My first wonder of the world.

Machu Picchu man. Holy moly. I could not believe that I was going to be seeing something in a few days that I had only every dreamed of seeing. There’s no feeling like knowing that you’re about to see something that is known as one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s honestly surreal. But getting to it was very real, and a tad terrifying.

I’m a broke college student, so of course I researched all of the possible ways to get to Machu Picchu that didn’t leave me with no money. A train ticket to Aguas Calientes, the town right next to it, was about $90. ONE WAY. And I’m not about that life.

So instead, I rode in a van on a terrifying winding road up a mountain. Which was $20 for both ways. As we barreled around corners, I held my breath and internally prepared for plummeting over the side of the cliff or head on into a bus. I honestly contemplated who’s hand I was going to grab when we went over, because I refused to fall off a cliff without holding someone’s hand dangit. I suppose you really do pay for quality, but I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. Even when we met a truck that was rounding the corner and had to back up on the side of the cliff because there wasn’t enough room for two cars. Adventure, am I right?

After undoubtedly the most terrifying car ride of my life, we arrived at the Hydroelectrica train tracks. I swung my backpack onto my back and prepared to walk three hours to Aguas Calientes with a lady from Spain who I had met the day before. Looking back, that hike was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I felt like I had been plopped right into the middle of Jurassic Park. I kept waiting for a dinosaur to just pop out and run in front of me. Or an Inca.

Either way, when I saw the tourists barreling past me on the train, and I pressed myself against the cliff wall and watched, I felt powerful and competent. I was going to walk to Machu Picchu the cheapest way, and I was doing it on my own two feet without a guide.

I decided to stay at the same hostel as my traveling companion, and we went to bed early, and prepared ourselves to wake up at 4 in the morning to catch the early bus to Machu Picchu.

We were one of the first people to arrive at Machu Picchu, but sadly, there was so much fog that it was mostly covered up. But there was something magical about the way the mountains and ruins were shrouded in mist, and I imagined the Incas waking up to the misty mountains each morning.

I had bought a ticket for Montana Machu Picchu, which is different that just the regular ticket for Machu Picchu, and I waited in line with five other people who were itching for the gates to open so we could some of the first people to reach the highest point at Machu Picchu.

Hardest. Hike. Ever. Okay, I would be taking back those words later when I was on my Colca Canyon hike. But still, it was two hours of nonstop stairs. But so incredibly worth it.

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That tallest mountain there? That’s the very top of Montana Machu Picchu. But I don’t think there’s a better view there.

I was the second person to make it to the top, and it was one of those moments that you know you’ll remember for the rest of you life. It was surreal to be standing up there practically by yourself, and seeing one of the wonders of the world with no one around you.

Agh. Freakin’ magical.

And then there was the hike down. And by the time I got down, the swarms of people had arrived, and it was a tad less magical, and a bit more like Disney World. Crowds of people, selfie sticks, tour groups. I wasn’t a fan. So I set off by myself and found a building that wasn’t interesting enough for tour groups, climbed to the second floor, and sat myself down and just soaked in the mountains and scenery around me.

By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted. Machu Picchu is not for the faint of heart, or the not somewhat in shape. I considered myself pretty in shape until the next day when my legs and feet were screaming at me.

However, my wallet didn’t care if I would have much rather taken a train ride back, and the next day I was setting off again to hike back to the Hydroelectrica, and take an 8 hour van ride back to Cusco. But hey, I survived. And was ready for an overnight bus ride to Arequipa the next night to see what awaited me there. First wonder of the world – check.

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Practical Stuff: 

Where I stayed:

Casa Machu Picchu Hostel                                                                                               Price: $8 a night for a 6 bed dorm

Pros: Free breakfast, wifi, beautiful view at breakfast of the river                                   Cons: You can’t leave the hostel unless the owner lets you out, and me and 5 other guests had to wait an hour for the owner to let us out.

Stuff to do:                                                                                                                               Eat. Rest. Get ready for a long day at Machu Picchu! Aguas Calientes is completely overtaken by tourists, and there’s not too much to do. But it’s usually just going to be a quick stop, but there is a big market. However, things are cheaper in Cusco.

Places to eat:                                                                                                                                 There are A TON of options. A lot of them are overpriced, but if you do some searching, you can barter for a lower price with the restaurant owners since there’s so much competition. If you want to find snacks, go to the local market, where you can get a whole bunch of fruit or bread for your day at Machu Picchu.

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Sacred Valley – Salt and Sheep

One of my favorite parts about traveling alone is meeting the coolest people. With the most amazing and crazy stories. Here’s an example conversation. With like every single person I ran into. Crazy cool backpacker: “So, how many countries have you been to?” Me: “Um. 4. One was a trip with my grandma and I stayed on a resort in Mexico. So. Not sure if that counts. You?” Insanely awesome backpacker again: “This is my 34th country. Just quit my job and I’ve been traveling the world for about 6 months now.” Me: “Oh.” Those conversations happened all the time. Every hostel I was at, walking tour through a city, a random park bench. I just met the most amazing, intriguing, and badass people. More on that in another post.

Anyways, my next leg of the journey began with a random conversation with a couple of solo travelers in front of me at a cultural dance. We struck up a conversation and I ended up going to dinner with one of them, Christian. After talking for awhile, we realized he would be going to the same school as one of my best friends – about an hour and a half away from my hometown. Small world, huh?

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I had no idea what my next few days were going to look like, and Christian told that he was going to the Sacred Valley, which I had been wanting to go to, but unsure of the best way. We made a plan to meet the next day, and the next thing I knew, I was in a van with him and another guy, and we were on our way to the little village of Chinchero, which according to legend, is the birthplace of the rainbow. We were some of the only tourists, and after the craziness of Cusco, it was a much needed breath of fresh air.

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We walked up the village and onto the terraces where we had a beautiful view of the mountains surrounding us. We decided to do some exploring, and we took a trail down to some sheep we saw at the bottom of the valley. For some reason, we felt that it was necessary that we tried to obtain a selfie with the sheep. I could almost feel the judgement radiating off of the sheep herder sitting nearby, but who needs dignity anyways?

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We explored for a little bit more, but after huffing and puffing we realized the altitude was even higher than Cusco (12,340 ft.), and we didn’t feel like dying that day, so we headed back to the village. We hopped in another van that was passing through town, and exchanged worried glances as the driver decided to pretend he was a NASCAR driver on the winding mountain roads. We survived though, and ended up in one of my favorite places in Peru. Ollantaytambo.

This cute little town transports you back into the times of the Incas with it’s small cobblestone roads and irrigation channels. Stepping outside of my hostel, all I had to do was look up into the mountains to be face to face with some impressive Inca ruins. After some much needed rest, I did some exploring by myself in the morning. I walked along the streets until there wasn’t another tourist in sight, and let myself soak in the beauty of a culture that’s so different than the one I grew up with.

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After I had satisfied my introvert side, Christian and I met up again to hike up to some ruins on the side of the mountain that wasn’t marked and not overwhelmed by the swarm of tourists that the other ruins had. We wondered out loud what type of Incans had labored over these stones, cutting them to precisely fit together like a puzzle only the Incas could figure out. I wanted to know exactly what they had been used for, so I could imagine the everyday happenings that had occurred thousands of years ago in the place while we were standing, while Christian enjoyed the mystery of simply not knowing.

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That night, we met another solo traveler from New Zealand. We invited him to go to Moray and Salinas (the salt pans) with us the next day. We hired a private taxi driver for the day who dropped us off at Salinas and Moray, and let us explore to our heart’s content. Moray is a site where the Incas had built agricultural terraces to test how different plants grew at different altitudes.

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Our taxi driver then drove us to Salinas, which were amazing salt flats. These flats were made before the Incas, and through a complicated system of channels, the salt water is directed into these flats, which are evaporated and “harvested” by the salt flat workers. It was beautiful, and the views around us were just as gorgeous as the flats.

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The next day, we were planning to do an eight hour hike, but woke up to pouring rain and an overall gloomy day. We gathered some solo travelers that we had met during our time in  our hostel, and we all crowded into a van to go to the local American brewery to let the Americans among our random group celebrate the 4th of July with some good old American brewed beer.

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That night after dinner, I met a woman from Spain who was heading to Machu Picchu the same day as me, and walking the train tracks as well. We agreed to meet in the morning to grab some snacks, and take the van with some people from Cusco the next day. I experienced my first difficult travel goodbyes with all of the amazing people I had met, and prepared myself for the long awaited journey to Machu Picchu.

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Practical Stuff: 

Where I stayed:
Hostal Chaska Wasi:
Price: $8 for a 12 bed dorm
Pros: Located right on the center plaza of town, great place to meet other travelers, owner is very knowledgeable.
Cons: never had a warm shower, owner can be a little unfriendly at times.

Stuff to do:
Tour Sacred Valley at your own pace! There are HUNDREDS of tour agencies that will try to get you to buy a tour package to see the Sacred Valley in a day. Every traveler that I talked to who did a tour, regretted it. Find a couple of people, and hire a taxi for the day so you can go at your own pace, and stay for a couple of days in the Sacred Valley. It’s definitely worth it.

Places to eat:
Ask for the local market in Ollantaytambo. It’s just down the street from the main plaza. Go to the third floor. There are a bunch of different stands where only locals really eat. We ate soup, a main dish (fish, rice, and beans) and a drink for $2. And none of us got sick!

Cusco – City of Baby Llamas and Tourists

Oh, how my heart is torn with Cusco.

The city is beautiful. Seriously gorgeous. Cobblestone streets are my weakness, and Cusco is full of them. The small streets, the hanging plants off the windowsills, the majestic towering cathedrals. Love it.

But goodness gracious – the tourists. I understand I’m a tourist, and I did some pretty touristy things. Like take a picture with a baby llama for example. Also, I promise that girl jumped in the picture. Because I hate taking pictures of kids if I don’t know them. But there went my morals with the baby llama.

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Anyways, I firmly stand by the fact that if a place has a lot of tourists – there’s a reason. I don’t want to avoid places with a lot of tourists, because frankly, I’d be missing a lot of amazing places.

The problem is when tourists take over the city. And sadly, that’s happened in Cusco. I couldn’t sit on a park bench without being approached by several vendors trying to sell me something every minute. Every time you walked through the streets, there was someone trying to get you into their restaurant or to buy their “original” painting that I saw at least twenty times a day. There were huge groups of high school or just regular tourist groups clogging up the streets, with their bags slung around them, just asking to be pick- pocketed. But the good thing about a lot of tourists – means that it’s pretty well patrolled and safe.

I hate it when I feel like a place is geared only toward foreigners. Hate it. I love the feeling of experiencing a culture that’s been untainted by the outside world. I live for conversations with locals who are curious about where you’re from, and don’t think of you as “just another American.”

Even though I swear there’s more tourists than Peruvians in Cusco, it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in Peru. From the random parades, to the Jack Sparrow look-a-likes who serenade you on a park bench, the city is still unique and has a lot of pretty amazing Incan ruins to visit and explore.

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Cusco will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first city that I truly experienced traveling by myself. I met amazing people, and I was forced to conquer my directionally-challenged problems and learn how to navigate the city with a map. GASP. A real live map! It was a harrowing experience, but somehow I survived. So! Moral of the story is maybe go to Cusco when it’s not in high season, because it’s a gorgeous city with some amazing Incan history.

Factual Stuff:

Where I stayed:

Mamma Simona:
Price: $10 for 8 person dorm
Pros: Most comfortable, warmest bed I’ve had in Cusco
Cons: The staff was aloof and not very friendly. Not very social hostel.

Pisko & Soul:
Price: $12 for a 6 person mixed dorm
Pros: Friendliest staff I’ve ever had in all of the hostels I’ve stayed at. They went above and beyond to help me when I was really overwhelmed, and they remembered my name when I came back a week later to pick something up.
Cons: My room had a hole in the wall where it caved in, but they were fixing it when I left.

Dragonfly Hostel:
Price: $10 for a 10 person mixed dorm
Pros: Had a very social vibe. There was a lounge upstairs with a TV that made it easy to meet people, and a restaurant and bar if you didn’t want to leave to search for somewhere.
Cons: The bathrooms were kind of far away from the 10 person dorm which was an unnecessarily cold walk after a shower.

Stuff to do:

Get the Boleto Turistico (tourist ticket). If you go to the tourist office they can point you where to get it. That gives you 8 places – ruins, museums, and a cultural dance you can visit.  If you’re a student, get an ISIC student card before (you can get that in Cusco too), and it gives you half off. Half off of Machu Picchu too.  Price: $20 with a student card

Places to Eat:

The Meeting Place: It’s run by all volunteers and all the profit goes to various projects around Cusco. It’s located in a cool area in San Blas, and you can get a killer waffle if you’re craving breakfast food.

Why I’m Traveling Solo

“By yourself? You’re traveling alone as a girl? In a developing country? Please don’t die.”

“That’s awesome, but I would never do it.”

“Won’t you get lonely?”

These are just a few of the responses I’ve received from people after telling them about my plans to travel solo in Peru this summer.

I wasn’t originally planning to travel by myself. I had quite a few friends that were pretty serious about accompanying me, but whether it was money, work, or fear, they all dropped out one by one. The expected, normal route for me to take, would be to not go. Wait for someone to go with me. Be aware of my limits, the dangers of the world, and not risk it.

But that’s not how I want to live my life. Hesitant and fearful – waiting for life to happen to me. I just don’t think that’s how we’re supposed to live. If I make my choices based on “what could happen”, and how others think I’m supposed to live, then I think I’ll find myself living the life I never wanted for myself in ten years.

Solo travel for me is about pushing the limits of yourself. I went on a tiny solo trip to the jungle town of Mindo this weekend, and I already feel as though boundaries others have set for me, and I’ve placed on myself, dissipated the second I stepped onto the bus by myself.

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I love making my own decisions. If I get lost, it’s on me. If the food at a restaurant I choose is gross – my bad. If an activity or a hostel I chose is a complete dud, only I have to suffer the consequences.

But I also get to experience the victories, and know those are mine too. The successes, no matter how small, remind me that I’m absolutely capable. As someone who usually takes the backseat and lets others take the lead – that’s exhilarating for me.

“All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don’t tiptoe.” – Shane Claiborne.

I don’t want to tiptoe through life. I want to feel every day as vividly as though I was a child experiencing everything for the first time. I don’t want to forget how miraculous this world is. Life only happens once, and I don’t want to fall into a routine of what I’m supposed to do, and miss out on my dream.

In a few months, I’ll be back in nursing school and back to the “mundane.” But I’m not going to let that happen, besides when I’m studying of course. Kansas City is beautiful, and has places that are just waiting to be explored. There’s easy day trips to other states, trails to be hiked, and new experiences to be sought. As soon as I become comfortable, stop challenging myself, testing limits,  I know I’m doing something wrong.

So, here’s to going on my first big solo trip in a week, and refusing to tiptoe through life. And here’s someone even crazier than I am.

“I want to make it to 85 and be exhausted because I’ve been alive and awake every single day.”

Making it in Mindo

This weekend was my first official baby solo trip to Mindo, Ecuador. I’d been to Mindo before, but with a big group of people.

It got off to a little bit of a rough start. I got a taxi, and when he dropped me off at the Carcelen bus terminal, he pressed the meter so that it was raised 50 cents. Now I understand, 50 cents isn’t a big deal, but I didn’t want to start the trip off feeling like I was taken advantage of because I was a gringa.

I reluctantly handed him the 50 cents after deciding I also didn’t want to start the trip off with getting in a fight with a taxi driver.

I strode into the terminal trying to radiate confidence that I in no way felt. Ticket vendors leaned out of their windows, shouting names and destinations at me as I walked past. None of the signs matched the destinations that I had carefully memorized stop in Mindo.

I finally swallowed my pride and asked a police officer which bus stops in Mindo, and bought my ticket for a bus that was on it’s way to Santo Domingo.

When we arrived, the bus abruptly stopped on the side of the road, and the bus driver shouted, “Mindo!” I hurriedly gathered my stuff, and jumped off onto the side of the road with about three other passengers. I looked around and tried to gather my bearings, until I saw a sign that said Mindo with some vans parked in front of it. Trying to portray confidence I didn’t feel, I strode purposefully over to the vans, and after agreeing on a price, hopped in, like I casually jump into stranger’s vans every day.

I had no idea where I was going when the van drove into the town, so I just asked him to drop me off in the middle of the town, and walked around until I recognized the hill that leads to La Casa de Cecilia.

After a few minutes at the hostel, I was approached by a guy who was also staying there. We started talking, and after awhile, I invited him to go to the Tarzan swing with me.

Now this swing… was not what I expected. I envisioned being pushed on like vines or something – who knows what I was thinking. It was $6, so I thought what the heck. But when we got there, I was led up to a platform that was basically on the edge of a huge valley. I was strapped into a harness, led to the edge, and told to bend my knees, and then off I went.

Goodness gracious, I screamed. It was basically just a free fall to my certain death. Until I didn’t actually die, and the cord caught me.

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IMG_8019After my near death experience, I decided to reward myself with some well-deserved chocolate at the chocolate museum right down from my hostel. It’s apparently one of the only places in the world where you can see the entire chocolate process, which I couldn’t say no to. The tour was pretty cool, although it was hard to focus when all I could imagine was the brownie that I would get to eat afterwards.IMG_2960

After indulging in some delicious chocolately goodness, I decided to shake up the night a little bit by going to a “frog concert.” Quinn (the guy I met), and two German girls we met all piled into a taxi to experience whatever we had gotten ourselves into. After a slightly sketchy hike down an unmarked trail, we found ourselves on a porch overlooking a lake. We settled ourselves on benches and waited for the frogs to serenade us.

To our disappointment, no frogs sang to us, but instead we enjoyed a nice night walk around the pond and through the forest to look at some frogs and some less enjoyable creatures that enjoy the night.

The next day Quinn and I hopped in the back of a truck with a woman from France, and headed deeper into the cloud forest to hike to a waterfall. After debating for about ten minutes which trail to take, we decided to take the one less traveled by and hike to the one huge waterfall instead of the five smaller ones.

Best. Choice. Ever. It was definitely the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever been to, and we had the trail and waterfall all to ourselves.

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I knew at that moment I was going to love traveling solo. There’s something surreal about sharing these once in a lifetime experiences with people you just met. You may never see them again, but they will always be the people that you remember when you look back on that moment.

So, I made it in Mindo. And those few days were the beginning of proving everyone wrong, and showing that I was completely capable of traveling by myself.

Do Something.

This morning I grabbed some instant coffee, an alpaca blanket, my journal, and headed out to the soccer field for some much needed time with God after some amazing yet emotionally draining weeks.

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I traveled around Ecuador for three weeks with a team of Point Loma, doing children’s ministry and light construction, and have been processing what happened during our travels.

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There is SO much joy in this country. A simple game of tag or kicking a soccer ball around can bring a smile to a child’s face that will inevitably bring one to yours. The people are loving and friendly, and realize that there is so much more to life than the latest iPhone or the last season of Grey’s Anatomy. They don’t need three cars, and the cutest clothes, and a big house with a flat screen TV. And I’ll let you in on a little secret – we don’t need that either. And when we become so weighed down with all this stuff – we’re the ones that are living in poverty. We’re trapped in a cycle as well – a completely different kind, but we’re still trapped.

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Yet there is so much pain here too. Pain that can completely twist your gut and make you gasp for breath if you let yourself truly feel it. These amazing, innocent, funny, intelligent, and insightful children may be experiencing more pain in their young lives than many of us will experience in a lifetime. I thought I was prepared to witness the utterly heartbreaking situations that I know my life’s work will bring me face to face with. But I don’t think there’s anything that can truly prepare you.

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I’ve read the books, the articles. I’ve seen the documentaries, and I’ve been exposed to poverty before. I could almost say that my mind was so filled with the logistics and a desire to step into these people’s lives and do everything in my power to help, that I’ve put a wall around my heart in the fear of being overtaken by helplessness.

I share this next part, not to carelessly display these children’s stories for shock value, but to help give them a voice that they are unable to share.

At our last stop in our three week journey, we were in an extremely poor part of town. The children usually came every other day to be fed, but due to some government red tape, they were unable to feed them for a month. Many of them don’t have homes, and just live on the river, exposed to the elements.

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One of the missionaries, in a brief conversation before playing with the children, told Emma and me that 75% of the children around us, are or have been molested. Usually by family members. I nodded my head and kept my face blank as my entire body grew numb and my stomach churned.

I looked at Emma later, and quietly said, “Hey, let’s go look at that soccer goal over there.” She immediately recognized the look on my face and saw through my sorry excuse for a getaway, and we walked away from everyone as I let the absolute wrongness of the situation overwhelm me and finally let the tears fall.

“We’re helpless. We can’t do anything. These children are stuck. And we’re leaving them.”

I have never in my life felt God speaking so clearly to me than in that moment. He wanted me to feel that pain. Not to store it away in the back of my mind to pray for later. Not to just rest in the knowledge that God loves them as much as me. And yet not to be so overwhelmed by the situation, that I threw my hands in the air and gave up.

I felt that pain as clearly as I’ve felt any of my own pain in my life. What those children are experiencing is wrong. God did not intend the world to be this way. God did not create these children to be brought up in a world that is full of uncertainty, shame, and abuse.

Leaving them was so inexplicably hard. I wrestled with short term missions, the power of prayer, and most of all the feeling of helplessness. In that moment, God reminded why I’m doing nursing school. Why I have such a passion for medical care in places where there’s limited access, and more recently, sexual abuse and human trafficking victims. I couldn’t do anything for those children in that moment besides love them and tell them how much God loves them. But I won’t forget them, and I won’t let their stories and their impact on my life mean nothing.

God did not bring us into the world to sit idly by and allow these atrocities to occur. We are the hands and feet of God. We are called to love them as we love ourselves. Guys. That’s life-changing. If we truly live by that, we’re called radicals and extremes. It’s so crazy hard. It takes work, and sacrifice, and so much prayer. Jesus did it. Maybe Mother Theresa got pretty close? Who knows. But I know that’s what we’re supposed to be doing here.

Jesus says it pretty darn well.

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He’s not talking about praying here. He doesn’t say – hey, you guys prayed for those people in the temple last week, so you’re good. Way to go. He says – Invite. Clothe. Feed. Look after.

These are active acts. Praying is powerful – but faith without works is dead. We can’t help everyone. Compassion fatigue is a real issue, and we need to be aware of our limits. But I truly truly believe that we’re all called to love God’s people like he told us to.

Whether it be the environment, sex trafficking, medical care, the elderly population, homelessness – we all need to play our part.

We don’t need to fly to South America to do this. But the pain in this world, the people who have no hope, those caught in a cycle of abuse or poverty – we can’t ignore that. We just can’t.

Find something. Find someone. And throw yourself into that situation. Live life with them, and let yourself truly feel. Their pain, the unfairness, the utter wrongness of the situation. And then let yourself feel the hope and the promise of Christ. He weeps with us, and he feels every person’s pain as keenly as it’s his own. Then let the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that was in Paul, the disciples, the saints and martyrs – move in you. And do something.

After two years of biting my tongue.

“To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians.” – Shane Clairbourne

“Mom, I don’t even want to call myself a Christian anymore.” I was sitting, ironically, in a church parking lot, with my arms wrapped around my knees and chest heaving as I let out my frustrations on the phone that had built up with this community of faith in the past two and a half years. I bawled and rested my head on the steering wheel as I let my pent up hurt and confusion roll off my tongue in a spew of anger that was punctuated by a rebellious curse word every now and then. “I’m tired of Christians being fake. I’m tired of judgment, and lies, and people preaching love and acceptance but not actually giving a crap (or maybe another word) about people that aren’t exactly like them! When are we going to realize that we’re acting more like the Pharisees when we separate ourselves from the ‘bad crowd’ than the disciples?!” My mom patiently listened in the way that only a mother can as I disassembled the entire way I thought about the church and finally faced my insurmountable disappointment in an institution that I had so readily put my trust in.

When I entered college three years ago, there was nothing I loved more than telling people, “Yes, I’m a Christian.” I endured scoffing and jokes from my agnostic and atheist friends, because I thought I knew what a Christian was, and I wore this label proudly. I never understood why being a Christian had such a bad connotation. Until now.

My parents couldn’t comprehend why I was so adamant about attending a Christian university. I remember engaging in fervent discussions about how I wanted to be surrounded by people who were living their lives for Christ, and passionately giving themselves and serving God. I imagined myself curled up in a beanbag chair late at night in a room full of people, drinking coffee, debating theology, and imagining all of the ways that God has called us to actively work and make a difference in this world. (That image may have come from the movie portrayal of college life – who knows). I reassured my parents that moving four hours away and not knowing anyone would be okay, because Christians are a family, and we accept and take care of each other. I knew that God had called me to be a missionary, and I wanted to talk with people who were as passionate as I am about seeing the gospel reach places that have never heard of God’s grace and love.

Well, I was in for a surprise. As someone who hasn’t grown up in a “super-Christian” home, I had no idea how to walk the walk or talk the talk. I couldn’t quote Scripture off the top of my head, and when people asked me what district I was from, I thought they meant school district. I quickly learned to put a mask on, and pretend that I had it all together. I refused to talk about my past, hid my shorts that weren’t the appropriate length at the bottom of my drawer, and never walked down the hallway in my sports bra to the bathroom in our all girls dormitory.

There were no late night discussions, partly due to the fact that we have curfew and boys weren’t allowed in our dorms at certain days and times. Instead of the independence that I wanted moving out of my parent’s house – I felt like I was in middle school again. Instead of feeling included, I had never felt more lonely as people quickly began to form into “cliques” largely based on a denomination which I had no clue even existed before I chose the school. No one invited me to church, so I started going to church by myself every Sunday, afraid to be the “loser girl” who invited herself.

I began to date someone who was deemed one of the “top Christian men” on campus, and found myself in an unhealthy relationship that I continuously justified because of the image he portrayed. I found myself ashamed of the clothes I wore, unable to talk to guys, and forced to stop hanging out with friends who were “bad influences” all because he told me to. And since he was so respected on campus, I obviously was a bad Christian if I disagreed, so I listened to him.

I heard whispers of an “underground” university, where everyone hides their drinking and/or partying because they were fearful of the judgment that would befall them if the “good Christians” knew what their real struggles were. I got to know leaders and well-respected people on campus who would never admit to having a drink with their friend because they knew their positions would be in jeopardy.

I have hopelessly witnessed friend after friend leave this community and even their faith because they were so tired of hiding who they really were. I’ve known people who have hidden their sexuality or struggles with pornography because of the fear of how this community would react. Time after time they were told, “You knew the rules when you came to this university. It’s your job to follow them.” While it’s true that we knew them – this isn’t a job. This isn’t like high school where we go for 8 hours and then come home at the end of the day. This university is our lives for four years. 24/7. People make mistakes. People change. People experience heartbreak, and tragedy, and doubts in their faith. And yet, I feel like there’s no room for that here. People learn to lie and hide who they are – because it’s impossible to uphold a perfect image for almost half a decade of their life unless they learn to pretend.

I read Crazy Love by Francis Chan my freshman year, and I remember stopping and laughing when I read this quote and writing in the side margin ‘sound familiar?’ when I realized how true it can be on this campus.

“Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.” – Francis Chan

If being compared to a giant pile of poop isn’t a rude wake up call to Christians, I don’t know what is.

I have seen beautiful things on this campus too. I have watched tough football players break down in chapel and accept Christ into their lives. I’ve been invited into people’s homes and been encouraged and prayed for. I’ve sat around a campfire on a hiking trip and listened to someone be vulnerable and voice their disbelief in God. I believe that God is at work on this campus, and I’ve seen inspiring examples of his love time and time again. I don’t regret coming to this university, because perhaps in a way that wasn’t even intentional, my faith has grown in ways that I never imagined. And I’ve met some pretty amazing people along the way.

I understand that the rules are sometimes necessary, and they have definitely kept me in line a time or two. The problem is when we gradually become more concerned about the rules than the people the rules were created for.

And the ironic thing is, I’m being judgmental too. I become a hypocrite when I judge people who I deem are critical and narrow-minded, because I’m doing the exact same thing that I so harshly accuse them of. However, without challenging each other, I don’t think that growth is possible.

I’m tired of people being told they’re going to hell or that they’re a disappointment if they go out and have a few drinks with their friends, or happen to like the same sex – all because of a few verses that are taken out and used as a weapon to slap people on the wrist when they step out of line. I could easily pick out a few verses from the Bible that forbid eating shell fish or women teaching in the church. Kind of how Christians in the 1800’s picked out verses that condone slavery.

The world already tells us that we’re broken. That we should be ashamed. That we’re not enough. I just have a feeling that the church is supposed to be saying something else.

All I’m suggesting is the Bible isn’t as black and white as we sometimes make it out to be. I believe that the Bible is God’s love letter to us, and that is unimaginably powerful and beautiful. But I also think that it’s more complex than a list of rules that says who’s in and who’s out.

Maybe it’s time for Christians to be okay with not being okay. And time to start being real. Real with their doubts. Honest about their struggles. Whether it be pride, pornography, or partying. We’re in this together ya’ll. Let’s start acting like it.