Painting in National Parks

For my STEP Project this summer, I spent 6 weeks on a road trip out west with my best friend painting and reflecting in National Parks and experiencing the diverse cultures that exist in our country. I visited a total of 22 parks and several cities. My goal of this project was to grow in not only my painting skills, but also to grow spiritually and have the opportunity to reflect on my experiences in nature through many different mediums.

Throughout the course of this project, I learned much more than I had ever expected. Before even beginning the trip, I learned so much through the process of preparing. I was able to better develop my planning skills which was challenging for me because I have never been much of a planner, but the nature of this project required a great deal of planning. I developed a knack for attention to detail and research. Once the trip began, I experienced even more growth. Aside from honing my artistic skills and deepening my relationship with God, I experienced a great deal of personal growth. I learned a lot about myself throughout the six weeks. I learned more about what I am comfortable or uncomfortable with. I also gained a better understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses. And through unexpected situations, I was also able to gain better conflict resolution skills and I learned how to respond better to these situations that interrupt what we had been planned.

Aside from learning about myself, I was also able to learn a lot from the diversity in our country. It was very interesting to see how different the lifestyles were as we moved from one location to the next. I had never realized that, though one nation, our country has so many diverse cultures. And not only does our country have diverse cultures, it also has so many diverse landscapes. Seeing and being among these landscapes was an experience that nothing else could compare to. Whether it was a snowy mountain range, a deep, blue lake, an empty desert, a vast ocean, or even great sand dunes, I was left in awe at the sovereignty of God after seeing how truly beautiful our country and our world has been made.

This project led to many challenges that required flexibility and critical thinking to quickly and smoothly solve. Although these challenges seemed to be quite a nuisance at the time, these instances allowed my friend and I to hone our problem-solving skills and to learn to enjoy these unexpected changes. One of the first few days of the trip, we had been driving to our next destination for many hours when we hit a “road closed” sign only 30 minutes out from our destination. This road closure had us backtrack and added another 3 hours to our drive. At first this literal roadblock led to a great deal of frustration and annoyance, but as we drove the last 3 hours, we encountered so much beautiful scenery and ended up laughing about the situation and greatly enjoying the detour. Small moments like this were what truly made this project meaningful.

One of my favorite things about my project was deepening my relationship with God. By spending time in nature and reflecting on this experience through painting, I was able to learn a lot about God and my position in Him. Seeing the vastness and greatness of His creation in America made me feel so miniscule. And at the same time made me feel so amazed and awe-inspired by the vastness and greatness of my God. I was able to reflect on this not only through my paintings of this creation, but also through journaling. The time spent in reflection was very crucial to my growth throughout this project and led me to deepened relationship with my friend, with God, and a deepened understanding of myself.

Some of my favorite experiences of the trip came from interactions with strangers that we met from all over the country and even the world. I have never been someone who loves meeting new people and I am definitely not the type of person who jumps at an opportunity to talk to a stranger. However, after spending so much time with only one other person, the opportunity to talk with a stranger seemed a lot more appealing. The conversations and interactions I had with some of these people left an impact on me. Some were drawn out conversations getting to know the people next to us on our bus ride. Others were short interactions with someone we passed on a trail. However long or short the conversations were, it was very intriguing to hear a piece of someone else’s story and journey. There were so many different people that I interacted with who came from many different walks of life. There was a large group of middle-aged siblings from Cleveland, a young man from Massachusetts, an older couple from Utah, and even a family from Sweden, just to name a few. I loved seeing the diversity amongst these people and learning about their different ways of life. It was also really cool to see how random strangers impacted our journey and how we impacted other’s journeys along the way. Through things as simple as a tip about a certain hike or advice on the best place to go to things as kind as helping us set up our tent while huge gusts of winds worked against us, it was heartwarming to experience the goodness that can be found in all corners of the world.

The experiences I had and the things I learned while completing my STEP project will be significant throughout the course of my life and career. I have a better understanding of myself and the world around me which is extremely beneficial in all areas of life. My future career as a child advocacy lawyer will benefit from the skills I learned in the planning process, such as attention to detail and the things I learned during the project, such as my understanding of the world around me and the diversity in our country. This project has had a huge impact on my life and will continue to influence the way I see the world and how I interact in everyday life.