Friday, January 29, 2016

"The LORD your God is with you..." ~ Zephaniah 3:17

Guess what? This is my 100th post! I started this blog eight years ago in June 2008 and I've varied over the years what kinds of things I posted about and how often I would post and then two years ago I started writing about my faith journey. It's been a wonderful process sharing my thoughts and struggles and emotions through these posts. I am so thankful for the encouragement and support I've received from friends and family who read these words, and I'm also grateful for those who read and remain silent. I do that a lot and I know how meaningful other peoples words have been to me. I've challenged myself in the past year or so to make connections with those bloggers whose work impacts me by leaving comments and it's been a blessing to see some friendships begin to blossom. I'm excited to hit this milestone post, and I've been thinking about future posts and what I might write about this year. I have some ideas and look forward to continuing this journey and sharing here with you.

“The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  ~ Zephaniah 3:17

This has always been one of my favorite verses and I'm beginning to think it might be a life verse for me. It seems to touch on the issues I struggle with - fear, worry, feeling overwhelmed, needing to please, being afraid - and address them with the truth. God is with me so I am never alone. He is strong and dependable and will save me. He delights in me - He made me exactly as I am and delights in the things that make me, me. He provides rest and quiet when I'm overwhelmed. He loves me. He rejoices over me. It is a beautiful reminder of His promises, His truth, and His love.

“Build altars in the places where I remind you who I am, and I will come and bless you there.” ~ Exodus 20:24b

“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.” ~ Kate Chopin

For me, the ocean has always been a special place of wonder and amazement. In particular the town of Cayucos holds a special place in my heart. My first visit was the summer of 1996 and it was the place where we debriefed for several days after spending 7 weeks traveling the United States on a mission trip. It was a busy summer full of new people, new experiences, lots of change and growth, lots of service and ministry, and we were tired. This town was a haven of rest. Quiet, peaceful, slow-paced and right on the ocean - it was beautiful and I loved it. The summer of 1998, I spent 10 weeks as a nanny for the team leaders three children on another summer mission trip and once again we debriefed in Cayucos. Once again, this was a place of rest, peace and beautiful surroundings. One night, I went for a walk and found a special place on a little rock hill where I could hear the ocean waves and only kind of see them since it was dark. I sat there and talked to God about things I was dealing with, about my feelings and thoughts and I don't even really remember exactly what. The important thing was that this became a special place to me - an altar in a place where I was reminded who God is, how big He is, and I felt so close to Him there.

Over the years, when I had the opportunity to visit Cayucos, I wondered about that special spot and looked for it on occasion but never seemed to find it. This past year, I found it! I was not only blessed to spend a week in Cayucos with my family for the week of Thanksgiving, but I was overwhelmingly amazed to have the opportunity to stay five extra days on my own! I had never vacationed completely alone before and although I was excited about it and knew I'd enjoy the time by myself, I also felt a bit of guilt at doing something just for me. But Josh was very supportive and so I booked a room at the Cayucos Beach Inn which is just across the street from the Cayucos Community Church where our team stayed those summers of 1996 and 1998. And just down the street from the church is a coastal access point which led to my spot! Back in 1998, it was just a small hill, but now there is a wooden platform with benches and a railing and it was wonderful to rediscover a place that has such meaning for me. The first morning of my solo trip, I got up very early and made my way to my spot and settled in to watch the sunrise. It was VERY cold and windy and I began to wish I'd worn slippers and brought a blanket, but it was so peaceful and wonderful. The quiet and stillness, the waves crashing on the shore, the sounds of birds, and the lovely sky changing color from blue to purple to pink to peach...and then the sun coming up and making the water look like diamonds. It was gorgeous and breathtaking and it meant so much to me to be there.

I spent every morning in my spot over the next few days - enjoying my coffee, interacting with a few people who obviously consider it their spot too, and never tiring of the beautiful ever-changing view. My heart felt so at peace. Being near the ocean was like a balm for my soul and to have several days alone was a beautiful gift. Although at times the silence in my room and the absence of conversation was a little much, in general I was surprised (but not really surprised) to find out how much I enjoyed the sense of quiet and the ability to do anything or everything on my own time table. I didn't have to ask anyone else's opinion, I wasn't truly limited to a clock, I could spend as much time or as little time on each thing as I wanted. I did use electronics a bit more than I had the previous week on vacation with my family, but that was only because I had to do some work on two different mornings and I did watch a couple movies as well. But most of my time was spent quietly reading or just sitting and thinking/praying/talking to myself & God.

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." 
— Jacques Cousteau

“I could never stay long enough on the shore; the tang of the untainted, fresh, and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought.” ~ Helen Keller

My lovely days were spent eating breakfast at the inn, enjoying my coffee each morning at my special spot for a few hours, then back to my room to read or work. When I got hungry for lunch I took the opportunity to try the local pizza place one day and ate by the pier, I ate snacks in my room while watching a favorite movie (Bridges of Madison County) another day, took myself out to lunch at the Sea Shanty across the street once and then enjoyed my leftovers for lunch the next day. Afternoons were spent in my room reading or coloring and then around 3pm each day I'd walk down into town and take a long walk along the ocean. I watched the waves, enjoyed the swing set, looked for special shells, rocks and sea glass and every day waited for the beautiful sunset to arrive. After the beautiful art show God puts on every evening, I'd decide what to do for dinner. My favorite dinner was spent treating myself at Schooner's Wharf to a delicious meal of snow crab legs - it took some time to eat, but it was so amazingly yummy and was definitely the best meal of the week. In the evenings, I watched movies a few nights, listened to music one evening and just spent time reading. I didn't really stay up late or sleep in each day, and I felt very well rested and refreshed. It was a wonderful gift.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 
~ Mark 6:31

One of the most important things I have been learning in the past year is the importance of rest. Our lives are so busy and everything seems so important and necessary right now and we very rarely actually allow ourselves to rest. I began to discover last year that our bodies can only handle going, going, going for so long and then they rebel. We are made for rest and God (who does not need to rest) even made time in creation to rest and appreciate His creation. For me it was an emotional breakdown, for some it might be sickness or depression or something else. I want to make sure that going forward I recognize the need and necessity of rest and make time for it - make it important and necessary. My time in Cayucos, both with my family and alone, was such a gift of complete rest. Time away from work, from my home, from my day-to-day life where I could focus on sleeping, eating, reading, spending time with family, walking, and enjoying the beauty of God's creation. I had time to talk to Him and more important to listen for His voice because my life, my heart and my head were quiet enough to hear Him. I know that not everyone has the opportunity to get away for so long and I feel incredibly grateful that I was blessed enough to have that time. But even in our daily life we can try to make time at least once a week to rest and relax and just be.

“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.” ~ Hebrews 10:23

The photo above was taken at the Sea Shanty restaurant. In the women's bathroom, the walls are filled with framed embroidery and cross-stitch pictures, many of them look fairly old and like they might have been family heirlooms or picked up at antique stores. This one caught my eye because I loved what it had to say. It's full of God's promises to us and it was so wonderful and encouraging. Such a wonderful reminder of God's truth and how He feels about us. To me it was a confirmation of His love and made me feel His presence once again in my favorite place.

I had a running conversation going with my beloved friend through text about my time in Cayucos and she was very encouraging and supportive of the good things God was teaching me. She currently lives in New Jersey, but is a California girl at heart and asked me to take a photo of my feet at the beach to send to her. This photo has become a wonderful symbol of love and peace and contentment - love for our friendship, love for Cayucos and the beach, and love for God. It makes my heart happy to see and I made magnets for us for Christmas so that we can always be reminded of this special time and place and meaning.

“Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” 
~ Native American saying

Going forward this year, I don't know exactly what will happen. I have no idea about the new things God will be teaching me about. I don't know what opportunities, or difficulties, or blessings are on their way. But I have confidence that God is in control and that He has a plan and a purpose for me, for this year, for my life. I want to be open to His leading and be open to continuing in this path of vulnerability and courage. I'm excited to see what things He will lead me to share in this blog and the ways in which my story will coincide with your story. Community is the key and I'm thankful to share one with you.

“But I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, on the other hand, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally” ~ Frederick Buechner

“Others need you – your story, your words, your example. Your plan isn’t just about you; it’s also about everyone He’s already prepared to see and hear you.” ~Deidra Manning

Thank you for taking the time to read my posts. Thank you for sharing your comments and insights and thoughts with me. Thank you for the times you said "me too!" and made me feel less alone. Thank you for encouraging me and being touched by the words God has given me to share here. Thank you for reading even if you never post or comment - I have faith that these stories mean something to you too. If you decide to be brave and reach out, I will be thankful, but I will also understand if you don't. Know that I appreciate each and every one of you. Even though it's taken me 8 years, it's still hard to believe this is my 100th post. It means a lot to have this space and this opportunity to share with you. 

Thank you...thank you...thank you.

I'll end with a lovely promise from God that sounds like a prayer to me:

“Trust me – I gave my life for you because you are so precious to me. You trusted me at the beginning of your spiritual journey; trust me now. Nothing is beyond my power. Trust me – I love you and I love those you love more than you will ever understand. You always have been and always will be my beloved. Trust me – I can carry you and yours. I long for you to lean on me with the utter restfulness and assurance of a sleeping child. Trust me – I am your shepherd and I will lead you in the right paths. I will see to it that you lack nothing that is good for you to have. Trust me – even when you can’t understand my dealings with you. Don’t give a moment’s thought to turning back.” 
~ Marion Stroud

Monday, January 25, 2016

Thanksgiving week 4 - “…overflowing with gratitude." ~ Colossians 2:7

As you can obviously tell, this post has been a little delayed...okay, so it's almost 2 months late. I had good intentions about actually posting the last week of November, but part of what this post is about happened that week. My family was able to take a week long trip together and I ended up being almost completely electronics free that whole week. Then came the end of the fall semester, always a busy time for me at work...and then Christmas and all the holiday busyness. Additionally (and I honestly think mostly) I struggled with a feeling of being so overwhelmed with blessings and family love that it felt almost wrong to talk about it during a time of year when others might be struggling with feelings of loss from family that are no longer with them, or just family that lives far away and finances that don't allow enough visits. My empathetic nature just felt terrible about feeling so much joy when others might feel so much sorrow.

But I have to be the way that God made me...which means both full of empathy for others and also full of joy and blessed beyond expectations. And part of why I write this blog is to be honest about what I'm going through and so I have to do that. But, since I also believe that everything happens in God's timing, then I have to trust that this is the right time to post. Generally, the times I write here it often feels like something inside me just dying to get out. Sometimes I can't type fast enough to capture the thoughts. Sometimes the words come out so fast and I almost feel like I have no idea what I wrote and then when I read through it for grammar, spelling and formatting it often surprises me to see what's come out in my writing. This is why I'm always certain it is God who gives me the words...not me.

Anyways, this blog is about the final week of a month of Thanksgiving and it's about my family. I am so thankful for my family for so many reasons. I have an amazing husband who is my complete opposite which can cause us to argue over crazy things, but also helps to balance and support each other in our areas of strength and weakness. He loves me so much and is so incredibly supportive and encouraging and he always makes me laugh. I have wonderful parents who have been such a source of love, encouragement, support and have been such wonderful examples to me of what it means to love Jesus, love people and how to grow in faith. My sister is one of my best friends and though we are very different there is no doubt in my mind how much she loves, supports and blesses me. Through her marriage, I have a wonderful brother-in-law who is funny, kind, supportive and a huge blessing to our family, not to mention an amazing husband to my sister and a loving father to their children. My nieces and nephews bring so much joy and love and happiness to my life and it is such an blessing to be called TeeTee (their word for Aunty). My grandparents (Mom's parents) are such a blessing to our family and I'm so glad we have the opportunity to spend so much time with them. I have a wide assortment of aunts and uncles and cousins who make life so much more fun, full of love and encouragement. And I have friends who have become more like family and are so precious to me. I feel so blessed there doesn't seem to be enough words to express how much I am thankful for my family.

"We have more fun all the time because we know everything bad about each other and appreciate everything good about each other and would rather be around together than with anyone else."  ~ Ernest Hemingway

Long ago when my sister and I were in college, my parents were convinced that the summer of 1999 was to be our very last family vacation. My sister was unhappy to leave behind her boyfriend (now husband), but we packed up the car and drove all around the country for a few weeks. It was typical of our family vacations - travel by car and lots of visits with friends and family. It had ups and downs, but we were together and to our parents, they thought it might be for the last time. Life would make us all too busy to vacation together.

Fast forward many years and this has turned out to be far from the reality. My parents and sister's family own timeshares and usually vacation together twice a year for a week each in February and October. Last year, Josh & I were able to join them for a week in Las Vegas in February. We stayed at a nice Marriot resort that had no casino and was very family friendly. It was close to the main Strip - within walking distance - and had some fun activities at the resort including a painting class that Kelly & I participated in all three times it was offered! Mom & my niece joined us for the last session and we all had lots of fun.

Left to right: Keri, Katelyn, Kelly & Mom

“Whatever you do they will love you; even if they don't love you they are connected to you till you die. You can be boring and tedious with [family], whereas you have to put on a good face with friends.” ~ Deborah Moggach

We were able to eat at several wonderful locations, each couple got a date night with activities and food, and though we spent the week passing around a not-so-exciting cold we really enjoyed just being together even if it just meant lounging around the timeshare watching Food Network together. It was a wonderful vacation and ended up being the beginning of a year of family togetherness.

"Joy comes to us in moments—ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary." 
~ Brené Brown

I've spoken before about my favorite place in the world - Cayucos. A few years ago, our family had tried to spend the week of Christmas together there, but at the last minute my sister hurt her back and her family had to stay home. We had a good time with my parents, but it just wasn't the same. Since then we've wanted to make it there together and last year we were able to do so. My parent's rented a house in Cayucos for Mother's Day weekend and though unfortunately Josh wasn't able to get the time off, I was able to go with my parents, my sister and her family, and her mother-in-law.

We had the best time. The house was within walking distance of the beach and the kids loved playing in the water. We spent time in the town - eating yummy cookies at the Brown Butter Cookie Company, ice cream at the Candy Counter, delicious fish & chips at Duckie's, playing at the pier and walking the beach. We went to a farmer's market in nearby Morro Bay. And we just enjoyed the relaxed pace and lovely surroundings of this beautiful town. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was the opportunity to have long conversations. I rode up to Cayucos with my brother-in-law since we had to work part of Friday and I don't think we'd ever spent so much time together without the rest of the family. We talked about our work, books I'd been reading, church and faith, lots of good things. Over the weekend, we had several good talks with his Mom and my parents just sitting together in the living room. It was a wonderful experience and we all agreed that we must return.

Although filled with many happy and lovely memories, last year was also a difficult one for me. As I've shared in this blog, I've been on a journey of deepening my faith and growing and stretching and along with that comes stress at times. I felt very overwhelmed at times and just wanted to get away from my life. There was a lot of tears, a lot of feelings, and as I began to talk with my people about how I was feeling I was able to discover some things. One big thing was that as an introvert I need...literally NEED...time alone and I hadn't been getting enough of that. So I started making time for me - sometimes to just sit upstairs in our den and write in my journal, sometimes I'd go to a coffee shop and sit outside for an hour or two, sometimes Josh would work an evening shift or make plans out of the house so I could be by myself at home. All of this helped, but I just kept wishing for an opportunity to be away from my normal life and be taken care of instead of being the one to take care of others. However, this just seemed impossible and selfish and just wrong to even want. I really struggled with this, and around March or April my parents called with a gift.

They knew how I'd been feeling, as well as knowing how much I missed my Aunty Diana (Dad's younger sister) who I'm very close to, and my parents wanted to offer to pay for a ticket for me to travel to Colorado to spend a week with her. I didn't take it well at first. I cried...actually I sobbed...and I even got upset. Somehow I felt like this was too much to ask (though I didn't ask), it was too selfish (I know it wasn't), and I was being greedy or manipulative somehow (I wasn't). I was in a bad place...but God had prayers to answer that weren't even asked through the wonderful gift of my parent's gift. They bought the ticket, the trip was planned with Aunty, I apologized to my parents for freaking out and thanked them immensely and then all there was to do was wait until July. The week I was going to be in Colorado, Josh was able to spend a week visiting his Mom and brother and their family - we left on the same day and came home on the same day - and though we weren't together, we both really needed the time we were able to spend with our loved ones and it was a wonderful gift.

“As a relationship matures, you start to see that just being there for each other is the most important thing you can do, just being there to listen and be sorry with them, to be happy with them, to share all that there is to share.” ~ Mister Rogers

My time with my Aunty was an answer to prayers I wasn't even bold enough to ask or really even think through - God is so amazing that way! He knew how much I wanted/needed a rest and I got exactly that. My Aunty is so good at taking care of people, and she took such good care of me. She had a special room set up just for me, with room in the closet and even a drawer for my things. I could sleep when I wanted, I could rest when I wanted, she had bought special foods that I like and even made my sandwich for me the first day! :) She is so special to me and our relationship is a very close one and with her quiet and gentle love and support I felt so at peace and at rest that wonderful week. We got to talk a lot, we went to antique stores, we painted pottery at Color Me Mine, we cooked together, we sat together outside each evening with Uncle and the neighbors and just chatted as the day turned into evening. We looked at lots of old photos of my grandparents (they passed away when I was little) from before they were married, from when my Dad and his sisters were little, and from when I was little. So many wonderful memories.

My Papa & Grandma with me...and ice cream of course ;)

My time with Aunty was so precious to me and it was after I got home and was telling Josh about my week that I truly realized what an answer to prayer that it was. God gave me exactly what I needed, even though I wasn't brave enough to ask for it. He knew how much I needed and craved rest and the feeling of being taken care of and through the financial gift of my parents and the loving nature of my Aunty I was able to see those unasked prayers answered and I will never forget that.

“You don't choose your family.  They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.” ~ Desmond Tutu

  “Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.” ~ Anonymous

Because we had so much fun renting a house in Cayucos for Mother's Day weekend, we decided that being there even longer would be even better. And it definitely was!! My parents rented a house (a different one since the first one we stayed at was unavailable) for the week of Thanksgiving and this time Josh was able to join the rest of us along with my grandparents. The house was a little worn, but it had 4 bedrooms, lots of living and kitchen space and amazing views of the ocean. The week we spent there was primarily about relaxing and spending time together. My parents and grandparents love to play the card game Hand and Foot, so throughout the week they had a running game. Josh & I took our niece and nephew to walk on the beach at least once a day, and often twice. We read a lot of books, colored, made our meals together, and just enjoyed the calm, peaceful atmosphere of being together in such a beautiful place.

We did do a few activities throughout the week. On Monday, the "kids" (Josh, me, Kelly & David) spent the afternoon together driving through nearby Paso Robles and enjoying the beautiful views, a tasty picnic lunch and trying some delicious olive oils at Pasolivo. On Tuesday, the whole family took a two hour tour of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse and it was wonderful and quite fascinating. The weather was overcast and lovely that day, and the rain stayed away until our mostly outdoor tour was completed. Because we were a large group of 10, we had our own tour guide and Carol was amazing. We all agreed it was a highlight of the week.

Wednesday we drove south to Pismo Beach for a delicious seafood lunch at our favorite place - The Cracked Crab. We found this gem a few years ago and now it's something Josh & I look forward to all year long. After lunch, we spent some time visiting David's Mom & Stepdad who live nearby and had had a great time catching up. Thanksgiving day was spent relaxing at the house and ended with an untraditional meal of grilled steaks, baked potatoes,  sautéed mushrooms, salad & Red Lobster cheese biscuits. It was delicious and we were all stuffed. On Friday, the kids and grandkids went to visit Hearst Castle. We all took the Grand Rooms tour, and then just the girls took a second tour - this time for the kitchen and cottages. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time.

Spending a week together in one house was a really wonderful experience. Sharing space together made for lots of silly moments, lots of opportunities for conversations to linger and meander, and it was nice to share so many meals together. I'm so incredibly grateful to have a family who enjoys spending time together and who want to spend more time together. Of course we have disagreements and annoyances at times (we aren't perfect), but we genuinely love each other and are happy for every opportunity we have to be together. And the fact that we get so much time isn't lost on us - I think we all realize how blessed we are to live close and have the ability to be so involved in each other's lives.

“I have no doubt, however, that when it comes to our sense of love, belonging, and worthiness, we are most radically shaped by our families of origin – what we hear, what we are told, and perhaps most importantly, how we observe our parents engaging with the world.”   
~ Brené Brown

My family is so important to me and part of the reason this is true is because of the way that my parents raised me. They have always made God the focus of all parts of life - our birthdays are important because that is the day God chose for you to be born, family & friends are gifts from God and maintaining relationships may take time and effort but it's worth it, pray about everything, be generous with the things God gives us because it's all His anyways, spend time reading God's Word every day, people and not things are what is important. All these things and so much more is a part of the gift my parents have given me in their legacy. They truly love people and they deeply love God and that is something that everyone who meets them can recognize. Because of their example, I have never felt unloved, I've always had a sense of belonging and I've known that my worth comes from God and not anything or anyone else. I realize that not everyone has grown up this way and it makes me feel both sad and hurt for those who haven't...and incredibly blessed and overflowing with gratitude that I have always felt such love. Their love for me, for our family, for our friends and most importantly for God has always helped me to feel secure and blessed beyond measure.

“I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus,” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:4

I'm so thankful for my family. For the ways they love me. For the many opportunities we have to spend time together. For the lessons I've learned from them about the importance of community, fellowship and communication. For their focus on how much God loves me...loves all of us...and how important it is to share that love with others. I truly feel overwhelmed and overflowing with gratitude and love for my family. It is a beautiful gift from God and I am so grateful.

"I bless GOD every chance I get; my lungs expand with His praise. I live and breathe GOD; if things aren't going well, hear this and be happy!" ~ Psalm 34:1& 2

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the wonderful gift of family and my family in particular. Thank You for all the amazing blessings You've brought about in my life and for giving me the ability and opportunity to share them with others. Please be with those people who have lost family members, or aren't able to spend as much time with them as they want to. Give them Your peace and Your comfort. I don't know why I have so much, but please help me to always be grateful and appreciative of the many blessings. Thank You for loving us...we love you too. Amen.