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In my life thus far, as limited as my experiences have been, I’ve learned a few things about faith and fortitude. Probably the most defining experience of my life to date has been moving to Bogotá, Colombia to teach English at a university there. Now, the question that was immediately asked before I left was, “What program are you going to use?”, or, “What company will you work for over there?” or something like that. Honestly, there was no answer. I didn’t have a program or a company or a university bringing me there. I felt that this was something I was called to do, and I believed that this was an integral part of my path in life so I went out, and I did it. If this sounds too simple…it is. The path to where I am right now, as I write this I am in my apartment in the Chapinero Alto neighborhood of Bogotá, was full of setbacks, disappointments, and fearful nights, to be frank. But, that winding road taught me many valuable lessons about faith and fortitude that, I am certain, would have taken me far longer to learn if not for this particular path.
During my collegiate years, I thought I had a fool-proof plan to achieve one of the major dreams of my life, and I was going to do it immediately after graduation. Everything was going to work out, or so it seemed, and all I had to do was execute the plan. Fortunately, I utterly failed on the first try, and that failure is the entire reason I am where I am right now.
One of those dreams I had planned to achieve after I graduated from college was to live in another country and acquire another language. As my friends and family know, the country and language I chose was Brazil and Portuguese. This was for a variety of reasons, but, mostly, it was because I wanted to live in a growing, exciting region of the world and learn a language that would serve me well in the future. Toward that end and well before graduation, I bought a Portuguese language course to prepare myself, took an English teaching certification course, and got in touch with a long-time friend in Sao Paolo to help me with a job there and the transition. I researched apartments in that city and the culture of Brazil to inform myself of how things would be when I arrived. I had lists of questions that needed to be, and were, answered, and my mind was completely focused on living and working in Brazil. But, as the appointed time for departure, immediately after I graduated, approached, I began to realize what a gigantic undertaking it was to move my entire life from one continent to another without the support of a company, school, or program, and complications inevitably arose. My friend in Brazil seemed to grow more distant, and, to make a long story short, my Brazil plans completely fell apart.
All of this happened before I graduated from college, which ruined my post-graduation plans, and was all the more painful because I told everyone I knew that I was going to Brazil to teach English after graduation. I even stood up and told people that I was going to Brazil even when I knew I wasn’t to spare myself the pain of admitting, both to myself and my community, that my plan was not going to work and that I had no idea of what I was going to do about my future. Of course, I eventually had to tell people that these plans were not going to work out, and I had to scramble to find something else to say to them so I would not seem to be drifting aimlessly. Our culture places a very high premium on our ‘plans’, our ‘futures’, and our ‘goals’ that we are marching toward. To have no plan or to not have something set up so that your next year is better than this one is almost a crime. This is especially true given that we have so many things-goods, services, and information-at our fingertips to aid us in whatever thing it is we want to accomplish. To not have what you want is very nearly a sin of laziness or lack of discipline given all that we have in our society. In addition, my personality is a planning personality. I cannot not have a plan and be marching, no sprinting, toward it. Thus after all of this planning and preparation and my goals seemingly within my grasp, I had to watch it all fall apart and be left with no plan at precisely the time when I was supposed to be executing a plan previously created to move out on my own all while enduring the humiliation of seeing such certainty, such ‘rock-solid’ steps evaporate both in private and public.
To be perfectly honest, I was shocked and scared, and I seriously questioned my entire life plan, because everything after Brazil hinged on going to Brazil, and my faith was severely tested. Where was I supposed to go? What was I supposed to do? Have the last year and a half been for nothing? What can I say to everyone else about my plans? How can I face others at this time when I am supposed to be out on my own, but I can’t possibly do that since my plans fell apart?
I was lost.
I had to begin, again, at square one and work forward from there. But, truly, this was the point when I developed my faith and strengthened my fortitude. It was in this moment, or rather this year, that I learned how to step back and rest in my faith so I could more clearly develop my future and trust that that future will be alright. I needed to fail at this so I could more easily, and with more certainty, rely on my faith to see me through no matter the obstacles. To allow myself the breathing room to see the whole picture of my life and the opportunities that await and, most importantly, to live in this moment, good or bad, and savor all that is life.
I ended up moving back to my parents’ house after graduation and taking a job with the Federal Government while doing some volunteer work in the evenings during the week teaching ESL at a local technical college. Once I moved back, I had a hard time adjusting. The heavy, sinking feeling of dreams seemingly denied hurt on a daily basis while going to a job I didn’t like at all on top of dealing with the stigma of living with your parents after college that only added insult to injury made my life difficult in those days. Seeing my friends moving on and taking full-time jobs in different companies making far more money than I was while seeming to be ‘more successful’ than me only added to the difficulty. But, I learned to wait and trust in my belief that the future will be better. I learned to be happy in the present moment and accept that life is different for everyone. I acquired the ability to see my future plans and work to realize them but not rush toward them leaving the present as an afterthought or blip on my radar. I deepened many connections with my friends and family and had some fantastic memories of that year after college, all while marching, slowly and steadily, toward my dreams. All of those things, unbeknownst to me at the time, strengthened my fortitude and my faith in my life and my future.
After some research about other opportunities abroad, I settled on going to Bogotá, Colombia to teach English there. So, I dedicated myself to preparing for the leap abroad. But, the crucial difference this time is that I had developed more as a person, deepened my faith in God and myself, and strengthened my resolve so that when I landed I could seriously build a life from the ground up in another country. Then, I took the leap. I bought a one-way ticket to Bogotá and went in July of this year, and the rest is history. All in all, everything that I wanted to have happen did. I’ve been living here for about five months, so far, and I cannot say that my life could be better or that I could be happier.
It took some serious faith and fortitude to endure the disappointments, setbacks, and fearful nights before finally ending up here. I think there are many lessons that I have learned in this process, but the most important are two.
First, faith is not a virtue. It is a way of life. I had to learn how to rest, be patient, and develop my trust in God so my faith could grow. Then, once my faith grew, I could move into my plans as sure as I could possibly be that I would be successful because I was relying not on myself but on my belief that God would help me through. This proved to be key to everything. I had no program, company, or school helping me in this process. I left on my own and figured this thing out alone.
But not really.
The faith, both in God and myself, that I had developed was actually my guide all along. I felt called to do this. Deep down, I felt that if I did not try to follow through, in a serious way, with this endeavor then I would be letting myself down and letting God down. Thus, faith is the belief that you are meant to do something and that that something will materialize if you throw yourself into that path, and faith will keep you going until you arrive where you are meant to be. For me, even though there was a serious setback, I learned to develop my faith and see this thing through, which brings me to my second lesson.
Faith and fortitude cannot exist without each other. Faith is not a passive thing and neither is fortitude. In order for faith to exist, one must struggle to endure hard times and not just endure but move forward in that endurance. If you are sitting in one place, you are not showing faith. You are paralyzed. I truly felt paralyzed after I realized that going to and living in Brazil was not going to work. But, faith means moving out and on with life’s challenges in the face of adversity, and this is where fortitude comes in. Fortitude gives faith the strength to step out and do what faith says you should be doing and where you should be going while enduring those challenges. Essentially, without fortitude faith cannot endure the inevitable struggles that will happen when working to realize the beliefs we hold in faith, and without faith fortitude is just endurance against challenges but with no direction. Thus, we need faith to show us our way in life and fortitude to see those beliefs through to fruition despite the challenges and setbacks we will face. After graduation and moving back home, I had to swallow my pride and rely on faith and fortitude to get me to Bogotá. That wall I ran into was one of the best things to ever happen to me. It forced me to stop thinking only about what I can do by myself and made me include faith in the equation, which has strengthened me immeasurably for the future. Now, even though the path ahead of me is not totally clear I can walk forward into it knowing that no matter what I will be alright because of the lessons from this experience. And, so, I urge you, dear reader, to truly listen to that still, small voice in your soul telling you where to go and what to do in life. I promise you that that voice, your faith, will always lead you to the right place. It did for me.