An Extraordinary Encounter While Exploring Mackay Australia

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As I walked through the doors of this older building that was now a restaurant and karaoke bar, the ex-nun I was with, who was in costume as a streetwalker, introduced me to everyone at the tables where we would be sitting. As the introductions ensued, she came to a man who appeared to be in his late twenties to early thirties. She introduced him as the head chef. As our eyes met I could tell immediately, that my presence made him pretty nervous. He was noticeably uncomfortable, and his impression of me made him a bit flustered. I decided in that instant, I was going to sit right next to him. His name was Mick, a nickname for Michael in Australia, and I noticed that even sitting, he appeared to be quite a large guy.

As the night went on, he hardly said two words to me. I asked him a couple questions and got short, simple answers in return; I guessed he was a man of few words, or at least with me. He was up and down from the bar to our table, sometimes talking with those he knew, and he even got up a few times to sing karaoke. As he gave it his all and belted out Mustang Sally, everyone got up and danced, including me. With his six foot five, strong athletic frame and medium brown hair, he had a considerable presence and didn’t appear to shy away from attention. However, in the next moment, he’d sit back down towards the back of the room a bit removed from everyone else and exuded a more mellow, relaxed presence.  When he spoke had a strong Australian accent and it was abundantly obvious from his rough, rugged exterior, he was very country.  After a few hours, I said goodnight to everyone, and left with the neighbor who brought me.

A couple days later I joined my neighbor for a beach walk and, out of the blue, she casually mentioned Mick knew I wanted to explore Queensland. She advised me it wasn’t the safest to do on my own, so it may be wiser to allow him to show me around a bit. She gave me his number and asked me to give him a call. That evening I decided to give him a quick call before I started to make dinner. I figured it would only take a minute. After all, he hardly had anything to say when we met. He kept me on the phone for an hour, and asked me a million questions! Amongst the million questions, he asked me what kind of things I liked to do and what I wanted to see. We decided he would pick me up at around three in the afternoon the next day, after he got off work. It was quite convenient that he worked an early shift and was off by two in the afternoon.

The next day he showed up in a giant ute, a truck with a flatbed on the back, a popular vehicle in Australia. We went to a lookout with a beach down below, and after exploring the beach we grabbed dinner on the pier. I remember looking at him, as he was inspecting some rocks up at the lookout, and asking myself if I could possibly be attracted to him. I quickly dismissed it and thought nope, he was a nice guy, but not for me. He appeared much too “from the outback”, rough around the edges for me, and I just didn’t feel an attraction. I had a quick, piercing but fleeting thought, “He is your husband’. It jarred me. I quickly silently laughed at myself and thought,” Shut up Melanie, no way! You’re losing it. Oh man, I’ve been traveling solo for so long I’m now hearing things.” I brushed it off and quickly and determined I was thankful for the friendship and the company, but that’s where it ended. As he dropped me off that evening he asked what I wanted to see tomorrow. “Oh, we’re doing something else tomorrow?” I said a bit caught off guard. We quickly planned another adventure for the next afternoon. From then on, he showed up, every day, to pick me up and take me somewhere new.  Every day, he showed up. A few nights in, he offered to make me dinner, crispy skinned salmon with baked crunchy potatoes, chipotle dill aioli, and Thai citrus salad. That’s when the attraction began. It wasn’t just good; it was divine.

We went into the bush to hike in Eungella National Park, and swim in its cold waterfall to escape the hot, scorching sun. We surveyed for platypus and fresh water crocodiles. We drove further north to Cape Hillsboro for more beautiful hikes and views, while also able to enjoy crocodile free beaches with kangaroos and wallabies bouncing around everywhere.

While coming to The Leap, a giant hike-able cliff, he told me the story of The Leap Massacre. In the 1800s Australian “police” were known to capture and sometimes murder Aboriginals. While being pursued, an Aboriginal mother, holding her baby, ran up The Leap, a cliff dropping hundreds of feet below, to escape. Holding her baby, she jumped. Story has it that her baby survived and grew up to marry, have children, and she lived a long life.

Mick took me too his family’s property for an Australian barbeque. We spent every day together during my time in this part of Australia, and we were able to explore so much of the area. I was at a crossroads of needing to find a job in the U.S. and spending more time here. With a bit of help from Mick’s persuasion, I decided to extend my stay a couple weeks and he helped to put me up in a beautiful hotel overlooking the beach.

My time in Australia was winding down and I began planning my way back to the states, when I got a phone call from a friend whom I hadn’t spoken too in a couple years. She worked for an online resort travel company, and they needed a new content director. She had read my blog and forwarded it to her boss. After a couple phone calls and negotiations, I landed my new job as a content director and could work remotely. The timing was, well, it was miraculous. I would be starting in three weeks. Training would be in Noosa, Queensland just north of Brisbane, so I’d be flying out soon. My long-term visa was for New Zealand so that’s where I’d be based once training was complete.

On the second to the last evening in this part of Australia, we decided to have dinner out with Mick’s family. As we sat in the parking lot of the local pub, winding up the windows of his old ute. I turned to him and hesitantly asked him, “So, what are we? What are we doing? I mean, I’m leaving in two days, and I don’t have a plan to come back.” His immediate reply was “We’re together.” And then there was an awkward pause. I was so uncomfortable asking but I needed to know. I continued, “Okay, but… if we’re together then what’s the plan? I mean, I won’t be here. What’s the point of doing long distance if there’s no plan to be together in the future? We’re not even going to be in the same country. What are your thinking about all this?” He sat there listening to me and I uncomfortably shifted in my seat as I got to the cringe-worthy part of the question I needed an answer too. “If we stayed together long distance…do you see this as like possibly leading to marriage or…” I loathed that I even asked that but with me about to leave the country I needed finality, a simple yes or no.

“Yes, I definitely see that happening.” He said without hesitation. “Okay, so we’re just going to date long distance a while and see how it goes.” I say as I’m wrapping my head around how in the world this would even logistically work. “Like how long are you comfortable dating long distance?” I asked before really thinking about what was coming out of my mouth. “I don’t know, like two years?” “Two years?! I’m not only dating you, and be in a long-distance relationship, for two whole years!” I immediately replied. “Well I don’t know! I’d marry you tomorrow! I just thought that’s what you’d want!” We both just sat there shocked, and in complete disbelief of the direction this conversation turned and what was just said. “Well… definitely not tomorrow, but… Okay everyone is waiting for us inside so let’s stop talking about this. And let’s not bring this up to anyone that we even talked about getting married yet.” I quietly said a bit shaken by this entire talk. “Okay.” he agreed.

We walked inside and sat down with his whole family. Mick, his brother, his mom, and his brother’s girlfriend went up to the bar to get drinks for the table. When they came back, the mood had changed and they all were trying to hide their smiles. Mick sat down next to me and I had a feeling he’d said something. I whispered to him reminding him that I we agreed not to tell them anything. He responded, “I didn’t tell them we ARE getting married. I told them we MIGHT get married.” I had no words.

Two days later I was on a plane to Brisbane to train for my new job, and then on a flight back to New Zealand. We kept in contact daily. Two months later he flew over to New Zealand to visit. We ventured around the north island a bit while I worked remotely, and he proposed while we were on a picnic near a small waterfall. Three months after that we got married in Hawaii.

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My Journey Through the Waimangu Volcanic Valley of New Zealand

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With its striking presence, rock formations so grand they tower over the boiling thermal lakes, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the youngest geothermal system on earth and the only one entirely created within written history. Nothing compares to trekking through these unabashed lands. On foot this trek takes about two hours to each way; it is a longer walk but with very clear paths and not much uphill unless you decide to take the cut-off which leads to an extraordinary uphill workout with an eye-catching view of Inferno Crater. With this much time walking along, surrounded by nature, there is plenty of time to walk, think, reflect, and to take in all that surrounds you.

For the entire two-hour trek to the lake I only passed one other couple who were taking this journey on foot. I was in complete solitude for most of my walk. I was thankful for the solitude in part due to the complete uphill trek to Inferno Crater left me panting for air and dripping sweat. There is nothing like being surrounded by nature with little human interference. This walk left me feeling at complete peace and invigorated.

Inferno Crater is filled with an aquamarine jewel toned lake that is a jaw-dropping treat at the end the uphill climb. Along the way there are a few lookout points where you can see just how far this park stretches. Filled densely with trees you can see just how far you are going to walk and where the park ends at the lakes edge.

At this point I am five months in to traveling solo, exploring this earth, and discovering more of what it is I feel passionate about. As I round the corner I see constant steam arising from a lake. It literally looks like the lake water is boiling, it was. Frying Pan Lake was given its name very fittingly. And shooting up from its edges stands Cathedral Rock. This is the moment I was so lost in thought and wonderment I turned to say “Wow, Incredible…”  out loud and there was no one there. This is the point I realized I have traveled to so many places and for most of my journey I maybe had a stranger to share in the experiences with, and through that I’ve made so many connections, but I’ve craved a partner to share with all there is to marvel. Someone to do this walk with and gazed with astoundment at all that has been created. Someone to listen when I decide to say something out loud and then after pieces of this journey, to sit, have lunch and converse, ask questions, talk, or just be with companionship.

I continued my trek all the way to the lake, passing streams that were steaming with heat and geothermal activity, a lake so black to me it looked like the gateway to the pits of hell, terraces marbles with different colors from iodine and I don’t know what else, but I was more just lost in thought. I could now see and feel clearly, with a much greater depth than before, of what is most important, partnership.

Women Empowering Women

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During my explorations in New Zealand’s South Island, where I spent over a month exploring, I decided to visit local churches and walked into Elim Church in Dunedin. I was immediately welcomed and befriend by some loving, extraordinary women. They invited me into their homes, fed me, and together we shared pieces of our lives and stories. I was asked to share my story to a women’s group within the church; I’m usually not much for any form of public speaking, but I felt prompted and said yes before the words “no way” could escape my mouth. This was one of those raw moments that, like a domino effect, led to other women opening up, sometimes despite the tears streaming down their cheeks. These are the pivotal points in time we as women can choose to really support, uplift, and empower each other in both emotional and practical ways.

I started out feeling nervous and realizing that no one in this room really knew me. In those first moments, I was unsure how I would be able to relate to all these different women when I had no idea who they were and what their experiences have been.

“My life hasn’t turned out the way I wanted or ever expected it to go, and I thought I’d share a piece of my story with you, and why I’m doing what I’m doing.” As I began with those first words to just lay it all on the line, I saw every woman’s eyes I looked into, looking back with complete connection, understanding, and waiting with expectancy for what I was going to say next. I went on and talked about my achievements, my heartaches, my disappointments, and why I walked away from a good paying career to explore the world and at least give myself a chance to pursue things that fill me with passion and a sense of purpose. (If you want to know more about this please read my “About” page, and feel free to contact me with any questions.)  I talked about faith and what that looks like when God hasn’t given you the life everyone else seems to have and you so badly wanted. I talked about how I hear God, how I’ve listened to Him asking me to step out of the boat, then feeling like I am sinking. How in this entire adventure I am stepping out not knowing where the next stepping stone will be or when it will show up. Similarly, how the Israelites were called into the wilderness and continually cried out to God wondering if He brought them there to die because they too felt like they were walking blindly with everything resting on their faith and trust. How Hagar was cast into the desert with a child and had to lay Ishmael down under a bush to die because they didn’t even have water. I shared about my confusion in this season and how here I sit, amongst a group of women speaking about faith, and I myself am unsure how I am going to keep a roof over my head.

Most importantly I shared how I saw God show up, sometimes at the very last minute, every time I made the first move to step out, and take these huge risks. I’ve always chosen to walk forward until I see God close the door; and then sometimes He opens a window and I crawl my way through that. He is always there, and He always answers in some form. God always provided for the Israelites and a spring of water for Hagar, in the last moments. Ishmael thrived and grew into a great nation. God ALWAYS provides when we follow His promptings in our journeys; sometimes it just looks a bit different than we expected. I shared that I really do believe our lives are made to be stories of God’s mighty work, and for there to be room for Him to truly reveal Himself there has to be great imperfection, lack, and despair. There has to be a need, a deficit, for Him to fulfill. Our stories aren’t just for us to have this outwardly appearance of a good life. Our stories aren’t just for us at all, but for God to reveal Himself through us to the world. Our ultimate goal shouldn’t be to have a cookie cutter “good” life, but to connect with others through the life we have and share our stories.

After I shared my stories we had great discussion. Multiple women opened up about the heart-wrenching struggles they are facing and have faced in their own lives, and how they too have lives that don’t look like they’d ever imagined. Stories of husbands leaving, having no means to support themselves let alone their children, struggles of depression, and just not being where they thought they would be in life. These are the moments we as women can speak life and hope into each other, reminding each other of who God is and His love and sovereignty over our lives, or we can completely miss this opportunity. We all have shortcomings, but these are the times we can really connect and push each other forward in our faith and in our lives. It is a beautiful thing, when women allow themselves be completely be striped of any pride and share their struggles. Take these opportunities, when we see the needs right in front of us. Be conscious that sometimes we are called to not just listen and embrace, but to act in any way we can provide help. Empowering isn’t just verbal but sometimes requires action and provision. So, there I was the next day, with no income myself, no knowledge of where the next roof over my head was going to be, arms filled with grocery bags, walking up to a doorstep I was seeing for the first time, and leaving all the groceries for someone who’s need was greater than mine.

Women empowering women.

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