This week I’ve traveled 325 miles back and forth between North Carolina, South Carolina, and the Carolina coast meeting with partners of Operation Blessing. I’ve now passed the 90-day mark as the Manager of Philanthropy for the SE Region and finally feel like I’m starting to hit the rhythm of my new role. The stories and passion for this work are growing in my heart and I’m enjoying connecting with donors throughout my region. This week was filled with inspirational and emotional moments centered around the ministry I serve. It was also filled with blessings for me personally as I “stop to smell the roses” along the way.

I flew out of Sarasota at 5 am on Monday morning. Thankfully, our airport is small and close to home, so I got to sleep until 3 am. But friends, 3 am is still a very early start to a work week! I was leaving the airport with my rental car in Charlotte when the sun broke across the sky. It was time for all of the coffee I could find before my first appointment. As I drove north in the direction of my 9:30 am meeting, I passed the hotel I was staying at for the first few nights. I decided to stop in and see if I could get an early check-in for around noon, so I could freshen up before heading to my second appointment of the day. What an unexpected blessing to have the front desk agent offer to let me in my room at 7:30 am! Not only did I get that much-needed coffee, but I was also able to unpack and get settled before starting my first day in Charlotte.

Twice on Monday, I passed signs for the Billy Graham library. I honestly had no idea what this was, other than what the name implied. I wanted to stop and check it out, but I was coming and going, and that 3 am wake-up hit hard right at rush hour in a city I didn’t know. Better to get to my room and call it a day, I reasoned. However, when I drove past it a 3rd time on Tuesday, I knew I had to stop. I pulled in and walked towards the area marked Prayer Garden, where I was greeted by two volunteers who welcomed me to the site. The man started singing over me and the woman prayed the most on-point prayer you could imagine. There I stood, tears pouring out of my face when I realized we were standing at the foot of the graves of Billy & Ruth Graham. It was a very special and unexpected moment for me, as you might imagine.

Another highlight of my week was connecting with friends I had not seen in at least 20 years! I’m telling you, there is nothing more powerful in this life than reconnecting with people you’ve loved in the past and picking right up where you left off. We talked nonstop for 3 hours and only stopped because it was a work night and well, I’m more of a morning person! We laughed and reminisced about youth group and high school and weddings and babies and family. I’m so proud of the lives they’ve built and the faith they’ve held. Reviving our friendship in person -not on social media – was such a blessing to me! I also got to spend some time with my boss, who drove down from VA to the NC coast to spend time with me and squeeze in some more training. We watched the sunset over the bay on Wednesday night, enjoyed a late dinner together, and closed the place down with laughter. She is also such a blessing to me!

After wrapping up my last meeting on Thursday morning, I drove 4 extra miles out to Oak Island to check out the NC coastline. I’m telling ya, put me near a beach and I’m there with feet in the water, if only for a few minutes. Now that I’m used to the Gulf shades of turquoise and light blue, I’m always amazed at how dark the Atlantic seems by comparison. The water at Caswell Beach is still warm though, and the sand dunes are incredible. I also checked out the Oak Island Lighthouse that lights up the mouth of the Cape Fear River to guide ships into the Port. For the life of me, I can’t imagine who thought they should name a river Cape Fear! In any event, you can climb this lighthouse for some incredible views of the area. It’s on my to-do list for the next visit to this region!

The people and landscape of the Carolinas are indeed a treasure. I’ve enjoyed every mile I’ve driven and let me tell ya, the NC rest areas are second to none! Their peach ice cream is pretty good too! If you are ever driving by a roadside stand selling this deliciousness, I highly recommend you stop!

Tired, but thankful for a beautiful week, I’m returning home to Sarasota where the next adventure awaits: Hurricane Dorian!