And if not, He is still good.
 
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It seems the whole world has been hurting lately. The can’t-catch-your-breath kind of hurting. The crying-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of hurting. The haunting, always-right-around-the-corner kind of hurting that packs a punch. And I want so badly to pack Hurt a bag and bid him farewell at the bus stop with a “please never come back” closing remark. I want us all to be able to walk away from the pain and heartache once and for all.

But life doesn’t work like that. We’re all vulnerable to pain. We’re all bound to hurt. We’re all fighting to make it through the darkness. None of this is new; it’s as old as Adam and Eve and the eating of the forbidden fruit itself. (This sounds pretty bleak if we stop here.)

Do you know how we’re going to make it through the valleys of life, really and truly? Prepare your Sunday School answers, friends. No matter how elementary or cliché it may sound, God is the only way. He is the One who makes beauty from our ashes (Isaiah 61). The One who turns our curses into our blessings (Nehemiah 13). The One who meets us right smack-dab in the middle of the fire (Daniel 3).

I recently read the story in Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are a few of Daniel’s friends who refuse to follow the king’s commands to worship a golden image because they are wholeheartedly devoted to the King of kings. The ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, becomes infuriated because of their insubordination and orders his men to throw the three rebels into the fiery furnace. (If you are picturing a giant chocolate bunny as the golden image too, then I’m so glad we can share the strange results of a Veggie Tales childhood.)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond to the king’s morbid sentencing by telling him where their loyalties lie,

“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Daniel’s friends have that can’t-keep-us-down kind of faith. They say, “Go ahead and throw us in the fire. Our God will rescue us. But even if He doesn’t, even if we die in the flames, God is still good and we will worship Him alone.”

Now is about the time in the story where we expect God to show up and keep his followers from getting tossed into the furnace. But you know what happens instead? God allows them to fall into the fire.

Was the Lord too busy or too nonchalant about the situation? Nope. It turns out that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were never alone in the fire…When the king shifts his gaze by looking into the furnace, he sees four men instead of three. God sends an angel for His servants’ protection and deliverance in their moment of distress. Daniel’s posse emerges from the fire without a scratch, much to the astonishment of the onlookers. At the end of the story, God gets the glory.

A couple of chapters over, we see the Lord’s faithfulness once more in the midst of a trial. Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den as a death sentence for worshipping his heavenly Father. But God shows up with His almighty power in that dark place. He closes the mouths of the lion and they find Daniel the next morning, alive and well, still trusting and worshiping the Lord. In what would have been a bleak day, God prevents Daniel’s impending death and He is rightly glorified all over again.

Here’s the subtle framework that I can’t stop noticing: Daniel and his friends do not escape their trials. They don’t find themselves miraculously prevented from entering the lion’s den or the fiery furnace. But what makes all the difference is that they were never alone in their times of trouble, and neither are we.

I think that’s pretty reassuring as we walk through the valleys of life. We aren’t in those seasons of suffering by mistake. God isn’t watching us in our moments of pain and thinking, “Well, I didn’t see this coming.”
He sees us in our hurting.
He loves us in our hurting.
He never leaves us in our hurting.

God is walking right beside us, ready to comfort our aching hearts and wrap up our wounds as only He can. He will bring beauty from our lives, no matter how desperate or disappointing our situations may look at the moment.

And you might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but how do we really do this?” How do we cling to Jesus when it feels like the ground is shaking beneath our feet? How can we feel the presence of God when we feel so utterly alone?

I’d love to think there is a one-size-fits-all prayer that we can pray and move on with our day. It would be far easier if there was a “read this once” Bible verse and all of our problems grew smaller and smaller, like some sort of Alice in Wonderland cookie effect. But I haven’t found that to be true in my life. Instead, I’ve found that it involves the continual acts of kneeling before the throne, digging into the Word, talking with God, and laying down masks in the presence of Gospel-centered community.

Chances are these spiritual practices won’t make our trials go away. But they will shift our focus from our earthly troubles to our beautiful Maker. And when we shift our gazes, we might just see the fourth figure in the fire. We might just trust that God will rescue us from our deepest valleys and believe that even if we are sitting in the hurt for (what feels like) too long, He is still good. And we are never alone.

 
Alex Fly
6 Days in Greece
 
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GREECE HIGHLIGHTS

What we did: Athens—Lycabettus Hill, Temple of Zeus, Acropolis, Aeropagus (Mars Hill), Ancient Agora, Panathenaic Stadium, The Plaka

Santorini—explore Fira & Oia, hike from Fira to Oia, Byzantine Castle Ruins, sunset cruise with Sunset Oia

Where we ate: Athens—Atitamos Mezedopoleio, Platanos Taverna

Santorini—Pito Gyros (x3), Lolita’s Gelato, Sunsets Restaurant (need reservation- ask for a table on the balcony for sunset), Apsithia, Patisserie Medevio (dessert)

Where we stayed: Athens—Hilton Athens

Santorini—Lava Cave Suite in Oia (it included a daily maid service, breakfast, and our magical jacuzzi- we also got a discounted rate since it was the off season)

Foods to try: moussaka, gyros (be sure to get one with fries in it!), souvlaki, baked feta, baklava, saganaki

Things of note: We only spent about 24 hours in Athens, and it was enough time for us to explore the main historical sites… we downloaded the Beat app on my phone which was also really helpful to get around the city quickly (it’s what they use for taxis instead of Uber).

We went in the middle of May… Santorini was VERY crowded during the day when the cruise ships were there— I can’t imagine going in peak season when there would be double the cruise ships (yikes). You can check the cruise ship schedule online in advance to find out how busy it will be, but I definitely would try to avoid the crowds as much as your schedule allows! It also got chilly at night on the island, so make sure to have a sweater or jacket at dinnertime.


day one: athens

After loving our time in Amsterdam, we landed in Athens in the late afternoon and took a taxi straight to our hotel to drop off our bags before heading to our first Greek restaurant: Atitamos Mezedopoleio. We were definitely spoiled with this first meal because every bit of it was absolutely delicious. The waiter insisted on bringing us a sample of their dessert despite our refusal, and I now understand why— it is in the top 3 desserts I’ve ever tasted (we tried to ask the name of it but didn’t catch it; the dessert was similar to baklava…only way better).

With the sun setting quickly, we grabbed another cab up to Lycabettus Hill and hurried to the top to catch the last glimpses of the beautiful sunset over Athens while taking in the vastness of the historic city.


day two: athens/Santorini

The next morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel and headed to our first stop of the day: the Temple of Zeus. Thanks to the advice of some friends, we took advantage of the nonexistent ticket line at the Temple of Zeus to go ahead and buy the historical sites package so that we didn’t have to wait in the much longer lines at the Acropolis. (I think the tickets were around 30 Euro each, but the ticket included all of the sites we visited except the Panathenaic Stadium).

From there, we walked past Hadrian’s Arch to the Acropolis and started making our way to the top, stopping every so often to read about the ruins we passed along the path. The crowds grew as we got closer to the top, especially once we reached the Temple of Nike (note: there are bathrooms at the top if you need them). We tried to take in all of the sights at the Acropolis, then we walked back down the hill to Mars Hill/Aeropagus. This was probably our favorite place in Athens, as we marveled at the spot Paul preached these words written so long ago about the same God we serve today:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us...
— Acts 17:24-27

After taking our time at Mars Hill, we walked through the Plaka and stopped for lunch at Platanos Taverna and then grabbed gelato on our way to the Olympic Stadium. We did have to pay a small entrance fee at the stadium, but walking through the site was a pretty neat experience (they also hand out audio guides which were helpful in understanding the Olympic history there). We wrapped up our day of soaking in history and walked back to our hotel to grab our bags before taking a taxi to the airport, giddy about our upcoming time on the island of Santorini!

Our driver was waiting for us as soon as we landed at the (very small) Santorini airport (we opted for the transportation service that our airbnb provided as an option). The roads were pretty curvy from the airport to Oia, but we were busy taking in the beautiful island and cute little houses scattered across the landscape. After being dropped off at the edge of Oia, a porter was ready to carry our luggage through the crowded main street and down the many steps to our airbnb (Bless him). We were immediately blown away by the beauty of Oia and couldn’t believe we got to stay in a little slice of heaven for the next few days. After settling into our place, we walked over to Pito Gyros (for what would be our first of three meals there) and quickly ate our delicious gyros on our walk back to our airbnb to settle in for the night.


day three: exploring oia & fira

We slept in our first morning in Oia, already enjoying the slower pace of the island and opened up the front door to our first breakfast delivery (included with our airbnb). We ate on our little balcony while sipping the most delicious fresh orange juice I’ve ever tasted, then got ready for the full day ahead. We wandered around our neighborhood & up by the blue domed churches for some pretty views of Oia, grabbed gelato at Lolita’s (the first of many times) and then walked to the bus stop.

We took the public bus to Fira, where my little sister (Isabelle) was spending her last day on the island with a college leadership program. We walked to Isabelle’s hotel from the bus stop and then she led the way through Fira to a lunch spot (with more amazing views). After lunch, we all wandered through the charming little town and down random alleys, soaking in the beautiful scenery and snapping photos before stopping for (more) gelato and coffee. Shortly after, we said goodbye to my sister (she was leaving for Italy the next day) and hopped on the bus back to Oia.

Taking a minute to rest our feet at our airbnb, we then headed over to Sunsets Restaurant for our dinner reservation that night. (Actually, we walked into the wrong restaurant two different times before finally finding the right one.) But all of the confusion was so worth it, because that night we ate our very best meal of the trip. Kevin ordered the moussaka and I got the chicken (which was basically covered in queso)…both meals were out of this world, and the view of the sunset was perfect (not to mention, you don’t have to fight the crowds below). It was the perfect ending to our first full day in Santorini!


day four: sunset cruise

The next day we repeated more of the same morning routine, but we then had a sunset cruise booked with Sunset Oia (we booked the Platinum Cruise). What we didn’t realize until closer to time was that it was basically an all-day adventure, because we were the first pickup stop at 11 AM. Since the cruise didn’t actually start until 4 PM, we knew we would be hungry so we went ahead and grabbed an early lunch at Pito Gyros (It’s obviously disgusting and we hated the food there… said no one). After a quick lunch, we walked to our pickup spot and proceeded to ride the bus around the whole island until we picked up the rest of the passengers. They dropped us off at Vlychada port where we waited a bit before finally getting on our boat and we were able to enjoy the rest of the day on the Aegean Sea.

It was really beautiful to see Santorini from the water; we made several stops and Kevin jumped in at the hot springs, but the water was pretty cold and I was already chilly on the boat, so I opted out. At one of the last stops, we ate a delicious meal on the boat and chatted with our fellow passengers about soccer and weddings and the best Chicago burgers. After dinner, we made our way down the coast before finding our boat’s spot in Ammoudi Bay to watch the best show of the night: the Santorini sunset. It was a “pinch me & make sure I’m not dreaming” kind of night.


day five: hiking from Fira to Oia

Our last full day in Santorini, we soaked in another slow morning with our unreal caldera views, ate lunch once again at (you guessed it) Pito Gyros, and took the bus to Fira. Once in Fira, we started our 6.5+ mile hike back to Oia!

The views along the path were INCREDIBLE and the hike was probably the highlight of the trip for me (despite all of the sweat and blisters). We also made some friends along the way (shoutout to Alie & Pat!) and ended up walking the whole way with them, trading pictures and travel stories along the way. We got lost once due to construction, but the path was otherwise easy to follow. Along the way, we marveled at the beautiful views, commented on the crazy-nice luxury suites we passed, and stopped for lots of water breaks. We parted ways with our Colorado friends while we stopped for coffee on the outskirts of Oia and then headed back to our airbnb to rest our feet and relax in the jacuzzi. (On the way back to our airbnb, we may have also grabbed ice cream and cake at Patisserie Medevio to replenish some of our calories.)

Note: If you are planning on doing the hike, I would definitely pack snacks and water bottles (We used this bag and brought along my Swell and a disposable water bottle). There are a few places to stop along the way, but there aren’t many chances. (This guide is clutch if you decide to do the hike.)

After a brief rest, we dined slowly at Apsithia and soaked in more gorgeous views before we headed back to the airbnb while taking in glimpses of our last Santorini sunset of the trip.


Day 6: Greece to Amsterdam

We enjoyed our last Santorini breakfast, packed up our bags, and walked over to the Byzantine Castle ruins on our final morning in Greece. On the way, we wandered by Atlantis Books (unfortunately it was closed but even the outside was adorable!) and made mental notes to come back there on the next trip. After memorizing the beautiful views from the castle, it was time to check out of our airbnb and head to the airport…we had a long day of travel ahead of us back to Amsterdam so we could catch out flight back home the next day :(

Note: The Santorini airport is very small— they only let you enter an hour before your flight, but there is a place to get food right outside of the airport. If we had known that we would be fighting for seats/standing once we got inside, we probably would’ve stayed outside a lot longer than we did.

We absolutely loved our time in Santorini…the views, the people, and the food all made for an unforgettable experience, and it definitely made the top 3 places I’ve ever visited!

 
4 Days in Amsterdam
 
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AMSTERDAM HIGHLIGHTS

What we did: Bloemenmarkt, Canal Tour (we used Flagship & loved it), Anne Frank House, Beginjhof, Keukenhof Gardens & tulip fields (we also rented bikes there), Dutch Countryside & Windmill Tour, Vondel Park, Stroll along canals & Jordaan neighborhood

Where we ate: Blue Amsterdam, Foodhallen, The Pancake Bakery, Cafe Loetje, Salsa Shop, Van Wonderen Stroopwafels, Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx

Where we stayed: our airbnb is no longer active, but we stayed on one of the main canals about 15 minutes (walk) from Amsterdam Centraal Station. We actually really liked the location & the pretty canal views, but looking back— I think it would’ve been better to stay closer to Centraal to cut down on the amount of walking/Ubers.

Foods to try: stroopwafel, patat fries, bitterballen, poffertjes

Things of note: (On biking) There are a crazy amount of bicycles in Amsterdam and they take their biking rules very seriously. Tourists must take extra care in making sure they are not walking in a bicycle lane (which will usually be right beside the walking path). Unless you’re really familiar with where you’re going, I wouldn’t recommend biking around the city (at least it would’ve stressed me out). However, we loved renting bikes further out from Amsterdam where the bike lanes were not as crowded :)

(On the party scene): While most are familiar with Amsterdam’s infamous reputation, we really didn’t find it to be an issue. We definitely noticed that it was much more crowded on the weekends with celebratory groups of friends heading to the “coffee shops” (aka where it’s legal to smoke marijuana). It’s supposed to be illegal to smoke in public, but many people still did. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t list Amsterdam’s long-standing reputation as a reason not to visit; the city is so much more than the red light district & the coffee shops!

 
 

day one: bloemenmarkt & canal tour

We landed in Amsterdam around lunchtime on Saturday and took the train straight into the city. We couldn’t check in our Airbnb for a few hours, so we dropped off our bags in the storage lockers inside of Amsterdam Centraal Station, which ended up working out perfectly.

With lighter loads, we walked straight to lunch at Blue Amsterdam. We quickly learned that Amsterdam restaurants are a bit pricier than we were used to, but the food was yummy and it had cool views of the city, so we happily downed our food and espressos before heading to Bloemenmarkt.

The cutest flower market, Bloemenmarkt lines the canal with lots of vendors and beautifully decorated booths. We (Okay, I ) loved walking through the booths of the endless plants and florals while enjoying the wonderful weather. The best booth is on the corner with bouquets hanging from every inch of the ceiling. It was magical!

After Bloemenmarkt, we walked over to Beginjhof, which has the prettiest courtyard surrounded by historic buildings and two churches. We circled around the houses for a bit and then left to meet our airbnb host to grab keys to our apartment. Our perfectly-Dutch building was covered in ivy and flowers and sat right on the canal, so we soaked in the scenes of our home for the next few days before mustering up energy to continue exploring the city.

We dodged bikers and wandered through the Jordaan neighborhood while snapping photos of the crooked-but-quaint rows of houses. We walked around the corner of the Anne Frank Museum to wait for a canal tour with Flagship. Since we didn’t know the timeline of our schedule for that day, we didn’t buy tickets ahead of time, but had no trouble catching a boat for the hour-long tour. While there are many boat tours near Centraal Station, we opted for an open-air cruise with a live guide and a smaller group. We loved our time on the boat ride— our guide was great and we really enjoyed learning more details about Amsterdam.

After the tour, we dropped off our luggage at the apartment and walked around the corner to eat dinner at Salsa Shop (it’s a chain, but it was a 1 minute walk from our airbnb & ended up being very similar to Chipotle so we’ll call it a win). Exhausted but already in love with Amsterdam, we settled in for the night so we would be ready to explore again the next day.


day two: Anne Frank House & Keukenhof

Our first full day in Amsterdam, we walked through the (darling) Jordaan neighborhood once again to eat breakfast at The Pancake Bakery. This was one of our favorite meals of the trip, because we really love breakfast food and this cute restaurant offered the biggest pancakes & omelettes I’ve ever seen. It was also really convenient to eat there because we had tickets to the Anne Frank House that morning, which was right down the street.

The Anne Frank Museum was one of our favorite (although difficult at times) experiences and is a must-see if you’re ever in Amsterdam (Important note: you must buy tickets 2 months in advance and enter at your ticket timeframe since they only allow a limited number of visitors per day). They don’t allow photos inside the house or museum, but I didn’t mind because I was too busy taking in all of the facts and history in those holy little rooms. We walked the narrow, steep staircases and marveled at all of the history and horrors that occurred in those spaces.

I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.
— Anne Frank

We wrapped up our time at the museum, and then walked back to Centraal Station to catch a train to Keukenhof, a beautiful park full of tulips (and about an hour outside of Amsterdam). Originally we thought we would miss out on the tulips completely since we visited in late May, but we (excitedly) managed to grab tickets on the last day the park was open.

Even though some of the flowers were no longer in bloom, it was crazy-pretty with the rows of bright florals and idyllic scenery. The park is huge, with lots of places to stop and eat or grab coffee (we did both). We spent a couple of hours walking along the bloom-filled paths and then rented a bike from the little parking lot stand. Typically, visitors rent the bikes to explore the surrounding tulip fields. But since the bulb fields were no longer in bloom, we just biked around with no agenda and enjoyed the more laidback bike paths (compared to the crazy busy ones in Amsterdam).

Note: If seeing all of the tulip fields in bloom is high on your priority list, the locals recommended visiting in April!

As it was nearing dinner time, we wrapped up our bike rides and grabbed an Uber back into the city. We ate dinner at Foodhallen, which was a really cool spot with delicious food stands (the sweet potato nachos I ate were unreal, y’all). We also bought some bitterballen from one of the vendors, which were so good and a must-try when in Holland. We saved a bit of room for dessert, so we navigated our way over to Van Wonderen Stroopwafels to try another famous Dutch food: the stroopwafel! We waited our turn and then walked back to our airbnb while trading bites of the most delicious warm, salted caramel dessert. I am actually still dreaming about it.


day three: Dutch countryside & windmill tour

We had heard good things about the tour of the Dutch countryside, and I am so glad we ended up going! Even if you don’t do a bus tour, I highly recommend going to some of the smaller historic villages outside of Amsterdam; they were so traditional and quaint and lovely.

We didn’t buy tickets for the tour until a few days before, so we were stuck with the earlier time slot, but we grabbed a coffee and took an Uber to Amsterdam Centraal station to join the rest of our tour group. After a few songs on the keyboard and a few more witty remarks, our bus driver and tour guide woke us all up and got us excited for the day ahead.

Our first stop was Zaanse Schans to see the (gorgeous) windmills. We were able to go inside of one of the windmills there and learn about how they worked, then snapped photos and climbed to the top for a pretty view of the other windmills along the water.

Next, we drove a bit more to the little fishing village of Volendam. We listened to a presentation on how Dutch cheese is made, and then we were able to taste lots of different types. It was the perfect appetizer, as we quickly headed to a lunch spot down the street toward the docks. With full bellies after our delicious & much-needed lunch, we walked down the dock to our boat that took us over to Marken.

Once off the relaxing boat ride, we walked through the charming streets of Marken while I admired the cutest houses and ended up at our last stop, where we learned the traditional practice of wooden clog making! It was a really cool and impressive experience; after the demonstration, we laughed as we tried on some of the wooden clogs. Although we left empty-handed (our feet were clearly not cut out for the wooden clog lifestyle), we headed back to Amsterdam full of unforgettable experiences after our (6 hour) trip through the Dutch countryside.

Once back in Amsterdam, we walked to Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx to order the famous fries-in-a-cone. Chatting and eating yummy fries, we continued walking through the gardens & the tunnel at the Rijksmuseum (it was near closing time, so we unfortunately never made it inside the museum as we had opted to explore the countryside that day instead). From there, we headed down the street and entered the pretty gates of Vondel Park. With miles of green space, we soaked in the pretty scenery of the park: locals lounging by the lake, a family of ducks following each other around the water, bikers heading home from work, and kids heading to soccer practice.

The brief rest in Vondel Park gave us the energy we needed to walk to dinner at Cafe Loetje (one of our Uber drivers recommended this place- it was good & affordable for a steakhouse). We took our time dining and people watching from the restaurant patio before we headed back to the airbnb, exhausted after our day full of adventures.


day four: amsterdam to athens

We slept in Tuesday morning, taking our morning slowly with no particular agenda. We packed our bags and sipped coffee while snapping a few last photos of the canals, then grabbed an Uber to the airport because our next stop was GREECE!

 
Travel Notes
 

Before diving into our 10-day adventure through the Netherlands and Greece, I thought I would type up a quick post to answer some recurring travel questions we’ve been getting (If you have additional questions, feel free to leave them in a comment below!)

Even after checking off countries #17 & #18 with this trip, I would still say I have a lot to learn about traveling— but I’ll do my best to address these few FAQs (*insert shoulder shrug here*).

Also, be sure to read this post full of disclaimers.


How do you decide where to go/stay in each city?

On where to go*: Honestly, our methods of deciding which countries & cities to travel to has looked different every time. Our first step is usually to decide what time of year works for our schedule and then go from there depending on weather, events, etc.

When we travel with friends, we make the decisions together and allow everyone to weigh in with their choices. This past time, Kevin and I knew we wanted to go to Greece (shoutout to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for opening most teenage-girls’ eyes to the beautiful Santorini), and we had also heard really awesome things about Amsterdam (plus it was super affordable to fly into)… so we ended up settling on those 2 places.

*If it’s your first time traveling abroad and scratching your head about where to go, I suggest taking a 7-10 day trip to London & Ireland. If you’re like me, you’ll probably fall in love with both places & keep going back :)

On where to stay: Once we have the dates, cities, and flights nailed down, we start the search for accommodations. If applicable, we get advice on the best areas to stay in the city from friends who have traveled there before so that we’re able to narrow the search down a bit. And then we just start clicking through Airbnb listings! (We apply the price limit filters and make sure we have the “entire house” box checked). While we usually opt for airbnbs over hotels to save money & stay in cool areas, we do sometimes stay in a hotel if we will just be in the city for 1 night or when we have points to cover the stay.

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Do you plan each detail ahead of time?

Yes and no. I type up day-by-day itineraries (which include our flight & accommodation details along with any important numbers). For each city, I include a list of restaurant options & foods to try… and each day has a list of activities, but sometimes we scrap the day’s itinerary and just wing it! We never want to waste time googling places when we are soaking in the scenery, but we also don’t want to discount the tried-and-true practice of wandering into a cafe while exploring.

Favorite resources for creating a travel itinerary?

Obviously it helps to ask friends & family who have visited the country before— they are definitely the best resource. After that, I love looking through the locations tag on Instagram to find cool spots and searching on Pinterest for travel tips/blogs (Two of my go-to travel blogs are Find Us Lost and Lauren Wells).

As for traveling between cities, it pays off to do your research ahead of time to find out about train/ferry schedules, car rental options, etc.

What camera do you travel with?

For our London, Ireland & Rome trip, I used a Canon Rebel T1i with a Tamron 28-75mm lens. Before our Spain & Portugal trip, I had upgraded to a Canon 6D and used a 50mm lens. For Amsterdam & Greece, I used the same but also brought along my Sigma 35 mm lens. I also use my iPhone a ton, of course.

Best items you always pack?

Apart from weather-appropriate clothes/jackets/shoes, my go-to list is usually something like this:

  • Luggage/Bags: Samsonite Carry-On Suitcase (it’s not the cutest but it’s super practical with lots of pockets & plenty of storage for a carry-on. This one is not identical mine but very similar), Backpack (I love this one), which is big enough to fit my ONA camera bag in for flights. Kevin always packs this Gonex backpack; it is a game changer for traveling (It packs up super small)— we use it basically every day of the trip!

  • Swell Water Bottle (or any water bottle with a no-leak lid)

  • Blanket scarf (for colder weather trips) or Turkish towel (for warmer weather trips)- these can double as a blanket when I inevitably get cold in airports/planes

  • Tech Organizer- I’ve had mine for about 5 years now, so I don’t think they make the one I have anymore but this one is pretty similar & by the same company

  • Extras: Travel-size wrinkle release spray, copies of passports, compression socks (for 8+ hour plane rides), Dr. Scholl’s inserts (life.saver.)

What else would you add to the list? Any other travel essentials or tips you would recommend? Add those below or shoot me a message!

 
When the World Feels Too Dark
 
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Do you know how your eyes adjust to the darkness after you’ve been in the dark for a while? And then, when someone else comes from a brightly-lit room into the darkness, the person can only see the pitch black around him and maybe a few random shapes. But you can still see everything because your eyes have already adjusted. 

So you guide him with your voice. You take him by the hand around the dresser, help him around the lamp, tell him to step over the shoe. You become his eyes for a moment... until he adjusts to the darkness too. 

And to me, this is a beautiful picture of walking with God in a community through the hard seasons. 

Because when you first get the diagnosis or the phone call or the realization of the broken relationship, you can’t make sense of anything. You panic and question and try to blindly trudge your way forward with each step, afraid and unsure. 

But then you hear a voice who says, “I’ve been there, too. Walk toward me.” You are seemingly out of options, at the end of your rope. So you follow the voice. With time, your eyes adjust to your surroundings and you no longer feel so helpless. Your surroundings are pretty bad, yeah, but you can see parts of the bigger picture now. You can see glimpses of how this might even be good. 

Then you notice someone else enter the darkness, lost and confused and broken, just as you were when you arrived in this place. So you speak encouragement and guidance because you know how badly you needed the person who guided you not that long ago. And so we imitate the Truth-teller; we say, “I know how hard this is for you. I know the fear you have. But I see you. And I am going to stay right here to help you take the next step and then the next, no matter how long it takes.”

This is what it looks like to live out Gospel-centered community. We allow the person ahead of us to show us the map. We give away grace. We stay when it would be easier to leave. We become a listener, an encourager, a safe place to land in a world full of chaos. We lean over to our beggar-neighbor and tell them where to find the bread. We were never meant to save anyone, but we can remind one another who does save. 

So when the pain is so very real and the world feels entirely too dark, let’s keep reminding one another, “This isn’t all there is. The darkness won’t last forever. There is light coming, babe. There is light coming. And you won’t be alone, not even for a moment.”

 …

Some Hearts

Some hearts really know how to belly laugh

Even if it’s not a good punch line

 

Some hearts live in a confetti world

Where dreaming feels better and safe

 

Some hearts embrace those gloomy, rainy days

Even though they’d rather have sunshine

they’re learning how to wait

 

Some hearts have a lot of practice in breaking

or in walking away

They are learning that healing takes time

And God’s timing is never too late

 

In all of the hearts

In every imaginable place

I just hope you know

Your heart is not beating by mistake

And your messy, complicated, beautiful life?

It is not a waste

 

God loves you fiercely, my dear

So I’ll say this louder

For the people in the back:

You matter here.

 
Alex Fly
A Beloved Fixer Upper
 

If my soul were a home, it would be a little brick cottage. There would be a great big welcome mat, and you could see footprints where it had been trampled a few times. You would have to wiggle the door handle, but in time it would open; it was never locked in the first place.

There would be a cabinet of chipped china, but you would learn to admire the broken pieces because the stories behind them were always worth hearing again. Everything would be a little messy, with books all over the floor and half-filled cups of coffee in every room, but you could tell that the owner liked it that way.

Words would be drawn on the walls in crayons and paint, and you’d recognize that the century-old passages were integral to the entire structure. If you tried to erase them, parts of the ceiling would start to fall and disperse.

The hallways would have “Do Not Enter” signs scattered all over the floors— like they had been removed from the doorways grudgingly but necessarily. Almost all of the doors to the rooms would be open so that you could see the light spilling into your path. You could see that some rooms were brighter than others, but you’d notice the light everywhere—like Someone Else was footing the power bill.

Eventually you would wander into the kitchen, but you’d quickly realize it was under construction. There would be cabinets off the walls; it would be missing an oven and have debris all over the countertops. You would notice the Carpenter in there and ask what’s going on. He might smile at you and say, “Don’t you just love this house?” You’d probably look at Him confusedly because it seems a little chaotic, but He would keep talking, “Just wait—this room is going to be good. It might even turn out to be the very best part.”