Life continually reminds me to appreciate everyone I have in my life- whether they be a long-time friend or a passerby, life's too precious to ever take anyone for granted. I'm reminded of that more and more lately, and because of that, I've also felt a deeper sense of appreciation for the beautiful creation I get to see as I make my way up the east coast.
I've been slacking on writing lately, so I'm referring back to the pictures I've taken on my phone to remember what we've been up to the past two weeks. My last post was on June 9.. I can't believe how fast June is flying by! On that Wednesday, we went to Andretti Thrill Park. Yes, it might be a kids attraction, but you bet that we raced the go-carts, climbed the rock wall, and versed a group of kids in laser tag. You'd never guess by the amount of enjoyment we got out of it that we're college graduates. We had an event the next day in Melbourne, and after the event left for Orlando.
The 12th and the 13th were also event days in Orlando. One of them was our busiest event yet, so that was alot of fun! After work on Saturday we went to the downtown area of Orlando for dinner at Yard House. There was a turf area with a bunch of shopping stores around there, so we walked around down there, saw the end of a light water show, and sat down by the ferris wheel for a bit. It was a super big one, and it was awesome to lie down and just look up at it and the stars surrounding it and feel so small. I Skyped with my family & Christen that night for quite a while, so that was a good ending to my night.
Sunday I decided that I couldn't only be an hour from Tampa and not go back for church one last time before I was hours away. So, I woke up early and made the drive back to Christ Fellowship. It was a good final sermon to hear & it was great to see the guys again. Words can't describe enough how incredible these men are. I could probably sit and listen to them talk about what they're doing at the Tampa project and discuss the Bible for hours on end and not get tired of it. It's amazing to hear how the Lord is working through them and how they are changing Tampa for the better. A group of us went out for lunch after the service and then I made my way back to Orlando.
That afternoon, Marie and I made our way to downtown to explore. There was an Orlando City soccer game that night, so they had blocked off the streets of the downtown area for block parties. It was a really cool atmosphere to see, and we found an awesome little park that we walked around. There were swans swimming around and even swan paddle boats, with a huge fountain in the middle.
Monday.. Monday was the most magical day i've had in a very long time! We went to Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. I went as a child, but I was too afraid of the rides to enjoy them, and I'm pretty sure I spent more than half of the time hiding in my sisters sweatshirt. This time, it was awesome. Toy Story, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, and all of the other rides were a blast. The park was packed, but the lines weren't too outrageous. We stayed until the light parade and then the firework show. I won't lie, the firework show got me feeling a little sentimental. It played to some Disney songs and just all of the beautiful colors and lyrics to the songs made me feel like a kid again. That was definitely one of the top moments of the trip so far.
We had to drive to Daytona Beach after Disney, so it was a late night. We woke up early for our event on Tuesday, where we got to hang out with Olympian Walter McCoy again. He's a really cool guy (and it didn't hurt that he was going to be a chiropractor when he was younger so he knew how to crack my back!)
Wednesday I woke up at 5:30, but for one of my favorite reasons. One of product facilitators and I went out to watch the sunrise at Daytona Beach. Seeing the sun poke up over the water for the first time of the day and seeing it slowly rise in the sky is so peaceful. I love being up before the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world begins. To just see the clear sky and birds flying, dipping down and trying to catch a fish. To walk miles down the beach without huge crowds packed on there. It's a new day, a new beginning, with new hope, new grace, and new opportunities.
After that, I went and got a hair cut, then Marie and I went for some shrimp at the Crab Shack II. Then, we ventured out to the beach for a bit. There's been so much talk of bacteria and sharkbites that I was a tad bit afraid to even get in the water. Let's just say I didn't go any further than mid-shin. I'd much rather be safe than sorry! We walked through all of the shops and stuff down in that area, then made our way back to get ready for our first home cooked meal of the tour!
Marie's uncle lives near Daytona, so his family asked us all to come over for a barbecue that night. I ate like I haven't eaten for days.. It was so incredibly good and his house was out in the middle of nowhere, so the stars out there that night were just like at home.
Thursday we woke up and went out to see a lighthouse that was in the area. We stopped by one of the piers by the water, and I saw some dolphins (I hope they weren't sharks) out in the water. Then I had to go back and pack up my bags once again to head out for Gainesville. We went to lunch when we got there, then explored the area a bit. We walked around the downtown area, then made it back to the hotel just in time for it to storm. The rest of the day was pretty laid back- laundry and grocery buying, and sleep.
Friday we had an event, then we decided to have a team workout at University of Florida. Anyone can go into the stadium, so we went and did some bleachers and abs. The stadium was so cool, and alot bigger than what I'm used to at IWU. My legs felt like jello after that, and the soreness is just hitting me today. Most of the team has Fitbits now, so my motivation to workout everyday has increased two-fold. We challenge each other, so it keeps us moving for sure.
Saturday was another work day, but Saturdays start earlier and end earlier, so we were done around 5. I got to Skype my parents again which was nice- it was my dad's birthday so it was great to see his face there on my screen since I couldn't be there. We went downtown for dinner and hung out there for the night.
Finally, we have arrived at today. Today I woke up and went to a church in Gainesville. It was weird having to go somewhere new today, but I enjoyed the message and the people there. The pastor spoke on pressure points and how there is so much pressure for so many different things in today's society. He reminded us that God is in control, that we must remember whenever we feel stressed or to our breaking point, that we need to go back and remember God's delivering power and bring it back to the present moment. We don't have to rely on ourselves at those times, or any time, because He is always there. We can carry the load, but we never have to carry the weight because we can give it all over to Him. There are some things that can only be produced by pressure, so sometimes we have to remember that as well. God is good all of the time and he will rise to the occasion and make something beautiful.
Speaking of beautiful.. My afternoon was pretty indescribable. We went to the Ichetucknee Springs State Park and floated down the river. The water was SO clear- I've never seen anything like it. We bought goggles beforehand at the dollar store so we could look underwater while we swam. Though they didn't work the best, I did see some cool fish and plants in the water. Even without them, I could see straight to the bottom the entire float which was so cool! The trees surrounding the water were all really neat as well. Creation never ceases to amaze me. Half the time I just sit and stare out at it and can't find the words to describe how I'm feeling because it's all so intricately created and beautiful.
Who would have known that something like that existed a month ago? Not I! Driving to Jacksonville tonight reminded me alot of home. I saw corn fields and cows and I even saw a tractor on my way to Gainesville the other day. It surprises me how much country there is in northern Florida, but I love it. It's a good change from the touristy towns we've been in and there's nothing like the open fields and road.
I've been hearing alot about sicknesses and death lately, and its scary. Life can change so quickly, and for many people I know, it has been changing alot. No one is guaranteed a tomorrow, and things can happen that we don't expect. Life is a precious precious gift, and we musn't forget that. We just have to trust that God does indeed have a plan for us in this life, and whether we like it or not, everything will happen according to His plan. Realizing this over and over again, this tour has continued to change me from the inside out. My heart grows fuller with each new sight, with each drive to a new destination, with each check-in and out of a hotel, with each interaction with Olympic & Paralympic athletes, and with new friendships developed along the way.
One thing I never get tired of seeing here is the sunsets. One thing I'm really looking forward to seeing now that we're on the Atlantic side of Florida? The sunrises. They're the most beautiful thing and I could watch them every single day for the rest of my life and still feel like I haven't seen enough of them.
They're all so unique and beautiful, they're never the same, they're always so full of colors and reminders that each day is a new beginning. The sun comes up and the sun goes down, but what matters is the moments in between- how we use that day to the best of our ability. Did we use it to love on others or did we neglect opportunities for being there for someone and sharing our story because we were "too busy?"
Saturday after our event, we stayed in St. Petersburg and went to eat at a restaurant on the beach. When we finished it was about 7:45, so we stayed for the sunset. There was a rooftop view on the top of the place which was really cool. We could see the bodies of water all around us, and the darker blue water on the left side, with the lighter water on the right side full of oranges and colors reflecting the sun setting. We walked across the beach after that so we could stand in the water as the sun went down over the water.
It's so cool to just see it slowly going down, seeing the variety of colors that the sky changes to as it progresses through the sky. The waves were crashing at my feet, the breeze was blowing, and I was just in awe. It's was so peaceful and beautiful, and I never wanted it to end. I think that if everyone took the time to relax and enjoy the sunsets (and/or sunrises) and peaceful moments of the day that often get overlooked, the world would be such a happier place. There's something about it that just empties your head of all of the bad things in the world and for awhile it's just you and the sky.
Sunday I was able to go to the church I went to last week since we were still in the same town, so that was awesome. The message really made me think about my priorities and the things I value in life as the pastor asked us to think about what we make negotiable in our lives that should be nonnegotiable. I know for me it can be easy to justify something that I'm doing, when I know in my heart that I shouldn't be. It's easy to be surrounded by family or friends that can sway us into doing or saying something, but we must be firm and stand our ground when this happens. People will try to cast you as the person you've always been because they don't want to accept that you've changed, but those are the times that it's the most important to find strength through Christ to push through and live a life that will allow others to see His grace and love.
The guys were at church, so I was happy I was able to sit with them one last time. Hearing about their week in Tampa just gives me goosebumps because what they're doing still amazes me and I know the Lord is going to do great things through them.
After church, I grabbed some pizza with some of the guys, then I went to the Cheesecake Factory with my family for an appetizer and of course a piece of cheesecake. My body was sure hating me because it was so full, but boy was it worth it. I went to the hotel and hung out with the guys again for a bit before I had to head out. It's crazy how I've only known them a week, but it feels as if we've been friends forever. It was a pretty sad day because I definitely didn't want any of the hugs to end because that meant it was time to leave Tampa, but I'm ready to see what the next stops have in store. After opening up and praying and being surrounded by such positive and encouraging people, I feel ready as ever for whatever might come next.
Yesterday we drove around the area and explored. We pulled off at one of the areas by a bridge because I'd seen a dolphin, and when we were standing there, I saw so many dolphins that would just pop up in the water- it was so cool! One of the things on my bucket list that I really want to do is swim with dolphins, so maybe that will happen on this trip! It was national ocean day, so of course we couldn't miss out on celebrating that at the beach. There was a boy that was bitten at the beach we were at the day before, so I was all about not going farther than ankle deep into the water. I'd rather not have to see any sharks on this tour! We went to dinner at a bar & grille place so we could watch the girls soccer world cup & some of the Hawks game. We came back to the hotel at halftime, and our hotel is super cool and doesn't have the sports channel we need. Surprising because we are in Florida & Tampa is in the Stanley Cup, but we managed to find a livestream on YouTube.
Today we went golfing. I love looking around and still seeing palm trees on either side of the fare-way. Once we got rained out, we made our way back to the hotel and I went to the gym. The guys wanted to go to a slot racing track that we had saw earlier, so I went and watched them race little slot cars for a while. We went to Smoothie King afterwards because I've been suffering from protein withdrawals and needed a protein shake.
In a few days, it will already be a month that I've been away from home. My concept of time here is completely off- I never know what day it is. We go by work days and off days, and it feels as if I've been in Florida forever, but at the same time it's flying by. With each sunrise and sunset, I'm encouraged to make the most of everyday and be someone that can bring some additional light to those around me.
So where art thou these days? I've been kickin it back in Tampa the last week and a half, and I can say that this is my favorite place thus far for a variety of reasons.
We left Fort Myers last Wednesday and headed here. I left the hotel early enough to make it here for lunch. Coming into town was actually kind of scary because there were some intense bridges that I had to drive over, and that's something I'm not used to. There was one that was like a ramp going up into the air, so it was pretty crazy. After that, every road was completely surrounded by water. It's so awesome driving on a road and looking to the left and right and seeing nothing but beautiful blue water.
I arrived to Tampa and went to Bahama Breeze- overlooking Clearwater. I met my two cousins who I hadn't seen in 13 years. Yes, I was just 9 years old the last time I saw them. So, I might have grown just a tad bit and changed since then. That didn't matter though because we picked up right where we left off. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, then they drove me down to a little restaurant on the beach where we enjoyed some refreshing drinks and listened to an amazing guitar player that was singing. He played Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud," and I looked over to see a bride and groom dancing in the middle of the floor. Beach weddings are pretty common here, so that was my first experience seeing that. Pretty cool.
After that, they drove my up the coastline showing me different food places and houses and things to do. It's gorgeous here! Later in the day, they drove me to my hotel and I unpacked my suitcases for the first time since I left home. Lets just say its been nice having a little living room, kitchen, and bedroom the past week.
We checked out the mall that's across the street on Thursday and just kind of hung out. We worked on Friday & Saturday, we had an event at the same dealership both days. We got to hang out with David Prince, a Paralympic athlete that currently holds the record for the 400m. He's an awesome guy and luckily we got to spend time with him those two days and at our event today.
Sunday I went to church, where I met a group of some pretty incredible guys. I could tell they were visitors there because they were filling out the same sheet that I had filled out, so we started talking because I was in the same boat. They're in Tampa for the summer for an outreach program. They all work days at Busch Gardens, and then they also go to the beach and other places throughout Tampa to share their faith and pray with those around them. One of them just so happened to grow up in Bloomington, and even went to the same church there that I did. Talk about a small world. They invited me to a rally at their hotel that night.
We went to eat at a restaurant on the beach for lunch, then we went to a little beach area and hung out for the afternoon. Once I got back and ready, I headed to the hotel for the rally. I got to meet some of the girls that are part of the program, and everyone there is amazing. I felt like I was back at IWU at DRL, and it felt like home. They were playing music beforehand and everyone was just singing, dancing, and conversing. There was worship at the beginning and end, and the message was just what I needed to hear.
At church and at the rally, the messages were pretty relevant to my life. They focused on staying strong in faith, no matter the temptations around us. Whether it be the people we are surrounded by, the things we have the choice to do, or even the things we spend our money on, there are so many things that try to sway us and drag us away from our staying true to ourselves. It does get hard and sometimes we have no one around us to be that positive influence we need, but it's important to stay strong and be true to ourselves. We turn to functional saviors that promise us a good time, but that typically leave us with feelings of guilt and regret. We don't trust God to run our lives because we think we can do better by doing what we think will satisfy us. However, only Jesus can satisfy and He proves his love to us through his life, death, and resurrection. There are people around you who look up to you and follow you, even if you don't realize it and even if you think no one looks up to you. We might be placed in a tough spot, but we can't forget that God places us in that spot for a reason, and maybe you will be the only resemblance of Jesus that one ever sees. Sometimes someone doesn't even know that they need help and are struggling, but if we remain strong in our faith and spread his love to everyone around us, then they will feel the love and grace of God. I was and still am so thankful God put me in that place to meet them because just hearing their stories and being around them was something I needed and something I have missed being around.
Monday we went to Busch gardens for the day. We were walking into the park, and whaddaya know, I see one of the guys from church. He gave me a big hug, and we were off to the park. One of the guys on my team had it all planned out what rides we would be going on. The first was Sheikra. Let's just say I wasn't happy with him as we were on our way up the 200 ft. climb, where we were left to hang for a few seconds before it dropped down a straight 90 degree angle. Talk about freaking out. The other 4 I went on after that didn't seem nearly as bad.
Busch Gardens is so cool because while the rides are cool, it's also like a zoo. There's a tiger exhibit that has a glass circle in it where you can climb up in it so it's like you're in the pen with them. The tiger was sleeping up on the glass, so I got right up next to his face. He was so adorable and put his paw up on the glass as he laid there. There were also giraffes, huge turtles, kangaroos, and all sorts of animals. We walked around and explored it all, and stayed until the park was about to close.
Tuesday was a rainy day so I didn't do much of anything. I worked out and laid around, skyped a little, and then I went to my cousins house. We went to dinner and then I got to meet their son (well, I met him when I was little but clearly dont remember him.)
Their son has 2 little girls and a boy, and they are SO adorable. The 3 year old was my little buddy and we played with her little Elsa doll and she was cracking me up. She just broke her arm the other day so she has a little pink cast on it, and she was just all wound up. The 7 year old learned that she was my cousin and sat right down next to me and the first thing she said was "So tell me about yourself!" It was like 20 questions, and her first question.. The most important thing, "Do you wash your hands?!" It was so adorable and funny, and kids questions definitely have to be the best thing. All 3 of them were the cutest.
After that, we just sat at my cousin's house and talked until nearly midnight. I'm thankful that this job not only gives me the opportunity to see this beautiful part of the land, but also that I've gotten to spend time with them. It's been 13 years, but it felt as if no time had passed. They are so welcoming and make me feel as if I'm at home. They are two of the sweetest and loving people I know, and their love for each other is something that is rare. They met 50 years ago, but you'd never be able to tell. He still treats her with so much love and respect, and they're so sweet to one another. They care for one another- the true definition of in sickness and in health. If I can have even half the marriage that they have at that age, then I'd be happier than I could ever imagine. I love them to pieces and I'm so glad to see that love can and should be that strong after so many years.
Wednesday we went to Cigar City brewery and did a tour of that. It's one of the top 10 brewers, so it was pretty cool to see where they package and make the beer. After that we ate and I went to the pool for a few hours. Last night we watched the Blackhawks game out on the patio of our hotel. Me and one of the guys decided it was vital we had DQ to watch the game so we ventured off to find that. After our GPS led us to the campus DQ that was closed, we had to drive 15 minutes to the closest one. An hour later, we were finally back to enjoy it and the 3rd period of the game.
The Hawks finally stepped up their game and scored 2 goals in 2 minutes. There was another Hawks fan out on the patio that went nuts when they won, so that was an entertaining time. Today we had an event, and we'll be keeping busy with work tomorrow and Saturday. My mom got Skype on her phone, so I was finally able to see her, my dad and brother today for the first time in a month, so that made my evening! :)
As our time in Tampa comes to a close, I know I'll be the most sad to leave this area. Between the friends I've made here, the time I've gotten to spend with family, and the incredible views from the beach and our suite, I know it'll be hard to leave. However, I'm thankful for this time here and the people who've impacted my life in so many ways.
Until next time!