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Sunday, August 14, 2016

"Celebration of Love" Day Seven - SURPRISE!!!

I was challenged by Amanda Barone to participate in a seven-day "Celebration of Love." Being the idealist that I am, I took the liberty of altering the conditions of the "challenge" before passing it on (read more here).  I'm inviting those I tag to spend seven days celebrating anyone who makes your life richer -- your friends, your kids, your siblings, your co-workers, and sure, your spouse!  Or, do nothing except know that I am celebrating you!

SURPRISE!!!  Eric & I found out a little while ago that our family is going to be expanding this coming January!  We had talked about the possibility of having children of our own, but we weren't set on it, and either way we had thought we would give it a few years first.  But life doesn't always unfold according to our timing, does it?

The day we found out we sat on one of our love seats in shock for hours and binge watched Halt & Catch Fire, too dumbfounded to say or do much else.  We did not see this coming and the timing seemed rather inconvenient for multiple reasons.  Eric & I both moved about in a fog for the next few days, but as reality sank in, shock began to give way to love.  When we announced our news to my family a couple weeks later during a pre-planned trip to Reno, their joy multiplied our own as we grew increasingly excited about our little nugget.

I've been reflecting with amazement on how much love I already feel for this tiny little human despite the fact she or he is still only as big as the palm of my hand and we haven't even met yet.  It has caused me to think of the love my own mother must have felt for me when I was still so small, and it has stirred feelings of awe & gratitude as well as sadness in me -- awe & gratitude at the concept of being loved so deeply by someone, and sadness at the recognition I haven't always been loving toward the one who loved me that way.  I know we're all human and we all let each other down.  And if we're healthy, we forgive & forget & grow & move on.  I know this baby will one day let Eric & me down, and we will do the same.  But this doesn't diminish the love in my heart for this little one even in the slightest.  It has been so amazing to me to recognize this aspect of parenthood, even this early on.  What an incredible gift!

 


So today I am tagging my mom & my dad, who both have loved me so deeply for the past 35+ years, as well as my brother, who they also have loved just as deeply, and who, along with his beautiful wife, now deeply loves three precious little boys of their own.  I am crazy grateful for the family God gave me.  We are not perfect, but we have managed to love each other throughout the course of our lives despite the hardships & disappointments & frustrations & trials any family might face.  And I couldn't be more grateful that this is the family we get to bring our little one into.

With all this said, I cannot write this post without acknowledging that there are people who crave but lack the things I'm celebrating today -- both the joy of a child & the warmth of a loving family.  I have dear friends who have ached to have a baby of their own yet haven't been able to do so, and I know they represent so many others in the world who share the same struggle.  I also have friends who ache for a mother and/or a father who genuinely, demonstratively shows love & support but face the reality of absent parents or parents with whom the relationship is strained.  I just want to take a moment to tell those people my heart hurts for you, and I pray with & for you for the miracle you long for.  Sometimes our hearts break living in a broken world where our bodies can work against us and our relationships can go unresolved.  To you, I echo the words I extended in my first post toward people who long for a healthy marriage but don't have one:

You are not forgotten.  You are seen.  You are loved.

I pray you find peace in your journey and resolution for the aching places in your heart.

Reflecting on so many different people in my life over the past week has been something I've treasured.  Despite the late nights I've spent writing out some of my posts, it's been a gift to be reminded of how many wonderful characters God has placed in the story He's given me -- and I didn't even get to all of them!  I want to make clear the fact that my life is not without struggles or disappointment.  If it seems like I've spent seven days writing only about good things, it's not because that's all there is; it's simply because I've learned through the years to look for the silver linings, to find things to be thankful for, and it has created in me a sense of deep & authentic gratitude for the good even when there is also bad.  I believe there is always beauty to be found if we just keep looking for it.  Thanks to all the people I've tagged this week as well as the many others I count as friends & loved ones for being reflections of beauty in my life even on dark days.  I love you all dearly.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

"Celebration of Love" Day Six - Inspirations

I was challenged by Amanda Barone to participate in a seven-day "Celebration of Love." Being the idealist that I am, I took the liberty of altering the conditions of the "challenge" before passing it on (read more here).  I'm inviting those I tag to spend seven days celebrating anyone who makes your life richer -- your friends, your kids, your siblings, your co-workers, and sure, your spouse!  Or, do nothing except know that I am celebrating you!

Today I am tagging Alex, Jason, Lisa, and Sherry.

I first met Alex probably six or seven years ago when he started
coming to our church youth group with one of his best friends.  He always had such a kind spirit, and it's been an honor getting to know him better over the past few years.  He just graduated college this spring with a degree in social work, a field that was inspired by his faith and his care for people.  I remember him telling our reading group that as he read the code of ethics he wondered why Christians weren't coming out of the woodwork to pursue that line of work because it so aligned with the values Jesus gave His followers.  That's the kind of heart Alex has.  Alex's family is from Mexico, and in addition to graduating with a degree in social work, he also recently passed his U.S. citizenship test -- something I'm quite sure many natural-born Americans (myself included) would probably struggle to do.  Eric & I are both so proud of him and so blessed to count him as our friend.

Jason is closer to Eric than he is to me, but we, too, have participated in a couple of reading groups together and I've gotten to know him well enough to develop a deep sense of admiration for him.  Jason truly has one of the most brilliant minds of anyone I've ever met, yet he's also one of the most humble people I've ever known.  I've read some pieces he has written in the past and have been blown away by his intelligence, yet he is amazingly accessible.  He takes people under his wing and befriends them with such great care & sincerity.  He's also been a wonderful friend to Eric, and I'm so glad he's in both our lives.

Lisa was one of my brother's closest friends in college who became a close friend of mine as well.  Upon graduating she taught school in Atlanta for a while before going on a year-long mission trip that took her to a different country each month.  Along the way she fell in love with a community in Nicaragua, and she moved there permanently over six years ago.  Reading about her life & ministry there is a constant source of encouragement to me.  She is in the process of building a home where she will provide a family for children who have none.  It is her dream and it is a beautiful reflection of God's heart.  Lisa lives her life with so much joy & freedom.  I often feel so much of American evangelicalism is rooted in fear-based behavior modification -- we are taught to do or not do certain things merely because they are "right" or "wrong" -- but Lisa loves Jesus and she loves people, and everything she does flows from that, not just a sense of right or wrong.  I've become firmly convinced over the past few years that is how Jesus really intended for us to live.  As He said and as Paul echoed, love fulfills the law.  If we only truly loved one another, "behavior modification" would be unnecessary.  I think a lot of people don't believe that's possible, but I believe Lisa's life demonstrates that it absolutely is.  I love this girl and her heart so, so much.

Finally, Sherry was one of my co-workers for many years when I served on a church staff in Reno, and she has become a very dear friend over time.  A former nurse, she has a special gift for being present with people who are going through health issues.  Her demeanor is incredibly calming, and she is wonderful at explaining things in laymen's terms when a person may be feeling overwhelmed by medical jargon.  She's been there for both of my parents when they faced various medical issues over the years and her support has been invaluable to them (and, as such, to my whole family) -- and I know many, many others who would say the same.  Eric & I have enjoyed some very sweet times of fellowship with Sherry and her husband, Craig, sharing meals around their kitchen table, telling stories, expressing disappointments, and most of all laughing together.  I've sought her wisdom when going through difficult times, and I've had the privilege of witnessing her "happy dance" when sharing good news.  She is truly a gift to everyone who knows her, and Eric & I love her dearly.

I am so grateful each of these people has been a part of my/our story.

Friday, August 12, 2016

"Celebration of Love" Day Five - Birthday Twins & Portland Friends

I was challenged by Amanda Barone to participate in a seven-day "Celebration of Love." Being the idealist that I am, I took the liberty of altering the conditions of the "challenge" before passing it on (read more here).  I'm inviting those I tag to spend seven days celebrating anyone who makes your life richer -- your friends, your kids, your siblings, your co-workers, and sure, your spouse!  Or, do nothing except know that I am celebrating you!

Several years ago I was part of a rather elaborate plan to surprise my friend Alina on her birthday with a big gathering at her parents' house.  It turned out that was actually part of an even more elaborate plan her mom had cooked up to celebrate FOUR birthdays, including mine!  Alina and her twin sister, Alona, were born on August 11, and our mutual friend Patricia and I were both born on August 18.  When we showed up at Alina & Alona's parents' house, we found probably 40-50 people gathered in the back yard, a wooden photo cutout that had been painted to look like the four of us (hilarious!), and food & games a plenty waiting to be enjoyed.  I already tagged Alina this week, but I wanted to tag Alona & Patricia as well -- especially since it's birthday week for all of us again right now!

I've had some great times with these girls.  They sort of introduced me to thrift store shopping -- or at the very least they're responsible for getting me hooked on it.  I've probably bought at least half my clothes at Goodwill since the four of us went together that summer.  We've had more than a few movie nights, sleepovers, and even s'mores parties at Alina & Alona's house, and Alona usually made sure a chocolate fountain was involved because she is obsessed with chocolate (and why shouldn't she be?!).  Patricia & I also really enjoyed being part of a couple of different reading groups together over the past several years with some fellow deep thinkers.  It was always invigorating to get together and discuss what we'd been reading.  I love thinking back on the times I've shared with these girls!

In addition to my & Alina's "birthday twins," since I'm running short on days but still have plenty of people I'd like to celebrate, I decided to double up on my themes for today and tag some new friends as well.

Eric & I have been living in Portland since February.  We didn't really know anyone when we moved here, but the past couple of years had been pretty crazy and since we're both introverts anyway, it's been kind of nice to feel like we're somewhat off the grid here.  Nevertheless, even we two introverts would probably be feeling pretty isolated if we hadn't made ANY connections over the past six months, and I didn't want to let this whole week go by without celebrating some of our newer friends.

So today I am also tagging Karen, who we met through a small church in our neighborhood that has become our spiritual home here in Portland; Tracy & Dustin, who were the first of my co-workers I really got to know at PSU; and Kirsten, who also just moved to Portland from Reno with her husband right about the same time Eric & I did.  (Her father-in-law also just so happened to officiate our wedding ceremony...it really is a small world!)  While Eric & I are generally pretty content with spending quiet evenings at home as much as possible, these people have given us some connections and made us feel welcome in our new home.  And we are most grateful for them!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Celebration of Love" Day Four - My Fellow Walden's Baristas

I was challenged by Amanda Barone to participate in a seven-day "Celebration of Love." Being the idealist that I am, I took the liberty of altering the conditions of the "challenge" before passing it on (read more here).  I'm inviting those I tag to spend seven days celebrating anyone who makes your life richer -- your friends, your kids, your siblings, your co-workers, and sure, your spouse!  Or, do nothing except know that I am celebrating you!

Today I am tagging Jaime Meyer and Nate Capps.

Several years ago I began to realize how much I loved the atmosphere of locally owned coffee shops, so it was a bit of a dream last March when I got a job as a barista at Walden's Coffeehouse.  I had gotten to know one of the owners when a reading group I was in used to meet there on a weekly basis, and she was willing to take a chance on me despite the fact I had no experience.  Thankfully, I picked up on things quickly, and though it had its stressful moments (just like any other job), I LOVED working there.  I really adored a lot of the people I got to know during my time at Walden's, but I had particularly strong connections with Jaime and Nate.

They both, along with Nate's sweet wife, Cherish, graciously volunteered their time & talents during
our wedding, recording the events on camera and also contributing artwork for the backgrounds; but their greatest gift has been their friendship.

I didn't know Jaime at all until she became a barista at Walden's, but we got along so well.  She happens to be another INFJ (I seem to know an inordinate number of them, considering how rare this personality type is!) and she quickly became one of those people I knew I could talk to about anything and find a sympathetic listening ear.

As far as Nate goes, it is crazy now to think that I used to visit Walden's as a customer and see him behind the counter, never dreaming we'd one day be such good friends.  We concluded pretty early on that we are just "cut from the same cloth," and last time Eric & I saw him we drove away talking about how easy it is to be around him.  Nate & Cherish, who got married only a few months before we did, recently found out they're expecting a baby girl and I could not be more excited for them!

It blows my mind when I think about how easily I could have gone my whole life without ever meeting some of the people who have come to mean so much to me.  Thanks to Mandy for giving me that chance as a barista...it has brought blessings I'm confident will last the rest of my life.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Celebration of Love" Day Three - Bridesmaids

I was challenged by Amanda Barone to participate in a seven-day "Celebration of Love." Being the idealist that I am, I took the liberty of altering the conditions of the "challenge" before passing it on (read more here).  I'm inviting those I tag to spend seven days celebrating anyone who makes your life richer -- your friends, your kids, your siblings, your co-workers, and sure, your spouse!  Or, do nothing except know that I am celebrating you!

Today I am tagging my incredible bridesmaids.  I honestly could not have asked for a better group of friends to stand beside me on my wedding day -- and that is to say, I could not have asked for a better group of friends to have been an integral part of my life during the years leading up to that day.

Erin was one of my very first friends in Reno.  Cassidy & I first got to know her when we spent the summer of 2004 there because all three of us were helping with the youth group at the church my parents began attending after they moved to Reno.  Little did we know she & Cassidy would fall in love & marry just a few years later!  I was so happy to have her become an official part of our family, and I've loved getting to know and share life with her family as well.  One of my greatest joys in life has been becoming an auntie to the three adorable boys Erin & Cassidy have had over the past few years.  We have shared so, so many memories in the years since Erin & I became friends, from sleepovers to youth group trips to movie nights (which we often both sleep through lol) to family vacations, and I am so grateful to know we still have a whole lifetime ahead to make more!

Cloe' was only in the sixth grade when I first got to know her!  She became a part of the youth group a few months later and I had the honor of being one of her youth leaders for the next several years.  She knew how much I longed to be married and saw me go through some pretty big disappointments along the way, and at other times I saw her go through her own trials; but as much as I always hoped to be an encouragement to her as her youth leader, she proved through the years to be every bit as much an encouragement to me.   It has been amazing watching her grow into a beautiful, caring, mature young woman, and I am so proud to call her my friend.

My first memory of Jeni involves her being introduced to my mom's famous mac & cheese, which she has loved ever since, and her being amused at my or Cassidy's (I can't remember which) southern pronunciation of "Ju-ly."  We quickly became good friends and, though we've had our ups & downs, our friendship has endured for almost 10 years now (and counting).  Jeni is truly one of the funniest people I know.  She is fiercely protective of the people she loves, and while life has thrown some real challenges her way, she has always managed to fight her way back to wholeness & joy.  She inspires me and I love who she is.

Of all my bridesmaids, my friendship with Alina is actually the "youngest."  Though we had gone to church together for years, we only really got to know each other about four years ago (I think...).  We had both recently gone through breakups and we each found it refreshing to have someone in a similar boat with whom to commiserate.  Though our friendship had grown considerably by the time we took our first road trip together, I was still a little nervous just because we had never spent that much time together one-on-one.  We made our way to Portland (her first trip there, my second), though, and by the time we got home I'd discovered that Alina was one of the absolute best travel companions I'd ever had.  We had both fallen in love with Portland and ended up making several more trips to there together, and now that I live here I'm particularly thrilled to be able to say she just moved to Vancouver this past weekend!  It's going to be so wonderful having one of my best friends less than an hour away!  Alina is one of the most generous people I know, constantly giving her time & talents to help people around her.  It is a great gift to count her among my closest friends.


Before I get to my dear MOH, I want to mention two other amazing women who also would have been bridesmaids if they didn't live across the country.

My friendship with Judy goes back almost as far as my friendship with Erin.  She's another one I got to know initially because we served together as youth leaders.  She became one of my best friends through the years.  I can't count how many Saturday evenings I spent over at her place, eating True New York pizza, playing with her kitties, and watching (or sleeping through) movies.  When she moved back to New York in 2014 I got to drive across the country with her and then spend several days getting a taste of the area where she grew up.  Judy is one of the most faithful friends I've ever had and I miss being able to hang out with her on a regular basis.

Anna & I go back much further than anyone else on this list -- all the way back to first grade!  It's amazing to think she has been a part of my life for almost THIRTY YEARS.  One of favorite weeks ever took place in June of 2007 when Anna & her mom flew out to Reno and went on a road trip with me & my mom to San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, and Las Vegas.  It was crazy covering that much ground in just a few days but we saw so many amazing sights, laughed like crazy, and had the greatest time together.  I treasure the memories of our "Wild West Tour."  We don't keep in touch super regularly but we also know we each can send the other a text out of the blue asking for prayer for absolutely anything without any fear of judgment.  I am so thankful for her friendship that has endured all this time.

Now finally, my Maid of Honor, Jessie Marie.  I actually met Jessie the same day Anna & her mom arrived in Reno in 2007.  She was visiting our youth group with a friend, and I never could have dreamed at that time that we would go on to become what she has come to refer to as "soul friends" and would even share a home for a little over two years.  Jessie & I are both INFJs and, as such, we somehow just "get" each other in a way few, if any, other people ever have.  I feel like we've both learned so much about ourselves since we first became friends, and it seems we've offered each other a safe place to process that ongoing journey.  We have shared so much together -- coffee dates & dinners & walks & movies & drives & frustrations & sadness & joy & silliness & holidays & times with family & on & on & on.  We have prayed & danced & consumed peppermint hot chocolate & had sleepovers in our living room.  She has made me laugh and she has seen me cry.  We've witnessed each other at our worst and at our best.  I cannot say enough about what her friendship has meant to me.  I am forever grateful we got to share life in a daily context for the 2+ years leading up to my marriage, and I will cherish those memories and her friendship for the rest of my life.

These are some of the most amazing women I have ever known and I am so, so grateful each one of them has been a part of my story.