Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Garden.

I read a book the other day that said, "Everything important had happened in a garden... God created the garden for man and placed him in it. Adam and Eve fell into sin in a garden. Jesus taught in a garden. Our Lord prayed in a garden. He was betrayed in a garden. And He arose in a garden..." I think this is why I like gardens so much. In some way I think being in nature - the mountains, the beach, the plains, anywhere that modern technology is far gone - this is where there is peace, life, and for me, the ability to connect with God. I spent Monday learning the history of NZ in the Canterbury Museum, then I strolled through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens - my favorite by far! It was an overcast chilly day in late afternoon, and the wind was making its presence known, not in a frustrating makes-you-want-to-bundle-up-tighter kind of way but in a brace-yourself-and-put-your-face-into-it kind of way. The kind of wind that fills you, gives you energy. The magnificent trees swished and swayed in a way that commanded attention. Even with the sun covered in clouds, the colors of the flowers and shrubs shone with glory. I found my way to the rose garden...holy cow, this was impressive! My love for roses has grown over the past couple months. Since Christchurch is a quaint city and as close to an English town as you can get without being in England, there are roses everywhere. Anyone with the slightest hint of a green thumb has several varieties spilling forth from their yards. I'll admit, I had no idea there were so many different kinds of this flower - way beyond white, red, yellow. This garden was exceptionally colorful. I found my way to a stone structure in an alcove and nestled in to read and pray.

Yesterday I hiked in a more large-scale garden, found at Hanmer Springs in the alpine forest. After a short, yet beautiful drive, I parked the car and headed up Conical Hill. I was shaded from the sun and wind by large pines on the way up. Once at the top, I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the village and the surrounding mountains. As I passed the time up here listening to some new music and reading, I looked out to see a storm heading in. In the distance, ominous clouds slowly rolled in over the tops of the mountain peaks. Once back in the village, I was assured by a few locals that driving home would be no problem - and that I should stay and soak in the thermal pools that Hanmer Springs is known for. I consented and dipped in the warm steaming naturally-heated water while cold rain threatened all around - it was nature's hot tub! Pressing my luck as far as I felt comfortable, I then headed back home so I wouldn't be driving in the dark. Oh to have this at my fingertips forever! This amazing scenery is within hours of these NZ residents. I'm already thinking of where and how to take advantage of what the US has to offer upon my return.

As for Christmas Day, it did end up being a Christmas to remember. I ushered in the day with a candlelit Christmas Eve service. Then Christmas morning I went to two services at the Anglican Cathedral in the centre city. It was a unique experience for me as it's not tradition in our family and the church is unlike anything I'm used to. The boys' choir sang beautiful and slightly eerie melodies, we partook of communion, the large congregation sang traditional carols (with a NZ accent), and we recited lots of stuff - admittedly, I found this a bit annoying, and I felt a bit detached from God. It was neat to do all this in the large cathedral with a massive Christmas tree and stained-glass windows, though. And after the service they rang the bells. I can now officially say "I heard the bells on Christmas Day." I then joined a family for lunch and gift exchange, took a quick nap, then joined another family for their Christmas dinner. This included the traditional Christmas crackers (a cardboard tube wrapped in festive paper and twisted to resemble an oversized candy, you pull one side as the person seated beside you pulls the other end resulting in a loud pop and a treat spilling out with a tissue paper crown which everyone dons for the duration of the meal), turkey and the fixin's, summer dishes, and Christmas pudding complete with charms baked in it (in our case, coins from different countries around the world that we were to pray for). It was a lovely day, albeit no amount of hospitality replaces that of family. I missed them dearly, but was grateful for a phone call to my brother and skype time with the rest the following day.

Ok, enough rambling!  Happy New Year everyone!

Note: book quote from Francine River's Leota's Garden - I highly highly recommend it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Gonna Be A Christmas To Remember...

Truer words have never been sung.  It's already Christmas Eve for me (yeah, I get to experience everything before you guys by about 18 hours) and this morning I was listening to some music while eating breakfast.   It happened to be 8:15 am and I heard Amy Grant's voice streaming through with those lyrics.  I'll be honest - it brought tears.  Then tears again at 8:45.  I knew they would come.  I almost welcome them - it means I'm alive, I'm feeling.  And I always learn something through them.  I say this not make you feel sorry for me or to get you to think I'm having a miserable Christmas - because that wouldn't be true.  It's a great Christmas, just very different.  For the first time, I'm away from family, in a country that celebrates this holiday in summer.  I've learned a bit though the experience - being by myself significantly opens me up to self-reflection time.  It has made me increasingly more grateful for my family - and all the great memories I have of Christmases past.

I've also reflected on the first Christmas - Jesus' birth.  I had new respect for Mary this morning - as I face the day with no family around, it's hard to not feel a little bit lonely.  Even if you're around people, it's just not the same as family.  But Mary - man, she had it rough.  Later on in my music listening time, I heard "Breath of Heaven/Mary's song."  Her words "I am waiting in a silent prayer/ I am frightened by the load I bear/ In a world as cold as stone/ Must I walk this path alone?"  I might feel alone, but it's nothing compared to what Mary was feeling.

I also have new respect for missionaries.  A lot of the ones I know are in summer season this time of year as well.  And of course they're away from their families.  I've thought about it before, but it's something different to experience it.  Gives me more to think about in upcoming Christmases - prayer for missionaries, being more aware of those who don't have family or a "home" to go to.  It's means heaps to me that families - people I'd never met until last month - are opening their homes up to me during this season.  So, all that to say it will certainly be a Christmas to remember...a good Christmas to remember.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Love the Lord's Timing.

Wait, did I just say that?  Yes, it's true.  Sure there are times when impatience gets the best of me.  But right now, in what the Lord is revealing, I am aware that His timing is flawless.  And I do so love to see a plan come together!  The past few days have been lovely, but I wasn't aware of the events coming together to reveal one of God's truths, something in which I needed to be reminded.

I've been reading a couple books, of which I was just about to finish.  I knew that on Friday the family I was living with would be heading to the States for 5 weeks, giving me lots of time to read.  I had the weekend all planned - I didn't care if I didn't get anything done save spending ample time on the couch with a few good books and some Christmas movies (I felt a bit like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday when she gets to her quaint little home for a getaway).  But what books?  Thursday my answer came.  I received a package of two books from my dad.  Perfect!  I would spend the weekend lost in a book.  Soon after taking the family to the airport, I began my weekend of recluse.  The past couple weeks I've also been listening to a sermon podcast series, taking my time listening to it, savoring every minute.  I had put off listening to the next sermon because I liked the feeling of knowing it was still coming - when I listened to it, it would be over, and I'd have to wait until the next week to hear the next one.  So I was saving it (I do this with clothes too - when I get knew clothes I like to save them for a couple weeks, looking forward to that moment of wearing them...I like the anticipation, I guess).  I had intended to listen to it Friday, but found myself busy with other things - finishing a prior book I was reading, and watching one of my Christmas favorites, Home Alone (it was, afterall, my first night home alone).  Next came Saturday - the day I started a new book, the day I listened to the next sermon, the day I had my hope rekindled in an unexpected way.

God spoke through the words in the book, the words of the sermon.  I was a bit blindsided, not even realizing that I needed this hope.  But as the day progressed, I became keenly aware of a few areas of my life that I trusted God with, but in which my hope had dwindled.  Hope is so important.  It keeps our hearts fresh and alive.  When we hope, we have dreams, we live with expectancy - expectancy that God will do great things.  On the contrary, a life without hope is dead.  The Bible speaks of it often.  On Friday as I read His Word, He brought me to Romans 15:13 - "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  He was prepping me here, bringing hope to my attention.  Then Saturday I read Hebrews 10:23 - "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."  And today, 1 Corinthians 2:9 - " eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."  How exciting is that?  I don't know about you, but that makes me hopeful, expectant of good things.  So I started Sunday with a newfound hope, an excitement of God's plans - grateful even that He doesn't reveal them ahead of time.  Where's the fun in that?  And what a perfect time for rekindled hope, with Christmas Day approaching - a day we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the One who gave us hope in a world torn apart, the One who became hope for us, the One who rekindles our hope.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Four Seasons in One Day...Oh, I Believe It!

As I sit here typing this morning, I am in the company of the glowing Christmas tree (adorned with Santas and American flag ribbon - refer to pic in last post) and the tunes of all my favorite Christmas songs. I've got a steaming hot mug of tea with a splash of milk. I'm left with my thoughts as the family has gone to do their last-minute shopping. Time seems to be standing still. Do you ever have moments you wish you could pause? This is one of those.

I woke up yesterday to a bright sunny warm day. The forecast, however, warned of a brooding storm. So, of course, I ventured into the city to nestle into a warm cozy coffee shop to watch it all unfold. I was not disappointed. Clouds quickly rolled in, followed by massive wind gusts. Sideways rain pelted the buses, cars, and pedestrians as they bustled about. Couldn't have been a more perfect scene. As the chill grew outside, I was all the more thankful for the warmth found just on my side of the large window in front of me. Minutes later the sun shone through and the wind calmed. Still minutes later, it all rose up again and made people scurry for cover. On a cold, overcast, rainy day, the light on street signs and restaurants has a glow that is warm and alive, inviting - particularly in this holiday season. I soaked up this warmth and life as I rode the bus through the streets, even enjoying the walk/run in the rain from the bus stop to our house. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

Weather like this proves what everyone says about Christchurch: "You'll easily experience four seasons in a day!" I guess being along the coast of a small island rich with mountains in close proximity to contrasting plains will result in this phenomenon. I quite like it. It keeps you guessing. It provides me with warm sunny vibrant hours, cherishing the feeling as friends and family entertain winter at home, and then there are still the windy rainy cold hours to remind me of winter and everything familiar in December. The winds play a crucial role in the weather scene here. The Nor'easter, the Nor'west Arch, Southeasterly, and Southwesterly. Being on the Southern Hemispere, the south winds are cold, north winds are nice and warm - particularly the Nor'westerly, dumping all the rain on the West Coast as it travels over the South Island leaving hot dry winds for Christchurch. I love the Nor'west Arch, but apparently it makes people go crazy - something like a full moon. There is more crime as people get moody and crazy. Not sure why I love the wind - maybe it's because I associate wind with storms, there's an expectancy, a feeling of things to come. Maybe I'm just crazy. Whatever the reason, I'm not ashamed to admit I love the wind and the energy it brings.

Well, the family is home. Time is no longer standing still. I'm off to see their purchases and seize the day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas!

The tree is up, the decorations hung, and while Thanksgiving Day did little to remind me of the holiday season, I have better hopes for Christmas. The warm weather (it's summer here!) will try to throw me off course, but I am equipped with a glowing Christmas tree, It's A Wonderful Life, Home Alone, a city full of tinsel and Christmas cake, and enough Christmas music to last a whole year. It will for certain be different than any December 25th I've experienced, but I am eager to check out some churches, see where I can volunteer, and feel the warmth of family and friends as they send their love (via skype :) and gather together back home.

After a few weeks of tenaciously playing the hunt and wait game that job-searching involves, I took a couple days to see more of this beauty-filled country before hunkering down and working. Two days in the West Coast with my homestay family was no disappointment! Driving through the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps via Arthur's Pass was undoubtedly breathtaking and only slightly nail-biting. We traveled through one lane bridges - sometimes shared with trains as well - over braided rivers, hugged the curves as we met campervan after campervan, and searched for music to fit the mood of the ever-changing weather. After checking in to our beachside motel and placing our complimentary milk jug in the fridge (what would tea be without milk?!?!), we drove off to all the family's favorite spots. In just over 24 hours, we searched for greenstone on Nine Mile Beach, tramped our way through a hidden path to a secret beach to watch the tide, slipped and slid around Punakaiki Cavern, and had a bonfire on the beach complete with sausages, smores (NZ-style), and our own set of fireworks. We also spotted a fair share of livestock, walked across the swinging bridge in the rain at Hokitika Gorge, did some adrenaline-pumping off-roading, and spotted the most beautiful rainbows nestled in the mountain peaks on the way home. A few firsts happened on this trip: I discovered the goodness of Jaffas - a orange candy-coated chocolate that tastes just like a Sixlet (my favorite childhood candy) only bigger and definitely more mouth-satisfying; I sat around a fire on the beach (glorious!); and tried the rich and creamy Manuka honey that NZ prides itself on. Two days of jam-packed fun!

To continue feeding the thrill-seeking adventurous spirit that invades every visitor in this island of a country, I went for a white water rafting trip down the Rangitata River yesterday. It was my first time on Grade 5 rapids and to experience that with the backdrop of the Gorge (also the backdrop for the scene of Edoras in The Lord of the Rings) was enough to make my heart rate rise to a wild level. In three hours of rafting, we had the opportunity to jump off a 3 meter cliff and a 9 meter cliff. And since I've embraced the motto "Do it now, you'll never get the chance again!" I jumped off of both. Being in a wetsuit kept me warm so the chill of the glacial water wasn't as shocking as the fact of knowing I was swimming in untamable rapid water! (I'm front, right in the raft below...)

Enough thrill for one week, well, a few days anyway. Back to reading, journaling, and hopefully starting a job in a few days. Speaking of reading, I've been delving into Scripture - experiencing it in a new way - discovering again the lives of the apostles, the accounts of their journeys as they spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus. As I read the other day, it hit me that the Bible is the same as it was a thousand years ago, the same as it will be in another 200 years. As we read it, God speaks through the same stories over and over - often offering reminders of hope, guidance, encouragement, and sometimes new lessons are revealed. So when I'm frustrated with myself for needing to learn the same lessons over and over, I can see that God knew that would happen - so He provided Scripture to remind me over and over. It's unchanging, but always relevant. He's unchanging, but always just what I need. That doesn't mean I should settle for learning the same lessons over, but I can rest in knowing God expects it and loves me in the midst of that.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lyrical Connections

I’ve often said that without music, I’m not sure I could feel. Of course that’s not true, but I can’t deny the way music unlocks something inside me, allowing me access to thoughts and feelings seemingly kept just out of reach. I was reminded of that again this past Friday as I walked through a store. Brooke Fraser’s “Shadowfeet” played in the background, bringing me an instant feeling of familiarity and warmth as I was missing home. My friend Jessica introduced me to Brooke’s music several months ago, and because Brooke is a New Zealander, it’s not at all uncommon to hear her streaming through radio waves all throughout the country (“walking, stumbling, on these shadow feet...”). Before coming to NZ, I came to know her music well - her calming words of truth and hope, the graceful melodies. I am certain God arranged this meeting as hearing her music now is something of comfort in my home away from home. Another small way God is reminding me of His provision.

Another reminder came the following day. Saturday mornings have a long-standing tradition for my house-family. They load up the kids and dog, make a morning trip to a local bakery for a delectable treat and a coffee, then head onto the beach to stroll amongst the waves and sand. This particular Saturday I was once again hit by lyrics streaming overhead as we stood waiting for our hot cups of caffeine...

Just give me a chance to hold on
Just give me something to hold onto
It’s so clear now that you are all that I have
I have no fear ‘cause you are all that I have

A few lines from Snow Patrol’s “You’re All I Have.” I’ve heard the song several times before, but hearing it after a few days of extensive time spent with the Lord, it came to mean something new. For me, this song meant that God is all I have, I have nothing to fear because I have Him. I’m pretty certain that’s not the meaning the writer had as he or she penned the lyrics, but it means that to me. My heart took these lyrics to the beach and silently sang them as I walked. I love it when supposed secular songs have underlying spiritual meaning. I notice this quite often actually. Just today in One Fine Frenzy’s “You Picked Me” and Matt Nathanson’s “Car Crash.” Why do so many songs have spiritual ties? I wonder this time and time again. Part of me thinks it’s because of the undeniable Creator and the way He makes everything spiritual. Even if a writer doesn’t see the connection, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I think whether they realize it or not, there is something inside of them that longs to connect with the spiritual, that longs to have the peace of God. Their lyrics are crying out for it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Journey Within A Journey

I am quickly discovering on my journey around that world that there will be many journeys within that journey. This past week I had the privilege of hiking the world famous Milford Track. A four day, three night 54k/33.5m hike through the Southern Alps from Glade Wharf to Sandfly Point via MacKinnon Pass.

It all began with a 10 hour bus ride from Christchurch to Te Anau. I met some neat people on the ride, befriended the bus driver (always a good idea), and gave my brain and heart an opportunity to engage. The first reminder God gave me - especially in the face of fear - is that He will always be enough. I couldn't tell you how many times I listened to the Shane and Shane song "The Blood," but I can tell you it was enough times for the message to really sink in..."The blood, oh the blood, the blood/It washes me/For it's only by the blood/He makes atonement for my soul/It will always be enough." Over and over, 'til I got it, really got it.

Next came a lesson on learning lessons. I think all these years I've had it wrong. Once the lesson is actually realized, see that's when the work is just beginning. It's a little bit like when I was baptized as a young girl. I remember thinking, "Alright! This is it, I've arrived. I've made the decision to become a believer in Christ. I'm done." Little did I know I was only beginning the journey of a lifetime, with lots of work ahead (oh to be young and naive again!). God teaching me a lesson - and me actually getting it - is great. But then it's up to me to apply it to my life. That takes work. And that's where the breakdown begins for me, I think. Once I realize the lesson, I can't just file it away and move on to the next one. They require a little more attention than that.

I knew as soon as I arrived in Te Anau I was in for a treat. The next few days in the mountains were just what the doctor ordered, and God had me primed right where He wanted me. The morning after the bus ride, I checked out of the hostel, eager to meet up with Karen and Mike (two friends from Charlotte who were tramping the track with me). Walking to the check-in point, I saw a rainbow over the mountains - God's first love message! Karen and Mike arrived within minutes of my arrival. With everything needed for four days of tramping through the unknown wilderness strapped to our backs, we took a bus ride and a boat ride to the start of the track, and then began putting one foot in front of the other! What followed was four days of witnessing firsthand God's glorious creation. It's hard to find words to describe it. Everything from lush rainforest to ominous snowcapped mountain peaks, babbling brooks to wildly rushing waterfalls, quiet still air to madly whipping wind. I kept thinking to myself, "God, you've gotta be kidding me!" He wasn't.

We slept in huts each night - no electricity, no fires, just gas stoves. 40 trampers from all over the world, cooking together, laughing together. Trampers from Holland, Scotland, Germany, England, Australia, the US - what fun! If a day of hiking with 50 pounds on your back wasn't enough shock for our muscles, Karen, Mike, and I rose to the challenge of swimming in 41 degree F water - fresh from the melting glaciers. Uff-da! That's stinkin' cold!!! Honestly though, I'm not sure if I've ever felt more refreshed. On day three we headed over MacKinnon Pass - sunny and spectacular. Breathtaking views! I even got to use "the toilet with the world's best view" (check out view below). Mike and I finished the day off with going behind New Zealand's tallest waterfall, Sutherland Falls (480 meters). I was soaking wet, had an ice cream headache, and found it difficult to breathe, but the feeling as the water pounded all around was such a rush! Day four, hiking through trees with a million shades of green, over bridges and rocks, with birds singing all around...a perfect ending. So, a million sandflys, 15 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, one massive dark chocolate bar, 3 sets of sore legs, and countless shared struggles and triumphs later, Karen, Mike, and I finished the incredible walk.

This, my friends, is what it's all about.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stupid Four Letter Word

Fear. I sense myself being paralyzed by fear. It's an odd thing, really. I can fly from country to country and navigate around cities and airports on my own without the slightest hint of fear. I can think it easy to galavant around for 6 weeks in different places, meeting up with friends, knowing in some sense that that part of my trip was "just for fun." But I find myself afraid as I settle in New Zealand. I first began to notice the ever-growing feeling as I sat on a plane crossing over the Tasman Sea, speeding full force into an unknown realm. Tears welled in my eyes as I stared out the window - tears of excitement, anticipation, weariness, and...fear. It's not a fear of safety, nor the people, nor the country. I fear myself.

I am afraid I will fail on this journey. I am afraid I will miss what God wants to show me. I am afraid I will return the same person I was when I left, only broke - and I will be the one to blame. I think I am feeling the weight of the trip now as I get to know Christchurch and look for a job. I am noticing that tendencies I didn't like about myself in Charlotte...lack of discipline, drive, organization, etc...well, all these things have followed me here. Was I running from them? No, I don't think I was. I just began to feel like change wasn't possible where I was. I was stagnant and caught in my life. I needed a catalyst for change. And for me, that was this trip, my move to New Zealand.

I've come to realize I learn the same lessons over and over. I wonder if God gets tired of teaching me? Why am I not able to learn the first time, change, and move on? I find myself coming back to some of the same old things. But I guess that is me. I am who God created me to be. As me. John 15:16 says "You did not choose me, but I chose you..." It doesn't say, I chose you because you are strong, wise, fearless. God chose me (and created me!) because I am me, and He will use me, as I am. So then, what do I do with me if I am frustrated by me? I am still searching God for the answer, but I do know that each time I learn the lesson, I get to be a better version of myself. I will always be me, but I can be a me that is better. So I guess I have to back up. I will tell all of these self-imposed expectations to find a new home.

So I head into these next few days and weeks with the goal of accomplishing what I set out to accomplish - one-on-one time with God in his pure creation. In that I will not fail. It's that simple really. That was my goal. That still is my goal. All other things will fall into place as I learn and relearn lessons. God has this thing. Way more than I could ever think He does. I am still me, the same me that walked onto a plane in Charlotte, the same me what will get off in March. What happens in between isn't always gonna be easy, but it'll give me the opportunity to get to overcome my fear as I get to know God, and therefore myself, a bit better.

Psalm 139.

*A special thank you to Sarah for being my sounding board and opening my eyes to a few things.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I'm in NEW ZEALAND!!!! And my first glimpse of the Southern Alps was truly breathtaking...other people on the plane must have thought I was psycho to take so many pictures through a plane window, but the snow-capped mountains were truly gorgeous!

BUT, first things first. I must recount what happened today while I was home alone with the pets (and inadvertently locked in the house). I'd spent a quiet morning with Yoda, the cat, and Belize, the dog - unpacking, organizing my room, doing a little yoga. The cat had begun to act a little funny, slyly crawling around the kitchen counter and by the stove hood. I didn't think much of it, but did wonder what he was up to. I had just begun to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when Yoda spastically sprung a paw up to the hood and brought it down with a rat in tow! The cat had just literally snatched the rat from somewhere inside the corner of the hood. Yoda jumped down to the floor with the little rat in it's mouth, squeaking all the way. I stood there dumbfounded. I had not a clue what to do! I was afraid to look over the counter to see whether or not the rat would set himself free. I just kept hearing muffled squeaking and the cat adjusting the grip. I thought to get the cat outside, but then remembered that the door was locked and I had no key. So here I am, stuck in the house with a cat...eating...a rat. I was pleased
when the squeaking finally stopped, grateful that cat didn't want to play with his dinner long. At this point, I continued making my sandwich so as to keep from watching the murderous event take place, even though I had lost all appetite. I tried to get the cat out the kitty door, but he wasn't too keen on moving with his meal and I didn't want to push the subject as he kept growling with the dead rat hanging from his mouth. He did take it to the corner of the kitchen where the crunching commenced. Little did I know that after the squeaking came the crunching...of rat bones! I had to turn the TV on to drown out the sound...and utilize techniques learned in my nursing profession to keep from hurling the food I had yet to eat. I cleaned the blood up from the floor where the rat lost his life and proceeded to the living room to try my hand at eating my pb and j. When Yoda was all done, I peeked in the corner to check out the remains. Guts, a foot, and a tail. That's what he left behind. I'll be honest, I didn't touch any of it. I just couldn't bring myself to clean that up - plus I needed some proof so my house-family would believe me when they got home!!

Speaking of house family, I must tell you that they are just the kindest people. Michael and Karen and their kids, Theo and Holly have welcomed me into their home without even knowing me. I've been given a cozy room and been shown the ropes of the house. It's been a joy getting to know them and my time here has only just begun! Theo said I could stay when he found out I had red chucks just like his. And Holly let me beautify my toenails the first night I was here (after 6 weeks of walking, they desperately needed it). Wonderful people!

I feel much better leaving you on that note.

I'm attaching a few pictures of my time in Syd to this post as I didn't have them on my computer for the last post. You'll see why I've fallen for the jacarandas...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Has The Weeping Willow Met It's Match?

It's called the Jacaranda and is peppered all over the landscape on the East coast (well, ok, Brisbane and Sydney anyway) It is incredible. It's purple flowers are in full bloom now. Just about everywhere you turn, whether in the city or in the mountains, you can see these lavender beauties. They're from South America...and I'm hoping they're found in NZ too. (Pics to come soon.)

The past few days have been spent exploring's beaches, architecture, gardens. I spent a morning walking through the Botanic Gardens, then walked along the coast from Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach. Both were beautiful. Note, however, that walking barefoot on the rocky/sandy/sometimes paved coast walk will do a number on the bottom of one's feet! They recovered before a dinner with my lovely hosts here in Syd at a Thai restaurant and drinks at Clock in Surry Hills. I had a late breakfast in Darling Harbour yesterday in the midst of massive downpours. It was absolutely lovely - a covered deck seating allowed me to be in the midst of it without getting a bit wet. In between downpours I strolled through the Chinese Gardens - they were free for the day! - and then decided to dry my feet while watching a movie (Couples Retreat...ha, I know, a funny choice to watch by was entertaining and prompted more than a few laughs). I managed to catch the late service of Hillsong Sydney and called it a day! Today was another rainy day, so after grabbing some chicken noodle soup at a little bakery (yes, I grabbed dessert too...chocolate hazelnut cake, if you must know) I meandered through the Rocks area of downtown, noting some quaint pubs and shops. Thus ends my journey through Sydney. One final note on the city...sitting on the bottom level of the train is glorious - I can see everyone's shoes as the train pulls out!

Some thoughts (pros and cons, to be interpreted as you wish) regarding solo traveling...

+I can go wherever I want to go - if I want to see something again or linger for awhile or take 27 pictures of the same thing, no one is there to argue.
-Putting sunscreen on my back is virtually impossible - I haven't asked a stranger for help...yet.
+/-Without a set plan I can happen upon some amazing things, but on the flip side, there are times I feel like I'm just barely missing something huge.
+There is lots of time for one of my favorite sports: people-watching.
+I can linger in a bookshop until my eyes hurt.
-Sometimes I just desire a conversation with someone who knows me, and I don't want to engage with my own thoughts.
-Being plagued by indecision is easier to kick when you're with someone - it's the little things, for instance, deciding where to eat or where to sit or where to pee, they can be easier with a buddy.
-Getting dessert with a friend is great because you can get two different things and share...when it's me, I can only try one thing on a menu of enticing delectables, much to my chagrin.
-Sometimes I just want to be silly, and although I could be silly by myself, I think it would draw unwanted attention. :)
++No one is here to judge the health value of my meals...meaning dessert can be (and often is) the entire meal.
+No one will think I'm strange for analyzing a sweet treat (ie. taking pictures/notes) for future recreating reference.
+I have affirmed that I love taking pictures - so I must buy a "real" camera (you know, the ones with a lens bigger than the actual camera) and then travel around the world again, taking real and official pictures...ha!

Back to Brisbane tonight to enjoy one more day with the Aussies!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Random Act of Kindness

This'll be a quickie, but wanted to share with you a story that happened today...

Somewhere between Cebu and Brisbane, my camera charger went on holiday - without me and without telling me where. My camera died just before heading to Sydney, so I knew soon after arrival I would need to try to locate a charger (and I was quite fearful of how much this endeavor would cost me, but I needed a camera...) So I headed out this morning to conquer Sydney, or a bit of it anyway. I was sent to a store by my friend here. A couple amazing things happened! One, I had no trouble at all finding the store. Secondly, the man who asked to help me walked straight up to a charger and then asked for my battery to make sure it worked (more service than the one place we tried in Brisbane for sure!). It worked! But thirrrdly, he gave me a discount. Just for the heck of it. A $90 AUD ended up being $58 AUD. He said he thought it was on sale, but I'm virtually certain it wasn't. He walked me to the cashier and told her the new price. As she checked me out, she mentioned that that was a really great price, and she said "he can do that, he's the owner." Crazy! I'm not sure why he felt the urge to help me out, but I felt really blessed. First off I had a charger for my camera...and secondly it didn't cost as much as feared! It definitely put a bit of a bounce in my step.

After getting the camera sorted out, I headed into the city to take in a few sites. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the famous opera house. Next I took a ferry to Manly Beach - a great little spot with a couple beaches, some old cool homes, etc. I walked around for a bit, then laid on the rocks on the beach to cool off. Loved every minute of it. Ended up catching a bit more sun that anticipated but am grateful for the beautiful day.

I just finished making peanut butter cookies - first baking since I left the States! It felt quite good to bake again. So come on over! :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Potato Potahto, Tomato Tomahto

As my friend Bill said today, I am now being dished back all the fun I poked at him for his British accent...the Aussies are quite keen on pointing out the "wrong" things I say in my purely American accent. Well deserved, I suppose! I am well into my 5th full day here in Brisbane and am anything but caught up on sleep. There's too much to do! I hit the ground running upon arrival Thursday morning: catching an early breakfast, stopping at Bartley's Hill for an overview of the city, and getting a city tour from Joel, my friend here in Brizzie, all before settling at his house. A couple hours to recoup and we headed into the city for a quick bite on the South Bank (my first Australian kebab) and then met one of his friends who joined us for a viewing of Julie and Julia. I was a bit tuckered out from a rather sleepless night on the plane, but stayed awake through the entirety of the movie. Maybe it was the Malteses that were being thrown at me (like Whoppers), or maybe it was the large amount of caffeine consumption, really though I think it was because it was a great movie. We headed up Mount Coot-tha next - what a view! The overlook provides a stunning view of the city - it is huge (just under 2 million) and the lights are spectacular.

Friday was a beautiful day - every day here has been actually. Sunny, mid-70s, a light breeze. I first went to window shop at a shopping centre with Joel's fun sister - we bonded over cooking/baking and loitered around several bookstores. It was strange to be back in a place where my skin color was in the majority and where poverty isn't screaming at you from every street corner. A part of me felt more at ease, but a part of me is still unsettled knowing what exists even though I don't see it on a day to day basis. Next Joel took me to the Roma Street Parklands, a park in the city full of lovely trees, flowers, wildlife. We then stopped at the Queen Street Mall (not another shopping mall, but a market area of sorts...a street of shops, musicians who are "busking," etc. where no cars are allowed) before heading to dinner with a group of friends at a Himalayan restaurant. It was my first experience with authentic Himalayan food - we had a few entrees, family style. I'd for sure do it again!
Saturday night was an interesting experience - I went with Joel's brother, Isaac, and a few others to "the Valley" - an area full of clubs, bars, a few brothels on the outskirts. Wait, wait,
don't worry - we didn't go to party. We actually evangelized to people on the streets. Isaac and his friend go every Saturday to help spread Christ's love and Message. It was a unique experience - spent time prayer walking through the streets, praying over certain buildings, initiating conversations with some, buying meals for a few homeless, giving out water to those who needed something a little less stiff, checking on several already passed out to make sure they were ok. The group of three I was in also went to the Lounge - an area where a handful Aborigines hang out. It was sad to see young kids, some under 10, drinking and generally up to no good. We brought a cooler of pop and chatted with the kids. Isaac is clearly building relationships with these kids. It ended up to be a late night, finally turning out the light as the sun was already starting to rise, but grateful for the experience and encouraged to see light in an area of darkness.

Needless to say, a Sunday afternoon nap was in order. I slept well with a tummy full of homemade butter chicken, a traditional Indian dish, and Tim Tams. I then headed into town to meet up with a relative...of sorts. Susanna is in Brisbane with Campus Crusade for Christ and just so happens to be my uncle's niece. It was a delight to meet her, sharing stories of times with our cousins - it was strange to discover we "share cousins" but have no relation to each other. We rode the CityCat which is a ferry stopping along the South Bank in the center of Brisbane. Some cool views from here.

Since then I've enjoyed a meal of French crepes, a walk through the Botanical Gardens (which, at this point, appear to be rather dead) where Bonnie and I perched ourselves in a tree for awhile and people-watched, and hiked in Mount Nebo and Mount Glorious. I have yet to spot a roo, but I did find it interesting that the mountains are filled with palm trees - a new site for me! I played Tarzan (well, Jane I guess) on a few cool branches and enjoyed seeing the differing ecosystems of the US and Australia.

A few more adventures to be had here before I head to Sydney on Thursday!


Saturday, October 17, 2009

From the Land Down Under

I'll be honest, it was a bit of an experience getting here. I could make the story quite long, but will inform you of just a few of the things I learned...

1. Overweight luggage is NOT fun.
2. Trying to lighten weight of overweight luggage in middle of Filipino airport is even more NOT fun...I was rummaging through frantically searching for heavy things I could wear - traded my chucks for hiking boots, wore a couple jackets, put books in my carryon (BAD idea)...
3. Delayed flights are not always a bad thing...I would have missed my flight due to aforementioned rummaging had it not been for the divine intervention of a 1.5 hour delay (they even gave us free lunch...that's right CSC more opportunity to eat Jollibee...mmm.)
4. The Cebu Airport is NOT joking when they say 7 kilos total weight for your carryon. Due to checked baggage excess (I dropped the weight down from a $200 charge to a $116 charge), I loaded my carryon bag with a couple books. BAD idea. They weigh this too and won't let you through if it is over. Who else does this? I've not seen it before. They've never had a problem with my carryon bag and my "purse" which is actually quite heavy.
5. Prayer works. As I continued to get more desperate (I didn't want to start chucking things into the trash, but didn't know what else to do!), the workers were starting to feel more and more sorry for me. First off we don't speak the same language. Secondly, I probably looked a bit frazzled as I realized I would either have to throw things away or somehow call my family to come all the way back to airport and pick some things up. After offering the weigher guy - the only thing standing between me and the plane - some pesos to "please just let me through" another guy walked up, they discussed, and finally just let me go through. Me with my carryon luggage totaling 21 kilos...yes that's 3 times the approved limit weight, thank you very much.
6. Free lunches are blessings after nervewracking events.
7. Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs is a funny funny man.
8. Skyping with family in Hong Kong airport can aid easing any lasting nerves.
9. Briskly walking laps around terminals at HK airport is easy due to it's size...but note it will draw many strange looks from other travelers as you pass them for the 5th time.
10. Free carts to sit your carryon luggage on and push around the airport are crucial to a pleasant layover experience. I am appalled at my previous stupidity in denying myself the luxury of this great feature.
11. Going through overweight luggage experience can easily make one oversensitive to luggage. Man in elevator at HK airport said, "It's too big!" when I stepped on. I went instantly hot and said, "I'm sorry, what was that?" to which he replied, "The airport. It's too big!" Ha, I guess not everyone was noticing the piles of jackets on the cart.
12. Keeping track of sleeping pills even throughout luggage rummaging is key. I had not, so when it came to "lights off" time on the plane, I had NO idea where they might be.
13. Sleep is more likely to come when eyes are covered. Will check "comfort and convenience" baggie provided by the airline next time BEFORE the duration of the flight...provided eye mask would have worked significantly better than sweatshirt sleeve or free blanket (yes, I put it against my face...I can't believe it...I must have been really tired).
14. Tim Tams and Flight of the Conchords do wonders to brighten up a morning.
15. Seeing overweight luggage wind it's way around baggage claim conveyor belt after almost 24 hours of seperation is quite like a glorious reunion.

Ok, well, there you have it! All that to say, I made it to Brisbane with luggage in tow. The first couple days have been great - more on that soon. Right now, dinner is calling and I am not about to ignore the call.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Goodbye...Or Until I See You Again?

Oh dear. My time here is coming to a close, and I'm none to happy about it. These two weeks have flown by. I have been filled with such joy as I've gotten to know the kids, the workers. It takes many willing and kind hearts to make this place run - and after two weeks here, it's obvious that CSC is filled with love. The kitchen is always busy (lots of mouths to feed!), the nursery playroom is full of energy - toys, music, laughter. The older kids are so great with the young ones - taking time to hold them, help them learn how to walk, sing about the Lord to them, teach them to dance. Then there are the women who work in the laundry room, others who clean, others who help maintain the beautiful property. So many who give of themselves daily to make this place not only a safe haven for these children, but also a home filled with love, teaching, and encouragement. The Lord is clearly working here and it is a joy to witness.

It has been such fun getting to know everyone here. Their kindness in opening up their lives and homes to me leaves me grateful. Always a smile, a hello. I know the past 30 years hasn't been an easy road to walk down for those involved with CSC, but the Lord's strength has carried them through! What life experience they have. They have seen great sorrow and yet continued great joy.

So tomorrow I fly to Australia. I know it will be a great time as well, but everyone that makes CSC what it is - they hold a dear place in my heart. So the question is, is it "goodbye" or is it "until next time?" If I had my way...well, I think you know what the answer would be. I will be praying for an opportunity to visit again...if they will have me. I am eager to see if/how the Lord will orchestrate seeing this place again.

Off to the land of Oz.....

Monday, October 12, 2009

Glory Reborn

Disclaimer: this post is about the birthing center I visited this week....those readers not medically inclined may be bored with the medical jargon, but there's nothing too graphic, don't worry.

So on Thursday last week I went with Marlys to Glory Reborn (, a free birthing center nestled in the heart of Ceby City. As we walked up, I saw at least 20 pregnant women sitting in chairs to the side of the clinic, some there for education classes and some there for a prenatal check up. The clinic is in an old apartment building. They have two levels of small apartment space. I found myself having to get used to the "openness" of things here - front door stayed open, windows open, mere curtains seperating me from women being triaged, most people barefoot as people here leave their slippers (flip-flops) at the door. We were greeted by a friendly staff woman when we entered. We then waited for Hillary to come show us around. Let me introduce Hillary to you - she is, in a word, amazing. She had a strong vision for this birthing center after a mission trip to Cebu 10 or so years ago. She moved out here with her husband in '03 to start this place from the ground up. Since opening they have successfully delivered over 1700 demises or maternal death. Praise God! Through the tour and lengthy discussion with Hillary, here are some things I found out...

They deliver about 37 babies/month. No epidurals for these birthing ladies! If they really really want something, they can have Demerol IM. For repairs, lidocaine unless a 3rd or 4th degree, in which case they revert to something stronger. There are four doctors that work with the clinic - they are staffed at a hospital, but will attend high risk deliveries at the center. The place is run by midwives and nurses, the head midwife lives in an apartment adjoining the center.

Screening is significant for patients they accept. They like to know all history possible, significant things being HIV, Syphillis and Gonorrhea, previous pregnancies/deliveries, the usual stuff. They rarely choose not to accept a woman - really only two cases: if you're greater than 7 months and/or a VBAC unless she's has a previously successful VBAC. The women are also dischared from the clinic if they miss 2 appointments. Hillary informed me that word gets around the communities fast - you want to get in at the clinic, and you MUST go to your appointments. Rarely do they have to discharge women. Good medical care is hard to find...and free good medical care is virtually impossible to find...these women learn quick. (Oh, there were days we all wished we could discharge at Presby..."I'm sorry, you'll have to go to the OTHER hospital because you've not attented all your prenatal appointments. Thanks and have a great delivery.") At one of the city hospitals, there are three patients to a bed. Then add in the "helper" to care for the patient - usually a family member or friend - and the babies...that's over 9 people to ONE bed. At the federal hospital we went to today, there are 5 laboring mammas to a bed. Next time you have a patient complaint about the TV remote not working, inform them they could literally be sharing a birthing bed with 2-4 other laboring women, in a room full of beds. The wards here are literally a huge room with tons of beds, some curtains, and women all over. No birthing suites here! At the center, there is one small room for deliveries - two beds and two monitors, and one small room for postpartum moms - two beds as well.

Initial tests include a CBC, T&S, GBS, and a UA. STD's are tested on an individual basis. *Important note - the rate of their premature babies is significantly reduced when they treat STD's during pregnancy. The mom's all received their prenatal vitamins free from the clinic, and they are also told to bring with them to each appointment one cheap item from a checklist - a syringe, bulb, cord clamp, etc. - so at delivery they have the few needed supplies already there.

They do care for high risk patients. Lots of women have GDM. Preterm labor is rare. They will vaginally deliver breech babies, unless it's the first of twins. They have had 100% success with their my three years of L&D I saw a few successful turns (maybe this is because their babies here are 5-6 pounds at delivery?). If complications during delivery, they will be referred and taken to a private hospital (they used to refer two hospitals, until they found out the women they sent were being turned away if they were too this same hospital the patients were given a list of anesthesiologists they had to call up and bargain a price for them to come in and to the c/s, if no one agreed, there would be no c/s...can you imagine?!?!). If they deliver vaginally, they stay at the center 24 hours, c/s deliveries stay at the hospital 3 nights. They will do pitocin drip inductions at the center - but not for primips. Continuous monitoring for inductions. They will also AROM - monitoring for 30 minutes after, I think. Intermittent monitoring if everything looks ok.

Hillary also informed me that condoms are never used here and the Filipino mentality of acquiring HIV is: I'm in the clear as long as I don't get pregnant. Sheesh!

So there you have it. No whirlpool tubs, no epis, no MAC, no 4-SERV, no JCAHO, no fetal demises, no labeling speci hats and barf canisters...just lots of babies! (Sounds kinda good to me...kinda.)

Hope things are well at good ole' Presby Birthing Care...miss you ladies!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A glimpse.

Aaah! There's so much to update you guys on! Every day has been fun, busy, hot, exciting. Each day is a learning experience - times full of joy, times of witnessing tragedy. I am trying to take in everything. My days have mostly been filled with helping out at the shelter. Marlys (Paul's wife) has been taking me around the city to see a few things and to run some errands (no Walmarts to stop at...) for stuff for the new house (opening soon!!). It's helped me gain a little perspective. It's taken me awhile to get acclimated here. Things are so different from what I'm used to seeing. In the afternoons, once the kids are out of school, I hang out with them. They play together in the quad area between the houses - soccer, table tennis, rollerblading, swinging, babies learning to walk, lots of laughing. I've been learning some of their games - banana split is one of my favorites. Try to picture a crazy version of rock, paper, involves spreading your feet - you eventually win the game when the other person can no longer stretch any further...the kids have an advantage being that they are soooo flexible....but I'm bigger!

Yesterday we went to one of the homes that four of the kids are from. We were checking in on the mother who has 10 children, some still at home. I use the word home because house would not be appropriate. We weaved our way through a maze of hut after hut, little square plots built up with scraps of metal and cardboard and cement. Lines of laundry hung all around. Water ran through the paths as it was raining that day. As we walked by some huts I could hear TVs, music, people cooking, babies crying, roosters crowing (they train them to fight). The smell was unidentifiable - basically the smells of so many people living so close together...often almost unbearable smells. We stepped into this mother's home (the father is nowhere to be found) and she reached for mine and Marlys' hand to lift them to her forehead - a sign of respect. As we talked with the mother (well, I listened mostly, I don't speak Cebuano) I observed children and the hut. A shy four-year-old clinging tightly to her mom, a fourteen-year-old boy watching TV, a sixteen-year-old daughter who is four months pregnant. A mouse ran down the wall - I had to bite my lip to keep myself from running. Clothes strung up on a wire to dry, or maybe that is their permanent spot. Cement floors, wood and metal walls. A sense of safety and warmth nowhere to be found. As I said, four of the children are living at the shelter - thriving, getting food, and education, learning to love the Lord. A stark contrast from the hut in a sea of huts.

I left there with the weight of trying to understand my life, our lives, in relation to theirs. Why is it this way? What do I do about it? How comfortable am I going to feel tonight as I lay my head on a soft pillow in an air conditioned room? The Lord and I are still conversing about these questions. I probably will be chewing on them for the rest of my life.

More to follow soon. There's a day waiting to be seized!

Oh, and for my Birthing Care followers...soon to come is commentary on a birthing center I toured yesterday!!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Maayong Udto!

That means "Good day!" in Cebuano. One of the many things I am learning here in Cebu. I arrived safely on Wednesday morning, local time. The plane rides weren't bad - Qantas Airlines is the way to go! They were the friendliest of staff (not to mention the great Aussie accent) and it was the nicest plane I've been on. Slept for about 5-6 hours, off and on. Drank tons of water to help kick a cold I felt settling in my chest mere hours before leaving London (seems to have disappeared now...praise God!). Saw the most amazing views from atop the clouds - there's something about that vantage point I love. When I checked in, the lady asked if I wanted a window seat - I could've kissed her! (Would have if there wasn't such a swine flu scare...) It does make for better sleeping arrangements. Speaking of the flu...almost everyone in the Hong Kong airport was wearing masks and everything was in Chinese - first time for me that English wasn't the language of choice. Just a few things to kick off two weeks of entirely new territory, but that was only the beginning...

I was greeted by a familiar face, my first-cousin-once-removed (heh- from here on out to be known as cousin), Paul, at the airport here in Cebu, which I was entirely grateful for after the long journey and realm of the unknown. I was quickly introduced to the rules of the road...there are none. Apparently anything goes and no one will stop you. When there are cars, jeeps, taxis, children, scooters, and animals on the road, what else would you expect? Paul first took me to the shelter to meet staff and children...what a treat! It's a beautiful place - the buildings, the staff and workers, the children. I am now settled in Paul and Marlys' home. I have met so many people and feel so welcomed.

I am beginning to understand a bit more of my discontentedness in Charlotte. There was something nagging at me. Something giving me a sense I was too comfortable in my life. After my time in London, I thought a city teeming with busy people was something to wrap my brain around...boy was I in for a surprise. What a change this is. A city still teeming. But oh so vastly different. Sketchy dirt roads, poverty just about everywhere you look, armed guards at banks and restaurants. There are positive things too...amazing fruit, beautiful mountains, and most importantly children at the shelter who are eager to engage. I'm not sure I can find adequate words for what I've already experienced in just a day and a half. My heart is already breaking and mending and breaking again and growing 3 sizes too large (if I was in Whoville). With children who come in abandoned, malnourished, suffering from diseases and all kinds of abuse, who's heart wouldn't break? But it is quickly mended when I play a game with a child or share in laughter with them or be read to by a young girl or sing Taylor Swift with a group of girls. This breaking and mending. How does one process? Only God knows what affect will it have. All I know is my heart is in for a wild ride.

Stay tuned for pics and more stories. In the meantime, check out the website for the shelter ( and Oprah on Friday - a segment at the beginning involves a reunion from the shelter!!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Adios to The Big Smoke

Tomorrow I board a plane - another trip through time zones begins. I am in disbelief that my time in London has already come to a close...just about the time I begin to feel comfortable finding my way around! I've seen so much here - the kindness of friends and strangers (who have quickly become friends), a city full (and I mean FULL) of a diverse people, a sense of history that the US has yet to achieve. It has certainly been a time of gaining perspective. Seeing a world outside my world. Understanding that God loves those I see and know in Charlotte is quite different than trying to understanding God's love for e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e. He cries out to know each and every person I pass on the street. Thousands a day, in a city that truly never sleeps. That's perspective.

The past few days have been lovely. I traveled to Nottingham to hang with Robin Hood and his merry men - in my case this was Warren and his friends, Katie, Jen, Matt, Keith, and Mark. It was nice to get out of the busyness of London for a couple days. I got to see the University of Nottingham campus, the Nottingham castle and art gallery, and go in the oldest inn in England - Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem (since 1189 AD). It's a quaint three story pub. Quite a bit of history in that place. I also had some delicious
fish and chips (my first since arriving in England), and enjoyed shooting the breeze with Warren and his chums. His request was to make him into a villain in the blog, and I realize I've just compared him to Robin Hood. He was a villain of sorts, right? That'll have to do!

Upon my return to London, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to people-watch in the park. It was a glorious day and the park was teeming with people of all walks of life. After getting my fill of people, I made my way out to my friend Drew's to fill my belly. He and his roommate and friends prepared a mouthwatering meal of steak and chicken on the barbie. With veggies, bread, some sort of amazing grilled cheese, a bit of wine, and two desserts, not a one of us left hungry. It was delightful to fellowship with such fun guys.

Yesterday I attended church in a theatre house in central London. (The famous) Hillsong Church takes place there. I cannot express how great it was to worship with such a diverse people that are so on fire for the Lord. Then last night at Ben and Hanelle's church - St. Mary's - I heard an incredible speaker. Both were an inspiration, and I'm grateful for the experience as I head out to the Philippines...tomorrow! I'm off to finish packing and enjoy one last night with Ben, Hanelle, and Drew!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weeping Willows

They are all over the parks in London! I absolutely love them. Besides the fact that they ooze nostalgia for me, they also have an intrinsic peacefulness about them. They take me back to a time when I hadn't a care in the world and climbing trees was an everyday sport. London is generally not a clean city (you should see what comes out of my nose every night...gross, I know...I had to share), but the parks provide a bit of reprieve from the hustle and bustle and the grime. I try not to be the typical tourist (you know the type, fanny pack and camera around the neck), but when I get to a park I can't help myself. The beauty begs to be captured on film. I'm making it a priority to hit up Regent's Park again before I leave. One more stroll through the rose gardens...

In addition to meandering through parks, I've also found great joy in wandering through
museums. I spent hours in the Victoria and Albert museum the other day. Listening to my ipod and taking my time on the different floors was almost like therapy. The fashion exhibit and paintings and jewelry and sculptures went on and on! A feast for the eyes.

Speaking of feasting the eyes. That's about all my eyes have done since arriving. Just today I walked across the London Bridge (don't worry - it wasn't falling down), saw the Tower of London and the famous Globe Theatre, walked across the Millennium Bridge, toured Westminster Abby (Tay! I saw Mike - he even let me in FREE!), and last but certainly not least, I feasted on The Lion King. What a show! It was superbly entertaining. I laughed, cried, and was utterly amazed at the creativity and talent involved in such an extravaganza. I was also baffled at how I've previously failed to see the spiritual implications in the storyline. Maybe it's because I had just come from an evensong service at the Westminster and spirituality was on my brain, but it was obvious to me tonight. It's left me with some ideas to ponder and a mind filled with brilliant colors, dancing, and singing.

As I walked the streets today, I had a longing for community. I miss the community I left behind - people that know me, and know me well. But then I was reminded of the leg cramps I used to get as a little kid, growing pains striking in the middle of the night. I think we experience this as adults, although the form is quite different now - internal as opposed to external - but still growing pains. I decided change doesn't come without some discomfort. My thoughts were even echoed tonight in Rafiki's words of wisdom to Simba as he learned to deal with change.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One Word

Grateful. As I walked around London on this blustery beautiful day, I found myself absolutely grateful to be where I am. Saying goodbye to friends back in the States and meeting travelers early on in my trip revealed that several people had a desire to do a similar journey, or a regret that they hadn't ever taken the opportunity. So as I sat in a park, had lunch with some friends, and lollygagged around I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. I'm not sure yet really why or how this trip is happening, but I couldn't help but smile to myself several times today.

I began the day with a stroll through Regent's Park - reading a bit only to be interrupted by an eager spaniel named Jim with a slobbery yellow ball. Taking Jim up on his offer to play fetch, I was introduced to his owner who engaged me in conversation for a bit. I then met a few friends
for a late lunch at Bonnington Cafe - which came about by homeless "squatters" occupying the abandoned space long enough to lawfully call
it their own; it now serves eclectic home-cooked meals by a group of member cooks. Had quite a delicious fudgy chocolate cake with cream cheese whipped cream. To walk off the meal, I strolled down the Southbank, viewing Parliament, Big Ben,
and random street shows, then rested a bit inside the National Theater where a free concert was being played - European gipsy music. The 3-man band ended with "If I Were A
Rich Man" - loved every minute! Then before the LONG walk
back to the flat, I became the ultimate tourist and photographed practically the entire riverfront that was lit up in the night sky.

But as I walked (and boy did I WALK...why take the Tube when the crisp breeze felt so good?!), I also found myself pondering what defines me. It is easy to be defined
by your social circle, your job, your past, your neighborhood, your priorities. I think being too defined by these factors can be claustrophobic. I discovered today that London is a city full of people each with their own agendas, fashion styles, and busy lives. No one pays much mind to anyone else. The people here are hard to define. It makes me wonder, will I be redefined as the trip progresses or will I discover myself becoming more undefined?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not even a glitch!

Aaah, sitting in McDonald's just after noon in London! (ONLY reason I'm at a McDonald's is because it has free wifi...) London is currently chilly with a lovely drizzle to cool your cheeks. After lugging 2 suitcases and my backpack from the airport into LDN via the Tube, I welcome some cool mist!

I'm happy to report that all travel thus far has been safe and uneventful - save the few tears and jitters at the start of the trip. Had two lovely flights here - sat next to great people each time. First flight I ended up next to a guy from my church in Charlotte - the odds! Second flight also gave me a divine appointment...the opportunity to watch The Proposal which helped calm any lingering nerves. Sleep was not something present on the plane for me though. I have learned my lesson and will get over my aversion to medication for the next flight. It'll be twice as long! No worries - a little caffeine and the day will be mine!

I'm off to explore....

Monday, September 14, 2009


1 around the world plane ticket. 18 hours 'til departure. 2 suitcases. 1,000 hugs from family and friends...

And 25 years of experience living life. But am I experienced enough for this? I sit here tonight on the verge of the biggest adventure I've been on so far in my life. I find myself wondering when did I grow up? When did that moment take place where I crossed the threshold from childhood to adulthood? Whether I can pinpoint an answer or not, I think it happened somewhere along the way. At some point I stopped asking permission to go to the movies. I eventually got to drive a car without a passenger above the age of 18. Then came a new level of decision-making, paying bills, buying my own clothes and groceries. Yes, adulthood has ushered itself in. Welcome or not.

Now this so-called adulthood is toying with me. Telling me this would be easier with someone else. Maybe even someone more adult than me. I, however, have chosen to go this alone, in the worldly sense. I travel with the greatest companion one could have, my Heavenly Father. So I stand and embrace the journey with eagerness. I will stumble along the way. Probably a lot. As flights are delayed, cities become overwhelming, luggage is lost, people aren't as helpful as I think they should be....but I will grow too, and He will teach me to regain my footing quicker and surer than before.

And I will return, still at the age of 25. Probably still questioning whether or not I'm an adult, even after hiking the Southern Alps and diving out of a plane with a parachute strapped to my back. Which then leads me to conclude, in the last hours before departure, that adulthood is less of a feeling and more of a reality. I will hold to that reality as I step onto the plane. I will slip in my earbuds, take a deep breath, and soak in the reality that my journey has officially begun. I cannot wait!

I am grateful beyond words for the prayers, support, and love of family and friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your encouragement as I say goodbye to the life I know here in the States and begin to take in (as Aladdin once put it...) a whole new world!


Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Countdown Has Begun...

Ladies and Gentleman, two weeks from tomorrow I embark on my journey around the world.  I am experiencing myriad emotions as the departure date approaches.  I can now officially say that someone can feel entirely contradictory emotions at just about any given moment, if not every moment.  Excitement, trepidation, peace, joy, sadness, eagerness.  In my opinion, the journey has already begun.  

I've begun to say goodbye to friends and coworkers.  I've begun the process of packing up my Charlotte life.  A part of me has already begun to wonder what life will look like upon my return...and I haven't even left!  It's a new experience for me.  Other times of my life a move has been normal, expected.  Moving with my family.  Moving to go to school.  Moving for a job.  This time, however, it's none of those reason.  This time I'm in search of answers to questions, some of which I can't yet name.  Questions that nag at the soul until they become louder than the routine of life.  Questions that demand change and exploration.  I'm not sure what the answers will look like, but that's part of the joy.  Whatever semblance they may have, I pray I will find them on this journey.  Or that they find me.  

I leave you with some lines from Needtobreathe's song "Through Smoke."  They speak of something stirring in my soul.

"Before the truth will come to fill our eyes
The wool comes down in the form of fire
And when the answers and the truth have cut their ties
Will you still find me
Will you still see me through smoke...
Who do you believe when you can't get through
When everything you know seems so untrue
When I'm lost in a place that I thought I knew
Give me some way that I might find you"

Well then, 14 days and counting!