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Some friendships can transcend time and continents. This week was the first time I saw Lindsey stateside and not half a world away in Uganda. We originally bonded over pumpkin scones and chili, and were known to meet fairly very regularly for espresso milkshakes and spicy fries. I’m so thankful for a friendship that can pick up after years apart and one that is never short on laugher and eye-rolls.

This was Lindsey’s first time on the west coast, and I was determined to show her as much as I could in a few short days. While we didn’t make a big dent into the list, we did dip our toes (or our Converse shoes) in the ocean, drank lots of coffee, and ate enough sugar to last a lifetime. Come back soon, please. The best coast is [not so patiently] waiting :)

Also, can we just talk about the iPhone 7+ Portrait Mode? I think I’m in love.

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at the table

Growing up in a family that was very intentional about sitting down at the table together each night, the transition away from home and into a space without a common table of my own was challenging. While there were often still people gathered around the table, I didn’t have a space of my own to start my own traditions as I was used to doing. At the time, this never specifically struck me as odd or disappointing. While I didn’t have my own table to cultivate community around, there were other ways this manifested throughout those years. And while I still don’t have a table, one practice remains the same.

Coffee.

Steaming cups, frothy milk, perfectly [or not so perfectly] pulled espresso shots, and a table. Not a table placed in the center of a dining room in a beautifully decorated home, but a table, in the middle of a coffee shop, used as a common place for people to meet – to gather around.

In fact, at this moment, I sit at a coffee shop in the Brussels airport, watching people gather together. Some, you can tell, are in a hurry, while others have stopped to linger, making the most of their international layover. But even in moments of the hustle and bustle of airport life, people still sit around a table – sharing words and coffees and moments together. *NOTE: I started writing this blog almost two years ago and I am, in fact, not sitting in the Brussels airport. Unfortunately.*

Community around the table can look different in various seasons and stages of life. But for me, in this season, “the table” is the corner comfy chair with the little wooden coffee table in front of it. It’s gathering and connecting over our commonalities, even if the only thing we have in common is the steaming drink that sits in front of us.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve showed up at a coffee shop, normally earlier than planned, meeting someone for the first time. Though to some this may seem intimidating (and honestly, I still feel this way sometimes), there is something beautiful and life giving about hearing someone’s story, coffees being sipped, and nothing known in common other than the mugs in our hands.

Common ground. That’s what coffee is. It’s the leveling of expectations – stripping down our preconceptions and our fears – creating a space that allows us to get down to the basics. Whether conversation comes easily or if it takes work to get things moving, the vulnerability and courage displayed by simply showing up permeates through the noise around you.

I’ve always said the best conversations happen while sitting on the kitchen floor or driving on a road trip. But after the last few years, I may have one more to add to the list. Honestly, I think some of the best conversations I’ve had, either first meetings or with the oldest of friends, were experienced with mugs in hand. The steam somehow breaks down the barriers put up by unknown expectations or anticipation; removing the walls that so easily place themselves between words and meaningful conversations.

I know for myself, fear creeps into every aspect of life it can. The big and small things alike are all permeated with some level of fear or the anticipation that accompanies it. As it’s something that has been more present in the last few years, I’ve also been much more aware of fear’s ability to impact my life in significant ways. So, you would think the thought of meeting someone I don’t know, in a coffee shop I may not have been to before, to probably make some sort of small talk (which I often dread), would terrify me; to the point that I would use any and every excuse to avoid such event. And to be honest, often times it does. But you know what, acknowledging that, yet stepping out anyway is not only empowering, but rewarding beyond measure.

There’s something about that table, in that random coffee shop, with that piping hot coffee in your hands that screams out “bold” – on both sides of the table. Because let’s be honest, the person sitting across from you is most likely feeling just about the same thing you are. But you know what, you both showed up. You both took bold steps forward – risking vulnerability and possible rejection, all for the sake of relationship and community. And suddenly, you’re both on the same page, at the same starting line, with the same goal in mind.

Relationship.

People going beyond the surface, the exterior, the façade, to truly engage with another human being on a level that is beautiful and God honoring. So many times, we place a big emphasis on “community”, as it’s something we all strive to have in our lives on multiple levels. However, I believe relationship with others, seeking and chasing after The Creator – individually and together – will naturally become “community”. It’s not something that needs to be accomplished, but instead becomes something we are able to experience because we are relentlessly pursuing the Lord together. And it may start with something as simple as boldly saying yes to the unknown waiting for you in that corner coffee shop.

So, whether or not you have a table in your home to gather people around, whether or not you feel as though you’re in a place to invite people in to your space, or whether your “table” is outside of the four walls you consider home, know that the place you find yourself is significant. Even if this is simply the coffee shop around the corner with the person God has placed in front of you, for such a time as this.

Rest in the fact that no matter where you find yourself, boldly stepping out to walk alongside someone else, pursing the Lord together, your “table” will meet you where you are. All you have to do is say yes – and order the coffee.

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shine on us

Oh, how I’ve loved having a house full of people again.

Living alone, working alone, and finishing online classes was a little too much for this extravert to handle. While the down time was nice and the transition was needed, I was getting a little antsy not having other people to do everyday life with. It was the first time I had ever lived entirely on my own & I had reached my maximum capacity of solitude.

Now, I have a house that never sleeps, is always on the go, and full of laughs – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have two littles that keep me entertained and giggling all day as they dance around the house, throwing in a “baby yoga” pose or two along the way. It’s been a joy watching their “firsts” in America, and I love seeing the amazement on their faces as they experience something new.

So here’s to adventures and laughs and not enough sleep. To iced coffee and popcorn and lots of champagne. To the snuggles and meltdowns and the moments in between.

And speaking of adventures, here’s a glimpse of our little one today.

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when i lost my heart to you

My goodness, how do I even describe these people & this day.

Through a crazy mess of twists and turns, I was able to make it to one of my best friend’s weddings. Not only that, but I had the honor of taking a few pictures throughout the day.

Though it may have been raining before the wedding and during the ceremony, it was one of the most beautiful wedding celebrations I’ve ever been apart of. The wedding party was safe & dry underneath a big oak tree that was the most vibrate shade of yellow that is only seen during a true Ontario fall as two lives were pledged to God & each other forever.

I laughed, I cried, I ended up half in the pool trying to move the filter sprinkler – you know, a typical day. But most of all, it was a beautiful joining of two amazing people who seek God above all else in a way that is tangible to everyone around them.

My dearest Chris & Riley, I love you something fierce – from California to Canada and Australia and back.

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have yourself a merry little christmas

Oh, what a wonderful Christmas it was.

While it wasn’t my first Christmas away from “home”, it still felt weird leading up to the holiday season, knowing I wouldn’t be in Ontario this year. I was dreaming of snow and cold and fondue on Christmas Eve – but the snow was scarce (read non-existent) and I was thankful to still be able to spend the holiday with family on the west coast.

While I was expecting a warmer than normal Christmas, let’s just say it was plenty cold. While I still would have loved a snow sighting, it still felt cozy enough to not seem out of place. Thankfully my new jacket came in time for the train trek to Fresno. My Canadian mittens may have also made an appearance…

Normally, our Christmases at home are fairly quiet. With only one sister and just a few cousins in the area beyond that, there was never much commotion. I always dreamed of a big Christmas filled with lots of people, good food, Christmas movies, and lots going on. My first Christmas away from home in North Carolina was just that, and I was looking forward to this Christmas following in those footsteps.

And let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I’m so thankful for my west-coast family. They made Christmas week so much fun. Seriously, I can’t even count the times I ended in in tear-inducing, ab-workout laughter. These people are my kind of crazy, and that’s just the best feeling.

We took a few pictures before I had to catch my train back to San Diego on Sunday. Don’t be fooled by the pictures – it was cold. It felt a little less like California than I expected, and I was okay with that. In fact, it was the same temperature in Fresno as it was in Ontario this week – so it’s basically like home came here.

Here’s to family, and Christmas, and uncontrollable laughter.

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These are my people. As crazy as they are. And let’s be honest – the crazier the better.

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the fall

All the fall things. Literally, all of them.

This is the first fall since 2010 that I haven’t been in North Carolina for at least part of the season. I must admit, I’m missing the Blue Ridge Parkway, the cool morning walks to the bakery, and, of course, the Sky Top apple cider donuts.

But, let’s be honest, Southwestern Ontario has a pretty remarkable fall itself. Last week, sister and I took a short hiatus from school work and volleyball to roam around a local apple orchard. We went to Orchard Home Farm, just a beautiful country drive away from Kitchener.

We picked some apples, got lost in the trees, and took a few pictures along the way. We didn’t choose the apple picking life, the apple picking life chose us.

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All photos taken with my iPhone 6 and processed with VSCO’s F1 preset.

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almost home

Cottage adventures are the best adventures.

We’ve been spending time up at a little cottage on Golden Lake for over 15 years. The cottage belongs to some of our best family friends – we’ve grown up there together, skipping rocks and catching frogs for a week almost every summer. This summer was the first in about four years that all of us were reunited on this little lake in Northern Ontario.

While the visit was brief, the nostalgia was thick. Suddenly, we’re old enough to take the jet ski out and wander onto the dock without cautious warnings from our parents. Sometime during these years, we’ve grown up – living lives together and apart. But still, we can always come back together for a few ridiculous card games and the best popcorn that you ever did taste (shoutout to Mrs. Hillier for that).

So here’s to those days spent together & and the lifelong memories made – wherever we may be.

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love will be enough for us

Oh Florida, while your beaches are beautiful, your humidity is fairly unnecessary.

As the sun lowered & the humidity became bearable, I ventured outside with my good friends, Duncan + Christina, to shoot a few engagement pictures. While this trip is the first time I’ve met Duncan, it feels as though we’ve known each other for years. And it doesn’t hurt that the two of them make quite a cute couple.

I was dreading these photos, nervous that I wouldn’t get a good shot worth anything at all. I tend to lean more towards snapping candid photos, opposed to posed shots. However, it turns out that you can still capture the candid moments within them all.

So here’s to being bold & trying new things, and life, love, & other mysteries.

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sailboats

Sundays are for sailing – or at least every Sunday should be for sailing.

Last weekend, I spent a beautiful afternoon on the water in the Toronto Harbour, on the most gorgeous sailboat. My Sperrys finally felt at home, and the views weren’t too bad either.

This girl used to be terrified of boats. I mean, cry in the middle of the boat that goes around the outside of Magic Kingdom for the whole ride, kind of terrified. In fact, you couldn’t find me in or near much water that was outside of a swimming pool and in its natural habitat. However, I have thankfully overcome that ridiculous fear & now find water to be the most calming & relaxing places in the world.

So here’s to resting, slowing down, and dusting the dirt off of my camera for a beautiful day on Lake Ontario.

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here now

This blog was [mostly] written while I was still on the ground in Uganda just a few months ago. Leaving was a lot to process, and I’m still learning what it looks like to live on this side of the Atlantic each day. I’ve stared at this blog countless nights, trying to find the words to finish it, but I just haven’t been able to. It brings up a lot of feelings that I don’t really know how to deal with. But at some point, I just have to figure out how to take the next step in moving forward. So here it is. I miss that red dirt, my #thereddirttribe kiddos, their parents, and all of the beautiful people of Uganda. One day I’ll be back – and I hope that day is soon. 

Be still my heart.

Today was just what I needed before a weekend full packing & saying goodbye.

We set off this morning, in typical African time, about an hour or so late. This girl who was always [too] early for events or appointments, is now the one who shows up late – because here, late is on time. But this morning I was anxious to leave on time. I was so excited for what the day was going to bring, and I just wanted to get on the road already.

We finally left, all loaded into the Land Cruiser – me behind the wheel for one last Ugandan driving adventure and the new Mumford & Sons album booming through the speakers. I fumbled my way through the back red-dirt roads with inconsistent directions, taking in every bit of the driving knowing it would be my last long drive in this country for a long time.

We finally pulled up to where they told me was our final destination and my heart skipped a beat. There, walking on the side of the road, were two very special kiddos – finally catching site of our big green car as they started waving uncontrollably. I couldn’t help but smile as we slowed down to pick them up before driving around the block to their home.

You may know these kids from stories here and on the Sole Hope blog over the past year. They arrived, unexpectedly, at the Sole Hope Outreach House late one afternoon at the end of July. At the time, they were the worst cases of jiggers our staff had ever seen. Their bodies were infested with parasites, their frail frames could barely walk, and the despair was palpable.

The littles one who arrived that day won a special place in my heart. He was struggling through issues associated with neglect, and was often left on his own. Many mornings, he ended up sitting with me under the cabana as I replied to emails with him sleeping on my chest. But this little one wasn’t little for long. Slowly, his mother and grandmother learned how to care for him, he gained strength each day, and soon was crawling and walking around the compound, throwing side-glances and cheeky smiles as he went.

These kiddos and their parents stayed at the Sole Hope Outreach house for over 7 months as they recovered and got back up on their feet. While most of the family returned home at the beginning of March, their father remained at Sole Hope, earning money to support his family.

So this brings us back to today, the first day I was able to see these four since they left the Outreach House and for the last time before I travel back stateside for an unknown amount of time. These kids all have such unique and precious personalities.

To say I miss them everyday would be an understatement, but their smiles will stay with me for years to come.

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This boy. He has the biggest smile. And by that I mean, he NEVER stopped smiling. He would be the first to run to the gate whenever he saw my mzungu foot step onto the compound. He held my hand and we played games, pretending that we could understand each other – which normally just ended in ridiculous giggles. He is joy personified.

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Oh, this boy’s smile melts my heart. It’s the most sweet & shy smile that you’ve ever seen. He cared for his siblings and nephews so well – his heart was built to care for others. He is the definition of a servant heart & makes sure everyone is taken care of before he worries about himself.

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This one is a goof ball. He’s the perfect mix of mischievous & feisty. You could normally find him on the razor scooter, whipping around the Sole Hope Guest House compound – yet he always stopped to say hello to whatever visitors were stopping by that day. He is a firecracker and has some serious dance moves.

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Yasin-y. Oh boy, how I miss your little face. From the moment he arrived, he had a squawk-like cry that would put a sea lion to shame. He had the biggest personality for a little body, and could often be found giving me ridiculous side glances as I walked by chanting his name. He has a cheeky grin that forces everyone around him to smile – surprised by the sense of humor that could be housed in his two-year-old frame. He was my little buddy, and I miss our morning work meetings (AKA me trying to send out emails while distracting him with anything and everything so he would stop squawking for maybe 30 seconds). Oh, and this is the face he made whenever I tried to take a picture of him when we visited. Stinker.

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Their stories made an impact on me in a way that I’ll never forget. I remember the afternoon they arrived like it happened tonight. They were so scared that first day that they arrived, but to see them come out of their shells and grow into their personalities was a complete honor. I miss these four each and everyday. I long for the day when we’re all running around in the red-dirt, as if we didn’t have a care in the entire world. Whether that will be on this side of heaven, I don’t yet know. But I hope that the next time I’m in the Pearl of Africa, we can be reunited once again.

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