Vanessa Embling » A blog about my life & photography

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    I love photographing people. I love telling stories with pictures. I love watching people and capturing emotions and feelings in an image. I love to have fun. And Laugh. And be silly.

    I am an endless wanderer and my middle name means 'bringer of light' so I try to do that wherever I go! I just moved back to the U.S. after living in Bolivia for the past two years working for a non-profit there. My life is an adventure as I strive to pursue my dream of being a photographer, adventurer, humanitarian and storyteller all at once.

When plans change… and I’m moving to Jersey.

What do you do when what you hoped would happen doesn’t happen?  How do you react when the plans you made and were looking forward to don’t see their fulfillment?  This happened to me recently and I just wanted to share about it.

Everything seemed to be falling into place.  My plane ticket was purchased.  On December 18th I would fly from San Pedro Sula, Honduras to LaPaz, Bolivia with a one way ticket serve there with the HOPE worldwide team and the LaPaz Church of Christ.  I had secured a place to live and the list was already growing long filled with all the projects I was going to take on and help out with.  I was so excited and grateful for the many prayers answered as this dream was becoming a reality.

And then, just a few days later, I got sudden news from my mom that my grandfather had just been rushed to the emergency room and was having some pretty serious health complications.  Fear struck me.  Was he ok?  What was wrong?  What was going to happen to him?  We all had a lot of questions and not many answers.  I felt so helpless being all the way in Honduras.

Below, a photo of me with my Grandpa from 2012

A few days passed and he seemed to be in rough shape… but stable, with a potential long road to recovery.  My mom asked me if I would consider praying about coming back to the States as a sort of ‘alternative mission’ to take care of my grandfather.  It was an idea I had kicked around in the back of my head as the years passed and I was living in Boston and he was getting older.  But now?  Now?  What about Bolivia?  I’ve got the plane ticket.  The plans are all set.  Do I really trade it all in to move to New Jersey to take care of my grandpa?

I prayed a lot.  I got advice.  I searched the scriptures.  I listed my options and the possible outcomes.  It became clear to me that for now, I needed to let go of my plans to Bolivia and instead help out my grandpa and my mom.

I’ll be honest, I cried because I was sad to let those plans go.  I wondered why God had let me make those plans. I felt like Bolivia for me was like a piece of cheese that hangs just beyond reach for the mouse.  So close.  If my plans simply had been to move back to Boston after my year in Honduras, making the decision to move to New Jersey instead wouldn’t have been that hard.  But now, NOW… I was deciding between 1. Bolivia = experiencing a dream realized or 2. Grandpa in New Jersey = which meant dying to myself and loving my family more.

I made the decision to move to New Jersey and I feel it was the right decision.  I feel at peace with it.  But it was still hard.  And I still cried a few more times as I thought about letting go of my plans.  I have continued wrestling with God, I keep handing it over to him.

And then, just the other day, I read this in one of the books I’m reading and it totally applied to what I have been going through and it offered me a great reminder of how God works and helped me to have a more spiritual perspective.

Excerpt from the book ‘Traveling Light’ by Max Lucado Chapter 15

A disappointment is a missed appointment. What we hoped would happen, didn’t. We wanted health; we got disease. We wanted retirement; we got reassignment. Divorce instead of family. Dismissal instead of promotion. Now what? What do we do with our disappointments?
We could do what Miss Haversham did. Remember her in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations? Jilted by her fiancé just prior to the wedding, her appointment became a missed appointment and a disappointment. How did she respond? Not too well. She closed all the blinds in the house, stopped every clock, left the wedding cake on the table to gather cobwebs, and continued to wear her wedding dress until it hung in yellow decay around her shrunken form. Her wounded heart consumed her life. We can follow the same course.
Or we can follow the example of the apostle Paul. His goal was to be a missionary in Spain. Rather than send Paul to Spain, however, God sent him to prison. Sitting in a Roman jail, Paul could have made the same choice as Miss Haversham, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “As long as I’m here, I might as well write a few letters.” Hence your Bible has the Epistles to Philemon, the Philippians, the Colossians, and the Ephesians. No doubt Paul would have done a great work in Spain. But would it have compared with the work of those four letters?
You’ve sat where Paul sat. I know you have. You were hotter than a two-dollar pistol on the trail to Spain or college or marriage or independence . . . but then came the layoff or the pregnancy or the sick parent. And you ended up in prison. So long, Spain. Hello, Rome. So long, appointment. Hello, disappointment. Hello, pain.
How did you handle it? Better asked, how are you handling it? Could you use some help? I’ve got just what you need. Six words in the fifth verse of the Twenty-third Psalm: “You anoint my head with oil.”
Don’t see the connection? What does a verse on oil have to do with the hurts that come from the disappointments of life?
A little livestock lesson might help. In ancient Israel shepherds used oil for three purposes: to repel insects, to prevent conflicts, and to heal wounds.
Bugs bug people, but they can kill sheep. Flies, mosquitoes, and gnats can turn the summer into a time of torture for the livestock. Consider nose flies, for example. If they succeed in depositing their eggs into the soft membrane of the sheep’s nose, the eggs become wormlike larvae, which drive the sheep insane. One shepherd explains: “For relief from this agonizing annoyance sheep will deliberately beat their heads against trees, rocks, posts, or brush. . . . In extreme cases of intense infestation a sheep may even kill itself in a frenzied endeavor to gain respite from the aggravation.”
When a swarm of nose flies appears, sheep panic. They run. They hide. They toss their heads up and down for hours. They forget to eat. They aren’t able to sleep. Ewes stop milking, and lambs stop growing. The entire flock can be disrupted, even destroyed by the presence of a few flies.
For this reason, the shepherd anoints the sheep. He covers their heads with an oil-like repellent. The fragrance keeps the insects at bay and the flock at peace.
Most of the wounds the shepherd treats are simply the result of living in a pasture. Thorns prick or rocks cut or a sheep rubs its head too hard against a tree. Sheep get hurt. As a result, the shepherd regularly, often daily, inspects the sheep, searching for cuts and abrasions. He doesn’t want the cut to worsen. He doesn’t want today’s wound to become tomorrow’s infection.
Neither does God. Just like sheep, we have wounds, but ours are wounds of the heart that come from disappointment after disappointment. If we’re not careful, these wounds lead to bitterness. And so just like sheep, we need to be treated. “He made us, and we belong to him; we are his people, the sheep he tends” (Ps. 100: 3).
Sheep aren’t the only ones who need preventive care, and sheep aren’t the only ones who need a healing touch. We also get irritated with each other, butt heads, and then get wounded. Many of our disappointments in life begin as irritations. The large portion of our problems are not lion-sized attacks, but rather the day-to-day swarm of frustrations and mishaps and heartaches. You don’t get invited to the dinner party. You don’t make the team. You don’t get the scholarship. Your boss doesn’t notice your hard work. Your husband doesn’t notice your new dress.  Your neighbor doesn’t notice the mess in his yard. You find yourself more irritable, more gloomy, more . . . well, more hurt.
Like the sheep, you don’t sleep well, you don’t eat well. You may even hit your head against a tree a few times.
Or you may hit your head against a person. It’s amazing how hardheaded we can be with each other. Some of our deepest hurts come from butting heads with people.
Like the sheep, the rest of our wounds come just from living in the pasture. The pasture of the sheep, however, is much more appealing. The sheep have to face wounds from thorns and thistles. We have to face aging, loss, and illness. Some of us face betrayal and injustice. Live long enough in this world, and most of us will face deep, deep hurts of some kind or another.
So we, like the sheep, get wounded. And we, like the sheep, have a shepherd. Remember the words we read? “We belong to him; we are his people, the sheep he tends” (Ps. 100: 3). He will do for you what the shepherd does for the sheep. He will tend to you.
If the Gospels teach us anything, they teach us that Jesus is a Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus announces. “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11).
Didn’t Jesus spread the oil of prevention on his disciples? He prayed for them. He equipped them before he sent them out. He revealed to them the secrets of the parables. He interrupted their arguments and calmed their fears. Because he was a good shepherd, he protected them against disappointments.
Not only did Jesus prevent wounds, he healed them. He touched the eyes of the blind man. He touched the disease of the leper. He touched the body of the dead girl. Jesus tends to his sheep. He touched the searching heart of Nicodemus. He touched the open heart of Zacchaeus. He touched the broken heart of Mary Magdalene. He touched the confused heart of Cleopas. And he touched the stubborn heart of Paul and the repentant heart of Peter. Jesus tends to his sheep. And he will tend to you.
If you will let him. How? How do you let him? The steps are so simple.
First, go to him. David would trust his wounds to no other person but God. He said, “You anoint my head with oil.” Not, “your prophets,” “your teachers,” or “your counselors.” Others may guide us to God. Others may help us understand God. But no one does the work of God, for only God can heal. God “heals the brokenhearted” (Ps. 147: 3).
Have you taken your disappointments to God? You’ve shared them with your neighbor, your relatives, your friends. But have you taken them to God? James says, “Anyone who is having troubles should pray” (James 5: 13).
Before you go anywhere else with your disappointments, go to God.
Maybe you don’t want to trouble God with your hurts. After all, he’s got famines and pestilence and wars; he won’t care about my little struggles, you think. Why don’t you let him decide that? He cared enough about a wedding to provide the wine. He cared enough about Peter’s tax payment to give him a coin. He cared enough about the woman at the well to give her answers. “He cares about you” (1 Pet. 5: 7).
Your first step is to go to the right person. Go to God. Your second step is to assume the right posture. Bow before God.
In order to be anointed, the sheep must stand still, lower their heads, and let the shepherd do his work. Peter urges us to “be humble under God’s powerful hand so he will lift you up when the right time comes” (1 Pet. 5: 6).
When we come to God, we make requests; we don’t make demands. We come with high hopes and a humble heart. We state what we want, but we pray for what is right. And if God gives us the prison of Rome instead of the mission of Spain, we accept it because we know “God will always give what is right to his people who cry to him night and day, and he will not be slow to answer them” (Luke 18: 7).
We go to him. We bow before him, and we trust in him. The sheep doesn’t understand why the oil repels the flies.
The sheep doesn’t understand how the oil heals the wounds. In fact, all the sheep knows is that something happens in the presence of the shepherd. And that’s all we need to know as well. “LORD, I give myself to you; my God, I trust you” (Ps. 25: 1– 2).




Worth a try, don’t you think?

If you enjoyed this excerpt from the book, I encourage you to buy the book – it’s an awesome book!

As for me, I’m off to pack my suitcases and I’m heading to New Jersey on Monday!  I’m excited for this unexpected adventure!

Below are a few more photos of my handsome grandfather – because every post is better with photos.

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 3.55.25 PM

Below: Me & Grandpa on his 88th birthday last year


Below:  Me, and my brothers, Russ & Charles with my Grandpa the weekend of his 88th birthday.



Below:  The video we made of ‘Operation Rescue Grandpa 2012’ when we went to Jersey right after Hurricane Sandy hit.


December 13, 2013 - 11:03 am

Tess Davis - Vanessa, I appreciate your heart to want God’s will, to wrestle with what’s best, and to share your struggle and your surrender for others to learn from. What timely reminders of God’s love from Max Lucado’s book! So helpful for a new perspective on disappointments. Thank you for sharing.

December 13, 2013 - 2:31 pm

Ashley Perry - Vanessa! While I am sad that you are missing La Paz, I have no doubt God is sending you to NJ for a reason. Max Lucado summed it up nicely and I know you will be so impactful wherever you are! I love you dearly and hope we can spend some time together now that will be back in the U.S. of A. Love you!!

December 13, 2013 - 4:38 pm

Feuza - I am not longer in NJ but if you need anything from me, I know lots of people, happy to help! God Bless you

December 13, 2013 - 4:55 pm

Vanessa Embling - Thank you soooo much Feuza!! I really appreciate that! I’ll send you an email 🙂

December 13, 2013 - 4:56 pm

Vanessa Embling - Thank you Ashley! Yes, I’m hoping I’ll still be able to make it to Bolivia… just maybe a little later than I expected… in the meantime, if you are itching for freezing temps and snow, come and visit me in Jersey! Love you my friend!!

December 13, 2013 - 4:56 pm

Vanessa Embling - Thanks Tess!! Hope you guys are well!

December 13, 2013 - 5:29 pm

Bethany - O my gosh!!! Vanessa! Your life is a roller coaster but you are on Gods tracks so it’s ok! I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather. I love you friend.

Reflections from my ‘One Year Challenge’…

I am wrapping up the last week of my One Year Challenge (technically 11 months) here in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  I am moving to New Jersey on December 16th, 2013 to take care of my grandfather (read the blog post here).  But for now, I wanted to share some reflections to some questions about my year here.


How did you first learn about the opportunity to take the One Year Challenge? I heard it talked about a lot in relation to the campus ministry.  But being 33 years old and in the singles ministry, initially I felt like it wasn’t an option for me.  I looked into it more over time and was excited to see the ‘Disciple Adventures’ website developed and all of the opportunities on there.  At the time, I didn’t see anything that particularly appealed to me because I really wanted to go to a third world, spanish speaking country – so that’s when I considered creating my own OYC.

What were some of the things that influenced your decision to go to the mission field for a year?  One of my best friends who is also single and around the same age as me decided she was going to do a ‘one year challenge’ and that inspired me a lot.  Around the same time, another one of my best friends asked my why I wasn’t pursuing my biggest dream which was to live in a foreign country and serve.  That question came at the right time and really hit me.  In many ways I felt complacent and comfortable in my life and in my walk with God.  I didn’t feel like I was living by faith.  It was easy for me to complain and be discontent even though I had so much to be grateful for.  I had wanted to live in a third world country for a long time (13 years) – to serve & encourage others and also to learn spanish – but one of the tipping points for me was realizing that I got more excited about my latest deal on groupon than serving God.  I didn’t want my life to be about that – I wanted to be living for more.  I wanted to be sold out for God.  I knew I could sacrifice more for him.  Also, being single, at times it was easy for me to think my life would start when I got married and in the meantime be living like I was in the ‘waiting room’. I finished reading a book called ‘Table for One’ and one of the questions in it that really hit me was – “If 10 years from now you are still single, would you have lived the last 10 years of your life differently?”  I didn’t want to be sitting in a rocking chair at 85 wishing I would’ve done this.  I also realized I had some pretty big fears holding me back from following my dream and so I took a month to pray and wrestle with God through those fears until I came to a place of peace and decided I was going ‘all in’ for God and this dream.

What were you most worried about? What made the decision difficult?  I was worried that I would fail.  I was worried because I didn’t feel ‘qualified’.  I was worried that it might be a bad financial decision (what about my retirement fund?).  I was worried that something bad might happen to my family while I was gone.  I was worried something bad might happen to me while I was gone.  I was worried that it wasn’t God’s will for me.  All of these things made my decision difficult – but it was good because I wrestled with God about it all and prayed a lot and got a lot of advice and found peace with all of those fears and ‘what ifs’.

How did you make the move from “dream” to “I’m going?”  I prayed specific prayers but also knew I needed to just make a decision to go ‘all in’ for God – whatever that meant or however that ultimately unfolded – I needed to decide to hand my life over to God and yield to his will.  I knew that also meant being at peace if his answer to all of my plans was ‘no’ or ‘not right now’.

As a side note – about 4 years prior I tried to move to a country in South America to do something similar but as I tried to move forward with the plans I felt like God was saying ‘no’ and that the doors weren’t opening.  I kept praying for him to make it clear and ultimately felt like I needed to stay where I was and continue working and serving him there.  It wasn’t the answer that I wanted, but I trusted God.  I believe in those following years He just continued to shape my character, helped me grow and heal and learn and got me ready for when it was time to go.

So back to the original question – As I was making my decision I listened to a couple of songs a lot during that time and the lyrics helped me – such as “I give myself to you so you make something beautiful out of me” and  “I give myself away so you can use me”  and read scriptures like ‘you must be willing to lose your life in order to gain it’  – I kept praying and I believed that God kept opening doors and lighting my path.  I moved forward with plans by faith – there were a lot of details that I easily could’ve gotten overwhelmed with in the beginning – like what will I do with my car?  and all of my stuff?  But, I forced myself to just stay focused on taking each day as it came and trusting that when it came time to figuring those things out, God would be there and show me the way.  And he did.  Oh, did he ever.

What practical things did you do to prepare?  A huge reason I was able to go and do this was because I was debt free and had saved money.  Six or seven years prior, I took a ‘Financial Peace’ class with Dave Ramsey and that literally is one of the best things I have done in my life – second to becoming a christian.  It changed the course of my future and freed me up (because I paid off all of my debt) to truly follow my dreams.  In the years leading up to me moving, I was living frugally – keeping all of my monthly expenses low which enabled me to save money.  So the financial aspect of it was huge for me.  I also purchased Rosetta Stone to start learning spanish – but honestly, I didn’t get very far in it.  I had also decided that I did not want to put all of my stuff in storage for a year while I was gone.  I wanted to be free from all of my ‘stuff’ with a hope of being more flexible to go wherever God led me after the one year.  So a month before I moved I (with the help of many friends) held a giant fundraising sale and sold all of my stuff (and gave the rest away) – clothes, shoes, accessories, home goods, my car, and more – in an effort to raise money so that I could go self-supported for one year.

Why Honduras?  As I was moving forward with this dream I didn’t really know where I would go.  So, I made a list of possible options based on people I knew and I prayed that God would make it clear.  There were three pretty clear options for me and I ended up ruling out one because it was required that I already speak spanish.  I ruled out the other one because if I moved there I would likely need to find an apartment on my own and buy a car.  It seemed to me that the option of San Pedro Sula, Honduras had its doors wide open.  I had visited there 4 times before on the HOPE worldwide community service brigades.  I knew the church leaders and they were eager and excited to have me come.  The church was about 450 people with only 3 staff members so I felt like there were many ways that I could help out and be a support.  There were two HOPE worldwide programs going on – a medical center and a school – that I hoped I would be able to help out with.  The biggest challenge for me was that San Pedro Sula was considered the most dangerous city in the world and so understandably, many people were very concerned and cautious about me moving there.

What have you been doing on your OYC in Honduras?  I have been doing a lot of different things.  Because this wasn’t an ‘official’ OYC I have been kind of making it up as I go.  I have been finding ways to serve in any and every way possible.  I attend the weekly staff meetings as an intern.  I help out with the campus ministry and the bible talks they have on campus.  I am involved in bible studies.  A lot of what I do involves helping out with media for the church – taking pictures and videos at events, and making videos to be able to share.  I am also helping with the HOPE worldwide programs, taking pictures.  Occasionally, I’ll help out at the church office with general administration if there is stuff they need help with.  One of my hopes and dreams while I was here was to be able to travel to many of the churches within Central America to take photos and tell stories and thanks to God, I have also been able to do that.  I was able to attend the Conference of the Americas (North, Central and South America) held in Panama in June.  I served as the official photographer and worked with the Proyecto Alabanza International team to cover the event, which was amazing.  And I’ve also been able to attend several workshops and retreats where I have been able to serve.

What are you learning from your OYC experience?  Wow… I’m learning sooooo much.  I’m learning to be flexible and go with the flow.  I am learning that my plans may not be God’s plans and I’m learning to yield to his will.  I came down here with an ‘idea’ of what I thought I would do and how I thought I would help – and as it turns out – it’s been very different from what I expected.  But God is still moving and working and I am learning to rejoice every day in the little and big ways that I can die to myself and serve him.  A quote that has become one of my favorites as I’ve been down here is by Helen Keller:  “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”  Jesus is the perfect example of this.  He accomplished small tasks every day as if they were great and noble… and by doing this every day, he turned the world upside down.  I am learning that being constantly willing and available for God to use me, saying ‘yes’ or ‘here am I, send me’ can be a pretty powerful thing.  Even if that just means doing the dishes or cooking a meal for people, listening to someone or sharing a scripture.  Whatever you do, do it for God.

I am learning to be patient with myself as I am learning spanish.  It’s been more difficult than I thought it would be and I can be really hard on myself – so I’m learning to focus on the victories and to keep persevering!  As I am learning spanish, I am realizing that silence is often OK.  I have found myself many times spending time with people and I have a thought or want to share something but I don’t know how to say it in spanish… and as I think through it, I realize that I don’t need to share it.  It’s given me a whole new understanding of the scripture in James 1 that talks about being quick to listen and slow to speak.  I have also experienced this in having conversations with people.  It’s more difficult for me to speak spanish because I have to find the words, conjugate verbs and form sentences – it’s easier for me to listen to people and I am able to understand the general idea of what they are sharing with me.  I am so grateful just to be there for people, to be a listening ear.  Many times people just want to feel heard or listened to.  They want to feel like they matter.  I am grateful that I can do that just by listening.  And then, instead of me giving a long-winded response (which I might be tempted to do if I was speaking english) I’ll simply share a scripture with them in spanish.  What is better than just letting God’s word speak?


What would you say to other disciples who are thinking of taking the OYC?  Pray a lot.  Seek advice from people who really know you.  What might be holding you back?  What are you hoping to give or gain from your experience?  Are you running away from something?  Are you seeking to find something?  Remember that wherever you go, there you are.  If you are running away from yourself, things in your character, sin, or problems in your life or in the church… they will follow you wherever you go.  Is it a wise financial decision? Do you have outstanding debt?  Will going away for a year put you further into debt?  How does this fit into your future plans?

Overall, I think taking a one year challenge is an incredible experience and in many ways I think everyone should do it.  But, I also think it’s really important to be wise about it and really think through it and pray about it.  As a single, I would like to encourage and inspire more singles to consider doing it.  I think as singles we have an incredible opportunity to serve God and his kingdom because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, our interests are not divided as maybe a married persons are.  I also know that for me as a single it is easy to become ‘me focused’ and to get complacent or even frustrated because I’m not married – but when I’m serving God with all of my heart, when I am sacrificing for him and serving others, those things pale in comparison and I’m able to have a more spiritual perspective… and eternal perspective.

Have there been any surprises? What were you not prepared for, if anything?  I knew I was moving to the most dangerous city in the world.  I knew that there would be challenges.  I knew I was giving up my freedom and independence.   But, there’s only so much I could do to prepare for all of that.  The first week I was here a sister in the church was kidnapped and held for ransom.  We spent our midweek service, the entire church on our knees, praying for her safe return – which God answered.  The minister and his wife told me they understood if I wanted to get on a plane and go back to the States – but I stayed.

The first month I was here I spent most of my time in a tiny room with a bed.  Because it it so dangerous here, I couldn’t go outside and walk around.  If I wanted to go anywhere I had to find a disciple to take me around.  There were many days that felt so isolated and alone and sometimes felt like I was a prisoner.  But, even through those times God was working and I was reminded of Paul when he was in prison and the attitude he had (rejoicing and singing songs praising God) and the impact he had (writing letters that continue to impact and change the world today).

Around the third month the house I was living in was robbed in the middle of the day (we were thankfully gone at a funeral) but all of the valuable things in the house were stolen – including all of my camera gear and my computer (about $12,000 worth of my gear – the only valuable things I owned and also my ‘tools’ for work).  That was a blow to the gut – but even through that I feel like God helped me to have perspective.  I had just come from a funeral after all.  Things are just things.  Thankfully none of us were harmed.  But even with that, I was challenged to study out the scriptures to see what they said about security and death.  After the robbery many people encouraged me to leave because of the lack of safety.  I wrestled and I prayed and I looked at other options but in the end, I decided to stay.  (see next question for more explanation)

What things have you seen in the church there that you want to imitate and learn from?  The church here and the disciples have impacted my heart and my life forever.  They love deeply, from the heart. It is a selfless love that reminds me of Jesus.  They love their neighbor as themselves.  Many of them barely own anything but they are so joyful and happy and giving.  They are faced with danger everyday in this city that they live in.  They do not search for security in money, in their government or in their circumstances, they find it in Christ and in the promise of salvation.  Every day they face robberies, kidnappings, murders, sickness, death – the evils of this world – but they remind me that my peace and my security must come from God and the promise of salvation.

This world is not our home.  I am convicted by their lives because they are not focusing on becoming comfortable with their beautiful homes and flat screen tv’s.  Instead, they thank God for their daily bread, for their life today knowing they are not promised tomorrow, and they focus on advancing his kingdom.  I’m not saying that having a beautiful home and a flat screen tv is necessarily wrong – I mean, I would like to have those things and surely I like to enjoy them – but being here, walking in their shoes, living as they live has really opened up my eyes to a different world that often I’m not sure we really want to see or be inconvenienced by.  I think about the story of the good samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and it cuts my heart because I think more often than not my gut reaction to this hurting world is that of the priest or the Levite.  I pray to not be so wrapped up in my own life that I’m not willing to be inconvenienced to love others as I love myself – I want to be like the Samaritan.  (Reading the book Radical by David Platt really challenged me in this too)

Any final thoughts?  Well, if you’ve made it this far in the article, THANK YOU for taking the time to read it!   I pray that perhaps what I have shared has encouraged you, inspired you, or made you think about how you can take your walk with God deeper.  I think we all have our unique, personal journey with God that is continuing to unfold before our eyes.  I have two final thoughts that I would like to leave you with that I hold close to my heart.

Remember this is God’s story.  I often can get my priorities mixed up when I am living like I’m the main character in this story and it’s all about me.  The truth is, I’m just a supporting actor if you will – maybe not even that… maybe I’m just an ‘extra’ in this story – but bottom line, this is God’s story.  It is about him and his love and redemption.  He graciously gives us an opportunity to participate and for that I’m so grateful.  He is the beginning and the end and all of this is for his glory.

Dream big dreams because there are no limits.  Our God is a mighty and awesome God.  He is also a God that is not limited by anything.  He is not limited by our weaknesses, our shortcomings or even by our sin.  I am so encouraged by this because I could spend all day long listing off reasons of why I am not good enough or why God can’t work through me.  But the truth is, it’s not about me and what I can or cannot do.  It’s about God, and with him, all things are possible (Matt 19:26).  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21


December 9, 2013 - 11:44 pm

Eduardo Mendizabal - Mi nombre es Eduardo fui bautizado en 1991 el la iglesia de Boston.
Quiero darte las gracias por tu corazon de compartir, me anima y reta mi fe y corazon. Soy guatemalteco soy cuidadano de los USA.
Todo lo que tu compartes acerca de nuestros paises es verdadero, he pensado y tenido en mi corazón la misma idea claro siempre pensando en depender de Dios y consejo pero creo que he sido egoista y no recto en mi corazón.
Al leer tu decicion me partio el corazón y llore y no quiero que se quede asi ahora tengo un gran reto para el proximo año.
Dios te bendiga el corazon tan generozo y humildad gracias por dejarte usar.
Me tomo el atrevimiento de lo que para mi refleja tu corazon 2 Timoteo 3:10-17 para mi tu heres un timoteo de 2013 bendiciones en tu vida. Con amor de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.
Eduardo Mendizabal

December 10, 2013 - 1:43 pm

larryembling - That’s my girl…… Ness you are unbelieveable! You are such a trooper. Not to mention an inspiration to me and to many of our family and friends. I know that God’s plan is not an easy one to follow. Heaven only knows where it has led me. I pray that the messages are clear and that you do follow His leads. I know that you are making a difference in many people’s lives and that is what this is really all about right? Love you…. DAD

December 11, 2013 - 8:51 pm

Vanessa Embling - Gracias Eduardo!!

December 11, 2013 - 8:51 pm

Vanessa Embling - Thank you Dad! Love you too!!!!!

December 12, 2013 - 6:35 pm

jesse faller - This is a great article Vanessa! Cool to hear about some of your adventures and what went into making this decision. I hope it will inspire others to do likewise. Thanks for sharing!

December 13, 2013 - 4:44 am

Vanessa Embling - Thanks Jesse!

Guatemala – Antigua & Paseo Cayala

I took a road trip to Guatemala with a few of my friends from Honduras.  The drive from San Pedro Sula to Guatemala City took us about 8 hours.  It’s a beautiful drive that winds through the mountains.  I LOVE the weather in Guatemala – it gets hot during the day but it cools down at night and the humidity is nowhere near what it is in San Pedro Sula.

We spent a day in Antigua, Guatemala – which is beautiful.  Excerpt from Lonely Planet:  “Once the third largest city in all of Spanish America, Antigua served as Guatemala’s capital city for more than 200 years until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. Antigua today is a peaceful, partially restored colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. Walk through quiet cobblestone streets past rebuilt stucco homes with heavy, beautifully carved wooden entrances. It is a short 45 km from Guatemala City on a lovely winding road. The natural scenery is some of the most beautiful anywhere with high mountain peaks surrounding deep valleys, every inch of land covered with lush growth.  Explore the museums, the colonial buildings and other sites in this delightful town. Antigua has various specialties that make shopping here very worthwhile. Textiles sold here and in the nearby towns are of the highest quality, beautifully designed and woven on foot looms or the more traditional back-strap loom. Jade, in carved statues and jewellery, is sold in several factories and shops in town and silver jewellery is sold in the better shops and also in a silver factory in nearby San Felipe de Jesus. The city also offers good buys in ceramics and antiques as well. For the museum and gallery buffs, one of the best in the Central America is found in the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. It houses colonial religious, contemporary Latin American and pre-Colombian art pieces. These form only part of the galleries and museums of the 5-star Hotel Santo Domingo, formerly a Dominican monastery. Antigua is a popular centre for Spanish study, and here you will find dozens of schools and a collection of students from around the globe. Because of the international population, there is no shortage of restaurants, bars and activities available in Antigua. You’d have to try very hard to get bored!”










The next day, we got to spend the afternoon in Paseo Cayala (a private city just outside Guatemala City) and it was amazing – I loved it!!


Sunday we got to worship with the Guatemala Church of Christ in the city and it was awesome!  After church some of us went to the Hard Rock Cafe – Guatemala City – to enjoy cappuccinos and live music.


Monday morning we left to drive back to Honduras and stopped in Omoa for some photos of the ocean – it was a beautiful day!




Madrid, Spain

After my stop in Atlanta (part 1 & part 2), I continued on to Madrid, Spain.  I was excited and nervous as this was my first trip to Europe and I had no idea what to expect.  The purpose of my trip was kind of a mixture of business and pleasure.  I was headed there to see about possibly taking a teaching job in the fall of 2014 as well as helping out with the mission team and the church in Madrid.  I wanted to see essentially if this was a place I could envision myself living.  As the end of the long plane ride drew closer, I couldn’t peel my face away from the window as the plane passed over the beautiful terrain that was Spain.


I got to spend several days exploring this incredible city and I loved every minute of it.  Below: Mercado de San Miguel – I loved this place.  It kind of reminded me of Quincy Market in Boston… only classier and more upscale European.  I could’ve stayed in there for hours.






Below:  Origen de las carreteras radiales – all streets in Spain are said to go out from this point which can be found at ‘Sol’.



Below: I hopped on the Madrid City Tour bus with my friends Tyson and Sandra one of the days that I was there – it’s a great way to see a lot of the sights in the city!






Below: In Plaza Mayor we found where Spider Man retired and grew a beer belly!  Hahhahaa…

Below: The Bocadillos de Calamares (calamari sandwich) are a must-try while you are in Madrid.  I was skeptical at first, but they are deliciously unhealthy and yummy.


Everywhere you turn in Madrid the buildings are simply exquisite…


Below: While touring around the city, I stopped at the Real Jardin Botanico (the botanical garden) to walk around, to pray and just have some quiet time.  The sun was setting so the light wasn’t ideal for photos – which then just allowed me to put my camera away for a little bit and enjoy the moment and be present. VEmbling_130923_1245





Below:  Walking around with Tyson and Susana – they got engaged a few days after I left Madrid!  Congratulations to you two!!


Below:  Hanging out with some of the singles and the campus students from the Madrid Church


Below:  After lunch, we all headed to Susana’s place for coffee, tea & cookies – it was so fun!


Later, I got to experience the amazingness of the meat market inside the supermarket.  And was nearly thrown out by a police office for taking pictures.  Not entirely sure why.


Anywhere you go in Madrid you can find legs of ham hanging on the walls and ceilings to dry and cure.  This meat is soo tasty – full of flaver and super salty.  It’s served for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks as ham sandwich on white bread roll.



Below: Marjorie and Manuel had a few of us over for dinner one night at their flat.  The balcony has a gorgeous view and we hung out and watched the sunset.  It was so peaceful and they are an incredible couple!


Below:  Their baby boy is the sweetest!




Below:  I went to ‘El Rastro’ on Sunday with my friend Carolina.  It’s basically a giant flea market and it only happens on Sunday for a couple of hours.  VEmbling_130922_0754







VEmbling_130922_0937VEmbling_130922_0867Below:  Typical Spanish food, Tapa de Tortilla de patata @ Txirimiri, La Latina – it was SOOOO GOOD!


San Gines – Best spot for churros! Since 1894!


Below:  Tapas for dinner!  So yummy!


I knew nothing about bull-fighting prior to my visit – but I had a hunch that I didn’t want to go to a bull fight.  Still, I was intrigued and so I took a tour through the Plaza de Toro or Las Ventas, Madrid’s largest bull-fighting stadium.  It was incredible to walk through and learn more about the history and tradition of it all and how it plays an integral roll in the cultural history.


Las Ventas was built in 1931 and is considered one of Spain’s most beautiful bullrings.  Inside the arena – bull fights only happen on Sundays.  Below is a panoramic view of the ‘tendidos’ (the stands)

My last day in Madrid some friends from Boston had just flown in – Cash and Maria McHargue and Doug Arthur, so we all met up and did a little bit of sightseeing and grabbed dinner and talked.  It was so such an encouragement getting to spend time with them – I felt like even though I’m not in Boston, I got to enjoy a little bit of ‘home’ in Madrid!  Cash & Maria have since decided to move to Spain in the summer of 2014 to lead the Madrid Church and they are looking for people to join them!  Check out the facebook group or the PAGE if you’re interested!

Juan and Olga are currently leading the church in Madrid and they are an amazing couple with big hearts that love God and his kingdom.  I felt so honored to be able to stay with them for a few days, to talk with them and also to get to know their daughters a little bit.  Each one of them is overflowing with intelligence, joy and love.





Below:  El Retiro – Parque de Madrid – this is the big park in Madrid, and it’s beautiful!














Overall, it was an amazing week in Madrid and I hope to return!

November 7, 2013 - 9:18 am

Carolina - Pics are beautiful!!! You are an amazing photographer, you took the best sights of this city, i love Madrid, its such a great place to live. Hope to see you again. Take care and God bless.

November 13, 2013 - 4:06 pm

Vanessa Embling - Thanks so much Carolina! I am so glad I got to meet you and hang out! You helped to make my time in Madrid super fun and memorable! Hope to see you again too!!

The Georgia Aquarium – add it to your bucket list!

I was in Atlanta a few weeks ago for work, photographing the Arts & Entertainment Conference (check out the blog post here) and I got the amazing opportunity to visit the Georgia Aquarium with my awesome friend, Ashley (she even took the day off work to go with me!).

Well, WOW, the aquarium is amazing!!  I took some photos and videos but really, they all pale in comparison to being there in person.  So I will just encourage you to add ‘Visit the Georgia Aquarium’ to your bucket list and check it out for yourself!

Here’s a fun video I put together from my visit and below are some photos I took.

My visit to the Georgia Aquarium from Vanessa Embling on Vimeo.

Me and my friend, Ashley




Below: Entering the tunnel to the ‘Ocean Voyager Exhibit’ aka the giant tank…


Below:  My first view of a whale shark… from below… they are HUGE!


Below: The WALL.  I could’ve stayed in this room for hours.  It was amazing.  The tank holds 6.3 million gallons of water.  Yes. Seriously.  The acrylic wall (or looking glass) is two feet thick.  The tank is home to four whale sharks and four manta rays (the only manta rays in a U.S. aquarium ever) and it is simply spectacular.  I heard a rumor that they hold sleepovers in this room and I would like to know where I can sign up.


Below:  Me, watching the whale sharks…

Below: Ashley watching the manta rays…


Below: Me, watching the manta rays…



Below:  There are a couple of places where you can actually touch the creatures… rays, sharks… etc… so cool!!



Below:  Lion fish



Below:  I just loved the way this fish looked when he was looking straight at me… awesome teeth dude.


Below:  Who doesn’t love sea turtles??  Forever will remind me of ‘Finding Nemo’ and the ‘do you speak whaaaaale?????’ part…hahahaha


The octopus and the eel and other sea creatures… I was so enamored with the octopus and thought it was so cool that I caught it moving on video…


Below:  These guys are a type of seahorse called the Weedy Sea Dragon – they are really coolVEmbling_130918_0519

Below:  Then, we found the penguins… and of course I crawled through the kid-sized tunnel….


To get up-close and personal with the penguins!!  How fun! VEmbling_130918_0553


Below:  Jellyfish terrify me.  I went to Australia and death by jellyfish was a very real and present danger that we faced.  No thank you!  You can watch a full documentary by the History Channel on the deadly jellyfish HERE.



Below:  An albino alligator…what!?VEmbling_130918_0594

Below:  Piranhas!  I was so excited to see the piranhas but was totally disappointed when I realized they had their teeth removed so they wouldn’t eat each other… the gold specs they are rocking are cool though… makes it look like they are wearing sparkly sequins all the time.. how fun!?  VEmbling_130918_0600


October 15, 2013 - 10:06 pm

john wilis - I love your photos and writing Vanessa! I will be going to this Georgia Aquarium soon…:-) You are a true graduate of “Finding the Open Road” by Roadtrip nation.