Will My Tickets Arrive? My Olympic Opening Ceremony Drama!

 The morning of my 29th birthday I woke up thinking about what I wanted to accomplish during my last year of my twenties. I spent my morning thinking about how amazing the decade of my twenties had been. I had the great blessing to see and experience the world. I thought about the sites I had seen, the people I had met and the humanity and love I had witnessed.

In the last 8 years alone I had visited 34 countries, 4 continents, lived abroad twice and visited numerous cities. This allowed me to meet my lifetime goal of visiting 30 countries before I turned 30, but more importantly it helped me find myself.

With a since of thankfulness and accomplishment I spent the morning of my 29th birthday reflecting on these adventures, and thinking about how much I had grown and experienced. I also wondered what the year 29 would have in store for my future.

How could I possibly put a cap to the top of such a perfect decade of exploration and travel? What could possibly make it all come together to culminate in absolute perfection? What would be my next step?

About this time, I got a message from my friend in Rio. He wished me a happy birthday and said I should come visit him for the Olympics. And that was it. That was what I needed.  Attending the Olympics, the international Mecca of global cooperation and peace, was the perfect way to punctuate a decade of travel. And I simply said to myself “Why not?” Visiting the Olympics had always been my life dream.

I had spent most of my youth obsessing about the Olympics. I watched the athletes compete with suspenseful reverence. I cheered for the Americans, but I also loved hearing about and cheering for the underdogs from Romania or Croatia or wherever. I looked forward to hearing the humanitarian pieces and human interest stories. I was enthralled with the history and culture of the host cities and how the entire world could come together to compete for two weeks. I cried whenever an athlete (especially an American, but really any athlete) won a gold medal and got the honor of hearing their national anthem ring out loud and clear for all to hear.

But most of all, I looked forward to, I obsessed over, I yearned for and I watched and re-watched the Opening Ceremony. This is what I would hungrily await to see every 4 years. The Opening Ceremony is the dream, it is the most exciting and important and essential part of the games.

So, when I was invited to visit my friend in Rio this summer for the Olympics I did not hesitate. I immediately went online and purchased two Tickets to the Opening Ceremony. And just like that I was going, when just an hour before the idea had not even been on my radar. But, suddenly I had purchased my tickets and I was on my way to fulfill a life long dream- to attend an Olympic Opening Ceremony.   This would be my Olympic moment, my Olympic Story!

However, no good Olympic Story is complete without some drama. It turns out that the tickets I purchased in October for a 29th birthday to myself where fake. I should have realized something was fishy when the credit card sale was through an office in India. The website looked like the official site, but it turns out it was one hyphen away from the official Olympic ticket office. Now looking back on this, it was so obvious. Even my 7th grade students knew the tickets were fake. In my heart I think I did too. I mean, come on-I bought them from a random guy in India named Sam and I was supposed to pick them up at his “booth” in Rio before the event.

Looking back now it is comical. A typical Kelly Story. I am such a hoosier! So trusting. So honest. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would rather see the good in the world instead of being a skeptic. Why would anyone sell fake tickets? I just didn’t want to be so distrusting of the world. I wanted so badly for them to be real, that I believed they were real.   And so I told myself, the tickets could be real.   And honestly it was worth the risk. So I planned my trip with confidence and fervor. Only secretly wondering if the tickets were real.

However, When I arrived I realized that the “booth” did not exist and I had been scammed. I realized that I would not get these tickets and I had lost my money.   I felt foolish for being so trusting and naive.

However foolish I may be, I am also determined. I decided I had to try again. I used a European resale site and bought ANOTHER two tickets to the ceremony completely draining my savings. This site promised they would mail the tickets to my location in Rio by August 1st.   Yet, on August 1st, they did not arrive.   Instead I got word, through Fedex tracking, that they were still in France and would not be here until Friday the 5th….at 6:00 pm.   The ceremony is the 5th at 5:00 pm, and it will take a few hours to get there.

So, I am still waiting to see if they arrive. As of today they are in Memphis Tennessee ready to be shipped to Rio….. who unfortunately will be on a bank Holiday for the next two days.   So, the odds are stacked against me, but I have faith that everything will work out. I will keep praying and I know that God can pull this together.   Things always work out for the best!   And all I can do is trust and pray that the tickets arrive in time!   Keep tuned in to see if they arrive by tomorrow afternoon!

They next time I write, I should be able to tell you what it is like to attend an Olympic Opening Ceremony live in the flesh! ……….OR……… I should be able to tell you what it is like to watch an Olympic Opening Ceremony on a TV next to where it is happening live. Either way, God is good and I am blessed to be in Rio! And right now I am off to find the local Fedex site and try, through broken Spanish and Portuguese to figure out where in the world my tickets are!  Wish me luck and say a prayer!


Find out how it turns out at Fillingmymap.com or WIBC.com

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!

Point Judith Lighthouse- Rhode Island: Wednesday Wanderings

Point Judith Lighthouse- Rhode Island:  Wednesday Wanderings

There is something so uniquely wholesome about lighthouses. Perhaps their ability to secure ones instant trust shouldn’t be all that surprising. Their very reason for existence is to guide the lost home. They provide a beacon of hope and light to the weary traveler while nobly identifying the dangers before them. Their constant drumming of light provides a rhythmic path to safety that calms and assures the soul.

I have not done much/any sailing on my own. I would be the first to tell you I wouldn’t have the first clue how to circumnavigate the seas. I can only imagine the powerful all consuming wave of relief one would feel when they first catch glimpse of the shore through that beacon of light. Its dancing reflection across the water would be a blanket of security to those searching for asylum from the unforgiving seas.

When I come across a light house in my travels I am captivated by their beauty. This one taken at Point Judith in Rhode Island was particularly captivating. With today’s new innovations these beautiful structures are more historical artifacts than tools of navigation; but I love them because they represent a bygone era where man relied on his fellow human being rather than a machine for assistance. In a storm sailors depended on the honor of the men who ran these houses to guide them through the rough and merciless waters. When I see a lighthouse I often wonder about the men who lived and worked in them. I also think about their lonely life; living in a tower above the world. I am sure they saw all, but engaging in so little. Who were these men? What stories did they have?

While Lighthouses invoke my romantic sensibilities about the days of old and delight my imagination they also provide such great parallels to the God I serve. When I see a lighthouse I am reminded how God is that steady unwavering beacon of true light in my own life. He is always guiding our path and leading us home. He is unwavering, unchanging and unyielding. He is the one and true constant source of security, love and peace. He alone can help us face the trials and storms of this world.

Psalms 119: Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my 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.”