Year 30

“Your journey has molded you for the greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”

-Asha Tyson

A few of my favorite photographs from my 30th birthday trip Panama this past December. I stayed in Panama City and then flew to Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Panama welcomed me with open arms, fed me like a Queen and reminded me of how much there is to learn about myself, others and this world.

My desire for year 30 is to be open to the endless possibilities in every area of my life. As a defense mechanism I’ve found it way too easy to hide behind the fear of the unknown but life has taught me that there is magic in facing fears and stepping out in faith. I don’t know what this year will bring but I’m ready for the adventure…

My first trip to Haiti

Back in December 2012 I traveled to Haiti, the mother country of my parents, for the first time in my life. I was never fortunate enough to visit as a child but when my parents decided that they were going back to visit, I knew that I needed to come along with them.

As I prepared for the journey, I had some anxiety about what I would see and experience and I even had some friends express their concerns for my safety. With every fearful thought that entered my mind, I prayed that God would remove them. I went to Haiti with the desire to explore the country and to be a blessing to my family and I would not allow fear to overtake my desires. Travelling mercies were given and I arrived safely, I traveled throughout the island safely and I came back safely. I was able to accomplish all that I set out to do but I also left Haiti a changed woman. I was humbled by the entire experience and I fell in love with an island and family members who I had only just met.

Haiti is impoverished, there is an absurd amount of people who are homeless, and there is utter devastation from the earthquake in 2010. I arrived in Haiti prepared for a culture shock. Yes, I encountered new and sometimes scary things. Yes, I was heart broken by what I saw. Yes, I was humbled and overwhelmed by everything around me. But above all of the things that I experienced the thing that stuck with me was LOVE. It did not matter that they were poor or that they were unsure where the next meal would come from. Above every fearful thing that they could think of, I saw that the love that they had for one another made life so much easier. I was beyond grateful for the experience and the overabundance of love that was in everything and was everywhere made Haiti feel like home for me.

There is so much more that I could share but I want to end with this. The last day in Haiti my family and I visited MUPANAH (Musee du Pantheon National Haitien), it is a beautiful museum located in the capital, filled with art, artifacts, and the rich history of Haiti. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and it was an awesome experience for me. I was able to learn so much about Haiti and it helped confirm how valuable Haiti is. While there are so many negative things one could focus on in regards to the island, one thing cannot be denied: Haiti is strong with so much potential.

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My nephew, the mini traveler, at age one. This was his first international trip.

I’m thankful that my journey has been filled with life changing experiences and I look forward to all that is to come.

An adventure to Paradise Island…

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Enjoying the view and creating lasting memories on Arawak Cay.

There’s something transformative that happens when one travels to a foreign place and I pray that the blessing that it is to travel will never become commonplace for me. That it will never just be a “thing” to do. It is and I pray that it will always be a humbling, eye opening, and heart transforming experience.

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Enjoying the view and creating lasting memories on Arawak Cay.

I had the pleasure of traveling to Nassau and Paradise Island, Bahamas for a mini family vacation with my sister and her two young children. This trip was my nephew’s third international trip and niece’s second and with each trip we’ve added new tools to our arsenal for traveling. We loaded our carryon bags with snacks, packed coloring books with crayons, colorful building blocks to keep their attention and finally a Kindle for movie watching. All of these tools were a God send as we spent hours in the airport and then hours on the airplane. Even with all of these tools we still encountered tantrums, crying and stress but seeing their eyes light up at everything around them, hearing their questions and watching them in awe made it all worth it. I’m truly thankful for the blessing that it is to do life with some amazing little people

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Practicing his flamingo pose at the Ardastra Gardens!

Honestly, traveling with children will test every ounce of your patience. You may even question your sanity when you reach your breaking point. With that being said…even though the experience is taxing it will never be one that I run from. To me traveling with children is all about the opportunity to watch them interact, explore and experience a new “home” even if it’s just for the weekend. I believe traveling with children is instrumental in their growth. Being able to interact with the world and to learn about new places and experience new cultures at a young age is priceless. My prayer is that a well traveled child will mature into an adult who understands that the world is so much bigger than their neighborhood and their comfort zone. I pray that the opportunity to travel allows them to see more than just the shiny resorts. That they are able to interact with and see the reality of the world around them and remain humble. That they remain grounded and aware of the differences around them but never boastful.

20160307_134938One of the highlights from our trip was being able to watch my nephew interact with new friends and also witnessing the parents interacting with him in a familial way. One of the families we met while on the beach invited my curious and friendly nephew into their circle like he was family. My nephew spent hours playing with the boys of this couple and had the time of his life building sandcastles and interacting with them. His favorite part of the afternoon was playing with them in the hamster ball and it made me glad to see his joy.

This trip was everything that I didn’t know I needed. I was able to explore a new place, make new friends, bond with my family, share laughs and create memories that will last a lifetime. With every trip I am thankful for the quiet moments when I am reminded of why I am here and that there is so much more for me to do and learn.

Though I am not sure of the final destination…I’m thankful for the journey…

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“Hurry and take the pictures before the water comes!”

 

Summer in the winter: Costa Rica

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This past December I wanted to celebrate my birthday a little different. Being a December baby generally means that my birthday is spent cold but if you ask me that is no way to spend a birthday. I knew I wanted a warm birthday and it was only a matter of time before my dream would become reality.

Initially I planned to visit Costa Rica as a solo trip but I was blessed when a good friend of mine decided to come with. It’s amazing how time away from home in a new place and with good company can be healing, humbling and restorative. I didn’t know what to expect on my first trip to Costa Rica but God always knows how to surprise me.

IMG_20151128_142950I challenged myself on this trip and I decided that I wouldn’t allow fear to keep me from trying new things and truly celebrating life. I spent each day on the beach enchanted by the waves as well as the calmness of the water. I spent an afternoon navigating the streets of Tamarindo on an ATV and was pleasantly surprised that we ended our 45 minute ride at a beautiful white sand beach. I got abroad a catamaran and spent an afternoon with amazing people from different parts of the world enjoying good food, great drinks and great conversation. I jumped off a boat and into the sea. I watched the sunset as I traveled by boat back to mainland. I fell in love with a country that was once only a dream.

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My friends call me the world traveler and every time they do I laugh. I laugh and I thank God for the privilege that it has been to travel to new places, to fall in love with cultures and history, to meet amazing people and the photograph the sites that God lays before my eyes.

My adventures are not about passport stamps but the see the beauty of the world outside of my neighborhood and to get out of my comfort zone. With every opportunity to explore and to go on an adventure I truly thank God for the resources, the privilege and the opportunity to see these things come to fruition.

 

It’s just me enjoying the journey.

Welcome to NOLA

IMAG03965/6/15 I had the pleasure of traveling with a good friend of mine to New Orleans, LA. Though we were only in town for a few short days we made time to explore the city, take beautiful pictures and make lasting memories. I can honestly say that I fell in love with something new every day.

The 46th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was the main reason for our visit. A first for the both of us and ultimately  a wonderful experience and I hope to make it an annual trip. Thousands of people from all over the world gathered to hear good music, eat delicious food and enjoy the perfect weather for the weekend. The Festival was jam packed with talented artists and it was exactly what I needed to unwind and relax.

DSC_0643Let me just say New Orleans is FULL of character, colors and sounds! But to be completely honest being able to experience the city before the tourists awoke for another round of revelry was by far my favorite part of the trip. In the quiet of the city streets I found a beauty and a peace in New Orleans that I haven’t experienced in a while. We woke up one morning just to watch the sunrise over the Mississippi River and it was breathtaking. It reminded me that the darkness is only temporary and once it’s time has come the light will return. The darkness could be pain, hurt, feeling of loss or disappointment, anything that feels heavy on our hearts and ultimately hinders our ability to hope. That darkness comes to rob us of our joy, our light and our hope but I thank God that His light and love never fails.

DSC_0742I thank God for the ability to travel different parts of the world and to experience the beauty of His creation. I don’t take it for granted the privilege that it is to do this and I pray for more opportunities to see the world.
Recommendations and more information:

We travelled with CID Entertainment; our travel package included hotel accommodations at New Orleans Marriott, general admission to the jazz festival all weekend and transportation to the fairgrounds. Booking with CID was super convenient but also expensive and the next time we visit we will be booking our hotel and purchasing our tickets independently.

Food:
Gumbo Shop
Cafe Du Monde
Mother’s Restaurant
Deanie’s
Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar

Sightseeing:
Streetcar to the Garden District
French Quarter
Bywater area

Bienvenue a Kinshasa

9/14/15 The only way I can imagine describing my 8 days in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is by sharing pieces from my journal. Feel free to message me or post a comment if you’d like more details!

Friday: After a 16 hour flight experience with a 3 hour yoga session (layover) in Brussels we finally landed in Kinshasa! After thanking God for the safe journey…I cried. I cried because it struck me that I was finally home. Home as in the land of my ancestors who were carried off to Haiti from their motherland, Africa. I cried because there were so many distractions that could have come between me and this life changing experience…but God! I cried because I knew that this experience would forever leave me changed and though tearful I was excited that God was making room in my heart for Africa.

DSC_0035-2Let me start by saying that English is a foreign language here, the people in the DRC predominately speak French and Lingala. I am thankful for Joyce who translated for us throughout this trip. Fresh off the plane and it felt like home…when I speak of home…I am referring to the similarity to Haiti. Even though we landed at night 4 out of 5 of senses were immediately blessed…sight: seeing the taxis/buses/tap taps full of people traveling throughout the city; smell: inhaling the distinct scent of something burning (it’s probably not normal that I love this smell lol); touch: feeling the warmth in the air wrap its arms around me in a loving embrace; sound: the people talking and shouting, music blaring, and cars honking. Taste would be blessed upon our first stop for dinner at mom’s house. I’m pretty sure this meal started my love affair with Congolese food!

Saturday: I woke up at 630am to the light peeking through the curtain, with the sound of chickens and birds chirping in the background and the feeling like I am right where I need to be. Breakfast followed by devotions with the ladies I am on this missions with. Today and throughout the next 7 days our prayer is that God will reveal His purpose for us being on this mission trip; thousands of miles away from the comforts of home.

Our devotion for this morning reminds me that it is so easy to find different things to distract myself with instead of truly being in the moment. I am thankful for the chance to disconnect; to not have to worry about if I “missed” anything and for being at peace right where God has me. My focus is being here, capturing moments I never want to forget.

DSC_0088-2We visited an open market today to purchase cloth that will be used to create one of a kind pieces by a talented seamstress in the city. Think of Hay Market in Boston, which to many may be overwhelming: full of sights, sounds, smells and people. This market is similar in that people are buying and selling but what makes it different is its massive size and that at this market vendors are selling everything you can imagine, women are getting their hair braided and men are getting hair cuts. You name it and they are probably selling it. One can only imagine how overwhelming that experience was but even greater than my discomfort was the reminder that there is no room here for complaining. I was reminded that this is their lives, this is how they eat and support their families, this marketplace is their livelihood and any discomfort I feel will only be temporary.

Sunday: On this lovely morning we went to church with Joyce’s family. The service was both in French and Lingala and I am thankful that Joyce is able to translate the service for us. The message this morning was definitely spirit led and exactly what our team needed to hear as we started our journey. He started his message with Matthew 6:33 (NIV) “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. One of the many things that resonated with me in his message was all too often we seek everything else…the job, the money, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, the material comforts of this world…and not the kingdom of God. In seeking everything but the kingdom of God our faith in Him and the power of His word is diminished. How can we pray for His will to be done in our situations when we aren’t truly seeking Him but His hand?

DSC_0216-2After church we went to visit the seamstress, Manman Layki, who owns her own shop and it was full of other seamstresses busy at work on their sewing machines. Everyone was welcoming and loved on us from the moment we stepped in to the moment we left.

Monday: Our first day with the girls at Matumaini. We introduced ourselves and immediately went to work at preparing their book bags for their first day of school. After packing their bags, helping them get dressed and then walking them to school we were all exhausted. I’m pretty sure I experienced every possible emotion that morning but I would not have changed it for a thing. We worked as a team to accomplish what needed to be done; from packing book bags to safely walking with them to school. We made light of the changes and chaos understanding that we are here, in the DRC, for a purpose greater than ourselves…we are here to build relationships, to live missionally, and to love unconditionally.

DSC_0693After a long morning at Matuamaini we visited Fleuve Congo (Congo River) and could see the other Congo across the water. A truly breathtaking sight to see God’s creative hand at work. 

Tuesday: We spent the afternoon and evening with the girls at Matumaini. The moments that stood out for me were being able to read with some of them in English and then having them read to me in French. Connecting with the girls in spite of the language barrier was heart warming. Being able to love on them through a smile, a hug, a gentle and warm greeting in French meant everything to me. We also had the opportunity to have a mini English lesson which the girls loved. We helped them to get past their fear and saw great breakthrough in all of the girls! As a team we continued to work together and today reminded me that we, as a team, won’t always agree but we must ALWAYS show each other love and respect.

DSC_0568Wednesday: I led devotional this morning and shared Ecclesiastes 3:1 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”. This scripture has been on my mind for weeks before going to the DRC and I was thankful for the opportunity to share it with the ladies. Each of us are in a season in our lives that we may love or hate. I often find myself praying for a breakthrough or for the season to come to an end because my heart at times feels like it cannot take much more. I am constantly reminded of the fact that even though there is a time for everything, the length of a season or situation is based on God’s timing. This is honestly difficult for me at times but I am learning that in my lamenting on the season or situation I am losing sight of how God continues to move in spite of the situation. At the right time the season/situation will come to an end but how you glorify God through the situation/season means everything.

We spent the afternoon and evening with the girls and truly have experienced a great sense of peace and joy as we reflect the love and light of God. More reading, more English lessons, more singing, dancing and enjoying our time together. We can see the girls becoming more comfortable with us and forming bonds. Today they have begun to ask if we would come back to visit them again, referring to the future.

Thursday: Honestly it feels like the days are going by too fast! Today the girls are back from school and each of them looks exhausted. I can only imagine how difficult school can be for them; between the teachers and discipline/rules. We helped the girls gift wrap their notebooks, think of book covers for text books, except each of their notebooks needs to be covered or else their homework won’t be checked/graded.

We spent half the day at Matumaini and then went back to the seamstress to try on our clothes. We also learned more about Manman Layki and how her shop gives her the chance to empower others who are handicap to use their skills to make a living. Having a disability in the DRC makes earning money a huge issue and I am thankful for her heart and that she gives each of these women a chance at a better life.

DSC_0086-2We spent the evening enjoying appetizers, live music and great company at Grand Hotel Kinshasa. This was our first encounter with an upscale hotel and it is evident that there is a great disparity in wealth here. People are either really poor: living in neighborhoods with no paved roads, only source of income is from panhandling, electricity is not consistent and water is a luxury you cannot afford–or really wealthy: paved roads, luxurious homes, running water, no power outages, no lack, higher prices for food etc. I’m thankful for the experience of seeing the differences because they help me to appreciate the little that I have and to pray for equality abroad and at home. Our evening ended with laughter and God knows that my spirit is always in need of this rest and good company.

Friday: Half of our team stayed at Matumaini with the girls to go to the market to buy ingredients to make pondu and the other half went to the Academie des Beaux-Arts. The Academie is a school devoted to teaching the arts to the students, who then create beautiful and breathtaking pieces of art. I am thankful for the privilege that it is to see some of the students at work and was able to support their work by purchasing a few pieces. DSC_0210-2

Saturday: My last day in the DRC and it is truly bittersweet. How was Africa? It was amazing. It was humbling, eye opening and nothing like I feared. Congo welcomed us with open arms, ready to receive us, house us and love on us. We lacked for nothing and were only asked to give back through love. Loving on those who have been here for us throughout our stay as well as loving on the girls of Matumaini. I’m so thankful that my first experience in Africa was with this group of women serving these children of God. Words can’t describe the joy that my heart is full!

Praying for the girls before we left was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I cried as I prayed for God’s covering and favor over their lives. I cried as I hugged them goodbye. I cried as they poured out their love for me through letters written in both English and French. I cried not of sadness, as I know this is not our last goodbye, but because the last 8 days with them have truly been transforming and my love for them is real. I cried because this opportunity could not have happened if God had not willed it. I cried because God’s purpose for EACH of us is so real.

Matumaini I will never forget you. I will never forget these girls that you entrusted in our care. I will never forget these girls nomatter how far away we may be from each other. I will miss your love, not expressed simply through words but through your heart. Thank you for teaching me how to truly love with more than words but with my whole heart.