An Eventful Bus Tour Through KY, OH, IN, MI
I have been begging to take a trip with my Meemaw + Pappaw for years now, but was caught up in college, graduate school, marriage, etc. Finally, at the cusp of many big milestones (setting out on the morn of King Charles’ coronation, headed to Kentucky during Derby weekend, landing just one week before I start my first full-time job, sandwiched exactly halfway in the progress of my pregnancy…) we have taken the opportunity. This was also a special time in the life of Meemaw, as she is recently widowed + coming up on what would have been their 60th anniversary. She would take these bus trips with her “Lover”, Pappaw, for many years; and as his health began to decline, and my interest + availability to go on such trips increased, she was unable to both stay to take care of Pappaw + also commit to be away traveling with me. So, in short, Meemaw + I embarked on a long-awaited, sovereignly-timed, 1:1 trip together.
Day 1: Travel
This morning, my dad + I left dark + early (that is, 4:00am) to drive to Georgia to meet Meemaw. Once we picked her up, we headed to the location to meet our bus tour group. I don’t know if it is specifically advertised this way, but this particular bus tour company tends to cater towards age 50+ travelers, so all of the other travelers were entranced by my 23-year-old presence joining along with my grandmother for the adventure. It didn’t at all feel weird to me, though, being an old soul since I was young (yes, I was the one that would hang around + talk to the parents at the kids’ birthday parties), and as I would tell the tour group, “these are my people!”.
We ventured northward + stopped in downtown Knoxville, TN for lunch. Meemaw + I of course found our way into a veggie-centric spot – The Tomato Head – where we each got unique veggie sandwiches + colorful side salads. As this was the official “Derby Day” (May 6, 2023), we all watched some clips of the action + behind the scenes on the bus TV screens as we continued to travel North. By dinnertime that evening, we had arrived in Hebron, KY where we would be dining + resting at the hotel there
Day 2: Ohio
This morning, as I prepared to teach my church’s middle school girls group for the upcoming Sunday School, I studied Mark 12:1-17. As I prayed through the words “render to God what is God’s”, the hotel radio was playing in the background + I heard the words “give your all to me, I’ll give my all to you” (from the song “All of Me” by John Legend), and the Holy Spirit quickly made this connection for me, as “render to God what is God’s” is referring to our very selves — our whole selves! This also made me recall a conversation that Meemaw + I had on the bus just the day before, sharing our insights + meditations with the Lord: I was reflecting on what I had learned in Deuteronomy 6, which includes the Shema + concludes with the sons coming to ask what the purpose of the Law + rules are. A major theme through Deuteronomy teaches that listening (that is, obeying in the Hebrew culture) leads to living (having true, abundant life), and of course in verse 6:24 we find that the answer to the purpose of obeying the Law is “for our good always” – that we may experience true, abundant life! So, the reason Jesus compels us to give ourselves to God is not only because He is a ruling Creator King over us, but it is for our very own benefit + blessing!
And that was all before breakfast… LOL! After we had eaten, we headed towards Dayton, OH where we spent the first half of the day at the U.S. National Air Force Museum. This didn’t seem like much of an exciting pit stop for me on the itinerary, but I was astounded at how interested + invested I became as I stepped through those doors. I became entranced with each word on the plaques + the huge, colorful model airplanes + displays that were around me. In fact, Meemaw + I both were so enthralled, that we spent our entire 2 hours in only one section of the museum + didn’t even make it to the rest of the building! As we left the museum, we went over to a mall food court for lunch, with subsequent food-coma naps on the bus had by all, and then we made what would be a typical rest area bathroom stop, but Meemaw + I once again found ourselves fascinated with what most others passed by without much notice… This rest stop was right at the edge of a wind farm – The Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert, OH, to be exact (and woohoo that they had an information sign to read about it 🙂). It was 27,000 acres and consisted of 152 towering turbines. From this stop, we finally made our way into Indiana, and made our final stop for the evening in Shipshewana, IN, at the Blue Gate Garden Inn.
Day 3: Indiana Amish
The third day once again began with a sweet time in the Word in Luke 9:37-43/Mark 9:14-29, and a specific prayer on my heart this morning to have intentional, connecting conversations today; that ultimately we would proclaim the marvelous magnificence of the sovereign Creator God that we serve.
After a full breakfast offered at the Blue Gate Inn, we were off on a tour through Indiana Amish country. Our first stop was at the famous Rise N Roll Bakery where we were greeted with warm welcomes + smiles, sweet donuts + coffee. And in case we didn’t already have enough food this morning, we also went down to the Dutch Country Market to sample handmade Amish egg noodles and purchase more homemade snacks, jams, and other goods.
We took a break from all the delightful foods to visit Teaberry Wood Products. Here, we got an immersive experience into their woodworking studio + all of the products that they produce by hand – from start to finish. After our mini tour + welcome, we were free to peruse their products for ones that particularly caught our attention to bring home with us. While the rest of the group scattered to explore, I stayed back to get a closer look at the work they were doing, and found myself deep in conversation with the owners, Lavern and Rachel. Our words drifted + connected along paths of photography, missions, the church, Ireland. It was such an uplifting + encouraging moment for me to be able to connect with them on levels + areas that mean so much to me. It was a reminder of how small + interconnected the world actually is, how truly accessible + universal the Gospel is to all people everywhere, and an answer to a prayer that I had lifted this morning.
The break from food didn’t last long, as we now headed to the Yoder family home for a homestyle Amish meal. We began with homemade bread + spreads (various jams + their Amish “peanut butter” – sweetened marshmallow spread with a hint of peanut butter LOL), and a broccoli salad. As we all munched + enjoyed, we were greeted with a cart of food to divvy out + pass along. This included salisbury steak + chicken, egg noodles, mashed potatoes + gravy, green beans, and a selection of pies: chocolate cream, apple, and black raspberry. (I would venture to say that the Amish like to eat; or at least to cook + host!). We all sat at a long table family-style, and Meemaw + I happened to sit with our two tour guides + bus driver, where we once again connected on various areas of our lives + interests, having lovely + intentional conversation (the Lord answers again!).
After lunch, we journeyed to Silver Star Leatherworks – a one-man show, along with the assistance of his daughters, to use a plethora of leathers (cow hide, hippo, elephant, python, ostrich, turtle, etc.) to make purses + handbags, belts, wallets + clutches, and more. In fact, we even witnessed various stages of these items being made, including a whole belt that he made before our eyes, from start to finish (cutting the leather, trimming the edges, dyeing the edges, engraving the pattern, punching the holes + adding the buckle) within 5 minutes! All of the creations were absolutely beautiful, smelled delightful (if you’re into that leather-smell), and were of such high quality. Following this stop for more handmade goods, we visited Yoder’s department store, though Meemaw + I didn’t make it very far in the door before we started talking to our tour guide for the day, Jodie. And here we have it folks, the Lord yet again answered my prayer for the morning, the third time today – there were so many connections with Jodie! She also teaches junior high girls at her church, her daughter works as a bank teller (my new current position) + her son is a missionary (my next stop, Lord willing), and she is a health coach on the side (also like me!). She lit up + exuded over how God has worked in her life, through past experiences + sinful tendencies, and brought her to where she is today – all in the same, similar, ways as my own experience. Phew, God is so kind to cross our paths with so many with whom we can relate, share, exult, encourage, support, comfort (2 Corinthians 1).
We made a quick stop by Yoder popcorn, and yes, munched on more food while here, before heading to the Blue Gate Restaurant for dinner, which was a familiar Amish spread: fried chicken + roast beef, egg noodles, mashed potatoes + gravy, dressing, green beans, homemade bread + spreads, and various pies to choose from (Meemaw + I both got coconut cream pie). Following our meal, we headed upstairs to the Blue Gate Theatre for the performance of “Dear Soldier Boy” – which, to me, was surprisingly well put-together, engaging + entertaining, and portrayed good morals via the Amish faith + culture.
Day 4: Holland, Michigan
Today, we left Shipshewana, IN early to make our way up to Holland, MI. As we arrived, we picked up our step-on guide in the town’s city center, which was already arrayed with vibrant + variant hues of tulips. Before getting deep into the tulips + experiencing a bit of the Tulip Time festival, though, we visited a handful of key historic sites, the majority of which were churches — reformed Protestant churches. Pillar Church was the first that we stopped by, receiving its rich history dating back to 1847. Some may have thought it odd to have a rooster on the top of the steeple rather than a cross, but this golden rooster also held symbolic significance: In one sense, it could be a symbol of Peter who, like all Christians, come broken + sinful (Peter denied Jesus 3x times + the rooster crowed), yet find forgiveness + restoration in the blood of Jesus Christ. Secondly, the rooster is an animal that rises early in the morning to proclaim that the light is dawning, as we Christians should also be proclaiming in our words + our lives — “the Light of the world is coming!”
Van Raalte is a big name in Holland — from political + social involvement, to establishing churches + universities. In fact, he founded Hope College out of the drive for all people to be educated. An anchor lies out front, + remains the symbol of the college, as a symbol for hope. The chapel that occupies these grounds, ordained with intricate stained glass + more than one ornate pipe organ, was founded in 1929. Both churches along this street, Pillar Church + the chapel at Hope College — in all their historic, traditional, antique glory — are packed out with hundreds of college students every week. It was truly so encouraging + comforting to imagine these old walls filled with young souls — reminding me of my own local church back home, where young college students, grade-school kids, newly weds join together with the senior saints to sing age-old hymns + actually read Scripture out of physical Bibles (gasp!).
We took a break from our tour of downtown Holland to return to the Civic Center for a quick boxed lunch — which, honestly, wasn’t the best, but was enjoyed with the best company.😊 After we munched, we moved on to learn more of the Holland culture (from the Netherlands), including the De Klomp Wooden Shoe & Delftware Factory. In the same vicinity, was also Veldheer Tulip Gardens — a ravishing field of shape + color! This was 80 acres of a plethora of tulips, 6.5 million tulip bulbs, to be exact! A glance out at the fields revealed neatly lined + expertly designed quilts of flowers, with Netherlands-style windmills studded throughout. In the repetitive phrase of Meemaw in this moment, “how great Thou art!”. What a marvel at how God has designed + ordered the world, to even such small detail as having hundreds of types, designs, shapes, hues of one single kind of flower, and even the marvel of his human creatures who mirror Him in the way of creativity to be able to order + organize such beauties into even further significant rows + structures of beauty. There are several things throughout our daily lives that we look over without hesitation or second thought to their significance, yet many things such as these in nature compel us to pause + consider their origin + their purpose.
This evening, we stayed at the Hawthorne Hotel at Hope College, and it was undoubtedly the most intriguing, aesthetically pleasing hotel I have ever been in stateside. It was very contemporary — but not boring black-and-white contemporary — it was filled with pops of deep accent colors, funky shapes + furniture pieces, artwork + books + many work spaces. After we settled in our things, we gathered for a delightful dinner provided by the hotel, and then in lieu of the offered dessert, Meemaw + I scoped out the local area for some ice cream, ending up at frozen yogurt spot, where we swirled our selected flavors + sprinkled various toppings. We brought these treats with us over to Centennial Park, where we were entertained by traditional Dutch dancing — first by the Kinder + Middel age groups, and then by the High School + Alumni groups. It was impressive to see the number of participants, who took up the entire street from one end to another, as well as the range of ages including women well into their 70s still leaping around in wooden clogs! This moment was Meemaw’s favorite, as we had special time spent with just the two of us, and she previously experienced this with Pappaw, who enjoyed this experience very much himself when he came. After the culinary + cultural treats, we were done for the evening + relished an early night to bed.
Day 5: More in Michigan
Following our breakfast at the hotel, the group made our way to Windmill Island Gardens; thankfully arriving early, as it quickly filled with crowds of other groups + visitors! The main focal point located on the property was an original flour mill from the Netherlands, called De Zwaan. We wandered up the spiral lighthouse-like staircase leading to the top of the mill, stopping at various points along the journey to witness stages of the milling process. As we reached the top, evidenced by the gleam of light coming through the doorway at the top of the stairs, we made our way out onto the ledge + immediately took in the views of the grounds below us — a surrounding of green grass graced with patchworks of bold tulips + a flowing stream with little goslings learning to take in their first days. We made our way down the staircase within the mill, and upon finding ourselves outside again, we took a closer look at these scenes we had seen from above, as well as the other noteworthy pieces of the property: the Dutch village shops, a hand-painted running carousel, and an old-timey street organ. The organ was absolutely fascinating! I have never seen an organ that operated in this way (I am only familiar with pipe organs in the church), where it would play on its own through a Rube-Goldberg-machine, chain-reaction series of movements, resulting in the tunes reminiscent of circus shows in summertime. The sheet music that was inserted into the organ to be played + to provide such joyous melodies was an accordion of hole-punched cardboard material, appearing to be near its end of use at any moment! Meemaw + I still had a good chunk of time before the bus circled back around to pick us up, so we decided to take a brisk stroll on a trail around the property, while reflecting on the Lord’s glory + greatness in His creation.
And now, tulip time had passed + it was officially time for some adventure + adrenaline. We journeyed to Saugatuck, MI for a speedy sand dune ride. While I had expected this to be on the sand dunes along the shore, as I was used to seeing on the Southeastern coast of beaches, these dunes instead lifted us up on the cliffs with 300 ft+ views of Lake Michigan. Meemaw + I enjoyed an entertaining dune buggy driver named Bernard, while also witnessing two bald eagles soaring in the sky above us, and three deer lounging in the woods along the backside of the dunes. The deer were completely unphased by our whipping + whirling ride, and as we slowed to take in their serenity, we gathered that at least one of the three was a doe preparing to give birth to a fawn soon — very much a Bambi-like scene of light filtering through trees + calm among the creatures. As we zoomed back into the sun + sand, Meemaw had sweet, joy-filled tears as she recollected memories of Pappaw enjoying the dune ride that the two of them had done together many years before: “He was like a happy kid splashing around in the pool, kicking his head back laughing with joy! When we would stop, he would take off his sunglasses + have to wipe his tears away from laughing so hard.” It has been so sweet to experience these same moments + memories along with Meemaw as she reflects + remembers her “Lover” ❤️
We departed out of Michigan after our wild rides + stopped at a Cracker Barrel along the way for lunch, where Meemaw + I again revealed our truly similar natures in ordering the same plate of country veggies (including, of course, greens + chow chow). Although we have so many twin tendencies, we actually joked often on our trip together how we were operating in “role reversal” — I was making sure that Meemaw was eating enough, like a parent would for a child, and Meemaw was making sure that I was careful + didn’t fall or overdo myself, like a younger person would do for someone elder to them. It has actually been super sweet to see this kind of care + concern for me coming from every traveler along with us, as I’m sure I remind them of their own grandchildren + they received so much excitement from the fact that I was pregnant + had a little one on the way. We gathered around the dinner table once again with these new friends of our’s, stopping in Indianapolis for the evening.
Day 6: Kentucky Derby
It’s Derby Day (for us)! Before we set out to the races, we had breakfast at the hotel, which ended up quite eventful + long-winded for me as I ended up in an hour+ long conversation with a man about integrative wellness + holistic medicine! In short, he has dealt with a plethora of health issues that led him to his own self-analyzation, research, and discovery, revealing root canals as the root (ha) cause, whole-foods diet + exercise as a cure, and finding for himself that health“care” professionals were making money on promoting processed foods + prescription medications that only prolong or add to our health conditions. Such an unexpected conversation, and discouraging, yet encouraging, to connect on these things with a stranger from Georgia (where the topic of integrative wellness is a rarity).
We arrived at Churchill Downs around noon + enjoyed lunch at their Derby Cafe. We then channeled our inner fashionista creativities in conjuring up our own Derby hat creations. It was so fun to explore + pull together our own styles of hats, fascinators, fedoras, and then adorn them with ribbons, feathers, pins, + the works. I was genuinely astounded at how well everyone’s turned out! And we, of course, strutted our new accessories for the entirety of the day. After all that fun, we settled down to get an inside scoop into the Kentucky Derby, specifically in learning the strategy + skill that spectators use to pick + bet on a winning horse, the behind-the-scenes of Derby Day preparations brought to us via film, and a perusal through the Kentucky Derby Museum to get the full history + highlights. Then, we made our way outside + got a tour of Churchill Downs, where 750 horse races are held each year, holding upwards to 150,000 attendants (though there are only 60,000 seats + the remainder are in-field standers). We concluded our informational tour of the Downs with an eventful evening of 8 live horse races + a full chef’s buffet right at Millionaires Row. We were filled to the brim in more ways than one as we closed out the night.
Day 7: Travel home
We left Kentucky extra early this morning and made a long trek back to Georgia. One of the other sweet travelers on the trip surprised me with a handmade, blue-crochet-detailed baby blanket for my little one due to arrive in the Fall — she had been working on it during the long drives as others read, chatted, and napped. How thoughtful, generous, + kind! I later came to find out during lunch that her granddaughter was also my age + in a similar position of pursuing long term missions. And that is one key takeaway I have from this trip, as you may have noted throughout the various days; that I have been reminded of the interconnectedness of so many of our lives — regardless of age, birthplace, circumstances, interests. The world truly is so tight-knit when you take the time to converse + share your life with another. Despite Sin that has divided, corrupted, broken so much of our first-given unity + harmony, there are still glimpses of that reality — a unity that is only made possible through the life + blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. What a glorious hope we have in being united with Him + each other for eternity, and a divine mission we have been given in redirecting so many souls that are still lost + wandering towards the source of true life, unity, stability, security, rest, contentment, and flourishing.
And that is the mission I take up from here… Until next time!