Make Room

Sitting in the sunshine on a misty beach one morning after a run, I am filming a video for my hubs. It’s been 6 weeks since we’ve seen one another face to face. Our plans for reuniting, fugacious.

I’m in my natural position for prayer...meaning I’m breathing, alive.
I’m on a daily quest for the Spirit to move in me regarding my Word for the Year; PURPOSE.
My walk, expectant. My eyes, upward. My heart, wide open.
I’ve had a great season in Costa Rica and also had the opportunity to fly up to Guatemala to spend some time. What an incredible country! It just drove home in me our love for culture and travel and people and an appreciation for this wide world of experience and chance and imaginings. I pray we never lose our sense of playfulness for adventuring and shenanigans. It’s one on a list of a million things that bonded us as a young 20-something couple, and as we age, I continually pray God’s favor on our health and an everlasting enthusiasm to traverse the globe.
But this morning, as I soak in a few moments of sunshine, I know it’s time to return to the sticky, hot of the South. Leaving one appreciation and devotion for another. One palm-treed, golden sand beach for the city, foodie delights, white sand beaches, and mountains to climb.
I talk this morning, post sent video, to my hubs and we get a ticket home for a couple of days later. Just enough time for those last-minute cocktails, dinners, hugs, and to get packed.
Is there anything better than a homecoming? Both here and there. Trading the friend-filled nights of delicious, home-cooked vegan food, wine, laughter and reunion with the open arms of my readied hubs as I traipse off the plane, suitcase, backpack, and surfboard bag slung over my shoulder.
Being alone for a month and a half (ok truly never alone but you get my drift) has allotted me some wonderful time to soak in the presence of God. NOT that I can’t do this anytime, but there is something about that set-apart, independent time that the Bible talks about. That night-silence, when it’s just you and your prayers and the whispers that you only hear in a placid mind until you fall asleep to a cicada-fueled symphony.
Day after day I felt the infusing of God on my heart as I prayed about PURPOSE.
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After returning, I was flung headlong into dog slobbers, Indian food, trail friendships, morning coffee brought to my bedside, and the bottomless love of a soul mate. Also back to our church family, which proved to be one of the best weeks to come back as we sat in worship with Kari Jobe and her husband Cody to sing a gorgeous song as a blessing over humanity. Joining that with a teaching on our “stories” and how the stories in our lives and what we believe affects us. We all have stories. I have saturated myself in this message over the past week. Considering the ways I have implemented the Word of God into my life and trying not to miss the bigger story of what God is telling me and teaching me. To not fill in the space that is in me, meant for him, with unnecessary baggage, so that His bigger story can be told in me and through me.
Over the years as G & I have made transitions in our lives together... BOY have there been plenty, we firstly go in seeking guidance through prayer and know that when there is tension or conflict to look at it through a lens of goodness. Our God lens. To get quiet and not allow doubt to cut off what God is speaking in our lives.
We BOTH found it remarkable that as we are sitting together in church last week , the title of the message was MAKE ROOM FOR THE NEW.
Oh Lord, how you know our hearts.
“Make room for the new even when you don’t see it coming.”
I love a good Spiritual nudge.
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Just over a year ago, we made a move we were both scratching our heads over BUT are now seeing the fruit from. A plan that worked out, just not quite in our plan-frame, is now syrup-dripping with goodness. The two of us at odds over a few things. He; feeling led in one direction on a major purchase, and me… n o t quite feeling right about it in my spirit. We continued to pray. We both felt the sparks of confusion and tension.
“Did you know,” our Pastor said, “that God can be giving you exactly what you want, but the tension it takes to produce growth is super uncomfortable?” “Things may come into your life in one season as a problem or opposition and are the same things God will use to create opportunities to know him better and make him known.”
Have we made room to receive the new things that God has sent us that we’ve asked for?
Sometimes, I have the feeling that I may NEVER see the purpose, or at least to the extent to how God uses me. I DO know that although it’s not right in front of my eyes, it doesn’t mean I haven’t had an impact. I get glimpses...but we don’t see the way God sees. I don’t always see how something I’ve said or have done has affected others good or BAD minutes or years down the road. I am human and know I am not immune from being a fool sometimes. Then….there are those fleeting moments when I get a small peek and see in tangible ways how I’m fulfilling His purpose. My daily prayer is always “allow me to be open for YOU to use me in any way you see fit and allow me to always turn others towards YOU.”
I know He uses our past experiences, good and bad. The pain I walked through decades ago, that has long-since healed, may just be the balm that someone else needs for their own hope to bloom.
I DO pray for discernment. Because some people are just out for a hurtful story to learn about you and not because they are interested in walking along side you in healing. If you’re out to judge a book by its cover….you’ve come to the wrong illustrator.
I have a confession. It will sound TERRIBLE...but when we knew God was giving us the opportunity to move to the southeast United States, and by saying, “giving us the opportunity,” I mean….uprooting our semi-laid plans, for His flawless recipe...my first thought was “but….that accent!” I know, I know! Hate me now...I’m just being authentic. So….as we are sitting in church together this past week, I am NOT kidding AT ALL...our pastor is talking about CHANGE, and he says “maybe you didn’t want to move to Charlotte...because you hate the southern accent.”
Ummm…. I sat real still and moved only my eyes around through the hundreds in the  congregation because I was SURE everyone was looking directly at me.
Boy, did I prejudge what is and isn’t good for me. What limited thinking.
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I am happy right now to be back with my love. I’ve realized that I’ve allowed some doubt to creep in and cut off mid-sentence, some things God might be speaking into our lives. Like our Pastor has said “When God is speaking don’t stop at the comma! If you stop at the comma you never see the..“but….”
Trust me, that tiny, diminutive, oftentimes inconsequential conjunction can connect you to a multitude of healing. Of fulfillment. Of joy! It can take you from, “I feel stuck” BUT “I know new possibilities are coming my way?” From, “I have guilt from my past” BUT “God is a God of forgiveness and second chances, never guilt. He has washed me clean of my past, only to use my experience to help someone else.” It can take you from a diagnosis BUT turn you towards His healing, learning to rely solely on Him and open an opportunity for family and friends to soothe you with their hospitality, love, and prayer. ONLY later to use you for a future person that may be feeling scared because of their diagnosis. It can take a past mistake that has haunted you BUT now that you have walked the path, you have a voice to share your knowledge with others. From a past prison, into a bright future. It can take you from a place of feeling like you lost something but knowing God just moved it.
Change is amazing. New circumstances grow you so much as a person. You learn so much about yourself, your resilience and your passions. As I look back on the changes we’ve had over the years, God’s goodness is all over them. So prominent. He used some incredible opportunities to sharpen us, to bond us, to realize what’s truly important and what’s just unnecessary. To forge long-lasting, true, friendships over many miles and many countries. To drop off the unneeded baggage. I know God often uses a change in ways that we don’t always feel good about; losses, finances, marriages, sickness...Do you use these as opportunities to turn to Him? Sometimes we are thrust into a position that ALL we can do is rely on Him, which IS exactly where we should be. So if there is change, or tension, be expectant for transformation. Feeling mournful over a situation, believe the miracle. Fear or failure, choose faith.
I pray that we always allow room in ourselves for the new.
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Hop, Skip and a Jump-Vietnam

Hop, skip and a jump…thats what these little Vietnamese flights feel like.  We hop onto these little planes, skip over some amazing jungles and landscapes and jump off in a whole new area of this incredible country.

After our amazing stay in Nha Trang, it was time to move on.  Once again, we got up, had some breakfast, drank our shockingly dark Vietnamese coffee and decided to book a flight north.  Just like that, we were landing in Da Nang.  We were excited about this part of our trip because for this I booked a Home Stay.  Essentially like a B & B in the States.  I thought it would give us a glimpse into family life in Vietnam.  We landed and immediately grabbed a cab heading to Hoi An out of Da Nang.  The plan was to go straight to Hoi An and then after a few days, head back into the city of Da Nang for a couple of days before flying back to HCMC.

Life is Good!  Da Nang, Vietnam

Life is Good! Da Nang, Vietnam I LOVE this picture of my hubby. He works hard and plays harder and deserved every bit of this nap!

We got to Hoi An, found our Home Stay and was immediately met by the sweetest young lady, who was the daughter of the owners.  She brought us inside, sat us down, served us fresh fruit and water, since it was so hot out.  She allowed us some time to just sit an relax, which we were so grateful for.  She told us all about the house, where we would be staying, about the beaches that we could ride cruiser bikes to, about restaurants, and sights to see in the city of Hoi An.  Nothing about this place, or the city of Hoi An is rushed.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is a small little town that in my mind is how traditional Vietnam would be.  Before traveling to any place, I always seem to get an idea, in my mind, of how it will be.  Sometimes it’s better and sometimes not…but thats how things go when you’re traveling by way of the wind.  Hoi An totally hit the nail on the head.  Sweet people, quaint little shops, great markets, gorgeous bridges, decadent restaurants, temples, tea houses and phenomenal beaches all wrapped up with an old-world Vietnam feel.

After our visit with our gracious hostess, we quickly unpacked and jumped onto a couple of cruiser bikes to set out to roam the city.  She gave us a little city map, and outlined some areas of interest, as well as a safe place to park our bikes to walk around the markets and shops.  This time, instead of a crazy scooter ride, it was a crazy cruiser bike ride.  Swerving in and out of people shopping, other bikes and the occasional car in a very “free for all” way.  No one is in a big rush, but everyone is heading somewhere with a purpose!

FullSizeRender copyFullSizeRender copy 2FullSizeRender copy 3We parked our bikes and strolled through the streets; taking in the buildings, temples and shops.  It seemed to be a city stuck in time, which was just fascinating.  We stopped to talk to shop owners, some spoke English pretty well, and others not at all.  Still lots of conversations were had.  Honestly some of the sweetest people.  They would say something (in Vietnamese) and I would say something (in English) and we would both double over laughing.  It was glorious!  The universal language of laughter and smiles.  

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A couple having wedding photos taken with the Japanese Covered Bridge in the background

That evening we made our way back down into town to go to the Night Market.  We had no idea what to expect, but when we rounded the corner, we could not believe what we were seeing.  An entire market area lit by thousands of lanterns.  We stood and stared, in awe of the beauty.  This ended up being a nighty ritual for us…making our way downtown after lazing on the beach all day, finding a new restaurant to eat at, have some tea, and stroll the market.  We listened to music, watched people dancing, and laughed with vendors.  We had massages nightly, and tried mini donuts from a food cart.  Which by the way, tasted nothing like American mini donuts.  We were enchanted by the women making the silk lanterns, one after another, street side, and seeing the men bring out their offerings each evening to sit outside their shops.  The air was humid and full of rich incense every evening.FullSizeRender copy 9

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

After our third day, as we sat having breakfast and talking to our sweet, hostess, she invited us to dinner with their family.  What a treat!  On our way home from the beach that day, as we rode our cruisers through the market, we stopped to pick a pineapple to bring to dinner as a thank you.  Dinner was at 6pm, and as usually we ate outside.  The whole family was there as well as another couple from Germany who were also staying at the house.

Success = Pineapple

Success = Pineapple

Sitting at a large table outside, we shared a Vietnamese meal prepared for us by the proprietors of our Home Stay.  They showed us how to fix our rolls, by layering vegetables, eggs and meat, and rolling them neatly into rice papers.  They served us a variety of dishes and a whole lot of beer!  I’m sure our laughter could be heard all the way down the street.  They taught us to say “Cheers” in Vietnamese, which is “Mot,

Dinner with our Home Stay hosts and friends from Germany.

Dinner with our Home Stay hosts and friends from Germany.

Hai, Ba, Yoh!”  (One, two, three, drink)  We laughed and ate and drank well into the evening, with the often-repeated sound of someone shouting, “mot, hai, ba, yoh!” …..and with that, we raised our glasses, and clinked!!  It was a truly special evening!!

The next day after beaching at the gorgeous beach of Cua Dai for the day, we had made a reservation for a cooking school.

Our amazing teacher and chef at cooking school in Hoi An

Our amazing teacher and chef at cooking school in Hoi An

We hopped on our cruisers and made our way into town.  Again, we met around a large table inside the back of a restaurant called Hai Cafe’ and started our class.  We were joined by people from Europe, a solo girl backpacker from Australia and a group of women on a girls trip from New Zealand.  What a group!  What a blast!  We each had a spot around the table as we watched and listened carefully to our chef/ instructor.  We learned how to make: Grilled Ocean Fish in

Hubs (or Strong Man as our instructor called him) at the head of the table mixing up herbs

Hubs (or Strong Man as our instructor called him) at the head of the table mixing up herbs

Banana Leaves (Ca Nuong La Chuoi) with a Lime Dipping Sauce.  Spring Rolls (Ram Chien) wish Fish Sauce, and Beef Salad (Goi Bo Hoi An)  We learned about Vietnamese spices, how to chop, grate and prepare all of this food with chopsticks.

Not too bad!!  Best roll in class!

Not too bad!! Best roll in class!

My proficiency went WAY up in the chopstick arena after this trip! We cooked and drank and chatted the night away with our new friends, and when we finished up, we took off to the night market and purchased lanterns and placemats, and chopsticks to bring home to recreate this night at a dinner party for our friends back home.  Including the recipes that our chef had typed out for us!

My cooking school creation.

My cooking school creation. Hoi An Beef Salad

We loved being in Hoi An so much that on our last day there, before heading back for a few days in Da Nang, we decided to stay.  That’s the great thing about NOT booking up a vacation with itineraries and hotel reservations; you can stay as long as you want.  We asked if there was room at the home stay, but were willing to move if we needed to.  We were able to stay with just a switch of rooms.  When we go back (and we will) we will definitely stay at Magnolia Homestay again.  *And thier Phở was TO DIE FOR every morning!  We ended up staying 3 extra days in Hoi An before catching a cab back to Da Nang.

Back in Da Nang on China Beach

Back in Da Nang on China Beach

Being in Da Nang after Hoi An was a jump from past to present.  Back to city life.  We had 2 nights to stay in Da Nang and stayed at the beautiful beach resort; Sandy Beach Resort on Non Nuoc Beach (China Beach) Everything about this place was first class!  We enjoyed our last couple of days on the South China sea and woke up on our last morning early, to catch the last sunrise over Non Nuoc and Da Nang before flying back to Ho Chi Minh City.

One of my favorite photos from our trip…on China Beach in Da Nang

One of my favorite photos from our trip…on China Beach in Da Nang

Our whole entire vacation was unimaginable!  We loved every piece of it and cannot wait to go back.

Sandy Beach Non Nuoc Beach Da Nang

Sandy Beach Non Nuoc Beach Da Nang

We spent our last night in the BIG city of a million lights, people and scooters before boarding a flight to Japan, and ultimately back to the Pacific Northwest.

Sunrise on China Beach in Da Nang, Vietnam

Sunrise on China Beach in Da Nang, Vietnam

Mot Hai Ba-Yoh Vietnam!

Dragon Bridge, Da Nang

Dragon Bridge, Da Nang

Cooking School

Cooking School

Pagoda on the Marble Mountains in Da Nang

Pagoda on the Marble Mountains in Da Nang

Cruisin' the streets of Hoi An and Cua Dai Beach

Cruisin’ the streets of Hoi An and Cua Dai Beach

Back In Time-Vietnam

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Daily life in Saigon

My husband and I have always been so interested in different cultures. When we travel, we make it a point to not always be the Americans staying with other Americans at the resorts. We love getting out, meeting people, seeing new sights, eating food that….we aren’t always sure what it is, but always enjoying every second of life and what it holds. We always figure…if we are going to another country, city or state…DO what they’re doing. I can eat tacos and drink a Mexican beer on my deck any old day, but not always have it fished for, home cooked from the new friends we met down in a fishing village while trying to perfect our Spanglish. We have gotten ourselves into the greatest of situations (dancing the Tango in Union Square with an all-Italian dance class, getting completely lost on a 4 hour dirt-road trip and having to drive an SUV through a river and pay off the policía to get to the airport on time in Costa Rica or being invited to a Vietnamese family dinner at a “new” friend’s house in Hoi An)) This planet is HUGE and we have a B I G list of places we are eager to see….this spin on the globe took us to Vietnam.

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Making some new friends

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Hubs may have found himself a new career

Boarding a plane for Asia you just know it’s going to be a long flight. In the weeks leading up to this trip I wondered how I would EVER keep myself busy for 20-hours. (Turns out a sleeping pill was all that it took to get me through Japan and onto Vietnam. Who knew?)  That one little pill also landed this 8-year Vegan into a situation of eating chicken without even knowing,  (and airline chicken to boot!!)  all while in a little state of what I like to call: Awake and Eating While Completely Asleep.  (That’s another story)

I am going to go back in time a little. When we returned from Vietnam I was in FULL-ON training mode for Ironman Boulder, so I never took the time to sit and write about our adventures. And there were plenty.

My husband and I had starting planning the trip about 2 months before we left. We had always wanted to visit South East Asia, and were torn on just which country to hit first. Now that we’ve been there (and plan on going back) we realize that once there, it is VERY easy to get from country to country via little airport hops. Had we known this going in, Vietnam wouldn’t have been our only stop. And because you need a Visa, along with a passport to enter VN, we would’ve bought a “multi-entry” visa instead of just single entry. *Note to self for the next trip.

Our flight took us from Spokane, WA to Seattle, to Tokyo, Japan and into Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We left here in the afternoon and arrived in HCM around midnight 2 days later from our time zone. We fell right into bed after checking into our hotel. We could not wait to wake up and start on this new adventure.

At the Bến Thành Market

At the Bến Thành Market

At the Bến Thành Market

At the Bến Thành Market

HCMC is a bustling mecca of business, shopping and tourism. It is a huge city with a population of 7.3 million people. First thing we noticed was the amount of scooters/Vespas on the roadways. Millions! And that is not an exaggeration. It is their main source of transportation and they are extremely skilled and proficient on these things. Lining the streets double, triple and quadruple in a lane. To us, it seemed that there was not much in the way of traffic laws….but somehow they seem to just go with the flow. We were only walking and we had a hard time. We loved seeing the women on the back riding “side saddle” to their drivers all while talking and texting on cell phones and the families carrying groceries with a dad, mom, toddler, baby and dog on one scooter. (this is a true story and we saw it often) Like I said; mad scooter-ing skills. We felt as if we were in a human game of Frogger. Best advice we got: “Once you step off the curb, keep walking”… The first time we did this, photo 5I was a ball of nervousness. I wanted to close my eyes as my husband held my hand and we crossed over many lanes of traffic in a bustling intersection in downtown HCMC. (Click here from some video I took) We did exactly what our friend told us however, and he was right….the scooters maneuver right around you. After a few hours of this it seemed second nature. We knew if we stopped suddenly that could cause an accident. They buzz right around you without any concern at all. Mad skills!! (Here’s the “Are we really crossing this street video?”)

Scooters and more scooters

Scooters and more scooters

Our first three days in Vietnam we spent in Ho Chi Minh, we shopped, we ate (A LOT) and we visited the Củ Chi Tunnels and a Cuo Dai temple (check out my video here from inside the Temple)

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Inside Củ Chi Tunnels

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Climbing down inside the Củ Chi Tunnels

The Củ Chi Tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnels are tiny and as we climbed through them I could only imagined what these soldiers endured. The have actually been made bigger for tourists but I was thankful to be a small woman while climbing through them underground. We loved hearing about the history that surrounded this area.

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Inside Cao Dai Temple

The Cao Dai Temple: Cao Dai (a.k.a. Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) is a syncretist Vietnamese religious movement with a strongly nationalist political character. Cao Dai draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism.

photo copy 2This was amazing to see. We visited during one of their prayer times and were able to go in to the balcony area to observe. We watched as they burned incense, chanted and spent time in worship. It was an incredible experience. We spent a lot of time here watching the rituals of this religion. Worshipers of Caodaiism come to the temple every 6-hours for this ceremony lasting 45-minutes around the clock.

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Cao Dai Temple

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War Museum

We also visited markets. The biggest one being Bến Thành Market. This place is ENORMOUS! We spent a lot of time walking through and seeing all of the interesting foods, candies, coffees, clothing, silks etc that people where selling and bartering with. I bought some delicious jasmine tea, lotus flower seeds, candy and some coffee. Even some Weasel Coffee.

  • The “Legend” has to do with stories about natives who drank a brew from washed coffee beans that had been partly digested (and pooped out) by small furry animals that don’t really have a counterpart in the Western world (a civet more than a “weasel”). The “real” civet coffee (called Kopi Luwak in Indonesia) is incredibly rich, mellow and chocolaty. This obviously low-volume, expensive coffee encouraged experiments by Trung Nguyen that were performed by a staff of European scientists who eventually found natural enzymes that duplicate this process and leaves the weasels (civets) to blissfully go their own way.
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War Museum

We met some of the friendliest people who were always so interested in having a conversation with us. They try to speak English and many are very good, thankfully, because my Vietnamese needs some work. They would try to teach me, and would laugh and laugh as the words just didn’t form in my mouth and come out correctly. I had fun trying however and they loved trying to teach me. A very universal language laughter is….

 photo 2 copyWe spent a lot of time wandering the city and also visited the War Museum.  We loved the three days we spent in Ho Chi Minh City and cannot wait to go back. It’s a place seeped in deep history and culture.

At the War Museum learning about "tiger cages" where they held prisoners

At the War Museum learning about “tiger cages” where they held prisoners

After three days we boarded a plane for our next destination….Nha Trang, Vietnam on the South China Sea..

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This was one of my favorite pictures. Look closely….

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Did you see her? Deep in prayer…

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Loved watching her pray and give an offering