We’re back in America, we’ve moved to our own tiny place in Orem, and we’ve survived our first week of the new fall semester at BYU.
Portugal was amazing. Guys. Like, seriously amazing. It was everything my mission wasn’t in all the best way. More to come on that maybe later, but my phone is currently being shipped to me from the airbnb we stayed in in Lisbon…So hopefully that will be here soon.
With moving and starting a new semester, I’ve sent some goals to help me stay on track this semester, and as I thought about what my theme of the next 4 months would be, I decided to think about how I can take better care of other people by taking better of myself.
Whenever I make goals, the list never ends and neither does my stress and guilt. My main goals are go to every class, read a few books for fun, and make time for naps when I need them. Because the theme of this semester is to do my best and be ok with whatever my best is each day.
What will be tricky is not justifying not doing my best because I’m tired or bored. Or maybe turning something in last minute (because if you wait until last minute, it only takes a minute!) instead of giving good effort and thought into it. It’s also really easy for me to put off making plans with people because I’m so busy and so tired and have so much homework to do and so much Netflix to watch and so much sitting that really needs to be done.
My Best looks and feels different some days, but I known myself well enough that I generally know what my limit is. I think we all do, to some extent. Some days my Best looks like checking everything off my list and then having extra time for hanging out with friends and other days my Best looks like starting an assignment and then taking a nap before finishing. Both are good Bests.
This semester, I’m giving myself some space to have whichever Best I have. And I’m going to be patient with myself when my Best doesn’t look like what I tell myself it should be all the time forever. Basically, I’ll tell the perfectionist in my head to shut up.
If you want to work on this with me, let me know in the comments how you’re giving yourself room to be the best you can each day. And if you have any tips on being more patient with yourself, please share!
Our first day in Slovakia was the happiest day. Honestly, every day in Slovakia was a happy day.
We spent the day walking around Bratislava, the capitol city, in insane heat, and we couldn’t have been more excited to be alive.
The whole week of being able to see the country and meet the people that are so dear to Chris was absolutely incredible, and this special place now has my heart, too. The food, the culture, the language, the cities, the countryside, and the people are friendly and warm and enchanting.
It made me giddy to finally understand from my own experiences the tastes, streets, and people that I’ve heard so many stories about. Bryndza (sheep cheese, the cheese that was so good that the first time I had it I teared up from joy), kofola (a soda that missionaries who served in Slovakia go nuts over. It is very good; my favorite flavor was the sour cherry), namastés (the town square. Every city has at least one, some have many.), and hrads (the castles built on a hill of every city and town) all add to the feel of the country. It all feels like home.
In about a week, we ate bryndzovaé halušky almost every day, drank all the kofola we could, ate ice cream in every city we visited, and even tried a meat pudding thing that left our mouths all slimy. We rode trains through the Slovak rolling countryside, caught trams through the beautiful downtown Bratislava, and drove with a dear friend up the windiest road to see a fairytale castle. We stayed with good friends Chris made on his mission, hung out with missionaries (and Chris answered a million questions about Slovak and it was precious), and I met people Chris taught and loves. And we saw so. many. castles. *all the heart eyes*
Needless to say, this is definitely not the last time we’ll be visiting Slovakia.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from the week. Check out my Instagram story highlights for about a million more 🙂
These paintings are my favorites from an exhibit we saw in the Slovak National Gallery called “Filla Fulla.” The exhibit showed art of a Czech and a Slovak artist, Filla and Fulla, respectively, whose art was somewhat revolutionary during their time. The paintings here are all Fulla’s.
Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I’m in love! I’m in love! And I don’t care who knows it!! What gets me is the bright white stone and the shining gold helmet domes (Thanks, Wikipedia, for teaching me about the variety of what I’ve been calling “onion domes.” Hurray for the internet!) against the gorgeous blue sky.
We finally paid the $10 to climb a ton of stairs to see the view of Moscow from as high up as they let us on this Beautiful Cathedral of My Heart.
These pictures are all on Instagram already, but because I love them so much, they get to live on the blog, too.
Guys. It feels like we went on a vacation within a vacation. Here in Moscow, we’re technically both working and taking classes, but it still feels very much like a vacation, especially compared to the busy grind of a normal semester. So when we were presented with a 5-day trip to a beach town, we jumped on the invitation.
We bought the plane tickets, booked an airbnb, and started researching what to do as a group. We got up early on Thursday to fly to Sochi, and then enjoyed a long weekend that felt like one looong day of hiking, rafting, swimming in the Black Sea, watching movies, cracking jokes, squishing into a rental car, getting pulled over by Russian police TWICE*, taking a million pictures, lathering ourselves in gallons of sunscreen, and laughing really hard.
These pictures are all on Instagram, but they also get to be here.
* Sochi is really close to Russia’s border with Georgia, so there are police along different sections of the road conducting random searches of cars. We were a little concerned the first time we were pulled over, and the policeman looked in the back seat, where four of us were shoved together, and said “That’s…a safety violation.” However, Chris was driving and was polite and had excellent Russian and, frankly, is white, and he let us go without a single issue. The next day, we didn’t know if we’d be as lucky, but basically the same thing happened again. Chris was polite, and the policeman let us go with no problems. Needless to say, there was extensive nervous laughter after we had pulled away from the second stop when Chris yelled “TWO FOR TWOOOO!”
— “Heaven” — Tatiana Manaois — cute “hipster love song” as Chris calls it
— “Your Shirt” — Chelsea Cutler — another cute HLS
— “Trevo (Tu)” — ANAVITÓRIA + Diogo Piçarra — the loveliest song in Portuguese
ON MY BOOKSHELF: recent reads
— “The Butterfly Garden” — Dot Hutchison — creepy but cool
— “The Handmaid’s Tale” — Margaret Atwood — the Hulu series gives more detail than the book, and since I can’t access the second season while we’re in Russia, it was nice to read to remember what had happened in the show (the book ends exactly where the first season ends).
— “Goodbye, Things” — Fumio Sasaki — pretty quick read, lots of interesting things to think about concerning minimalism
ON MY PERSON:
I’m a fan of unique souvenirs, and the only souvenirs we’ve bought so far are articles of clothing.
— This sweet shirt that says “Russia” in Russian
— Naturally, I came to Russia to buy a Portugal World Cup hat
ON MY MIND: thoughts I’ve been mulling over
— how to be comfortable with uncertainty
— how to make social media a more uplifting place for me to be + to share
ON MY TO-DO LIST:
— buy hot Cheetos + diet coke the second we get back to America
ON MY CALENDAR: what’s up next
— see as many beautiful buildings + museums as possible
— solidify our plans after the internships aka where in Europe are we visiting
Our trip to St. Petersburg was an absolute adventure. We took an overnight train Thursday night, and when we arrived around six in the morning, we set off to explore (after a quick pit-stop in McDonald’s, where we ran into most of our group who were also in St. Petersburg that weekend). It was cloudy and eventually started raining, so we sought shelter in St. Isaac’s Cathedral in time to catch the last half of a morning Orthodox service. The cathedral was absolutely enchanting. I cried, from the exhaustion as much as the beauty, as I looked at the high, gold ceilings and listened to the singing from the service travel to and around those ceilings.
We made our way over to the Hermitage, and, after waiting in lines for at least an hour, we made it inside. We will definitely have to come back to St. Petersburg and schedule just a whole day to this museum, one of the largest art museums in Europe, because we hardly made a dent in the hours we were there.
After a nice lunch, we checked in to our hotel and rested a bit before meeting our friends back in the center of the city for dinner at an underground restaurant called “Rasputin.”
We slept hard Friday night and were up somewhat early to visit the palace and gardens of Catherine the Great. The palace was…a European palace; it was overwhelmingly ornate and full of tourist. The gardens, however, were where the magic was. As we wandered through the paths around the pond, I couldn’t help but feel the deep gratitude from knowing that Someone is taking care of you.
Lunch, bus back to the center of the city, several more hours of wandering around, dinner, more wandering, trek to our train station, sleeping on a train, and like that we’re back in Moscow.
I’m writing this in a small amphitheater that looks across a park over to Red Square. I have a panoramic view of at least three smaller churches right next to the park—St. George’s Church, Znamensky Monastery, and Barbara Church—, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin and the churches and the churches within the walls around the Kremlin, Cathedral of Christ Our Savior, and another gold-domed church I can’t name because there are so many popping up on the map in that direction, that I can’t be sure without actually going there (which I really might later).
Chris’ internship just down a (gorgeous) street from Red Square, so I tagged along for the metro ride and split off to do my own exploring. I also needed a place where I could write without distractions, which I considered to be the internet; I did not consider the now very obvious fact that I’m distracted by these magnificent buildings all around me.
We still haven’t bought Russian SIM cards, so while Chris’ carrier has free international data, I do not. If I think about it too much, especially on one street I walked earlier with somewhat of a police presence, this was maybe stupid of me to go off exploring with no way of contacting someone in case of an emergency and without speaking Russian. Buuuuut Adventure Jess was ready to shine and she’s more of a take-charge lady than Stay At Home Jess, so here we are. In a park. In central Moscow. IN. RUSSIA.
At the beginning of the year, I made a looooong list of goals, and I resolved to re-evaluate every month. And I did well January through March. Then school was crazy and we were getting ready to move and I was really just working on the bare minimum to not (completely) lost my mind. Well, I mostly survived, but I’ve been a little stagnant in the personal growth area of my life; so I’ve chosen a word to be the sort of theme of June through August aka the time we’ll be here.
People keep telling us we’re brave for coming here without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. Our first day in Russia and after a quick tour of the campus, we sat on the two twin beds we pushed together in our room and cried and asked ourselves “What have we go ourselves into??”
What we’ve got ourselves into is QUITE THE ADVENTURE, let me tell you!
We’re poor and not making any money while we’re here, we have weird schedules and don’t get to spend all together like we had hoped, but we’re otherwise living the dream! Chris’s internship has him working on translations, which he loves, and mines has me blogging and taking touristy pictures, which I love. And with the rest of the time we have, we get to be together and explore and hang out with the incredible BYU students here with us and just enjoy the moment.
I felt the bravest on my mission; I still feel like I’m braver when I speak Portuguese. In trying to figure out why that is, I realized a couple things about myself.
If I don’t have a genuinely good purpose, I won’t really get anything that I actually care about done. In essence, I have to know and believe my why. If my heart isn’t in whatever I’m doing, I can’t make any difference in anyone’s life, including my own.
I was the bravest in Portugal because every fiber of my heart and every part of my soul knew and believed in the purpose of the work I was doing. Helping the people in Portugal, the people I loved so dearly, come to know and become like Christ was hard work, but I loved it and threw myself into it because to me it was meaningful work.
Another thing I realized about why I was able to be brave in a foreign country speaking to people about religion in a foreign language (all hard things!) is that my purpose as a missionary was deeply meaningful to me because it didn’t have anything to do with me; the whole point was to focus on helping others. I haven’t been a missionary in Portugal for almost two and a half years now, and I’ve struggled to find a purpose that stirs my soul as much as being a missionary did.
Being a student or an employee or friend or parent or, in my case, an intern in Russia, can be meaningful work, too. But you have to find the why. Know your why. Believe it. Relish in it.
Hard things are more bearable when you get out of your own head and step away from dwelling on your own difficulties and look around to help those who might also be struggling. As cheesy as it is, it’s true that their struggles likely aren’t that different from your own, and the best way to get through your struggles is to go with a friend.
I have too many thoughts and ideas about bravery to include in just one post, but lucky for you, I’ll be focusing on it for three whole months! So more to come with that.
For today, I’m being brave by confidently exploring Moscow all by myself as well as sitting in and being content with the uncertainty of the moment.
What will you do today to be brave? And what does bravery look and feel like to you?