The exotic journey of the heart

These first golden weeks of the new year always uplift my spirit. I hope they’ve done the same for you. There’s nothing quite like the promise of a new year to tune into dreams and passions.

It’s been over a year and a half since I sold most of my stuff, stored the rest and went out into the world to discover the Lord’s will for my life. And I have a decision to make. End my walk in the world, or keep going?

This is one of the most unique and intimate moments in all of my travels.

It happened early one morning in September on the day I was going to return to São Paulo. So there was a specialness about it. A knowing. This was my last time to feel the energy of the cataratas (waterfalls). Oddly, I got the feeling that this wouldn’t be my last visit.

When I stepped out for my early morning walk to the cataratas, I had no idea I’d be the only one on the path.

The park wouldn’t be open to the public for another hour. I was fortunate enough to be staying at a hotel within the park, just across the street from the waterfalls. This granted hotel guests special access. Access I didn’t take advantage of until the last day. Still, there was no other hotel guest around in this moment and that surprised me.

 

Dad went home to be with the Lord a few months before, and since that time I’d felt God with me more closely than ever. This was one of those moments. The hotel would be one of the first places I’d work remotely in order to conduct and write an interview for a new online magazine. Iguaçu Falls blessed me in so many ways.

I walked deep into the gorge and took a minute to survey the stunning view of the largest waterfall system in the world––so large it spans the watery borders of Brazil and Argentina. A happy accident led me there––my friend planned the trip. A total surprise.

When I arrived at Iguaçu, I recognized the falls from a photo Dad had taken and mounted on his study wall most of my life. I hadn’t planed to see this wonder. God did.

I remembered the eulogy I gave at Dad’s memorial service about how Dad chased waterfalls all over the world as a hydroelectric engineer. Harnessing their power. Speaking the international language of energy.

And in this, the last moments of saying goodbye to the waterfall, a massive rainbow arched over the entire sight. 

“Hi, Dad,” I said, hitting my knees after snapping the photo, in the shadow of such beauty.

The Lord whispered, “This is just the beginning.”

In the hundreds of people whose lives I’ve been blessed to be a part of this year, I have noticed the need for people to have courage, including myself. But what does that look like? It’s a little bit different for each of us. Sometime courage looks like––

the bravery to forgive, 

to not believe lies society or other people are wanting us to believe, 

overcoming a bully, 

or heartache, 

to find the power to forgive ourselves, 

to walk in grace,

to believe that God is good even in the midst of tragedy, 

to heal, 

to make that decision, 

to show others how to treat you, 

to fight for justice, 

to hand your heart to a friend to hold to because your heart is too heavy to remember your hopes and dreams,

to laugh 

All along the way, it has been no coincidence that my obstacles have been dis-couragement. It begins with little or big disappointments that can turn into discouragement if I am not careful, mindful. Please be careful with disappointment. Don’t let it derail you or your dreams.

Please.

The journey of the heart is perhaps the most exotic. It says in the Bible to guard our hearts. This, I believe is one of our most important tasks.

I have made so many mistakes along the way. Learning much about how I fall short and how not to let fear rule the day.

When discouragement knocks I remember the rainbow over Iguaçu. I remember what the Lord whispered.

And I believe. 

Most of what I’ve learned this year has to do with the brevity of life. Too brief to be discouraged.

Each day is a new day. My prayer for you is that you wake up each day and face it honestly, with an open, courageous heart.

I hope you enjoy this story I wrote about my friend and I at Iguaçu Falls, Brazil called Brazillian Bikinis and Mango Shrimp 

A pilgrim in Paris (una peregrina en Paris)

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I soared above Santiago. Over The Bay of Biscay I spotted the Camino del Norte.

My heart began to understand what it meant to have walked across the entire fiesta-filled, rioja-swilling, bagpipe-playing, country of my literary idols where ancient wars had been won and lost, and a biblical amount of Syrian and African refugees sought safety to cries of Catalonian independence.

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I said a silent prayer for peace, for the welfare of the refugees and pelegrinas below and gave thanks to El Señor for the last metaphor of The Camino and the privilege of completing my pilgrimage.

A bittersweet adíos to the country that had been my home for over a month. I’d sold almost everything and stored the rest before traveling the world with El Señor in July. Home is and will continue to be where my heart and mochilla (backpack) are.

The early morning cab ride from Fisterra to the Santiago Airport found my body restless, wondering with every twitch why it wasn’t walking.

I’d ride in a taxi, plane, train and three metro lines before the short walk to my apartment in Monmartre. My body hardly knew what happened.

Paris was cold. Very cold. Tan and sporting a hiking skirt, I walked onto my train at Charles De Gaulle and rode to Garre del Nord to take the metro to Garre Leon. My feet bruised and bandaged, not for the likes of Parisian eyes–wild “lion” hair, no makeup, a mochilla and walking sticks completed my look. Rain pelted the windows of the train. Lightning strikes across a darkened Parisian skyline tracked the train.

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I was very tired with a big plan––to visit the Louvre for thirty days and write about it. Great art of the world would be my classroom.

El Señor had something to teach me. I had no idea what but was open and ready to learn. I totally surrendered to Him. To prepare for this part of my walk with The Lord I studied French with a tutor in Los Angeles. Problem was, by the time I’d arrived in Paris I’d been thinking, speaking and dreaming in Spanish for over a month. The best I could do was to think in French and speak in Spanish. A beautiful young lady that hardly spoke English gave me the keys to my apartment and helped me with where I might find stores to buy warm clothes and which metro lines to take.

There were a few things I needed to figure out right away.

How to make the shower work. How to turn the sofa into a bed. I would need so much help with this that the owner of the apartment sent me a youtube video. Valerie, a nice young man–go figure, I expected a woman too…ah, Paris–who lived upstairs, checked in on me to make sure I wouldn’t have to sleep on the sofa again for another night due to my serious lack of sofa conversion skills. I needed to sit in a café and drink champagne and write in my journal. Buy some warm clothes. Stop speaking Spanish to Parisians. And, I needed to figure out the best way to The Louvre. I needed to rest. A lot. More than a lot. Spanish took over the language of my dreams.

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The following day I woke up at 10 AM, bone-tired. Much too late for a peregrina. My sofa bed a magnet.

I couldn’t wrap my head around walking or taking the metro to The Louvre. It was all I could do to shower in a space so small I barely had room to turn around. No longer sleeping among an army of people in bunk beds, I found the solitude welcome but strange. I stumbled to the velvet curtains and opened the french windows. Peering out of the window into the courtyard and up seven stories, a sunny sky surprised. A nearly-dead geranium sat in the iron grillwork of the window box. I cradled the plant and watered it using my Finsterra shot glass.

In one plane ride life had changed from hand-washing clothes and sleeping in hammocks to daily metro rides, friends, family, coded locks, losing myself among Renoir’s streets and cafes, and the taste of rose marshmallows–a new pleasure.

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Showering led to walking which led to finding the perfect store to buy coffee for the next morning which led to strolling by a sculpting studio.

Beautiful female bodies frozen in rapture, others seated and stared into the unknown. They captivated me. Red coffee pots in a storefront reminded me of Lucy who I met the first day of The Camino and is now a life-long friend, mi hermana. I instantly wanted to buy a coffee grinder. Soon I walked the streets by Sacre Coeur. Men asked permission to draw my portrait as accordions and clarinets played.

 

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I ordered champagne and onion soup in a small café and picked up my pen.

“I can’t help but wonder how The Camino will shape my life. A greater sense of peace and confidence has been among The Lord’s great gifts. I am exhausted and my body needs to be still now, even as it glorified in the joy of walking. Moving forward. Ultreia (“Onward,” an ancient Latin pilgrim greeting). A joy I’ve always had and will God-willing never lose. I know the Lord has brought me to Paris for a reason and begin to feel He is preparing me for something big. I am open to all of it.” How wonderful walk in Montmartre, drink champagne and write in my journal.

A young Russian woman with red hair and raincoat to match shared that her husband was meeting her for a weekend in the city of love. 

The young couple next to me ordered a half bottle of rosé and sealed their first drink with a kiss. Young love so beautiful. Babies pass by in strollers. Sweet memories of my family. Touring Paris eleven years ago.

I meandered the streets that lead to Sacre Coeur and pass small snail sculptures. Inside a charming store I bought the perfect snail in Camino yellow and two coffee mugs. I want my own mugs for my daughter’s visit. The snail honored something very special my dear friend and fellow pilgrim Tatianna and I discovered, our own pace.

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“I’m still on The Way, following the signs. Before I had the challenge of crossing a country with its mountains and valleys. I now have the challenge of knowing an historic city with all of its people and rich artistic heritage. It occurs to me that the mountains and valleys of a city are perhaps more difficult to navigate. Sitting here in this café getting perhaps a little drunk this afternoon is a good introduction to Paris. A day of splurging. Splurging and sunshine and getting to know the terrain. Different than the mountains of Spain but similar too. It’s the beginning of another great adventure and I thank God for it.”

Banners draped over the front of Sacre Coeur read—“For over 125 years HERE NIGHT AND DAY someone is praying to the Lord.” Over a century of 24/7 continual prayer. I stare deeply into the eyes of my favorite statue of Mary. Of course my journey in Paris would begin here.

The newness of Sacre Coeur spoke to the comfort of the ancient ways I’d been wearing.

And it unsettled me. I enjoyed pilgrim life and had a hard time saying goodbye. Standing at the veranda below Sacre Coeur I looked out over Paris and wondered where this next adventure would lead.

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A world begins….freedom in The Spirit

My girls look to the west together...
My girls look to the west together…

There are a handful of moments in my life when God’s revealed Himself to me. One of them was when I delivered my daughter Candice. I’d been given too much morphine too quickly and found it hard to breathe on the operating table. The Spirit spoke to me through the voice of my ex-husband. He said, “Laura, breathe in and out.” He held my hand and repeated these words the length of the surgery. His voice calmed me. I smile at the memory on this, Candy’s birthday.

Years later He’d speak to me again. Last March I had cancer surgery. The last time I’d been operated on was when I delivered Margaux. As I lay on the operating table a flood of happy memories couldn’t stem the fear rising inside of me. The Lord, in his very playful way, would comfort me yet again. It was just another day at the office for my plastic surgeon and as he cut and stitched he began to sing along with the songs that played over the speakers in the operating room, “Lean On Me” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.”  To me, my surgeon’s serenade was a heavenly one. I smiled at the thought of Los Angeles as the home of singing plastic surgeon angels.

In the days afterward as I recuperated, the Lord put it on my heart to journey to Prague to take care of missionary children while their parents attend a conference. A trip that would take place in July. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I managed to go to a meeting for the trip but had to excuse myself early because of the pain and how fragile I felt. I told the Lord that I didn’t think I could do what He was asking. The idea of taking care of children in Prague seemed too much for me to handle. Too big an experience for me to wrap my head around.

By Palm Sunday I’d signed up and committed to the trip.

Something larger has been at work in me since that day. I’ve felt the need to sell or give away most of my possessions, store what’s left and go where The Spirit is calling me. I have no idea exactly where the Lord and I are headed.

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. – Matthew 14:29

This verse sounds so calm and soothing, but Peter stepped out of the boat in stormy seas. He must have been frightened. I believe doubt rather than fear caused Peter to sink into the water. This morning on a hike I breathed in the damp scent of sage and rosemary, filling my lungs with the freedom that is mine in The Spirit.

I leave this Friday for Prague and will be walking the Camino de Santiago afterwards, a 500-mile pilgrimage that begins in France and continues across Northern Spain to the tomb of St. James. I plan on taking 40 days to walk the Camino and have been advised to only carry 10% of my body weight. I’ll be walking into the world with 13 pounds on my back.

13 pounds? Hilarious 🙂 I can’t wait to see what He has planned. I’ll be posting about the journey here. I hope you can join us.

I’d like to share a wonderful book that’s inspired my journey Beautiful Outlaw :  Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus by John Eldredge.

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Going Big : 90 days around the world

java indonesia rice paddies, travel, inspiration

For me, Going Big is the joy of feeling totally alive and terrified. My mom named the thrill “horrible-wonderful.” While very real, horrible drops away pretty quick when I’m wonderfully following my heart.

On Gili Air and in the silence of Nyepi, I decided to return to Java and write the screenplay. I flew from one kingdom to another, from Bali to Yogyakarta. It’s difficult to describe how freeing and scary this choice was for me. For nearly thirty years I’d made every big decision together with my husband. Going Big alone was new to me. Since the trip to Indonesia had met with so much resistance in my past life, the fact that I had actually taken the trip was huge. Extending my trip meant Going Big for myself, my art and my faith. Going Big became my new mantra.

I’d begun to write the screenplay in LA before I left, but something was missing. I hadn’t been to Indonesia and the script was the poorer for it. I touched down on Java painfully aware that the last time my dad had been on Javanese soil was as a prisoner of the Japanese. I would spend the next two weeks writing the screenplay about how dad fought for his life, while I was fighting for mine. Java’s perilous past fascinated me as I faced a seemingly perilous future. Was there some kind of message here about how I might survive?

As catastrophic as the end days were for Dad and our family on Java, the Indonesian way of life gave him constant joy. I’d find him in our Chicago basement hacking a coconut with an axe to extract its fresh milk, frying krepuk (shrimp crackers) on our back porch, filling the house with the scent of coconut curry chicken, topping jasmine rice with serundang (toasted coconut). Dad never said a bad word about the Japanese. He’d even encouraged me to buy a Honda when I’d saved enough of my waitressing tips to buy half of my first car—my parents treated me to the other half. Over the years, Mom and Dad would travel to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nikko, Tokyo and entertain Japanese engineers at our home in Chicago. No one ever knew about his experience, not even Mom. I certainly didn’t. Not until Dad turned eighty. We spent the next ten years talking. Sometimes we corresponded by letters, but most of the time we’d sit in his room in Florida and we’d chat for a few hours at a time.

The final draft of the screenplay is nearly completed.

4/1/14

I just arrived at the d’Omah hotel. The perfect place to write. They even offer an amazing Rijsttafel here on Sundays (Rijsttafel is a Dutch word which means “rice table” and is an elaborate meal the Dutch had during the colonial days when Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies). Omah means “home” in Indonesian. I’m on a quest to find a home in the world. This truly feels like one. 

As I settle in I hear buzzing, lots and lots of buzzing in the background. I walk down the road past the rice fields to the main street where parades of motorcycles, very loud motorcycles, wave large red flags. Villagers at the roadside watch the spectacle. Indonesian elections come with throngs of motorcycle-riding, flag-flying, noise-making party people. I’m hooked. I’ve never seen anything like their intensity. Some wear face masks. I’m standing here watching the scene among the masks and the revving. This is definitely Going Big.  I film what I see. As election day approaches, I can’t wait to start writing.

Bali’s Nyepi & the power of silence : 90 spontaneous, inspirational days around the world

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I first learned about Nyepi while touring around Ubud last year. As I motored though village after village, I spotted boys and teenagers constructing huge demons that rivaled any Hollywood creation. I began to film what captivated me.

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Each village funded the construction of demons, called Oguh-oguh monsters. I mean, is there anything better to most boys than making larger-than-life demons? It was like they took the doodles off their school papers and gave them life. The Oguh-oguh monsters represent Bhuta Kala, malicious spirits that inhabit Bali on Nyepi to turn people toward evil. In days gone by, night was considered the time for supernatural beings. Malignant spirits, bhuta kala, and witches filled the darkness of the night. Older Balinese see the night as a dangerous time for traveling outside the house compound, though gamelan is held in the evening but it never lasts until late at night on Bali like it does on Java. Even to this day, my Balinese friends told me that I will not see a Balinese family out with their young children at twilight. They see twilight as the time when evil spirits can take control over people’s lives.

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The designs of the Oguh-oguh spoke to their creators’ incredible imaginations and their craftsmanship spoke to how seriously villagers take their monsters. Most were big-breasted ghouls with fangs, some with blue skin, some with very long hair and nails. It was surreal motoring the streets of Ubud, passing demon after demon after demon in varying states of construction. Seeing their creative process was as fascinating to me as seeing the finished creatures parade down the streets of Ubud on Nyepi. The actual day of Nyepi is determined by when the “Tilem Kesanga” falls, the darkest moon.

I had taken a trip to Gili Air to go remote for the weekend right before Nyepi. I just couldn’t wait for the silence, I guess. Gili Air gave a great respite from the frenzy of Java and bustle of Bali as there are no mobiles or motors there. I traveled by horse-drawn carriage when I wasn’t walking. In fact, I could walk around the tiny island in under an hour. When I returned to Bali to celebrate Nyepi, all the tourists were crowded on the docks of Bali ready to party on the Gilis instead of getting “trapped in the silence” of Nyepi. I happily sailed the nearly empty boat back to Bali. I wanted silence. I needed silence. On the eve of Nyepi, Bali was anything but.

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Gamelan and clanging filled the air. The Oguh-oguh monsters, great ghouls, paraded down the streets of Ubud while hundreds lined the streets watching the fan fare. All along the parade route, beautiful sarong-wrapped girls carrying torches kept a vigil with pieces of tape placed over their mouths. Some of the passing demons had dozens of boys animating them, holding large bamboo platforms. They raised the Oguh-Oguh up and down battling other demons in the parade. Since it’s believed village crossroads are where evil spirits linger, the boys spin the Oguh-Oguh monsters counter-clockwise to confuse the evil spirits. People bang pots and pans, cans, and honk horns to force the evil spirits to leave. Later the effigies are burnt in cemeteries as a symbol of purification. Cock fighting is permitted on the eve of Nyepi, because the spilling of blood is necessary for purification.

And then, Bali went dark and quiet. The moment otherworldly.

3/31/2014 – Pondock Pundi Village Inn

I’m not supposed to be outside, but I have to look at the stars. While I stare at the kind of darkened sky most people will never see in this light-filled world, the silence bathes me. It’s more than a moment of “unplugging,” it’s freeing. Nothing needs to be done or thought about or planned for in the next twenty-four hours. Outside my door meat and alcohol offerings are left in the streets for the evil spirits to feed on in the hopes that they will pass deserted Bali by. 

When I reached The Pondock Pundi Village Inn earlier this afternoon—only a few inns were open for tourists as most left Bali for Nyepi—I was asked for my meal preferences for the entire next day. It was explained to me that I was to return to the Inn before midnight and afterwards I was not to go outside. I was not to use the electricity. The staff would bring my meals to me. I was to observe the four abstinences:

“amati geni” no lighting fires or using lights

“amati karya” refraining from working

“amati lelanguan” refraining from indulging in leisure activities

“amati lelungan” refraining from traveling outside the house

Bali hopes that in the silence all the evil spirits will fly over their island. As they sit inside, they reflect on how to purify their minds and their bodies with yoga and meditation. My experience of Neypi is life-changing. Never have I spent a twenty-four hour period in silence. Those that know me would be laughing right about now. It’s the perfect time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed. 

Love, Light & Liberation : 90 spontaneous, inspirational days around the world

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One year ago today my friends took me to the Tirta Emmpul Temple for a Hindu purification ceremony. I had all kinds of hesitation at participating. It scared me a bit to be a part of a ceremony of a religion (some would say a philosophy) I’d only tapped the surface of. Would I anger my God by participating? But then I got to thinking about how God sent me to Bali. I didn’t arrive on my own power, but by His power alone. He had made the decisions that gave me the strength and the opportunity to meet Made and have him become my spiritual teacher. And through thinking about the amount of miracles that brought me to Ubud, a Balinese word that means medicine, I realized one very important thing. God is love. Love is the best medicine. And because Made and his family loved me so much and sought to instill healing in me immediately, they wanted to do something very sacred to them for me. And out of love for my God, and for them, I accepted their precious gift. Made and I had many very long talks together, over many days. And slowly, but surely, my heart began to open and the negativity that had entered my life slowly slipped away and would be washed away in the holy water of the temple, in baths for the body, mind and spirit.

3/24/14

I just set my alarm to get up at 4 AM for my Hindu purification ceremony. And I’m a bit scared by going. The advice I get from time to time about life is to do one thing everyday that scares me. Tomorrow I will have done at least one before breakfast.

3/25/14

One of the deepest spiritual experiences of my life. Be strong. Be happy. Don’t look back. I am now free, liberated from my problems and bad memories through the lovingkindness of what were once strangers and are now family. The solution is love and simplicity. Make every decision based on what God is—love, light and liberation. Consume less. Suffer less. Be true to myself. If I do all these things I will no longer be afraid or powerless. I will harness my power by knowing and praying for what I need. God will bless me with it. That is certain. Made told me, “If you are going West, Laura, don’t let others negotiate with you to go East. Don’t negotiate. With love, keep to your own path. Know thy path. Your heart is your home. Do not take everyone with you wherever you go.” He said this is my problem. He pleaded for me to take care of myself, in the kindest way possible. The experience was intimate, in a way I’d never known before. My friends and their wives had prepared incredible offerings to bring to their gods. Woven bamboo baskets filled with eggs and incense and rice and treats wrapped in banana leaves along with beautiful flowers. With flowers in my hair, the Hindu priest blessed me and pressed rice into my forehead to bless my thoughts. I took the rice and ate some to bless my words and pressed some to my chest to bless my heart. 

Later that night Made said I have to watch the way I walk. I said I walk bad? You need to teach me how to walk better. In a good way. He said, no. He looked at me and said, “No, Laura, I want you to walk sure.” 

90 Spontaneous Days Around The World : The Zen of the dark

Everyone needs their own torch…

Where I was when I decided to ditch the plan and got it alone...
Here, while snorkeling in Pulau Menjangan, I decided to ditch the plan and go it alone…

Late on my last night in Joga I realized I’d forgotten to pack a flashlight. When my friend Rinto found out, he insisted he take me to a store close by so I’d have one for the next morning’s pre-dawn climb to the summit of Bromo, I’d need one for the climb of Batur too. I figured I could get by without buying one. I had so many friends, I could just walk with them. But Rinto looked me in the eye and said I needed my own torch. That’s what he called it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relied on that torch. How often I silently thank him for insisting. I’ll never call a flashlight a flashlight again. A torch is truly what I needed in my life at that time. Something a bit more primal than a flashlight, with a name that spoke to survival.

Everyone needs their own torch when the darkness overwhelms. A person can’t rely on another’s torch to help. This awareness was one of the best gifts Rinto had given me. He understood me better than anyone I’d met on the trip so far. Orphaned at eleven, he knew the pain of losing the people he loved. He knew what it was like to begin again. I was just learning.

That night we motored through the streets of JoJa, which at times felt like a life-and-death experience. There were swarms of motors (mortorbikes) and few mobiles (cars) winding around even more crowded streets than usual because of a concert at the Sultan’s palace. We picked out a small torch and he made me promise to never go without it. To always keep it near. In the countless times I’ve needed it, especially in unexpected times, I smile. He helped me see me in a new way. This was the beginning of discovering my light within.

In the rebuilding of my life, I never seem to be satisfied with the little bit of the path that the torch lights up. I always want to see more, more than a torch can show me. I become impatient and a bit unsatisfied with what I can see with just my torch at times. What I would learn as the trip continued is the real blessing of the peace that comes when I trust the light will take me where I need to go. To surrender to it. To trust it. This was seemingly impossible for me as the ability to trust was something I had lost. I would have to learn to trust myself.

After the ride and the torch and the concert, Rinto and I said goodbye. I left the next morning.

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The first act of faith of going it alone would be handing a payment and my passport over to the visa extension office in Ubud and trusting them.

“Come back next Friday at 5 PM,” the visa extension business owner said matter-of-factly.

Uh, ok.

This was one of those times where instead of a torch I wanted to light a bonfire and see if what I’d just done was the best decision of my life, or the worst. Most are somewhere in between.

Because of the time it took for the visa extension to process–they had to send all the extensions through Jakarta–I found myself in Ubud for a week. A beautiful place to be “stuck.” There was a reason I was there, although I didn’t know it at the time. I’d never travelled like this before—alone, with no plan. I was just getting used to being alone in my own life after having someone beside me for nearly thirty years. I needed to trust that I was right where I needed to be. This would take courage and become the adventure of my life.

The first part of that adventure would be to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ubud because nothing says St. Patrick’s Day like a green Bintang at the Laughing Buddha Bar.

90 Spontaneous Days Around The World : When we believe the best about ourselves

Mt. Bromo Summit
Mt. Bromo Summit

March 6, 2014

I’ve heard about Bali my whole life and it seemed like an exotic place only other people would visit. But today, I’m going to set foot there. There were a million reasons to not go. To stay stuck in fear. To pull back, especially in the face of so much pain and uncertainty— but I didn’t. I chose to Go Big, and this is my new philosophy. My new North Star. I’ve decided I don’t want to live my life as I always have. I want to live differently. I’m not completely certain what this will look like. I’ve decided I’d like to travel and write and work incredibly hard to support myself with my pen (camera and computer too). 

I would find that the real magic in my life lies in an elegant truth. An elegant truth it would take a trip around the world to discover.

Java, this ancient place of mystery and history, the island where my dad was born, the island where he fought for his survival during WWII, transformed me and my pain.

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GOING BIG 

Calls of “hello” 

Big smiles

Swimming in holy water

Offerings to volcano cauldrons

Beautiful simplicity

24/7 people in crowded squares

Life, life, life

Manic driving and motors

4:30 AM calls to prayer

Jungle shrieks and hums

I will miss it all

Everything

The bike ride with Hannah, Tim and Peter

through the nighttime streets of Pandangaran

Volleyball, 2 AM feasts

Clove cigarettes

Perfect strangers

helping, caring

Kites catching

flying foxes for dinner

Markets and the mystical

A witch’s spell cast

A holy tree wrapped

The spirit world

A heartbeat away

Waiting to be felt

Waiting to speak 

Listen

Living with duplicity

the black and the white

the left hand and the right

good and evil

all have a place

here,

finding a balance

A great harvest ahead

Without fear

Without pain

Secure

in the joy

that comes from

GOING BIG

Rice harvest March, 2014 Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Rice harvest March, 2014 Yogyakarta, Indonesia

It’s my last few hours on Java and I’ll take it home with me. Whenever I feel unclear or uncertain, I’ll bring the harvest in the palm-tree fringed rice paddies to mind, trusting a rich harvest is ahead.

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I take the ferry from Java to Bali today. My dear Indonesian friend warned me about the ferries. “They sink a lot of the time. Go to Bali another way,” she said. I prayed extra-hard on the crossing, so breathtakingly beautiful I can’t imagine arriving on Bali any other way.

The Hindu temples here have monuments at their entrances in the shape of hands in prayer. As you walk through, they bless you and as you leave they wish you well.

I went to the gardens of good and evil at the Goa Gajah temple in Ubud. I was kind of shocked how they acknowledge the evil spirits in this way, so different than the West. 

My guide, Ketut, told me that there was a small school in the Elephant Cave at the temple here. Once upon a time, the King taught boys there about religion and philosophy. Ketut mentioned that the students were instructed in controlling their emotions because it is the only thing a person can control. He said that when there is a problem, that the problem always lies inside you, never inside another person. The the only two things a person should pray for from God, according to Ketut, is health and harmony in the family. When life is out of balance then there is a problem.

The paper I picked up on Bali
The paper I picked up on Bali

Word of the disappearing Malaysian Airlines plane shocked the world, and Indonesia was in the spotlight for the search and rescue effort. As countries scoured the Java Sea for the missing plane, relatives contacted me and my fellow traveling friends to ask about our welfare.

Was our next flight a Malaysian airlines flight? It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to go through such a global event at the heart of the event itself.

Of course I think about how short life really is. And how small the world really is. And how if we could just wrap our arms around each other more, we would weep less. That it’s ok to be afraid of the unknown, even when the world asks the question about how the impossible can happen. It’s okay not to have any of the answers you want and need when you want and need them. It’s part of the journey. Back at home people were concerned at me traveling so far away to places so different from the U.S. The more I travel, the more I understand that the key to world peace is in the friendships we make. Because, in the end, we all want the same things. We want to be happy. We want our children to be healthy. We want to be there for our friends. The more friends we have in the world the more peace we will have in the world. – March 9, 2014

It’s like Hannah said, there’s a difference between going on vacation and traveling. She told me we are travelers. And I believe it was at this point in the trip I took inspiration from Hannah and became a true traveller myself.

to be continued….

90 Spontaneous Days Around The World : Killing my own spiders

ginger
wild ginger flower

March 2, 2014

Seloliman Nature Reserve, Java

The jungle hikes at Seloliman will stay in my imagination forever. So much to inspire. The great variety of life…the beauty of the wild. I thank God for waist-deep hikes in this jungle. Swallowed in nature, I’m blessed to experience the aliveness of an exotic world. A world my dad called home.

a jungle creature
a jungle creature

“It’s loud in the jungle, just like Dad said. Full of hums and chirps, calls and caws, crescendos and croaks and howls. There’s a million creatures out there and my mind’s alive with the intoxication of sound! One of the best experiences of my life—sitting here on the bed, under the mosquito netting, journaling to the jungle’s symphony.” 

March 4, 2014

Kilabaru, Java

“I just killed a spider for Hannah, she’s adorable. A total sweetheart, she’s extremely adventurous, but really upset by insects. At our last place in Seloliman Nature Preserve, our bathrooms were outside and she had a wasp nest under her sink. She was staying all alone that night (it was her night to have a room all to herself, we all take turns). When she screamed and I was the one to kill the spider, I realized that I’d be killing my own spiders from now on. Once upon a time, he took care of that. So many things shared, so many things lost.”

holy water at the temple at Seloliman
holy water at the temple at Seloliman

IMG_0642

March 5, 2014

Kilabaru, Java

“One of the most amazing memories of the trip so far was when I swam at the Hindu temple in Seloliman. It was completely spontaneous. We’d just hiked to the temple, and before I knew it I was swimming in the temple’s holy water. I loved it. Every second of it. There’s such power in following my instincts, even though I have no idea where they might take me. All I know is that I’m more me when I pay attention to them. 

I was deeply sad at the temple (I think it had something to do with the fact that I would be killing all my own spiders from now on) and I wanted to wash the sadness away. After I went for a swim, my friend David came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. He asked how I was. The gesture so very unexpected and so very nice. It was the kind of tenderness I wasn’t used to.

Thunder’s booming in the distance and is a comfort. I like the rhythm of the storms. We have no water in our room right now. Last night I blew a fuse when I plugged in my phone for a charge. In the last hotel the electrical didn’t work at all. There’s a peace to life in the darkness I never knew before. I’ve made friends with it.”

To be continued…

90 Spontaneous Days Around The World : How to discover your passions in the face of catastrophe

“the truth I ‘d been running from was so strong,
it was as big as the promise of the coming day…”

bromo.smoke
I made an offering to the volcano to end my pain. I asked God to turn the flowers I tossed into the cauldron of the volcano at Mt. Bromo into happiness.

My roommate Hannah and I sleepwalked into our clothes. Together with our traveling companions, we piled in five jeeps to take the dizzying, nighttime drive to summit Mt. Bromo. I sat in the far back seat of one of the jeeps. Every twist and turn sent mystery metal digging into my hip or thigh. My friends and I had braved many adventures on our tour together. This one was the earliest. After a short hike to the summit we waited, having no idea what beauty we’d witness. What wonders sat in the darkness below.

I saw The Southern Cross for the first time. My friends and I sung the Crosby, Stills and Nash song of the same name. As I sang, I understood why I came to Java— the truth I ‘d been running from was so strong, it was as big as the promise of the coming day.

March 4, 2014

“In the pink and purple smoke of many shrouded volcano peaks, at the summit of Mt. Bromo, the sun rose. Illuminating beauty out of the darkness. It was my sunrise. All mine. A new beginning. An invitation to do the very same thing within my own life. To illuminate the darkness. I am the sunrise. In that moment, I decided I’d always GO BIG. This big trip, this big sunrise called me to trust my big dreams. I’d no longer need to doubt or be frightened by them any longer. I’ll bravely keep on dreaming. Keep on living, to discover myself and my passions in the face of catastrophe.”