momma wraps her silk scarf around me (it has bits of orange on it so I am quite pleased) because it is windy up on the castle walls of Sintra and I did not wear enough clothes yet again. She periodically comes over to me to adjust the scarf as it loosens around my neck. I watch her silently as she tediously wraps and rewraps the scarf around me, pulling my collar up, folding in the loose edges, etc. “Doesn’t she look more like a woman with the scarf on?” she muses to my dad and I purse my lips and let it go. The scarf warms not only my body but my soul.
 heart aching when she stares at me for a moment too long – I feel my mouth twitch and the muscles in my face spasm as I try to keep a neutral expression in place. “I’m sad,” I want to tell her. I want to scream and cry in that moment; the urge to pull on my hair is so intense I feel slightly insane. I briefly consider crumpling to the ground and staying there, in the dirt and the dust.
 I offer to hold the backpack when we’re waiting for the taxi (Dan usually lugs around the heavy bag with our water bottles, snacks, sunglasses, extra clothes, tickets, etc but as he’s off somewhere else, ma picks up the slack) but momma waves me off. “Just let me do it,” is the loose translation as she mutters some chinese under her breath. It takes me off guard – perhaps she’s worried about my headache or maybe she’s feeling extra generous tonight. But, she does the same thing again in Portugal when I attempt to hold the backpack while Dan runs to the bathroom – “It’s better if I do it,” is the loose translation. Perhaps because I mentioned that my shoulder and back ached the night before? Or the extra generous feeling has lingered. Whatever the case, I never end up doing any heavy lifting of suitcases and my heart feels a little bit lighter.
 heart overcome with bitterness and jealousy and anger. I see people on the streets, happy and smiling, and harden my expression. I am sullen and silent when my parents speak to me. “Just make up your own damn mind,” I want to scream at them when they ask for my opinion or my help. Everything annoys me; everyone frustrates me; I am darker than the rainclouds in the sky.
 momma mentions over and over again to me that she has earplugs and that she’ll give me some because my brother snores like an earthquake and I tell her over and over again I can sleep through it. Nevertheless, she forces them into my hands even as I sigh exasperatedly and ungratefully towards her. “Why do you have to nag so much, ma?” I bitter in my heart. 2AM rolls around and I wake up to an earthquake two feet away from me. Ten minutes go by and it takes every bit of self control not to kick Dan in his sleep. I am nowhere close to falling back asleep. I remember the ear plugs and shove them in my ears. Holy crap, it actually works. I pray for peace, I pray for him to stop snoring, I pray for ample rest and I fall asleep within minutes.
 I ask my brother if I can practice telling him bible stories (since I’m reading a book on storying as a form of evangelism) but he declines. It has a bigger effect on me than I had anticipated and I have to turn away quickly to hide my expression. In that moment, I feel utterly alone as I stare at my family. I feel misunderstood, I feel like I don’t belong, I feel like I’m not at home, I’m not with family. Family is back home, in Philly. Family is with Renewal, with ROX. Family is not with these people – strangers. A foreigner in a foreign land with foreign people – I feel so abandoned.
 I count backwards and determine that church service is probably starting now. I pull up Renewal’s recorded sermons and listen to P Dwight’s voice; a familiar voice – it brings me comfort. His words bring me peace. I listen to an analogy of how God deals with our pain: God often doesn’t answer us when we are most desperate – when we need Him most. Why? Because we aren’t listening. As a drowning man in his panic is unable to think clearly and listen to command or instruction, neither are we able to in our moment of most need. A drowning man flails and thrashes, even as the life guard comes to rescue him – he will attempt to pull the life guard down in his panic. So what does the life guard do? Sometimes, he knocks the drowning man out and then proceeds with rescuing him. In the same way, God doesn’t reach out a hand to save us from deep waters when we are thrashing and resisting. He waits until we are willing to listen – or He smacks the living daylights out of us. I laugh. God is smacking the living daylights out of me and I am hopeful and expectant because I know the saving part comes immediately after.
 We climb up a lot of hills. We walk an average of 7-8 miles a day. The whole time, my brother is carrying a heavy backpack for the whole family. He never complains. He always offers to carry it. He carries my heavy water bottle. He even offers to carry my purse because I don’t want it getting in the way when I take pictures with my fancy camera. When I consider his character and compare it with the rest of my family, I decide that he has the best make up of character traits. If I were to liken my family to raw materials, he would probably be made of the purest, finest ones. He would probably be a diamond. My ma would probably come second (gold?), my dad, third (bronze?), and me – last in purity, usefulness, and strength (I think I’d probably just be a rock. Or a piece of wood.) It absolutely kills me. Because even as a Christian, I am the most selfish, most lazy, most self centered, most complaining, most useless, most bitter, angry, weak, prideful, etc of them all. And so, God is reminding me: you can try to be holy all you want. You can read the bible, pray, go to church. You can be nice, be kind, be generous. You can serve and sacrifice. You can grow. But, look how you treat your family. Look and see how you treat them even as they treat you with kindness. You are not a holy person. You are sinful. You are not righteous by nature. You can become more and more like Jesus but You will never be perfect and the heart of the matter is this: you will always be sinful and capable of the darkest things – just as capable as those who do not know Christ are. So if you think you’re better than your family – you’re not. If you think you have a right to judge them – you don’t. If you think you can save them – wake up. You need Me. Every day, every hour. Jesus never becomes obsolete. So come to me, child, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light and in Me you will find rest. For I love you so much, child, that even in your darkness, even in your dirt, I chose you to be mine – that I would turn you from useless stone into precious diamond.
 heart beating like mad – fear coursing through my veins. The walls of Sintra are frighteningly high and the rocky steps so very treacherous to me. But, the view of Portugal is worth it. I feel utterly (and literally) on top of the world. On the train ride back to Lisbon, I sit across from a stranger, avidly avoiding her gaze, and stare out the window at the darkening blue skies. “How could God make such a shade of blue so beautiful,” I marvel to myself. “And to place it so perfectly on top of a gradient of orange…how could He design me so that a sunset can make me so happy?” I think as I watch the sky go from cerulean to cornflower to cobalt then midnight blue. My heart is full of joy as I watch the city pass me by. We go out to get pita and kebab at my adamant request and I gorge myself on the three euro sandwich, famished by the activities of the day. Stomach and heart full, I exit the modest little hole in the wall rubbing my belly with a loud sigh of satisfaction and my ma laughs and shakes her head. “How is it so easy to please you?” And I thank the Lord that just as quickly and easily I fall – how equally faithful and steadfast He is in bringing me back up to my feet.
 I explore the city at night with my parents trailing behind me. We come to the edge of the city, where the waters meet the rocks and there is open sky for me to look up and count the stars. I scan the skies for Polaris but my eyes are too weak – I cannot find even the Big Dipper. My parents call for me to head back and I turn obediently. I cannot find the star I am seeking but the Lord tells me that it does not matter.
Just because you can’t see the stars does not mean they’re not there. Just because you can’t find something does not mean you won’t obtain it. You are not in control. You do not earn what you get. I am the Giver of all things. What you get does not depend at all on what you do; it depends solely on grace. So, trust me. You are walking blind but if you hold my hand, then you will see. I am with you.
 of dirt and dust – I learn that my life is so fleeting as I narrowly avoid being hit by a car while crossing the street (my dad had warned me earlier in the morning that the Portuguese drive like maniacs so to be careful crossing streets but alas I am distracted as I cross due to said dad jaywalking and nearly being hit by a motorcycle three seconds beforehand tsk). Heart in my throat, I calm down as I remember that the Lord holds my life in His hands and I am completely at His mercy. I am at the mercy of a God who loves me – who saw me in my dirt and grime and wiped me clean. I am laid low in the dust – I am but flesh and bones, here and gone in one moment, but still, still, God is with me.
Christmas is in six days. I am eagerly awaiting the anniversary of Christ’s birth and praying with all my heart that my life will be a life of worship for You. Thank you, Jesus.