Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Bunch of Hot Air

Last night we went on a family date to the Midwest Hot Air Balloon Festival.  It was a beyond perfect August evening here in the middle of the country and checking out this festival is something we have been wanting to do for a few years now.... If you have not attended one of these, I would highly recommend it!  

There was a lot of "Ohhh, look Daddy!"s and "Whoa!"s being said...

One thing that I really wanted to do but we could not pull off due to bedtimes and zero afternoon nap, was the balloon glow that was set to take place after dark.  It is where they fill up the balloons with light/fire/gas and they look like beautiful colored lanterns burning in the darkness.  I have seen photos of these from other festivals and it just looks so amazingly beautiful and cool! This trailer housed one of the balloons that I was most excited about but did not get to see.  Wicked is probably my all-time favorite musical, so I was kind of bummed not to get to see the actual balloon all larger than life, but just knowing that one exists is pretty exciting and something to look forward to...maybe next year!

When we arrived shortly after the gates opened, there were no balloons filled up and there was even a question as to whether or not they were going to fly due to weather, but the call was made to "fly" so there was a lot of excitement in the air- no pun intended.  It was pretty thrilling to see these beautiful, huge (and they are giant!) balloons come to life right before our eyes....

These two balloons were tethered to the ground so people could go for brief rides in them.  The line was a mile long and I was too nervous that wiggly Lily would wiggle out of our arms, so we opted to just watch them fill up, and then go up and down.  It was super exciting to hear them fire the loud blast of hot air and then silently ascend into the quiet summer evening.... 

I have always loved hot air balloons and have so many memories of playing in my parent's backyard as a kid and every once in random while one would quietly float over our house in the evenings.  I remember the thrill of trying to wave to them, chase them down our street, telling our neighbor friends to run outside to watch with us and then keeping our eyes on them for as long as possible as they peacefully floated away. Seeing hot air balloons has always been special because they are kind of rare, not something you see everyday floating over your seeing bunches of them at a festival like this was really impressive.  Especially when you see how BIG they are up close! Wow! 

This cutie pie got her face painted for the very first time...

We had a great spot on the balloon field to watch them all fill up and take off...

All of the balloons are each really beautiful, but I have a special fondness for the non-corporate ones... 

These two....well, you may as well, melt my heart.... 

Lily has a new interest in taking pictures with my camera.  This is an example of one...she loves to try and look through the eye piece and then I push the button for her.  Oh, I forgot to mention, she also loves to put her fingers on the lens too (NOT AWESOME!)...but we are working on that part.  I love her budding interest and talent! 

This tired girl was a complete trooper...Joe and I both left home without any cash, so we did not have any way to buy dinner at the festival! So not only did she not have an afternoon nap, stay up (and out) waaay past her bedtime, but she also ate dinner super late.  (Great job, Mom! Right?? Sheesh! Mom of the Year!) But she did awesome! 

Safe to say, Lily had a great time and so did we.  It was one of my favorite things we have done all summer!

"Bye-bye, babaloons!  Bye-bye!"

Happy weekend to you!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mining for Beauty

Most of the time I don't have time to browse blogland the way I would love to- the way I used to....but from time to time, I get to and when I stumble upon beautiful jems like these, I feel completely compelled to share...  

This post called The Light Inside You Can't Disappear captured me with its title, and then stopped my heart with is message.  This post explains in ways I cannot put to words yet, how I have been feeling and I am so thankful for Tova's words. I needed this one like oxygen.

I've been thinking a ton about this post from Ann ever since I read it, I'm choosing to count the fish too.

I needed this message from Holley too.  She is so, so good and encouraging!  Sometimes I think I need to have the whole plan mapped out before I begin, but I'm being reminded from every corner of the world it seems that I only have to be ready for the next step in front of me.  Just one at a time! He has carried me and guided me so far...why do I continue to question and doubt!? 

There are several more, but I will simply share these with you today... enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August and Everything After.... Part 1

As I'm navigating through this current season, I'm choosing to remember God's faithfulness to me in recent years.  It's strange, but my story always winds back to August...a few Augusts ago...

When I think about when my current faith adventure truly began, I know without question that it was during the summer of 2006...(interestingly almost exactly twenty years after I accepted Christ as my savior!)  In between that bright and shiny day in 1986 and that grown up summer of 2006 was a wild trail of thrills, wanderings, growth, doubts, fears, repentance, dreams, fun, rejections, rebuilding, reconnecting and re-imaginings.  In 1986, I was fearless because I did not know any different.  I did not know that life could throw curve balls the size of boulders, that faith could be easy or it could leave you feeling like you were dangling over the edge of a cliff holding tight for dear life. In the summer of 1986, I was just getting ready to enter middle school, I felt alive and open to all of the adventure, purpose and calling that God spoke over my life.  My confidence had not been cracked yet and I felt like I could see my future, college, husband, kids, fun, friends, all looked bright and sparkly from my perspective that summer at camp when I really met Jesus for the first time.

Flashing forward to that summer of 2006, I felt happy.  I was settled in my career, happy with my job, surrounded by tons of friends, I lived in a cute, fun little house I had bought with my own money, I was known and connected at my church, I was getting back into shape physically, I basically felt anchored in every area except for the ever elusive husband and happy family ...which happened to consume about 95% of my thoughts and hopes for my life.

By this time in my life, I had found my way back to God and was reveling in the richness of the community of other amazing single friends he had surrounded me with in this season. By this time, most of my life long friends were married, having babies, making lives of their own with some even moving across the country to build their lives.  Thanks to the joy of new friendships in my life and a deep hunger in my soul for God, I found myself again interested in what He was doing in my life and was excited to grow and learn all I could about Him.  I was content to surrender my singleness and let Him have his way with my life.  Interestingly, as I surrendered, I found my calendar packed with parties, concerts, weddings, trips, gatherings, friends, bonfires, special meals and my heart was postured wide open and full of hope for my future.  However, I also understood on a deeper level that life's twists and turns could be brutal, but could also be beautiful.  

It was during this summer of 2006, that I met Joe.  (Although strangely enough when I think of this summer, meeting Joe is not the big even that stands out in my mind).  I say that I met him over the summer, but truthfully, we had known each other here and there a little bit over the previous year as our paths crossed at different events, but neither one of us recalls the actual first meeting outside of that summer.  But I know thanks to my journals, that it was during the summer of 2006, that I really "met" him.  We started spending time together getting to know each other through long conversations over coffee, in corners at parties chatting the night away, beside bonfires laughing and talking with friends deep into the night, always, always losing track of time when we were together.  When I met him, I knew I liked him.  Straight away.  As for what he was thinking, I had no clue, because he was genuinely one of the nicest, kindest people I had ever met and he treated everyone around him well, so it was difficult to discern whether or not I was being given any special attention or if he was just being "Joe."

Realizing I was interested in him was kind of a quandry for me because I had been on a self-imposed "break" from dating.  I was taking a break from setting my hopes on guys without God's blessing.  I was taking a break from driving the ship and was determined to let God direct my path in the romance department because I had made a mess of it so many times in the past.  I was in the practice of surrendering my hope in this area, which admittedly was much easier when there was not one particular person I was interested in!

So when I started spending a little bit of time here and there with Joe, I had to really exercise some self discipline in not letting my thoughts race away with the "What is he thinking?s" - the "What does that mean?" - the "I wonder...s" Which if you know anything about women, those kinds of thoughts tend to be second nature.  I was also determined to not become the "buddy" girl.  Even though I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible, he was not really asking me out per se.  Our time together (aside from one or two instances) was mostly at parties, on trips, at gatherings or in the company of a group.  I began to wonder if he was interested in me as more than a friend, or if I was just imagining that our conversations carried more weight and meaning than they actually did....and I loved this not knowing and also hated it just a little bit.

In July that summer, my heart had its answer.  I started to notice Joe spending time with another girl in our same social circle.  Eventually my worst fears were confirmed thanks to some detective work of some diligent friends, it was uncovered that Joe was officially seeing this other girl.  I don't want to comment about her, but I will just say that she and I did not really have much in common- at all.  I had fallen for a guy who had not been thinking of me the same way and I found myself feeling dumb, rejected, stupid and embarrassed about all of the misread signals and misplaced hopes.  It was clear that Joe was completely comfortable dating her and being friends with me, which I found to be a little disheartening and planted some seeds of doubt in my heart about his character....was he a player of games in the romance area? This image of him completely did NOT match with the way I had perceived him, so everything got a little bit cloudy.  I especially hated the way I allowed the situation to make me feel about myself.  I struggled with comparison, broken confidence, self-esteem and doubts about myself, my instincts and my future.  My bright, happy summer went from sunny to stormy in a flash.
So I prayed and prayed and cried and prayed some more for clarity on what to do.  I did not want to be "that" girl who could not be friends with guys, but I also knew that if I was honest, I was way past the "friend" stage with Joe in my heart.  I sought counsel from wise friends, I selfishly and secretly prayed that Joe would somehow magically see the error of his choice and break up with her and pick me, but he didn't.  I cried big tears as I prayed each night.  But I continued to feel a certainty in my heart about what I needed to do, about how I needed to handle this situation and I was not really excited about what I was hearing.  I knew it was the excellent thing to do, but I also knew it was the hardest thing I could imagine doing.  

I was going to have to "break up" with Joe as my friend- and I also knew I needed to tell him why.... (gulp!)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Starry Starry Night

Ever since I can remember, my family has always had a jigsaw puzzle going at the cabin.  We enjoy pouring over the fractured image as we slowly work together to bring it back to mended wholeness. We are far from puzzle experts in our family- puzzle nerds? Probably, yes.  But experts? No.

Prior to beginning this particular one, we (my mom and I) had been reveling in the recent completion of a rather difficult puzzle and jokingly said that we should "up our challenge factor" with this doozy... confident that we could figure it all out with some patience, persistence and time. Hubris.  Flagrant hubris.

Ten years later...literally-(which was about a month ago)....I sat on the floor beside the bed looking down at the plywood plank that held only the outline of this puzzle....resting there in dusty defeat and abandonment. In recent years, the mere mention of Starry Starry Night brought forth laughs, eye rolls, and joking dismissals from almost everyone gathered around our table.

Not only had it not been completed after all of this time, but it had not even been brought out into the daylight in recent years because of its sheer ability to frustrate us after only a few minutes.  It seemed the more we tried to fit its pieces together to make sense of the image, the further we fell into frustration, disgust, and hopelessness.  

Working on this puzzle had stopped being fun a very long time ago the struggle only continued because we never officially cried uncle and put the puzzle away forever.  We had tried, failed, tried, failed, tried, failed and tried and failed again and again and again until - on this most recent visit- we finally just gave up and quit with only a small fraction of the pieces connected.  We did the best we could do and it was absolutely not even close to being enough to bring forth the promised masterpiece result.

I was surprised as I pulled it out from underneath the bed on its plywood "table top"...shocked at how LITTLE was discernible of the overall desired image despite the mountain of hours and effort we had invested.  I was shocked at the smallness of the pieces, the tiny-ness of the mosaic images, but also struck by the beauty of the bigger image depicted on the box revealing the completed mosaic of all of the crazy little pieces blended together.

I wished the finished product of all of our efforts had turned out that lovely, but it did not. Not even close. As I gazed at the photo on the box, I was amazed at what could still possibly be amidst the mess we had made of it.  We had spent so many hours tangled up in the mire of the micro, and it had been a long time since I had looked at the image from the perspective of the artist...the completed, beautiful masterpiece.  So close, and yet also completely far.

It struck me as I looked at it - that in a way, this sad puzzle in its current state of disarray and mess was the perfect metaphor for my life in that moment, and I could not help but marvel at God's timing.  I just happened to be taking it apart at the exact time when my life felt unravelled, messy, unclear and in pieces with no hope of ever feeling whole again.  He knew ten years ago when we started this puzzle, that it would lay broken here on the floor ten years later before my broken heart- and that He would whisper to me in this moment and use it in an ever so small way, to help me begin healing.

He reminded me in that moment that He alone sees the ultimate, beautiful completed mosaic masterpiece of his creation that is our collective lives.  He reminded me that each little life touches another and adds essential beauty, light, color, shadow, shape and dimension to the beautiful giant masterpiece God is creating through our stories and lives.  He showed me as I looked at the tiny pieces that each one matters.

Each part of our journey matters to Him and to the overall masterpiece he is creating. Just like a puzzle is not finished until every piece is in its place (and what a HUGE bummer it is when you get to the end only to discover that one is missing!) our lives are not complete without the details...the stumbles, the struggles, the victories, the joys, the sorrows, the colors, the shadows, the praises, the grief, the laughter, the tears, the hugs, the meals, the moments, the memories....They all matter.  And they all add up to something completely masterful and beautiful that only the Artist can see as it is being created.  

I needed to be reminded of this as I have been sitting in my broken dreams and shattered hopes for months now.  Struggling to find beauty.  Searching desperately for hope and scratching for purpose. You see, it's real now.  We are officially not going to have another baby of our own.  This has been a deeply hard knowing to accept and the grief I've been feeling has matched in some ways and surpassed in others the grief I experienced with losing Luke.  The waves of loss have been crashing over me with greater frequency and rather than brace for their impact, I have just let them roll over me.  I have been allowing them to carry me where they will because I know that loving and crying and grieving this is the only way to truly accept it and move forward.

We learned this news back in May and I have not had words to write about anything since.  I have been frozen and paralyzed in my fear, doubts and sadness.  I have spent the summer quietly working on just being still before God waiting for him to reveal something, anything beautiful about this latest life development.  How can this part of my story possibly be part of something beautiful when all I can feel is grief, sorrow love and loss?  I have been working on my anger and my grief and my gratitude and slowly learning about how they are all connected in the mending mosaic called life.  

But that evening at the cabin as I quietly took apart the puzzle to return it to the box, I was also surrendering my dreams for my life...the way I wanted things to look and turn out, the family of faces I had always envisioned around my breakfast table, the way my family was going to look, the siblings I dreamed of having for Lily, the happy, joyful pregnancies I never imagined would not be mine, the ease of building a family the simple way, the marriage not overshadowed by constant grief and loss and sadness that I have never known... all of those dreams I have clung to, dreamed about, hoped and prayed for my entire life.  Not to be. Not my story, not my masterpiece.  And I cried big, quiet tears as I put each piece back into the box that afternoon...tears for what was supposed to be, but would not happen as I had deeply believed.

As I thought about the beautiful image we were unable to create with the puzzle, God whispered to my heart that He is the maker of beautiful things and that just because I cannot see the masterpiece He is creating with my life does not mean he is not creating one.  All of my attempts and efforts and plans and dreams brought me here, to this precipice of heartbreak and even more loss than I fear at times that my heart can hold- but it was here that my heart could finally open to hear that just because I could not put this puzzle of my life together the way I hoped and thought it would go, absolutely does not mean that He cannot dream up a better and far more beautiful way than I ever could- and make it happen! He can.  It's who He is. It's what He's about. He specializes in taking broken things and making them beautiful and whole again.

He is the maker of beautiful things and just like that, as I surrendered our story again to Him, I felt my perspective shift just a tiny little bit and my heart somehow cracked back open to hope and possibility. Perhaps not all was lost after all with the disassembly of that dreaded puzzle.  Perhaps when I get to see the great finished mosaic masterpiece of our life that is visible only from heaven, God will gently point to a darker shaded area and remind me of that particular starry starry mountain night.