactly thirteen years.

Jennifer: Yeah, on Tuesday it will be thirteen years. Andy came to Guatemala to meet the family. We went to Antigua and we were planning to get married in the summer and one of the evenings he just sort of said “look, my annual leave turns over at the end of the year, why don’t we just get married as soon as we can?” So we planned our wedding for February. I regularly feel that I couldn’t have known then how much I would end up loving him. It’s been an absolute joy knowing him and loving him. I love him more now than I did thirteen years ago. And I am just so glad to have him. 

If you had to give any advice to couples starting a relationship, what would you tell them is important?

Andy: I think one thing that we’ve talked about throughout the years is that love isn’t something passive. You don’t just fall in love and it’s done, there you go. It’s a choice. 

Jennifer: It’s not happy ever after and then a switch turns on and it goes. 

Andy: It’s a commitment. It’s constantly choosing to put your partner first and to work as the two of you rather than just one person. That’s not just if you’re lucky- like if you’re lucky you’ll find someone and it will be easy or hard. There’s always hard moments that you go through. It’s really a choice and a commitment that the two of you make and that makes it amazing. I’ve had thirteen years of it, of a lot of memories, and it’s something that you create as you spend time together. 

Jennifer: A lot of people talk about how much fun the beginning can be but then becoming bored or missing those butterflies and things like that, but…I don’t know how many people realize what you get after the years. There’s literally moments where we are together and we will literally be humming the same song. You have all these inside jokes and knowledge and understanding of each other.

Andy: Like a shared language almost.

Jennifer: Yeah, there’s an English band called Keen that I love and we both really enjoy their music and one time I was on this old review of one of their albums and the person reviewing it was being really mean about them and I was scrolling down through the comments and I found a comment that was standing up for them and saying that it was a harsh review, and it was Andy! It was him! I don’t know, you have this beautiful shared history because they’ve known you all this time and it’s really lovely. So I think holding onto what you are building is important, that fact that you’re building something really precious with each other. I suppose in terms of advice, I would say, be gentle with each other and the way you are feeling at any given moment, whether you are in a good mood or you are feeling irritable, remember that it can be influenced by so many things. Your attitude can be influenced by things going on outside, maybe you’re tired, work is stressful, or hormones even. So many things can influence how you’re feeling and even if you’re feeling annoyed because they’ve done something or you’re having a discussion, try and keep it gentle and try to always make sure it’s productive. If you’re going to have a disagreement or a conversation, try not to have it be an argument. People say the first year of marriage can be the hardest and I think yeah, there were fundamental lessons we learned. You know, you gotta think that, look, we’re not going to get divorced as a result of this argument so lets navigate it and by the end of this conversation, we aren’t worse than we were before and we’re not going to lash out because we’re feeling angry. Always hold on to the fact that you are talking to someone that you love and make sure that’s clear. Be gentle. If you feel like you are going to lash out, try to calm that down. Like I always tell Sophia, you can say anything nicely. In preparation for marriage they talk about not using “always,” like not saying “you always do this.”

Andy: Yeah never say “you always do this” or “you never do this.”

Jennifer: It’s this sweeping statement rather than saying “I would really appreciate it if you do this.” And also notice the good things too. Make a point of saying “when you do that, it makes me feel really loved.” So you are highlighlighting the things you notice in the other person’s thoughtfulness. Instead of saying “could you close the blinds?” or “please remember to close the blinds” and when he does, just thinking well it’s good that he did, say “thank you for closing them.” Give them credit. 

That’s really huge. I think a lot of people don’t do that. A lot of people don’t realize that positive reinforcement is just as important. Saying “when this happens it makes me feel this way,” regardless if it’s a positive or a negative. 

Jennifer: Yes and then if it’s all just negative that’s all the person hears, like “you didn’t do this” or “you forgot this.” Because all the good stuff you just think well good instead of saying something. It’s better to be appreciative.

How did you learn to communicate as a couple and be patient?

Andy: If you’re in it for the long haul then having secrets from one another or trying to pretend that you don’t feel what you’re feeling isn’t good, you’re just going to struggle every time. So just speak the truth.

Jennifer: Yeah, don’t play games. 

Andy: Just be open and clear and don’t play the game of not saying anything because you think the other person should notice or saying something even though it’s not what you feel. Just actually talk to one another. It sounds easy when saying it, it can be hard. But actually just making that choice of being open. It’s easy to do that if you know the other person is going to take it well. It’s good to be calm when having these conversations.

Jennifer: And to give the other person a safe place to be vulnerable too. Don’t make fun of them. Really hear what they are saying and really listen. I was in confession once and I remember the priest saying that men don’t often talk about their feelings so if your husband is telling you he feels something, he’s probably feeling it really strongly so really try and hear that. Like Andy’s always spoken so kindly to me and I can be quite fiery at times. And I remember one time he told me “I would never talk to you like this.” And I kind of thought yeah, he really wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t allow it if he did, I wouldn’t be okay with that. But for some reason I think it’s okay to talk to him like this. Another thing that’s really good for us is trying not to be proud. There are moments where I am standing by something and as i’m doing it I feel like maybe i’m wrong here, and it can be really hard to back down because you feel like you are defending your point and that you want to be right and it can feel like this huge thing. So what I like to do whether it’s in the moment or after I will say I’m sorry, I think you’re right. Or I’ll leave and then come back and say I’m not happy with how I handled that. I think I was really quite aggressive or I don’t think I really listened to you and I’m sorry. If you try to do that, it’s beneficial. The minute you feel like maybe they have a point, just try and deescalate the situation and take it down a notch. Just take a breath and try to do it more productively. 

Andy: The one thing we’ve been told since we were young is to remember that different things mean different amounts to different people and people hear and receive love in different ways. And so don’t assume that if something doesn’t mean a lot to you it doesn’t mean a lot to them too. And vice versa. Always be willing to bear in mind how important these things are. Don’t spend a lot of time arguing about something that doesn’t mean a lot to either of you. You’re never going to agree on everything, you’re two people. Just measure how important these things are. And if it does mean a lot to you or to them, make sure to show why it matters and communicate that it matters.

Jennifer: State clearly “this is important to me” instead of thinking well, he must know and just doesn’t care. Maybe he really doesn’t and you haven’t expressed it properly. And there’s the whole thing about not going to sleep angry, but I reckon that staying up when you’re exhausted and irritable and lashing out isn’t that helpful either. One of the things we say to each other is how even when we’re not okay, we’re okay. Like, we’re solid. This isn’t going anywhere. We’re going to keep nurturing it. If you have that security of knowing that we are going to be alright, then figure it out and find each other again if you’ve lost each other in an argument. Just think that you are okay and you don’t have to finish the argument then. Just pause and be okay for a bit. Hug and deescalate, even if it’s a physical deescalation. Say I’m here and I love you and we’re going to get through this together. 

Anything else you want to share with couples?

Jennifer: Just after we got married our shower wasn’t working and I would go to the gym to shower and there was a guy there who noticed I was married and he asked “what’s being married like?” and I said “oh, it’s wonderful!” And he said “well, that’s really nice to hear because most people say it’s awful.” And I was just thinking about how sad that was to hear. Honestly, being married is wonderful. There’s nothing like loving and being loved. More people should know that.

Revamping your prayer life.

The first time I remember praying was for my dad’s sickness to be healed. I don’t recall how old I was, but I must have been around five or six. My dad was tucking me into bed and leaned down and said, “don’t forget to say your prayers and make sure to pray for me too.” Growing up in a pretty non-religious household this was the closest we got to Christian spirituality, but it made an impact on me.

It became a ritual to pray nightly. Usually it was in my head and I would think of a few things that I wanted and then drift off to sleep. I think that’s how a lot of us continue to pray. Up until recently, this was how I was still praying. I’d pray in church a little more seriously or during bible study, but my usual prayers were mimicking the way I prayed as a child and they were the least bit consistent.

This year I decided that I wanted to revamp my prayer life and open myself up to the power of prayer. For the past week, I have prayed the rosary every night before bed and within only a week i’ve grown to love the consistency and the rythm of prayer. It feels like coming home-like you are letting yourself relax into the arms of the Father. There’s moments when I don’t want to do it and I want to scroll mindlessly on my phone instead, but I push myself through that and I kneel by my bed with my rosary in hand and I pray anyway. And as soon as it begins the wave of comfort comes back.

I’ve been using a rosary because I had gotten two beautiful rosaries as a gift for Christmas and I wanted to see what the hype was all about. For one, I like the reminder to pray in the form of the rosary. I keep one of them on the table right next to my bed so I never forget to return to it at the end of the day. I also like the way it helps me to keep track of my prayers and to remain consistent, something I’ve always struggled with.

Since I am very new to the rosary and to praying consistently, I downloaded an app called Hallow and have been following along with it. It’s helped me a lot as I learn different prayers and learn to center myself as I am praying. The app also gives me the opportunity to journal a couple of sentences once I am done praying, so I can look back at what I received from the prayer each day. Lent is coming up in a little over a week and my goal is to pray every morning and every night throughout lent. Jesus was a great example not only of how to pray but of how much to pray. Starting my day and ending my day with prayer I hope will revamp my prayer life and open myself up to the depths of knowledge that lies within solice with the Father.

I encourage you to revamp your prayer life too. Consistency is always the hardest thing. Download an app to remind you. Journal your prayers to hold you accountable. Whatever it takes, push yourself to spend some alone time with God and see what He wants to say to you.

Comfort and Music To Fly

At the end of his trip, I asked José to reflect on his journey and experience in the U.S. and to write something for my blog. The following is the words of José as he processes his time here with me and expressed his deep gratitude for the people who made it worth it:

Photography by Vi Le

If you know me, you surely understand that writing a summary of my trip to Oregon became quite a challenge as there are many things to write and tell that I could probably write a book of all of the feelings, thoughts and experiences. Although after a lot of contemplation and procrastination the answer to my extreme creativity came to my mind, so here it is-the experience of how I travelled more than 5,000 kilometers (3,500 miles for the readers in the US) to kneel and ask the 4 worded question I thought I would never ask.

As a reader, I want to introduce you to some of my favorite songs because I want to make this interactive, so please make sure to play the songs placed between the paragraphs. If you finish reading, just enjoy the songs and then move forward.

The Struggle – Marooned, Pink Floyd

There I was, after an unexpected separation, preparing my mind and body for one of my least favorite things, getting into a plane. And even worse- during a pandemic. It was already 9 months apart from the love of my life and my body could only repeat to me, “You are claustrophobic, be prepared.” This is where all the other voices from my community became strong, telling me I could make it and that soon, in a blink of an eye I would be there hugging and kissing my girl. Indeed it was not one of the most exciting things to do, however, people from Oregon and fans of the love story that Camille and I are writing, were cheering for me to make it. What a strong feeling it is when you get to see you have the support of so many, even when you feel so small.

I was constantly reminded that when you set a goal and are determined, you can overcome your fears.

Is this real or a fantasy – Dreams, Fleetwood Mac

As Rodrigo de Triana once screamed “Land!” when he saw America, I screamed the same when I landed in Portland, Oregon. I felt that my feet were moving as if I was in a marathon knowing that the best prize was at the finish line. What should I do when I see her?, I asked myself, but I didn’t even have time to answer that question as suddenly I saw her- a girl with golden locks and the answer to all doubts, walking towards me. As if we were two magnets, we were rushed into each other immediately with a simple thought-This is home.

She is indeed my dream come true.

What is all of this? – Down Under, Men At Work

What can I say about Mcminnville? Peace and joy. The unique location where one day in the future I will start a family. This was a wonderful place where I enjoyed really good walks, annoying reminders of the cold weather I have never experienced before, and a lot of rain and wildlife in the middle of the city. I was glad to finally get to see the place and it became so important to me, as my dear Camille grew and was raised there and I enjoyed so much in between all the wonderful things it has. Indeed the land of wine and incredible food, as I tried all the variations of anything you could think of, but as a good meal, the best memory remained with the desire for more.

Sometimes the smallest things can surprise you the most. 

Family and Friends – I’d Rather Dance With you, Kings of Convenience

I think this is a space reserved for all the people who made this time in Oregon so wonderful and to whom I feel so thankful for making me feel at home. As an exciting combination of experiences in a music festival, Sunday and Mark, who opened their doors for me to have a warm and lovely place to stay. Under an unknown land of industrial techno, Julian shared his dreams with me and I feel grateful for that. As a good coffee, Nora, who I would be more than happy to share a good conversation whenever she wants. As my latino ally, Jorge, who will soon be married to his great friend and fiance Emily-thanks for showing me the snow. Sean, that I know for sure we will go hiking more when you either come to Guatemala or when I’m back. Camilla, who I had the pleasure of good wine with, but not as good as her companion and an incredible capstone presentation. One of the most special and unique combinations of couples such as Katy and Ben. To finish with of course the lovely companion and warm gesture in a cold sea of Sean, Stacy, Ginger and Jett.

But as the music you are listening to right now, nothing more sweet, incredible and entertaining as Grandpa Jerry and Grandma Terry, a unique combination of Italians that between the food and stories, I felt like home. And of course, the sweet sharing of music taste with my soon to become father-in-law, James.

Last time apart for a, happily ever after.

Only Memories Remain- My Morning Jacket

Imagine this song as Camille and I dance together and look each other’s eyes, just knowing there’s no one else we would rather be with. She is the one who gave me warmth in the cold nights of Oregon, who taught me that things are not what you would expect. Imagine again, having the opportunity of receiving the so long expected “Yes” after I asked her to marry me. Imagine her while she made this stay something that I want to make forever and I trust her completely on what the future may put in front of us.

All of what I went through was worth every second and I want to make it last.

The self and motivation

As a new year has come upon us, it’s healthy to assess how things went the year before and how we want to improve for this one. I don’t mean New Years Resolutions that we write down, try for the first few weeks, but then forget about by the end of January. I mean taking a real hard look at where you are and where you want to be. Looking at what type of a person you are and what type of a person you want to be.

One of my favorite things to do is to ask myself this question every time I have to make a decision: will this help me to be closer to the person God has called me to be? If it doesn’t, then it’s probably not as important as we feel it is or we should be focusing on something else. This can be applied to the simplest of decisions. What should I eat today? Will what i’m choosing to put into my body help me to become closer to what God has called me to be? Am I taking care of my body? Should I watch a few episodes of that Netflix show i’ve been binging or should I use the last half hour of light to go for a run? Should I stop and give that person sleeping outside a blanket or keep driving? Whatever the decision is, I try to remember to ask myself if it is true to my character and who I want to show to the world.

Assessing who I was last year, what decisions I made, the thoughts that I let inhabit my mind, and each action that I took, it’s easy for me to pinpoint some things that I was not doing in my best interest or in God’s. And I would like to carefully change my habits to reflect who I want to be. For example, there are moments in which I had chosen not to try my hardest and to just do the bare minimum when completing a task. And I bet you do it too. We all do. Changing this can be pretty difficult considering the ways in which our society has made it easy for us to get by while doing the bare bones. This is especially difficult now during what I like to call “COVID times” because a lot of us are working from home. We don’t have anyone looking over our shoulder making sure we are working hard. A lot if it, depending on your job, is self motivation and integrity.

Many of my work days look something like this:

A cup of tea in hand, staring at the computer.

Considering how much I also look at my phone each day, staring at the computer is not doing my mind much good. Sitting for eight hour work days is also not doing my body good. And it’s easy to slack off a little bit. To do the bare minimum. And sometimes it’s okay to do that! Having a bad day? Give yourself some ease. Have a headache or feeling under the weather? Just complete what you absolutely need to! It’s great to rest and it is highly encouraged.

On my regular day to day work day when I am feeling good, I like to remind myself that I am doing this work because it is what I am called to do. I would argue that whatever you do, even if it is not your passion, you’re called to do that in this moment. Working a temporary job that you don’t love? Inputting data? Working at a fast food restaurant where you do actually have to show up even during a pandemic? Are you an essential worker? Depending on your situation you might be either drained from having to work during a pandemic or you might just feel like doing what you have to do to get by and not putting much more effort in. Which is understandable. We’re working during a pandemic! Regardless of your situation, you’ve been placed there and we are each called to give our best effort to the best of our ability while taking care of ourselves.

I want to be a good employee not just because I have the privilege of liking my job, but because I’m a Christian and Christians should go above and beyond in everything that they do. Because that’s what Jesus did. He rested well. He worked hard. We’ve not been put where we are just to survive and wait for the next thing. We’ve been put where we are to be examples of how to live well and to work well. And in every place you are you have the opportunity to impact those around you with positivity and grace. This is true of every job in every place.

Some days last year I woke up late, slugged downstairs still in my pajamas, hardly ate, and showed up to my home “office” with an attitude of wanting to get through the day as fast as possible. And my goal this year is to do a little less of that.

I wake up on time, I fill my body with nutritious foods, I put on clothes that make me feel good. I show up to work with a positive attitude and an excitement. I make sure to stand up and stretch to keep my energy up and I remind myself to look away from the screen every once and a while. I write down lists of what I’d like to accomplish that day and take my time talking to each client making sure they know that they matter and that I am listening to them. Little things like this boost my passion for my work.

So although my work day might look like me sitting at a desk in front of a computer, at least I am dressed for success and feel ready to do my job with some “umph.” This attitude will impact not only yourself, but those who are witness to your radiating love and happiness.

Learning to take and let go

Photo by Vivyanne Le https://www.vivyannelephotography.com/

The past month I’ve had the absolute best time with José. I had the opportunity to show him around Oregon, my beloved home. He met my family and explored the area where I grew up and became the person that I am today. He experienced real cold for the first time. He saw snow fall for the first time and went tubing on Mount Hood. He ate Thai food for the first time! Very important. We walked the streets of Portland, hiked the cliffs of the Columbia Gorge, visited waterfalls, ate bomb Mexican food, and celebrated the holidays American style.

Oh, and we got ENGAGED. Which was one of the best moments of my life so far. Because I get to commit myself to this amazing man. We get to devote ourselves to one another, live our lives going after goals together, growing old together, and living life purely and authentically. To say that I am excited to celebrate life with him is an understatement.

Photo by Vivyanne Le https://www.vivyannelephotography.com/

We have still a long road ahead of us, but not nearly as long as the distance we encountered up to this point. We are thankful that that is behind us, but are ready to face what is ahead of us with courage and persistence. Dating someone from another country is full of adventure and wonder and it’s been so much fun. Throughout, we have to deal with things that a lot of couples don’t have to, and it has helped us grow and become closer together. This year will be a lot of figuring ourselves out, preparing for marriage, and preparing to live together wherever that may be. Our priority is to be together and not have to be in fear of being separated again by a pandemic, by the government, by laws, or by geography.

José is my person. He’s always been, even before I knew him. But now we know. And we will never stop knowing.

The Planner

I think that it’s pretty incredible to realize that everything that has happened in your life has lead up to the current moment that you are in. And the current moment you are in is leading you to future moments. I’ve had a lot of plans for my life. I’m a big planner. Ask anyone close to me and they’ll agree-I always have had at least a five year plan ahead of me. Having a plan for my life and what I was going to do next made me feel prepared and in control. It made me feel like I knew what to expect.

We know, however, that life rarely ever goes the way that we had planned. When I first started college I had planned to be a pediatric nurse. I knew I would get my nursing degree and then maybe do some traveling and get my masters degree. Then when I discovered that I hated chemistry and really didn’t enjoy seeing blood and guts, my plans changed. I was forced to look at my life in a different way and it was scary to not know what I was going to do with my career or with my life. When I was finishing college I would have told you that I was going to join the Peace Corps for two years, then go to graduate school for two years, before magically finding my husband and having a family, while also working my dream job in international relations.

Well, that didn’t quite happen either. Some of it did and it didn’t happen in the order that I was expecting. I did join the Peace Corps, although only accomplished seven months before being sent home due to a pandemic. I did find the love of my life. That came a lot sooner than I was expecting. And the rest will come at it’s own speed, when it is ready for me. And when I am ready for it. I do want to go to graduate school eventually, although I don’t feel quite ready yet. I do want children and I do want to get married and I want to travel and see the world and work somewhere where I feel valued and where I feel like i’m doing good work. These things will fall into place exactly how they are supposed to.

My experiences have shaped me into the person who I am supposed to be and they continue to shape me every minute. I am still a planner. It still helps me to feel in control of the direction of my life. But I know am okay with the plan not always working out, because maybe there’s something better coming my way. I’m open to opportunity and i’m flexible to the path I have for myself. Whatever is coming, I embrace with open arms.

In the waiting.

Yesterday marked the first day of advent for us Christians. The day begins our period of expectant waiting and preperation for the day that celebrates the birth of Jesus. Advent in latin means coming. Through advent, we walk with Mary as she carries Jesus in her womb. Our anticipation is the anticipation that Mary felt in her pregnancy each day until he was born into our world.

One of my favorite Christian artists and writers, Scott Erickson, says this about advent: “God came into the world the same way we do…which is through human vulnerability. In fact because of the helpless nature of being a newborn, it’s as if the Divine Holy Mystery starts the conversation with humanity by stating ‘I’m going to need you to take care of me for a really long time.’ What does it say about a God that wants to start the conversation that way? What does it say about a relationship that’s willing to be that vulnerable?”

I love the way that he phrases that because he highlights the significance of Jesus coming here as a baby. A vulnerable little baby that has to be nursed and taken care of. Mary had to stay up nights feeding him, comforting him, and raising him. That’s our God. And advent teaches us so many things about the nature of our God, but one that strikes me deeply is the way that it teaches us to honor women’s bodies and their gift to carry and bring forth life. Mary had a great task- to bring forth Jesus through the raw, emotional, painful process of giving birth.

Advent’s time of waiting can be parallelled to our current time of waiting during this pandemic. We have all felt strained and desparate for this pandemic to end so that we can see our families, so that we can hang out with our friends, so that we can celebrate holidays and weddings and birthdays again, and so that we can get back to doing what we were doing before to accomplish our goals. I really want this pandemic to end because I’m in a long distance relationship and I want it to be easier for us to travel to see each other without worrying about getting the virus or spreading the virus. This season of waiting for me has been the waiting for the virus to be contained and the waiting to be able to see my boyfriend again. It’s been nearly ten months without him and it’s been really difficult. For all of us, it’s been a waiting game without a countdown, and that has made it the hardest of all.

Advent teaches us to savor the waiting. To taste it and wrestle with it and acknowledge it. Pastor Bryan Halferty at Anchor Church in Tacoma, Washington taught on the first day of advent yesterday and explained that there is value in the waiting. God wants us to pause and receive his teachings while we are in transition, waiting for the next thing. As humans, we tend to distract ourselves and consume our time with monetary things so that the waiting speeds up and the time goes quicker. I’m definitely guilty of this. If I only keep myself busy enough, keep my schedule full enough, then the time will go by faster and the waiting will be less painful, less noticeable.

I challenge you, in this period of waiting, to sit in it and to reflect. Whether you are waiting for the pandemic to end, waiting to see a loved one, waiting for your big wedding day, or waiting for the traffic light to turn green-let yourself focus on the present. Take a deep breath, it will be uncomfortable and you’ll want to pick up the first thing close to you to distract yourself. But there is growth within uncomfortability. And that growth is paramount to our flourishing as human beings and as children of God. Reflect on how you have handled the waiting. Reflect on how you’ve been treating yourself and treating those around you. Reflect on how you have felt-how you’ve really felt recently. Tune in to your emotions. Tune in to what your body is asking of you. Tune in to what your mind is asking of you. What do you need in this moment? What is God trying to bring to your attention?

Distractions aren’t always bad. Some distractions are okay and are necessary to get through specific moments in life with your mental health still in tact. There are definitely healthy and unhealthy distractions, and I’ve participated in both. Sometimes I feel like I want to binge a TV show to distract myself or eat junk food. Sometimes I feel like I want to go on a run to distract myself or read a book or write. Whatever it is, take it in and be aware of what it is contributing to your life. Do everything in small increments and don’t forget to make time to sit and be present. It’s easy for us to distract as we wait for whatever the future holds for us that we believe is going to be better than what we are currently facing. The hard part is to say, “you know what, the present is important too. And I’m going to participate fully in this moment.” That is the hard, life altering stuff right there.

So in this season, I encourage you to take a breath, soak in the moment, and let yourself just be full here, right now.

A lesson to slow down.

As I write this I am sitting in a coffee shop in my hometown of McMinnville, Oregon. This is not exactly where I thought I’d be if you had asked me at the beginning of this year. In January I was happily living and working in Guatemala. 22-year-old Camille was learning and growing and falling in love, both with a person and with the country.

Our whole world was about to experience a dramatic shift, one that I would argue none of us were the least bit prepared for. We all had plans, dreams, places to be, and things to do. We were hurried, leaping from one thing to the next. Some of us may say we were “successful” (or heading in that direction), working hard to accomplish goals for our future. But then we were abruptly thrown off the path. It was almost as if God was saying, “enough! We cannot continue like this. It’s time to stop.” And stop we did.

Whether we liked it or not, we halted, teetering and nearly losing our balance in the process. I, along with over 7,000 others, received an email telling us to pack our bags and be ready to get on a flight out of the country the next morning. Simultaneously, the whole world began to shut down. Some received cancelled flights. Others had to cancel their weddings. Some people could no longer attend school, or it switched to online. Seniors did not get to walk for their graduation. Families had to mourn the sudden death of a family member. Long distance couples, families, and friends were suddenly faced with an undetermined amount of time apart. All of a sudden we couldn’t visit our grandparents or family members who are immunocompromised.

And may I just reiterate that we have lost an unbelievable amount of lives from the beginning of the year until now due to COVID-19? Over 1.2 million as of today to be exact.

The collective mourning of our world united us, as so many other things seemed to be dividing us. And still are.

It is the day before the presidential election here in the U.S. There is tension and there is true fear within some of us. This outcome will directly impact the lives of many people in this world, not just Americans. And within the fear, and with everything that we have been through, I just wish that something good could come out of this year. I ache for there to be a sense of wholeness within our societies–a connection after a shared experience. Maybe that is wishful thinking, but I will hold onto that hope. Maybe it won’t be all of us, but perhaps some of us will be brought together throughout this experience. After witnessing a global pandemic, race-induced hatred and violence, widespread environmental disasters, and such surmounting loss, we need Jesus. And we need rest. And we also need to resist. And show resilience.

Our lives have been uprooted and now we are here. Wherever “here” is for you, I hope that you can be present and be a force of love and light. Be pure goodness in a moment of uncertainty. Stand firm when everyone feels like they are just regaining their balance after that first push.

And, yes, throughout all of this, I have decided to write. For me it is an act of self-love. An act of service to God. It is the process of being true to who I was created to be. And hopefully overtime it can also be a way to amplify the voices of those around me. A way to show stories and appreciate the beauty and strength that exists in those around us. That is my dream. As we get started, thank you for being here from the beginning. Bare with me as we figure this out together. This blog I forsee growing and shifting as I hear what God wants me to talk about. And as He points me towards those who need to be listened to. As I travel (COVID-19 permitting), I will showcase my photography of those places on my home page. I will also be sharing the thoughts of my fellow writer, my friend, my sister, and someone I look up to greatly, Carmen Carrillo. We will be discussing a wide range of topics, writing about what we feel is important, and working together as an act of worship. Writings will be posted sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes both.

23-year-old Camille feels stronger sitting here than she did 9 months ago, 8 months ago, or maybe even 2 months ago. I’ve been reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry written by Portland author and pastor John Mark Comer. It is a brilliant piece of art and I highly recommend it for everyone, but especially those of us living in fast-paced America–which seems unwilling to slow down even during a pandemic. One reason this pandemic has been difficult for me personally is that I often feel like my worth is tied to my accomplishments, my successes, what I am able to produce. I did well in school, I produced a bachelor’s degree, I travelled to Europe and to Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago and then to Guatemala. I joined the Peace Corps. Things were going right. And then I was told to leave–for my safety, of course. And what was I able to produce in the middle of a pandemic living back with my parents with no money and no job? Well, it was a little bit of a slap in the face and a wake up call, if I am going to be honest with you. I realized that I cannot base my worth on what I do. My worth is based in my identity as a daughter of God. My worth is based in my heart and my ability to speak truth and my ability to apologize and listen and just try my damn hardest. Nothing I do will ever make me less than what I was created to be. My worth is firm and unwavering. And so is yours, for a matter of fact. Back to the book i’m reading. The whole theme of it is to slow way down. Because we are more than what we do. And I think we all need to remember that right now.

Don’t take it from me, or even John Mark Comer. Take it from Jesus.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11v28-30.