He said he knew the secret of being content

“I want to go home.”

The tears weren’t streaming down my face yet, but I could feel them coming; waiting at my lids like backed up traffic. Maybe he couldn’t see them through the computer screen. My voice wasn’t quavering I don’t think, but it was full of desperation, as if he could do something about it, as if I could do something about it. But there was only silence at the other end.

I would finish my last course at the University of Jyväskylä in one week’s time. I would be finished. There was nothing left for me here. There was only my longings for home and my wish to be with my fiance. There was only the lingering of winter and the cold freezing rain that kept falling. It felt like anxiety was the only thing controlling me. Why did I feel this way? But I had almost gotten over that part of my frustration. The only thing left was the strongest desire to leave this place.

It’s not something people write about often whenever they go abroad. They don’t write about homesickness. Or maybe they do, and I just happened to miss it. They don’t write about the overwhelming feeling of hatred for where you are and the situation you seem to be stuck in. Your plane ticket back was booked months before. You’re to the point where you’re looking up how much one way flights are back. And then you bury your head in despair yet again when you read the price tag.

I remember reading in Philippians 4 that Paul knew the secret of being content in any situation. I can’t count how many times in my life where I have felt discontent. Sometimes I would think of this verse. I used to get really upset with Paul. Well, that’s easy for you to say, Paul. You’re freakin PAUL. You’re the badass apostle Paul. You’re like one of the godliest people ever. Why would things not be easy for you? I used to get really upset with a lot of people who would say that you should learn to be content in every situation.

“I don’t want to be here.”

Yeah, Paul was freakin awesome. But he sure didn’t have it easy. It took me a while in life to realize that those people that are talked about in the Bible didn’t have it easy. They weren’t extraterrestrial angelic creatures with extra superpowers just because they happened to be in the Bible. They were human just like me. They made mistakes like crazy, but God used them for amazing things. I remember how much I freaked out when this realization hit me.

“YOU MEAN, GOD CAN USE ME TOO??”

I don’t remember at what point in life this realization hit me, but every once in a while, I get hit again. Because even I can forget these things sometimes. Realizations like: I could be almost as badass as Paul. I mean, Paul was the ultimate guy. He was on a completely different path than what God wanted. He was actually persecuting God’s people. But after God blinded him and woke him out of his stupor, he was radically on fire for God. He was the one being persecuted after that. But even though Paul was arrested and whipped and beaten and thrown in jail, what did he do? He sang praises to God in a jail cell.

I’m in Finland. I’m not in a jail cell.

Even though it felt pretty crappy and lonely at that point in time, there was a huge difference between my situation and Paul’s. But even when you’re in a pretty cool country, you can still feel homesick and alone. It helps to have friends and fellow Christians who can pray with you and encourage you. Paul had a pretty awesome buddy named Silas who was with him in the jail cell. They sang praises to God together, even when the other prisoners probably thought they were crazy. Since coming to Finland I have been blessed with meeting some awesome friends and being introduced to an awesome Church and small group which has helped me immensely throughout the past few months.

After my week of being in the depths of despair, I went to my friend and small group leader’s house. We spent some time together, talked, prayed, and somehow I felt so much more refreshed. Maybe everything wasn’t perfect, but the secret to being content wasn’t having everything around you be perfect. The secret to being content is Jesus.

I rode home on my bike through the rain. The soft cool drops hit my face and I saw it clean everything around me. The snow and ice was almost gone. The rain was washing it away and bringing something new and bright into the horizon. The old was being washed away and the new was coming. Winter would soon be gone and the Spring was on its way. And I began to sing as I cycled in the rain. Everything might not be perfect, but learning to be content in imperfect situations is a part of life, no matter where you are.

Wherever you are today, whether you are in your hometown, or off on a grand adventure in places you’ve never been before, try to see the good in the bad. Try to see the perfections in the imperfections. Try to sing in the jail cells. Try to sing in the rain.

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Basements, Snow Storms, Expensive Pigeons, & Grand Cathedrals

Early in my semester abroad I heard about an opportunity to go on a trip to Kiev, Ukraine with a group of journalism students from the Communication department. I immediately jumped on it because of how inexpensive it was and of how unique the trip was. When students study abroad, I don’t think this country is on the top of their list to travel to, but I signed up immediately.

The trip was definitely an adventure. Of course, the day before we leave, Ukraine declared a state of emergency because of a giant snow storm that hit that day. Maybe you remember seeing that in the news. Yeah, I was there the next day. It was really a miracle our flight wasn’t canceled. We left late enough on Sunday that it ended up being okay. We went through Riga, Latvia first then landed in Kiev pretty late in the evening. Everything was still in chaos however. No certified taxis or buses were available, only what they called ‘black cabs’. We ended up having to take a not so good deal with 2 different sketchy vehicles with no seat belts. “Don’t worry,” said the man who drove our car. “I good driver.”

Compared to Finland, we really weren’t all that impressed with the snow, but we had to realize that this all hit the city in one day, not over a period of weeks or months. Kiev was not prepared to deal with this sort of weather and they definitely didn’t have the kind of equipment or plan that Finland has.

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It was quite an adventure trying to get to our hostel from the airport. The other car had some real problems and got stuck in the snow and had to get out and push. The hostel was a very unique place and so was the owner (a Brazilian girl with dreadlocks who wore mickey mouse shirts). We settled in, but we hadn’t had dinner yet and we were starving even though it was almost 10pm. The hostel owner suggested a restaurant close by. The directions she gave us were priceless….down this street, take a right, behind the ATM, down some stairs….sounds promising. Yes, the restaurant was in a basement. Despite the questionable location and the staff dressed as nurses and doctors, the food was quite delicious.

The next day we had free to ourselves and we ended up breaking off into groups and doing our own thing. The group I was in decided to just walk around and explore the city.

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The city of Kiev is full of historical buildings, as well as modern sky scrapers. You could definitely tell there was Russian influence in many of the structures, but many had their own uniqueness that could not be categorized. The city was very different from any place in Finland for sure.

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One huge difference between Kiev, Ukraine and anywhere in Finland was that it was very difficult to communicate in English with people there. In Finland, you can hardly find anyone who doesn’t speak English, but here it was difficult to find people who did speak English. Many people were very surprised that we came to Ukraine for our trip. They didn’t know what was so special about their country. Despite this, the locals were very excited that we were there to visit their country, but they were disappointed that we came at that time when the snow storm had hit.

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The currency of Ukraine is the Hryvnia (гривня). 1 hryvnia is approximately 0.12 cents USD. 1 hryvnia is approximately 9/10 of a Euro cent. This was very strange to walk around with hundreds of hryvnia in your wallet and not feel like you are carrying hundreds of dollars. The coins barely had any value at all but they still used even 5 cent coins. It made it all really strange when a few of us would go out to eat and end up paying 500 hryvnia. Kiev was actually really inexpensive, especially for the capital city.

On our first full day when we were out exploring the city, we came out onto Independence Square where two men came up to us who were holding some pigeons. One man came up to me and asked if I would like to hold the pigeon. Sure, why not. They began handing pigeons to several of us and even putting one on one girl’s head. They made a huge deal out of it and said: “Go ahead! Take photos!” So we did, naturally. But by the time we gave the pigeons back they were demanding money from us. “You must pay. 50 hryvnia per person.” One girl in our group was appalled and refused. They said they had to feed their birds. I offered them 20 (about 2 euros), but he wouldn’t take it, demanding more. We ended up just walking away from them and they were absolutely furious, but there was nothing they could do, and we avoided eye contact with men with pigeons from thereafter…

During our visit we also got to visit the Kiev Post to talk with the editor-in-chief there. It is one of the few newspapers in Kiev that is printed in English. The EIC is actually from the states. He came to live in Ukraine just after the collapse of the Soviet Union and he told us what it was like working in journalism at that time and all the way up to the present. There was a time that he was fired from his job for printing certain articles that the owner of the newspaper didn’t want to be printed, but after his staff went on strike, he was re-hired once again.

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We saw many cathedrals and churches that were absolutely gorgeous. My favorite was Saint Sophia’s Cathedral. One of the buildings on was absolutely breathtaking inside. I’ve never been so amazed by architecture in my life. We also climbed up all the stairs into the bell tower to see the view from the top. The stairs were icy and full of snow and it was kind of nerve wracking going up and down them.

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We also visited a gigantic monastery in Kiev called the Kiev Pechersk Lavra. It was a very big place, but many parts were not open to visitors because of the snow. In fact, the Ukrainian military was there shoveling snow.

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By the time we left at the end of the week, the city finally began to come to life and we realized how many people actually lived in Kiev (almost 3 million). More people were out driving and way more people were out honking and screaming at each other. It was very interesting to compare and contrast both Ukraine and Finland. It made me realize how safe I feel in Finland, whereas once we landed in Kiev, I felt on edge. Ukraine was very unique in its architecture and style along with the deep subway tunnels and underground shops and restaurants. It will definitely be a trip I never forget.

Helsinki, Secret Tunnels, Frozen Lakes &…a Ring?

The one thing that I was not looking forward to when spending a semester abroad is more long distance. Last fall was actually the first semester that Caleb and I lived in the same city since the summer when we first started dating. But this wasn’t just a 2 hour drive away, this was half the United States and an ocean away. This was 5,000 miles and 8 hours ahead long distance. It’s something that made this adventure a little bit scarier and a little bit more uncomfortable. That is one of the reasons I decided to study abroad though. I wanted to try new things. I wanted to have a brand new experience that was uncomfortable and scary and unknown. Nothing was going to stop me.

Caleb had told me before I left that he was going to come and visit me. I had laughed. “No, you aren’t,” I said. Why would he come all the way to Finland just to visit me? Why would he spend THAT much money? Besides, it wasn’t practical to do that. Plus, who visited their significant other when they were studying abroad? It was supposed to be a new experience for them to have on their own.

Turns out a lot of girlfriends and boyfriends visit each other when studying abroad. Like, a lot. Practically everyone I met here who had a significant other back home, had a visit from them at some point in the semester. Granted, all of these people lived in Europe. It’s not like it was really that far or that expensive to go there. Some people’s families even came and visited them…

I remember Skyping with my mom soon after I found out that Caleb had bought his plane ticket. I was telling her about friends I knew who had friends, boyfriends, or family members coming to visit them. I thought it was so weird. “I still find it really weird that Caleb is coming to visit me…I mean, I’m so happy and excited that he is coming, but it’s still weird. Why would he visit when I’m studying abroad? That just sounds weird.”

We met in Helsinki minutes after I ran off the train and I buried myself into his arms. Sometimes you just miss hugs. The whole capital city of Finland was waiting for us, but I just wanted to be there. Even so, we left to find the hostel. We soon found out that in Helsinki, if you stand on a corner staring at a map long enough, soon a local will ask you where you are going or what you are looking for. You’ll tell them, then they will point you in the right direction. They will ask even if they are older and don’t know much English. They can point, and they will do just that.

Buildings in Helsinki

Buildings in Helsinki

After dropping off our bags at the hostel, we went up the observation tower that is located right next to the Olympic Stadium. The man at the counter failed to tell us that there was a Czech film crew at the top filming some sort of movie. We had to awkwardly move around them and try to stay out of their scenes. I secretly wanted to jump in each one and yell and point saying that I saw superman (I resisted the urge). The view was nice and we got to see Helsinki from above, before we saw it below.

View from the top of the tower

View from the top of the tower

The Czech film crew

The Czech film crew

We spent the rest of the day trying to find food that was in our price range and walking around the city. Caleb was dead tired. He had landed that morning at 8am in Helsinki and hadn’t slept much during the travels. I’m sure exploring the city was the last thing he wanted to do! I was proud of our progress though even if we went back to the hostel a little early.

The next day we started off with a tram ride around the city. I’d never been on a tram before and we could not figure out where we were supposed to pay for our ride. The view around the city was nice and it was lovely not to walk for once. We got off near the harbor by a very large cathedral. We explored the cathedral, walking up it’s many steps, trying to avoid slipping to our doom.

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Then we found another cathedral that looked very Russian. The outside was much cooler than the inside however.

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We walked across the bridge of love and Caleb was very upset that he left his lock in the hostel otherwise we could have made our own mark on Helsinki.

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We then headed to the harbor and took the ferry over to Suomenlinna Island, which was my favorite part of our Helsinki trip. Suomenlinna is a small island just off the cost of Helsinki which about 800 people live on. It has the remains of the Suomenlinna fortress which has many tunnels in it. We explored the island and the tunnels, which was very fun.

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Exploring was fun and we got a great view of the Baltic Sea from one end of the island. Even though it was pretty windy and cold, it was the best part of the trip.

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We took the train back to Jyväskylä that evening. While on the train I kept seeing posts on Facebook about people in Jyväskylä seeing the Northern Lights. This hardly ever happens that far south in Finland and I felt like I was dying inside knowing we were missing it when we were on a train. By the time we arrived it was around 11pm when we started walking back to my apartment from the train station, dragging Caleb’s luggage behind us. While walking, I saw a flash of green to my left and turned to see some very active Northern Lights, whipping across the sky! We stood there watching for a while in awe, before becoming too cold so we kept walking. Every once in a while we stopped to see if we could still see them. We finally arrived home and spent the rest of the night trying to keep warm before we fell asleep.

The next day, I showed Caleb the city center area, we did some shopping (Caleb bought me a hat), and we ate dinner at a wonderful Pizzeria (only Caleb would find the best pizza in the city). We got a huge pizza to share for only 6 euros. That came with a salad buffet and free tea and coffee. We then rode our bikes back to my apartment (Caleb borrowed a friend’s bike).

I had been writing Caleb letters since I first arrived and decided that this would be a good time to give them to him since we were together. After reading them I think he was feeling a little mushy because that was when he suggested we go back out onto the frozen lake that we were on the night before and star gaze. I agree and we rode our bikes down to the lake and walked out onto it.

The clouds had begun to creep across the sky so we didn’t see very many stars, but the city is very beautiful at night and we look at the skyline and the lit up bridges and buildings reflecting off the snow and ice. We make our way out towards the path in the frozen lake that was smoothed over for ice skating. There are benches and we choose one to sit on while we enjoy the view. We start to talk about our past and memories we’ve had together. Caleb was being so sweet with his recollections, showing me his perspective on everything that happened. I remember thinking that if he were to propose to me, it would be a perfect moment. Of course, I had no idea what was actually going to happen that night and I quickly put the thought out of my head and continued with our conversation.

There was a lull in the conversation somewhere around that point and I announced that I was getting cold and perhaps we should start heading back to my apartment. Caleb suggested that we stay a few more minutes and I didn’t object. At this point we were standing up in front of the bench and Caleb was holding me in front of him, staring in to my eyes, and telling me how much he loves me. He unzipped his jacket, confusing me, and then took out a small box. I was just realizing what was happening as he knelt down on one knee. I think the tears from my eyes already started fall when a rush of excitement and joy went through me. He asked me to be his best friend forever and I shouted yes before he could say any more. There was hugging, more crying, and probably squealing between then and when he put the ring on my finger, and more afterwards. It was dark and I could hardly see the ring, but I didn’t really care.

The rest of the night, and the rest of the week really, was full of smiles and hugs and love and it will always be a night and week I cherish in my heart. I get to marry my best friend.

we are engaged!