The Darkness of 2020 Cannot Overcome the Light of the Gospel
This blog was intentionally created + commenced as a travel blog to share some of my spontaneous excursions + planned destinations. However, 2020 has been a year that did not allow for many of those events to occur — at least not afar. This year has encompassed frequent flexibility + a healthy dose of discoveries. The time we have spent adjusting, we have been learning more deeply + growing beyond stagnant routines. My 2020 was a little bit like that...
As I mentioned, and as we all know, travel completely ceased + wanderlust hearts like my own were deflated when quarantine + lockdowns ensued. However, in the midst of rules + restrictions, creative minds began to construct inside tranquil, still bodies. We went back to the drawing board. We originated new ways of keeping our legs moving + our hands occupied. We dusted off parts of our brains that had been stuck in autopilot + we began to chart new territories. This occurred for me in the discovery of new hobbies such as reading (for genuine interest + pleasure rather than for school assignments!) + crafts such as embroidery, bracelet-making (a nostalgic return), collage, and what I take as a craft: cooking. But for the travel-bug inside me... it tracked + traversed foreign lands that were in my own “neck of the woods.” No way could I stay locked in a house for 2 weeks...3 months...TBD how long. I had to get outside (with proper PPE of course); even if for just a little bit or just outside my back door. Below are some snapshots from my not-so-far but new-found location getaways.
While my travel-lust was being satisfied in experimental ways, I was being stretched in many other ways, much more internally. It is not a surprise that when we face situations that are unfamiliar + uncomfortable, we experience challenges + come out changed on the other end. Have you ever felt that? I think this year provided that for a lot of us, and if you have not experienced that, 2020 isn’t over yet (LOL). I have trusted full-heartedly that God has been using this time for a purpose. We have had much time to wrestle + raise questions in the present of what that purpose may be, but now we have an opportune time to reflect in hindsight of what we have experienced, encountered, learned. For many that has manifested through a turning of eyes away from work + into the family, priorities shifted apart from external pleasures by means of money or travel + toward internal contentment through hobbies, relaxation, time with the Lord. For me, the afflictions + adjustments of this year were met with increased stress + an intentional relationship. Through both of those, sanctification.
I genuinely hope that this period has been a time of growth and discovery for people. It is times like these that make us find new intricacies about ourselves and the world around us, ask deep questions, and begin to see why difficult, dark, disheartening times truly do bring about the sweetest fruit and brightest light.
From some of the pictures above, you can see that I’ve had some really great moments + highlights from the past year. But honestly, I think the greatest highlight has shone through in the midst of my darkest. Let's set a slight scene: I was stressed. I was overwhelmed. I had the biggest breakdown of my life. My sin was no longer vague (“I’m a sinner”), but it was made evident + clear (“THIS is my sin!”). Before, I knew I was a sinner saved by the mercy of God + the blood of Jesus. I applied that to occasional sins that came up. But now I began to connect dots; God opened my eyes to see those occasions as being continual tendencies + patterns of personality.
Being close with someone allows them to see the inconsistencies + faults in us. To call them out + bring them to light, but also to encourage us to persevere + point us in the right direction to the One (only one) that can save us. The Lord has blessed my highest dose of spiritual stress with my highest degree of social support. Jay has been — fortunately for me, I think maybe unfortunately for him, LOL — at my literal side through all of the mess of myself. But that is what we’re called to do as believers in the church, no? We hear one another’s hurts + bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2). We use prayer + the Word of God to reveal sin + to exhort one another. I have been blessed with a whole church full of obedient, loving, selfless people like that — like Christ. God used Jay in my life to point out the dirty clothes that I was still wearing so that I could fully take part in the washing + renewal that Christ was offering — not just by word or practice, but a full realization + transformation.
In our college Bible study, we have been going through the gospel of John. At the onset of this emotional overflow (the night before) we read chapter 15 — the one most people know as the “vine + branches” or the “abide in me” passage. We read through the chapter at the beginning of our time together + something captivated me. I couldn’t stop rereading verse 2: "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." The Lord prunes the branches that are bearing fruit… in order to bear more. He does not take the time to refine + reform a branch that is already dying or falling away. He focuses on those that are bearing fruit + He prunes them. While I was questioning whether or not my faith was real or genuine because of my sin that I had been made aware of, the Lord was pointing out to me that this pruning was not a punishment or cause for me to run away or hide. This pruning (in Greek: cleansing) was to reveal to me that I was growing in the right direction, but that there were necessary steps still needed to be done so that I could continue growing. Pruning is not easy or comfortable, but how worth it! What a glorious outcome! We must go through the discomfort of discipline + directing in order to proceed in sanctification + produce sweet fruit.
As soon as I begin to feel a tiny taste of freedom from the sins that so tightly, vigorously entangle, I am tempted to sigh in relief + throw out a quick “Oh, thank you Lord for giving me peace!” then move on. But I am quickly reminded of how weak I am + how needy I am of my Savior. Not just once in my justification by His dying for me + declaring of me, but over+over in my sanctification. I continually fall short (“fall” not “fell”; Romans 3:23) + I need continual cleansing (Jesus washed the body, but we still need washing of the feet; John 13). Now, don’t get me wrong — Jesus has already cleansed us. We see that in the succeeding verse of John 15: "Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you" (v.3), but the blood of Jesus does not only deal with the guilt of sin (present); it also deals with the stain of sin (past, present, future) which hinders our continual relationship with God. We must be unreserved + upfront, willing to come to God with our acknowledgement + plea of “Lord, cleanse me.” Not because we haven’t been cleansed before, but because we need to be continually reminded of His continual cleansing to enjoy continual relationship with Him. He is not a one-and-done operator. His love + mercies are unending, everlasting, steadfast, eternal.
So in a nutshell, I was overwhelmed out of my wits in order to recognize that I am not the ringleader + I need to REST in the One that is. I was feeling dirty + disposable + undeserving in order to discover that the Almighty God has chosen to CLEANSE me in spite of those faults, and He continually chooses to pursue me every moment of every day. I am still undeserving of this great love, but I see it in a whole new light. Not by me, but all by Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.
”Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
Let this be our hope for today, + for the new year.
Finding Contentment + Opportunity in Unforeseen Times + Places
As we all know + are well (may be too well) aware of, COVID-19 has shifted many plans we’ve had set for 2020. However, those shifted plans haven’t all been for the negative as they seem to be from the outset. And in those shifted plans I hope there have been for you, like there has been for me, some switched priorities + stretched perspectives.
I mentioned in a previous post that this year would have been full of various destinations on my list to explore + experience + exposit through this blog, including New Orleans, Dominican Republican, and a return to Denver for the summer. When all of those aims were taken down one by one, I felt disappointed. But honestly, the feeling didn’t last for long. I realized — by the grace of God intervening in my type-A, control-freak mind — that all of this COVID confusion, chaotic circumstances, corrupted courses were happening for a definitive purpose. And despite them — in the midst of them — God was still working + abundantly providing me with unknown paths + possibilities.
The first of many unforeseen events for this season of life was the start of a new relationship, which if you know me, you know that this is quite new. I won’t spend too much time here (so feel free to ask questions as you’d like), but in short, it has been an incredible blessing for the both of us that was quite timely considering our personal + spiritual growth during this time. The commencement + course of this relationship is one of those instances in which you can see God working in hindsight, but fortunately through the present process as well.
P.S. yes, the bangs were another unexpected venture; a wise + well-planned quarantine impulse decision if I do say so myself. That way, in case I did not like the outcome then I could easily be humiliated + hidden away without anyone noticing. Fortunately, I’m fond of the look :)
On to more eventful changes to my unscheduled summer: I am being certified as a Health Coach! When my college classes went online + my trip to Denver was dropped, I realized that I now had about four months open before school began back again, + I am most definitely not the type of person that could let those months stay vacant (my parents know all too well of my “I’m bored!” complaints — sorry...). So, I began pondering + probing for what I should do — another mission trip? more online classes? an internship? Well, I didn’t have to ruminate or rummage around for long because I then remembered the need I had for some certifications for my future career in Corporate Wellness (or similar field). This particular certification I’m pursuing is online + at-your-own pace — the reviews I read averaged people taking about 3-4 months to complete it — check for me! Further, they just so happened (no coincidences!) to be running a sale at the time I was looking to begin that offered the certification for half-off the original price — double check! So, now I am finished up with that material (I finished earlier than expected because it was intriguing + exciting to finally be studying something that I’m specifically interested in!!) + I will be taking that final certification exam at the start of August — I would appreciate your prayers!
In the midst of career certifications for the summer, the Lord was also still providing for my longing to serve + be on mission. My local church offers an internship for college students under Generation LINK known as Summer LINK in order to educate + equip us to be better church members, disciple-makers, followers of Christ. Throughout the summer we read through + discuss numerous books — including The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever, What is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile, Why Should I Join a Church? by Mark Dever, to name a few — serve the local body + surrounding community, lead kids ministry activities + classes, as well as have the privilege of residing with + having collective dinners at the homes of church families. All of these things have been profoundly precious to me, but as was the case with my previous summer spent in Denver, the Father has revealed a bounty of blessing beyond what I expected. I have been able to serve + love + be loved by so many souls outside of the “structured” time we have together as a group doing the internship. Couples have invited me over for breakfast or games or walks in the park, I’ve helped house-sit numerous homes (+ by house-sitting I am also implying watering lots of gardens + picking ripe veggies, as well as taking care of numerous pets including energetic puppies, cats, bunnies, a hamster, fish, etc. — all good things!). I have also gotten to put my passion of administration + organization to practice by cleaning + upgrading areas of the church building, designing handouts + filling out Excel sheets, collaborating with a couple friends to provide photographic + penned media for updates on what all we are doing as interns.
What I thought would be a major bummer summer full of disappointments + dullness, turned out to be considerably enriching + eventful. My pastor has so aptly been going through the book of Ecclesiastes since the beginning of May, + the lessons that I have learned through this study of God's Word have been particularly profound + perfect for us all to learn at this point in time corporately. For one, through Ecclesiastes + through the Coronavirus, we learn our humanity — we are faced with our time-bound, fleeting nature + the understanding that we are not in control. God determines the times + seasons of our lives; whether in prosperity or adversity, joy or sorrow, He is in control — what a relief + blessing! Further, pleasure + prosperity is a gift; a gift that we are not deserving of or guaranteed. Adversity + hardship + death on the other hand, are clear avenues for us to slow down, lean in, + allow time for transformative reflection, by the power of His guiding hand. It’s easy to slip into insecurity + impatience during times when we are not in control or when we do not have a full picture of the situations surrounding us, but by being impatient + longing for the next thing to come, for “better days”, or even for “how things used to be”, we are missing out + denying God’s presence + power, will + work today. These circumstances are flawlessly ordained + orchestrated in our lives for a particular purpose — for our good, growth, glory to Him. The Lord God knows the beginning, the present, the end of the story (Proverbs 8:23, Revelation 1:8) — why do we desire or pine for anything else? why do we not trust Him? I encourage you now as you are reading this, flip open to Ecclesiastes + read it; allow the Word of God to open up before your eyes + meditate deep in your mind. There is nothing new under the sun; what we struggle with + are confronted with today is what those of old have likewise encountered. And God has seen + planned + known it all. We are a speck in His vast masterpiece.
This season of life has been far from normal for all of us, but I think we can agree that that is what we all needed the most. Reconnecting with loved ones, appreciating the still + quiet, diving deep into old hobbies + new-found passions, being challenged to confront the things we thought were gone or done with or worked through, being pleasantly surprised with fortuitous exchanges or encounters or events.
God keeps teaching me to lean more + more into Him rather than rely on my schedules + plans. He is teaching me to be comfortable with unknowns + to love the unexpected.
I am grateful.
Centered in Christ Through Coastal Creation + Coronavirus Confusion
Prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) escalation, my roommate + I had planned to venture down to St. Augustine for Spring Break. Despite the uncertainty + unknowns including national mandates for social distancing + our university moving to remote learning, we followed through with the adventure anyway, living day by day with the evolving news + surrounding environment.
After a six hour drive down south full of conversations + laughter, music jams + podcast reflections, we arrived at our home for the week late Sunday evening. The next morning, we rose before the light + headed to the sand lying outside our doorstep. As the vibrant orange sun softened + rose into soft golden light, we flowed through a yoga sequence. Once our bodies had awoken through movement, we rested + reflected + renewed our spirits as we opened God’s Word to begin our study through the book of Micah. Weeks prior, we had flipped through + discussed which part of Scripture we would like to go through together. We both agreed that we would like to study Revelation more in depth, but figured we would start with something a bit shorter, perhaps more manageable or understandable, + a portion of Scripture that often gets overlooked. As we read + worked through the specific chapter for the day, our perspectives were made more + more aware of God’s consistency + intentionality in loving us, even in the case of punishment. It is for our good! A desire to hear + sing a praise to our gracious Father was in due order, so the first hymn I navigated to was “Here Is Love,” which consisted of lyrics so applicable to our morning’s moments in Micah as we sat marveling at the ocean. It also happened to be Savannah’s birthday, so her family came down from their nearby town of residence to spend the afternoon with us + we enjoyed a nice seafood dinner at the marina.
Our morning began with a bodyweight beach workout circuit + a continuation through our study of Micah. After we grabbed some breakfast, we headed up to Fleming Island to visit Savannah’s family for the day. I got a tour of the house + was introduced to all of their furry family members including two dogs, two cats, + a little brown bunny. Savannah + I walked down to a nearby dock admiring the surrounding homes, overgrowth of Spanish moss, scurrying geckos + rippling waves. We spent some time playing around with our cameras + doing a mini photoshoot of our unplanned matching of outfits + personality. One major theme from the week was discovering how similar the two of us are, not only in appearance but in interests, intentions, influences, ideas. It’s such a blessing to see how God has brought the two of us together in a way that was so cohesive + aptly timed. That evening, we went out to a restaurant where Savannah’s sister works so that we could visit + see her 'in action' as she served us fresh foods + dreamy desserts. However, the experience was quite out of the norm considering coronavirus changes that required many dining tables + other options to be excluded from service. When we arrived back to their family home, we took a stroll around the nature trail surrounding the neighborhood, then headed back to our place in St. Augustine Beach.
We jump-started our day with a run down to the pier along the beach, followed by another yoga flow. For our Bible study time, we ventured out into town where we stumbled upon a coffee shop to switch up the setting. Perhaps the change in setting ushered in a shifted perspective + clearer vision of what + how God was moving. The two of us sat on a bench outside for who-knows-how-long discussing, praying, praising how we were individually + collectively growing, how we were being pushed + challenged spiritually, the art + magnificence of God’s creation, His plan + purpose in placing us together, ideas + proposals for doing ministry + seizing Gospel-centered opportunities. Our overfilled + overjoyed spirits continued as we explored the old historic area of St. Augustine that afternoon. We wandered around the architectural beauty that is the Flagler College campus, perused through small local shops, + wandered into some art studios along the oldest street in America. It was here in this latter location where we met a man named Holiday (in honor of his birth date falling on Christmas Day). Our conversations floated around current status of life + career, passions + interests, stories + testimonies. As we shared, he was moved to tears by our “beauty,” our hearts, our motivations, our pursuit of Jesus. I sensed a longing behind his rounded glasses + cracking voice. I am certain our encounter was purposeful, whether for the sole benefit of meeting + interacting, or perhaps a reason greater than either of us conceive. Savannah + I continued exploring + engaging with the community, as our eyes were caught by decadent milkshakes being served up at Prohibition Kitchen. The venue inside modeled old saloon style vibes with newspaper menus + orange-gold lighting hues; although the establishment ironically was prohibited from selling any alcohol at the time due to new coronavirus regulations. Late that evening as the sun disappeared + the sea of stars arose, our toes traveled back out to the sand as we strolled, stargazed, sang, + searched for hidden ghost crabs.
Following another morning routine of exercising + studying Micah on the beach, we met up with some other students from our university who happened to be vacationing in the same location as us at the same time! The large group of us spent the whole day at the beach, including times of jumping waves + constructing a sand castle memorial for an unfortunate crab who was no longer creeping + crawling (we named him Eugene). Shortly after departing from the group to return back to our resort, we received word from our university that all in-person classes, events, trips, even graduation was canceled for the remainder of the Spring semester. Obviously our minds were a bit flooded + taken aback by the news as we proposed scenarios of what this decision means for us individually, as well as the corporate impact. The two of us decided to relieve any potential stress arising by walking into the little town around St. Augustine beach to return to the coffee shop where we talked over tea. Businesses were closing up for the night, so we escaped back to the beach where we sat in the sand looking up at the vast array of speckled stars, felt the warm air interrupt by a ripple of cool breeze, listened to the incessant building + rolling + crashing of the waves along the shore. Once again, we spent hours just resting in the presence + greatness of our God — His creation; our fragile + ever changing lives, His stable + steadfast existence; what He may be doing, what He is doing, how He is working, how He is using us, what He is teaching us, why… Man, I can’t begin to explain the depth + significance of this moment + this friendship. For such a time as this, for both of us. What a blessing.
A bit of an interruption ensued, as we diverted our usual morning routine in order to make a pit stop at the auto shop to get some work done on Savannah’s car. We dropped it off to get checked out + fixed up as we returned back to their home for an exceptionally chill day of lounging in the backyard, reading books + getting organized for online classes, playing with curious kittens + loving dogs. At this point, eating establishments have been ordered to close all dining tables/rooms while continuing takeout/delivery service, so we stopped by a taco stand in St. Augustine beach then ate out of the bed of Savannah’s father’s truck, then ended our night with a bedtime Bible study time through the next section of Micah.
Back at it again with our daybreak routine: yoga, workout circuit, Bible study. Afterward, we spent a little extra time laying in the sand + drifting off while listening to the waves + feeling the morning sun’s warmth. The move for the day was to check out the state park that was just down the road from the beach, yet when we arrived we discovered that it was closed due to the coronavirus situation. So, we instead picked up some Caribbean food to-go then ended up in the vicinity of a historic lighthouse + boat ramp where we picnicked within a small park of overhanging green trees + delighted Spring critters. After filling up on coconut shrimp + fried plantains, we explored random tidbits around town including a plant nursery, thrift store, pet adoption center, + food truck garden. We both took a brief siesta before meeting up with the family for a sunset picnic on the beach.
Sigh… Our last morning full of sand + sun + waves concluded with a workout circuit + deep stretch. As we wrapped up Micah, we reflected on our (personal + humanity's) continual rebellion against God + our blindness to His greater workings; yet the Lord’s unceasing, unconditional, unbounded love for us in providing us discipline that is showered in our own growth + His mercy, as well as the way out of our pit + the coming reward rooted in Christ Jesus. We packed up + moved out of our resting place in St. Augustine Beach, then returned back to the food truck garden to enjoy poké + smoothie bowls before embarking on the drive back home where we will be settling into yet another new + unforeseen routine amidst the ever-evolving coronavirus situation.
As far as travel opportunities + updates for this blog, I had many upcoming that have now dissipated: I was going to be spending some time in New Orleans at the beginning of April for a professional psychology conference in which I was presenting my own research; the end of May was to bring a trip to the Dominican Republic for a short-term study abroad in which I would have been able to conduct my own nutrition education program to students as an additional research endeavor; and as of a few days ago, my return to Denver, CO for summer missions was also ceased.
It's easy to be anxious + confused + question why all of this is happening, especially since it's something unlike any of us have ever encountered or experienced before. But it's also easy, with a bit of pause + prayer, rest + reflection to see God's hand in it all + feel His presence in every space. It is definitely a time of shifted perspectives + realizations of our human fragility. God is using this time of weird schedules + wrecked routines to re-establish our priorities + dependence on Him. Now is the time for us to "Listen!" as He exclaims in Micah + boldly change our lives toward His direction. The current circumstances look bleak on the surface, but I am looking forward to the continual journey with the Father despite my dim, limited view.
Stay safe, healthy, well — in mind (virtual contact is better than no contact), body (sanitize + eat clean), spirit (dig in to the Word, fill up with prayer).
Surprising Friends + Snowy Fun in CO
Whether you’ve read my previous posts or have heard me ramble on + on about it, you could rightly assume that the time I spent in Denver left a huge impact on my life. I established myriad relationships that were beyond surface level interactions + pined for continual cultivation. My mind seems to always be wandering + my heart yearning for this place + people again, so I decided to follow through + booked a return flight to Denver over my winter break — a little early Christmas surprise for my Colorado comrades.
The plan for a return was mentioned basically since our last week there in the summer, so Mary Claire + I were tracking flights + pondering plans while in the midst of school, stress, side activities. but it wasn’t as quickly fully set in motion. There was a point where the idea was completely falling flat as airline tickets were soaring + other priorities were demanding. But one afternoon following a night of disappointment + despair over the fantasized excursion, God opened a door along with a whisper: “why are you downcast? don’t you know I always provide? why are you trying to take matters into your own hands? don’t you know to trust Me?” The flight had dropped fractions of the previous expense + was structured around the perfect time frame. Mary Claire + I quickly bought tickets while they were so low, then eagerly expected + partially planned our approaching adventure.
Day 1: The Surprise
The three of us (myself, MC + her sister Harper) flew out on a Sunday afternoon, arriving in Denver late afternoon. we had reservations for a rental car which was confirmed at a set all-inclusive price knowing our age, insurance, etc. However, these kinds of things never go so smoothly, do they? When we got to the desk, we had issues paying with Harper’s card, we had to pay extra insurance (in addition to the extra cost for our age), had to pay for it under one name while the driver was underneath another; needless to say it would have been an unnecessary hassle + additional financial strain to follow through so we decided to forgo the rental car + figure out transportation along the way. So, we caught an Uber out of the airport to Josh + Sarah Cook’s house.
To jog your memory, Josh Cook is the pastor of Dwell Church which Mary Claire + I served with for the summer. We had previously contacted Sarah about our trip so she skillfully assisted us in our planning, particularly in order to surprise Josh + Josh. The original plan was for us to show up to the (legendary) Little Man ice cream shop in the neighborhood, but the rental car chaos delayed our arrival so the Joshs had already made plans to go see a movie at that time. Backup tactic was for us to surprise them after the movie, so we went to grab dinner while they were gone + settled in our things at their house while we waited. We anxiously anticipated their arrival (it was the first time either of us have pulled a surprise like this for anyone!). Then around 9:30pm that evening, we casually sat + chatted on their couch as Josh + Josh walked through the door with jaws dropped + an utter confusion followed by “what are you doing in my home??” Their reaction was eerily, accurately, precisely predicted by Mary Claire + Sarah — haha! It was super sweet catching up + reconnecting as the night came to a close.
Day 2: Roaming CO
With the rental car plan out of the way, we reverted back to our days of public transportation, which honestly was a highlight for us. We made our way downtown to explore some of the Christmas decorations + peek through the Denver Art Museum which we had gotten many recommendations for this past summer. For lunch we met up with one of our friends in Golden for Nepalese food + updates on the family, then she took us back to downtown Denver to explore the Brown Palace Hotel which was elegantly decorated with Christmas decorations + fancy finger foods delicately nibbled by posh persons in ostentatious outfits + headwear. Afterward, we wandered over to the Christkindl Market where we sampled European pastries + hot cider + met a new friend, reminding us of the connections we had made previously with the people that drew us back to return again. With our sweet tooth accounted for, we quickly hopped over to Broadway for a thrift store visit before heading back to the Cook’s home for Monday night group gathering for Dwell Church. The night was full of cooking + consuming dinner, sharing highs + lows, chatting about old memories + creating new ones too.
Day 3: Hiking + Running Club
This morning we woke up early to head out to the train station to take us up to Boulder. When we arrived, we met two professional runners from the area that Mary Claire knew (fangirled over) since she currently runs in college. They took us up on a snowy hike to Realization Point that offered phenomenal views of the surrounding city, the Rockies, + miles upon miles of Colorado in the distance. The descent down slick slopes brought a few slips, as well as some eager mule deer passing by. Following, we strolled through shops on Pearl St. + settled in a cozy spot for lunch before riding back to Denver. Tuesday evenings in Denver for us always meant running club, so that’s where we headed once again. We got to surprise some of our friends we met through the club, catch up with them, then hang out playing games afterward. The evening was not exactly what we had expected it to be, but the pros + cons were weighed with the conclusion that God appointed us to arrive in our friends lives at those particular times for a purposeful reason + resuming these kinds of relationships takes time + patience + understanding as we drift through various seasons in life, hoping to cling to Him more than we do ourselves, others, or outside sources.
Day 4: Breckenridge
Since we surprised Josh + Josh with our arrival, they understandably had plans during those days (could we put capitalism on hold?). Well, it turns out, maybe we could just a bit. Josh Cook shuffled + scrambled some meetings around in order to spend the day with us! He took us up to Breckenridge, known for its skiing. We stopped along the way for some pancakes to fuel us through winter wonderland drives, mountain town shops, and of course some snowball fights + tiptoes along frozen rivers. When we returned back to Denver that afternoon, we stopped by the post office to deliver some packages from Dwell Church. As we were standing in the queue of others sending + shipping, we encountered the sweetest elderly couple who were quick to spark conversation regarding our many tiny boxes, their celery juice cleanse, + random tidbits in between. On her way out, the lady popped open her purse + fanned out flavors of Blow Pops for us to choose from, as well as the mail clerk assisting us. The Edgewater Public Market was a new addition since our last visit, so we perused their numerous nourishment options ranging from Venezeulen arepas to lobster rolls, snacks + sliders to Ethiopian cuisine. That evening, Josh Frase had some special surprises of his own for us since he could not join us for the earlier activities. He took us downtown to go ice skating under the clock tower + twinkling tree lights until they closed, then over to taste some tacos where another one of our connections from the summer met up with us. We made our way back to the Cook’s house that evening to watch Star Wars + eventually pack up our bags to return home early the next day.
It’s strange + unusual for me to experience life in this way – to go from wanting to live life alone + never return to the same places or situations I had previously traveled or encountered, to coming back to Colorado again (and again – hello 2020) to revisit the same people + places. It takes a lot of growth + trust to see God working in a place to defy my own thoughts + desires in order to follow where I see Him leading + pushing me to delve into. It’s even difficult for me to come to terms with these changes because I have known + expressed myself to be one way for so long, but man am I excited to take on a new role for the sake of laying my own name down + lifting His up. Thank you Denver for teaching me these things + continuing to draw me back to your neighborhood + His heart.
A Reflection On The Past Year: Experiences, Thoughts, Growth
Man, 2019 has been a year of complete remodeling, rebuilding, renewing, revamping myself in all sorts of ways. I lived in Ireland for four months. I lived in Denver for two. Then somewhere in between my home-home and college-home (you know how that goes…) the rest of the time. I learned to let go of my deep-rooted, tight-gripped sin of control; trusting God with whatever unfolds. I learned to open up to strangers + to genuine community – replacing fears + insecurities with fellowship + vulnerability. I learned to dig in – to His character, His calling, His creation, His community. God has consistently paved my way. Consistently led me on a journey – one He has crafted + known since the beginning (Jeremiah 1:5, Ephesians 1:4); one He delights in revealing to me (Job 12:22, Daniel 2:22). This neck of the woods has been a mix of unknown highs + uncharted lows, comfort + difficulty, expected + unforeseen. Through it all, I’ve been learning to put behind my innate tendencies + give my full, undivided, wholehearted attention to the experience.
I spent the beginnings of the new year in a new country. I took a chance going somewhere I had no distinct connections or draw to, somewhere I had never been, with people I had never met, with really no clear direction or expectations for what I was to do when I arrived. I honestly like this sort of mystery + exploring something new; but paradoxically, the details surrounding that new territory must be mapped out in my brain. This world of unknowns was setting the stage for four months of breaking down my built up walls + loosening my clenched up fists, to humbly be brought down + fully trust my Father in every aspect of my life. Going to Ireland was for a study abroad, but more so for my own enjoyment — to travel + explore + grow in cultural experience. However, God had far greater plans + purposes than either of those reasons — far beyond what my finite mind + persistent heart could comprehend, configure, or contrive. As you may have gathered from a previous post, I struggle(d) with the desire for control — in general, but more specifically in my health/appearance, my school/success, my everyday events/time, etc. Throughout the four months of traveling alone, living in a foreign place, having unknown plans, I learned to let go of those things I was trying to control + let go of the idea that they provided me stability + security. I learned to let go of fear — fear of safety, of unknowns, of failure, of imperfection, of living up to or missing out. It was by no means an easy process. I faced many late nights + early mornings burdened, pressed, stressed out of my mind with tears streaming down my face, just to realize that it was all for nothing (Matthew 6:25-34 James 4:13-15, Proverbs 16:9) — Jesus has already promised to take ALL of that weight off of my shoulders if I just give it to Him (Matthew 11:28) — why had I not done this sooner?? Learning to remove the desire to control, to know the details, to plan all things, to have set expectations, set me on a sure foundation of trusting God completely, constantly + also set me up for the subsequent two months in Denver, and even the upcoming semester at school, and let’s be honest, for life.
The summer brought excitement, and thanks to the first half of the year, unwritten + unestablished expectations. I went into the experience in Denver with an open mind + in turn learned to open up other parts of myself. I was challenged to step outside of my normal/my comfort zone to engage with strangers. This allowed me to truly learn from them + for them to learn from me without any hesitation or pretenses. I was bold in my speech, actions, decisions. I was vulnerable about my faults, past, weaknesses, needs. As I have mentioned before, I am an introvert. It takes a bit to draw me out + for me to feel comfortable, confident, adequate to make myself known. However, I see now, through the process of this summer, that God can use me in that particular way He created me, as well as expand my illusory boundaries to open up unrevealed, concealed parts of me to further grow myself + His Kingdom.
As Fall rolled around, I headed back to campus for the first time since the previous Fall semester. I was uneasy about the transition back, mainly because I had learned + grown + changed so much that the experience would be completely different than what I was used to previously in that environment. Right off the bat, God crossed my path with numerous individuals that provided me the opportunity to form new friendships + invest in being intentional with. Further, I was led to a local church that drew me in like a magnet with the concentration of their community + depth of their doctrine. These opportunities, divine appointments if you will, allowed me to fully express + dive into the uncharted territory that was introduced from the past eight months. It also got me more interested + invested in committing time to wrestle with difficult topics, study theology, search for understanding. I’ve acquired a new found passion + urgency for these things — I keep digging, digging, digging into the Word of God with a continual supply of new findings + questions — it’s the Mary Poppins bag of life! Day by day I am acquiring more knowledge about God + His sovereignty, character, will; moving me from elementary milk to substantial meat (Hebrews 5:12-15, 1 Corinthians 3:2). Now, I must continue in this pursuit, finding a balance beyond selfishly soaking up all the information for myself + rather turning outward to love, encourage, serve, exhort my family of believers + reach out to share this overflowing knowledge, heart, passion with unbelievers who may not have access to or any experiential knowledge of picking up + tasting of this cup.
This year, God has abundantly + exceedingly answered requests.
Concluding the summer, I prayed that I would be able to form the same type of prompt, pointed, purposive, life-giving relationships with people I would come into contact with on campus. Provided.
Prior to my return to my campus from a semester away, I prayed that I would have someone to disciple + lead in the way that a mentor had done for me. Provided.
Going into this past year of 2019, I prayed for a heart change. I think, in review of all this… provided.
I prayed to my good, heavenly, trustworthy Father that what I had learned + grown into within the past year wouldn’t be left behind in Denver or in Dublin or in the cracks between here + there, but I would be able to tap into + draw from that newly dug well of Kristen — that I could let go + open up + dig in to anomalous avenues of life where He was leading.
Wrestling With Staying Put Or Striving Out
I left Denver on a high (no pun intended). I had made memories + connections like I never have before + like I never expected I would. I departed with a heart full of all the goodness of Christ + a head full of ideas, hopes, plans to come back.
But transitioning back home was hard. Transitioning from busy days filled with a constant presence of people + places + plans to a slow murmur of sitting at home, sauntering alone, silent living. I felt like all of the gains I had just made in my life relationally, personally, spiritually had just come to a halting, screeching stop.
My thoughts have been scattered with doubts. My mind is reminding me of the plans I had to travel the world, to see new places, to meet new people. I shouldn’t be wanting to return to the same place again… or should I?
What if God is calling me to settle down + establish roots in a single place at such a time as this, in such a place as this? Can I continue to love a place if I’m living life with the same people? Is this why He placed me in Colorado — to draw me back in? Was Colorado just another destination to meet + connect with new people for the heart movement, head memories, high moments? Or was it planting a seed for a further flourishing in the garden of His plan?
The time spent home didn’t last long because I was soon off to another location — back to my university. I had lots of mixed emotions going in, mainly due to the fact that I hadn’t been back on campus in almost a year. Getting back into a routine of balancing long days full of lectures, work, and studying with the numerous leadership responsibilities I had taken on was daunting. Not to mention this underlying, irrational fear that somehow I had been forgotten by everyone I previously knew due to my prior semester’s absence.
This fear + stress coupled with all that God taught me this summer about intentionality + relationships came together smoothly, satisfyingly, splendidly — because I stepped out of the way + let God do the work. I think I’ve met + established connections with more people on my campus in the past two weeks than I had the previous two years. That fact would have been overwhelming + horrifying to me then. Praise God for that heart change! Not only have I gotten to deepen relationships with individuals whom I only knew a name, but I’ve also met new friends whom I’ve never known before. By opening up + extending friendship like Jesus did, I’ve come into contact with people that I never would have otherwise. Isn’t that what the Kingdom should look like anyway? I want to befriend the people who have a completely different history + who may have been on a totally divergent trajectory, because they very well may be the ones who need someone in this moment the most.
Maybe that’s why I’m here + not in Denver now. For such a moment as this. To reach out to these people + for them to teach me. There’s a time + a place + a season for every part of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8); this we know. But I am currently learning to not yearn, dwell, linger on pieces that previously were because then I miss the pieces that currently are — that are coming to be — by God’s guiding hand. I’m praising + thanking God for what He’s done, watching + listening for what He’s doing, and waiting patiently + eagerly for what He brings next — whether that be something familiar or something entirely new.
Developing A New Mindset For Isolation + For Missions
I have always liked to define myself as being quite independent, isolated, introverted, individualistic. I thrive in solitude — I am more creative, confident, calm, centered when I am left to myself. While great benefit + value, strength + satisfaction may be found in this state, I have learned that it is not meant to dwell in continuously.
In Genesis 2:18-22, God created Eve as a much needed companion for Adam. We, too, were created as social, relational beings not meant to function alone. We were wired for life to be lived with meaningful, worthwhile relationships.
The pendulum of this isolated lifestyle can quickly swing over to a state of loneliness — leaving us with feelings of loss, emptiness, unworthiness. The Father reminds us in His word that those feelings are far from the truth. He guides us (Psalm 73:23), fills us (Exodus 31:3, Ephesians 3:19), frees us (Psalm 27:16-17). In Psalm 139:13-15 we are told of our purposeful, intricate creation, He has given us a spirit of confidence + power (2 Timothy 1:7), and Luke 12:6-7 reminds us that we are fully known + full of worth.
There must be some sense of balance between solitude + socialization. There is a need for accountability — to be fully known + fully loved not just by my Father but also by those who walk beside me, who can press in + push me toward growth in my walk with Jesus. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 teaches of the importance of being surrounded by other believers, especially to help build us up + lift us up when we have fallen. It is impossible to mature my relationship with the Lord in isolation; the only option alone is stagnancy. In isolation, I may not necessarily be drifting backward, but I am surely not making any progress forward. Through opening up + being vulnerable, allowing the dark parts of myself to be seen by others, I can work to strengthen the aspects that are on the right track + aim to improve those that are not serving to benefit myself or my walk.
God has really been pressing in + making me aware of this isolation tendency of mine for awhile now, but since being in Denver, the concept of community + fellowship has really been emphasized + experienced. For the first time in my life, I have genuine accountability partners that are real with me + I feel comfortable in being open to them. They push me to be better, encourage me when the devil gets into my head, and teach me how to handle various situations maturely + like Christ would. Further, God has been teaching me a lot about Himself + His character through these people that surround me. I see passion, grace, generosity, genuine care, love. I am able to see + experience these unique attributes of the Father because He created each of us in His image — each with different gifts, talents, bits + pieces that work together to function + reflect Him (Ephesians 4:16).
In addition to the importance of community, I have been enlightened with the importance of solitude as well. Recently, as I have come across this understanding of God’s intention for us to be relational beings + dwell in company, I have been harsh + gotten down on myself for the way that I have been operating solo for the majority of my time. However, the two are not in conflict with one another, yet require a balance in our lives in order to operate. We must ultimately learn to create a productive rhythm of fellowship + seclusion, conversation + silence. Jesus modeled this as he took time away by himself with the Father (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35). I don’t believe we were made to have the capacity or energy to keep up with others all of the time (we receive this solely from the Lord apart from ourselves), but we aren’t to remain in this solitary state forever either. Each have a distinctive place + purpose in our lives + our walk with Christ.
Lastly, being in Denver has taught me a lot about how to go about fellowship + cultivating community. Previously, I understood service + mission trips as going out to help someone — physically, emotionally, financially, or most importantly, spiritually. A mission trip, understandably, meant that there was some underlying mission to be accomplished. Until recently, I never understood how wrong this mindset was in going out to reach people for Christ. Rather than following Jesus’ example of relational missional living, we see a group of people or an individual as someone in need of something that we can provide; a project or goal that we can accomplish. Going in with this demeanor + mindset is surprisingly evident to the person that you are trying to reach + will most likely make them highly resistant to whatever help or message you are trying to transfer to them.
The alternative to this process is modeled in the life of Christ (John 4:7-42, 5:1-15). He asked questions + then took the time to listen to their ideas, thoughts, perspectives, feelings. Through this process, He meets the person where they’re at, helps them to discern what it is they desire, + then what it is they ultimately need (which is God, not us).
The main purpose in what I am doing in Colorado is to form relationships with people. Not to change them or to fix them, but to genuinely listen to them + show care for them; just as Christ did to the people He interacted with. I have been astounded + overwhelmed by the individuals I have met + the stories they’ve told, baggage they carry, passions they hold. While I still cherish + delight in my time alone, I have come to love engaging with people around me — another beautiful, wonderful piece of the Father’s creation.
Side note: Here are some pictures from some Colorado nature time (my favorite!)
A Recap of My Typical Week On Mission In Denver
Last summer, I embarked on my first mission trip to Mexico. While that was an incredible first experience, I left craving more. This summer, I traveled to Denver, Colorado for two months to explore + engage one of the loneliest cities in the country.
My first two weeks were filled mostly with orientation into what it looks like to be on mission in Denver + working with church plants here. More specifically, the pastors of the church plants spoke with + guided us, we did outside research of the neighborhoods we were living in, we engaged the people living there + did lots of prayer walking throughout the area.
For the remainder of the summer, we will be helping to lead a kids camp with Hope In Our City. It is located in the Sun Valley area with the intention + heart to reach out to refugee and low-income families. These children from various backgrounds combine with children from a partner church to learn about STEM, culinary arts, zoology, and music across the four weeks. Due to this mixed environment, the camp is not directly affiliated with any religion + should not be mistaken as a Vacation Bible School, but rather it is the vessel for the love + life of Christ to be revealed to the kids + families over time through the established, trusted relationships of the workers at the camp. Outside of our time spent here, our aim is to connect with the people of Denver, form genuine relationships with them, and share the love of Christ with them.
With that basic background + overview, here is a more outlined look at my weeks spent here on mission:
Sunday: I have been paired with four other girls to work with Dwell Church for the summer. The church meets at the local elementary school in the West Colfax area which is comprised of students that are 82% Hispanic, 11% African American, 5% Caucasian + 98% of them qualify for free/reduced-price lunch. We arrive at the church at 8am on Sunday mornings, which is about an hour train ride from where we are living. We begin by setting up everything for service (road signs, chairs, coffee station, children’s church, etc.), then we all meet together for announcements + prayer as a group before the service begins at 10am. Each of us five girls will experience the various parts of running a church each week including leading the kids ministry, the connect/welcome team, tech team, and making announcements. Then after the service, we take down + clean up what we had set up for the service.
Monday: Today is the start of our week at Hope In Our City. We begin by meeting the new weekly volunteers, get assigned jobs, have a devotional time, then set up all the materials + stations for the camp. I have been assigned the leader of the craft station for the summer which I particularly enjoy! I lead each group of kids (Pre-K, K-2nd, 3rd-5th) in crafts + activities that are aligned with the theme of the week, as mentioned above. For example, for the first week the theme was STEM, so we made magnetic slime, airplanes, and wood block robots. The camp wraps up around 12:30, then the Dwell Church girls head over to West Colfax for a weekly meeting with Josh Cook (pastor) and Josh Frase (assistant leader/coordinator) of the church. On the first + third Monday of the month, we meet at the Cook’s house for group dinner, fellowship, Bible study. This time has been really refreshing to get to know the members of the church more intimately.
Tuesday-Wednesday: These days, we continue our same routine at Hope In Our City from 7am to about 1pm. I do not have any set plans after camp these days, so it is left open for “missional living.” Personally, I am seeking to engage people in the environments that I can best find connection which include yoga classes in the park, hiking trails, farmers markets, and local cafes/restaurants.
Thursday: Today also is mostly filled with the Summer Kids Club at Hope In Our City. Then at 2pm, all members of the GenSend team meet together at another of the three church plants (Cypress Community Church) where we discuss our readings from the week (we are going through Habits of Grace by David Mathis and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero), hear from a speaker, do a group-led devotion, and break into small groups for reflection + prayer.
Friday: Today is our last day for the week at the kids camp, then beginning at noon, is the start of our 24 hour Sabbath. This experience has been really different for me in the best way possible. For so long I have been set in the routine of my daily “quiet time” of devotion + prayer, but this daily office, as David Mathis refers to it, is not the same as a Sabbath of intentional time spent in rest as our Father God did. For some of my Sabbath days, I have gone (or plan to go) to Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, Garden of the Gods, and Aurora where I spent some time back in 2017. This time for rest + relaxation + reflection has brought me in a deeper relationship with the Father as I learn more about Him (His mind, heart, voice) + His creation (the world, myself, people).
Saturday: The morning concludes our Sabbath, then the evening is left open to more missional living. The past few weeks, we have also had some church outreach events on the weekends including a cookout, movie night, and a camp out to come later in the summer.
In just a few weeks, God has already been teaching me SO much about myself, Himself, and His creation (planet, places, people). I have already seen + felt growth in many areas of my life – parts of me that I was particularly uneasy about. I am genuinely enjoying my time here in Denver + I pray that God will continue to be able to use me + teach me, both while I am here + down the road.
Final Destinations as “Fáilte” Fades To “Farewell”
Here it is — my final days in Ireland have come to an end. My last couple of weekends didn’t slow down, but rather, I took advantage of the time to explore some last minute destinations on my list before I parted the island.
The first of two trips began with a day trip to Kinsale in County Cork. The weekend previous to this, I traveled to Cork with some friends where I spent the weekend exploring the town + kayaking the River Lee. I really enjoyed the area so I was happy to return as I passed through on my way down to Kinsale. As I arrived in the colorful + quaint harbor town, I joined along on a history stroll of the town where I learned about its rich history with the Spanish Armada + English conflict. I also had planned to visit on this particular day to experience the town’s “Street Feast” food festival, as Kinsale is known as the “foodie” town of Ireland (catch some snapshots of that goodness below).
Following my day in Kinsale, I journeyed to Limerick for my accommodation for the evening, where I had lovely views of the River Shannon below. The next morning, I met a tour group outside the park in Limerick to take a trip around the Dingle Peninsula.
Our excursion began with a quick pass through Killarney for a cafe stop before heading to our first destination that was Inch Beach. It was definitely the first time I have been to a beach where lush pasture land met right beside wide open sandy shores. This feature gave the location a unique scent mixture of sheep + seafood (I oddly kind of liked it?). The coastline was particularly broad + happened to be decorated with a vast array of seashells, as we had met it at low tide. As I walked along the sand in search of a tiny treasure to carry back with me, I kept thanking + praising God for such a glorious, gorgeous day He had given us to be out exploring!
After departing the shoreline, we continued along the Slea Head Drive of the peninsula. Along the way, we stopped at a local farm on the side of the road where I came across the dearest little lambs that I was able to hold for a bit. At this same location rest some of the notable Beehive Huts, or clocháin, in the area that are made solely from stone without sand, concrete, etc. (as many of the stone walls here in Ireland are made) where people lived an estimated thousands of years ago, however the exact history + date of their construction is unknown. Some more of these structures were dotted across the Blasket Islands which we had magnificent views of along our coastal drive, including the famed “Sleeping Giant” island which is rightly named.
Further on we stopped by Dunmore Head beach — dark + rocky, yet lush + green islands jut out from vivid clear-teal waters — and Ceann Sibéal where the Jedi temples were created for the eighth Star Wars film. The Slea Head Drive led us back down into Dingle Town where I had quite the tasty seafood lunch overlooking the harbor before our departure back to Limerick + my further transfer back home to Dublin, where I arrived very late in the evening but very well pleased with my little adventure!
For my final weekend in Ireland, I decided to visit Donegal. Now, Donegal had been on the top of my list for places to visit since I have been on the island due to the staggering coastline, Star Wars film locations + Northern Lights viewing at Malin Head, and the outdoor allure of Glenveagh National Park. However, when I was looking for tours + activities to do there, none were available until May after my departure. I pushed off going for this reason, but as my last weekend crept up with nothing planned to fill the time, I saw it as a sign for me to go ahead anyway! I took a bus up to Donegal from Dublin that dropped me off right at my hotel where I once again had a river view — the River Eske. I walked around town (“the Diamond”) for a while + then headed into the tourist information office to see if there were any tours that I had missed with my online search, as well as other things to do around the area. The lady gave me the unfortunate news that I already knew to be the case. However, she then told me that there was one private tour going out the next day that was full but she could call the guy leading it just to double check. He replied that he believed it was a group of seven + his van fit eight people, but he would have to ask them if they would be open to having another person (stranger) join along with them.
As I waited until the evening when I would hear back, I went out on the Donegal Bay Waterbus. A narrator on board pointed out various spots along the way including an old Abbey from 1474, seven different islands with unique owners + history, the embarkation point of many during the Great Famine, an old coast guard station used during World War I, as well as “seal island” which is usually full of harbour + grey seals who unfortunately did not come out to play for us that afternoon. On the return trip back into town, the guide played guitar + sang a variety of traditional Irish songs + international classics for us to enjoy + sing along to. Afterwards, I went out to dinner (the best Indian restaurant in Ireland, to be exact) + I was getting ready for bed, as I had almost just given up on my hopes of hearing back about the tour, when I heard my phone ring: the guy called + said that the group of ladies would be delighted to have me join them on the tour tomorrow! There ya have it folks: God answers prayers + in perfect time.
The next morning I went across the river from my hotel to journey along the Bank Walk. It was a lovely trail along the River Eske + Donegal Bay shaded with mossy trees that were decorated with tiny, colorful fairy doors + houses — a trend in the rural culture. I made my way back over to the town center just as the Donegal Castle was opening, so I perused through the stone walls before going back to the hotel where the tour was supposed to pick up at 11:30am. I met the group of ladies I would be traveling with for the day — they were all cousins from around Ireland + England who decided 10 years ago that they needed to have annual girls weekend trips to catch up + have some time together that wasn’t spent at a wedding or funeral. They made me feel most welcome, engaged in good, genuine conversation + laughter, and passed along many “sweets” throughout our journey, so it’s safe to say that I really enjoyed them + I think they might have liked me too!
We began our drive passing through the largest fishing port on the island, Killybegs, then on to another town called Carrick. The entire drive was incredibly scenic with breathtaking rocky sea cliffs around us. We made our photo stops quick though because it was freezing rain + high winds that could easily blow me right off the edge — the Wild Atlantic Way for sure! Following the coastline, we arrived at Sliabh Liag / Slieve League which are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, providing us with magnificent views from the edge. Next up we encountered Malin Beg, yet another one of Ireland’s strikingly characteristic beaches with teal waters, golden sand, rugged mountains surrounding. There was still some rain showering, but this provided for many full, rushing waterfalls to be seen descending down the cliffs + hillsides. A quick lunch break was made in the folk village of Glencolmcille before passing down through Ghleann Gheis — a deep-cut valley that was illuminated in green due to the rain run-off that settles down in between the two steep sides. It was full of grazing sheep who were enjoying the fresh vegetation, + seemed to be much safer than the many I had seen previously on the edges + extremities of the cliffs. Not long after, we found ourselves circling back into Donegal town where I spent the evening resting, recollecting, reflecting on the weekend that had just summed up.
Wow. That’s what I have been finding myself saying a lot since I have been here — wow. Not only does God answer our prayers but He goes above + beyond them (Ephesians 3:20), and He has done this consistently during my time in Ireland: my classwork + internship days, roommates, finding a church, travel companions ( a variety!), and more + more.
So many times, whether it be for a weekend trip such as these or school assignments or just grocery store runs, I have had a plan going in that has fallen to pieces right in front of me — yet the pieces seemed to have fallen ideally in places not foreseen by me. That’s one of the things that God has been teaching me here — to let go. to not plan every detail. to not hold expectations. But rather, to fully + boldly trust Him to guide, organize, handle all things (Exodus 15:13, Psalm 48:14, 32:8, 73:24). I also feel that I grew much closer to God as I learned more about His character during my time abroad. I was constantly reminded that He is always with me (Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:9, 1 Kings 8:57, Psalm 23:4, 73:23, Isaiah 41:10, John 16:32) — physically walking with me, caring for me, watching over me. But also always in my heart comforting me, fully knowing + loving me. His love is unmatchable, unconditional, unending (Psalm 86:15, Isaiah 54:10, Ephesians 3:18-19). I have been astounded by His continual love + faithfulness.
Without a doubt the Lord has blessed me immensely beyond what I can even explain. I stayed busy, I stayed safe, I stayed enlightened. I am incredibly thankful for the exploration + growth that I encountered in Ireland + I hope you enjoyed journeying along with me!
And if you’re wondering if I’d ever study abroad again, the answer is WITHOUT A DOUBT!
And if you’re wondering whether or not you should study abroad yourself, the answer is YES! One of my favorite quotes in The Wizard of Oz teaches, “Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on the earth the more experience you are sure to get.” So seek out the experiences that God is leading you toward, take action in following the path He is paving + aim to give your undivided attention to the experience.
The Earth is beautiful. I am blessed. Life is good. (All thanks to God).
Ireland From The North + South + Everywhere Between
I’ve officially spent four months living 3,787 miles away from home. Throughout that period I have seen + done so much across Ireland. I obviously couldn’t quite make a separate blog post for each place I visited, event I attended, experience I encountered, so I wanted to go back + share some of those remarkable moments that deserve a bit of recognition.
Northern Ireland — Giant Rocks + Giant Conflict
A reflection I wrote for my Irish Life & Cultures class:
Our weekend tour up North began in the heart of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. While there is extensive character + history to be uncovered in this city (history that is currently + continually being made), my adventure-seeking, nature-loving heart was anxious to escape the concrete confines + enter into the alluring destinations that give the Emerald Isle its name. Once we passed out of Belfast, we entered into a serene journey along the astonishing Antrim Coast through rolling green pastures, hills, glens, leading us up to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge + then further on to Giant’s Causeway.
The Causeway has left countless locals, scientists, visitors, and the like in absolute awe + wonder for centuries. Each of these observers walk away with their own interpretation + reflection on the mystery, pondering what may have caused the Causeway. From the geologists' perspectives, the rugged coastline was formed around 60 million years ago when volcanic lava cooled + formed into the shaped rocks + pillars. On the other hand, there are individuals who do not believe that the spectacle is a natural feature, but rather it is better explained through local folklore. The story, in short, is recalled that the Irish giant Finn McCool (Fionn Mac Cumhaill) formed a path from these coastal rocks in order to reach a fellow Scottish giant across the way. For me? Well, after viewing the incredibly intriguing location, I would like to take a contrasting approach to the previous two speculations mentioned. The striking, scenic surface is so intricately + intentionally fashioned into puzzled shapes of hexagonal columns, perfectly round discs, symmetrical stepping stones. For this, there is no sense made from an accidental eruption explanation. The only answer lies not from the hands of giants, but within the hands of a creative God who envisioned + established each of these elements making up the world that we experience. Whatever you may choose to believe about its origins, all can agree that the Giant’s Causeway is a staggering stroll back in time, an inspiring + imaginative location, a sight to truly be seen + reflected upon.
The Ring of Kerry + Skellig Ring
Continuing along The Wild Atlantic Way to The Iveragh Peninsula, my family and I embarked on the stunning scenic drive along The Ring of Kerry + the extended Skellig Ring. After passing through Cahirsiveen town, the birthplace of the iconic Irish figure Mr. Daniel O’Connell, a narrow country road led us down to the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle, while following another path gave us an encounter with the gorgeous rocky coast + teal-gray waves of the Atlantic. It started snowing on us along Ballinskelligs Coast — an area of bright green pastures lining high hills, more bright teal waters with large rolling + crashing waves against dark rugged rocks. Despite the luminous clouds overhead, the vibrant yellow gorse + daffodils in bloom illuminated the landscape surrounding. We made a quick stop in the colorful harbor village of Portmagee for lunch at the only place open (Sunday + winter season = everything in Ireland is closed), providing us with the BEST spread of various seafood including chowder, hake, mussels, prawns, crab claws, salmon, mussels! Following our delicious delicacies, we passed over the bridge to Valentia Island just in time for God to open up the snowy clouds + remove the haze that had previously been covering the Skellig Islands (you may recognize these beauties from some Star Wars films). The sheep in the pasture were contently confused with our presence + our fascination with the landscape that they get to call home everyday. Not only did this weather change cause us to catch a glimpse of the skelligs, but the most vibrant full rainbow arched overhead for the remainder of our drive that evening.
The shift in terrain from coast to woodland signaled our entrance into Killarney National Park — the oldest of six national parks in Ireland. It is full of snow-capped mountains in a 360° view, golden valleys lying below that are studded with many lakes, hidden waterfalls, deer, goats. We were just passing through as golden hour loomed which was unreal! The evening was settling in as we made our way up to Torc Waterfall, Muckross House, and Ross Castle to close out our circular drive.
Glendalough + The Wicklow Mountains
My entrance into Wicklow Mountains National Park began with some nice waterfalls descending down rocky mountain sides including the waterslide-esque falls of Glenmacnass. The terrain consisted of dense forested mountains with green, red, gold hues which then led out into vast open plains with no trees in sight but large mountains + hills popping up in every direction. We stopped for lunch in the only place for miles — it ended up being the town of Glencree which was the site of Operation Shamrock where German kids came to Ireland after World War II to escape some of the hardship. Continuing back the same way, we then passed Lough Bray + the more captivating Lough Tay. This lake is also known as Guinness Lake by the locals because of the dark brown colored waters that wash up against the golden sand shore, + also because it is part of the Guinness Estate property. Our drive continued with yet another full rainbow that arched over Lough Dan + a Scouting Ireland camp around the corner which made my brother quite happy! The combination of the rainbow, lake named after Dan (my dad’s absolute best friend that just recently passed away), the scenery + scout camp all in one place at one time was just one of those “God moments” that only He could orchestrate, leaving each of us suitably speechless.
Bray to Greystones Coastal Cliff Walk
The morning that my family left Dublin, I decided to keep the momentum going in order to beat the homesickness that was sure to catch up to me. I took the DART out to Dún Laoghaire to enjoy a nice walk along the water of the harbor town that led me up to The People’s Park where I perused the tempting food options set up for their Sunday Market. It was a delightful sunny + somewhat warm day but as I was about halfway around the stretch of market tents, all of a sudden the blue skies darkened + it started to SNOW? This lasted only about 5 minutes before the warm sun came out again like nothing had happened — pretty peculiar if you ask me, but that’s Ireland’s weather for ya. I boarded the rail once again to head a bit further south towards Bray. I embarked on the cliff walk there that extends to the next town, Greystones. It was a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful start in Bray along mossy cliffs + rocky mountain sides above teal-blue, seafoam color waters that I can’t get enough of here! There was a bit of a rough patch about halfway through the trek with lots of mud + puddles + the snow from Dún Laoghaire had caught up to me again! Then I passed through grassy trails lined with yellow gorse + pasture smells. After about 1.5 hours/7 km, the walk ended a bit underwhelmingly in Greystones where the area was covered in construction + residential development. As I continued to the DART station, though, the town improved as a somewhat beach community with homes, shops, restaurants in a light + airy atmosphere. I definitely foresee this being a walk I come to do a few more times while I am here!