Schoolies in Byron Bay, Australia

Byron Bay is a small beach town located in the far-northeastern most corner of the state of New South Wales, Australia (about four hours from where I live in Brisbane). Because of Byron Bay’s unique location and stunning beauty, it has become a deeply spiritual place and draws people from all over the world.  In the evenings we would often find a group of hippies gathered in a circle  playing the drums and other homemade instruments as people danced under the moon next to the sea.

During the second half of Schoolies, I got transferred to Byron Bay, which is a couple of hours south from where I had been working with RED FROGS in the Gold Coast. The environment in Byron Bay during schoolies was completely different from the Gold Coast. It was so much more relaxed, with only a couple hundred of schoolies in Byron Bay versus 22,000 in Gold Coast. We got to build more long-term connections with Schoolies as we saw the same ones every night. A few of them chose to follow Jesus, which was super exciting!

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Thursday night when I arrived into Byron Bay, I was standing outside of “The Hub” which was the volunteer tent that RedFrogs put up to give aid and assistance to schoolies. I looked out over the sea with the moonlight sparkling on the water. As the sea breeze blew through my hair, I had a flashback to a year ago when I was standing in this exact same spot. I remembered how God spoke to me then, “A year from now, you’ll be here.” In that moment I thought, “No, I won’t.” But then over the next few months, God gently nudged until I finally said, “Yes” to His plan for me to return to Australia. But I thought God meant that I would be back in Australia, not necessarily in the exact same spot a year later!

Our ministry time each day started in the late afternoon and would go until about midnight, so I would get up and run at sunrise and explore the little shops scattered throughout the neighborhood of the church where we were staying.

One morning after my run, I was sitting on a driftwood log, watching surfers catch waves. Meanwhile, this middle-aged man came in from taking a morning swim and smiled at me and said, “Isn’t it a beautiful morning to be alive?” I laughed and agreed. “Can I sit?” he asked. “Sure!” We chatted at first, then talked about his job at the Byron Bay Cookie Company. He recounted his fishing and snorkeling stories and about the yearly whale migration. The whole time that he and I were talking, I kept praying about bringing up spirituality. But  our conversation ended and he left before I had the opportunity to ask this man if he knew Jesus.

On my run home, I felt a bit disappointed in myself and so I told God, “If you give me another opportunity today, I will take it.”

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Later on, I was prayer walking along the beach before our volunteer time began and I saw this rock formation that fascinated me and I wanted to explore more, so I went in closer to take photos of the textures. On the other side, I saw a girl a good distance away. The way that she was standing looking out at the waves would’ve made a perfect picture. I was standing there with  my camera slung over my shoulder, analyzing the lines and lighting and mentally framing the perfect picture, and wanting to take a photo of her. But as a general rule, I try to meet strangers before taking their photo, so I didn’t take it. I went closer, taking photos fo the textures and colors that I was seeing and then she turned around and said, “Can you take a photo of me?” And I felt dumbfounded because if only she would’ve known that I was wanting to take one of her!

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She ran over to grab her phone and I said, “Oh, I’ll take it on my camera if that’s okay because it will be higher quality and then I can use the wifi on my camera to download it to my phone and then I’ll airdrop it to you!” I took photos of her and then had trouble with airdrop not working. We began talking and I found out that she had just arrived that day from Germany to work on a film project about the Back Packers traveling through a town close to Byron. She expressed her uncertainty about her ability to excel at the project. Since airdrop wasn’t doing its job of transferring the photos from my phone to hers, we exchanged contact information.

Just before we were about to part ways, I knew that this was that opportunity that I had prayed for earlier. “Hey,” I said, “I don’t know what your religious viewpoints are but I feel like God wants me to tell you that you are loved and that you are beautiful and that He is going to help you to excel with this project.” She began to cry and said that it meant so much to hear that. “There’s something different about you,” she said, “I don’t know exactly how to describe it but you are so happy and I can tell that you love life.” I told her that I haven’t always been this way but that Jesus transformed my life and that He would love to transform her life. She said she’s still trying to figure out what she believes but thanked me for sharing and we parted ways.

It was encouraging to have this encounter because I struggle to share my faith. It’s much easier for me to live out my faith, to do kind things, say kind things, carry the Spirit of Christ with me but it is so difficult for me to speak it out. But I am trying to grow in boldness and to share the good news, because IT IS GOOD!

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I spent Thanksgiving in Byron Bay, eating avocado toast and finishing up our last day of ministry with RedFrogs in downtown Byron. When we had packed up, we ordered pizza and ate it around the picnic table before heading home to Brisbane. Time and time again, as I’ve stepped out in faith and ventured thousands of miles away, God has provided me with a community of people around me to be like family.

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God has been so faithful to me during my time in Australia. The adjustment was harder than I expected but as of this week, I do feel settled and happy in my life here now.

Gaining Inspiration

I got so inspired to create things and to create my own art as I walked around and took in all the details and textures and styles and colors of things being sold in artsy shops around Byron Bay.

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McTavish Cafe and Surf Shop

McTavish is a custom surf shop with an espresso machine at the checkout counter, just like so many other Aussie shops. I passed this place on my morning run and came back later to grab a cuppa and use wifi to do some prep for my upcoming outreach to Malaysia. But while I waited for my latte, I walked around and just took photos.

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A proper depiction of Byron Bay culture.

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McTavish has a surf club and the group of surfers that I talked about earlier actually came from this cafe and were quite talented.

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Sunrise at the Lighthouse:

The Cape Byron Lighthouse is perched on the Easternmost part of Australia with a gorgeous panoramic view of the ocean. On our last morning in Byron, I took a couple of friends along to watch the sunrise. We had to park outside of the gate (which was still locked since it was so early in the morning) but we walked up to the lookout and got there just in time to see the sun slip over the horizon.

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Peaceful morning, sun slipping gradually over the horizon. Yesterday’s worries are gone and today rises with new possibility.

The sun moves slowly up the horizon. The waves crash in over rocky shore, ebbing and flowing. Wind blows the grassy turf and birds fly overhead. I take it all in, letting the newness wash over my soul.

This particular spot is called, “Tallows Beach” and is visible from the lighthouse in Byron Bay. It is a popular surf spot and if you look closer, you’ll see that the swell is dotted with surfers waiting to catch a wave.

That’s a wrap for Byron Bay! I hope you enjoyed this.

Schoolies in Gold Coast, Australia

The locals affectionally call it, “Goldie.” Tall sky scrapers line the shores of what is called, “Surfers Paradise” where hundreds of people come to swim and surf and enjoy the beach.

Gold Coast is about an hour and a half by train from where I live and I’ve been here twice before on day trips. It’s where I saw my first whale in the wild! But this time, I’ve come here for different reasons. Why have I come here? During early December when Aussie students graduate from high school, they travel to the beach with their friends to celebrate their accomplishments by partying. It’s similar to what “Spring Break” would be in the USA but one of the starkest differences between “Spring Break” and “Schoolies” is that Schoolies is for 17 and 18 year old since the legal drinking age in Australia is 18. Which means that it easily becomes a place where alcohol and drugs are abused. 

On the first night that we gathered at a RedFrogs rally to worship before going out into the streets to minster to schoolies. The leader of RedFrogs shared his vision with us about winning this generation of young people by learning to serve.

“Serve and love this generation. To win a generation, you just have to serve a generation. That’s what Jesus did.”

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Red Frogs recognises that the culture of young people is dominated by alcohol. In situations such as Schoolies/Leavers Week, excessive consumption of alcohol and other substances means that things can often get out of hand and potentially alter the direction of a young person’s future. Our volunteers act as the eyes and ears in accommodation venues and out on the streets, providing a positive peer presence to school leavers.


It was estimated that there were 20,000-22,000 schoolies in Gold Coast alone. Each RedFrogs team (which consisted of four people) was assigned to certain hotels and if the hotel was big enough, we were assigned to a certain part of the hotel. Me and my team served in a small family run hotel on the edge of town. We started by going around and knocking on their doors and meeting all of the schoolies; giving them lollies and a card with our hotline number on it. The strategy that RedFrogs has created, is to meet them and build relationship before they are in a moment of crisis. That way when they are low, they know where to turn.

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I scribbled into my journal late one night after a long shift out on the streets:

It’s dark and I’m laying on my balcony out under the stars replaying all the events of today. I’ve had so many conversations over the past couple of days with schoolies that have made me think, “What would Jesus be saying if He was in this situation?” And I guess that’s the joy of Him living inside of me, when I don’t have words, I can tap into His wisdom. Sometimes that means praying while others talk. Oftentimes it means laying aside my own human judgement to look at people through Jesus’ eyes. As I walk the streets night
after night with my team, instead of focusing on the darkness, I’m starting to get such a heart of compassion for all of these people who are so desperate to know love and to understand what the true meaning of life is.



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We got a few hotline calls for pancake cook-ups at other hotels. I was thrilled with this view as I flipped pancakes and lathered them in Nutella while my teammates sat in the living and dining area of a hotel suite, talking and building relationships with Schoolies. One thing that really impressed me throughout the week was how shocked the schoolies were that we had paid to come and to help them. They couldn’t believe that hundreds of people had come together to volunteer and just to show that they mattered and that they weren’t alone.

There were heavy situations through the week; suicide ideations, alcohol and drug overdoses that left people unable to care for themselves. But one thing that surprised me almost more than anything were the individuals who were sick of the party scene and felt the loneliness and dissatisfaction that was so rampant everywhere.

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Surfers Paradise, 05:00 o’clock.

Even though we worked through the nights most nights, I would still usually get my morning run in along the beach before crashing for a few hours of sleep and starting the shift all over again in the early afternoons.

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Time and time again, God has put me in situations of intense and exhausting ministry but there is always beauty to meet me in those places and to remind me that even in a broken world, there is so much beauty waiting to revive our souls.

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ESPl coffee brewers:

ESPL is a quaint little cafe that had a good view of the sea and was conveniently located in close proximity to where RedFrogs had set up their headquarters. While I am not a coffee addict (I don’t need a cup a day to keep the blues away) I call myself more of a “social coffee drinker” meaning, that if I’m with people who are drinking coffee and I know that the cafe has a good roast, I might order a cuppa Joe. But I’m equally satisfied with a tea or smoothie.

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I was delighted with not only the smooth iced latte that I enjoyed at ESPL but also the friendly and welcoming staff working there.

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Paradox Coffee Roasters:

On my last day in Gold Coast, my RedFrogs team leader took us to Paradox cafe since he had been telling us about all week. It was a little walk from Surfers Paradise but worth it! The staff were friendly, the big windows let in the midday sunlight and bathed all of us in golden warmth.

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Australia has a strong cafe culture and it was interesting to hear the conversation about what makes or breaks a cup of coffee that  my three Aussie teammates were having as we sat down and relaxed before our shift. They know their coffee!

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Me? I’m always drooling over the pastry cabinet. When it comes to food, I’m pulled in by gourmet looking food that is fresh and smells as if it’s been pulled straight out of the oven. I also love when restaurants have good presentation and that’s something that Paradox excelled at.

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That’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this little peak into Gold Coast. For privacy reasons, we didn’t take photos of the Schoolies but I’m linking the episodes that RedFrogs posted on their youtube channel to give an idea of how a week of Schoolies really is.

Follow the Frog Episode 1 and Follow the Frog Episode 2.

Up next, I’ll be posting about the second half of my Schoolies outreach week which was spent in Byron Bay.

Have a lovely day! -Gretta

How to use your words in 2019

As I stood with thousands in downtown Brisbane between the Brissy river shore and SouthBank watching an epic fireworks show on New Years Eve, I began thinking about 2019 and more specifically, how I hope to use my words this year.


I can speak life or death with my words. I’ve been realizing lately that the thoughts that are inside of my heart are what eventually take shape and become what I speak into existence.
If I’m perfectly honest, not all of my words that came out of my mouth in the past year have been words of life. Now I realize that some situations do require ugly honesty in order to resolve a problem. But what I’m talking about is when the overflow of my heart is constantly negative and my words lift me up and tear the people around me down.
This year, I don’t have a long list of goals. Instead, I hope to make achievable goals at the beginning of each month. But one goal that I do have for the whole year is to S P E A K   K I N D L Y to those around me.


I like digging around in the dirt and getting my hands dirty and watching things grow. And that’s what I want to do this year; to dig in the soil of my heart and to make it a fertile place for growth to happen.
“If speaking kindly to plants can make them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans could do.” -Simran Kalra
Imagine what would happen if we all agreed together to speak kindly to each other? To choose kindness even when we disagree. What if we would all keep our thoughts and words constantly filtered through truth?
“Gentle words bring life and health.” Proverbs 15:4
My days here at YWAM Brisbane are full to the brim with scheduled school activities, meetings and responsibilities. If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t always feel like doing the things that I am asked to do. I have to constantly die to self and check my attitude to keep my heart at a place of recognizing that I signed up for a life of joyful service rather than a life of drudgery and duty. Don’t get me wrong; I love living here but I guess I wasn’t quite prepared for how much the enemy would attack my thoughts and my attitudes.
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It’s forced me to run to God in humility when I mess up. It’s made me realize how measly my own efforts are to live a holy life in my own human power. I’ve come to understand how desperately I need Jesus every moment of every day to renew my mind and to be my joy and my strength. Because on my own, I’m weak.
Oftentimes by the evening here, I am exhausted from the heat and activities and sometimes I just need a breather. Thankfully, I live in a beautiful little suburb of Brisbane, surrounded by a lot of tropical beauty. When I get out and enjoy the cooler evening air and pick little bouquets, I am refreshed by the beauty that surrounds me.

But I don’t think that plants should just live outside. One of the first things that I bought for my room here was a rubber tree plant. I’ve enjoyed caring for it and watching it grow.
Rubber plant care:  The rubber tree plant needs the right balance of water. During the growing season, it needs to be kept moist. It is also a good idea to wipe off the leaves of your rubber tree houseplant with a damp cloth or spritz it with water.
Last month, I read the book of Hosea during a week of intense ministry to Schoolies and one thing that God highlighted to me personally was this verse,
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14
Deserts are places of thorns and pricks and snakes. Deserts are dry and barren. When we’re in the desert, we have to find ways to stay hydrated, just as a means of survival. There have been times in my life that have felt dry and barren. But what’s surprised me in those moments is that when I quiet my heart, what I hear are kind words spoken tenderly to me by my Creator.
Stepping into a new year, there is always excitement and celebration. But there is also the real element of fighting against the fear of the unknown. You might be dealing with feelings of disappointment at things that weren’t fulfilled in the past year.
If you are feeling alone or sad as you step into the new year, I hope that you will be reminded that God promises to never leave you or forsake you.

If you’re in a desert place in your life, quiet your heart and listen to the voice of God. I believe that He is speaking tenderly to you. He loves you and cares so much about what happens in the upcoming year.

One thing that God has been challenging me to do is to E X P E C T good things to happen in my life and in my future. It’s easy to recognize how God is working in other people’s lives. Sometimes I find it hard to let myself get my hopes up for good things to happen to me, knowing in the back of my mind there is a very real possibility of being disappointed. But I believe that God does have good things in store for those that He loves. Sure, our lives can have trials but even in the middle of our desert places we can experience His kindness carrying us through.
And that’s one reason why I’ve created another T-shirt campaign. Not only to remind us that in our desert places God speaks kindly to us but also that we can use our words to speak kindly into other people’s lives when they may be in a desert place. 

The T-shirt campaign will help to raise funds for the trip. Or, if you don’t want a T-shirt you can donate through PayPal: Or you can give a tax-deductible gift directly through the YWAM Brisbane Website. 
I’m so grateful that you are here and that you show interest in my life and what God is doing. I am breathing a prayer for you right now because even though I might not know your name, God does and He cares so much for you. He has beautiful plans for your life this year!

Making Travel Effortless

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During my flight across the Pacific to come to Australia, I scribbled down a list of things I wish I knew before I traveled. I may have been bored or maybe I was just reflecting over the last two years and what I would’ve told myself if I could go back in time to when I was a newbie at traveling.


Are you the type of person to pack for a trip weeks in advance, or do tend to throw your things in your suitcase last minute and hope for the best?

By nature, I am the first type. I enjoy the slow process of planning; picking outfits and having an excuse to buy those travel-sized cosmetics and then arranging it all neatly into my suitcase. 

But over the last few years as I’ve basically lived out of a suitcase for months on end, I’ve not only gotten quicker at packing but I also have fewer belongings, so I’ve somewhat morphed into the second type.

For example, when I came to Australia the first time, I was packed a month in advance. This time? I didn’t pack until a few hours before my departure.

There are pros and cons to both packing styles. For instance, when I was checking my bag in at the airport to fly to Australia this time, I had to reshuffle a few things between my carry on and check in to meet the weight restrictions. This meant that when I got to the gate after a tearful goodbye to my family, and after I scanned my boarding pass and was walking down the jetway, I realized that the book I had been planning to read on my flight was now in my check in, in the underbelly of the airplane. I would be very, very bored for the next few days of travel.

Or would I?

Lucky for me, I had a few other options of ways to occupy my time.

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Download the app for your airline to have automatic access to your booking information or at the very least flag your flight information in your emails so it’s easy for you to find. I’ve had enough flights rescheduled or canceled last minute that I’ve learned that it is also smart to print out your original flight information (I know, old school) so that if you end up on the phone rescheduling, you have the booking information right in front of you. 


  • Download podcasts or books from Audible ahead of time! Some of my favorites are:

Nothing is wasted Podcast

The Secret Art of Storytelling by Carmine Gallo 

  • Most of the music I listen is on Spotify, which means that I don’t have a lot of music downloaded onto my phone. So before a trip I always download a playlist to give me something new and exciting to listen to.
  • Watch movies. Either on the screen in front of your or download a few on your phone or laptop before your trip.
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  • First off, I’d like to give a plug for the Ona Bag. They are Italian made bags and they certainly are quality! I love that their camera bag are versatile for international travel. The Camps Bay Bag is what I have been using for the last year and it has the perfect amount of space for camera gear but also a pocket in the back interior where you can store your laptop and a few personal items. I bought mine on Ebay for half of the original pice and the only complaint I have is that it’s hard to find a water bottle that fits into the side pocket because the pockets are so snug.
  • A water bottle to fill up at a water fountain once you’re beyond security. I don’t know about you, but traveling always makes me so thirsty!
  • An immune booster. I kept several packets of the Pink Drink in my carry on. I went into this trip really tired because of a crazy busy summer at home in North Carolina. In the past, this would’ve meant that I could easily get sick during the trip or upon my arrival into the new country. But not this time! I’ve been working all summer to boost my immune system with ProBio5, and Bio-Cleanse. I’ve also found that jumping ahead in time zones is easier than jumping back, so upon arriving here I didn’t even really have jet lag and I was ready to jump into the busy #ywambrisbane schedule on Monday morning after I arrived into Australia on Sunday night!
  • A good book. And don’t even begin to think of putting it into your check-in. I love reading about the places that I am about to travel to. Sunburnt Country is a great book that tells a lot about Aussie culture and paints beautiful, historical scenes of life in the outback and in the coastal region of Australia. It is written by journalist Bill Bryson who writes candidly about his travels. Australia is unique in the fact that it doubles as its own continent and as everyone knows, it is a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather and the most peculiar and deadliest wildlife that can be found on the planet. He weaves interesting facts in with his witty words to tell a story of his adventures in the Land Down Under. I read this book the first time I was in Australia!
  • A moleskin journal. This was gifted to me by my sister and has become my all-time favorite because it can double as an art book! Also, pens. I’ve had a lot of people ask me what pens I use, so here it is: Tombows are my personal favorite calligraphy pens but I also love Energel pens by Pentel. You’ll need pens for journaling but also to fill out the customs form upon arrival.
  • Snacks! I always make sure to pack a few granola bars or dried fruit or chocolate into my carry on. Airport snacks are always so expensive and so I’ve found it’s nice to have my own stash handy.
  • A toothbrush! My mom taught me to put a toothbrush and a travel sized toothpaste in my handbag and that way I’m golden through my whole flight and travel process, with no bad breath! 


  • Wear comfortable clothes! If you get cold easily, take a light jacket along for the flight. Longer flights provide blankets for you but I’ve found that in the shorter flights, I often get cold and wish for something to warm up with. I always pack one spare set of clothes in my carry on, just in case my cheek in gets lost or to change into before I arrive at my final destination.
  • If you are wearing sandals or flats, take a pair of socks along in your bag and once you are settled into your seat, slip off your shoes and put on the socks! This gives you the illusion that you are hanging out your living room rather than sitting in the cramped row of a jetliner.
  • If possible, reserve a window seat ahead of time! I usually spend most of my time up in the air staring out the window and musing over the deep things of life. Also, this gives you the best views for taking pictures.


  • For super long layovers: check to see if the airport has a shower. I’ve found that airports often have a shower stall in one or more of their bathrooms and it feels heavenly to be able to freshen up after hours and hours of traveling. 
  • Meet people! On my way home from Australia in May, I had a layover in Vancouver. I usually love long layovers but this time I hadn’t slept on the 14-hour since my flight took off a little before sunrise in Brisbane, Australia and landed in Vancouver at sunrise, 12 hours later.


I WAS AT MY GATE with about six hours to spare until my next flight home and I was watching a fascinating documentary series called, “Human.” I paused the documentary to grab a selfie to send to my sister and just as I snapped it, I noticed someone photobombing me. I turned around and the girl laughed, “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.” She introduced herself and we began talking. She was coming from Sydney, where she had spent a month on holiday. I had my earbuds up until meeting her, so I hadn’t heard the conversation that the lady behind me was having with this girl before we started talking. But my new friend confided, “That lady was trying to convince me to become a christian!” I listened to her talk and tried to ease into spiritual topics without coming across in the same way that the other lady had, since I could pick up that this girl had hesitations. “Wait, where are you from again?” She asked me at one point. “North Carolina” I said. “Oh, you’re from the Bible belt. Wait, are you a christian?” She asked, wide eyed. “I am, but I’ll admit, I haven’t always had strong faith. I lost my dad when I was very young and then about 10 years later, I lost my brother. It sent me through years of depression. I remember thinking that if God had allowed to me, surely He didn’t love me. But now I see it differently. He created the world and put us here to live immortally but because we sinned, now we suffer the consequence of death. I think that’s why we struggle so hard to face it, because we weren’t meant to die.” She seemed to soften as I spoke and then she opened up about her own losses. “I haven’t found anyone else who understands losing people that are close to you like you do. I don’t even know why I ended up at this gate, I was just going to sit here for a few minutes and charge my phone.” She said. We talked for two hours and when it was time for her to find her own gate to catch her flight, she said, “I feel like I’ve known you for so much longer than just these few hours.” She slung her backpack over her shoulder and disappeared in the crowd of people.

I sat there, stunned. In the past, I’ve had a difficult time talking about faith with strangers. But as a follower of Jesus, we are called to spread His love. I don’t think that means that we need to try to convert everybody that we meet. But I think it is so important to be in tune with what the Holy Spirit is speaking because He knows the intricacies of each person’s journey and whether they just need a smile and a listening ear or if they need to hear truth so that they too can be set free. 

I love the ebb and flow of the crowds of people and cultures surging through airports. Airports are my place for deep thoughts. For looking around with eyes wide and saying, “Wow, God. You are so creative.”

Traveling and living overseas has certainly opened me up to explore worlds that are bigger than my own and I’m excited to see where God will take me in life and how He will keep taking me outside of my comfort zone in the future. Now it’s your turn. Tell me in the comments what you’ve learned that helps to make travel as effortless as possible?


As you may have noticed by a quick look around my site, I am giving this blog a makeover. There are big things ahead; things that I want to share with you!

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My first blog had humble beginnings. I wanted to write about every little thing in my life because I really thought that all of it mattered so much. Guess what? At the age of 15, the things that were so big and important were less interesting than I thought them to be in the moment. Haha.

After that, I went through a phase where my blog was strictly about my photography business because sharing about my personal life felt too vulnerable.


Oh, I can’t wait to tell you about who I am now and what all is happening in my life… So come back and stay a while.

If you’ve been on my blog before, it’s good to have you back! And if you’re new here, I’m so excited to get to know you!

Cheers! -Gretta