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).
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!)
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!
A Break From The Emerald Isle In The Land Of Fire + Ice
It’s insane to think that my study abroad time in Ireland has already passed the halfway mark. For my midterm break, rather than retreating to a warmer climate for relaxation as many of my peers, I traded the “R” for a “C” in location name to discover the vast + isolated beauty of Iceland.
Day 1: Roaming in Reykjavik
I awoke before the sun to get together my last minute things + walk to Heuston Station to catch a bus taking me to the Dublin airport. After a brief plane ride of less than two hours, we touched down in Reykjavik, Iceland — the northernmost capital in the world at latitude 64°08. Once we had all unloaded off of the aircraft, we reloaded onto shuttle buses that took us another hour away from the airport into the heart of the city. The terrain along the ride was like another planet with dark, rocky plains covered in moss + leftover patches of snow with views of large mountain silhouettes in the distance. The weather was a bit colder than Ireland + extremely windy! I went to grab something to eat + noticed the copious amounts of Vietnamese + Thai restaurants available (which is my absolute favorite, so I was good to go)! After enjoying my scrumptious pho, I continued to walk down the main shopping street for some souvenirs + came across the most glorious second-hand shop I have ever been in (I’m quite passionate about thrift shopping, by the way). It was full of iconic vintage pieces including fur coats, sequin blouses, puffer jackets, mom jeans, but best of all: handmade sweaters from all over the world — Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Italy, Denmark. I talked myself out of getting one when I was visiting the Aran Islands which I really regretted, so this was God saving something better for me — the only sweater in the whole shop that was made in Ireland had a spotlight shining down from above + was calling my name! After I left the shop, I made my way over to the outstanding Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral — a truly unique beauty!
Day 2: The Golden Circle
The first day along with my travel group began voyaging through Viking land. We encountered exquisite ice + moss covered plains + mountains that lead us into Þingvellir National Park where the oldest parliament was held by the Norsemen in 930 AD. Iceland is divided by the Mid-Atlantic Rift + this specific area is situated within the Rift Valley between the North American and Eurasian plates where visible cracks, canyons, fissures were visible in the land caused by recent earthquakes. We ever so cautiously + carefully continued our drive over an ice-covered plain up to Laugarvatnshellir — a cave where two Icelandic families resided in the early 20th century. As we all disembarked the bus, we immediately began slipping + sliding across the ice. I finally reached a patch of land that was more snow than ice, but then as I continued forward, my leg sank right through to the earth + the snow line reached my thigh! After several minutes of travelers struggling to journey up the hill through slippery ice, thigh-deep snow, sleet + the driver maneuvering the large bus around a narrow non-icy stretch to turn around, the majority opinion came to a consensus that the weather had won this round + we would continue on to the next stop. The Golden Circle then surprised its visitors with hot springs studded across the hilled landscape + spewing geothermal geysers that luckily were not as foul-smelling as I have experienced in Yellowstone National Park. Next, we headed to Gullfoss (The Golden Waterfall) where the river Hvítá descends over 30 meters (98 feet) into two-tiers of broad falls — partially frozen over due to the winter climate. We concluded the evening with a stop by Skalholt which was Iceland’s capital during the Middle Ages. As I made my way up to the old church + turf-covered farm house, I was blown across the field — nearly off the side of the mountain! Upon return back down the hill, I was informed that the wind gusts were estimated around 25-27 meters/second (56 mph)!!
Day 3: Chasing Waterfalls + Northern Lights
We greeted the morning with “Góðan Daginn!” then made a visit to LAVA Earthquake + Volcano Exhibition. After a short film showcasing vivid eruption footage, we perused a fascinating + fully interactive museum teaching the geological wonders that make up Iceland including the earthquakes + volcanoes that still continue today. Although all credit was given to Mother Nature + evolution from the museum’s perspective, I was quick to correct the mistake + point the glory back to the exceptional Creator that orchestrated each + every event to happen on this earth. Verses such as Psalm 8:3, 19:1-2, 33:6-7 were encircling my thoughts + mind, begging to be understood + accepted by those around me. Afterwards, we visited Seljaslandsfoss + Skogafoss which were monumental + bustling with fresh water. I hiked up to the top of Skogafoss where I had views of the rushing river above that fed into the falls + the extensive, lush farmland below. Continuing on a coastal drive along the south shore, we passed some volcanic sites + ferocious waves crashing in the ocean. A stop at Dyrhólaey was one of my absolute favorites as it provided phenomenal views of steep sea cliffs, stormy waves, unique rock formations, black sand beaches, a panoramic view of snow-capped mountains above teal waters — how does such beauty all exist in one place?? We drove a bit further down + I took a walk along Reynisfjara black sand beach which derives its distinctive hue from pulverized volcanic basalt rock. The dark land paired with more insanely intense waves + rock formations that were cut in neat designs + shapes. Our drive then shifted through various terrain, including lava fields formed from the 1783 eruption that lasted 6-8 months + took out 50-80% of the livestock. It consisted of about 220 square miles of land where hot magma had flowed, cooled, + now is covered in thick, soft, fragile moss. Our hotel for the evening was in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, meaning “Church Farm Covenant” because of the monk + nun community that resided here around 1000-1500 AD. Right outside of our hotel, we confronted another notable waterfall — named Sisters Waterfall, keeping in tune with the theme of the town. Dinner that evening was the local Lindarfiskur Arctic Char (similar to salmon) raised in the frigid spring water running naturally out of the lava fields of Skaftáreldahraun — yum! As the sun set + the sky blanketed itself in darkness, we set out on a Northern Lights hunt complete with blankets, camera, + deliciously rich hot chocolate. It was the perfect clear night for Aurora viewing — not a single cloud in sight + millions of speckled stars twinkling above. After much waiting with no sign of the waves of color, we retreated back to bed + anticipated an “aurora wake up call” if any activity occurred while we were away — unfortunately, it was just not the night.
Day 4: Iceland’s Icebergs + Glaciers
It was a cool + crisp morning setting us up for the adventure planned ahead as we made our first stop at a secluded waterfall called Foss á Siðu. The day was spent in Vatnajökull National Park — the largest national park in Western Europe, dominated by Vatnajökull which is the largest glacier in Europe + Hcannadalshnijúkur which is the highest peak in Iceland at 2110 meters (6900 feet). This place was utterly striking + stunning; a land of distinct contrasts — panoramic views of colossal white mountains wedged with light blue glaciers, accentuating dark lava fields + black sand beneath. Our arrival was perfectly planned by God as the radiant dawning sun was just peeking past the peripheral of the mountains + highlighting the details of the landscape. We continued a bit further to Scvinafellsjökull — one of many glacial outlets emerging from Vatnajökull. Along the road, huge glacial mountains sat to my left + crashing coastal waves lie on the right. Next up: Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon was a 180 meter (591 feet) deep containing the most breathtakingly bright blue icebergs afloat the water. I ventured over to the opposite side of the road where more chunks of icebergs were washed up along the black sand beach imitating the look of newly cut crystals scattered along a sheet of black velvet. It’s no wonder why the people here began referring to this as “Diamond Beach.” It’s quite difficult to ponder this kind of scenery — ocean meets mountain, lava rock meets iceberg; all in one place. Lastly, we ended with a tranquil trail walk down to Skaftafellsjökull glacier (about 1.8 km) to get an up-close experience in the valley between. On the return back to the hotel, we passed some waterfalls that were trying their best to fulfill their sole purpose in descending water, yet would be more properly referred to as “waterflies” because the gusts of wind were opposing the flow in an upwards direction! The Aurora wake up call was once again on radar but still to no avail.
Day 5: Coastal Churches + A Dip In The Blue Lagoon
Most of the day was spent driving back Westward toward Reykjavik. Along the way, we passed through several villages including Hveragerdi which is one of few places in the world that lies directly atop a geothermal area. The hot springs heat the land + greenhouses which provide many plants + produce for the town, giving the location the name “flower village.” Grindavík was another village, specifically a fishing town bringing in much of the country’s income. We continued along making a stop at Strandarkirkja — a church built along the coast. As the story goes, some men were caught in a sea storm + prayed for God to come to their aid, promising that they would build a church when they reached shore if He did. As they were praying, a bright light appeared — believed to be an angel — which led them to land. The area is now known as Angel’s Cove + the structure they built is the “Miracle Church.” Finally, the afternoon brought us to the main attraction for the day — The Blue Lagoon. It is one of the 25 wonders of the world as it is a mineral-rich (silica, algae, sulfur) geothermal pool of aesthetically appealing aquamarine water in the middle of a black lava field. It was incredibly frigid outside as I scurried across in a bathing suit to secure some solace in the warm (well, up to 38°C/100°F!) waters surrounding me. I was provided with a rejuvenating silica mud mask to make my skin soft + a refreshing fruit smoothie to sip on as I floated around my blue bath. The one hour return back to Reykjavik was considerably calming considering the period of relaxation I had just experienced. After cleaning up, I concluded my last evening in the land of fire + ice with a grand buffet dinner full of traditional Icelandic dishes + desserts. My favorite was the vast variety of fresh seafood, including the herring in a dijon-mustard sauce which I became completely obsessed with + took advantage of while on this trip!
Day 6: Departure to Dublin
My departing flight was already quite early but had been moved up an hour earlier due to some nasty weather brewing in the area. Considering that I needed to arrive at the airport two hours prior to my departure + the airport was at least an hours drive from Reykjavik, I had to catch the shuttle bus to the airport at 2:30am — yep, after my late evening I just went ahead + pulled an all-nighter. I boarded around 5:30am, slept during the flight, then arrived back in Dublin around 8:40am. I spent the day unloading + unpacking my bags, camera film, memories + prepared for a full day of interning to follow.
I was astounded at the unbelievable beauty of Iceland that challenged my stereotypical expectations of climate with its diverse + varied terrain. I saw much of the world + delved deep into history within a single speck on this earth — it’s mind-boggling to think what more there is to be discovered across the entire planet! Although I was unable to check off my #1 bucket list item to see The Northern Lights, this trip to Iceland was beyond anything I ever planned for or imagined it to be + I am most confident that God has a superior adventure in store for my first viewing of His extraordinary, cosmic creations.
Until next time!
Road trip to Galway + The Aran Islands + Cliffs of Moher
As a part of my study abroad program, I am taking an Irish Life + Cultures class that includes weekend study tours out to visit some top highlights in Ireland that we are learning about. Our first big trip was out West to visit some coastal cities + staggering scenery.
The group loaded onto a coach bus late Friday morning + began the journey towards our first destination — Galway. Along the way, our class instructor educated us with some knowledge + history of the places we were passing as well as playing some traditional Irish music + teaching us some songs to sing along to including Galway Girl + The Fields Of Athenry. We checked in our hostel, dropped off our bags, then headed out to explore the town. After a bit of shop-hopping + menu-scanning we made our way down by the coast. The sun was shining brightly accompanied by a light mist — the perfect combination for producing a rainbow, a full arch to be exact! We then had a nice three course meal together at McSwiggan's Pub which was a perfect wrap up to our first evening.
The next morning we departed our hostel fairly early to drive to the port where we loaded onto a ferry out to the Aran Islands. This area of Ireland is one of few places in the country that still speak Irish opposed to English, or both, so our instructor taught us some common Irish small talk such as how to say “Hello” and “What is your name?” It was a quite rainy morning which was worrisome considering our plans for taking a ferry out to the islands. However, God’s plan is always greater than the limited picture that we can see in the moment: just as we were backing out of the dock, the clouds passed away + the sky’s opened bursting with brilliant light! As we were warned, though, the ferry ride is always somewhat of a rollercoaster no matter the weather. We jumped up + over waves, rocking side to side with views from the window showcasing sky, then sea, sky, sea. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the storms that Jesus + the disciples faced in the Bible. No doubt, the waves that I encountered on this ferry were of no comparison to the raging sea that they met (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25), yet Jesus was completely unphased by the storm — slept through it even! Meanwhile the disciples (aka us in our own storms of life) freaked out. The Lord awoke to calm them + the sea with a single remark. It is so humbling + comforting to know + worship + follow someone of such great power + wisdom that leaves you standing in awe — each + every time. Despite the wild ride, my adventurous nature called me out to the back deck of the ferry to experience the waves in all of their glory. After stumbling my way across, grasping random objects along the way to keep balance, I made it out the back door + my heart overflowed! The golden sun peeked through the clouds + reflected off of the raging green-turquoise waves + a sliver of a vibrant rainbow caught my eye in the distance. As I was taking it all in, a massive wave came across the side of the ferry + smacked right into me leaving me drenched but man was it worth it (after I knew my camera was still in tact)!
Unfortunately, my boat bonanza ceased as we arrived at the island of Inis Mór (Inishmore — “The Big Island”). It is 11 miles long, 2.5 miles wide, containing about 750 permanent residents. As we got off the ferry, we immediately boarded onto smaller tour buses that took us around the island. We stopped off at Dún Aonghasa which is a circular stone fort said to have been built a few thousand years ago for religious purposes initially. It was atop a rocky hillside with dramatic cliff drops on its peripheral. As we made our way back down the hill, it began pouring rain. We all got completely soaked (número dos for me today) + managed to stumble our way down the rocks while battling the strong winds. Everyone on the island seemed to gather inside the only cafe in the area of the fort to warm up with some hot soup + brown bread. Meanwhile, I made my way to the bathroom where I had to ring out all of the water from my pants, socks, gloves — I could have filled a small pool with the rain I was carrying on me! Our group loaded back onto our buses to continue around the island where we came across many old churches, cemeteries, small houses + cottages, extensive coastline. Once we finished up our tour, we perused the handknit Aran sweater markets + boarded the ferry back to the mainland under a dusted pink + orange sky.
Sunday morning started straight on the roads out of Galway to the Cliffs of Moher. Along the way we passed through The Burren (“Great Rock”) in County Clare which is an area of land + mountains made from limestone bedrock that portrays an interesting gray, crackled look. We also passed Dunguaire Castle, as well as numerous mountains, cattle + sheep pastures, small cottages + villages. It was a lovely drive across the coast, clear enough for us to see the Aran Islands in the distance.
Our much-awaited arrival to the Cliffs of Moher had come about noon that day. As most natural wonders, many films had scenes shot in this location including Leap Year, The Princess Bride, and Harry Potter + the Half-Blood Prince. The Princess Bride’s title for the cliffs is quite accurate — the Cliffs of Insanity! They were absolutely stunning + jaw-dropping + unreal + unlike anything I have seen before. At first I was a bit underwhelmed because it was just a simple viewpoint ledge at the top of the hill, but then I kept walking along + eventually found myself trekking a narrow muddy path on the side of the cliff + rocks — ah, just what I was seeking! The weather was just perfect too. I was so worried that there would be fog + rain preventing our view of the cliffs, yet the Father is faithful in answering our prayers + settling our worries. It was completely clear with very little wind as we explored the cliffs, while the clouds + rain began to come out just as we were departing our well-visited scene.
A 2.5 hour bus ride back to Dublin left every single person aboard the coach fast asleep! It’s easy to rest after a satisfying, exhausting weekend exploring new territories + destinations that leave you in wonder + reflection. God’s creative + intricate handiwork is so evident in this country; I hope to bring that realization into the city of Dublin + among the people who are blind + unreceptive to His greatness. I am grateful for the opportunities that are laid out before me + continue to reveal themselves through various people, places, phases.
City-dwelling + Cliff-side Hiking + Castle Visit
Greetings! I’ve made my way across the waters + have now begun my adventure in Ireland. I spent my first few days in Dublin getting acquainted with the city that I’ll be living in, then I made my way out to explore a bit outside the concrete confines.
Fortunately, I see many of Dublin's top highlights in my everyday walk to school including Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, The Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, Grafton Street, and St. Stephen's Green. However, I did spend one afternoon during my first week as a tourist exploring some of the other locations more in depth. These places included many museums such as the EPIC Irish emigration museum, Dublin City Gallery, the Little Museum of Dublin, National Gallery, and Natural History Museum, as well as Oscar Wilde's birthplace and statue, the Ha'Penny Bridge, and the Dublin Zoo.
My first day trip out was to Howth for a cliff-side hike. The little town was quite cute + quaint by the coast full of docked boats + tempting fresh seafood restaurants. We went on the shorter of two hikes which was incredibly reminiscent of my time along The West Highland Way in Scotland. The trail was rocky with a bit of mush from previous rain, the grass was a vibrant green with the occasional pop of bright yellow blooms, and the views! oh my! The ocean extended infinitely beyond the horizon into a fuzzy haze of blue — I could see the entire world from atop the hill. The calm, dreamy waves brushed up against the steep + jagged rock side creating a beautiful, bubbly sea foam that was rich in an icy blue-green hue. The only words I could seem to utter were along the lines of “oh, wow! thank you, thank you Jesus!” It is in times + locations such as these that I am absolutely speechless as the magnificence, weight, glory, wisdom, creativity of my God!
When we made our way back down the hillside, we scoped out our options for fresh fish grub. We got some recommendations from the locals and fish + chips seemed to be the popular go-to — I’m always down for seafood! After we ate + walked a bit around the market in town we boarded the DART once again to head back to Dublin.
Normally, I would be attending my internship two days a week, but since I did not begin there my first week in Dublin, I took advantage of my free day to visit another new destination. Three of my friends joined me in journeying up to Malahide for the day. We are all fairly unfamiliar with public transportation, and especially in a new city (country!) we’ve never been, so we were basically running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to find the right location, station, platform, etc. for us to board the right mode of transport. Thankfully, everyone in Ireland is incredibly helpful + gracious so they pointed us in the right direction.
When we departed the DART, we ventured over to begin a tour of the Malahide Castle. It had been inhabited by members of the Talbot family for over 800 years + included all of the original paintings + furniture from throughout those times! We then exited the exquisite home to explore the 268 acres of woodland, gardens, greenhouses + even got to walk through a fairy trail + enter into the Republic of Ireland’s only butterfly house.
After the tour of the Talbot’s former property, we headed out to the local village + marina. It was quite similar to Howth in its local feel with little tourists or popular businesses.
I will admit, my first few days abroad took some getting used to. I felt all alone + afraid. But continually God reminded me how He is ALWAYS with me — He never leaves me nor forsakes me + I am in His care (Deuteronomy 31:8, 1 Kings 8:57, Psalm 73:23-24, 139:10). With Him — and only through Him — I have confidence + can take courage to continue on the journey He has laid out before me (Joshua 1:9, 1 Chronicles 28:20)! These verses have been exceptionally encouraging + relevant for me.
“If I Settle On The Far Side Of The Sea, Even There Your Hand Will Guide Me”
My Process of Planning, Preparing, Packing for Ireland
Before I even applied to go to school anywhere I knew that I wanted to study abroad at some point during my time in college. I was blessed with the opportunity to go on a short-term study abroad trip to Scotland at the end of my freshman year where I hiked, mountain-biked, kayaked, and canoed along The West Highland Way. Now, I am about to embark on a full semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland.
When first exploring my options to study abroad, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to go everywhere + anywhere and had no idea where to begin to narrow it down. Thankfully, my school has an awesome study abroad program and coordinator who helped me through the process. Since I was open to traveling to any type of climate + culture, we began to look at study abroad programs that would offer me the most money through scholarships + that would allow me to complete the courses that I need in order to complete my degree (two very important aspects when deciding on where to attend school abroad, by the way).
Once I narrowed down my options + discovered Dublin, Ireland to best fit my needs, I began working out the details of how to make it all come together. I obviously first rushed over to the program’s website to fill out my application, which I completed two months before the deadline (excited, or?). Then, I met with my academic advisor + student services coordinator on campus to discuss which classes I would need to take abroad + how those would transfer back as course credit here at my university. I also got into contact with a couple of students I knew that had attended the same program in Ireland before to get answers to some of my initial questions + advice on study abroad in general. The study abroad office on my campus hosted an orientation meeting discussing what to expect, financial aid, culture shock, packing, etc. which was extremely helpful!
Now the initial details, logistics, paperwork are all out of the way + I am gearing up the last stages before heading off! I am a huge fan of clothing + putting together new outfits for every single day of the year. However, when packing to live abroad for 3-4 months in a single suitcase, this tendency is just not possible. So, here is a bit about how I went about packing for my study abroad:
Lastly, before I set off I wanted to jot down some goals for my time abroad. I wrote them on two little post-it notes so that I could carry one around with me in my bag while traveling + hang the other up in my bedroom. These are things that I hope to accomplish while I am in Ireland such as travel destinations + personal development, as well as little reminders + words of encouragement to keep me going as I come into contact with culture shock + challenges.
I am beyond stoked to begin this new experience ahead of me + I hope to keep you updated so as to take you along the journey with me!
Slán go fóill (goodbye for now)!
Reminiscing On Brief Trips That Brought Unique Experiences + Lasting Memories
The beginning of September translates into the transition into Fall which signals a shift into my student season of life. My summer days spent as an avid world traveler are put on hold for the time being — trading in the passport + sightseeing for thick textbooks + studying. As I am settling into my new routine of courses, labs, tutoring, leading, I wanted to take a moment to reflect back on a few few-day trips that weaved their way into my wondrous weeks of summer break.
The first mini trip was spent in charming Charleston. I traveled down with my brother who was visiting the Medical University of South Carolina where he hopes to attend for dental school. While he was busy with a schedule full of meet-and-greets, touring campus, mock labs + demonstrations, etc., my parents and I had the opportunity to explore the Charleston area, which brought back many memories, and definitely created some anew.
In 1995, my parents came here and stayed at Shem Creek Inn for their honeymoon. We spent some time around the area, walking on the boardwalk along the marsh + line of shrimp boats where they recalled to me their adventurous activities + sweet stories from their time spent here. Later that evening, we drove around the Battery to admire the beautiful old homes + waterfront at sunset.
We spent the next day as tourists around the downtown area, Battery Park, Waterfront Park, and Kiawah Island. We also took some time away to head over to Angel Oak which was a favorite of mine when I was younger. The tree is thought to be the largest, towering at about 66 feet. Despite 400-500 years of harsh weather and curious tourists stopping by, the tree still manages to hold deep roots + stand strong for all to admire -- what a perfect paradigm for me to apply to my life as I inevitably face the many confusing, stressful, difficult, overwhelming moments that come with being a full-time student again. As long as I have a strong foundation + deep roots in the Word of life, I will stand strong + withstand any circumstance that comes my way.
One of my favorite things about Charleston is walking around downtown exploring all of the eclectic shops + foodie spots, as well as the open marketplace. In addition to the plenty of plates of seafood that I put down on the short trip, I stopped by some health-focused cafes + juice bars including Huriyali where I got a loaded açaí bowl + a vanilla beet cupcake topped with cashew frosting, rose petals, lemon zest — score!
My next weekend getaway was to another lovely southeastern coastal town. My mom and aunt took a long weekend away from work to spend with me around Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. There were off and on summer showers, but the Lord held off the rain while we were out doing activity + sprinkled the grounds as we were indoors doing other things -- nothing could put a damper on our girls trip when our good Father is looking out for us!
We toured Bellamy Mansion, explored downtown Wilmington’s shops + restaurants, and spent an afternoon at Airlie Gardens where we saw the oldest live oak tree of 470+ years, historic chapels, art sculptures, and beautiful flower + butterfly gardens. We ended the evening with a delectable, fresh seafood dinner + a sunset cruise along the Cape Fear River.
We set out early one morning to Fort Fisher to take the ferry over to Southport, which was a unique experience from what I have done before. Southport was the film location for numerous movies + TV shows including Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven. We walked around the local neighborhoods, did some shopping (salt water taffy to bring back for my brother + thrifted clothes for me!), had lunch on the water, visited Wrightsville, Kure, and Carolina Beaches, then headed back to our place for the weekend to watch Safe Haven, pointing out all of the spots in the film that we had just visited that day!
Before we could even unpack our bags from our beach weekend in North Carolina, my mom and I set out again along with my Dad for a road trip up to Indiana. My brother had won an outstanding + infrequently given award under the Boys Scouts of America Order of the Arrow known as the Distinguished Service Award, so we drove over 8 hours, through 5 states, to celebrate him + his awesome accomplishment.
We attended a dignified national recognition dinner + ceremony at Indiana University for the select group of individuals who won the award, then headed over to an impressive show hosted by the Scouts with a reception following.
Leading up to the main events for the evening, we had a day open with freetime that my parents and I spent exploring the surrounding area. A notable feature about the town is the extensive natural supply of limestone rock. We sought out a particular rock quarry nearby that provided the stone in the construction of the Empire State building. However, we weren’t quite successful in gaining access to the quarry, so we visited around downtown Bloomington, went to local parks, the visitors center, and Indiana University’s campus.
As I finish typing this post, my heart is full of gratefulness. I am beginning to sink deep in assignments + responsibilities, but I am overcome with awe at what the Father has blessed me with ― the big, the small, the in-between. These blessings that God has gifted me in my life in terms of family, opportunities, experiences are far more numerous + incomparable to any bump in the road or hardship I may come across. Reminiscing on moments, events, places such as these forces my eyes to see nothing but the good in all things + my mouth to speak nothing but praise + thanksgiving to the Father who provides His children good, perfect, pleasing gifts (James 1:17). As I approach the start of this Fall semester, I aim to keep my mind lifted to things above (Colossians 3:2), remind myself of the provisions He has blessed me with + always stand rooted in the purpose He has called me to (Colossians 2:6-7).
Encountering God On a Ranch in La Paz, Mexico
Going into my first mission trip I had expectations of what it should look like—going out into local communities each day + presenting the Gospel to people. However, through my experience at Rancho El Camino, God has taught me that that is only one piece of the puzzle; only one job in the great work of extending His Kingdom among the nations.
Even more so, through the help of a language barrier between myself and the people within the community, I learned that the act of exalting the name of God is not only fulfilled through, or limited to, word of mouth but the Gospel is presented through our actions + in our service (Colossians 3:17). This is especially true in the Mexican culture, and was evidenced through how the local missionaries and staff at Rancho El Camino lived their lives.
Here I learned a lot about community. For so long I have been accustomed to living my life as an introverted, individualistic, independent type of person. But God is calling me to more than that. He is teaching me the importance of forming relationships with others so that I can grow beyond my personal walk with Him into a communal existence + form of worship as the unified body of Christ. We work better together in the effort of extending His Kingdom by encouraging, challenging, growing in all ways mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
This community of Christ is open. We serve one God, one Dios; one Father, one Padre. He offers us a universal, unconditional love that extends beyond borders, culture, language, or socioeconomic status.
Although I had my own hopes + ideas floating in my head about what a mission trip should model, we as a group didn’t have a set plan for what we were going to be doing while on our trip. We were going in with no expectations; just being open to serve in whatever way possible + following after the tasks that God had prepared for us to accomplish.
Some of these tasks came in the form of physical labor:
We dug holes + smashed rocks in order to put posts in for a new slackline as a part of expanding the camp’s challenge course.
We helped train, feed, clean up after the horses, as well as replace a portion of the old gates where they stay.
We did construction + mixed / poured cement for a new storage area for the Ranch, as well as a wash station for the staff + interns.
"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!"
Two of the evenings we went out into the local neighborhoods to promote the Ranch’s summer camps that will be taking place in the following weeks. The first night, there were not many children at the location we were in so we walked home to home (not the kind of homes we are used to…) handing out flyers + registration cards with information about the camp + how to sign up. The next evening, we were at a playground that was full of energized kids. We had the opportunity to play soccer (fútbol), make crafts, and act out a Bible story that was read in Spanish by one of the staff.
When we think of being blessed we often think in material terms. Being immersed into these local neighborhoods + standards of living reiterated the fact that God’s blessings in our lives extend far beyond material qualifications. These people are living in material poverty, but they are not poor (Luke 6:20-21, James 2:5). They have spiritual blessing far greater than most of us can attain because we succumb to the temptations of materialism + consumerism that hinder our walk with God. Material wealth is precarious, fleeting, and can be depleted, but the blessings + riches we have in Christ are readily available + inexhaustible (2 Corinthians 8:9, Romans 8:17).
Each day before setting out to work we gathered in a circle with hands outstretched to the center + raised them to the cry of “A LA CHAMBA!” It is a shortening of a motto the staff holds on the Ranch: “la cruz, la palabra, la chamba,” meaning “the cross, the Word, the work.”
While contemplating what exactly that saying means to me + how I can apply it, I discovered:
To The Word I set my mind to study + meditate on.
To The Work I set my hands to give + serve.
To The World I set my feet to go + share the Good News.
This is the first step along the path that God has planned for me. I believe He intentionally placed me at Rancho El Camino for my first mission trip for the purpose of learning the various aspects of mission work + discovering what area He is specifically calling me to take a part in. God doesn’t need me to accomplish His task, but He has sought me + invited me to have a hand in the great work that is taking place—what a blessing that is!
"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building."
This mission trip has taught me that although I may not hear + see lives be changed over to Christ in the exact moment before me, I am serving as the hands that plant the seed, lay the foundation, clear the path for individuals to encounter God + begin a lifelong journey with Him down the road. My job isn’t to save lives or build something extravagant so that I can take all the glory for those things. My mission here was to simply GO wherever God was calling me, SERVE in whatever way possible, and ENCOURAGE whoever needed it. God is teaching me to be open—open to having my own plans or expectations be challenged, changed, contorted + following Him humbly, faithfully, wholeheartedly.