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Bangkok// Surface

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It’s been only four nights now I’ve spent in Asia,  a place of mixed chaos and calm, poverty with patches of wealth, delicious food and roasted dog, everything adding together to become an entirely different world than my American hometown.

I got to my hotel in Bangkok about 11pm Monday night, and spent the next day eating breakfast, reading, and generally just hanging around the hotel waiting for the rest of the team to come in. I stood at the window and watched the traffic flow outside on the busy street but wasn’t quite brave enough to walk around by myself. I moved around my room and the hotel lobby like I was in a stranger’s house, cautiously examining everything and feeling aware I didn’t know what was culturally acceptable.

I did finally step out of the air conditioning and was chatting with a taxi driver when the team arrived around 2pm. They piled out of the van and after a hello exchange headed to their rooms for a quick nap, being pretty exhausted from their long flights.

Afterwards we grabbed some cabs (3 to fit us all) and headed to the Bangkok center. Hello, driving in a third world country! The lines are completely ignored and the shoulder is used to create another lane – motorcycles weaving between everyone. All the locals do just fine, following the unspoken rules of how to merge and move – but I’m positive I would last all of ten seconds driving on these roads before hitting someone.

We walked down KhaoSan Road, a popular place for tourists to come that’s lined with restaurants, stalls selling clothes and souvenirs, and bars. We ate our first local meal together (one of many to come) at a restaurant just down the road, and as we were eating in their outside covered area it began to rain – hard. Hello, tropical rain.

During a break in the rain they also shot off fireworks – for the king’s birthday, I believe. We were at first startled and unsure what was going on, as the sound was more like a gunshot. Funny how small things, things you don’t even realize can be another way, are different.

The next day we took easy: taking another excursion into Bangkok, this time escorted by a local missionary from Ireland, Johnny. He took us to several prominent monasteries with the Reclining Buddha and other Buddhas. Everything was beautifully made – they press small pieces of colored mirrors into the walls to make mosaics that glint and sparkle in any bit of light, then paint the trim with some sort of gold lacquer. Within these sites everything was clean, whitewashed and swept, a stark contrast to the city outside that was filled with debris and piecemeal buildings.

The whole team enjoyed 30 minute Thai massages as well – an experience that was relaxing though a bit painful at times. 😉 The massage was about $9! Everything here is incredibly cheap, though being unknowing tourists we often go to the touristy places which is comparatively more expensive. Taxis are only about 9-10 dollars for a 30-45 minute ride.

We used just about every form of transportation that day: tuktuks, train, ‘tourist boat’, and taxi. The evening meal we would enjoy with the Johnny and his family, relaxing in their community’s salt water pool after.

I know. What a hard trip. 😉

That night the real purpose of the trip began (no, we didn’t just come to sightsee! 😉 ), as we carried boxes and boxes of Bibles into a hotel room and divided them amongst our backpacks. We figure we had about 200 Bibles total, as each of us carried about 15-23 between our checked and carry-on. We stuffed clothing around the Bibles to make our bags look less “boxy” and weighed our packs on the hotel lobby weight/horoscope machine to ensure they were below the 20kg limit.

The next morning we sunk the hotel shuttle low with the weight of our bodies and packs, and rode it back through the weaving traffic to the airport where we took a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam. The Hanoi airport seemed more quiet than usual, the guards more serious and a bit intimidating – but that may have just been in our minds.

Us Americans received Vietnamese visas OK (the Europeans didn’t need one), and we all piled our bags onto wheeled carts and pushed them through customs without incident – no one stopped us to scan our bags. Praise God!

Just to be clear, it is not illegal for us to bring the Bibles into Vietnam. It is illegal for the tribal people these Bibles were printed for to have them. It is humbling to know that while what we’re doing is very needed and good, it is others who daily face the real danger – if caught, they face eviction, pressure to give up their faith, and even death.

Our next drop will be in a few days, so again we are sightseeing, as well as daily devotions talking through concepts from the book Radical by David Platt.

This trip has been cross-cultural in more ways than one, as within our team we have a Scot, an Irish, a German, two other guys also from America, and the rest are from England – in all, twelve of us, seven guys and five girls. We curiously compare everything from education to terms to candy, and so learn about many parts of the world at once.

Annnd this is where the rest of the post I’d written has dropped off a cyber cliff into cyber space for an unknown reason. *heavy sigh* Twice now I’ve compiled pictures into a gallery only to have it disappear. Technology is a gift from God to teach me patience.

Really I was just going to wrap up this blog post by talking about what I’ve not talked about – and by that what I partly mean is, in these 4/5 days I have experienced two countries and cultures that are different from my individual experiences, from my home world. Just a bit. And I’ve no idea besides a long dinner and slideshow when I get home how to tell you what I’ve seen, where to even start on this blog post, so it’s been a struggle writing (and rewriting) it.

The other part I mean is that no matter how well I capture in words what I’ve seen, ultimately these days and this trip are but a glimpse, a skim, of a rich world with a deep history. I see only the surface, but I know there is so much more I could learn and understand. This trip I’m doing little more than snapping pictures, but I could sit and learn and attempt to slip over the language barrier to truly know these people.

The words that have come to my mind a lot during this trip are “humbled” and “privileged.” In many ways – for this chance to be a part of this important work, with such a solid and wonderful team under a strong and godly leader, shown around by missionaries that inspire me with their examples of obedience and service. To be given this chance to see these cities and lives.

The pictures below will fill in this blog post a bit more. I’m not sure when my next post will be, as these take ridiculously long when I’d rather be spending the free time with my teammates or journaling… but I’m still taking photos, and I promise there will be another post, someday, Lord willing. 😉

Sarah

Home: Overlaid & Ebenezer

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All right, folks, I admit it. I’ve been avoiding this post. I’ve been hemming-and-hawing over starting it like it’s a scary thesis paper. Because how in the continent of Europe do I sum up that summer’s trip? Those 4 months, that were packed tighter than a can of sardines? More full than a clown car?

SAM_3257I was ready to come home – I had seen so many churches and paintings and sculptures and… old things, they were cramming into my mind and blending together. I was ready to come back and process everything, clear out my mind, get a little uncultured by watching the Simpsons or something… just kidding. I do miss the aura and streets and cafes and money and maps and languages and something-new-everyday from traveling in Europe. But I am also so glad to be home, smelling the autumn rain, hugging my glorious family, and spending time with my amazing friends.

When you have a home to come home to, it becomes a funny timewarp. I came back after a crazy four months of more culture, new friends, lessons, and new places than ever before in my life. Yet my bedroom still holds the same posters, the same books, and the same dust I hadn’t shooed away – with company. My computer has the same wallpapers I picked out four months ago, the packing list for Europe I created. It feels like a movie where myself from four months ago and my current ‘experienced European traveler’ self are being overlaid in one scene.

I felt that even more when I cracked open my journal from the months before I left. At the time I was working two jobs and saving my money, buying the items for travel that I still needed, and seeing friends one last time before flying out. One thing I realized as I read my entries was that the lessons I feel I came back with from my trip weren’t really new, I just re-learned them. They were retraced on my mind and heart.

So what did I bring out of my trip? To quote from my journal…

I am one servant in the Kingdom – no matter how big or small my job, how big or small the visible impact, my obedience to God and rewards in the Kingdom are most important.

I do not have to make 100% right choices, right from the start… God does not have one role for me to play in this life. I may squander some years, but even in that time (especially?) I will learn and grow.

And I re-learned something that I feel is important for… anyone that feels dissatisfied with where they are. The winter before I left, before I even knew I would go to Europe, I felt extremely restless. Reading what I wrote in my journal brought back to mind something I’ve thought of before, even touched on in previous blog entries

Why am I always so restless?

Important note: Travel will not fix my life. It will not fill this hole. It will not satisfy me. Only travel with God. Only life with God. To be on His errand, being His hands and feet, finding Him in every face, every scene and sunset.

Traveling, God has reaffirmed on my heart that it does not matter where I am or what I am doing – He can and will use me. The most important thing is my relationship with Him. The most important thing is my relationship with Him. To know God, and to make Him known. To love God, and to love others. And might I add, to know and love myself – because that is what a journey with God includes.

SAM_0687While we’re chugging through this blog post, please join me in reaching out your right hand and taking hold of that pole passing us on our right. Let’s hold on and let momentum swing us, oh, about 37 degrees that way. Because I want to make a switch before I sign off.

I want to say thank you.

Where to start?

Thank you to my aunts, to my grandparents, who supported me and cheered for me.

Thank you to those at church who prayed and followed my journey, feeling the ups and downs with me.

Thank you to my friends who understood and welcomed me back heartily.

Thank you to those who have been following my blog, and for some reason caring about this young woman making a summer trip.

Thank you to my Denmark family for feeding me strawberries and fresh cream, letting me become stronger, for showing me a different life.

Thank you to my German family… for letting me become a part of your family. For your open hearts and open hands.

Thank you to my friend and travel partner for 3 months – for putting up with my need to hold the map, for bringing me water and chicken noodle soup when I was sick, for helping me to see the places we visited with excitement and wonder.

Thank you to all of the people that welcomed us into their homes: in Germany, in Austria, in Italy, in Paris, in England, in Ireland. You gave us food, beds, but so so much more than just that. You gave us acceptance, help, smiles, and love. You made our trip possible, and wonderful.

Thank you to my family, for letting me go, and receiving me back.

Honestly, thank you one and all. I am always blown away by the love I receive in my life.

Thank you God, that You always provided a bed every single night, and food, and someone there to help. Ebenezer – “thus far the Lord has helped.”

So, what’s next?

SAM_3500

A Different Kind of Strength// Denmark

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It is crazy to think only two weeks have now passed since I left the US of A – it definitely feels longer! This past week I spent in northern Denmark, an hour from Aalborg, the fourth largest city in Denmark. This is my first Workaway experience and I am loving it! I am on a farm that belongs to a family of four, staying in their spare room (from which I can see the distant fjord and a neighboring field of sheep – gah! The fluffy cuteness!) and helping out with what needs to be done.

The deal with Workaway is that you pay a membership fee, which gives you access to their worldwide database. From there you can scan through hostels, resorts, restaurants, families, farms and more that are looking for help. Similar to WWOOFing, but not just farms. You send them an email suggesting when you would like to come, they say yea or nay, and voila! You are traveling the world for free! In exchange for about 4-6 hrs of work/day, one day off a week, you get free room and board and the chance to see the country through the eyes of a native. Workaway is everywhere and a great way to travel for a long time, as you end up with hardly any costs besides transportation.

I spent hours on Workaway before my trip, because I kept changing my mind whether I wanted a city or farm experience, with kids or not, gardening? Cooking? Behind a hostel desk? France? Greece? With the Bedoins in the Middle East? I am really glad I ended up where I did, though- even though it took me a 27 hr bus ride from London to get here. For some reason when I bought the ticket a few months ago I was sure bus was the cheapest way to go. Now I’m not so sure it was, but ah well, I had fun trying to sleep sitting up…and learned to be careful where I sit so creepy older men can’t sit next to me… although one of them did have candy.

The family here has completely welcomed me in. They are very relaxed and easy going, that is to say, very Danish. They run a “self-sufficiency” farm and are able to produce a majority of what they need. They have a cow, a horse, ducks, a goose, chickens, rabbits, and pigs. They make their own sausage, cheese, butter, flour, etc. I am here on a quieter year – they are cutting out production of some things and simplifying, but I am still learning a lot from them. They are especially knowledgeable with how the native plants (aka weeds) can be eaten and used.

Here’s what one of my typical days here might look like:
The family are more night owls than early risers, so I have breakfast between 9-10am. Usually just oats in fresh, whole cow’s milk, with raisins, strawberries, or dandelion syrup in for sweetness. I try to drink stinging nettle tea twice a day, as it’s supposed to take care of eczema. I hope its stings help too, ha!

The cow, Anna, has to be brought in from the pasture and milked between 10-11am. This takes about an hour for me, though I’m a slow beginner, and I get about 4 liters of milk. I was able to milk the cow dry by my 3rd day and the family was pretty surprised, apparently I was a fast learner! The romance has quickly faded as it takes a long time, during which my hands are sore, I listen to grunting pigs, get slapped in the face repeatedly by Anna’s tail, shrug off flies, and occasionally lose the milk when Anna kicks and I’m not fast enough to grab the bucket. But it is still very neat to be learning a new skill. It’s too bad I’m not rock climbing too, I’ll bet I’m working up a great grip!

I also carry buckets of water out for the cow and feed a few other animals before moving on to a job. Well, first I indulge Christina (5) and Tobian (3) for a few minutes. The dirt- and strawberry juice-smudged little imps always find something new that makes them shriek with delight and beg for “just one more!”, whether it’s a piggy back ride, swinging them by their arms, or hiding behind a building to scare them. My favorite game is when I am “Firestar” from the old Spiderman cartoons they watch. They pour water (usually pretend) on me to make me die. And I lie without moving on the grass, in the sun, while they gloat and eventually run to get a flower or whatever has been decided will bring me back to life. I stand up and am promptly killed again, and fall back down to stay motionless until they bring me another flower. Yes, it’s an excellent game. Sometimes I can also make them sit quietly in my lap while I read children’s books I download onto my tablet.

When I decide to ignore their “one more!” pleas, I will work for a few hours, sometimes by myself, sometimes with the kids nearby or squirming into my way looking for attention. The mother will take me to a place in the gardens and point out what needs to be done. She plucks the weeds and eats them as she talks. I’ll weed or water or dig where she pointed for a few hours, with a break for lunch. Then once I’ve worked my hours the rest of the day is mine. I might nap, or read, or get lost on a walk in the countryside and ask random people eating dinner outside how to get back. Once we made a trip to a nearby beach, and picked up ice cream on the way back.

WORKAWAY. DOT INFO. Check it out.

We eat dinner around 9pm. It is usually some form of meat and potatoes, and always delicious. The father used to run a restaurant, so he knows how to put together a meal that looks and tastes amazing! Yesterday was the mother’s birthday and we ate like kings: three courses (which I will not torture you by describing) with strawberry cake for dessert! Sometimes I wonder if they’re fattening me up like the pigs…

Over the meals we usually talk about the differences between our countries, about Obama and taxes and homeschooling and socialism and Islam. Denmark has a 50% tax, but their colleges and hospitals are free – in fact they get a stipend while going to school! You can definitely pick out good and bad things when comparing countries – they’re like people, with different strengths and flaws.
We all head to bed sometime around 12pm-1am then another day starts!

Like I mentioned with Anna, it does not take long for the romance to fade when you have to do the same chores, morning and night, sunrise to sunset (figuratively speaking, since we are so far north that’d mean we’d be working about 4am-11pm!). And for what? To feed your stomach and keep your body alive, is what it really boils down to.

With all my time weeding, I’ve been reflecting on homes we make and what/where I want my home to be. In some ways this family’s life could be seen as barebones. It is simple, and it is hard. But it is also a prosperous life, as they enjoy the bountiful (and delish!) fruit of their labor.

In same ways I never want to stop moving, never want to stop feasting my senses with new things. There is so much in this world! But in other ways I want to live like this family, and burrow my toes into the same dirt every day. Amazingly, and thankfully, God has created us in such a way that we get enjoyment from working, satisfaction from looking at a tended crop, so that repetitive work is still fulfilling to who we are.

Traveling takes courage. Sure, sometimes it contains the hidden motive of running from something, sometimes it’s driven by the searching inside when we do not know the One Who satisfies, sometimes we have a supporting friend or spouse by our side, but it always takes courage to leave the known and to chance. To travel is to play with higher risks that bring greater consequences and greater rewards. It can be scary, challenging, growing, and often people think of you as brave and strong when you do it.

But what I see, as I watch this family in the home they have built and keep, is that staying takes strength too. I will be with them another few weeks, learning from them and playing farmer, and then I get to leave this work and worry behind me. I pull up this round of weeds, but I don’t have to deal with the next one. Their lives here continue on. They’ll still bury seeds and tend plants and watch the sky, in a dependent dance with Nature. Every bite, every potato stored for the winter, is produced by their sweat and care. They are strong in every way, because they have to be.

We all live different lives, in different seasons, and from each one we learn a different kind of strength. I am watching and learning from this kind, happy, strong Danish family, learning for today and for the future.

In a Fashionable Hurry// London

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It took me 3 planes, one canceled flight, and about 26 hrs from leaving Seattle to reach London, but I made it!

I spent about half of that time in the Chicago airport… unsuccessfully trying to sleep on their benches, reading my kindle as I walked in circles (I read a whole book, of course), walking from one tip of the airport to the other and back, sleeping on the floor (much more comfortable than the chairs)… after 9 hrs we loaded onto our plane, put away our carryons, settled in our seats…I did some polite starting conversation with my neighbor and we were just starting to get to her granddaughter’s names and yes she rather did think she wanted to change her will so I could inherit her fortune, when it was announced we had to move to a new plane because the air conditioning did not work in ours. Although that gave me more time to feel like the Phantom of the Chicago Airport (just not enough to run to the city and back), added on a flight, and snatched away my budding chance to become a millionaire, the plane I then took across the Atlantic from Boston was much nicer. It actually had tv screens for each chair and polite stewardesses with British accents walking through offering silver pots of coffee (popular) and tea (ignored).

I landed in Heathrow Airport 6:30am their time and easily enough figured out how to take the Tube to my hostel. I relaxed in the hostel’s lounge for a short while then joined a free walking tour around the highlights of London (by Sandeman’s tours – highly recommended!)

Our guide grew up in Greenwich and had a dashingly British accent. He carried a pink decorated umbrella with no shame (a common trait among men in London, I have noticed – lavender and pink shirts are not uncommon) and when it was not needed he used its long rolled up form to point and flourish with as he talked, like a sword. He took us to the highlights of the city, the ‘top 10’ a guidebook would list. We were walking to another palace (we saw about 4 on the tour) when our whole group broke into a run. In front of us the street was blocked off, and a band was playing – and we got to the sidelines just as the queen’s golden carriage rolled by! Because the Opening of Parliament happened that day, there had been a high chance she would pass by! Even our local guide had never seen the queen before.

The stories behind names and places were hilarious and interesting, and too many to share here. After the tour I joined a good part of our tour for lunch in an old English pub, then traveled back to the hostel with a girl from Brazil. Except on the way… we stopped at the 1/2 price ticket booth at Leicester Square. We listened to the lady list off the prices for the different shows, looked at Wicked, looked at each other with shining eyes and asked “Should we do it?” And bought two tickets. It was still $70, but hey, it was my first time in London!
I took a shower and changed into some clothes other then what I had been wearing the last 2/3 days, and went to meet up again with my friend, feeling a bit more respectable. At the theater it ended up I stood and waited for her at one entrance, while she was at the other side at the other. It was minutes from the show and we were both getting really anxious. Fortunately we managed to find each other and literally ran and embraced each other before heading in, babbling with giddy relief. The curtains rolled up right as we sat down.

The show was one I have always wanted to see, and I can’t even complain that it wasn’t Menzel and Chenoweth, because the two main actors had stupendous voices. The entire show was really, really well done.

And I’m ashamed to admit there were still two or three moments where, rapt as I was, I realized that – oh hello, I was trying to watch the show with my eyes closed! And I had to pinch myself or bite my tongue, trying to keep them from sinking again.

It all combined to make a perfect first day in London. My camera battery was almost dead so I did not take many pictures, but I’ll be coming back in a few months, so I’m not worried.

The next day I overslept and missed breakfast- so after checking out and leaving my large backpack in a luggage storage, I headed across the street to Borough Market, where I bought some juice and a muffin. The prices in London are a great diet encourager!

Everything in the market was tastefully arranged and looked straight from a farm. I ate in a churchyard nearby, people-watching. One thing I noticed about Londoners- which may be true of all of Europe or England, I don’t know yet – was that everyone was fashionably dressed. Button up coats, vests, suits, cardigans, bow ties, leather shoes, dresses and flowing blouses, most in neutral colors with rare spots of color from a scarf or coat-covered shirt.  I could tell at a glance who the tourists were, because they did not look like models! Everyone carried an umbrella and popped them up and down as the weather changed every minute.

Influenced strongly by my love for the BBC Sherlock, I saw Lestrades everywhere, as well as a David Tennant doppelganger (although he’s actually not English…)

Another common factor was that everyone walked fast. I count myself a brisk walker, and everyone was passing me in the streets as though I were a shuffling child! And I learned quickly to never stand on the left on escalators.

After the market I made my way to some of the sights I had missed. My Brazilian friend was also walking around the city, but with no phone I could not meet up with her. I went to St. Paul’s, Westminster again, the Globe, and the London Eye. The latter was not recommended by our guide to ride, because it takes 45 minutes to go around. 45 minutes. To look at the city. Wheeee.

I picked up my pack (which by the way is 25-30 lbs, and that’s with some extra clothes I will not need later: I am proud of my light packing!), bought some bananas and scones for a few pounds (which would be my next 3 meals) and caught a bus for Denmark!
Chow London! Adios! And so the journey continues.


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The Non-Wandering Traveler: Life Update

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Readers,

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged – as in really sat down and put together a blog post with my thoughts and words, not just re-posted someone else’s thoughts. Which is probably due to less thoughts floating around in my brain asking for an outlet. Not that I’m an empty-minded zombie (at least not after 10am. And a downed cup of coffee), rather that my life has been flowing lately. It has all been going grandly, without the friction that creates sparks of thoughts.

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London! Photo Credit: interfacelift.com

So here’s the update of my life right now: I’m going to Europe! Soon! My plane ticket is bought and I will be flying into London in early June, which is now less than two months away! The plan is to spend a few days in London, then to fly to Denmark, where I am volunteering on a sustainable farm, then to Germany, where I will spend a few weeks volunteering at a restaurant outside of the Black Forest before meeting up with a friend and my travel companion for a few more months of travel. Excited, nervous, anticipating, scared: I’ve pretty much got the whole gamut of emotions as I wait to embark.

Since I’ve been thinking about this trip since last October/November, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder traveling in general and why I’ve had the itch to travel… Here are just a few of those thoughts.

My middle class American peers and I are given incredible opportunities to travel nowadays. Anywhere in the world is practically a step away for us – unthinkable a mere 150 years ago! We can flip through brochures and websites, and depending on whether we feel like digging wells in South America with a youth group, lounging on a beach in Hawaii, or taking selfies with adorable orphans in Africa, all we have to do is lazily point, click, and board a plane. Crazy. As with many other things in our modern-day life, I feel we have gained convenience yet lost a form of building relationships. My romantic side refuses to heed Ecclesiastes’ advice on “the good old days”, and desires the times when it took several weeks to cross the Atlantic by passenger liners – time to build relationships and get to know your fellow travelers, who you could probably run into again after you reached your destination. I suppose that time period (early 1900s) would be the best in transAtlantic travels – earlier and you head into  time consuming and perilous trips on creaky wooden boats eating moldering seatack and hanging garlic around your neck to ward off the latest disease decimating the ship. Zoom forward in time and you arrive at the zippy, 9 hour flights of today that create “jet lag” because we’ve hopped clear to the other side of the world so fast. And we complain when stopovers make our flight up to 30 hours long, ha!

I wonder if history professors ever complain about any sort of conditions nowadays.

I think it is important for every traveler to consider why they are going. Although many of us cannot fully explain it, so we simple label it “the traveling bug”. I tell curious people that the world is so amazingly big and holds such a beautiful variety of cultures and places, it seems a shame for me to only taste a few during my short life here. God made this world large and beautiful for us. I want to see what He’s made!

Tuscany

Last year, I felt intense restlessness. I JUST WANTED TO TRAVEL. I just wanted to go somewhere, see things, otherwise I felt I’d go crazy.

We can travel to escape from something. We can travel to escape to something – or rather our perception of something. We can travel because there is something restless and coiled inside our souls, and we’re not sure what will satisfy it, but perhaps if we just keep moving we’ll find the Settler. An answer? Something that satisfies.

Recently, I have discovered that the restlessness – gradually and without my notice of the process – had been replaced with a contentment and peace. I love where I am at. I love the beauty of this valley, watching it shift through the seasons, and knowing so well this area I was born and raised in. If someone handed me some waders, a high-end camera, and a sleeping bag, I would gladly spend months walking through the local valleys capturing and enjoying all of the beauty they hold.

I love my brothers and my parents, I love my jobs (mostly) and my coworkers. I feel as though I am a part of what God doing, right now, right here, to the people in my arm’s reach.

So why go elsewhere?

Traveling is like hiking. Uphills and downhills – steps that take you to breath-catching beauty and steps that are pure torture, bringing tears to your eyes. But in the end, you come back stronger in every way. You come back with stories to tell, that will give others courage on their own journeys.

“You can always come home.” Home is a hazy idea to some. Is it where our family lives? Our spouse? Where we were born? Where we’ve spent the most time? Where we have our job? Or simply the place we love the most? Some of us feel strongly connected to one place, others consider home wherever their feet are currently standing.

A co-worker and I were recently talking about a man she knows, who moves from job to job all the time. I jokingly called him a “wandering soul” and she replied “Yes, aren’t we all? I know I am; I am searching for something, though I don’t know what it is.” Being at work and in the middle of the lunch rush, I just smiled and lightly said, “Yep, me too!” It only took a few seconds after the words left my mouth for me to realize, they weren’t true.

I am not a wandering soul.

I may travel and see things, my “current residence” may change, but that’s only my physical body. Inside – my soul – I am at peace. I am anchored. There is a line from my heart to God’s, and wherever I go, I am at home and content. When restlessness pervades my being, it is only because like a child, I have pushed myself from the Father’s arms and have looked to myself and the world for the fulfillment of my soul. Everything in this world is tumultuous and changing. Nothing can be fully depended on – except for God. That is why all He asks for is our full commitment to Him – a word which in the original sense means entirely leaning our whole weight on Him, reclining as if in a hammock. Only then can we be unshaken.

I have always known and believed this, but it was strongly reinforced in my soul a month ago. After a 6-week battle with cancer, my pastor’s wife passed away in March. At the memorial service we worshiped God, giving Him our sorrows, our broken hearts, and receiving back peace. I was reminded of the truths: that our Savior God is our Rock, our Anchor that holds, our Hope now and forever. We will not be shaken.

What are you depending on? Where is your anchor?

Where is your home?

 

Trail Report: Holly Lake

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Description: Holly Lake, 13.0 miles RT, 8 hours, 2900 ft total climbing, STRENUOUS

I work at 5pm every day this workweek but one. That means I could sleep in ’til ten, laze til lunch, and laze til it’s time to head into work. Or… I could wake up early and actually get a good amount of hiking in. Yesterday I chose the later.

My roommate had just hiked Holly Lake the previous day, and described it to me that night. I liked the sound of the scenery, length, and elevation gain – it sounded challenging but doable for my time limit. I set out all of my hiking things, set my alarm, and slid onto my keychain the borrowed key to a friend’s car.

The next day (Tuesday morning) I was at breakfast at eight, where I made a PB&J sandwich and filled my liter-and-a-half worth of water bottles. I drove to the String Lake trailhead and began hiking at nine.

Sure does look short on the map!

Holly Lake is a portion of one of the most popular hikes in the park – the Paintbrush-Cascade loop. You head up Paintbrush Canyon and come back down Cascade (or vice versa). You’ll hike about 20 miles and climb 5,000 feet overall. That hike is on my to-do list, probably for an overnight trip.

As I left the shore of String Lake and ventured onto the feet of the mountains, the elevation gain was constant yet gradual.

Non-human tracks!

Something large skittered away in the woods as I passed, and that reminded me to make a little noise, since I was hiking alone and my roommate had just seen a bear on that hike the day before. I did have some borrowed bearspray with me, just in case.

Along String Lake

The day was perfect. Cloudy, so not too hot, yet it never rained or even threatened to. Some friends that had hiked Holly Lake several weeks before said they had to turn around due to the large snowfields. I encountered only one notable patch of snow, and had to hike on it for no longer than 70 feet.

Me. Pre-sweatiness, messy hair, weary look, and sunburnt neck.

I took the trail at a leisurely pace, enjoying the day and hiking alone. I paused at one spot and took a couple pictures of myself with the self-timer. I had not seen a single hiker yet, so there was no one but the squirrels to watch me dumbly scurrying back and forth.

Still jumping onto the stump – the camera was too fast for me!

What kind of smile is that? Forget this, let’s move on..

Log-sitting. Note bearspray.

And posing with large walking stick

More posing with awesome stick

Than two elderly ladies came up the trail, so I bade a hasty farewell to my walking stick that had so grandly volunteered to pose with me and continued marching down the trail, trying not to look as though I had just been doing anything silly, such as taking pictures of myself…

The ladies and I played a bit of leapfrog as we snapped pictures of wildflowers. After passing through the Paintbrush Camping Zone the scenery began to change, becoming more open, rocky, the mountains stretching above on both sides. Jackson Lake appeared below in miniature.

Brief Snowfield

Jackson Lake.

Signal Mountain Lodge?

As I reached a rocky section and was beginning to wonder just how many miles I had left, I met some hikers that had camped overnight and were on their way down. The first group gave me an estimate of 2 miles to Holly Lake, the second group guessed 1 1/4 miles. I had set a goal for myself, that I would not eat lunch except at Holly Lake. And as 11 o’clock and then noon came around, my stomach and my mind were grumbling. A mile and a quarter! What a joke. Just around the next bend? Riiiiigghht.

My legs were feeling pretty drained, but finally I came to a signpost that told me I had another half mile to the lake. I can do this, I told myself, and continued on. By now I was pretty much just plodding. One foot in front of the other – I didn’t let myself stop. The scenery was beautiful – open, lush greenery made inviting banks for noisy brooks that curled and wandered.

So many brooks, so much green

I passed by the three rangers I had seen earlier. They were lounging on the grass, munching on lunch with their boots and hats off. My feet told me to stop in this paradise, my mind stubbornly insisted I would eat lunch at Holly Lake and nowhere else.

It was the longest half mile ever.

12:30pm, I reached Holly Lake.

Not too amazing compared to the things I had just hiked past, but very peaceful.

I began to walk around the lake to scout out a good place to eat, but met with a large swarm of bugs. I hastily retreated back to a rock by the lake that was warm and amazingly comfortable.

Hurrah for food!

I only wish I had packed two PB&J! Regardless, the food tasted great and my legs were glad for the rest.

The two old ladies made it to the lake only a half hour after me.

My stomach filled and my legs rested, I washed my feet off than laced my boots back on and began the hike down. Glorious downhill! I am thankful that I am young and my ankles & knees give out minimal complaints. I know, I know, I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

I hardly took any pictures on the way down and saw little of note except for a fox trotting across the trail with what looked like a dead rabbit in his mouth. Accidentally took the wrong fork during the last mile and had to backtrack a bit, but still made it back to Signal Mountain in time for a quick shower and 10 minutes of chowing before… work! I worked from 5pm-11pm in the Trapper Grill.

So, except for perhaps an hour and half for driving and mealtimes, I was constantly on my feet and moving from 9am-11pm. My legs ached throughout my shift and my stomach hurt since I did not have time to eat enough. For the first ever since being here, I came back to my dorm room after work, brushed my teeth, changed into pajamas, and went to bed.

This morning I slept in and woke slightly sore, slightly sunburnt on my neck, and slightly the wiser as to how much I should physically do before work. Am I glad I did the hike? Exceedingly. Will I do it again? Mmm… maybe once my memory of certain parts of it fades a bit more, leaving only the memory of how beautiful it was. 😉

What am I doing today before work? Nothing!! 🙂

The rest of the pictures are below.

Sorry for the blurriness in the macro pictures – my camera has to be coaxed to focus and even then… probably due to when I dropped it in the snow during Muir. 😛

Sky and a little bit of Yellowstone

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We spent one day in Yellowstone, where we saw Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon (of Yellowstone), hot springs, buffalo… we saw Old Faithful go off three times as well as Beehive Geyser, which erupts 0-2 times a day and is difficult to predict. And wouldn’t you know it, every time a geyser erupted my camera was dead. 🙂

What a beautiful, unique park Yellowstone is.

In case you can’t tell I like to include the sky in my photos.

“The place where I obtained the best… view of the canyon was a narrow projecting point situated two to three miles below the lower fall. Standing there or rather lying there for greater safety, I thought how utterly impossible it would be to describe to another the sensations inspired by such a presence. As I took in the scene, I realized my own littleness, my helplessness, my dread exposure to destruction, my inability to cope with or even comprehend the mighty architecture of nature…”
– Nathaniel P. Langford, 1870