A Girls' Road Trip to Calgary & Banff, AB #4: Final Sights & Reflection

Despite feelings of sadness that arose upon having to leave Calgary, I was also feeling a sense of excitement and curiosity at what was to come—a mindset this trip instilled in me for not only our actual vacation, but about life in general. As I go into recapping these last few exciting days of our trip—where we were surprised and excited about many of the awesome experiences—I also want to share with you all the major takeaways I learned from this entire week. And when I say major, I do mean that. These aren’t just ‘little’ lessons you may pick up on, like being nice and welcoming to others, though that is crucial and something we were reminded of. These things I learned are truly about mindsets and have expanded and grown me as a person and in my faith.

I knew I wanted to go into this trip without any strings attached: no rigid expectations, no cynical attitudes about if things will work out, and certainly none of the unhealthy mindsets I was prone to indulging before I embarked on this journey. And I was blown away by what God taught me and showed me when I was simply willing to enjoy the ride.

With all that being said, I’m thrilled to write yet another blog post—the LAST one, so sad!—finishing recapping this trip. Again, to experience the full effect of this trip and all the insights I want to share with you that can help you no matter where you’re at in the world, too—I highly recommend reading all of my recap posts in order. The first one is here, about our road trip and journey up to Canada, the second one is here, about visiting Banff and seeing the mountains, and the third one is here, about exploring the city of Calgary. All have a taste of the lessons I’ve learned sprinkled throughout, but this post will be the one that ties them all together.

Day Six: Driving Through Montana

Leaving Calgary and Canada

I remember waking up early (again) because of course we had a certain time we had to get checked out of our hotel. I did leave out a Canada t-shirt I’d gotten at a lovely Dollarama at Kirsten’s request so we could take a picture in them later, but otherwise I dressed about the same as I previously had. I made sure to double check I had everything packed and ready to go, and it was not long until we were making our way downstairs for the last time. We stopped once by the elevator, though, to get a picture of the rooftop hot tubs we would miss so much.


We stopped at McDonald’s some point for a snack and because Kir had to go to the bathroom, and then we had to get gas at some point, too. I waited in the car, but Mom brought me back these adorable heart shaped cookies. They were just as great as they looked and actually chewy, so that made up for the one cookie in Banff, haha.


The drive mainly consisted of counting down the hours until we got to the border and GOT OUR RECEPTION BACK! All things went good getting back in there, thankfully, and then we were in Montana again.

Glacier National Park

This was the first thing we did in Montana, though food was getting scarce again and reception was sporadic, if not nonexistent, at this point. Beginning to see mountains was exciting again as we had left the ones in Canada. Glacier National Park had views as beautiful and breathtaking as Banff, and thankfully, we were able to see some views for free. We did not go all the way through the park, but we parked on the side of the road quite a few times where they had places for that, and we got lots of pictures that attempt to do it justice. As soon as we began driving through it, I was in awe. I also changed into my Canada shirt for a photo with Kirsten even though we are in the USA hahaha. It’s a good reflection photo of our trip, though, because Canada was where our main stay was. I simply could not believe how blue the water was and how lusciously colored it appeared.


I mean, really. It’s not even necessary, hardly, to edit photos like these because of how stunning the color is. From the vibrant greens of all the trees and grass, to the deepest blues sparkling with the golden sunlight…I was in awe of how God created this but yet not surprised because that is how amazing He is, and this is only a glimpse, truly, of how majestic He is.

Ashlee and Kirsten by Glacier National Park river.jpg
Ashlee and Mom by Glacier National Park river.jpg

There were not many cars around as we started our drive through, and I remember this because once we got to the sign of the entrance I had changed my shirt and was worried about a lot of people being around to see haha. However, as we began our journey back out and were finishing up with pictures, it started getting lots more traffic. Like Banff, there was just a simple two lane road winding through all the nature. While Banff was priceless, I think this park was just as stunning, and we only saw the tip of the iceberg. I’m glad we could take in the sights at both. We pulled over quick by the sign because you know us tourists and our photos by signs!

Ashlee and Mom by Glacier National Park sign.jpg
Ashlee and Kirsten by Glacier National Park sign.jpg

We found this big gem of a lake alongside the road and pulled over to get some photos. I was unable to wrap my head around the boldness of that color: it’s a perfect turquoise, and the water just looked so smooth. As you can kind of see near the bottom of this photo, though, there was actually a huge ledge right there, so we had to be cautious about taking photos because to fall off of that would have been horrifying.

Glacier National Park blue lake.jpg

Pictures were great and all, but I tried to always take a few moments to take in the views on my own, without constantly holding a phone up to it. The views were humbling, but I am thankful for all the photos we got, to document this special time.

Ashlee and Kirsten by Glacier National Park lake.jpg
Ashlee and Kirsten by blue lake Glacier National Park.jpg
Ashlee and Mom by Glacier National Park lake.jpg
Girls at Glacier National Park.jpg

Moving on, we then found another lake that was even more translucent than the first one, if you can believe it. This one was literally a sheet of glass and mirrored all of the nature around it, from the towering mountains to the cascading trees. There was a somewhat steep gravel hill leading down to this that we came down to see. At first I wasn’t sure about going all the way down because the bugs were annoying the crap out of me, but I’m so glad we did because one of my favorite photos from this trip came to be because of it.

Ashlee by Glacier National Park lake.jpg

There are no words to describe this. All I can do is thank God and praise Him for who He is and even allowing me to experience the joy of seeing sights such as these. It’s humbling to be in the presence of the world like this. It is a testimony in and of itself of God’s existence and His worthiness.

Glacier National Park beautiful view of lake and mountains.jpg

The water was literally a mirror, the kind you see and don’t think it truly exists…

Glacier National Park clear blue lake.jpg
Ashlee Glacier National Park.jpg
Ashlee and Kirsten Glacier National Park clear blue lake.jpg
Ashlee and Kirsten looking out at Glacier National Park.jpg

Kir said she’d love to live in the mountains, and I would certainly love to visit her there!

Ashlee and Kirsten hearts for the mountains Glacier National Park.jpg
Ashlee and Mom by clear blue lake Glacier National Park.jpg

There was even a little bouquet of purple flowers amidst the rocks down there. The photos with all of us in it down here are my favorites. A nice lady took this photo for all of us and did one normal and then another in Portrait Mode—which was an epic effect to give an already outstanding photo an enhancement.

Ashlee and the girls Glacier National Park.jpg
Girls road trip Glacier National Park.jpg

We kind of neglected Buff for awhile but finally I got a picture with him and a backdrop of the beauty of the park, which was appropriate for him and suited him well, I think! It brings out his color well haha.

Stuffed buffalo Glacier National Park.jpg

No More Food

So…then we ran into the dilemma of being in Montana and trying to find food again hahaha. It started getting misty after we left the park and a haze dropped over everything, but it was cool to see that effect on the mountains. We thought about stopping for sandwiches at a cafe near the park, and we also stopped in a souvenir shop where the girls got some things and I couldn’t find any of my candy haha, but we decided to keep looking because we weren’t particularly in the mood for sandwiches. It did give us an excellent view of the nearby mountains, though!

Mountains in Glacier National Park cloudy.jpg

As we were making our way out of the area, there was this ledge we pulled over at that offered a sweeping view of a valley and the mountains. It was starting to sprinkle here and there, but it made for more awesome sights.

Montana mountains rain.jpg

Road Trip to Great Falls

Our hotel for the night was in Great Falls, and once we started leaving behind the mountains for good, the roads got pretty windy! There were big drop offs, and one time there was construction and we had to drive through this mud-like substance while it was drizzling… Thankfully we didn’t get stuck haha.

Montana windy mountain road.jpg
Mountains in Montana from road.jpg

Taco John’s

We found love—I mean food, that is—at another super small Montana town, but hey, when you recognize the fast food chains, you can’t go wrong with that! We decided on Taco John’s, and I was super eager for the potato oles of course. I also just got a plain soft shell taco with cheese, and it was perfect.

Montana Taco John's food.jpg

Driving Through Montana Some More

Montana had not changed much in that there were long stretches of plains throughout, but I tried to appreciate every view because I knew they wouldn’t be lasting much longer. Also, the reception started coming back gradually, so I loved that, haha.

Montana plains view.jpg

Hotel in Great Falls

Before long, we had arrived in Great Falls. I was pleasantly surprised by this town—it was practically a city, by Montana standards, anyway. Well, they had a mall, which my mom told me and then informed me I couldn’t go, which broke my heart. We got there too late anyways, though. We got checked into our hotel, and this hotel was actually one of my favorites under the one we stayed at in Calgary and also under the one we stayed at in North Dakota on our first night. This had that desert-like look to it on the outside—picture those types of buildings you see more commonly in Arizona. Not that I’d know, but Mom told me that when she went down there on a girls’ trip one time. This hotel had a very nice look to it—I love when there’s an open view in the center like that of all the rooms, and they had a waterfall trickling down beside mounted animals, giving it a nice outdoorsy look. They also had a room dedicated to their pool and hot tub with a slide because Kirsten and I walked down there later at night, but it was all dark when we got there because it had closed. I’m pretty sure we saw some people still there, though, so evidently there’s some rule breakers, but you know how it goes. This is also where the ice machine was, and there were stairs from our balcony on the second floor to get down to the pool area, but we just stayed up on the balcony.

Great Falls Montana hotel.jpg

Great Falls Target

After getting settled in, I ended up pulling out my laptop and sat at their lovely oak desk to do some shopping to fill the void in my heart of not getting to go to their mall! It wasn’t long, though, before we decided a visit to Target was in order to refill on some things. Luckily, Target was open later… Kir and I got laughed at by some boys because we walked right up to the exit door and then wondered why it didn’t work. They’re like, “That’s the exit!” Mmkay, I think we got that, we’re not total dumb blondes. We FaceTimed the boys in Target, and I found the matching bikini bottoms to that top I got at the Target before we even left for this trip haha. Just in time for the Fourth of July the next day, though I never got to wear it because the hot tub had closed haha. The sky was gorgeous!

Cotton candy sky in Great Falls Montana.jpg

Sip ‘n Dip Lounge

Okay, so I’m not going to lie, this is a bar Kirsten wanted to see. You might think Ashlee, what in the world are you doing recapping a bar…I know, I DID NOT ACTUALLY GO IN THE BAR, but Kirsten wanted to see this because a lady at our hotel check-in was telling us all these things to see in Great Falls, and she said this bar has actually been in a movie with its display of underwater mermaids. Literally. I did not go in the bar because duh, my age, but when we approached the entrance I was able to see this big aquarium. There are actually real girls dressed up as mermaids that swim around. Kirsten and Mom went in the bar because Corrine had to babysit poor me, which I’m thankful she did though, haha, and they said the girls go up for air and then swim around for a solid few minutes. They got their own pictures, but let me tell you, when we pulled up, there were a coupe guys sitting outside by the window of this strip because the lounge was just a part of it. We were just hopeless Illinois people according to our license plates, and we had to go around the block once haha, which is when we spotted them, but then they helped us find directions to this bar and this one guy…oh my gosh. I found my love on this trip hahaha just kidding.

So then, when Mom and Kir were up in this bar and Corrine was babysitting me, fortunately it worked out that they had a whole stand of brochures and what not, and Corrine loves this stuff, so she was busying herself looking at that right by this window where said cute guy was sitting…so I got a nice view of him, he got a nice view of me, it was wonderful. I mean, who needs bars when there’s cute guys like that for me to enjoy looking at!! Well, you know the saying, when God closes one door, a better one opens!!! Hahaha. That made my night. Kirsten snagged a picture of him for me, too, because I thought about it but then thought it’d be too obvious, and plus it was one of those moments you just want to be in as long as you can without trying to force a picture, you know? So thank God she got one of him for me because I was heartbroken that I’d forget what he looks like, and then I’d never remember my two minute fling in Montana. Well now I can!!! I got a picture of her guy in the truck, and she got a picture of mine. Priceless.

Getting Ready for Bed

I am so proud of myself, can I just say, for getting my mom to buy pajamas on her own from one of my fave stores. Look at this, we’re twins. I have like four pairs, and she got herself a pair when she bought me some stuff there for Christmas the year before. We should have gotten an actual picture of us in them, but I think enough people saw me from the bar off the side of the counter at our hotel when Kir and I went down there to ask about why we weren’t getting breakfast at this hotel either (haha, gotta love travel sites, though they made it right), and yeah I went looking like a pink candy cane. I prefer that description much better…my brother told me I look like I’m in a woman’s prison…but he doesn’t know fashion, and he’s so wrong it’s not even funny.

Ashlee and Mom matching Victoria's Secret pajamas.jpg

This is a wonderful picture to showcase all of our party food. I got my special baked chips!!! I would tell you where we ate for supper, but I honestly don’t remember. Everything had a way of blending together when you’re in the car for that long, and besides, with all our party food, who needs anything else!

Ashlee with party food in hotel Montana.jpg

I took a shower in this hotel, and though it was older, I admired the design of their shower and loved those little shelves they had—ideas for my future home, haha. Also, now you can see my pajamas and nobody better tell me I look like a prisoner…

Ashlee in Great Falls Montana hotel.jpg

Day Seven: The Last Day and Back to North Dakota

Leaving Montana

Last full day of the trip!!! So sad. We still got to see a lot of neat sights, though, before leaving for good. I took some pictures of the downstairs in the hotel before we got all checked out.

Grand Falls Montana hotel waterfall.jpg
Ashlee and Corrine at Great Falls Montana hotel.jpg
Ashlee and Mom at Great Falls Montana hotel.jpg

On the Road

Then, like that, we were on the road again, but it was a bittersweet feeling to know our journey was coming to an end. It was the Fourth of July, though! I kept photographing the views and taking advantage of all my data. It was a pretty easygoing drive, except we were running out of food…again… #montanaproblems We ended up eating in some super small “cowboy” town, at a ranch-like restaurant. We were all pleasantly surprised by it, though, and it definitely had a true cowboy feel to it. The small town had a parade earlier, we were told, for the Fourth. It’s hard for me to imagine life like that, in a town so small, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I just find it fascinating to think of how people can live differently yet that is “normal” to them. I love exploring like this and seeing the world—it keeps my imagination fresh for writing. In the meantime, I about ate this whole bag, but I promise that’s not saying too much because they don’t fill them worth a dang anymore.

Ashlee eating chips in Montana.jpg

It’s not like you can see this, but there were actually cows way up at the top of this ledge!

Cows on top of hill Montana.jpg

I absolutely loved seeing these rock formations when we made our way out and felt I didn’t take enough pictures, so I took some more. To think this view stretches for miles…

Montana views.jpg

I can’t imagine just driving casually down these roads, like an everyday thing, just part of life… It’s so interesting to think of everyone’s different lives like that.

Montana view from road.jpg

Driving Through North Dakota Again

It wasn’t long before the sandy looking rocks were replaced by bright green hills as we crossed into North Dakota and made the way to our hotel there. I remembered enjoying the hills here, and I also took some more pictures to document the sights.

North Dakota hills.jpg

North Dakota has a bunch of stunning views of its own to offer. We actually ended up approaching one on the main road. There was literally a sign saying “SCENIC VIEW” with an arrow pointing to it and an exit and entrance ramp off the side. So of course we pulled over! Things like that were just made for us.

North Dakota hilly terrain.jpg
North Dakota scenic view exit.jpg
North Dakota scenic view overlook.jpg

I got my dream standing in the middle of the road pic haha so good thing they had a ramp.

Ashlee North Dakota scenic view.jpg

We stopped at another area trying to find the overlook of Theodore Roosevelt National Park we went to earlier but got lost and went to the wrong one haha where there actually are museums and such… Haha, that was cool to browse around, but I was starving again, and I found a bag of Reese’s minis somewhere. I also found this pink glittery cowboy hat. I didn’t buy it, but all I would need is my sparkly booties to be a rhinestone cowgirl!

Ashlee with pink sparkly cowboy hat.jpg

Yeah I think I ate like this whole bag.

Ashlee reese's minis car ride.jpg

Eventually we found our overlook again, and it was much quieter this time. There was such a tranquility about it, and Mom spotted another buffalo.

North Dakota Badlands view.jpg
Ashlee by North Dakota Badlands.jpg

We were arriving back to our hotel pretty late, but the views of the sunset across the hills and plains were wonderful.

North Dakota sunset.jpg

A million windmills…that’s starting to look more like Iowa, haha. That brings back good memories of all my car rides up to Estherville, though, with family. I just think appreciating every view, no matter where you’re at, is absolutely essential to a joyful life and gives God the glory He deserves because there is beauty everywhere—you don’t have to break the bank going on some elaborate trip just to see that, although that’s a blessing to be able to do.

North Dakota sunset and windmills.jpg

It was the coolest sight, though: as we entered the city of our hotel or nearby Bismarck, it was fireworks galore. I took a video because I found no picture served it justice, but long story short, the horizon was littered with sparks of light from people lighting off fireworks everywhere! We were somewhat bummed we never got to see fireworks, so this more than made up for it. The sky was still a cloudy, fading blue after the sun set, which made the fireworks that much cooler to see. It almost looked like the hills were on fire from our view on the highway! Kir and I were definitely rolling down our windows trying to get the best photos. I loved it. The photo below was crossing the bridge in Bismarck. Those lights are from the city, I believe, but you know how I feel about those!!!

North Dakota city lights over river.jpg

At the Final Hotel

It was pitch dark when we did arrive at our hotel. This hotel was probably my least favorite of all of them, which was appropriate for the mood of our last night, haha, though it was still not bad. We watched fireworks being set off near the Capitol building—not too far from us—from the hotel parking lot. Then, seeing as we were hungry again, we headed to McDonald’s for supper and brought it back to our hotel room, which conveniently enough was right by the door.

Bismarck North Dakota lights.jpg

The hallways were so long, haha, and went in a square around the hotel, and we did walk down to see the hot tub, but that was closed. Kirsten ran down the hallway and back and I recorded it. We had some nice last memories like that to end with, and there’s nothing like eating McDonald’s on a hotel bed!

Going Home

I’m going to quote Kirsten on what she said upon pulling into her driveway: “I would say this is bittersweet, but it’s not sweet, it’s just bitter.” Hahaha, I was somewhat eager to get home because sometimes you get in that mood where once you’re on your way, you just want to be there, and that’s how the drive back to Minnesota went. I think our late nights and early mornings and lack of normal food schedules and indulgence in party food had caught up with us as well, haha. It was a pretty quiet drive back, but before we left, we FINALLY ended with a hotel that granted us free breakfast! Their breakfast area was nice, I will say, and so was the food, but I was not in a mood to eat a lot.

Ashlee and Mom eating breakfast at Bismarck hotel.jpg

Oh, so then we ate at Culver’s at my request at some place in North Dakota, and my flip flops I’d been wearing this WHOLE trip snapped. The strap part literally came out as I was getting out of the car, so I could barely walk. Thank God it happened at the end of the trip, though. Haha, that’s when you know the fun’s over. I was happy once we made it back to Kir’s house, though. We got to see her family one last time, and I had to change my shoes of course… Good thing I only packed like four! I was going to miss Kir and Corrine so much, but I was also eager to be back in my state, back in “my” area, and back to talking with Mom so we could process and reflect on the week. Kir and Corrine left to go take the rental car back when we did, and I’m so grateful for all they did on this trip for us. From their planning and deal hunting, to Corrine driving all the time and Kirsten coming up with lots of great ideas of things to see and places to get pictures…they made it so special, and I’m so thankful. It was such a special week of my life I will remember forever, and above all I thank God for blessing me with and allowing me to just relax and enjoy it. I really didn’t have that high of expectations or know what to expect, but this was definitely beyond what I could have come up with.

Ashlee and Kirsten hugging.jpg

Back in Iowa

Mom was a little stressed about driving home through some storms, but we made it through good for the most part, and we ended our trip the way we started it: by getting Wendy’s in Clear Lake, haha.

Wendy's car ridejpg

Arriving at Our House

We got home late, it was all dark, and we were worried about running into some sort of accident as we got close to home since a cop had flown by with their lights on. Thankfully we made it home okay. The boys, who had been so sweet and eager to have us back from our trip, ended up being too preoccupied watching a race to come greet us properly haha. I mean, what can you expect from men…kidding! Kind of. Mom and I wore our Canada shirts to bed.

Ashlee and Mom in Canada shirts.jpg


So with all this being said…WOW. If you’ve followed along thus far and read ALL these posts, THANK YOU. I appreciate it so, so much, and I love being able to share these fun times with you all, but this is the part I really want to hit home, the reason I share anything about my trips at all, is because of the insights God gives me through them. I have lots of lessons I’m going to do my best and summarize here because the truth is, about all of these lessons could be expanded into full blog posts… I kept pretty solid notes on my phone of any thoughts I had because I’m a pretty avid journaler but knew I was not going to have time to write or reflect at all. We had a couple moments here and there maybe just sitting in the car (when Corrine was in Dollarama! Haha) but not really, and that was fine because the whole point was us being together and doing all these things. BUT…if you think you can ever just escape life by doing that, you can’t, and that’s what I really want to write about with these lessons and thoughts and personal notes I wrote to myself on my phone.

You have to know a little background information about my life first prior to this trip. Nothing was wrong with me or anything, but we went on this trip the last week of June, extending into that first week of July. School had gone later into June due to all our snow days we had last year, and we got out of school a mere couple days before my family went on their trip to Canada and I stayed in Estherville with my grandparents. And if you read my recap blog post about staying with them here, I actually talk about how I was kind of struggling because of trying to unwind with school being stressful and just not being able to let go of some of my bad mindsets. So, only a couple days later, we were going on this trip, and I knew I did not want to be having a bad attitude on that trip. I know enough about myself to know I get obsessive about things, and that’s never a good recipe when you have bad mindsets you’re harboring. So I did end up praying and writing a lot. I’m thankful God used that for me and helped me to keep an open mind about it because that helped immensely, and I was also able to learn that much more about everything and have that much greater joy, and now I want to share those lessons with you, too.

You have to let God be in control of what you want. You would think since I’m being blessed with this amazing trip, nothing else would matter, right? I wish that were the case, but oftentimes we have to be careful about having blessings because it can be all too easy to wish for more. It’s certainly not bad to pray your desires to God and still have desires even after you’ve been given some because that’s life, there will always be more of what we want to do, see, etc. But what becomes a problem is if you, like me, are prone to thinking about that next thing. You know how it goes. I’m in the car with Kirsten on our way back from the Twin Cities, following our moms in the rental car, when my mind starts drifting. About thoughts of my writing. Is it going anywhere? Will it ever go the places I’ve dreamed? Or then it’s about guys again. Do they like me? Are they thinking of me? And I imagine all this stuff I think I should have then, and it starts eating at me, and I feel my lack of patience being triggered yet again. You know what all this really is? Distractions. They’re distractions because they’re going to suck you out of the moment you’re in, ruin any peace you would have, and leave you not enjoying the life you’ve been given.

But I do have desires, I do have dreams, and it’s all too easy for me to think my life revolves around those instead of the present moment. So I remind myself of what I’m about to be experiencing, I tell those thoughts to God, and I begin typing out a note on my phone—of which I probably have tons just like it—and it goes something like this, “You’re doing too much. If you’re reading this, quit trying to find any other truth: you’re doing too much. Worrying too much. Let it go. God CAN and WILL handle it.” I also wrote about learning to control your thoughts because you DO have a choice with how you think about things. I used the example of a country song I heard and liked, “Love Someone,” and for me, I said I could be down about being single, or I can accept the truth that I will love someone, too, in God’s timing—and pour my heart into the people I have right in front of me.

If you can’t learn to surrender like that even when you don’t feel like it, then your peace is only as good as your emotions and what you’ve been given. That’s not a recipe for joy—I can tell you that from all my fits throughout sophomore year, haha. My poor mom.

Pictures are great and all, but don’t make your life revolve around them. So, I learned pretty early on, like the first day of this trip, that not all of the photos being taken of me were the most flattering. Not every photo was turning out the way I’d dreamed it should in my head. And in a world where your life is only as good as what you post, and in someone’s mind who’s got a thing for photography and is already a perfectionist…that’s really not a good combo. I have journal entries dating back to me being in seventh grade and literally being mad over my pictures and them not turning out the way I wanted… It may seem dumb, but it’s a struggle I face regularly if I’m not careful. It is a struggle that is extremely amplified in a society that prides itself on being so visual and blah blah blah… Look, I get it, okay? I love photos as much as the next person and maybe even then some. Photos have been an immense source of joy in my life—God has used them on more than one occasion to remind me of my blessings and His faithfulness. But like anything good that He uses, you better believe the enemy is going to try and attack you by twisting that on you.

What is sad to me, though, is how social media revolves around this. The best of the best in terms of photos and things you’re doing—otherwise, what even is your life, is the message we’re all being sent. Well, social media is a lie. And you know what else? Even pictures can be a lie. The reason I tried to include our bad moments on this trip is to show you just that. Life is a mix of good and bad. This was an amazing vacation, there’s no doubt about that, but people still got stressed. People still got tired. I got stressed and tired. Your mind can still wander to places you don’t want it to go, and not everyone is going to be nice to you. Not everything is going to go as you planned. But you know what? That’s everyone. That’s life. And likewise, not every picture is going to turn out perfect. But you can really hurt yourself and make yourself upset if you live through what you post. Pictures are staged. Do I love the pictures we got on this trip? Yeah, I do, and there was a lot of special memories behind them. But they were still staged. Big time. Social media is even showier. I prefer writing this blog to posting on social media any day because at least here, I know I can be authentic. I can tell you about what really happened behind that “perfect” photo, but with social media, everyone’s too busy playing a game of keeping up with each other’s highlights. It’s pathetic, and I won’t play it. The world thinks photos are everything precisely for this reason: they cover up pain and give the illusion of a perfectly happy lie. Please don’t fall for that. If you’re staging photos, and you’re upset by how some turn out, then don’t think for a second other people aren’t doing the exact same thing. Let your worth not come from your photos. I’d rather be known for being real and vulnerable than being showy and unattached any day. I don’t want to make people jealous. I want to make them feel secure in the love and joy God has for them. You don’t do that by sharing your highlight reel.

Plus, one bad photo is not a reflection of who you are. I had some photos I loved of myself and others I despised. These things are fickle, and what people decide is cool and trendy changes before you can even keep up with it. And it’s EXHAUSTING trying to keep up with it. So just don’t. Let God’s plan for you be enough because it IS. It’s made just for you, and the enemy wants to do everything to take your joy from you. Place that hope and trust in God alone, not things or trips or photos. These things all fade with time, and they rarely go exactly as you dreamed, anyway. They’re wonderful blessings God can give, but they can never fill the ultimate blessing of knowing Him deeply.

This brings me to my next point…

The key to being content is literally enjoying right now. Oh my gosh, if there was one thing I learned on this trip, it was this. Of course, I’ve always known this, but after going on a trip of my dreams, it was even more obvious to me. Everyone thinks, oh, if I go do this, I’ll feel better…or once this happens, life will get good… Um, I don’t know how else to say this except no, it won’t? Every time I go on a trip, I think maybe I’ll act different, like be so in awe of things I just lose my mind, I guess? I don’t know, I think it’s part of that fantasy that again, when you go and do things like this, you’ll be the happiest you that you’ve ever been in your life. But I was shocked at how normal I felt. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I was just…me. Same personality. Same wishes and dreams and thoughts about my writing and guys. Same worries about fitting in and getting good photos and making it to the hot tub in time and will we see any hot guys? Same love for pink and shopping. Same capacity for joy and same potential to worry and think negative. Did you hear that? Same capacity for joy and same potential to worry and think negative.

That means, plain and simple, changing your location is not going to change your joy. It is not going to change your mind. This can be good or bad. If you have God as the center of your life and know your joy comes from Him, you’re going to have that much more of an enjoyable trip. And if He’s not at the center or you’re not intentional about putting Him first, then your struggles and temptations are going to be the same as they were back home. Doing fun or fancy things doesn’t numb any long-term pain or free you from battles in your mind or other temptations you face. Jesus alone does those things. Please know that. I know I am so prone to comparing myself to others, and it’s so easy for me to think, wow, if I just took photos like her my life would be made, or if I would go to all these places, I’d be so happy. False. If you’re not happy right in the moment you’re in, you won’t be. As a disclaimer to that, though, I’m not saying every moment should be happy because some things in life genuinely do suck and aren’t what God rejoices in—like our incident on the road, for example. That was a scary thing, and there would be something wrong with me if I wasn’t down after that. However, I am talking about your overall mindset, which is greater than your circumstances. I’m talking about how you think of your joy being—does it come from what you have or what you post, or does it come from God’s faithfulness alone and reflecting on His goodness, even when you don’t feel it?

It’s worth thinking about because a vacation alone is not going to fix that, but it may reveal to you where you stand when it comes to being content. Are you able to enjoy each moment of your life or place your trust in God when something doesn’t go as planned, or are you constantly looking for the next thing to do, the next high, and plunging forward with no reflection or gratitude?

The key to being content is that you are not working for something else or waiting for something else to get your joy but just being present in each moment with God. If you do that, even the little things feel like the big things, and if you don’t live for God and are content in Him, then the big things will never feel good enough or be enough to replace that emptiness in your heart. So the next time you see someone you are jealous of or are thinking of something and can’t have peace about letting it go…remember this. You truly can have joy right this second. But you have to know that true joy only comes from loving God. Nobody’s highlight reel can even hint at the goodness and peace of loving Him. I could never record that if I tried. I can only write about it and attempt to do Him justice, and I don’t come close. Until you experience this yourself, it’s hard to just explain it. But my prayer is that through reading this blog, you all can become more inspired to live a life for God. My goal is not that you feel more inspired to live a life like mine—you have your own life and story God wants to bless, and all I want sharing my life to be is inspiration for you to pursue Him, who never stops pursuing you.

Lastly…after having some good, deep talks with family in the hot tub, I wrote a note to remind myself of some areas of things I struggle with and what I know to be true. If you want to have this joy and fellowship with God, I pray this inspires you.

Don’t be the obsessed girl. Don’t be the desperate girl. Don’t be the restless girl. Be the passionate girl, who loves God with all that she is and is beyond grateful for every moment. Be the confident girl who knows her worth is not in what she has but in who God is shaping her to be. Be the content girl who appreciates where God has her and is not trusting in things or people to make her happy but takes everything as it comes from God and lives for Him always. That’s when you’ll be a mature, beautiful girl that truly leaves sparkle behind for God’s glory and lives life as He intended it.

Bonus…I have never been more thankful for my COUNTRY. Yes, Canada is beautiful and I enjoyed my time there, and no, the United States is not perfect, but DANG. The way we do things here, for the most part, I am truly blown away at how people take our freedom for granted. No country can parallel our blessings here, and I’m so proud to be a citizen of the United States. I kept telling Mom we’re the “United Great” haha. I pray God will help us to be a light, though, in the decisions we make, but just because some people make bad decisions is definitely not going to stop me from loving this country and praying for it to shine for the glory of God. It was pretty fitting we were back in our country on the Fourth because God bless the USA!

Okay, I think that about covers most things! Like I said earlier, if you’ve followed along with all of this, I can’t thank you enough. I pray you’ve enjoyed seeing all the pictures and reading about all the funny moments, but more than anything, I pray you’ve been touched by the insights and the lessons God is trying to teach all of us, including you, regardless of where you’re at. I love times like these, but I love Him more, and it’s because of my love for Him that times like these are as special as they are despite the trials that may and do come. Thank you all so much for following along.

Ashlee Mae signature.jpg