Czech Mate.

The Czech Republic, formerly united as a country with Slovakia; you may remember it from your former Geography Class as Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia has an incredible history that I will let you look up on your own if you are interested.  Here is the gist: They belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, when they declared independence. They were invaded by the Nazi’s and then incorporated into Soviet bloc at the end of WWII. Communism governed the country until 1993 when they went through a peaceful separation to what is now Czech Republic and Slovakia. How many times have you heard “peaceful separation” when it comes to countries wanting independence or a different government model? I find that simple statement fascinating.

Side note: Neither country is Communist any more. They both have Parliamentary type governments. We will save all of that detailed information for our much later class session on world government(s). Please keep in mind I value punctuality and genuine interest. The syllabus will be forthcoming upon completion.

Someday, God-willing, I would like to visit Slovakia. But this time, Czech Republic was on my radar.

I bought a train ticket heading to the city of Cesky Budejovice with the ultimate goal of making it to Cesky Krumlov. I departed Vienna on a beautiful, clean, smooth train along the Danube River. The rolling green hills were lovely, the river cruises were slowly gliding their way down the Danube past quaint Austrian villages, the train stops were well marked and easy to read. When the train pulled into Gmund (Austrian border town to Czech Republic), I had to get off and walk to the other side of the platform to change trains for Czech Republic. What an adventure! The train heading into Czech Republic was old and rickety. I could not understand the announcements over the train due to language barrier and static. The signs at the various ramshackle stops were not always easy to locate. At one point, the train stopped in what felt like the middle of nowhere. We were ushered off the train and told a bus would take us the rest of the way. It too was old and rickety. It is in those types of moments that I take a deep breath and quote Carrie Underwood… “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” I do not know if I am being told the truth. I do not know if this bus is actually going to take me where I need to go. And when I get to the city, will I be dropped off at the bus station or train station? How far apart are they? Do people speak English? If not, how do I communicate? Will I have to get a taxi? How much would it cost? What if I get ripped off because I am a tourist? Oh my gosh, I do not have any Czech currency. What is their currency? Will they take Euros? Do I have enough Euros to pay for the taxi I already know I am going to get ripped off by? Will there be an ATM machine? What if there is not an ATM machine? Then what?!? I could get stranded. What will I do? …AND, breathe. Oh Jesus, take the wheel.

Okay, so my arrival in Cesky Krumlov was nowhere near as eventful as all of that worry. I arrived safe and sound. I later found out there was construction on the railroad so the buses were working with the train system to keep the transport operating. Thank you Czech transport systems for communicating with each other!

The Hidden Gem of Cesky Krumlov


The old part of the town is settled along the horseshoe-shaped curve of the beautiful and narrow Vltava River. Krumlov-ers can trace the town back to the mid-1200’s when the river was used as an important trade route in Bohemia. The second largest castle complex in Czech Republic sits high at the top of the river bank. It has been inhabited by only three families – the Rosenbergs, the Eggenbergs, & the Schwarzenbergs. Over time, these three families renovated and added on to the castle to leave what currently stands today including the elaborate castle gardens. Following the Communist era, the old town area of Krumlov was forgotten about leaving it overgrown and in disrepair. In 1989, Czechoslovakia went through the “Velvet Revolution”. It was during this political season of change that Krumlov was noticed and revitalized. Since it had been left nearly untouched by the Nazi’s, the town was able to be restored to its original, unique look and style. Now, the old town area is primarily tourism with shops, restaurants and museums. The 14,000 people who call Cesky Krumlov home, live outside of the historic areas but many are directly involved in the tourism. Today, it is a well deserved UNESCO Heritage site.

Many people visited Cesky Krumlov for a day trip. Most of the backpackers I met stayed for one or two nights. I decided to stay for four nights. I took my time to see the sights, go on a fantastic walking city tour, find a good coffee shop, eat at a few different restaurants, and even take a four-hour kayak trip down the Vltava River. It was a joy to not have to rush in to see the sights and rush out again but to soak in the town and my surroundings. I was also blessed with unusually warm weather for the season which made the kayak trip even more wonderful. Many more hidden delights exist in this town. Take the risk to see with your own eyes.

More views of Cesky Krumlov:


Beautiful, Wonderful Prague


After four nights in Cesky Krumlov, I hopped a bus to Prague – the capital of Czech Republic. It was also the capital of Czechoslovakia. With the surrounding areas, Prague has an estimated population of two million people. Prague has also been labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its extensive history and amazing attractions.

When I arrived in Prague for another four nights, I connected with a small group of medical professionals who were on their way back to the United States from doing medical missions in Moldova. They extended their stay in Prague to relax and explore before heading home. It was a delight to hear stories about their time in Moldova and the obstacles they overcame in order to provide sound medical help with limited resources. These men and women are amazing problem solvers! If you are interested in joining a medical missions outreach, this organization can use you. They are looking for medical providers of all kinds and non-medical personnel for logistical roles. Check out Global Health Outreach which is associated with Christian Medical & Dental Associations. You can view their website at Many opportunities to choose from!

My time in Prague was primarily sightseeing. I wandered through Prague Castle, which is the largest castle in all of Czech Republic. I visited the Astronomical Clock in Old Towne – when it was installed in 1410, it was the third oldest Astronomical Clock in the world. It is now the oldest operating Astronomical Clock in the world. I ate at an underground restaurant. I browsed my way through local vendors and listened to live performers as I crossed St Charles Bridge. I visited a gelateria who styles your gelato choices into a flower on top of a waffle cone. I even paid good money to see a marionette opera production of Don Giovanni (You may know it as “Don Juan”). That is right, I said “marionette opera production”. Let’s be real, how many times in your life are you going to get the opportunity to see such a thing? The stranger it is, the more likely I will want to see it.

Everything about Prague was delightful; from the food to the atmosphere to the entertainment to the architecture to the history…absolutely delightful. Once again, there is so much more to see that I was able to fit in. If I have an opportunity to return to Prague, it will be welcomed with open arms!

My photos of Prague can not do it justice. You may want to see it for yourself.


Next stop…Israel.



A Few Days in Vienna

Austria was not on my list of places to visit during this trip. Before anyone gasps and responds with the usual, “Why not? It is so beautiful there. And you HAVE GOT to go to Germany as well. Did you visit Spain yet? What about France? How about Switzerland or the Scandinavian countries? Aren’t you traveling ALL of Europe? You need to visit them. They are incredibly gorgeous!” I am sure they are. I am not doubting the magnificence of each and every country, city and site. Someday, God-willing, I will see every single country on the planet with my own eyes. However, during this trip I am not planning…nor was I ever planning…to strictly stay in Europe. It has just been my starting off point. Vienna was a pleasant surprise that just happened to “waltz” across my path.

As I was trying to figure out where to head next following my time with Lisa in Italy, I scrolled around Google Maps quite a bit. Now where do I go? I have a friend who was going to be near Venice so I checked timing and prices to visit her and the city (I have now been to Italy twice for a total of 4+ weeks and still have not made it to Venice!). However, between the cost of accommodations, location options and timing, I could not fit the puzzle pieces together in a way that made sense for me. So, I looked beyond Italy. I knew I was interested in seeing some of the Czech Republic but was there any place along the way that grabs my attention? I noticed Vienna, Austria. I knew very little about Vienna which is why it caught my attention. I bought a plane ticket, found some quick accommodations and went for it.

As soon as I arrived in Vienna, I was in awe. The buildings, which were just as large as the ones in Rome, were mostly light in color – white, cream, pale yellows, pale pink, etc. They were very crisp and clean. It appeared as if they were recently painted. The sidewalks were clear of  rubbish or garbage with the exception of a cigarette butt now and again. The people waited at the corner of the street for the walk signal to change, even if there were no cars approaching. For the most part, the streets were well planned for cars, bikes and pedestrians with easy-to-understand directions. Most of the local people I came in contact with were pleasant, kind and all knew English very well.

I did not take any of the walking tours or visit any museums except for Sigmund Freud’s home and office. So to be honest with you, I still do not know much about Vienna in terms of educational or historical information. I took the time to wander around, enjoy random street vendors or restaurants, smile at the quietness of the city (despite all the visitors and traffic, it was REALLY quiet), and enjoy the sights around me.

Sunday, September 11 was by far my most favorite day in Vienna. My friend and coffee guru, Nate Sipes, has been giving me recommendations for coffee shops throughout my journey so far. He suggested a shop in Vienna called Coffee Pirates. This shop had a wonderful atmosphere and fun décor. The breakfast menu had EGGS on it. Can you believe it?!?  Protein! Hurray, something different from pastries! (Pastries are good but after 4 weeks of little protein, it is something to celebrate.)

Following coffee and breakfast, I walked the 20 minutes or so to church. What a beautiful journey. Throughout the city, church bells were ringing and the faint sound of church choirs could be heard. It took my breath away. At one point, I stopped walking and just stood there on the sidewalk…listening. My eyes filled with tears. It was one of the most beautiful sounds I have heard so far on this trip, if not ever in my life.

Once I arrived at the little church, I was welcomed with handshakes and smiling faces. Although the congregation size was small many welcomed me, introduced themselves, asked my name and if I was visiting or in Vienna for a long-term stay. Earlier in the week, a member of the church and choir had passed away. In his honor, two of the choir members  sang an incredible vibrato rendition of “How Great Thou Art”. All I could do was close my eyes, listen and soak in every note.

I do not know where this life is headed. I do not know if I will have the opportunity to visit Vienna again. If the opportunity arises, I will thankfully and gladly take it. My only hope is my time will again fall on a Sunday.



Big Dream to Big Reality

Meet Lisa. img_20160829_094007989_hdr-2

Right away, she would probably tell you this is not the best photo of her. She would tell you how sweaty she is and how she needs a shower. She would comment on her hair and how it does not meet her standards. She would fill you in on her adventure of sleeping at the Minneapolis Airport one full day prior to her flight departing instead of reserving a hotel room to have more spending money on her trip. She would follow-up with a comment about how surreal this moment feels and she could not believe she was actually in Italy. She would describe how she traveled for nearly three days just to take this picture with me.

Lisa and I became friends four to five years ago during a group Bible study at church. Lisa has a memory of a conversation we shared during that time…one of those memories where you know what the other person was wearing, exactly where you both were standing, what items you were holding in your hand…when we talked about dreaming BIG; dreaming beyond what seems reasonable or possible. If you did not already notice, this is one of my most FAVORITE topics in life.

After the study (for the life of us, we cannot remember the focus of the study) was completed, I was looking for a new study to join. As I scrolled through the list of small group Bible study options, none of the topics grabbed my attention but one leader’s name did…Lisa. The topic was not one I was deeply interested in but I knew I liked Lisa and thought it could be a good way to get to know her better, meet new people and be accountable in the Word. From that point on, we became close friends.

Lisa grew up in a small town. I remember when she moved to Eau Claire, WI (~60,000 population), she was not sure how she was going to handle or enjoy “city life”. She loved it. Then, she began to dream even bigger – Phoenix, AZ. As she kept dreaming about the impossible, she found herself making plans. As she dreamed and made plans, she started to make sacrifices like working multiple jobs to get finances secured and save for her future dream. She did not live extravagantly. She did not drive a fancy car. She did not have the latest technology or gadgets. And yet, she never went without.

During her time of sacrifice and saving, I was traveling with the tour company I worked for. I often posted landscape photos of where I was with captions of dreaming big or encouraging others to step out into something new, beyond their comfort zone. I recall one time Lisa said to me, “Tara, God told me that I am going to see the world. And that you are going to show it to me. I am so glad you post photos as often as you do because I feel like I get to go with you!”

As I started dreaming about the current journey I am on, I remembered Lisa’s words and called her. “Maybe this journey is bigger than just me. Remember how God told you I was going to show you the world? What if it is not just through pictures? What if it gets to be real life?” And the dream grew again. We daydreamed. We brainstormed. We planned. We chatted about the “what if’s”. It was not until Lisa clicked on “CHECKOUT” for a plane ticket to/from Rome that it set in as a surreal reality.

On July 1, 2016, Lisa’s dream to move to Phoenix came to pass. On August 29, 2016, Lisa’s dream to visit Italy came to pass. One small town girl who was nervous to move to the “big city” dared to dream beyond what she thought was possible. In just a couple of years with courage and consistency of sacrifice, she found herself moving beyond the “big city” to the metropolis of Phoenix and on to see the world. What a beautiful picture of dreaming bigger in motion. You cannot out dream God; He has bigger dreams for you than you can conjure. Why not dream as big as your mind can stretch so He can expand it even further?

I have been more than blessed in our friendship. God provided a friend who was willing to dream not just with or for me, but alongside me. Our paths happened to run parallel which allowed us to share some of the same struggles, excitement, worries and logistics (like having a joint thrift sale).  We had similar time frames; Lisa moved on July 1 while I left on July 11. And here we are – sweaty, tired, messy with smiles as we know another big dream is coming to pass. We get to see a piece of the world, TOGETHER.

Way back in 2015 when I asked Lisa about joining me for a period of time, I asked her where she has always dreamed about going. I told her to not think about it, just answer. I would meet up with her anywhere. One word came, “Italy.” And so began the process of reading and researching. She decided she wanted to see the southern parts of Italy including Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Island of Capri and Sicily. These areas are filled with tourism but not necessarily the first places of interest when Americans think of Italy. On a side note: Lisa had never traveled outside of the United States with the exception of all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. This was an entirely new experience. This was a risk outside of her comfort zone. She would tell you how lies and tormenting thoughts tried to infiltrate her mind with fear of the unknown, fear of finances, fear of safety and comments like “who do you think you are to make a journey like this?” But Lisa did not let them cloud her path. She pressed forward, she took risk and jumped in with both feet.

Each location is different than the other. Each place has its own atmosphere and style. We found good food, wonderful coffee and a variety of people – both tourists and locals. Please enjoy the photos of mine and Lisa’s time together in Southern Italy.


All Roads Lead to Rome.

While the Romans did not invent the simple idea of a “road,” they did design a specific system of road planning and layout. (Thank you Sandra for teaching me this!) As the Roman Empire spread by conquering new land, a road was built in a long, straight line leading to Rome. Many engineering tricks like bridges, tunnels and viaducts were used to accomplish this feat. The main road, direct to/from Rome made for easy travel and transport for the public, military and even merchandise or goods. While smaller streets fed to the larger pathway, the old saying was true that in fact, “all roads did lead to Rome.”


How did my road lead to Rome?

I worked my way through six countries in about a month. As fun as it was, it is a TON of decision-making and details to figure out. My mind was constantly spinning to make sure I did not miss anything important. I am finding it takes a lot of research to plan the next step when traveling in this capacity. My goal is be as cost-effective as possible but it takes research to figure out which option is the most cost effective. Also, when I am taking a number of different modes of transportation, how can I link up the timetables effectively? Is the train station near the bus station? If not, how will I get to the bus station? If not, can I walk or is it too far away or do I even have time to walk before the bus leaves? Can I count on my train or bus being on time? All of these questions (and more) have to be considered for each individual leg of the journey. So many details, so many questions, so much research, so many decisions. And while I am sitting at my computer trying to fit the upcoming puzzle together, I am not out enjoying the location I am currently visiting.

I am more of a big picture person so all these intricate details can become a bit wearing for me mentally. After six countries, my mind needed a break. Since I had two weeks until my friend, Lisa, meets up with me in Italy, I decided to just take time in Rome. Plenty of time to see things, relax and work on some of the next journey.

I found a place called Tiber Campground and Hostel. It is located approximately thirty minutes or so, north of the city by train. Many hostels have a maximum stay of  ten nights but this one allowed me to stay for the needed fourteen nights so I did not have to move around. It is a little oasis offering a campground as well as dorms, swimming pool, restaurant, bar, small market, laundry, free Wi-Fi, easy public transportation to the city, etc.

I took the first week to lay low. It wound up being a much-needed time as I got sick with a cold. I wanted to get over it as quickly as possible so I pretty much slept for a couple of days. Now, other than a lingering cough, all is well.

After getting rested, I connected with my friend, Sandra. When I was a tour director to the Tuscany region of Italy last year, Sandra was our fabulous local guide. We have stayed in contact and she was willing to take me all over Rome to show me her beautiful city. I had a wonderful time visiting and learning about a number of piazzas (plazas), monuments, fountains and cathedrals. Sandra is amazing in the amount of information her mind can retain as she shared dates of sites built, names of emperors or kings who built them, why they were built and how they are important to Roman history. Did you know the current city of Rome is actually standing three stories above the original city? As emperor’s and kings took over areas,  they would build their own kingdom to their own liking on top of an already established area. As modern Rome is in the process of adding on to the underground metro, finding ancient city as they dig adds a whole different delay to the construction goals. Amazing!

Sandra also made sure I was introduced to the city’s best gelato, taste tested a variety of Tiramisu and invited me to join her family to experience the best “pinsa” (specialty pizza where the flour & grains have a unique 72 hour process before being used). She blessed me in a great number ways, most of all by her friendship and generosity. Thank you Sandra for your beautiful heart.

The timeline of history in Rome exceeds my American understanding of “old”. We are not talking about a few hundred years ago like we do in the US. We are talking time periods before Italy was a country. We are talking about eras when Rome was not just a city but an entire people group and empire…when Rome was its own country. We are talking about viewing the ruins of hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. Peter, disciple of Jesus, was imprisoned here. The apostle, Paul’s tomb is here. We are talking about a time when Rome was the center of all civilization. And buildings still stand, statues are still in tact, history still speaks. Mind boggled.

I did not make it to the Vatican on this trip. A few of you sent me messages to tell me that it was a highlight during your own visit and I know you may feel a bit of disappointment with me. Thank you for all the suggestions. Y’all are some well-traveled folks who love a wide variety of sights!  I was not able to fit every single one of them in. However, I did use my right hand to throw a coin over my left shoulder into Trevi Fountain. If the old superstition is true, then I shall return to Rome again…at which point, the Vatican will be on the top of my priority list.Thus proving again, that all roads still do lead to Rome.



Visiting Luxembourg & Amsterdam

**Please forgive me for taking so long to put this post out. The internet connection at the hostel/campground is sporadic, especially when it has to try to upload photos or stream video. It has taken a number of different attempts to make this post successful. Ah, the various challenges faced on the road.**

A HUGE shout out to my former roommate, coworker and dear friend, Jeremy, for inviting me to join he and his family in visiting these two vastly different destinations. The timing worked out perfectly for my travels and was a wonderful joy to spend time with my friend exploring new places.


What brought me to Luxembourg? Great question. It was Jeremy. His aunt Karen loves genealogy. She was able to trace part of their family ancestry to Luxembourg. In doing so, she found out if a person can legally prove ancestry to Luxembourg government officials, he/she can gain dual citizenship. Jeremy and a few of his relatives decided to make the trek together to submit their paperwork. After submission, it is a bit of a waiting game while the Luxembourg government is processing which could take another six to eight months to have final decision.

The tiny country of Luxembourg is located towards the west side of mainland Europe, sandwiched between Belgium, France and Germany. Like mostly all of Europe, it has a long history and has been greatly impacted by World Wars and EU (European Union) regulations. Interestingly enough, many of the buildings in the business district of Luxembourg City are locations where the EU makes some of its major decisions. I do not know enough of Luxembourg’s history to give solid information but what I did learn was fascinating.

Departing from London, I took an overnight bus and ferry to Brussels, then boarded a train for Luxembourg. I was scheduled to arrive a couple of hours ahead of Jeremy and family so I decided to walk the 30 minutes to the hotel. Instantly, I noticed how clean and manicured the parks and streets of Luxembourg are. Aside from cigarette butts, I saw no litter which was a stark difference from being in London. I understand Luxembourg is significantly smaller than London with far less population in residents and visitors but the difference was obvious.

I was taken captive by Old Luxembourg City. Completely surrounded by TALL rock walls, the Old City gives off what I can only describe as a Disney fairytale vibe. The streets are narrow and winding, lined by rows of connected, stucco-type buildings. Bright green plants and flowers flow from the perfectly maintained window wells add splashes of vibrant color to the off white buildings. Small cafes and restaurants on the street level waft delicious aromas into the air calling the passerby to stop, relax and enjoy the incredible scenery.

Built into the walls of the Old City are tunnels and caverns (called the Casemates) which were used to fortify and protect the city. The first of the tunnels were built during the mid 1600’s. We were able to explore the Casemates to see old water wells, prisons, officers planning rooms, officers bedrooms, cannon look outs and more. The views  were incredible as they look over the city itself as well as the landscapes beyond the walls. Of course, Luxembourg City has grown up beyond the old city walls leaving the current sight of modern buildings, bridges and construction cranes, but you can imagine the views the soldiers would have had once upon a time.

We also took a tour of the Grand Ducal Palace which was first built in the late 1500’s as a small city hall. The building’s purpose, design and structure has changed over the centuries but in 1890 Grand Duke Adolphe was the first Duke to take up residence in it. Later during WWII, the Nazi party invaded Luxembourg and took over the palace as their headquarters. Unfortunately much of the décor and collections were destroyed during their occupancy. Today, it is the official residence of the Grand Duke and the location where he carries out his official duties. Interestingly, while the palace does have high fences and gates, it is right in the midst of the tight buildings and narrow streets just a few blocks from city centre.

Many more sites are available than we could fit in to the few days we were visiting. But this is one location I would love to revisit again if the opportunity ever arises.


AMSTERDAM & outlying areas

After our few days in Luxembourg, Jeremy, Kathy and I enjoyed a peaceful train ride to Amsterdam. As soon as we stepped off the train, the contrast from Luxembourg was immediate. First, the increased number of people was obvious just by walking through the train station. Second, the city noise was thick. You know how it goes – layers of constant noise from voices to bicycle bells to the hum of scooters to music from restaurants to car horns to emergency vehicle sirens. The noise never faded until we left the city for a day. Third, noticeable litter. We did see a number of street sweepers around but with the number of swarming tourists, I am guessing it is difficult to keep up with. Forth, the smells. If you  have already been to Amsterdam, you probably remember the smells. The continuous aroma of marijuana mixed with exhaust, cigarettes, food stands and of course that sewer type smell that most large cities seem to have.

Upon leaving the train station, we embarked on a wild taxi ride of zigzag roads and too close for comfort tailgating with bicycles and cars. We arrived in one piece to the boutique style hotel, Hotel de Paris, located a short fifteen minute walk from the main square – Dam Square. After taking a little time to get settled in our room, we decided to go on a dinner cruise through the canals of Amsterdam.

Before the city was built, the land was mostly all swamp. Much like Venice, Italy – Amsterdam made use of the swamps by establishing water canals allowing most of the city to be accessible by boat. Rows upon rows of homes have built up along the canals and are now some of the most expensive real estate. Once upon a time, ships would pull right up to front doors of homes to unload their cargo.

A visually obvious and interesting fact: The vast majority of the structures along the canals lean one way or the other due to building on the soft, sinking swamp land. Most of them no longer have level floors. Luckily they are packed in so tight that they wind up leaning against each other providing support. Also, a great number of the buildings angle forward on purpose for when cargo is hoisted from boats, using a hook at the peak of the roof, it will keep a safe distance from swinging into the windows.

Also, Amsterdam has more bikes than residents. Nearly 1 million bikes grace the streets and fall into the canals. Over 100,000 bikes are stolen each year. Residents have the goal of creating the ugliest bike possible they can to deter theft. Watch out as your cross the street, they may ring the little thumb bell but they will not stop for you to cross!

The following morning we headed to the Anne Frank House & Museum. I think this was the highlight of my time in Amsterdam. As you very well know, Anne Frank was a Jewish teenager whose family went into hiding for two years during WWII when Amsterdam became no longer safe from the Nazis. Anne’s father operated his own business and secretly transitioned part of his factory into a safe house where the Frank family and four others hid with the help of a few precious coworkers/friends. When the Nazi party eventually discovered them, they were separated and sent to various concentration camps. Anne and her sister were sent to Bergen-Belsen camp where they both died just months before it was liberated. Anne’s father, Otto, was the only house member to survive the Holocaust.

Even as a young teen, Anne Frank wanted to be a writer. She kept a journal of her time during these days. One of the dear trusted family friends discovered Anne’s journal after the arrest and secretly kept the diary, waiting for her return. When Anne’s death was proven in the records, the diary was handed over to Otto. After much agony, Otto decided to attempt to have the journal published and as they say, the rest is history.

If you find yourself in Amsterdam, please take the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank House. You will climb through the secret bookshelf passage which leads to the safe house, stand in the actual rooms they occupied, see the walls Anne decorated with magazine clippings, view the windows they were not allowed to open and hear some of Anne’s words as she describes her life as a teen in hiding. Fall in love with this little girl who longed to be a published writer and did so unknowingly; she inspired the world after her death.

Afterwards, we took a free walking city tour. Did you know that many cities offer free walking tours? The guide works solely for tips so you can decide how much the tour is worth to you. They usually have a website which gives the location and time of the tour(s) but do think ahead because some prefer you sign up before the tour as there may limited spaces available.

Our guide was a writer who grew up in Amsterdam. She said she wanted to get out to meet some people and share stories, knowledge & experience of her city. She was energetic and informational as we walked for about two hours around Amsterdam learning the highlights and some of the more hidden details we would not have found on our own. For example, once a prison where prisoners were subject to public capital punishment by drowning, the structure was later turned into a recreation center (like a YMCA) and now a shopping mall. I never would have known the prison element but when it was pointed out, I could see the architecture of old prison catwalk. The information was fantastic and the typical going rate for a free walking tour is about $10 (or whatever the currency of the country you are in).

On our final day in Holland, we took the time to leave the noisy city behind and head into the country. It did not take as long as expected to get outside the city walls, only about 15 minutes. We went to see the working windmills of Zaanse Schans, wooden shoe making near Marken and cheese making in the fishing village of Volendam. My recommendation: if you plan to see these sites, take public transportation. Aside from our time in Volendam, the “guided tour” was extremely rushed in each location. We did not have adequate time to hear about the mill operation and directions were very poor at the wooden shoe carvers. Our included guide provided very little information to contribute value to the tour. I think this is doable on your own and you will enjoy it more at your leisure.

But moving on…aside from looking beautiful, the windmills in Zaanse Schans are still working, operational mills providing products such as wood, chalk, oil and spices. With a history in windmills, you can imagine wind farms are also around the country to help provide energy.

The wooden shoe factory was an unexpected delight for me. The presenter was entertaining and humorous as he demonstrated the process a chunk of wood goes through to become a polished wooden shoe. Did you know the wood has to be wet in order to carve it correctly? With current machinery and technology, the carving process only takes about five minutes per shoe, then are hung for two weeks to dry. The shoes are still worn today to protect feet from heavy animals or dropping heavy mill products. Also, the shoes can be sprayed down with a hose when dirty without causing damage, making the wooden shoe multi-functional.

We took a small ferry from Marken to the fishing town of Volendam where we took in a cheese making talk. Coming from Wisconsin where nearly every elementary school class visits a cheese factory, the talk was not new information and was difficult to hear above customers in the store but I did enjoy sampling the various cheeses. One thing Western Europe is not lacking is good cheese! My favorite was the smoked cheese from both cow and goat milk.

Jeremy, Kathy and I went out for a wonderful Greek dinner to wrap up our time in Amsterdam together. I had to leave for the airport at a staggering 4:45am the next morning to head to Rome. Yikes!

Thank you Jeremy and Kathy for inviting me to join in your wonderful adventure to Luxembourg and Amsterdam. It was an honor and privilege to spend time with you guys!



Engaging in London

Truth be told, I had a difficult time getting into the London spirit. Originally I was not planning on going to London but for whatever reasons still unknown to me, I ended up staying for about 5 nights. Sunday finally tugged at my heart-strings for the city. What made the difference? I finally immersed and engaged in three specific activities that spoke to the depths of my heart.

Number One: London Aquatic Centre

As I am sure most people remember, London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is positioned in Stratford which is located on the Northeast side of London. Apparently prior to the Olympics, Stratford was smelly, filthy and deprived. Instead of focusing on areas that were already favorable for The Games, the city used the opportunity to renovate Stratford into a place to be proud of. To this day, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is an events center offering a wide variety of activities from swim lessons to professional soccer matches to headlining music concerts.

I stopped in to see the Aquatic Centre on Friday. I inhaled the chlorine. I sat in the same spectator seats that watched USA’s Missy Franklin emerge as a backstroking powerhouse. I heard the chaotic cheering. I sat in the same seats that watched South Africa’s Chad Le Clos upset USA’s Michael Phelps in the 200 butterfly. I felt the surprise of unexpected outcome. I sat in the same seats that watched the Chinese medal in every event in diving. I felt the pride that flowed from the podium as flags and anthems were raised.  I sat in the same seats that are part of the 120 year legacy in bringing the world together for just a moment in unity.

It was not enough to sit in the seats; I had to swim. On Sunday morning, I grabbed my racing suit, cap and goggles (You better believe I am hauling them around with me!) and hopped in the pool. I did not swim fast. I did not swim long. I swam with intention and purpose…to see what it felt like from the pool. I engaged in a piece of history. I became part of it.

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Number Two: St. Paul’s Cathedral

I knew I wanted to go to a church service on Sunday. I had already been “Googling” around to find a more contemporary, nondenominational, international church. A friend recommended a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey for a traditional Church of England experience. During the week, both charge an admission fee to enter but a bonus on Sunday is no fee to attend a service. It is a fantastic way to take part in a traditional experience and see the incredible beauty of the cathedrals. I decided to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral was founded over 1400 years ago and still operating on the original land site. The intricate building of the current cathedral began in 1675. I am guessing many people may not recognize the name but you may remember Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding photos; they were married in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

I was not really expecting much from the service other than a beautiful setting, a lovely choir and the directed choreography of stand up, sit down & kneel. When I arrived, I was handed a bulletin listing the “Order of Service.” As I browsed the elements of the service, my attention was captured by the first Scripture reading of the morning. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents…” Hebrews 11:8-9a. Now, these verses may not mean much to you but for me, this was a moment that resignated in my heart. Over the past decade, I have been brought back to Abraham’s story a number of different times for a number of different reasons. And here I am sitting in London, traveling by faith in obedience, not knowing where I am going. You know what that scripture verse was for me? A reminder that even though I do not know where this journey is headed, I am okay because God does.

Through this Bible verse, I became engaged in the service. I closed my eyes to soak in the choir. I participated in the traditional call and responses. I took communion in remembrance of Him along with my fellow churchmates. I sang words to melody’s I did not know. I read the Lord’s Prayer in unity with the congregation. I joyfully shook hands and passed on peace to those near me.

The Bible really does have the power to change. It changed my mindset about the old traditional service in quick moment. That is why it is called the Living Word. It has life, it gives life.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

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Number Three: Hillsong UK

You will not believe this. I attended two, that’s right, TWO chuch services on the same Sunday.

Originally a church from Sydney, Australia – Hillsong has been long known in the Christian world for their incredible music. Record album after record album after record album of worship songs have been released for quite a number of years now. Years later, additional Hillsong affiliated churches have materialized with similar energy and passion for worship.

Hillsong UK has six different locations in England. Each church has several services. I was able to attend one of the locations in Central London which meets at The Dominion Theatre. Since The Dominion Theatre is home to Broadway style plays (currently “The Bodyguard”), the acoustics are incredible.  As I mentioned on Facebook, the worship was like “a rock concert in the South with great British flare.”  Yo T, what the heck does that mean? It means the music was loud and energetic. During prayer and sermons, the congregation from all different nations were in loud vocal agreement with what was said (like in Southern Baptist churches). Of course we were in London so they have their own British flare going on with clothing style, accents and other cultural mannerisms. Also worth noting – twelve musicians on stage represented eight different countries and four different continents. Whoa.

A moment came where the lead pastor came on stage with a stack of paper in his hand nearly three inches thick. He stood for 15 minutes reading prayer requests and answered prayers which had been turned in just that morning by members of the congregation. With each answered prayer, the crowd went wild. With each prayer request, the crowd vocally agreed God was in control and capable of doing mighty things. If you read my blog entry from the church in Dublin, you already know how this has been on my heart.

God promises miracles. I want to hear them. I want to see them. I want to be a part of them. I want to be excitedly watching in anticipation for what is going to happen next. I want to be seated on the edge of my seat waiting for the unexplainable to happen. I want to cheer for the aligning of details that make no earthly sense. I want miracles. Hallelujah! AMEN!

I engaged in this service as much as the last. I sang at the top of my lungs. I vocally agreed in the sermon and in prayer. I cheered with each answered prayer announced and I do not even know a soul in the place. But I do know that God is capable of every fulfillment made and He is capable of fulfilling every request brought forth. And that my friends, is worth cheering for.

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With these three visits, I feel I finally found the London I was looking for. I was engaged to the depth of my being.


Speaking of making prayer requests known, I have two requests to ask for prayer about:

  1. My next step – On Friday I am heading to Amsterdam until the 15th. I am planning to be in Rome by Aug 24. But between the two, I have no idea where to go. I was working on a plan but it has not yet come together as I pictured. Please pray for my steps to be guided and to be where I am supposed to be.
  2. My computer – I bought a laptop specifically for this trip in February or March. Two days ago, it quit all of a sudden and would not start up again. Now, the battery only lasts 20 minutes before it dies. I am not in a great location to take it anywhere for help. I am asking for a miraculous healing…yes, even for a computer!

Meet the Korkis Family

I am very honored to introduce the Belfast living, feline friendly, fun-loving, good cooking, movie watching and excellent hospitality minded couple, Milad and Holly Korkis.


Milad and Holly Korkis – Cats are more fun than rose gardens until they continually poop in your personal garden. 

Milad and Holly opened up their home, their time and ultimately their lives to me during my visit to Belfast. We all agreed this encounter was a divine blessing which we credit to He who calls us His favorite. We had a small discussion over who really was His favorite – I think we all won that argument.

But Tara, how did you wind up staying with these fine folks? Excellent question.

Several months before I left on this journey, a dear friend of mine said, “You know, you may want to check with YWAM (world-wide missionary organization) bases as you travel. Many bases are open to having people stay with them for a low cost.” So that is exactly what I did. I emailed the base in Belfast to see if they would take visitors. Milad and Holly offered up the spare room in their personal home for me to take up residence for a week.

Holly hails from the great state of Pennsylvania in the United States. Do not get too excited Eagles or Steelers fans, Holly professed her allegiance to God’s team – the Packers. About five years ago after completing YWAM’s DTS (Discipleship Training School) in Atlanta, Georgia,  Holly came to work with a base in Rostrevor – a small seaside, resort town in Northern Ireland. Holly led quite a number of Rostrevor DTS groups and mission outreach teams. Interestingly, she mentioned a couple of favorite locations she has traveled on outreach more than once is the Middle Eastern countries of Israel and Palestine. Perhaps God was already preparing her heart . . .

After completing college, Milad followed in his older brother’s footsteps by becoming involved with YWAM. Approximately three years ago, he arrived in Northern Ireland from his homeland in Syria for a DTS at the Rostrevor base. Milad has great stories of incredible experiences like not being able to travel with his DTS outreach team to Israel and Palestine due to Syrian citizenship so instead worked in Belfast with a network of monks. He also made friends with a small group of elderly nuns who continually looked for ways to bless him…including gifting him money to help buy a beautiful engagement ring for Holly. When the expiration was creeping up on his visa, Milad applied for asylum in Northern Ireland as it was no longer safe for him to go back home as a Christian Syrian. He was granted refugee status and along with Holly is working toward gaining UK citizenship.

With “The Troubles” that have gone on between Northern and Southern Ireland, one of the focuses of the Rostrevor YWAM base is to actively help in conflict restoration. Every year the base takes an immense prayer walk which stretches over 200 miles along the border praying for restoration and reconciliation between the two countries. How beautiful is that?

Also, Northern Ireland has opened themselves to Syrian refugees relocating through UN programs. I had the opportunity with Milad and Holly to visit such a family for lunch. I was honored to be in the home of a Christian family who six to eight months ago left nearly everything they owned behind, boarded a plane without knowing or getting a choice of where they were being sent (for safety, they were told once the plane was in the air) to start a new life in a place where they do not speak the language or know the culture. The parents and three adult men are learning English but it is slow going as classes have ceased for summer break. They treat Milad as family and he assists them with MANY questions from asking to know what certain medicines are to where to go for various needs. AND Nadia’s food is fantastic. She and her husband, Isaac, will make sure your pants (or “trousers” as called in the UK) no longer button when you leave their home.

Considering current circumstances in Syria, Syrian refugees becoming scattered throughout the world including Northern Ireland and the ongoing training in restoration & resolution Rostrevor has armed Milad and Holly with, I have NO DOUBT that this couple is placed here for “such a time as this”. Currently, they are working on getting to know Belfast and meet local people. They are getting involved in the community and looking for ways to volunteer with a variety of organizations and groups.

But on a personal note, these two took incredible care of me. They had been thinking about going away to a festival but last-minute decided to stay home during IMG_20160725_223411439.jpgthe time I sent the email to YWAM Belfast. It was a miracle they were home in the first place. They are both incredible cooks. One night, we were sitting around chatting and Malid says, “I’m in the mood for french fries, anyone else want some?” Holly and I both agreed and within 15 minutes or so, Milad made delicious fresh french fries FROM SCRATCH. I’m talking real potatoes peeled and everything. Delicious! Holly is also a fantastic cook and continued to make sure I was comfortable. She even had a little welcome basket for me upon arrival. This was a bit of a down time for them so a couple of the days they took me around the city to see new, beautiful sights I had not seen yet. This former tour director always appreciates the extra touch of sightseeing and information provided along the way!

My life is blessed to have had the opportunity to meet these two dynamic world changers and now my dear friends. Please keep them in your prayers for guidance and wisdom as they continue to learn how to love on Belfast. If you are interested in more information on how you can help the Korkis Family, let me know. I am happy to put you in touch with them.

(L-R) Milad, Holly and Tara at the eclectic pub, Filthy McNasty’s

There Once Was A Scottish Lassie Who Blessed Me

This past weekend, I made a trek up to the Northern parts of Northern Ireland. On Thursday morning I booked a hostel in Portstewart over the internet, went to the bus station to purchase a ticket and away I went. Now first of all, I need to mention that I am NOT AT ALL used to bus transportation or hostel accommodations. I own a car and typically stay in hotels as most Americans do. Each item on their own I’ve done…the combination was quite new. In fact, I had no idea exactly HOW I was going to get to all the sights I wanted to see but decided I’d figure it out once I arrived.


Side note: For those of you who have never stayed in a hostel…it’s not scary like the 10-year-old  horror movie reflected. Every hostel is different in their set up but many have private rooms or dorm style rooms. Some dorms are one gender only and some are mixed with effort to accommodate as many people and as many combinations of people as possible with the least amount of hassle. Due to my last-minute booking, I had to settle for a mixed dorm bunk. It would not be my first preference due to my own safety concerns but it was all that was available. I will more than likely have to settle for it again in the future so I decided there was no time like the present to take the plunge.


Back to the story. I successfully bussed, switched busses and EVEN got off at the correct stop some three hours away from my starting point. I know, I know, heroic right?!?

I was able to find my hostel with little difficulty. When the owner showed me to my room, he said that of that moment, I was the only one in that particular dorm room. (Hip, hip hurray!) My fingers were crossed that it would stay that way. After I dropped my stuff and took a “wee” look around (as the Irish would say), I headed out for fish & chips.

Now, this is where I am amazed at how God weaves amazing threads into my story. After returning from fantastic fish & chips, I consciously decided to head to bed. I could hear other travelers chatting about in the common rooms (kitchen, dining room & living room) but I thought, “Hey, this was a pretty brave step today. I made it up here on my own and I am staying in a hostel on my own. I know one of my goals was to try to meet people but I do not really want to tonight. I will try again at breakfast.” So I crawled in bed, in the room I currently had to myself, just like an introvert who is avoiding people does and started to read.


About 20 minutes later, a knock came to the door and in walked the owner with a woman. In his delightful Irish accent He said, “You’ll have a bit of company this evening.” She introduced herself as Janine, the Scottish photographer, who was here for a short holiday. We exchanged small pleasantries and chatted about what our goals were for the following day of sight-seeing. Come to find out, our goal in sightseeing were pretty much the same. Janine said, “I’ve a car hire (rented car). You ought to come along with me. I’ve got the car anyway with more than enough space. It’s no bother, it will be good fun.” And you know what? It was.


We spent a full day on Friday together seeing the sights of Northern Ireland. Some I had seen before but was excited to see again like Giant’s Causeway…still one of my favorite places on planet earth. Some of the sights I had never seen like the Dark Hedges which you may know if you have been a Game of Thrones fan (which I am not) or you may have seen beautiful photos, often black and white of the trees arching the roadway. Janine was a delightful artistic story-teller who shared many of her life stories as we drove the windy and narrow roads of Northern Ireland. Also, she was willing to take her time to “capture the shot” with her cameras. She surprised me with a sandwich she had made for us before leaving the hostel and a bottle of water. What an amazing lady!


Now, I was not planning to return to the hostel in Portstewart. In fact, on Friday morning I had overheard the owner of the hostel state they were booked up for the evening. So I quickly made arrangements for another hostel in the old walled city of Londonderry – also known as Derry. Apparently there is still a squabble over the naming of the town between the nationalists and the unionists so they settle to call it both – “Derry/Londonderry.” Be assured, you will call it the wrong thing to the wrong person and they will correct you.  Anyway, Janine said she was wanting to see Derry/Londonderry anyway and was happy to drive me to my hostel. What a blessing.


Side note: When you book a hostel, make sure to note when the check in hours are and try to not be late. It could cause a problem.


As it became later, I realized I was not going to make the check in time at the Derry/Londonderry hostel. I was able to find two different phone numbers for the hostel and Janine allowed me to use her phone to call. One number went straight to a voicemail while the other, was “invalid”. No luck in getting in contact with the hostel.


When we arrived to the hostel, they had given my bed away since I had not checked in. The hostel was not concerned that the provided phone numbers were not working. As far as they were concerned, I did not check in on time. End of story. Luckily, Janine was planning on waiting for me just in case we had an issue.


As soon as I was turned away, Janine grabbed her phone at 11:30pm and called the owner of the original hostel in Portstewart, where she was staying another night and asked the owner if the hostel was still full. He said it was. As soon as she told him of my predicament, he said, “I’ve a bed for Tara in room 6, the same room you are in. It’s no bother.” I found out on Saturday morning that a girl had cancelled her bed at the hostel only a few hours before Janine called the owner. Miracle.


On Saturday, Janine and I set out for Derry/Londonderry again to see the beautiful walled city. We parted ways in the city and I boarded a bus for home. Janine was to head back to Scotland on Sunday.


My thoughts: Janine is a God blessed and appointed miracle to me.

  1. Even in the midst of my attempts to be antisocial, God waltzed Janine into the room which I was supposed to have to my self.
  2. Our sightseeing goals were pretty well the same and I hadn’t made any plan on how I was going to get around to see them. Janine offers for me to join her.
  3. Janine not only was wonderful company for me but she even packed sandwiches for us! She fed me and gave me water.
  4. She did not leave me in unfortunate circumstances in Derry/Londonderry but willingly waited to make sure I was okay.
  5. When arrangements fell through, she wasted no time in calling the other hostel to attempt to help me…and was successful! (She was also willing to share her bunk with me at the hostel if need be.)


If I looked at each one of these pieces separately, maybe I could chalk it up to coincidence. But when I look at each as an element of the big picture, I can not help but point to an incredible God who is looking out for me in BIG ways and small details. Keep your eyes open. If you take a moment to acknowledge him in some of the details he is coordinating on your behalf, you will be in awe of the bigger picture as it unfolds and as you look back in hindsight.


Live your life in an adventure puzzle that God puts together. With every added piece, I’m giddy with excitement about where the next one will show up.


You never know when a Scottish lassie will come along to bless your life.


Visiting Belfast

After visiting Northern Ireland for only a day in 2013, the city of Belfast has peaked my interest ever since.

As many people probably remember, Belfast and Northern Ireland have had their fair share of segregation and hostility. It was only recently in 1998 the Protestants and Catholics made an agreement (The Good Friday Agreement) to try resolution through peaceful and Democratic means. The goal was to end 30 years of violence between the two parties plus several militia groups. Mass destruction has ceased but rebellious acts and animosity still lingers. Just take a short walk down Newtownards Road in East Belfast where you can easily see the varied messages muraled on sides of buildings ranging from pleading of unity and peace to militia calling for active defense. Most neighborhoods bear either the British flag to claim the area as Protestant or the Republic of Ireland flag laying claim to Catholic Ireland. While “The Troubles” have been physically tame, the underlying tension still remains. An obvious sign is the way people whisper when they tell me about aspects of it.

Beyond the metaphorical elephant in the room, the city is beautiful. Old Georgian style architecture mixed with new contemporary fills Belfast City Centre. River Lagan runs through the city while the harbor boasts the old ship building industry with it’s landmark  cranes, “Samson and Goliath. Belfast proudly built the famous ship, The Titanic in 1909 and has a museum to her great honor.

Since this girl is used to a grid system for cities and streets, wandering the city was a bit confusing as streets seem to go every which way. But when you do not have to been anywhere, it does not really matter.

So many sights around Belfast I could talk about and yet I have not seen enough to share. Therefore, more to come.


Refocus and Reenergize, Republic of Ireland

Following our 10 day Iceland adventure of cramped quarters, on the go travel and a never ending diet of starches, I decided to take a little downtime to catch up with myself. Now that I am traveling solo, I set a goal to transition my mind set, get some sleep and straighten out some “rare-to-me” digestive issues before taking this trip head on. I also wanted to take some alone time with God.

I found Aisling Guesthouse in Ashbourne, County Meath, Ireland which is located abut 20 minutes outside of Dublin where I could have a private room to reassemble and regroup.IMG_20160724_153025713_HDR

After I arrived the afternoon of July 22, I walked the 2km to/from the small town of Ashbourne to pick up a few groceries at Aldi. Yep, they have them here too! Instead of going out to eat, groceries are going to become really important as I now have to watch my pennies, pence, cents or whatever other currency I come upon.

On Saturday, July 23, I didn’t leave my room. I slept, took a shower, dealt with my digestive issues (let’s face it, these things are part of life), did a little research on churches in Dublin, started a Bible study on Genesis and relaxed. What a great day to unwind and gear up for what is to come.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of attending All Nations Church in Dublin. What a fantastic experience. When I walked in the door, I instantly joined a crowd of people from all different walks of life, backgrounds and ethnicities praising Jesus to songs I already knew. The lead pastor asked who was visiting for the first time – As the only American I was in good company with a woman from Trinidad and a family from Brazil who also raised their hands. The small group of maybe 60 people all unified in song and worship was amazing. The lead pastor delivered a very passionate and energetic sermon about belief in Life, Love and the Lord, which received vocal agreements and encouragement from attendees. The end of the service however, is where my heart was touched the most. I believe this experience was meant for me specifically to observe because it is a church community aspect I have been longing for.

A woman who is a regularly involved in the All Nations Church congregation approached the pastor (DURING THE SERVICE mind you, gasp!) to see if she could share what has been happening in her life this past week. She appeared to be of more Middle Eastern descent and spoke very clear English with only a hint of an accent. She started by saying that she felt a pressing on her heart to share her story and speak to the glory of God in her circumstances from the previous week. She said, “to not share what He is in the middle of doing would rob him of His glory. It would not be right.”

She shared how she was called in to work on her off day to find out she was being let go due to not having visa papers yet. She said that she has been waiting on them for some time and has not been able to find out why they are held up. With fear and sadness of having to tell her children, she said that instead of picking up her phone, she went to the foot of the cross in prayer and song. A matter of days later, the same job called her back to say that they really want her to continue working for them and will try to extend her time as long as she gets her visa soon. She praised God for his faithfulness and spoke of the deep peace in the midst of her circumstance that only He can provide. Immediately following her story, the pastor and the church prayed over her situation asking for the visa to come through this week.

Here’s what I loved about this scenario: This woman is smack dab in the middle of her situation. It has not been figured out yet. She testified to her own choice to lay down her fear, frustration, anger, defeat and instead, look for God to work out the outcome of her circumstances. She still has to jump through the legal hoops but with much greater confidence and hope. Then, she was allowed to speak to her entire church congregation so they could be praying with her. What is that going to do? It’s going to let miracles happen for the entire church to see. Now, they are all on high alert to see what and how God is going to answer her prayer(s). How much more in the moment could this church be? If there are people sitting in the audience who are “on the fence” about God and His unfailing love, what an amazing way to let them be part of the miracle in their own community. I’m telling you what, there are people watching to see how her situation unfolds.


This thought has been coming back to me over and over in the past 4-6 month: If we continue to pray and ask for God to reveal signs, wonders and miracles but are not publicly acknowledging even the smallest of miracles He IS doing right in front of our faces, then why on earth are we bothering to continue asking?