The End is Really Just The Beginning

On a trip of firsts, this is my first time flying across an ocean solo. And while I feel a twinge of sadness leaving Natalie and Katy in Europe, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is calling me home.

The flight map displayed on the screen in front of me shows a long green line from Istanbul, Turkey to Atlanta.

I left Spain last night and flew from Rota to Barcelona landing just after midnight. My plan was to sleep in the airport and thanks to a yoga mat, neck pillow and a sleep sheet, it was a pretty impressive make-shift bed (if I say so myself), though still not really comfortable.

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I donned my trusty eye mask and earplugs hoping for some good shut eye, but a few hours later I awoke to the sound of voices nearby. At 3:37 a.m. people were already lined up to check in for the 6 a.m. flight from Barcelona to Istanbul.

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Despite my casual approach to travel these days, there are many others who clearly take the “arrive two hours prior to an international flight” advice seriously.

Four hours later I was in Turkey. And nearly four hours after that I boarded this flight back to the States.  Staring at the world map, it’s hard to comprehend that only a year ago visiting far off places like South America, Australia and Asia seemed like a dream. And now, in just seven months I’ve completely circumnavigated the globe.

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Of course, it didn’t happen overnight or effortlessly. It took months of hard work, research, planning and organizing to deconstruct the life I had built in Virginia and handle all of my physical stuff before Natalie and I embarked across the country for a three-month stint in Mexico. We started writing and called our blog, “The Great Enlivening,” because we hoped and believed our journey, wherever it led us, would be just that.

With nothing but a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, Argentina, a backpack and a two-night hostel reservation, we left America on February 6, 2016, not knowing what exactly this adventure would look like, but confident we were supposed to be on it.

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Since then, I’ve visited 15 countries and traveled thousands of miles by dozens of flights, taxi rides, buses, trains and two rental cars. I’ve stayed in countless hostels and hotels and converted currency more times than I care to remember. I’ve gathered an impressive collection of passport stamps, contracted two parasites and improved my language skills as I immersed myself in unique cultures around the world.

I’ve climbed mountains like Machu Picchu…

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Gone scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef…

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Enjoyed exquisite food…

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A LOT of food…

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Practiced yoga like never before…

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Served others…

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Laughed…

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Cried…

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Met amazing people from around the world…

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Visited with long time friends…

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And traveled with two incredible women with whom I not only shared these experiences, but also my heart.

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It’s taken me a long time to get here.  But I don’t mean 35,000 feet over Port-Cartier, Canada, where I currently am. I mean here.

For the first few months of the trip, I spent a good amount of time looking back at my life. There were unanswered questions I was still wrestling with. Why did my marriage end?  What could I or should have I done differently? Where was God’s will in all of this, and how did mine line up with His?

Through lots of prayer, journaling, and hours of heart-to-heart conversations with Natalie, I gained clarity. Sometimes God gave me a fresh perspective and the ability to see things through His eyes. Other times, He encouraged me to consider different questions all together. And on a few occasions I felt Him asking me to let go and accept that there were some questions I might never have concrete answers for (at least on this side of Heaven) and that it was okay. That I would be okay.

During this time, He also brought to my attention several hidden wounds in my heart I didn’t even know were there.  God walked me through those too, helping me to heal, grow stronger and open myself up to the possibility of loving again.

Through a completely divine appointment, He even sent a special person to guide me through this process. To this amazing man (you know who you are), thank you for being so genuine and caring with my tender heart.  You’ve reminded me that marvelous men exist, that an open heart is a wonderful thing, and that the right man will want to fight for, cherish and protect it.

But during this season, despite some romance, God made it clear that it wasn’t time to be looking for a husband.

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It was time to explore the world around me, to “see beyond” what I could see with my eyes. Sometimes it was rethinking my philosophy on life and the expectations I and others have placed on it.  Sometimes it was considering the unique ways people live in other places and finding the best practices to adopt from those.  But more often than not, it was peering into the eyes and the souls of those I met and discovering that despite differences in age, religion, race and socio-economic status, deep down we are very similar.  We’re all human beings on this journey called life and we all share the same innate desire to be loved.

As my focus turned outward, God was birthing something within me: A renewed dream of being an instrument to inspire others to live a truly enlivened life.  A desire to become the best version of myself and help others do the same. A longing to follow wherever He may lead and live for His glory.

And God was also helping me synthesize some of the lessons I’d been learning along the way, like:

  1. There’s no such thing as a “normal life” and I don’t want to live one anyway
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  2. Sometimes it’s okay and really good to NOT have a planplan
  3. Happiness is an inside jobhappiness
  4. Life is short, an invaluable gift, and at the same time, not that seriousUntitled
  5. Where I am in the world isn’t nearly as important as who I’m with18b76890d165a72778ef47edc37462f5
  6. Living presently, passionately and loving deeply is the recipe for a beautiful life
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  7. Every person has unimaginable potential withinsoul

These, of course, are just a few highlights. I could write a book about my experiences traveling the world and how it changed me. How I am physically darker (thanks Spain for the tan) but Spiritually so much lighter.  How according to my bank account, I am poorer, and yet, my life is so much richer. How I am still “single” but I have more love in my heart than ever before.

Maybe one day I will write and publish that book, or I’ll be a famous speaker. Perhaps I’ll be a wife and mother. Or maybe I’ll live abroad in a big city, or end up in small town America.

Honestly, I don’t know what my life will look like in one month, much less one year or a decade. But I know that it’s time for me to head home and see my family. God has been whispering that in my heart for several weeks and He finally told me the time is now. That what needed to happen on this trip has prepared me for whatever is to come. That while I’m not still traveling with Natalie and Katy (who are currently loving life in France), this isn’t the end of of the Great Enlivening for me, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter.

I’ve learned living a truly enlivened life doesn’t require exploring foreign countries, but continuing to explore my heart and what God is showing me. That it’s not dependent on where I am but who I am.  That it’s not about what I have but what I share with others.

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I imagine one day I’ll look back and tell my kids and grandkids about this year of my life.  I’ll show them pictures of unbelievable places and recount the story about how I left everything behind to find out what the world had to offer.

But what I want them to understand is that this Great Enlivening ended being much more than a trip around the world. That it was a deeply Spiritual pilgrimage that challenged me to think differently, act differently and love intentionally. And how ultimately, what I ended up finding was not only myself, but how to truly live.

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Our Bright Spot In Bangkok

It’s sweltering.  Ninety-five degrees with 80% humidity means Natalie, Katy and I are sweating just standing outside. So, when we don our 30-ish pound backpacks and start walking from the train station to our hostel, it’s less than a minute before we’re dripping.

We’ve just flown from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand. Here we have a short 20 hour layover till we head to Madrid, Spain via Moscow in the morning. It’s going to be a long 48-hrs and we’re already tired, but luckily the hostel we booked is nearby.

“The email said it’s close, right across from the station,” Katy tells us.

I’ve learned the word “close” is a relative term when traveling. It could mean five minutes or five miles depending on who you’re talking to.  But in this case, luck is on our side and close means about 50 meters.

“That’s it, right there!” I announce, spotting the hostel sign just across the street.  Thank God. My back is aching from the backpack, my stomach hurts (thanks to parasite number two on this trip), and I’m starting to feel overheated and nauseous.

We make our way across the street, and before entering the hostel, we remove our shoes. After more than a month in Asia, we’re used to this standard, cultural norm.

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Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel much cooler inside than out, but at least we’ve made it and we can take off our packs. After nearly 4 months of international traveling, we’re also used to this standard, travel drill. What used to seem novel and exciting is now easily described in a 13-step process we must complete anytime we change our location from one country to another.

  1. Packing our stuff – this is getting more and more difficult as we buy new clothes, are given gifts and accumulate souvenirs along the way
  2. IMG_4590 2Checking out of our hostel
  3. Getting to the airport – this could be via taxi, train, walking or (in the case of Cambodia) a motorized buggy also known as a Tuk-Tuk IMG_4588
  4. Checking into our flight – these days we’re so causal about international traveling that we often  don’t remember what airline we’re flying on until we arrive at the airport
  5. Going through security – this process varies from country to country but inevitably involves a metal detector, pulling out my laptop from my overly-stuffed daypack, ditching or downing my water and removing my jewelry
  6. Boarding our flightboarding a flight
  7. Flying from Country A to Country B – this could range from a non-stop flight to one with 2 or more stops and can take anywhere from 1 to 20 hoursflight map
  8. Going through customs – sometimes this takes 10 minutes, other times an hour. Sometimes the agent is friendly and welcomes you. Sometimes you get grilled about your travel plans or you simply get no eye contact and no response when you “hello,” or “thank you”
  9. Picking up our bags – amazingly not one has been lost or stolen this entire time (knock on wood)080725-mad-airlines-hmed4p
  10. Withdrawing money and converting any foreign currency we no longer need – turns out money exchanges don’t take coins so we all have a wide variety of change from around the globecoins
  11. Getting to our next hostel (see #3)
  12. Checking into our new hostel – this always includes filling out forms, showing our passports and paying in advance
  13. Unpacking our stuff – much less time consuming than packing but still a mental puzzle as to where to put things since most hostel rooms are small, have multiple bunkbeds and there aren’t any closets or drawersstuff

The routine is far from glamorous and always takes more time and energy to complete than we think it will or want it to. And on this particular day, with the heat and feeling pretty lousy, I’m over it.

I’m wondering if maybe my emotions are indicating that it’s time to wrap up this Great Enlivening. But just as I start daydreaming about a less transient life, one without backpacks, shower shoes and checking for bedbugs, I’m interrupted by a chipper voice behind me.

“Hello and welcome!” says a bright-eyed woman with a broad smile “Please, please, sit down,” she says ushering us over to the table and chairs before rushing to a fridge to get us each a cool bottle of water.

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She appears to be a few years older than us, but she’s moving at light speed with lots of energy and even more enthusiasm. In less than five minutes she’s checked us in, settled our individual payments, prepared a special herbal tea for each of us, offered us Thai cookies and shown us a laminated sheet with all the key words and phrases we need to know to navigate this new country.IMG_4531

With keys and the wifi password, we are just about to hoist our bags and climb up the stairs to our room, when she makes one final comment.

“Tonight there is a special Thai market, it’s for locals but very good for you to see….will help you understand more this country. If you want, I go with you.”

She has all the eagerness of a kid on Christmas and there’s no way we can say no. We agree to meet her at 6 p.m. and she’s thrilled.

Once in our room, we can’t stop gushing about how incredibly nice and hospitable this woman is. Fastest check in ever! Free food and drink!? An offer to be our personal tour guide?!? For the record, this is NOT the typical response when checking into a hostel and we’re not entirely sure this woman isn’t some sort of mythical unicorn of sorts.

But her energy was so infectious, her desire to serve so selfless and genuine that it’s a unanimous consensus. Unicorn or not, we love her.

After a brief rest, we venture into the city for a few hours to get lunch and explore a bit. Of course I had to get Pad Thai in Thailand!

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We return back to the hostel and at 6 p.m. we head downstairs to meet our escort for the evening. “How long does it take by train to get there?” I ask.

“Oh, you can’t take a train,” she explains, “But I will drive us in my car.”

This woman continues to amaze me.  And then I realize that I don’t even know her name.

Over the course of the 20 minute drive, we learn that Ja bought and opened this hostel a year ago because she loves traveling and wants to help those who come to her country. But this isn’t her full-time job, she also works 6 days a week as a pharmacist.

After refusing to let us pay for parking, Ja leads us to the market and through a cacophony of sights, smells, shops and seemingly thousands of people.

Turns out that true Thai markets are pretty cool.

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On the outskirts is the only place not packed with people. And apparently you can buy all sorts of stuff…

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Like sunglasses available for purchase out of the side of a truck…

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Life-size statues of Elvis.  Doesn’t Katy look good with the King?

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And you can even buy a huge shrimp pillow. Because everyone needs one of those.

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The street art was amazing…

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And they had some cool old cars too!

After two hours we had fully experienced an authentic Thai market.

“Thank you so much!” I gush as we get out of Ja’s car back at the hostel. “You’re such a lovely host and this has been such a special evening!”

Ja smiles and explains that making her guests feel welcome and giving them a taste of Thailand is her pleasure. And I know it is.

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Unfortunately, Natalie missed the market because she wasn’t feeling well, but we all sat down and enjoyed a nice meal in the hostel kitchen.  Ja made sure we had everything we needed and wished us well on our travels as we would be leaving early the next morning.

As I laid in bed and reflected on our day, I thought of Ja. How her kindness and generosity had blessed each of us.  How meeting and spending time with her had made our day so much brighter and richer.

The truth is, what Ja gave us was much more than tea, cookies, and a tour of a Thai market.  What she shared with us was herself and the very best part of it. She shared her joy, her passions, her time, her knowledge, her love, without counting the cost or asking for anything in return.

I know this is what God asks each of us to do. To give the gift of ourselves to others. And I also know that I don’t always do this. Sometimes I’m just selfish or I think I don’t have anything of value to offer anyone else.  Sometimes I’m just so consumed with my own agenda and 13-step routine that I fail to notice who’s around me and how I can bless them.

But every now and then I live wholeheartedly.  I focus on others.  I do what I can to meet their needs. I use my God-given gifts to make their lives better – even if it’s just to make someone laugh or speak an encouraging word. I think of my time with the Cambodian Children’s House of Peace and how pouring into their staff and kids enriched my life in the most beautiful way.

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While I hope I had the same effect on them as Ja had on us, I know that when I’m being the best version of myself, I feel really good.  I feel fully alive and that my life has deep meaning and purpose.

Nearly four months into this trip, I’ve learned that sometimes what I think will enliven me, does the opposite. And that sometimes what I think will drain me or cost too much is the very thing that enlivens me the most.

I’m not sure I’ll ever see Ja again, but meeting her inspired me. My prayer is that I allow God to use me in the same way as I travel and continue this Great Enlivening.

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Keep Calm and Carry On

We sit at the table in our villa outside Seminyak Village and try to make plans for the next day. Are we going to the monkey forest or maybe just to a sea temple? We are also trying to decide if we should leave Bali for Singapore in 2 days or in 6 days.

I am ready to move on, so I vote for 2 days, and all three of us start researching that timeline. So we sit at the table and search for flights. Rachel is trying to figure out if we can just change the date on our existing flight, a large task itself trying to create an account online and then wait in line to chat with someone. After a series of dropped calls and websites timing out we decide to call it a night.  We will attack this situation in the morning either before or after our sight seeing.

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I wake up the next day and have a feeling in my stomach, I think it is just hunger pains because all I had for dinner last night was a PB&J…yes I made one in Bali. Sometimes you just want something simple. I shower, get dressed and even put on a little powder on my face. I walk out to the kitchen and make breakfast. Some hot tea, one piece of toast and scramble some eggs. We have a little deli, Bali Deli, just a short walk away that has allowed us to buy some comforts. But we do have to cross one of the busiest streets in the area while dodging cars and even worse, scooters.

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Scooters are the main transportation on the island and it seems like there are no rules. They drive wherever the want, in between cars and even on the sidewalk. If they can squeeze through it they will drive there.

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As I finish making my eggs I begin to realize that these are not hunger pains and I get that all too familiar feeling that I am not well, I think I am going to pass out. I leave my food right where it is and go to my bathroom. Luckily the villa we are staying at has three bedrooms each with their own bathroom attached.

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I will not go into details but I quickly realize that I am down for the count. I see my reflection in the mirror and I am pale, worse than normal given that I have gotten a little tan if I do say so myself. My lips have no color and all I can do is make it to the bed still wearing my dress I had picked out for the day. I send a text to Natalie and Rachel letting them know that I am out for the day. Rachel comes in to check on me and says she is not feeling awesome either.

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Well there go all my plans, and if you ask my family I am a planner when it comes to trips. I usually am the navigator sitting shotgun with my dad on road trips. Before GPS I had the big atlas ready and would help him pick the best route and look out for the next interstate to take.

As I have gotten older and technology has advanced I have become the family travel agent. I enjoy looking up fun things to do in cities we are visiting, picking the hotels and even restaurants with local flare to eat at. My siblings and I have made at least one trip together a year for the last several ranging from Charlotte, NC for a soccer game, Orlando, FL to run marathons at Disney World and to our biggest adventure, a trip to London and Ireland. Through all these adventures I have been the planner and things generally go well.

But today things are not going my way. I am in bed all day not getting much into my system accept some water and a little bread. The others decide everything was not working last night and the fact that I am in bed, maybe tomorrow is not the best day to leave. They book a villa in Ubud until our previously scheduled departure date. I have enjoyed Bali but I will be honest, I could take it or leave it. Bali is known for its abundance of surfing and yoga, and I do neither. And as I have mentioned before I have fair skin so l have a limited amount of time where I can layout by the pool or beach. But I want to enjoy this time I have here, who knows if I will ever have another chance to come back.

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So as we are riding in the van on our 2-hour journey to Ubud I think about planning. I wonder if this part of the trip is to help me realize that sometimes things do not go as we plan. This could be said for so many different aspects of life. An event gets rained out; you don’t get a job you wanted or so many other examples. I myself had planned to be married with a couple of kids by my early thirties, but that hasn’t happened. I just have to remind myself that all things happen for a reason and we usually don’t get an outlined itinerary of what our life will be like. But I do know that I am able to be on this trip because of the life that I do have and because I don’t have certain obligations keeping me to one place. I know I am truly lucky. So, since I am in the land of yoga, I might as well take some classes.

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I go to a beginner’s class and even to a salsa class. I love to dance and I felt like I was in a rehearsal studio on Dancing with the Stars. But minus me being a star and also a lack of male partners. But I am having fun and trying to let go. I have even had a ride on a scooter into town. It was scary at first but once I relaxed it was actually really enjoyable. But I don’t think that will be my main mode of transportation for the remainder of the trip.

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At the pool today I was sitting with Natalie and I had a visitor, a dragonfly landed on my shoulder and stayed with me for a couple of minutes. I researched dragonflies and founds that they have a very short life span, so they don’t have a lot of time to waste. So a visit from one means that they have something very important to tell you. They represent the reminder to stay present in the moment and not to stress out. Also they could be a representation of the need for change in one’s life.

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Well if that is not a summery of the last 2 months of my life I don’t know what is. Traveling has a way of making you focus on being present and enjoying all that surrounds you. I have an amazing opportunity to see and experience so many things. I just need to remind myself to not take things for granted and if my plan does not go exactly the way I thought, that is fine. There must be something else that I was meant to see or somewhere else I was meant to be. And I am okay with that. Besides staying a week longer in Bali allowed me to make a new friend, Sam.

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Our cuddle buddy for the week Samuel L Catson, so named by Natalie. He is pretty cute… when he is not trying to steal your food.

Lightening Up

I know a total of five words in Japanese: Good morning, hello, thank you, yes and no. And yet, I decide that getting my hair cut and colored in a country where I cannot communicate is a good idea.

It all started when Natalie and I went for a much, let me repeat, MUCH needed pedicure. After three months on the road, let’s just say our feet were “rough.” When we could no longer stand their dilapidated condition, we ventured out in search of a nail place.

We walked down the street perpendicular to our hostel in Tokyo, careful to cross at the crosswalk only when the indicator turned green. We’ve learned that abiding by rules and conformity is highly valued in this culture.

Besides not seeing a single person jaywalk in the week I’ve been here, I’ve discovered that the Japanese people don’t show their toes, wear shoes inside or use sunglasses. And they don’t talk loudly, demonstrate any type of aggression or eat and drink in public.

But they do like super advanced toilets that are smarter than some computers…

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and they love their bakeries and sweets!

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I can’t say I’ve abided by all of these societal norms, especially wearing sunglasses…

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…But I’ve tried really hard…especially eating the donuts!

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And I’ve really enjoyed learning more about this unique culture, like at the Sumo Food Festival we attended.

Yes, these are whole, fried fish. And no, I did NOT eat them.

Yes, these are whole, fried fish. And no, I did NOT eat them.

Whether it’s little ladies singing and dancing at the festival (check out the video below)…

Experimenting with new foods…

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Visiting incredible palaces, temples and shrines…

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Or simply experiencing the packed trains and streets…

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I can honestly say I’ve never been to any place like this before!

And as luck would have it, in our search for a pedicure, Natalie and I stumbled upon an upscale hair and nail salon a few blocks from our hostel.

There we met, Uto and Kana, a lovely Japanese couple who own and manage the place.

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They wowed us with their hospitality and impeccable service despite the difficult language barrier. And can I just say that my feet haven’t looked this good in a LONG time!

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Feeling much more feminine with our freshly polished toes, Natalie made a bold leap of faith and decided to schedule a haircut for the next day. After three months without a trim, we both needed a cut, but truth be told, I was waiting to see how her hair turned out before I booked an appointment.

Some 24 hours later, Natalie returned to our hostel with a fabulous new do and it was settled, I was going to do the same.

The next night I went in and after Uto shaped up and finished straightening my hair, in broken English he looked at the top of my head and  commented, “High here,” he said, pointing to the 2 inch section of slightly lighter hair growing from my roots. “Dark here,” he said, pointing to the hair a few inches below. “And high here again,” he said, pointing to the remainder of my hair.

I nodded my head and then he looked at me puzzled before asking, “Why?”

The long, back story is that I’ve been going to the same hair stylist, Diana, for the last 11 years. And as I’ve gotten older, this unwanted phenomenon called grey hair has happened upon me. It’s not too bad, mostly in a small patch around the crown of my head and a few stragglers here and there, but enough to be noticeable without treatment. So, for the last few years, I’ve had Diana simply “spot treat” these greys with a little bit of color.

When I left Virginia she sent me off with a small amount of professional hair color – enough for two applications that lasted me right up until January. But by the time I reached Columbia in March, I needed a major touch up. Afraid to try a random boxed color, I went to a salon and had some stylists apply color only on my roots to hide the grey.

Me and my Columbian "dream team" of stylists back in March!

Me and my Columbian “dream team” of stylists back in March!

The problem is that when they selected the color, they chose one that matched the end of my hair, not my roots, hence the lighter “ring” around the top of my head.

Uto pulls out a book with swatches of hair colors. “Here is 5,” he says, pointing to the color that matches my roots.

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“Here is….uh….9,” he explains, holding the lighter swatch next to the ends of my hair.

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With slow English and lots of hand signals, I try to explain about my last dye experience and I think he gets it.

“My hair is just a lot lighter at the ends because of the sun,” I say.

Uto looks at me blankly.

I point up the sky and make motions that are supposed to mimic sun rays coming down from heaven.

“The sun??” he asks incredulously. “No color?”

“Nope, just the sun.”

His mouth drops open. Apparently Japanese hair doesn’t react to sunlight in the same way, and the fact that mine has lightened four shades naturally because of it amazes him.

“Wow!” he exclaims, marveling closely at the strands.

I smile at his enthusiasm and imagine how he’d react if he saw my tan lines. While there are parts of me that are quite fair, thanks to olive skin, I can pick up color easily and the end of each summer the stark contrast makes it look like I’m wearing a white bikini.

“Can you fix it?” I ask tentatively, pointing to the lighter section around my roots.

He nods and we schedule another appointment the following day.

We decide to go with the level 5, darker color as this is what my stylist in Virginia always used. What I failed to remember is that she only applied it to a few strands here and there, not all of my roots, like Uto does.

After a shampoo, he and Kana tag team my hair with two blowdryers while I finish making a list of the top 10 things they need to do and see on their trip to New York City in December.

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Once dry, I discover that the usually lightest hair around my face has really soaked up the color.

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“You like?” he asks.

“Yes…” I lie before I add, “it’s…so much darker.”

Japanese people are incredibly polite and I don’t want to hurt his feelings. He smiles broadly, beaming with pride.

They polish my hair with the flat iron and by the time we leave, we’re snapping photos and exchanging hugs.

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I love the cut and style, but it’s not till the next morning that I really start to have some regret over the color. I’m not used to seeing such dark hair framing my face and after going back and forth for an hour, I decide to return to see if they can add a few highlights in the front.

Uto and Kana are completely understanding and agree to squeeze me in. “I do very fast!” he assures me.

A short while later I’ve got some strategically placed foil and the guarantee that it’ll just be 10 minutes.

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But Uto is busy and it’s not till 25 minutes later that he returns to check my hair.

I hear him gasp softly, refold the foil quickly so I can’t see and and immediately go over to mix something together.

This can’t be good, I think to myself.

He has me sit in the shampooing chair and after a wash I can feel and smell him putting something on the front of my hair…no doubt something to darken whatever color my highlights have turned.

Dear God, please don’t let me come out with streaked hair, I pray silently.

As I sit there waiting for the color to take I remember how in my 20’s I used to get highlights regularly and apply self-tanner to mimic what the sun was supposed to do to my body. But it was never quite right. It either didn’t look natural, left me orange or simply smelling funny.

Now in my 30’s I’ve decided to go “natural” (with the exception of hiding some grey hair). I allow the sun to do what only the sun can do – lighten the dark areas and darken the light ones. I like to think it makes me more beautiful, more balanced and healthier.

And then it dawns on me that the same could be said about the “Son.”

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When I spend time with Jesus, I am changed for the better. The darkness in my heart is lightened. I become a more beautiful person on the inside and much more balanced and healthy in every sense.

That doesn’t mean that I’m always aware of what needs the light. Kinda like how my darkest hairs are the ones in the back of my head, underneath the surface, sometimes the darkest places in my heart are the ones that aren’t visible to me or others. But God knows they are there and if I give Him permission, he wants to lighten those too.

As it turns out, Uto is able to tone down the highlights to an acceptable level, but I’ve learned my lesson: quick fixes don’t work and nothing can substitute for natural sunlight.

The same can be said about my soul.  There’s no special prayer or overnight solution to spiritual health and nothing has the same affect as “Son-light.” It’s only through consistent, intentional time with Jesus that I’ll become the person He created me to be – one who radiates the light of Christ in every single area of her life.

And that’s what I’m committed to and desire the most. After all, in the end, it doesn’t matter one bit what my hair looks like. It matters what my heart looks like.

 

 

 

Shaken. Not Stirred.

The first thing I notice about Christchurch, New Zealand, is the construction. Everywhere.

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There are buildings adorned with scaffolding, detours and road closures and various broken and demolished infrastructure nearly everywhere I look.

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But I guess that’s what happens when the epicenter of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake strikes only 10 kilometers from the heart of a city.

I don’t have any experience with earthquakes other than a random small one that hit Virginia a few years ago, but when Natalie, Katy and I decide to go on a free walking tour of the city, I learn a lot more about the devastation and destruction they can cause.

“The earthquake that hit on February 22, 2011, killed 185 people,” explains Michael, our gangly, Kiwi guide. Our group of about 25 is gathered at the site where a building once stood housing several small businesses. “One hundred and fifteen of them died right here,” he says.

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Silence.

My mind races to thoughts of the victims, the families and friends they left behind and the emergency personnel who responded to the tragedy that day. I feel the heaviness in my heart. I can’t imagine what they went through, what they are still going through, but I assume that when an earthquake like that strikes, things are never quite the same.

While the breakdown of my marriage isn’t something that can be measured on a Richter scale, it also happened in 2011, and for me, it felt like an earthquake. The solid foundation I’d known, trusted and built my life upon was rocked. My confidence was crushed, my heart splintered and exposed and my hopes and dreams for the future cracked and weak.

Someone once told me that my experience doesn’t qualify as a tragedy. Maybe they are right. In the big scheme of things, I know that I am beyond blessed and my broken marriage is a drop in the bucket compared to what some people have to endure in this life. And yet, when something unexpectedly strikes your heart, there is damage, even if it’s not visible to the naked eye.

Five years ago my heart probably looked a lot like Christchurch after the earthquake. There was so much destruction, I didn’t even know where to begin. But I knew one thing: I wanted a quick fix. Either a wrecking ball to take it all out so I could start over again, or a whole construction crew to come in and tackle the repairs.

Turns out “heart work” doesn’t work like that. There was no giant crane or team of skilled men with hardhats and tools to sweep in and fix everything. While I had amazing support from incredible friends and family, I soon learned that what I really needed was only possible through God. I needed the divine Carpenter to work with me to clean out the brokenness and rebuild the fractured parts of my heart.

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He did, and He is. It isn’t easy and it’s not always enjoyable. Sometimes the buildings I think are salvageable God gently lets me know are “condemned.” The choice is always mine whether to hold on or make space to build something new. Something good, safe and healthy. And though I don’t always immediately opt for God’s way, I’ve learned that it is always infinitely better in the long run.

Today, my heart is still under construction.

heartWhile there is a lot of work left to do, I’ve been intentional about seeking peace, cultivating internal beauty and allowing my creativity to shine. And when I walk around Christchurch I see that they have done the same thing.

I love the beautiful murals they have painted on the sides of buildings and continue to add.

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The “tranquility parks” established around the city to allow space for people to relax and enjoy nature are brilliant.

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And the “Dance O Mat” (an outdoor space where you can plug in your phone to a rigged up washing machine with external speakers and have your very own dance party with a laminated floor, lights and disco ball) is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.

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These things wouldn’t have existed had there not been an earthquake. And while no one would ever wish for that tragedy, I can tell from the walking tour and the pride with which Michael shows us these things, that good has come from it.

The same is true for my life. I always joke that if God had given me a “brochure of life options,” I wouldn’t have chosen this one. But as Michael so eloquently puts it as he concludes the tour, “hope has made all the difference.” I couldn’t agree more.

On Easter Sunday, I celebrated my reason for hope – Christ’s victory on the cross.

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It’s hands down my favorite holiday of the year. One that reminds me again and again that nothing is impossible for God. After all, if He can overcome sin and the grave, He can certainly repair my wounded heart and bring beauty from the ashes.

Today, as I enjoy the botanical gardens here in Christchurch, I have peace and hope.

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I realize that while the earthquake had a tremendous affect on this city, it does not define it. Just like my divorce doesn’t define me. It’s something I’ll always remember, something that has shaped me into the woman I am today, but it’s part of my past.

I may still be a work in progress, but I’m also the beloved daughter of the Most-High God. I’m a daughter, sister, aunt and friend. Dreamer, dancer, doer. Ice-cream, popcorn and wine-loving world traveler. I don’t know what God has in store for my future, but I believe it will be exactly what I need to become the person He created me to be.

As I stop to smell the roses and I am thankful for the flowers and fruitfulness here and in my own heart.

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I’m thankful for the falling leaves, reminding me that seasons change…

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I’m thankful for the winding path I get to walk with those I love…

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And the unknown adventure that lies ahead.

Drink the Wild Air

I’m sitting in Starbucks. Why Starbucks when there are tons of great coffee places in Buenos Aires? For one simple reason: They have air conditioning.

It’s 95 degrees, which means I have about 30 seconds from the time I step outside till I start perspiring. Which after three days, I still dislike but I’m getting used to. Air conditioning is a luxury here and neither the hostel we stayed in the first two nights nor the apartment we are now renting have it. It’s not that I’m opposed to sweating – I thoroughly enjoy an intense workout and “earning” my shower when I’m finished. It’s just that I don’t expect to continue sweating after I get out. I used to tell people that as a Southern Belle, “I don’t sweat, I glow.” But let me just be real, I’m way past glowing and glistening here.

But for now, in this Starbucks, I’m cool. I’m facing the window which means I’m completely distracted by the people walking by. Like this guy. That’s a lot of hair.

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And then there’s this girl, whose shorts remind me of a pair of stonewashed jeans I wore in 2nd grade.

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The fashion here is, well, different.

IMG_4323Chunky sandals are all the rage for women.

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This is a trend I’ll never embrace. Not just because I don’t find them particularly attractive and elevating myself an extra 4-5 inches will make me feel more like an Amazon than I already do, but also because I’m pretty confident I would bust my ass if I tried to walk in shoes like that. Just saying.

Hold on. There’s a lady trying to talk to me.

Ok, I’m back.

Apparently this woman was warning Natalie and I to be careful about having our Apple computers in a public place because just yesterday when she left Starbucks at night with hers, a motorcyclist must have seen her put them in her car, because he smashed her window and stole it.

Only she told us the entire story in rapid-fire Spanish and was so intense and passionate that I wasn’t able to interject anything until the end when she looked at me for a response. “Yo hablo un poco de espanol,” I offer apologetically.

“You speak English?!” she exclaims before she starts to laugh. Meanwhile her teenage daughter behind her is cracking up. “Did you understand any of that??”

“Well, a little,” I respond. “I knew it had something to do with two Apple computers, your wallet, the night, Starbucks and a car…but I wasn’t entirely sure how it all went together.”

We all had a good laugh, but now just to be safe, I’ve placed my computer sleeve in front of my Apple logo and I am keeping my purse securely positioned on my body.

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I’m probably fine, but what’s that expression? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? I’m going with that.

I came here with the intention of writing. Of crafting some sort of inspiring blog post to share, but in this moment I’m just taking it all in. I like this city. I like its’ energy, all the trees that pepper the streets, the corner cafes, and the clean, soapy smell that most people exude. I’m wondering if Buenos Aires has a standard-issue body wash. And if so, how do I get some?

I like the variety of people, a merging of all different cultures, ages and economic backgrounds. I like that wearing my casual sundress, I blend in pretty well on the street – even if I’m not rocking platform sandals. It’s my first time in South America, my first week in this city, but it feels like a place I could one day call home. I don’t know how long we’ll be here, or if I’ll ever be back, but for now, I’m not concerned with that.

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I just want to grasp every moment. To embrace the novelty of it all. To find God here– in all of His creation.

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Buenos Aires literally means “Good airs.” I didn’t know that until about a month before we got here. When I was praying about why God had prompted us to go to this city – of all cities. When God reminded me that this trip was about learning how to really live. And what do you absolutely need to live? What can’t you go more than minutes without? Air.

So, here I am in a city with “good air.” A place where I’m feeling God calling me to slow down. To let go. To be present in each moment. And to simply breathe.

Yesterday, Natalie and I went to the National Cathedral for Ash Wednesday Mass.

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It’s a day of fasting to mark not only the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter, but it’s also a day to remember an important truth. From dust we were created, and to dust we will return.

We were reminded of that firsthand two days ago when we went to visit the world-renowned cemetery in Recoleta.

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Perhaps the first thing to understand about life in order to really live it fully, is to recognize how truly brief it is.

“You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.” James 4:14.

And that is the truth. I am not guaranteed next year any more than I am guaranteed tomorrow. So, right now, I’m going to unapologetically allow myself to simply be. I’m relinquishing the pressure I feel to craft a perfectly worded post with a riveting, earth shattering message that will “wow” you. Instead I’m going to sit here and gaze out of this window, watching the passers by, the leaves dancing gracefully in the breeze and the pigeons perching peacefully in front of me.

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And I’m going to breath. I’m going to draw deep, full breaths of all of this “good air” and be thankful for this gift called life that God has given me.

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Dental Drilling: Anybody Else Not a Fan?

“I’m sorry, how many cavities did you say I have?” I ask.

Surely I’ve misheard her.

“Eight,” she responds with certainty and at the same time a tone of apology. It’s obvious that this Mexican dentist doesn’t want to tell me this any more than I want to hear it.

“How is that possible?” I ask incredulously. “I’ve gone to the dentist every six months my entire life and I’ve never had a single cavity.”

“Well, at lot of times in the U.S., dentists wait until you need a root canal or crown to deal with things like this because the payout is better,” she explains. “But I want you to see for yourself, so I’m going to take some X-rays and photos.”

“OK,” I respond, silently praying that somehow she has this all wrong. After all, I was just coming in for a simple cleaning.

But minutes later she shows me the x-rays and the photos she’s taken with my iphone. There are in fact several, tiny, brown and black spots on my back molars – which I’d noticed before but assumed were just stains.

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“Luckily they haven’t gone past your enamel yet,” she says. “But if left untreated, over time they will go deeper until they cause you pain and require much more extensive treatment.”

I can’t argue with the evidence so instead I stare at her, processing a multitude of thoughts and emotions until they spill over… into tears. That’s right, I’m a newly-turned 34 year old crying in the dentist’s chair about some cavities.

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Why? Well, besides the fact that I just canceled my dental insurance last month and I’m afraid this might cost me a small fortune, there’s this other “little” factor called my ego rearing its ugly head. You see, I’m the girl with the “flawless smile,” the “perfect teeth,” – at least that’s what I’ve been told my entire life from dentists, friends and even perfect strangers.

For years, I’ve proudly worn my “no cavity” status like a badge of honor. But now, it’s been snatched away. And replaced with a “scarlet C.”

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And not just a “C,” a “C” with a BIG 8 in front of it!

Besides being embarrassed about my situation and response to it, I’m also angry that my American dentists never breathed a word to me about this and now, with no dental insurance, I’m having to deal with all of this in a foreign country.

“I know this is difficult to hear,” the dentist tells me handing me a tissue. “You don’t have to make a decision today, but it’s my job to tell you this so you can take care of these issues before they become more serious.”

I ponder her words and my bank account before I take a deep breath and respond.

“Can you fix all of them today?” I ask.

She nods.

“Then let’s do it.”

There’s no point in delaying the treatment. After all, why would I want to let problem areas fester when I can take care of them now?

Being a cavity virgin, I have no idea what is going to happen, which explains my shock when the dentist (without any prior warning), tightly squeezes both sides of one of my cheeks with her fingers, takes a gigantic syringe and sticks the needle into my flesh.

The prick isn’t bad, but I feel a slight burning sensation as whatever is in the syringe fills my cheek.

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This happens three more times until she has effectively numbed every corner of my mouth.

I feel my cheeks growing heavy and fat, until I’m sure I look like a chipmunk.

“Isth thaa novocaine?” I try to ask, realizing that my tongue is no longer functioning properly. As a kid I had a terrible reaction to too much nitrous oxide which resulted in me throwing up all over some poor dental tech’s hair – a big, permed 90’s “do” if I remember correctly.

“Yes, you aren’t allergic to it, are you?”

I shake my head no but inwardly I think, “Well, it would be too late now if I was!”

After a 10 minute cleaning (apparently despite my 8 cavities, I don’t have a bit of tartar on any of my teeth), she begins the drilling. See video below.

The sound isn’t pleasant and I don’t realize I’m tensing every muscle in my body until after she’s given me a brief reprieve. “Breath. Relax.” I tell myself. Though I never understood why before, I’m beginning to appreciate why some 75% of adults apparently fear going to the dentist.

I think of Natalie, who had her cleaning before my appointment and is out in the waiting room. I send her a text: “Go head and get something to eat. Long story – it’s going to be a while.”

“Why?? Is everything ok?” comes the response.

I want to tell her the truth – that I’m currently dealing with 8 cavities, 4 shots of novocaine, an emotional breakdown and most likely a few more hours of what I would describe as a form of mild torture. But considering the dentist speaks English and can read what I write, I simply respond:

“Yep. I’ll let you know when I’m almost done.”

This drilling continues again and again. Intermittently she tells me “open a bit wider,” and I attempt to, though I swear my jaw is going to break if it hinges open any further.

For two hours she meticulously removes every last speck of decay from my teeth and then refills them until finally, she announces: “NOW, you have perfect teeth.”

She takes a few more photos to show me and I have to admit that she did an amazing job.

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This makes me smile, but when I do, I realize the whole bottom half of my face is numb. I hope I’m not grimacing. Or drooling.

“Tho, when can I eath?” I ask. It’s 3 p.m. and after a morning run and yoga, I’m starved.

“Not until you have feeling back in your mouth. You might bite your cheeks or choke if you do now.”

As if on cue my stomach rumbles in protest. I nod my head sadly and pay the $280. This day certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but while I can’t say the experience was enjoyable, I know it was necessary.

The truth is that sometimes there are “cavities” in my life that are easy to overlook. Areas that, while seemingly innocuous or surface level, can turn into much more serious issues over time. If not dealt with properly, these little “problem areas” will go deep, attacking the very core of who I am and requiring a much more extensive removal process – one that will undoubtedly strike a nerve and cause a great deal of pain.

Like this dentist, God wants to bring them to my attention. Not to shame me or cause discomfort, but because he want to remove the “decay” from my life. He wants to ensure my health and help me strive toward Spiritual perfection – the only kind that really matters.

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When I walk out into the waiting room, I can see the concern on Natalie’s face.

“Thith hath been the moth ridiculoth denthisth appointhmenth ever,” I explain.

I see the corners of her lips curl as she struggles to keep a serious expression.

“Oh, iths funny alrigth,” I respond as we both crack up. “I sounth like a completh idioth.”

I tell her about everything (as best I can) on the drive home and we have good laugh.

I know even after all this work my teeth aren’t “perfect” and they never will be. And that’s OK. That even with all of my brushing and flossing, I will likely have other “issues” to deal with in the future.

But this experience reminded me that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if I do have a few more “cavities” that need to be dug out. The process may not be enjoyable, but every time I face and work on my own shortcomings, I’m making progress – which is the most important thing.

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And who knows, in the end, it might even be something I can laugh about.

 

 

“El Nino” is a Punk

We’re on our way home when the text comes in. “Be REALLY careful driving.” It’s from our neighbor, Claudio, aka “Dad.”

He was nice enough to watch the dogs while Natalie and I went up to the San Diego airport to drop off my friend Sherri who came to visit. But since this is the second time he’s cautioned us today, I can tell he’s pretty worried.

“Why is everyone so freaked out by the rain?” I ask Natalie, bewildered as we make our way back toward the border.

“Oh, it’s just Californians” she explains matter-of-factly. “They’re not used to driving in it.”

Growing up in Alabama and Louisiana, rain was often part of everyday life. But here in SoCal and Baja California, it’s an anomaly and apparently something that causes a lot of concern and traffic accidents.

“But it’s just rain,” I say.

“It’s like how Southerners react to snow,” she counters.

Immediately I have a flash back of my first time driving in the snow in Virginia. When I misjudged the time it would take to slow down and make a turn and how I wasn’t able to. How my car skidded right up over the curb and directly onto the main road – which by the grace of God somehow had no on-coming traffic at that moment.

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” I acknowledge.

But inwardly I still think the reaction to rain (people not leaving their houses and being afraid to drive anywhere) is a bit over the top. I mean, it’s just a little water people.

We cross over into Mexico and then traffic comes to a stop. We’ve come to expect exceedingly long wait times heading into the U.S., but coming into Mexico is usually smooth sailing. Until today.

We inch along for about 30 minutes chalking it up to nothing more than some wicked rush-hour traffic until I see it: a section of the road that is completely covered in water and the wake of cars that are haphazardly trying to pass through it.

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It’s hard to tell how deep the water is but it’s completely covering the wheels of most of the cars, which makes me thankful we’re in an SUV.

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After safely crossing this “shallow river” we continue on the main road where I began to really appreciate Claudio’s concern for our safety. Turns out “El Nino” is no joke. And also that Mexican infrastructure is not made for substantial rain.

Muddy water pooled along the edges of the lanes makes hydroplaning a serious threat and newly deposited boulders strewn across the road have me concerned about landslides.

Just when we make it back to our house safely we get the news. We expected that the skylight in our entryway would be leaking (which has happened before and why we keep a spare bucket nearby).

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But in addition, all the excessive rain that has saturated the ground has seeped through a crack in the concrete walls completely flooding my bathroom and the utility closet.

When we talk to friends and neighbors later we hear similar reports; flooded houses and people stranded because of impassable, muddy roads. Even the beach where Natalie and I run is a mess. Massive waves took out some of the wooden umbrellas and tables and trash is strewn all along the sand.

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Needless to say, I now understand the impact a “little rain” can have here. And I also think “El Nino” deserves a spanking for all the havoc he’s wreacked.

But more than anything I’ve come to a greater respect and appreciation for water.

On one hand we are surrounded by it – the Pacific ocean is literally right off our back patio. And on the other hand, we have to plan ahead to ensure we have what we need to live. You see, the water is not drinkable in Mexico. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you think about needing enough water for two adults and two dogs every day.

Before we left Virginia I purchased a top-of-the-line water filter that can basically take scummy pond water and make it potable.

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It’s worked well, but it only filters about a gallon an hour. So, at least 6 times a day, I’m refilling the container, filling up our pitcher in the fridge and also allocating some water for the dogs.

If I fall behind in doing so, we run out. Which isn’t the end of the world, because we can always go to a “tienda” to buy some, but it does keep water at the forefront of my mind throughout my day.

In Mexico, I never leave the house without a water bottle. And when I go to the U.S. I always feel so grateful to have fresh, free water available at fountains in nearly every store – something I didn’t really appreciate before.

Two months into our time here, I’m pretty comfortable with the water situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve accidentally swallowed a big gulp after brushing my teeth (which always makes me feel sick – though whether it’s a physical or psychosomatic response, I’m not sure). Refilling the water filter is habitual these days and most of the time we have more than enough.

But beyond that, I’ve fallen in love…with the ocean.

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It’s something I admire each day on my porch or through my dinning room windows. I love to gaze at the beauty of sunlight dancing on the waves like diamonds. I breathe in the ocean air, walk along it’s rocky beaches and run along it’s sandy ones. The sound of the crashing waves has become a part of my life, the rhythm as natural as breathing to me, the sound calming my spirit and lulling me to sleep each night.

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Since November, I’ve enjoyed the presence of the ocean. But last week, in honor of a new year and my friend Sherri’s birthday, I opted for a more tangible experience –completely immersing myself in it.

For the last decade, nearly every January, I’ve had people invite me to do the “Polar Plunge” in Virginia Beach. And every year I’ve politely declined. Maybe because I’m a chicken, but also because running into freezing cold water in the middle of winter sounds miserable.

But this January I took the plunge on my own volition. See the video below.

Yes, it was a physical plunge (which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be and was actually quite refreshing). But more importantly, and on a much deeper level, I believe it was symbolic of a spiritual plunge. A willingness to go into deeper waters. To embrace a little discomfort. To explore more of who God is and the world He’s created. And to experience what I might otherwise just admire from afar.

On this “Great Enlivening,” I sense God calling me beyond the comfort and security of the shore. He’s asked me to get out of the boat and leave behind my life raft. To be completely dependent on Him. Which, in all honestly, is a bit scary.

I’ve seen the power of the waves crashing and the fierceness with which they can cause destruction. I’ve questioned whether or not I have the skills to swim in the midst of the inevitable storms I’ll face.

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Yet, God continues to tell me to trust Him. That it’s not about my ability but my obedience. That if I listen to His still, small voice, He will sustain me, tell me which wave to ride and when to dive deep.

And also, that if I’m willing to step out on faith, I’ll get to experience the thrill of walking on water.


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Balconies, Birds and Border Crossings

He’s just standing there on the edge of the cliff, about forty feet above the crashing waves, staring majestically off into the horizon. His slender grey body and long legs are so delicate that your eye could easily miss him, but he’s so close to me I can see every detail. He’s a handsome crane, although I’m not exactly sure what he’s doing here, since I thought that they were fresh water birds… but I’m happy he decided to hang out by my balcony.

Two weeks ago, Rachel and I crossed the border into Baja California, Mexico. We entered the country in a non-traditional way… we drove. According to the U.S. Department of State, driving across the border into Mexico is “discouraged… due to safety concerns.” But what’s a worldwide adventure without a little risk?

The drive was surprisingly simple, especially considering the fact that street signs don’t exist here. But we found our way to Puerto Nuevo without incident. Once we arrived, we saw that the house we rented has the most spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. From the balcony, I’ve already seen amazing sunsets, pelicans, dolphins and killer whales! But today, I’m graced by the presence of a beautiful crane.

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I take a deep breath and look out across the ocean with sheer appreciation for the beauty in front of me. “How did I get so lucky?” I think to myself as I take a sip of my coffee.

Woof, woof, woof!!!!

“Ugh,” I say over my shoulder, “Nimitz! Knock it off!” He’s standing behind me on the balcony and has clearly spotted the crane. He’s also decided that it poses a level-one security threat.

Woof, woof – WOOF!!!

“Seriously Nims, that’s enough!” I turn around to look at him, and my heart stops. “Mugsy! No!!” I shout as I watch my chunky white pup shimmy through the railing of the balcony and take a giant leap off the side. The drop is nearly eight feet and she lands on a sliver of land near the cliffs’ edge – in a bed of cactus. I look at her in complete disbelief, and then, she climbs out of the cactus and starts running towards the crane, who’s perched on the edge of the cliff.

“Shit!” I shout as I race into the house to get my shoes and the keys. We have locked gates all over our property due to the higher levels of theft and crime in Mexico. This is great for security, but super inconvenient when you’re trying to save a dog from imminent death.

Luckily, the crane is no fool, and he’s long gone by the time I get the gate open. But Mugsy is convinced that he’s lurking nearby, so she starts running down the edge of the cliff. “Great,” I say to myself, “this is how I’m going to die – chasing a dog off a cliff in Mexico.”

I lose sight of her as she rounds a narrow corner, and I shout “Mugsy! Get back here right now!” Something in my tone must have conveyed the severity of the situation, because she turns around and runs back through the gate of the house. “Oh thank God.” I say with relief.

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The cliff…

I take Mugsy inside and start plucking the cactus spurs out of her belly, and I try to calm myself down. As I slather her with Neosporin, I start thinking of ways to strengthen the barrier on the balcony. Or other ways to deter her from taking a second flying leap off the side. I chuckle to myself as I think about how badly she wanted to catch that crane, what was she going to do if she caught it? Did she even see the cliff? Probably not, since she was so focused on the bird. I laugh again as I realize – I’m not so different from this dog.

How many times have I chased something I was sure I wanted? Or fixed my eyes so intently on achieving the next goal that I couldn’t see the cliff that was right in front of me? Honestly… more times than I’d care to admit.

I spent years striving to achieve – the promotion, the house, the car, and the marriage. I was sure that if I could just grab the next thing, I would be satisfied. But I never was. I didn’t realize that, like Mugsy, I was just chasing one crane after another down the edge of a cliff.

Until one day, when I had caught them all. I had the job, the car, the house, and the husband; but something was still missing. I had everything that was supposed to satisfy me, but I still had an aching need for something more. Frantically, I started looking for the next crane, the next goal, or the next achievement that I could add to my list. But it wasn’t there.

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“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis

So instead of staring hopelessly at an empty horizon, waiting for the next focal point to appear, it was time to look for something new. For the first time in my life, I turned my eyes towards God, and asked him to guide me towards my purpose. And that’s where this amazing journey began.

Now, my life looks completely different than it once did. I’m not working; traveling around the world; and living out of a suitcase in Mexico. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or where I’ll end up in twelve months – but really, who does? And even though it looks different than I expected, I feel truly satisfied for the first time; because I know without a doubt that I’m chasing God’s purpose for my life.

I look down at Mugsy, who’s sleeping on the couch. Her little feet are moving and her eyes are flickering; surely she’s dreaming about victoriously conquering that crane. I guess I can’t be too mad at her; we’re all prone to chasing the wrong things from time to time. Luckily, Mugsy has me to bring her back inside when she gets too close to the cliff’s edge. And I have God to do the same for me.

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Learning to Embrace a New Normal

Screeeeeech…screeeeeech…screeeeeech.

The sound of the swing is annoying but I don’t stop. I’m a good 75 to 100 lbs heavier and 25 to 30 years older than the average playground user but just as thrilled as any kid to be at this park.

It’s a cloudless, 75-degree Fall day in Tucson, Arizona and I can’t help but marvel at the magnificent mountain view just in the distance.

I’ve assessed the swing set and deemed it safe and sturdy enough to support me.  So despite its cries of protest, I kick my legs, lean back and climb higher.

With each pass the wind whooshes in my ears. My stomach flutters as I reach the height of the swing, my body momentarily weightless, suspended just above the earth and below a crystal blue desert sky.

I close my eyes and smile. I’ve forgotten how much fun this is.

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There’s a mom sitting on a bench engrossed in her cellphone while her two kids zip down the slide, giggle and chase each other around with reckless abandon.

I’ve gone unnoticed until they run past me on their way to the monkey bars. The girl, about 5, slows down as she passes. Her eyes squint and the skeptical up and down look she gives me says it all. “Grown ups aren’t supposed to play on playgrounds.”

“Yeah, I know kid,” I think to myself. “And they’re not supposed to cash out their investments at 33 and go travel the world with no definitive plan for the future either…but here I am.”

Expectations.

At some point, early on, they became a part of my life and I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them ever since.

There are expectations about what to do, who to be, how to look, what to own and so much more. Some expectations are self-imposed. Others I’ve adopted based on societal norms and the influence of others. And still other expectations I don’t even know I have, until they go unmet. But these expectations have greatly influenced and largely dictated the course of my life for more than three decades…until now.

Deciding to leave everything behind and go on a 12 to 18 month trip around the world was a blatant and unapologetic assault on those expectations. It was a ninja kick to limitations, a war cry for freedom from routine and a bold determination to break out of the “box” I’m told to live in.

I have this idealistic image of myself in my mind– a bad-ass road warrior, a “She-Ra” of sorts, rebelling against all that is “normal and expected” and charging fearlessly into the unknown.

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Ok, maybe with a tiny bit of fear.

I’ve gotten many wide-eyed looks of concern, enthusiastic smiles, words of caution and confessions of jealousy when I share my plan with friends and family. The overwhelming majority of people tell me they would love to do something similar, though several have admitted that even if it was possible, they probably wouldn’t have the courage/guts/balls to do so.

I get it. Nothing about this experience is safe, predictable or guaranteed. It’s not logical, financially wise or routine. And yet, those are precisely the reasons why I am so thrilled about this adventure.

I don’t think that a risk-averse life with more money and lots of comfort is the recipe for true fulfillment; which is a good thing, because right now I’m living the complete opposite way.

Last week as we headed from Dallas to Tucson, there was one morning where we woke up not knowing where we would be staying that night. For two people, that’s not a huge deal, but having two dogs as well makes it a little more challenging.

Natalie went to work looking up vacation rentals and other such places online and managed to find a “casita” in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They were dog friendly, very reasonably priced and located just outside the town…on a farm.

Though I consider myself a southern belle, I certainly wasn’t raised with livestock. But for two days, we hung out with horses, chickens, roosters, some sort of alpaca like animal (we’re still not sure) and goats.

Does anyone know what this is??

“Alpaca-like animal” –  Does anyone know what this is??

Oh yeah, and the fattest pig I have ever seen. Seriously.

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Apparently roosters are early risers and insistent that those around them are too. But being awoken at the crack of dawn had its perks because I was able to see the most spectacular sunrise just over the mountains.

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There have been many beautiful, unexpected experiences as well as countless seemingly ordinary ones over the last week. Not all are noteworthy or glamorous. But here are a few of the things that now define our “new normal” on this road trip.

Natalie and I:

  1. Are often confused about the date, day, time zone and where exactly we are
  1. Make every decision – where to eat, stop, and sleep – based on pet friendliness
  1. Live out of a suitcase, spend most of our days in workout clothes and have no desire to buy anything else we will have to pack or find a place for in the car
  1. Visit gas stations, rest stops and dog parks nearly every day and are becoming experts at rationing food, water, dog treats and clean underwear
  1. Are starting to think home-cooked meals, comfortable beds and 80 mph speed limits are the best things… ever.

I think about this as I continue swinging and can’t help but laugh at my “new life.”

While I’m no longer ruled by societal expectations, I’m not exactly trailblazing or leading a rebellion against them either.

But then it occurs to me. Perhaps I don’t need to be “She-Ra.” Maybe I don’t need to buck against all expectations and routines, I just need to find and live by the ones that are healthy and empowering.

Like being Christ’s light to the people I meet on this adventure. Like being fully present and loving those around me. Like making time every day to pray, listen to God and become the woman He created me to be.

These expectations seem so simple. Almost too simple. But maybe, just maybe these are the kind of expectations we are supposed to have. The ones that we learn to love, not only because they bring us fulfillment and joy, but because they bless other people and make the world a better place as well.