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)!
Combining My Passions To Meet God’s Purpose
Throughout the years I have accumulated various interests and skills that I believe God ultimately provided me with in order to fulfill the plan He has laid out for my life. While these passions all seemed to diverge down different avenues, I have begun to see the interconnectedness + alignment of each one of them through the pursuit of creation ministry.
When speaking of creation ministry, I am referring to studying how + why God created us + the universe, and using those truths to declare His love, sovereignty, goodness, divinity.
The world is magnificent! Just take a look around — It is quite impossible for a system so beautifully complex to have happened by chance. From the vast + great wonders down to the various leaves + insects, there is beauty + purpose behind the design of it all. The unfathomable creativity is direct evidence of a Creator (Psalm 19:1, Isaiah 40:26, Romans 1:20). And the best part? The same wise + powerful Creator of the universe + all within it created us too. He longs to know us personally + love us intimately + He meets us right where we are.
Before the existence of any person or thing, God created the universe (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 33:6-9, Hebrews 11:3). He crafted each individual planet + set them in motion. He spoke light into the dark void with the stars + constellations, moon + sun. He became the first gardener sprouting plants + vegetation from the barren ground. Lastly, He created all of the animals in the world — in the sky, ocean, ground. And He continues creating. Each morning + evening our eyes are graced with His artistry through the formation of vibrant sunrises + sunsets. We are blessed with the news of babies being born that He has meticulously formed in their mother’s womb, in the image of Him (Isaiah 44:24, Psalm 139:13-16, Genesis 1:26-27).
The human body is fascinatingly complex, from the way our organs operate + communicate to the way our mind processes information + controls our behavior. What we put into our bodies has direct effects on how they function + how we feel, and likewise what we ingest + interpret with our minds impacts individual systems throughout. All of these intricate components are of one being — coming together in unfathomably perfect synchronicity + harmony, and when any single piece is off, it affects the whole system.
This perfect cohesive design for the individual being was also the intention for the entire world. When God created the world it was very good (Genesis 1:31) — it was perfect. Not only was the physical world + our own crafting one of perfection, but the relationships we as humans had with one another + with God were equally favorable.
However, we neglected this immeasurable gift when we chose to disobey God (Genesis 3). Because of our disobedience, we disrupted harmony + presented harm to the once-perfect world. Because of our disobedience, we broke personal connection + peace with the Father (Genesis 3:8), as well as with each other (Genesis 3:12). Because of our disobedience, we infected the world with the disease of sin (Romans 5:12). The signs of chaos, conflict, casualty, calamity that we face today are all consequences of our own rebellious doing. We are sick + in need of a healer — someone to save us from this brokenness + hurting. Fortunately, God has provided us that person through His son Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5, John 10:9, John 14:6). We do not have to dwell in the darkness that exists in our own nature or that of the world. We are given a clear way out through a relationship with Christ that will bring us light + set us free.
Traveling + Culture
In Genesis 11:1-9 we learn of how our various languages + cultures began. We were created to share a common vernacular, but once again due to our sin + disobedience to God, our punishment was confusion + disbursement. God had called us to multiply + fill the earth (Genesis 1:28, 9:1), yet we ignored His command out of our own selfishness to make a name for ourselves + to not be scattered across the earth (11:4). Because of our disobedience to God, we got exactly what we were trying to avoid. This happening was not for the worse, but rather it presents hope + joy for us living today!
I find beauty in the diversity of various cultures + languages, being able to see how truly unique + intuitive the Father has created His people to be. This scattering of people across the earth has also presented us with the opportunity to explore His physical creation of the earth as well, and provides us the inimitable opportunity to go out into the world + tell the unreached people groups (Mark 16:15, Psalm 96:3, Romans 15:20-21, Matthew 28:19) about our magnificent, merciful, mighty, matchless Messiah who has saved us from all sin + death, and is coming again to forever save us from this world’s pain + brokenness.
The lyrics to this song by Hillsong United so perfectly captures God's unfathomable, unmatchable creation that overflows my heart.
(Video via New Hope Baptist Church).
A Self-Evaluation + Self-Reflection Through Journal Entries
It’s time to get real.
My recent blog posts have been fun + full of adventure, activity, awe but something has been pressing on my heart for some time now that I feel like needs sharing. It’s time for me to be honest with myself, and in order to do that I need to allow my heart to be vulnerable + raw so that I can have some accountability in my life, from myself as a self-reminder, as well as from others around me who care about my well-being.
So here it is. These are some journal entries I have had over the past year or so compiled into a single post, in a somewhat coherent fashion. Please feel free to leave a comment or email me separately if you have any questions, reactions, concerns, advice.
I am fully aware of the surfacing lifestyle pattern I am living that is contrary to a life with God. my flesh longs for self-dependence, self-will, self-sufficiency. I don’t know why I continually struggle with wanting to know everything for the future + wanting to control every aspect of my life. I don’t know why I can’t fully trust my God who has great plans for me—plans that exceed what I could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20) + that He will undoubtedly bring to completion (Philippians 1:6). I want to stop depending on my own limited view, knowledge, resources, ability + rely fully, completely, wholeheartedly on Him. I want to let go of my own notions + simply surrender. Lord, forgive me of my desire to plan my own steps. help me to focus my mind on your faithfulness, power, wisdom, creativity + lean on your guidance + plans for my life.
this obsession with gaining control has profound effects on seeing, hearing, being with Jesus.
it’s ironic that I continually seek to have control when it only creates more stress + worry for myself. I can easily be free of this weighty burden if I just let go of my grip and give it over to God, trusting Him to handle the reins. His ways are always better than mine even when I don’t want to believe it or quite understand it (Jeremiah 29:11, Isaiah 55:8-9, Proverbs 3:5-6).
it's ironic that I continually seek to have control when it is only an illusion. I know full + well that it is unattainable for me to grasp because God is in total control, yet I’m still so persistent in chasing after it, to the point of neglecting other priorities.
last night I was brought down to my knees in prayer with the Father. I am aware + appalled at my sin, so I admitted my faults to God. He overwhelmed me with reassurance. this struggle has been impossible for me to get past because I have been fighting it alone rather than through His strength (John 15:5, Luke 1:37, 18:27, Philippians 4:13). I am returning to the Father with arms wide open so that He will bring me back + restore me (Jeremiah 15:19), amplifying His great power through my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). the process of purging this from my life is lengthy, difficult, painful but God is severing my dependence on these things so that I can be made whole + well + mature in Him. through this process, God is crafting my testimony + through my testimony, others will also hear of His grace, goodness, glory + be drawn near to Him (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
the enemy is pretty crafty in the lies that he tells me (John 8:44, Genesis 3:1). and often, it’s really difficult for me not to believe them. he knows my weakest points—even the ones I’m unaware of—and he attacks. I see it as one of those National Geographic, Planet Earth type of scenes where the predatory animal goes in for the youngest, slowest, weakest of the prey they’re after.
Satan attacks the Christians who are growing in their faith, knowledge, love of Christ and he aims to pull them away by using whatever means he can through confusion + lies. confusion yields a realm of blurriness to what we know to be true about God + the lies bring a world of darkness. fortunately, light exposes truth, and that light has come in the form of Jesus Christ (John 8:12, John 12:35, Psalm 27:1, 1 John 1:5) who brings all darkness to light, and declares what is true + trustworthy.
I’ve somehow lost the ability to have real + honest conversations with others around me either out of my own introverted nature, or more often than not, because of the constant chaos + noise around us that begs for our time + attention away, making genuine conversation or sitting in stillness difficult to attain. time and time again I’ve had the conversation role play in my head of asking my parents to take me to visit a therapist. and every time the thought has crossed my mind has been when I was in prayer with God. somehow it’s just now occurred to me that God IS my therapist. He is my healer (Psalm 147:3), my comforter (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), my source of peace (John 14:27, John 16:33). He is my Father, my Leader, my all-accessible, always-available Counselor. undoubtedly God places other mentors and helpers in my life, but no person on this Earth can supply me with the guidance, grace, comfort, contentment as He can. no person can ever come close to replacing the gift that is my relationship with the Lord. I need Him in my high, mountain top moments and I need Him when I am at my lowest, struggling with the desires of my heart + the thoughts in my mind. He already knows every bit of my inner workings (Psalm 139) so there is nothing to hold back or hide from. He won’t be surprised or think of me differently or be scared away by what I bring to the table, but offers me His open + loving ears, arms, heart. in His presence, I am in a place of complete openness + vulnerability.
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).
Not Your Typical Trip to Grandmother’s House
I recently spent a (short, but sweet) week at my precious grandparents house with intentions of getting some alone time with just the two of them now that I am older — to simply spend time with them, learn from them (mentally, spiritually, realistically), be a part of their day-to-day routines. The whole week was a continuous trip down memory lane + filled with a focus on whole body wellness — preparing healthy meals, going on walks through nature, spending time in the Word + in prayer.
"Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees." - John Muir
I used to spend a week every summer there visiting various museums, going to the pool, playing board games, and all of the typical kid activities enjoyed during the summertime. But times have changed now — I’m driving myself to their place; they’re no longer living in the same old house that I grew up visiting but are now in a new, smaller condo; we’ve moved from playing board games + hosting “tea” parties (one of my favorite memories — silver platters spread with heart-shaped Easy Bake Oven brownies + teapots full of bright red Kool-Aid) to diving deep into devotionals + spiritual conversations; rather than my Meemaw making our classic breakfast menu (scrambled eggs, bacon, cinnamon toast, strawberries with sugar, hot chocolate), I am now cooking the meals for them for the week. The changing of times does not stir up a sense of sadness or regret, but the memories that were made were so fulfilling + valuable that our maturation into this next phase of life only brings reflection on the past as a pleasant, precious pastime.
Most people admire the looks of my food creations, but my grandparents are of the select few who actually enjoy eating the uber-healthy, plant-based meals that I whip up in my mind + in the kitchen. The slideshow below gives you a glimpse into our summer menu for the week.
Meanwhile, while I was cooking + following along with my grandparents’ daily life, my brother spent time working on his new project of researching (by means of online sources, in-person interviews, flipping through old photo albums) + recording our family’s ancestry, which will be made into a detailed book for distribution to members of the family in the coming months. It was truly wondrous seeing the light spark in my grandfather’s heart as he recalled so many sweet memories + moments in his life that he had forgotten.
I had grown up watching my Meemaw + Pappaw have morning devotional time + prayer together, and I had always secretly wanted to join in the conversation, but I felt too young + inadequate to contribute anything. Now as I have grown stronger in my faith + more intimate in my relationship with the Lord, my desire to dig into the Word + study, learn, pray with them grew evermore intense. I regret not taking the time sooner, but I am grateful that I had the opportunity before I missed it again.
Even back then I had witnessed firsthand that just those mere moments of them together in the presence of the Lord was undoubtedly the reason for their unshakable, affectious marriage of 50+ years. Christ is in, through, at the very center of their relationship + life together. I pray that I can model this paradigm they have set in my future marriage (God-willing), but also reflect it now in my personal relationship with Christ in the present moment.
During the short week spent in their presence, I learned much about the heart of my grandparents — what fills it with joy + admiration, what breaks it due to intense care + selflessness on their part towards others. I got to experience what it is that makes them excited, elated, exhausted, emotional.
Also, this week God was certainly pressing on me + teaching me how to embody the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Peter 1:5-8). Specifically,
Patience: learning to slow down + not be go-go-go all of the time.
Gentleness: learning to speak + act in a way that is not quick or harsh, but seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6, Psalm 103:8).
Loving: learning to share the love Christ shows me through my actions, words, encounters with others.
I am continually in awe of each of my grandparents + how effortlessly they embody these attributes + a life of Christ as a whole despite all that occurs in their lives. I intentionally sought out this time to spend with them alone, without any distractions or forms of entertainment, because I wanted to physically experience, learn, absorb all that I could from them firsthand so that I can follow directly in their footsteps; in the footsteps of Christ himself. I am beyond blessed to have a physical family who also doubles as my spiritual family + who I can look up to as mentors, guides, role models in my walk. My heart was overwhelmed with warmth + my soul with gratitude at the conclusion of the week, and I pray to God that I have the opportunity for many, many more moments like this to create memories + be molded into the person that is particularly pleasing to my Father in Heaven.
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.
Road Trip Through Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks + Southern California
My family has made it a tradition to visit new National Parks each summer—some of my favorites include Yosemite and Grand Teton. This year, we headed back out to California, but rather than returning to the towering Redwoods + vast canyons, we took a mini western road trip to venture the desert. And good news: I’ve got lots of pictures!
We began our trip in Las Vegas, Nevada where my aunt and uncle live. As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed with a home cooked Filipino feast by my aunt including pancit, BBQ pork skewers (“meat sticks”), spring rolls, flan, an assortment of avocado, mango, and ube (purple yam) ice cream, and ripe mangoes, bananas, and watermelon!
From there, we headed out towards Death Valley National Park. We entered the park at Hell’s Gate and the location names throughout the park continued with the Death Valley theme—Devil’s Cornfield, Desolation Canyon, Funeral Mountains, etc. We made stops at Furnace Creek, Golden Canyon, Artist’s Palette (naturally occurring colors on the Amargosa Mountains due to the oxidation of various metals… AKA, God’s creativity explained through scientific terms), Badwater Basin (the hottest point and lowest elevation in North America at -282 ft. Our high temperature for the day reached 118°F!), and Zabriskie Point.
Later that evening, we made our way over to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where many television show and movie scenes have been filmed. It was a mesmerizing experience to walk over huge mounds of sand with a panoramic view of the mountains surrounding. The scene continually got more astounding as the sun turned golden + dipped behind the mountains, reflecting hues of pink and orange along the mountain range + grains of sand.
The views don’t cease when the sun goes down! As I looked up, I was overcome with awe + bewilderment at the vast sea of glittering stars that extended across the expanse above me (and even further beyond that!?). The amount of stars were so numerous that the sky no longer appeared black, but rather in a shade of silver. It’s incredible to think that we get a free viewing of the universe each night, along with colored sunset skies that vary in hue + pattern with each passing day. And to think that these are only the least of things that are offered to us freely by God.
We then traveled from Death Valley to Joshua Tree National Park where we saw Jumbo Rocks, Skull Rock, and Keys View. I always thought of this park as a desert landscape filled with Joshua trees and that was it, but oh was I wrong—it’s all about the rocks! The wild rock formations + huge stacks of perfectly placed boulders have no other explanation than by the hands of almighty, artistic God. We are blessed in viewing the handiwork of the Artist, but how great it will be when we can see + worship the Artist Himself in person!
Viewing the world from these points sure does make me realize how small I am, yet I am still known + longed for by the Maker of it all.
We made it priority to wake up early (about 4am) each morning of our trip so that we didn’t miss a single sunrise. This is probably one of my favorite things about our family trips—we don’t use them as vacation time spent relaxing, but rather, we rejuvenate through packing our schedules full of places to be + things to see so that we absorb as much as we can in the short time that we have + we don’t miss out on a single precious moment of the day.
On the way out of the south side of Joshua Tree, we passed through Cottonwood Spring + the Cholla Cactus Garden where fluffy cacti were scattered everywhere throughout the valley! We then voyaged through Indio, Coachella, and Westmoreland areas that were studded with numerous kinds of fields, ranches, vineyards, and farms including many date palms.
We followed the edge of the Salton Sea down to the Imperial Sand Dunes, making a few stops at some of the beaches + bays along the way. Although the Salton Sea was bustling back in the 1950s, the area has now been left almost entirely abandoned, which left the rest of us with a somewhat eerie feeling. The Imperial Sand Dunes, on the other hand, took my breath away. I stood in the midst of all the sand dunes that stretched far beyond what my sight could see + felt the wave of heat brushing past me, and I felt like I had been transported straight to the heart of Saudi Arabia (also because I was still slurping on a date shake that we had purchased from the date palm farm).
Salvation Mountain has been a point to visit on my destination list for a long time now, and when I found out it was around the area that we would be for this trip, it was immediately added into the itinerary! The vibrance of color that Salvation Mountain boasted against the desolation of “Slab City” + the surrounding desert was captivating + so synonymous of the great contrast between the Lord’s radiant, bold, compelling love compared to the drab, dry, depressing nature of the world we live in.
I was wonderstruck as I explored Salvation Mountain. My fascination + awe heightened as I ventured across each rainbow patchwork of quirky art + inspiring messages—a Wizard of Oz + Word of God kind of mashup. Not only did I walk up the outside of the mountain, but I got to explore the inside of the mountain which was a fantasy fort-like creation made out of hay, filled to the brim with new discoveries + hidden treasures along each step + turn of the corner. This, too, screams what a life with Christ is like: fascinating, mysterious, curious, exciting, and full of little treasures, happy moments, miracles.
After spending the evening in Palm Desert, we headed towards La Jolla, California. We made a stop in old town Temecula, then drove oceanside through Encinitas, Torrey Pines, and Carlsbad areas. Once to La Jolla Cove, I got to walk along the ocean cliffs + get up close to the MANY sea lions who call this area home. It was really neat to see all of the newborn pups who were cuddled up + nursing from their mothers.
We made our way down to Old Town San Diego to explore the marketplace + museums + restaurants. We also visited Mission Beach, Hotel del Coronado, and stumbled upon the gorgeous Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on our way through Point Loma which was like an Arlington Memorial on the cliffs of the Pacific.
My favorite spot in San Diego outside of La Jolla had to be Balboa Park. I immediately fell in love as I saw various nations + cultures represented throughout the park—from the impeccable architecture of the buildings to the many restaurants and gardens. My eyes were glittering + my heart was bouncing as I walked through those beautiful gardens of numerous different kinds of flowers + variations of roses that I had never seen or smelled before!
I absolutely love spending time exploring nature, especially within our National Parks. With each new location + venture I set out on, I am continually overwhelmed by the power + presence of God. I feel His joy through the warmth of the sun, I see His creativity in various plants, flowers, rock formations, and I hear Him speak through the chirping of birds + crashing of waves. He is a part of all that is around us. He is available at all times + waiting for us to receive Him. If only we can open our eyes + hearts to glorify the Creator as much as we do the creation.
Hiking, Biking, Kayaking Along The West Highland Way
This time last year I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and sent to an inpatient care facility with restrictions on any and all physical activity or movement. Now I’m backpacking the West Highland Way in Scotland. My God really did that! Let me tell you more about Him!
I was sent to 24 hour inpatient care in April of 2017 at the end of my senior year in high school. I had to miss out on prom, yearbooks, senior trips, final dance recitals, and all the big events associated with that time in life. Through it all though, I kept Jesus as my hope, joy, and motivation while I was going through treatment. He is beyond faithful: He continued to bless me + give me strength, and I was restored to a normal healthy weight within a single month, allowing me to come back home early, walk across the stage + graduate from high school, go on my senior trip to Alaska + go skydiving, and start college on time that fall — all things that my doctors told me were impossible to achieve based on my health. Yes, they were impossible for them to make happen, impossible for me to make happen on my own, but nothing is impossible with God. His love is unconditional + His power is unmatchable.
Now one year later… Scotland!
Day 1: Charlotte to Glasgow
The four days leading up to my departure, I was having excruciating stomach pains, dizziness, nausea, and constipation, and it appeared as if I was not going to be able to go on the trip. However, to spare the not-so-pretty details, God answered all prayers with His healing hands and I was back to normal on the day that I was set to fly out. That morning I arrived at the Charlotte airport around 8am to meet up with the rest of my group that was going on the trip to Scotland. Our first flight was to Newark, NJ landing at 12:38 pm, and our next flight was not until 7:40 pm so we had a long layover time to walk around the airport, play some card games, and do some last-minute bonding before our trip together. The flight to Glasgow was about 7 hours so we were fed a couple meals on the plane and had some time to rest before our first big day!
Day 1 (Part 2): Glasgow to Loch Lomond
We landed in Glasgow at 6:42 am local time, which was still 1am the previous day back home. We immediately met our Active Outdoor Pursuits team and guides for the week (the best people ever!!), geared up, and set off to begin the West Highland Way. We set out from Milngavie at 9am, trekking 12 miles through lots of small towns and pastures. We arrived in Drymen around 3pm where we switched over to mountain bikes for a 14 mile ride with incredible views of Loch Lomond from above. It was such a beautiful sunny day (not typical of Scotland weather) to begin our trip! We finished up around 5:15 pm that evening and made our way to the hostel that we would be staying in for the night. Once we quickly dropped off our bags, we drove to Glengoyne whiskey distillery for a private tour and whiskey / chocolate tasting. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel where our guides cooked us up a spaghetti dinner. We hung out, got showered up, and finally after the longest day, we hit the bed around 11:30 pm.
Day 2: Loch Lomond to Inverarnan
I woke up around 7:15 am the next morning to have breakfast and get my things together. We began the day on canoes for 6 miles across Loch Lomond. It was much more typical Scotland weather of being cold and rainy, but it was not too bad since we were already on the water. We stopped to have lunch on top of a waterfall where we also dropped off our canoes and began hiking the rest of the way through the most beautiful mossy rocks, waterfalls, and rainforest-like environment along the loch. I was definitely feeling like Frodo Baggins on his journey with the ring across this terrain. The sun finally came out near the end of our 7 mile hike and we made it into camp at Inverarnan around 5:20 pm. We had some time to freshen up and sip on some hot tea before heading over to dinner at the Drovers Inn. When you first walk into the pub, the walls are covered in various taxidermized animals and the waiters are dressed in kilts with strong Scottish accents. It was the perfect first night out venue in Scotland. I got the vegetarian bangers and mash and enjoyed spending the evening making friends with my fellow peers and guides. Afterwards, we headed back to camp and fell asleep under the stars — my favorite day by far!!
Day 3: Inverarnan to Tyndrum
I had porridge and hot tea for breakfast and then headed out at 9am for an 11 mile all-day trek out of Inverarnan. We considered this our “rest day” since we were only hiking, which is half of what we do on the other days. Unfortunately, my GoPro camera would not turn on this day, so I settled with taking some pictures on my phone. It was very cold, wet, and muddy throughout the hike passing through lots of cow pastures and wooded forests. It blows my mind how varied the terrain of Scotland is — each minute brings a new surprise! We made it to our hostel for the evening in the small village of Tyndrum around 3pm. I was super thankful for the early arrival because my left hip flexor began to give me a lot of trouble and pain near the end of the trail so I had some time to rest it. We went over to Tyndrum Inn at 6:30pm for dinner, and then laughed the night away with my friends and guides.
Day 4: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe
We began the morning with a 7 mile bike ride out of Tyndrum through the freezing cold rain. It was so much fun flying fast downhill and splashing through lots of mud. We arrived at Bridge of Orchy around 11:15 am and dropped off our bikes to then begin our hike 12 miles to Glencoe. There were gorgeous views of mountains and moors along the way. We reached camp around 5pm and then headed over to dinner at a local pub where I got vegetarian haggis made from kidney beans, lentils, and nuts. After dinner, we went over to some lookout points around Glencoe to see some gorgeous sunset views of waterfalls and mountains including the famous Buachaille Etive Mor.
Day 5: Glencoe to Glencoe Village
Took a later start this morning to tackle the Devil’s Staircase at 10am which was an 11 mile hike through strong winds over big rocks. My peers and I were all beginning to break down physically by this point with hurt knees, hips, shoulders, but we all made it (with very little complaints)! I definitely felt God with me along the whole way because despite the amount of pain I had felt the past few days, when I was in that moment, the negative thoughts never crossed my mind and I felt an unexplainable strength inside that pushed me up the incline. Once down the other side of the mountain, we entered into Kinlochleven at 2:45 pm and geared up for sea kayaking. We set off on Loch Leven around 4pm in cold rain and pulled into camp at 6pm. We warmed up with some hot tea and coffee and then headed out to dinner at 7:30pm. The pub we went to was completely packed so while we waited for a table to open up for us to eat at, we hung around playing pool and engaged in conversation with the locals. So many people had their dogs running around and hanging out and everyone was so friendly. Two of my friends and I talked with some men from Germany and we shared a bit about our travels through Scotland and various other places around the world. A group of us stayed there quite late just having fun and waiting for the rain to clear up before heading back to camp.
Day 6: Glencoe Village to Fort William
The rain was swept away and we were welcomed with a beautiful sunny day — thank you Jesus! We set out on our kayaks around 9:20 am across Loch Leven and into Loch Linnhe. We passed by a small island that had tons of seals popping their heads in and out of the water all around us on the kayaks. We pulled up on shore for a lunch break with a nice view of the loch and mountains. I went to the bathroom in some bushes and ended up sticking my hand in stinging nettles, which as the name implies, caused stinging, tingling, and redness. As we continued paddling, we sang lots of songs and had a good time out on the water. We had nice views of Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the UK, and pulled into the pier at Fort William around 3pm. Once we unloaded our kayaks, we walked to the official West Highland Way endpoint landmark. This was also the same date and location for the end of the Scottish Six Days Trial so there were lots of motorcycles and cheering as we wandered around Fort William. We then made our way to Newtonmore to the Active Outdoor Pursuits main hub and hostel where they prepared us a full meal. After dinner we got showered and met back up at a nearby pub where we enjoyed our last night with the whole team playing pool, singing along to classics on the jukebox, and just having lots of fun. It was bittersweet, but we plan on keeping in contact with everyone!
Day 7: Edinburgh
After a long night, we woke up at 5:15am to have a Scottish breakfast made by the AOP crew before heading off to Edinburgh — toast, scrambled eggs, baked beans, lorne sausage and veggie sausages. I wasn’t feeling too well when I woke up so all I could get down was some toast. Several other members in my group had already gotten sick before we even made it to breakfast at 6:45am. We assume it is some type of virus that has spread around. We left for Edinburgh after breakfast and arrived around 9:30 am. We dropped off our bags at the hostel and split up to explore the city. Some friends and I walked up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle to take a few pictures and then stopped by Deacon’s House Cafe around 11am to get a quick bite to eat. We did some souvenir shopping and wandering around the town for a while. Those who were sick earlier stayed in at the hostel to rest up, and although I was feeling very nauseous and lightheaded, I could not bear to miss my opportunity to explore Edinburgh. At 3:15 pm, my friends and I went to afternoon tea at The Hub which is in an old historic church type of building. We got our choice of a hot drink (hot chocolate, coffee, or tea) and they brought a three-tier platter of food. I got the Scottish roobois tea, and the food consisted of finger sandwiches, scones with berry jam, and desserts including a caramel macaron, lemon custard tart, and a strawberries and cream wafer cup. The total tea experience lasted for a couple of hours, and then we walked down to Victoria Street where Diagon Alley was inspired for Harry Potter. We also saw the Edinburgh Palace and spent some time in Princes Street Gardens to see the front side of the castle. We returned back to the hostel around 6:40pm to rest up a bit before heading back out with a larger group for a late dinner and wander around to different pubs listening to live music on our last night in Scotland.
Day 8: Edinburgh to Charlotte
I only got a few hours of sleep before waking up again at 4:45 am to meet the group in the lobby of the hostel where we then headed over to Waverly Station. We rode on a double decker bus over to Edinburgh airport and boarded our flight back to Newark at 8:50 am. I immediately fell asleep on the plane and took about an hour nap. We landed at 4:38 pm, 11:38 am local Eastern Time. After going through customs, rechecking bags, and security, we had time to grab some lunch in the airport before boarding our final flight back to Charlotte. We arrived around 6pm, my mom and I grabbed some dinner, and then made the journey back to our house arriving a bit after 10pm.
It’s crazy to think how much time was spent preparing for and anticipating for this trip and now it’s already over. Despite the rain on a few days and minor health and technical obstacles, I absolutely loved every single moment of it — 100%, truthfully, honestly. The days seemed to last forever which made the trip so much more worthwhile and fulfilling. It was such an indescribable, once-in-a-lifetime, adventurous experience that I will remember and cherish for my entire life. I had high doubts and worries prior to leaving for this trip because I did not believe in myself to accomplish this goal, but God has shown me that I am made strong and I am capable of these great things because He is working in and through me for His purpose (Philippians 2:13). My weaknesses are a platform to showcase His profound strength, ability, power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Satan tried to bring me down mentally in this way in the weeks leading up to the trip, as well as physically in the few days prior and throughout my journey, but he is no match for the power of my God who is within me. I have now hiked, mountain biked, and kayaked along the entire West Highland Way, and I am eagerly looking above for the next path that He lays before me.