Nothing But Love! My First Impressions of Rio de Janeiro.  

Use bug spray, don’t go out at night alone, don’t drink the water, don’t use your phone in public, don’t get stabbed. These are just some of the warnings I was given before I left for my solo journey to Rio de Janeiro.   Overall my friends and family seemed to be under the impression that Rio is an extremely dangerous place to visit, especially for a solo traveler.

This collective fear has been cultivated by the media who has spent so much time telling only part of the Rio story.  Everyone has been so focused on the problems and wondering if Rio will be ready for the Olympics, that they’ve completely missed the good.    Yes, there are scary parts of Rio. Yes, there are dirty parts of the city.   Yes, there are parts of Brazil that have contaminated water. But the same is true of almost any major city in the world.   And that is not the main story. When I arrived in Rio and really looked around I did not see fear. I did not see danger. I did not see corruption.   I saw love.

I saw love in the families eating picnics in the park and along the beach. I saw it in the old men standing outside their local botecos, passionately rehashing decade old debates over cervejas. I saw it in couples holding hands as they walk along the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. I saw it in all of the helpful and friendly and welcoming Brazilians I have had the privilege to meet. I felt love with every taste of the homemade Feijodad and Pudim made especially to welcome me to the country.

I saw the overflowing love at the birthday parties I attended. Yes, plural…..I have been here three days and have already attended two birthday parties!   These parties gave me a glimpse of the real Rio. This is where families and friends get together and laugh and eat and enjoy being together celebrating life and each other.

At these birthday parties I saw love in the graciousness of the Brazilian people.   Everyone at the party made me feel welcomed and included. And Even though we couldn’t always understand each other, the language of love and kindness spoke for itself.   And through a strange combination of smiles, gestures, and a mix of broken Portuguese, Spanish and English, we were able to share stories, laughs and love.  The desire to communicate with me  even though it was difficult felt so dear and inviting.   I would have been content just being a quiet observer of their festivities, but their attention and hospitality gave me a glimpse at the heart of this city.
And the soul of this heart can be best described by the city’s cultural icon. Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue stands as a beacon and symbol of hope, peace and love for its city.   Deemed one of the new 7 wonders of the world, this massive 124 ft statue is majestically situated at the top of the mountain peaks overlooking this unique city nestled between ocean and hills.   The statue of Christ, with his outstretched arms, expresses a sense of reverence, majesty, openness and love. Just like the accepting and open people of Brazil, Jesus’ open arms extend acceptance and grace to the city below. It is awe inspiring when you look up to the mountains and you see him there standing, loving, and redeeming his city and his people.

When I first arrived the city was having an unusually foggy day. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer was hidden behind the clouds. My friends took me to a vantage point of this amazingly beautiful city. I was in awe of the beauty of the city itself. It is perfectly situated. Not only does this city have incredible beaches along its entire coast, it is also amazingly sprinkled with impressive and beautiful mountains. I was looking to the hills and suddenly the clouds moved and he was there. The statue appeared in the sky from behind the clouds and I was struck with a since of wonder and awe. As a Christian, I was brought to tears as I thought about the promise of Jesus’ return and I had chills. I know that this is just a statue and my savior is real and alive and not made of stone. But this symbol stood as a reminder to me of God’s promises and love. When you look at the statue in person you can’t help but stand in wonder and awe of God’s love for his people and his promise of redemption for those who accept his open embrace.

So, Rio is not scary. It is beautiful and warm and accepting. It really is one of the world’s hidden gems. It has its problems, but don’t we all. That is why we are in need of a Redeemer. I have really enjoyed my time here so far and I highly recommend a visit to this incredible and interesting city that is bursting with so much heart!  To sum it all up,  I have nothing but Love for Rio de Janeiro.

Check out my blog to see more.   Also check out to to see other Olympic updates.

That time I visited 30 countries before I turned 30 years old.


About six years ago I decided I would visit 30 countries before I was 30 years old. This obsessive goal of mine that ended up defining and directing my early twenties originally had more modest origins.   When I was 17 and relatively untraveled, I wanted to visit 15 countries before I died. I dared not ask for more than this. Traveling to 15 countries seemed about as likely as traveling to the moon to a 17-year-old girl from rural Indiana.

However during a college back-packing trip to Europe I officially caught the travel bug. And this expensive disease is not easily satiated. Like a race where the finish line keeps getting moved further and further away, the more I traveled the more I wanted to travel. I realized I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of all of the humanity, the history and the natural beauty God had placed on this amazing planet.

So as my experiences expanded and I matured into a veteran traveler my goal simultaneously grew and changed as well. Therefore at the age of 22 and with 10 countries under my belt, the humble goal of 15 countries in my lifetime suddenly became 30 countries before I was 30.

And so I had 8 years to visit 20 countries.  This may not seem like such an outstanding accomplishment to those living in Europe where international travel is common, cheap, fast and as easy as jumping on a train or taking a short flight. But to a girl from Indiana, where a large majority of the population has never owned a passport or been outside of North America, this rare aspiration seemed like my own personal mountain.

It was ready and waiting for me to climb, but its fulfillment required careful planning, strategic decisions, personal sacrifice, good money management, reliance on God and His faithfulness and the ability to recognize and seek out opportunity.

Today, through the grace of God, I accomplished this goal of mine. This morning I took a train from Stockholm to Copenhagen and when we crossed the bridge into Denmark I silently smiled to myself. I allowed myself to relish quietly in my personal triumph and say a quick prayer of gratitude for all God had done to get me to this point.  I know that I could not and would not have had any of these experiences without Him and His provision.  And I celebrated- I was in country number 30.  I had reached my personal summit and I had officially met my goal! And with two years to spare!


As I think back on all of my experiences in 30 different countries I am amazed at what God has done in my life.  I can’t believe all of the outstanding ways God has blessed me.  I can’t describe all of the incredible places I have visited, people I have met and opportunities that have presented themselves.  I can’t express the gratitude that fills my heart as I look back on the past 30 countries and all of the life-changing-experiences, friendships and lessons they have given me.   I am truly blessed and truly amazed at the ways God has worked in my life and how he has provided me such amazing opportunities to see his perfect and beautiful creation.  I have had more than a life-times worth of experiences and I do not deserve such amazing grace, love and blessings.   However, that is what makes my God so fantastic!  He gives them to me anyway!

So…with a grateful heart full of joy and thanksgiving I realize I have reached my goal.  I have visited 30 countries!  Now, the real question is….  What is going to be my next mountain?

A Finnish Easter with Bonfires, Mämmi, Mignon Eggs, and More!


IMG_0060I was told before and after moving to Finland that the overall population of Helsinki was not as religious as the population of Indiana.  So I wasn’t sure what I should expect of a Finnish Easter.  I knew that from the beginning of March there were beautiful Easter displays in shop windows.  Fazer, the major chocolate company of Finland and a major national obsession,  had the most beautiful Easter display in their windows.   It was full of chocolate (obviously) and colorful eggs and chickens and rabbits and bows and color and flowers.  It filled me with hope of spring!   Even when it was cold and snowy, I would look at the window of a flower shop and just pretend like it was a nice 50 degree day with sunshine and cheer!

Here at the Fazer shop (and really everywhere in Finland) they 113307594_07c5b072ab_mf0eac681bc8036fd319e443d6e4ed820were selling what I thought were regular eggs.  However, they were actually Fazer Mignon eggs!  These beautiful Easter eggs are a strong Finnish Easter tradition.  They are made by hand in the Finnish Fazer factory by cutting a small hole in the bottom of a real egg and then sucking out all of the egg and replacing it with chocolate/hazelnut/almond nougat inside the real eggshell.   So, when you crack open what looks like a hard boiled egg you actually find  a solid chocolate egg that tastes very much like solidified Nutella.  I am bringing several of these home for my cousin’s children and I am going to tell them that this what all of the chickens lay in Finland…..Chocolate eggs!

So, while there is definitely a commercial side to Easter very similar to the U.S. with Easter Bunnies and chocolate and decorated eggs, it all seemed to  me to be made of higher quality content.  There was not a lot of flimsy cheap/ plastic looking Easter merchandise.  It all seemed to be done with a little more artistry and reverence.  Almost like they took the holiday a little more seriously.  I found it refreshing.   Then I found outIMG_0058 that the entire city shuts down Friday through Monday for Easter and I was even more impressed.  Very very few businesses and restaurants are open on Easter Weekend.  These business are not just closed on Easter Sunday but also Good Friday (which they call Long Friday) and the Monday after Easter as well.  Which is wonderful!  Some other ex-pats have had a hard time with this somewhat inconvenient halt to the city and I suppose it was a little inconvenient.  However, I loved the respect the holiday was given.  And I planned for the holiday and bought some groceries ahead of time and it has been fine.   I think the U.S. should reevaluate our priorities.  Do we really need to shop/ go out to eat on holidays?  Can we have just a few days a year where we stay in and be with family and do nothing?   Perhaps we could all do with a little more “inconvenience” in our lives.


On Good Friday there is a tradition of having an Easter play of Jesus’ last night leading up to his crucifixion.   Every year there is a different twist to the story and this year it was done in modern times.  The disciples were all normal guys with common jobs from road construction worker, to police officer, to bus driver.  I thought this was very fitting.  Judas was a smooth looking businessman who betrayed Jesus for a briefcase of money.  I showed up to the performance about 45 minutes early and I am so thankful for that.  Even in the dark and the cold rain there were hundreds of people who showed up for the performance.   However, if there is one thing I have learned about Finnish people it is that they do not let bad weather stop them from doing what they had planned on doing….if they did, they would never get anything done!  As they say;  “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”  This I have found to be really true.


So, Thankfully I got there early and I got to stand in the front where I could see everything.  This was particularly helpful because the entire thing was in Finnish.   The production started at 9:30 at night in a park downtown.  It was dark, rainy and ominous, which actually made me reflect on the darkness of the actual evening 2000 years ago.    The performance began with a song and a dancing angel.  The only word in the song I recognized was hosanna, and still it was moving and the dancing angel was captivating in a somber reflective way that brought me to tears.  IMG_0105Then they told the story of the last supper, Judas’s betrayal, Peters betrayal and all of the events that happened in the garden of Gethsemane leading up to Jesus’ arrest.   Somehow standing in the dark park in the middle of the night made it all seem so much more real.  It was as if I really was in the garden of Gethsemane.

After Jesus’s arrest he was led by modern looking soldiers down the path right in front of me to the Courthouse.  Then the large audience followed him on that path.  We were guided along the way through the dark city by angels and drummers.  Again, it was strange to be walking in the middle of the night with a giant crowd in the middle of usually busy streets.   Everything was usually open and vibrant and glowing with light, but tonight it was somber and silent.  The traffic had been redirected and the whole city seemed to be put on hold in order to focus on the meaning of Easter.  Finally the long procession stopped in front the courthouse.  Here they did the reenactment of Jesus’ trial with first the Sanhedrin IMG_0116and then with Pontius Pilot.  Again, this was done with a modern twist and so it felt like a modern day game show where the crowd got to vote for  the either Jesus or Barabbas to be released.   Pontius Pilot tried to free Jesus but the crowd voted for the Barabbas who was dressed in an orange prison suit and who looked liked a mass murderer.    After the trial, Jesus was given a cross and He, followed by the crowd of hundreds of people, was lead by police to the Helsinki Cathedral on Senate Square.  Here he was symbolically crucified next to two inmates.  The play ended with him saying “It is Finished”.  The lights went out and we were left to go home in the dark and the rain and in silence.


Although the cross is where “It was finished”, I left feeling so thankful that it did not end there!  I am glad I knew, unlike those who where at the original Crucifixion 2000 years ago, that the story did not end with the cross but with an empty tomb!   Yet on my long, cold walk home I couldn’t help but wonder at how dejected alone and confused Jesus’ followers must have felt that evening.  However, we know the rest of the story!  We know that Jesus defeated death!  And because of that empty tomb we are all saved!   What a glorious day!  What a victory!

Saturday I attended a special Easter Bonfire at an open air museum on an island by Helsinki.  This is where I found out about some interesting Eastern traditions that are very different than the US.IMG_0176  For one thing, all of the children were dressed up as cute little witches with brooms and pointed hats and everything. It was like a weird combination of Easter Meets Halloween.    I suppose this started as an Easter tradition on Palm Sunday, where the kids go from house to house waving palm branches and reciting poems and songs in exchange for chocolate eggs.   This happens more in the country.  This Bon-fire in Helsinki is a way for the  kids to do that without going from house to house.  They lit the bonfires at 6:30 and then the children got in a line in front of the microphone and took turns singing songs.  It was really cute.  I disappointed, however, to learn that only one or two of the dozens of songs sung had any religious connections.   Another part of the fire is supposedly to scare away evil spirits and the bad winter weather.  I suppose this did not happen as it started to snow and sleet on my walk home from the fire.

imagesSunday morning I woke up and had some Mämmi for breakfast.  This is a traditional Finnish Easter dessert. It is made out of rye, water, molasses and salt.  It takes several days to make as the rye bread has to soak for several days to get the uhem…beautiful texture.  It is usually only had for Easter.  It looks like brown goo, but tastes like soggy raisin bran cereal.  It is served with cream and sugar.  It isn’t bad.  I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I need to eat it everyday or anything.   I think once a year at Easter would be good enough.  🙂

Then I set out for church.  I decided to try an large international church that was on the other end of Helsinki.  So I took a tram and a metro and I finally arrived, but the doors were locked.  Apparently the times listed on the website were wrong and I had missed the services.  Thankfully, as I was standing there a very kind family came up to me and suggested a small church to me.  They said the people were fantastic, but then warned me that it was not very traditional because it has guitars and drums and is non-denominational. The preacher went to school at Hillsong in Australia. photo And told me it was all the way over  near Kampi.  AND with every word they said my heart swelled!  It was EXACTLY  what I was praying for!  It sounded just like the churches I had grown up with and it was RIGHT next to where I was living!  God is just so good!  So I found this new church and I instantly felt like I was home.  It felt so right.  I had attended a few other churches in the area, but they were Lutheran and felt really formal….plus they were in Finnish.  I was lost.   This service was run exactly the way I was use to in Indiana and they had headsets with English translation.   I recognized all of the songs being sung and many of them were in English!  Everyone was so welcoming and kind.   I even won a prize during the sermon.   After the service, everyone went upstairs for more Mämmi, and I got to meet a lot of the members.  It was great.  I have found my Finnish church home!  I can’t wait to come back next  Sunday!  It has turned out to be a wonderful Easter!

Good Friday- Understanding Christs’ Humility


I have visited many cathedrals and grand churches in many countries around the world.  And no matter the location I  am always in awe of their grandeur and decadence.  I usually end up rendered speechless by their overwhelming size and opulence.  And while I always appreciate the aesthetic beauty and the sheer accomplishment of creating somethingIMG_1294 so grand and monumental (especially considering most of these churches were built before the existence of modern machinery), I also typically feel a little uneasy.  It seemed so strange to me to think that the church in those time periods would build something so grand, so expensive and so elaborately coated with gold while there were people starving in the nearby villages and cities.  It never set well with me.

It didn’t seem like the churches back then really understood the point of Christianity.   As someone who grew up as a non-denominational Christian I have often had a hard time understanding these grand traditional views of religion that is based on hierarchy of man and full of man-made traditions.  It always seemed so formal and distant and not at all consistent with the Jesus that I knew who fought against a deeds based/ self glorifying concept of righteousness. I often wonder what he would think of these palatial cathedrals.  The Jesus I know didn’t grow up in a palace surrounded by gold.   He was born in a stable. He was real and probably dirty and smelly in comparison with current social norms.   His hands were most likely rough and callused by years of hard work as a carpenter.   He lived a life of true humility and loved everyone without judgment.  He, who was fully man and fully God, was the only one worthy of glory and honor and yet he received none.  IMG_1294

I was thinking all of these things as I entered into St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg Russia.  I was instantly struck  (and I say struck because it hit me like a two by four to the stomach) by the beauty of the church.  I stepped inside and I couldn’t move or breath for a moment.  I know I talk often about being overwhelmed by beauty, but this time I literally was.  I just stood there in the entryway with my mouth open not really able to take in the grandeur and extreme beauty and over the top decadence that was displayed on every inch of this magnificent cathedral.  It hit me more than any other cathedral I had visited before.  And I began to wonder that if I feel this in awe of this place, how overwhelmed will I be of Heaven.  That is when it hit me…..I understood something about cathedrals that I had never understood before and for the first time I had an emotionally spiritual moment in one of these grand churches.  The below video captures what I was thinking and feeling.

After that video I went into the holy prayer room.  There I truly communed with God in prayer and worship.  I thanked him for all he did for me.  I thanked him for choosing an ugly humiliating death on a cross instead of the life of decadence he deserved.   I thanked him for loving a sinner such as myself and allowing me,  even with all of my imperfections, to glorify him with my life.  Then I just sat in reverent worship of Him and His perfect and beautiful plan for the salvation of man.

IMG_1297When I left the prayer room it was amazing to me to see how just being in the very presence of God through prayer and worship transformed my perspective of the church.   The building that had before seemed so striking seemed dull and insignificant in comparison to the glory of God.   I suddenly saw it for what it was…a beautiful building that will one day waste away.  However, God’s glory is eternal and the only thing worth our adoration and praise.  And one day when I have been cloaked in the complete righteousness of Jesus, I will be able to enter into His very perfect and indescribable presence and behold Him in all of His glory, not because of what I have done, but because of Christ had done for me.  And in that place, because of the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross,  I will be able to abide and dwell in God’s presence and worship Him forever and ever.   That is worth my worship and honor and praise….not a building made of stone.

Wednesday Wanderings: The Accidental Castle!

IMG_1933When one sets out on a leisurely stroll in a Canadian harbor town, one does not expect to discover a legit Castle.  This, however, happened to me as I set out on a walk around Victoria.  I rounded a corner and there was an actual full on Castle.  It was quite the happy accident.  I was able to take a tour of what I found out to be Canada’s famous Craigdarrock Castle.  On the Tour I got a glimpse of what life was like for the very interesting and quirky Dunsmuirin family who built the castle during Queen Victoria’s reign.  This serendipitous discovery was a highlight of my time spent in Victoria and another reminder that when you travel and allow yourself to truly wander, you never know what sort of treasure you might find along the way.  

People often find it strange that I don’t really plan my trips or research a city before I visit it.  I find that when you happen upon a treasure like this you find so much more joy and excitement from visiting it than if you had planed to see it all along.  When I travel, I love living in the moment and taking advantage of each experience as they present themselves.  I also know how grateful I am when God is in control of my trip and I relish in all of the amazing adventures, views, and people He sends my way.   Traveling without a plan allows me to marvel at His goodness and really exist in a state of continual awe and worship.  I can give up control because I know God is faithful and just so good!  You never know when He just might place a Castle in your path.  

Redeeming Love


Last month I returned to Spain.  I had not traveled for a few months and I was getting restless.   I mistook these feelings of restlessness as a superficial need to satiate the little bug inside that feeds on travel and adventure.  This human weakness might have contributed to this building desire, but I now believe there were more powerful forces at work.

God needed to talk to me.  He needed me to truly stop and listen.   And He, being my creator and God, knows my heart better than anyone else.  He knew that during this particular journey my heart would be most readily available and my ears would be more receptive to His message.   This is often the case when I travel and perhaps why I pursue it so fervently.    I am not usually the type to be silent or still.  My life is always in a constant state of movement and I am very rarely alone.  I flutter from one social gathering to the next.  As a true extrovert, I gain energy from being in the presence of others and have several different groups of friends that appease my need for social interaction.  However, when I travel, I find myself alone for hours on end; at airports,  around cities, parks, beaches, forests, ect.   Don’t get me wrong, I have become quite an expert at finding “stranger friends” to talk to along the way.  These friends are always blessings sent by God to teach me and quench my need for human interaction, but on the whole my travel experiences force me into a mindset of  introspection.  When I travel, I truly slow down.  I truly listen; to myself, to my heart and to my God.  I am silent and still and my heart is in a state of constant gratitude and worship.  This provides the perfect platform for God to teach and mold me.

This particular trip my soul was in perfect communion with God.  I finally began to understand something He has been trying to teach me my whole life.  The completeness of His perfect love.   I have always had a hard time understanding unconditional love.  When people meet me it doesn’t take them long to recognize that I am habitually apologetic…..I’m sorry.   This stems from my unconscious fear of doing something wrong to loose peoples love.  Now multiply that fear by a million and you can understand my inability to understand why a perfect God could love someone as imperfect as me.  I have never truly believed that I was acceptable in His sight.  I believed in the forgiveness I earned from the death of Jesus but I never truly understood the completeness of that forgiveness.  If I am being honest I have always seen God as someone who merely tolerated me.  I could not picture God’s love for me as it is described in the Bible….the kind of love a groom feels for his bride or a father feels for his child.    However on this trip God opened my heart and showed me the power of his amazing grace and redeeming love.

God used several mediums to explain this love to me during this trip to Spain and  proved his love through several blessings.  One powerful tool was the book “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers.  I very rarely take books with me when I travel as I don’t often have time for them.  This time I made an exception and I started reading this book on the 5 hour buss ride from Madrid to Granada.  This fictional book is an allegory of the Biblical story of Gomer and Hosea which is in and of itself an allegory of God and His people.  The novel tells the story of a righteous and Godly man who rescues and marries a prostitute.  The prostitute cannot understand his forgiving love and kindness and runs away from him to rejoin a life of prostitution….THREE TIMES!!  Throughout the book it is so evident the love the man has for his wife and how deeply her desertion hurts him.  The reader feels so confused…why would she run away from such perfect and complete love?  Doesn’t she see that He really does love her and that she is the only one who won’t forgive her past and move on?  Why is she wasting her life listening to lies of  her worthlessness while the Author of Truth is screaming promises of love, forgiveness and redemption?    This truly is a powerful novel and I highly recommend it to any woman who sometimes struggles with understanding God’s love.

This book started an amazing dialog between God and myself during my stay in Spain early this April. I, like the woman in the novel, never felt fully accepted by God.  I never believed I deserved God’s love.  However this book helped me understand the foundational and most liberating truth.  I was right.  I don’t deserve God’s love.  I am a sinner and what I deserve is death.  But God loves me anyway!  This is the life changing earth shaking Truth with a capital T!  It is the one that Satan tries so hard to conceal!  He makes us feel inadequate and like we have to earn God’s love….which is impossible and therefore fuels our feelings of inadequacy.   The truth is there is NOTHING we can do to earn it.   It is given freely and completely.  That is the beauty of the gospel.  It has the power to turn a hopeless story of sin and its consequences into a story of perfect and merciful redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

This trip to Spain was truly a love story between me and God.  The entire week I remained in His love and my joy was made complete just as Jesus promises us in John 15: 9.  There were times I thought my heart would explode for the joy and love I felt.  There were times when I could not contain the worship in my soul and I wept.  I wept  in Retiro Park when I realized all of the amazing ways God had taken the hopeless situations of this past year and turned them into demonstrations of His glory and love.  I wept when God used a painting at the Thyssen-bornemisza Art Museum to speak directly and clearly the promises of my future.  I learned how to abide in His Love and God poured His blessings like rain on my life and my soul.  With joy, rather than condemnation, I began to understand what only a truly redeemed sinner can.  In a spirit of continual worship my heart  happily sang  “I don’t deserve this love or these blessings” and God’s quiet, constant and graceful response was the same “I know, but I love you anyway.”

Spain: All in God’s Perfect Timing

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.24.23 PMSpain.  Just the word alone elicits an almost Pavlovian response from all of my senses.  Suddenly, I smell the oranges of Valencia and hear the pounding of the Flamenco dancers under palm tree lined pavilions in Seville.   Spain.  My mouth waters for the taste of olives, jamón, wine and paella while my soul aches for the creations of Gaudi’s genius and my heart yearns for Madrid’s ocean of culture.

It took me a long time to get to Spain.  In retrospect, it was a trip almost 10 years in the making.   My obsession started in 10th grade when I took my first Spanish class.  I worked harder in this class than any others.  I vowed to one day live or study in Spain and therefore I worked tirelessly to learn the beautiful Spanish language to the best of my ability.  Oh- How many nights did I fall asleep at the wee hours in the morning going over another deck of Spanish flashcards!?

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.27.09 PMThe opportunity was never right in High School, but I told myself I would student teach in Spain.  This was something that I planed for and pursued all four years of college.   My senior year I was accepted into the international program at my school and I was on my way to Spain at last!  However, something fell through at the last moment and my placement was cancelled.  I was devastated.  Spain had been my plan for the past seven years and suddenly it was gone…like a puff a smoke.  I sobbed that night.   Spain was taken from me and I didn’t understand why.

We say,  “Things Happen for a Reason” often in our society.  This gives us something to say to those who have had disappointment in their life.  We say this when something happened/didn’t happen the way we really wanted it to go.   We say this to sound humble and gracious, but it takes a lot of grace to actually KNOW in your heart that things happen for a reason; God’s reason.  Sometimes we never know why things truly happen, but God has a perfect plan for our lives we just have to have faith and humbly know that that He who created the universe and He who IS and WAS and IS TO COME may have a better grasp of what is good for us than we do.  In this case, however, I have the unbelievable gift of knowing why Spain was “taken” from me.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.35.40 PMGod, in His infinite wisdom had more planed for me than my impatient heart could have ever conceived.   Instead of spending the last semester of my college experience off campus, He gave me one of the most rewarding semesters of my life.  I was able to host a comedy show call Friday Night Live, I fulfilled my duties as a VP for Student Government, and I was voted by my classmates to be IWU’s Senior of the year at graduation.  If I had been in Spain I would have missed out on all of those blessings and I would have peddled away so many precious “last moments” with my dear friends on a campus that I LOVED.

photo-14_2More importantly, God’s choice to not send me to Spain allowed me to say goodbye to my grandfather.   My pops, a man who more closely resembled Christ than any other man I have ever met, fell very seriously ill the last month of my college career.   He truly lived a life of love like that described in First Corinthians 13:4.  My pops was patient and kind. He did not envy, and did not boast. He was not proud, self-seeking, nor easily angered.  He did not keep a record of wrongs.  He did not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.    Pops was a farmer.  He loved the land, and worked hard everyday to glorify God and live a life producing all of the fruit of the spirit.

Because I was not in Spain, I was able to be there when he got sick.  I can still feel the whiskers on my cheek from when he kissed me goodbye for the last time on this earth. I cherish that moment above any other in my life so far.  That last kiss on my cheek from him means more to me than any study abroad experience ever could.

I could praise God and His wisdom for that reason alone.  But God is even MORE faithful than I could ever imagine.  I may not have been able to student teach overseas, but instead God blessed me with the opportunity to spend 8 incredible weeks in Spain.  This was God’s plan, not mine.  And as always, His perfect plan was infinitely more superior than the one created by my limited human brain.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.27.45 PMThe summer after my second year of teaching I got the opportunity to live with a family in Madrid in exchange for a few English lessons. Instead of six weeks of stressful student teaching, defined by me yearning to explorer the city while being held captive by grading and lesson planning duties, I spent two beautiful, perfect, unrestricted months soaking up every ounce of experience and culture possible.  I spent my days blithely wondering around the city of Madrid, observing life, reflecting and growing.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.31.56 PMSpain changed me.  It was an incredible experience, for numerous reasons in which I hope to share in future posts, but most importantly it demonstrates how faithful our God is.  He knows.  He Cares.  And He is continually weaving together a stunning masterpiece that is my life.  Our God is so faithful and in control and if we patiently seek Him and His will, sometimes we get to see the intricately beautiful ways He mends and molds our threads together to create a masterful work that glorifies Him and His unending goodness.

**** Side note:  11 is my favorite number and Spain ended up being my 11th country.  It was the 1st of 11 countries I visited in 2011. (11 in 11).  This post randomly ended up being my 11th post. God is just so good and just so clever sometimes!