Experiencing Sydney and the Harbour

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My next stop had me entering the hustle and bustle of city life. I entered Sydney not knowing what to expect but only knowing that God opened the door for me to travel through Australia and so here I was, a country girl at heart, beginning this leg of my journey smack-dab in one of the world’s largest cities. I didn’t have much time to ponder this due to the mass amount of people in suits hurriedly power walking past me to get to their assumed appointments. The streets were filled with taxis and just a few blocks away ferries were continuously going from one Sydney harbor to the next. The Central Business District (CBD) is filled with food options from small sidewalk carts for those on the go, to fancy fine dining restaurants with world renowned chefs, and the shopping… oh I wish I could really let loose and go on a shopping spree. However, due to a travel budget I reminded myself the pretty dresses aren’t worth the sacrifice of travel experiences to come.

This was also the first time in my travels I chose an Airbnb that was a room with a shared bathroom in someone’s home. I would be sharing a living space with a complete stranger and not just a living space but HER living space. I was hoping and praying that this would forge a friendship and not be too awkward.

As fate would have it I roomed with a soon to be friend named Claire. She too was single and slightly older than I. We stayed up talking about our lives and how we found them so different than we ever thought they would be. I shared my faith and my belief that though very different than most women’s lives my age, there must be purpose in the difference. She too had traveled around the world quite a bit. These talks and the company was the much-needed girl time that I had been craving.

The weather was warmer than I had just come from in New Zealand and I welcomed it. Sydney has many beaches and I went to several. I was also quite impressed with The Royal Botanical Gardens with its views of the harbor and the art museum that is right next to it.  It is a perfect spot to go for a long walk and have lunch, as the walk is right along the harbor which is lined with restaurants next to the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney, with its newfound friendship and sun drenched beaches, did not disappoint. And then, I was ready to leave the city and drive south.

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A Quick Moment in Phuket and Time for Reflection

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As I landed in Phuket I felt a sense of deep relief as I knew rest and refuge for my soul was just around the corner. I am so thankful for everything I’ve been able to experience thus far however, I am ready to slow down. I am looking forward to waking up and having time to journal about devotionals and readings on a daily basis, having time to just be and listen to what God is trying to tell me and where He is leading me next. I’m only spending two days in Phuket and then off to a new location for an entire month. I so need this.

As I sit on the beach in Phuket, I realize it’s not so much that feel like I’ve had any epiphanies about myself over the last two months, it’s more that I’ve just had confirmation about things I already knew. One being, I enjoy traveling slow. Traveling to new locations every few days is exhausting and, yes, I get to say that I’ve been to this specific place but the places I feel a connection to are the places I was able to spend time in, create relationships usually beyond one conversation, and not have my mind filled with a to do list before I leave because my time is so short. Also, I love not being worried about getting the great Instagram worthy photos. Those are great and I absolutely love it when I get one but to be honest many of pictures you see on Instagram do look that beautiful from the angle they were taken; what you don’t see are the dozens of people standing in line waiting for you to hurry up and take the picture of yourself over the ledge. These locations are usually the most touristy and cost a lot of money to get to because you have to buy a tour with dozens of other people to get there. Which brings me to my next received confirmation. I’m not that into guided tours. Especially if it’s in large groups. I do love guided tour groups revolved around things I just wouldn’t be able to by myself like taking a boat to swim with giant manta rays or riding an elephant, but if it’s something I can do on my own or with a friend or two I’d rather go that route.

I’ve been so busy these last couple months I haven’t had a clear mind to really just be with God without the busyness soon distracting me. I’m continually hoping and praying one of the reasons for this journey is to provide clarity on where my life is going next. I left a job I wasn’t in love with, sold everything, and said farewell to so many loved ones not just to travel the world, but to also find what I can add to it. I have asked God for a revelation about this time and time again. Time and time again He provides the next stepping stone of what He wants me to do next, but never the whole picture. There are moments when I hear nothing but silence and feel nothing but inaction on God’s part and I can be brought to utter frustration. It reminds me of Habakkuk. Not that I am surrounded by a world I feel is falling apart due to evil, although I’m not saying this isn’t happening; it’s just not my point right now, but that I have had extended dialog with God about various areas of my life and many times I see inaction and wonder why. My testament to walking by faith and not by sight is being built mightily. What I love about Habakkuk is although he had moments of complete frustration and not understanding God’s inaction or timing he didn’t run from God as Jonah did. He poured his frustration into prayer, over and over again. I will choose to continue in this way.

As I lay on the beach in Phuket, I look back and can see all the things in my life I grew tired of and knew it was time for me to move on, but I also see all the good I was able to pour into some of these heavy tasks. I am thankful God used me and worked through me in these moments and lie in anticipation of what He will have for me next. As impatient as I get for the story or my life to hurry up and unfold I remember that the purpose of my life isn’t for me or my story at all. This is all God’s story and Him revealing who He is to the world, and I get to be a small piece of the puzzle.

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Solo Traveling through Ubud and the Wondrous Sights up to Bangli

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As I stepped away from the beach culture that a large portion of Bali is and into the cooler mountainous landscape richly seeped in Balinese culture, tradition, Hindu temples, and shrines, I had many conflicting emotions. This increased as I made a local friend who I could ask candid questions too, not offend him, and he would reply openly and honestly. Most of my discord stemmed from the fact that with every fiber of my being, to my core, I am deeply in love with Jesus. I have done nothing to deserve what He has done for me, I could aim to do nothing more for Him, and still He would love me unconditionally. I would still be His daughter and like a Father He would still have His arms reaching for me to help me up when I fall. This kind of love takes my breath away and  humbles me to the extent that it brings me to my knees with eyes brimming with tears. My relationship with my God is every day, very intimate, and impenetrable. When chaos swirls around me He is who I go to. I block everyone else out, so I can hear specifically from Him and the outside noise is muted. I crave for every person I come in contact with to have this. This is what sustains me when all else fails. With this said, I walk with open eyes still able to admire so much of the tradition, dedication, and amount of faith these people walk with day after day, year after year, generation after generation. I look at those qualities with admiration and can clearly see some things I am lacking in.

Ubud has so many holy temples and shrines; the craftsmanship is breath-taking. I took a trip to the Water Purification temple and witnessed locals coming in to a place believed to have fresh water that comes up from a spring that purifies and cleanses them of anything unholy and any wrong-doing. They bring offerings to their God in faith it will be pleasing and bring good things for their life and the life of their families. The commitment to give offerings on a daily basis, though smaller daily, is another quality of commitment that stuck in my mind. The emotion I saw as men, women, and children stood under the spouts to be cleansed by this water was convicting. Another moment of me reflecting if I am in each moment with God aware and feeling the emotions that come with it or has some of my relationship become routine and monotonous and I need to be more emotionally there. My relationship with God is like any relationship in that it needs to be fed and attention and care need to be given. One of the many questions I asked my newly made friend surrounded the cost of these rituals and he openly explained that with all of the offerings and ceremonies held he spends quite a bit of his money each year and so does each family. He explained that he like many families in Bali lives in a small house with his extended family and they live in poverty.

Another sight that should not be missed are the rice fields in Tegallalang and the lake among the mountains in Bangli. Go for the pictures you can take alone. The views in these areas you just won’t find anwhere else. There is a hike you can do to the top of the mountain but it starts at 2 am so I was out for that one. My trip to Ubud was a time for me to enjoy and regroup after bouncing from location to location so quickly. While is this region you can also visit and see a Luwak, a tiny animal, that makes apparently the most expensive coffee in the world. I tried it; it wasn’t my favorite but it was worth the experience. Apparently this animal poops out the coffee beans and the enzymes in the animal do something to the beans. They are then traditionally roasted in a pan over fire.

Lastly, Ubud is filled with some great shopping. Yes you have to dig a little and not all of it is good quality but some of it is and at a much cheaper price than sold elsewhere. I stayed in a nice boutique hotel that was a 15 minute walk to the main downtown like shopping area, and 10 minutes in the other direction was the monkey forest. Let me not forget to tell you there are monkeys everywhere. These one are not mean like the ones in Uluwatu and they are playful. And when I say they are everywhere they really are… hanging on telephone wires, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, crossing the streets with the people. It will put a smile on your face that these more non-aggressive monkeys mingle with people on a daily basis.

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My Heart Made a Little Bigger for the Islands in Big Island

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There has always been little to no ambition in me to venture to the biggest island of Hawaii. I’ve spent multiple times in all the other main islands but what I heard over and over again about Big Island was the voggy atmosphere, there’s a mountain that sometimes has snow on it, and the island is dry and well, big. None of those things appeal to me and of course I heard about the beautiful sights here and there on this mostly voggy land mass, but for the most part it just didn’t seem like a worthwhile trek and expense. Having these thoughts in my head only sweetened the romance that was to come when Big Island swept me off of my feet.

I went on this expedition with a friend and we landed in Kona. Kona is high in tourism and has a couple really great resorts. Who doesn’t like a great stay at a resort where all amenities are provided but we wanted to explore a bit more off the beaten path. We only spent a day in Kona and the touristy parts and things to do just weren’t my cup of tea so we hiked along a rocky hot beach dripping sweat and only in slippers (flip-flops to some) and swim suits. We walked probably a couple of miles to a more remote area and found ourselves surrounded by shallow calm aqua water, black rocks with greenery determined to thrive and burst thru lava rock, and multiple sea turtles basking in the sun on the mini islands across from the multiple coves we jumped into to swim.

From there we made our way up the coast to Waimea, Honokaa, and hiked to Waipio Valley. This by far was my favorite part of the island. It was filled with lush greenery and had green rolling hills that were home to farms and pastures. Waipio Valley is worth the hike and when you get down to the bottom the brackish water from the river that flows abundantly from the impressive waterfall is the perfect dip for refreshment. This place was just magical and the second waterfall that falls from a cliff into the ocean was icing on the cake. I could live here for the scenery alone. With the small town of Honokaa just above gives this area a quaint and cozy feel.

We opted to stay in a well decorated yurt a in Kea’au and I got eaten alive by bugs, but I still say it was worth the experience and a comfortable form of glamping. From there we visited all the main attractions: Hilo, Mauna Kea, and Volcano. Then we went to South Point and the olivine green sand beach. We started off willing to hike into this beach but it was hot, dry and the strong wind was wiping us continually with dirt from the red dry dirt hills we were walking through. There were many locals making money from tourists by driving them to their destination with lifted trucks with huge tires through this off-road terrain. A guy named Rodney stopped and we hopped in the back of his truck as he made his way to the green sand beach. He’s a rancher by trade and owns several horses. He filled the drive out with stories of his days competing in rodeos all over the states. His family has lived in Hawaii for twelve generations. The south part of this island is filled with dryer ranch lands and the people who live here have usually lived here for several generations. The conversations alone that were had in this area left a feeling of appreciation and connection for Big Island. Also to help with this, this area housed my favorite place to eat on the whole island with the most creamy and delicious Mac-nut cream pie. Hana Hou restaurant, thank you.  Another favorite find of mine was the newest black sand beach recently formed by the last lava flow. The locals of this area have made it their mission to replant and rebuild. To see up close and for myself the destruction to an entire town being covered in lava, well there just are no words… But to see the perseverance and devotion to make their home fruitful again, and it literally rising from the ashes had me reflecting on what hope tangibly looks like and was awe-inspiring. It was a memorable way to leave the islands as I head off to my next destination, Bali.

Exploring Maui

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Leaving Oahu to explore Maui wasn’t a difficult thing to convince myself to do at all. Maui has a little more of a laid back vibe, less, traffic, and fewer people, not to mention a few very good friends I got to spend some quality time with. I started my trip taking the long windy drive to Hana which I wrote about previously, spent lots of time in Wailuku and Paia, then headed to Makawao, Haiku, and finally Wailea. On this trip I felt overwhelmed by the constant blessings that just kept rolling in. It was my first venture out of Oahu on this grand travel undertaking and things just fell into place with blessings sprinkled all over along the way.

Wailuku is a smaller town with agriculture land tucked into the mountains and a quaint town center and a few boutique style stores, a great trendy coffee shop called Wailuku Coffee Co., and my favorite find, a hole in the wall juice and healthy eats shop “The Farmacy”. I stopped in The Farmacy almost daily for one of their delicious smoothies and their sandwiches did not disappoint either. Exploring the Iao Valley is a must in Wailuku. It’s an easy hike with a beautiful river flowing through calmly enough for you to take a dip and lush greenery everywhere you turn. It’s a state monument with some historical significance as well. Be sure to take a few minutes and read up on the Iao needle and King Kamehameha I defeated Maui at this location.

While in Wailuku visiting Paia is a must. Another picturesque town with wooden signs, known to be a spot for hippies hang out. It has more and possibly trendier boutiques to shop in and a few great places to eat but what I love most about Paia are the beaches. They are pretty perfect when it’s not too windy with perfect yellow sand and clean turquoise waters.

My favorite part of Maui is Paniolo country aka Makawao that sprawls into Haiku on one side and Kula at a higher elevation. This town even has a small museum dedicated to the towns cowboy history and the shops in the town reflect that the paniolo culture stills runs thick. The general store has some of the best chili at only $4 for a small bowl and the beef in it is local grass-fed beef. You can sit on the front steps and enjoy. They too have cute boutiques and coffee shops my favorite being “Sip Me”. Another place with great coffee and healthy eats. What stood out here was I could by a jar of mac nut milk and other milks and juices to take home. Haiku has farm and ranch lands as far as the eye can see and Kula houses a beautiful lavender farm I could spend hours walking and eating lavender infused chocolate.

During my trip I was unexpectedly able to spend a day enjoying The Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea with its beautiful pools and cabanas then in the evening I was graciously invited to a pupus, cocktails, and spa evening at The Grand Wailea. And if you know anything about this hotel you know that when they hold and event it’s quite grand. We sipped on chocolate martinis while eating sushi and other pupus (appetizers) then headed down to get facials, massages, and all kinds of algae pool dips good for your skin; and all complimentary! What an amazing relaxing blessing and to watch the sunset from this hotel was a real treat.

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The Heart in Hana

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A place with giant white crosses built on mountain tops in the midst of shear drop off cliffs and cascading waterfalls as tall as the eye can see left me wondering how in the world anyone got the crosses up to these places and the dedication, risk, and perseverance it must have taken.  I’ve lived in Hawaii for over six years now and I’ve wanted to make it to Hana the entire six years. The windy road is, I believe, over 60 miles and averages about 10 near hairpin turns per mile with areas of drop off cliffs and room for only one vehicle. Not many have a desire to travel this road often and I was curious to find out for myself if the trip would be as nauseating and anxiety filled as some have made it out to be. I set out on this adventure with a good friend who lives in Maui. We packed a weekends worth of things, a cooler for the ride, and we were off.

I think most will tell you half the fun is stopping at all the hidden gems along the way, so that’s what we did. I have never seen so many waterfalls in my life. It seemed like there was a new one every few turns. There was something enchanting about this part of Hawaii in particular. If you decide to take this drive take your time, start out early, do a couple hikes and a couple beaches along the way. This will also help if you are prone to car sickness; which my friend is. And the fruit and banana bread stands are worth the stop.

Our first night we decided to rent a place from VRBO. It was a cottage tucked back on some agriculture land with a coffee farm next to it and a deck with a beautiful view of the land. I’m not sure there could be a more perfect way to start this stay in Hana. It was only available for one night and we had such an amazing drive up we knew one night wouldn’t be enough to enjoy all Hana has to offer, so we booked another night at Travaasa, a pretty lavish resort in Hana with an ocean view, and it was a treat. When we pulled into the parking area for the hotel there on a mountain top right in front of us was another cross. I would get a feeling that filled my soul with a sense of peace every time I saw another one on a new mountain peak. And I’m hopeful that with the amount of work and effort it must’ve taken to get these crosses up there, they felt the same way and it was a constant reminder for them of God’s presence in their lives and it was shared amongst this community of people. It was also a constant reminder for me that God is on these adventures with me leading the way.

While in Hana we ventured out to more waterfalls via hikes, trudged through magnificent bamboo forests that went on and on, ducked our heads through lava tubes, and when our feet were too tired to walk anymore we laid on various red and black sand beaches. And when I say black sand I mean I have never seen such true black sand. Usually when I’ve gone to black sand beaches in the past to me it looked more like a darker dirtier sand, not black sand. But one beach in particular we saw from up above as we were enjoying the view and it was a perfect little bay with pitch black sand. So of course we made our way down.

We didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on food and in this area there is just no need to. We ate banana bread and drank locally grown coffee for breakfast or went to a take out window that had great egg sandwiches or eggs any way you like them. For lunch and dinner there are great food trucks to try. One in particular made what was my favorite meal of the trip. I love Huli Huli chicken and this was by far the best Huli Huli chicken I’ve had, Huli Huli chicken at Koki beach. That’s what the signs said and we followed. The kindest couple sets up shop every day under a tent at Koki beach and they get to making these delicious meals. Everything was so good! I’m not a huge mac salad lover but this mac salad changed my mind and was the best mac salad I’ve had and the chicken was out of this world. The portions are generous too. I was stuffed. This place is a must while in Hana.

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I truly loved this trip and every moment of exploration. Hana is a place where most only go for a night or two but I could easily stay for a week and still not get in all the sights to be seen.

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The Sweet Taste of Freedom and the Hope in Goodbye

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Freedom has a multitude of various meanings depending on who you are speaking to and their personal experience with it. Starting out on this venture is expanding mine.  I can’t say I was completely embracing of the thought that I may need to let go of so many things I wanted to keep, things I’ve worked hard for, and ultimately value, in order to have hands that are open and able to receive whatever is coming. To be bluntly honest I’m still hoping that what I’m going to get even if it’s in experiences, outweighs all that I’ve given up. I have no idea of exactly what’s coming even next week and I have no words to explain what an odd feeling that is. But what a thrilling thing hope is. It’s a feeling that is at its peak, pours over spilling on those around you giving the entire group an excitement and anticipation for only God knows what’s around the corner.

In order to have open hands to receive what’s to come I realized I needed to let go of what I was already clenching tightly on to. I needed to free myself up from all the securities most of us grow so accustomed to. I had a good size studio apartment that was just a five-minute bike ride to the nearest beach on the north shore of Oahu. It had everything I needed, and not to mention I thoughtfully and carefully worked on its aesthetics to make it the cutest coziest nest of a place for me to come home to and feel relaxed after a long hard day of work. I had globe lights and twinkle lights strung throughout to give off the softest most comforting lighting, I had saved money and searched the island for a while to find real wood antique and/or rustic pieces that would go well in my space, there were flowers everywhere, and sentimental, some even handmade items that just made my space feel warm and inviting. I loved having people over and letting them enjoy the warmth and comfort of the place I lived while I enjoyed their company. I had worked hard for years to have the ability to create a second home on Oahu and the initial thought of giving it all up to physically have nothing but a suitcase was not appealing to say the least.

As I began going thru my closest and selling my clothes, giving a ton of things away I thought people would need or just enjoy, selling my furniture some that had stories behind them or I had built myself, the feeling of freedom began bubbling up. Wow, I was in the midst of creating an abundance of room for what could be the wildest, riskiest, but most abundantly blessed moments of my life and getting rid of all these things I had accumulated to just be free was the most liberated I’ve felt to date. I now have nothing tying me down. Everything I wanted to sell I sold and for the prices I asked for. Even down to my car. I remember telling God “Okay God this is what I want to make selling my car. This is what will make me feel good about selling it.” Down to the penny God showed up. I got a call from a friend back home and he asked me how I was doing in the process and if selling everything was going well. I told him the details of what I asked for and what I received. I’ll always remember his response. “Melanie, do you realize every single thing you asked for you got?! Down to the penny you got it.” It was just another clearly defined moment that reconfirmed this was exactly what God wanted me to do. He was showing up, going before me and paving the path one stepping stone at a time.

As all this was happening, one of the sweetest things to come out this was my friends seeing how God was parting the red sea so I could walk thru and the elation and joy they had for me. There are moments when I don’t know who is more excited, me or one of my friends.

One of my most cherished possessions are my relationships. I am constantly in awe of the amazing, strong, faithful, trustworthy, loving, honest people I have surrounding me. My community is an incredible one and saying goodbye is never easy. It is incredible to see how each one is cheering me on and over joyed, waiting in just as much if not more expectancy for what’s to come. These goodbyes are difficult but it’s a great thing to know that they are difficult because what I have in these relationships are rare treasures. I’m not so much saying goodbye as much as saying I will miss you until I see you again.

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The Prayerful Beginnings

And there I sat, amongst at least a couple dozen women but feeling utterly singled out. It felt as if the speaker was speaking directly to me, to my soul that had felt dormant for months, maybe years. I suddenly had a flash back to that funny commercial of the man sitting in his t-shirt and underwear on his worn in couch eating Cheetos with the crumbs piling up on his rounded-out belly.  The man on the TV pointing directly at him telling him to get off the couch, put the Cheetos down, and go exercise, go live. As I sat on the floor hearing this person tell me to “choose life”, I knew it was just the confirmation I needed at that very moment. I was determined to forge ahead and choose life.

I have been working in corporate America for almost 10 years now. Right out of college I knew I needed to get a foothold into a career that would pay off my student loans and build a foundation of financial stability. After all, isn’t that the American dream? Go to college, get a respectable good paying job, get married, have children, buy a house, and be in a position of being independent and self- sufficient. I don’t think any of those things are bad, and many people do have a significant sense of purpose and fulfillment in them. I too felt a certain sense of accomplishment from graduating college, getting into a reputable career that paid decent money, and purchasing my own house that literally had a white picket fence. What I have accomplished up to this point were all things that were within my control, and I did it! I felt good. But what do you do when the things that are outside of your control don’t fall into place the way you always assumed they would? When you are left with expectations that just weren’t met; when the life you thought you would have, the life you expected either never happened or it just fell apart before your very eyes?

To add on to the fact that I haven’t started a family, after 10 years in a career that I haven’t loved for the past 6, the heaviness from the lack of fulfillment started to bare its weight. I rarely found much solace in friends who could share in this same experience. When I would look around me I didn’t see many if any women my age is this specific situation. Most of my friends are well into a marriage or relationship and/or have children who naturally shift one’s life path and priorities. What I did come to realize is even though my life looked very different from most there is still a uniting common thread between so many and that is having expectations that haven’t been met and the feeling of disappointment that comes from it. What do you do when you find yourself in this place? When the life you are living is so different than the life you so badly wanted. Well I still don’t have an all-encompassing answer, but I prayed.

God, what am I supposed to be doing; am I still in the right place? I can’t see Your plan at all, sometimes I can’t even hear Your voice. My life just isn’t making sense to me. Is there something that I missed along the way? I have this guttural yearning, this unquenched desire, a feeling, that there could be so much more to my life and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve been surviving and having fun in moments, but unsure if I’ve really lived for years now. I’ve been in such a monotonous routine on a daily basis. You haven’t given me a family yet to pour into so what is it You want me to do? What do You have for me? Please tell me if I am completely off in my desires and they stem from any selfish sense of entitlement. Is it wrong of me to want more? To crave something deeper?  I want to be able to completely surrender to Your will, even if it brings more difficulties than I think I can bare, or it leaves me without my deepest wants. After all, I am not owed anything. On top of that I have already been blessed with more than I deserve. I realize all these things. Regardless, here I am desperately searching for more.

Am I alone in this? Has anyone else felt like they weren’t choosing to live their life but rather they were waking up every morning feeling like they were on auto pilot? And I don’t just mean some mornings, I mean MOST mornings. I was overcome with the realization that some mornings my soul never even really woke up, like I was completing my daily routine half asleep, with eyes only half open and that was just so I wouldn’t trip.

I have prayed so many prayers similar to this over the past few years and then, one day, I received what I saw as an answer. We had heard rumors that the company was going to close its doors in Hawaii for months and finally one day we all got called into meetings with or managers at the same time and were told our office is officially closing its doors in 9 months. We had an option of applying and taking a job in a handful of states on the mainland or we could severe ties with the company. Any time I considered following my career that I no longer loved, leaving the place I lived and I fell in love with to move back to the mainland, well the very thought repelled me greatly. I cringed; I couldn’t handle even thinking of continuing my life in this zombie-like status. It felt safe but it just didn’t feel right. What a surreal experience, to realize that I felt safer taking the risky route and it was riskier and more unsettling taking the safe one. I knew I was being prompted to not take the safe route. I was being asked to let it all go, take the risk, and follow a path not yet revealed. Step by step, enter into the unknown. I decided to sell everything I owned in Hawaii; I bought my first plane ticket, squeezed my friends and family tight and left. I was off to see and experience the world, and find my way, along the way.

Here we go God, it’s just me and You. Please hold my hand tightly; I’m following Your lead.

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Photos by Sunny Golden Photography