Quarters and Sweet Corn

There’s nothing quite like an English market, especially the one we attended the most in the old market town of Bury St. Edmunds. I would often visit Bury to do a bit of shopping, stroll the cobblestoned streets on market day, or visit my favorite cafe, Gastrono-me, for their towering, incomparable Breakfast Hash. I’d park at the cheapest place, down the hill, behind the Vauxhall dealership, then cut through the pub car park and make my way slowly into town through the beautiful Abbey Gardens. The gardens themselves are worth a visit: beautiful landscaping, over-friendly squirrels, play areas, a small aviary, my favorite solitary ginkgo tree, ice cream, plenty of benches, and – of course – the abbey ruins. Bury St Edmunds may be most well known because the Magna Carta was maybe, possibly, probably, provisionally drafted there in 1214 (it depends on who you ask or what you’re reading). The gardens are home to the remains of the 10th century abbey, and you can walk through much of the skeletal walls, imagining how arched ceilings would have towered overhead, blocking the bright English summer sun (or – probably, more likely – sheltering you from the rain).

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

All of this led to Bury St Edmunds being one of my favorite towns to visit, but I must admit, I had a love/hate relationship with that dang market. The Bury market was by far the largest one near us, with row after row of colorful, patchwork stalls hawking vegetables, sheepskins, international food, fresh flowers, crusty bread, and local eggs. Also, if you have a strange need for old magazines, American junk food, cheap bras and undies, and an endless variety of cell phone cases, the Bury market will not disappoint. I loved the people watching, but as a fast walker I hated trying to weave through the walkers (most of whom, had no concept of flow of traffic or awareness of their current trajectory, which just about aggravated Sam and me to death). I appreciated the variety of vegetables, the ability to get my desired amount at the best price with no packaging. I even loved how the vendors would shout their best deals in a loud but generally muddled voice with an accent that I’ve honestly only ever heard at that volume level and in that situation:

“1 FOR £5, 3 FOR £10! PICK AND MIX!”

But I hated, absolutely hated, how hard it usually was to actually get the vendor’s attention and pay for your goods. At first, I would wait and stare – produce in one hand, coins in the other, outstretched – absolutely willing the vendor to look my way next. As much as the English love to queue, it’s all out the window when it comes to cheap veg. Pensioners would push past, a pram would roll over my foot, all as I’m standing there thinkshouting, “JUST TAKE MY MONEY.” Eventually, I allowed my “American confidence” (a term I heard a few times in England) to surface, and I would squeeze and maybe slightly elbow my way to the front, sticking my exact change in the vendor’s hand with a small smile, a tilt and lift of my purchase, and a quick “cheers!” As I walked away, sighing quietly to myself, I’d hear their unaffected echo of, “Cheers, love!”

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Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

Moving somewhere new is a great opportunity to develop new habits. In England, I began walking to the grocery store and shopping more at markets, trying to purchase local, ethically-sourced products if possible. But now, back stateside, I’m trying to maintain those habits if I can (sadly, there’s no grocery store within close walking distance and also NO SIDEWALKS, but I’ll save that for another day). So, I’m also trying to do some of my weekly grocery shop at local farmers’ markets, and also eat more seasonally. Before moving to England, I didn’t do much shopping at markets, so I wasn’t sure what to expect back here in Ohio. The farmers’ markets here are much different from the official weekly markets we saw in England. Here in the midwest, it’s not out of the ordinary to see a mini van with the side or back door flung open, a table set up next to it, and just a box or two of large tomatoes and homegrown peppers for sale. In the height of summer you’ll probably even see an impromptu “market” consisting of a flatbed truck piled high with ears of corn at the edge of a superstore parking lot.

I’ve been to a handful of local markets recently and I’ve truly enjoyed the hodgepodge of homegrowers, local farmers, ranchers, and bakers. For the most part, they’ve been eager to strike up a conversation, taking the time to chat and tell me about what they’re selling or talk about the day – a stark contrast to my English market experience. Maybe that’s just Ohio friendliness that I forgot about, but it never fails to make me smile. Just the other day I was buying some homemade cereal from a Mennonite merchant. She was very quiet at first, dressed in her plain clothes and bonnet. As I went to pay, I smiled politely and apologized for the handful of quarters I was using. With a sudden wide grin that reached to her clear, mascara-less eyes, she laughed and said, “Oh, no problem! Just the other day I took my car through the car wash and it spit out my change – $10! – all in quarters. What can ya do?!” I grabbed my cereal, agreed with a chuckle, thanked her, and walked away. But for the rest of the day I thought of that interaction and laughed. When I saw her bun and bonnet, her plain blue dress, I’m ashamed to admit that I immediately thought “What could we possibly have in common?” But then, there we were just moments later, laughing together.

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Photo by Bianka Csenki on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I visited another market down the road. As I peeled back the husks of some bi-color sweet corn – checking the freshness and looking for bugs – the farmer said in a slow drawl, “It’s the strangest thing, we haven’t found any worms this year. Don’t know why, but no worms.” I commented that I didn’t see any, and that anyways, I think I was checking more out of old habit, muscle memory from my childhood, than any other reason. Shucking corn, pulling away the stubborn strands of silk, always reminds me of my Meme and Papaw. I spent hours as a kid doing just that on their back porch steps. The farmer agreed, and the vendor next store – selling local honey – said it was such a part of her upbringing as well, that it’s funny how it reminds us of grandparents. She mentioned a friend of hers who recently had boxes of extra ears of corn. After wondering what to do with it, she called up a local senior citizens’ home and asked if she could bring it to them for an activity. She said that for hours the elderly men and women sat and shucked the corn; some silently pulling at the husks, others tapping toes and singing songs from long ago in a circle as they worked. Wrinkled, tired hands held the ears firm, peeling back the layers.

As I get to know this area again, as I drive down the roads I once knew so well, as I take my son to the library that my Meme once took me, I realize I’m constantly remembering, relearning. After years of living abroad, often keeping our identities quiet when we traveled, I’m remembering slowly how to be a friendly Ohioan, making small talk with people passing by and not being immediately suspicious of those I don’t know. I’m reminding myself that first impressions are usually inaccurate or at least that they’re never the full picture. That we as humans have so much more in common with each other than we first believe. As we do, we’re meeting neighbors who reveal that they grew up in England. Bumping into couples at church who’s parents live near ours. Finding out strangers have mutual friends. Cashiers with similar interests. And little by little, as we peel back the layers, we remember and reenter community.

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August

I saw a picture this morning that said:

“How is it still August?! Isn’t today like August 33rd?”

Amen the heck to that. This month has been years long, I’m convinced. How else would it be possible to fit in all that has occurred? In this forever long month in just our little family we have settled down in a new (old) country, returned to our home state, our little man turned 2 years old, we’ve welcomed moving trucks (twice) and a friend from England, we purchased a car, I learned how to drive a manual, we settled into our new home, visited potential new churches, visited family, we’ve been up to Lake Erie, and basically tried to avoid all those tempting restaurants we’ve lived without for 4+ years. (Except for donuts and ice cream. And pizza. Those will never be avoided.)

It seems fitting that all of this kicked off in August, a month that is traditionally so full of change. As a kid August means one thing – summer ends and school begins. I always loved school, especially the act of going Back to School. Yes, there was the new backpack and 1st Day Outfit thing, but mainly I loved the fresh school supplies, seeing friends again, and diving back in to learning. (Nerd, amirite?) Later, August marked when I would move into my dorm room for the first time and begin the College stage of life. Every year for four years it meant returning to a sleepy village that was suddenly full, where I dashed between classes with new notebooks in hand, around lakes, buildings, and slow walkers. It’s really no surprise that I became a teacher; August held the same tinge of excitement for the four years I spent in the classroom. Even now that I’m no longer teaching, every year as August peeks above summer’s horizon, that Back to School feeling of anticipation returns. And two years ago, August held the biggest life-changing change of all, when our sweet silly son was born, forever marking this month as special and worthy of pause.

August was certainly much anticipated this year, with our round-the-world move hitting right at the end of July. August undeniably meant change. Change. CHANGE. New beginnings. Out with old – ready or not – in with the new. July was difficult goodbyes, doors solemnly swinging closed, the handing over of keys. Boxes, hotel rooms, and luggage. August was the fresh start.

So why has August been so long, so difficult? It has been absolutely wonderful to return Home – to family, to memories, and so much more. Yet somewhere along the line the newness and anticipation started grating on me. No more change, please! (Except for my furniture and stuff… that can arrive any day, please and thank you.) Some days I love waking up and stepping on to our new back porch, looking out over my coffee cup with an eager grin. Other days the same feels daunting. “Church shopping” has been incredibly difficult, making me miss our wonderful church and community in England, while highlighting the reverse culture shock of moving back here. I’ve discovered those Sunday morning interactions completely exhaust me, and our son doesn’t understand why every Sunday morning he has to go play with another group of strangers in a building he doesn’t recognize.

I know it won’t always be like this. I know that roots must grow before the fruit.

Yesterday, I was reading Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist – a fitting book for me right now. In her essay Learning to Swim she writes about a season of change, and how it wasn’t the change itself that bogged her down, but her own response to it. She lost her perspective, wanting immediate clear answers and a set plan, minimizing her faith to only what was going on in her life and forgetting about the bigger picture. She writes, “I believe God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent through life and history: life from death, water from a stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything’s easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom.” As I read that, it hit me. I can’t fast-forward through this. There are blessings in the midst of this difficult season, and things God wants to teach me. Those days I long for close friends here? Maybe God wants to remind me what it’s like, so I can be a better friend down the line; so he can better prepare me for long-term friendships here. As we’re all at home together trying to carve out time to work on our new business plan but sometimes feeling stuck, maybe I need to remember how simply being in the same room together for this long is a huge blessing, especially compared to the separation we endured a year ago. It’s time to refocus on what God has blessed us with. Slow down, throw out my expectations, enjoy this season. Take some deep breaths. Focus on gratitude, opportunities, joy.Pray and prepare for what lies ahead. And ultimately, turn the page in the calendar and step out.

September, here we come.

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A goodbye

How do I even begin to summarise and neatly package our last four years here in beautiful, wonderful England into a neat little blog post? There’s so much I could write about, yet it all seems so difficult to put into words. The past few weeks have been full of reminiscing, lasts, and goodbyes, but also hopeful looking-ahead. Basically this is me right now:

I just have a lot of feelings

“She doesn’t even go here!”  

 

A lot of feelings. For example, gratitude.  I remember back in college thinking about how I’d love to do a semester overseas like so many friends of mine. I got the travel bug way back in high school when I did my first mission trip abroad to Guatemala and it didn’t seem to be going away any time soon. In college, I thought and prayed about it, and knew a semester overseas just wasn’t in God’s plan for me. I gave up that idea and laid it to rest. Fast forward and here we are. God knows the desires of our hearts, people. I have spent the past four years completely immersed in one of my favourite cultures (I mean heck, check out that superfluous ‘u’ back there). Along with that, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to visit several passport-pages full of amazing places outside England. (Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, Norway, and Greece – in case you’re curious.) What an incredibly opportunity it is to see so many different places, cultures and landscapes. I will forever be grateful for that opportunity and for the memories-made and lessons-learned while doing so.

Another feeling I have at the moment? True affection for this quirky, densely historical, world-changing place and its sometimes proper and sometimes cheeky people.  I grew up watching Mr. Bean, Hyacinth Bucket, Mrs. Slocombe, and of course reading of Charlie Bucket, Matilda, Harry Potter, the Pevensie children, and so many more from the British literary world. British rock n’ roll and punk has bounced around in my head since I was old enough to be quizzed about musical artists by my dad. And what American doesn’t fondly watch the royal family with wonder and amusement?

But that curiosity and interest has grown into a true love. Despite its foibles (Toilet light switches outside in the hallway? I’m lookin’ at you. Instant coffee? Don’t even get me started.) I am smitten. By living in the local community and working with a British team (and a smattering of lively, lovely South Africans), I have made enough rounds of tea and endured a sufficient amount of (mostly well-meaning) mocking of my Americanisms to feel at home here. You may have noticed I tend to switch between American and British English spellings – well, blame that on being an American in charge of outgoing communication for an English organisation. Jumping in at the deep end would be a good way to describe it. Breakdowns in communication were frequent at first, but always ended with a good laugh. I will never forget one of my first days at work when my Welsh boss asked me to “hire a purple skip” and I wasn’t even sure if he was actually saying real words. Sorry, Andrew. 🙂 Once I figured out the words, I was still equally lost as to what he meant. In case you are too, he meant I needed to rent one of these:

purple skip

I now know a skip is a dumpster. Purple is the local brand.

 

Now you know.

I’ve absolutely loved exploring this beautiful country island – Bath, York, Dover, Yorkshire, the Peak District, Snowdonia, Cambridge, Ely, the Highlands, endless markets, castles, estates, parks, gardens, and more – and diving in to the immense history that is often difficult to fathom as an American. We’ve been here a few years and it’s still mind-boggling that so many of the homes, monuments, buildings and museums here are older than my country. Few things can lend temporal perspective quite like standing in the ruins of a 12th century castle or circling the bluestones of Stonehenge that were assembled before Christ walked the earth.

One of the things I’ve connected with most is how England values not only its history and art but also its landscape. Sure, parts are built-up and congested, hundreds of High Streets are probably sadly identical, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a scenic view without scaffolding or a construction crane somewhere in the distance, but you can tell that many British people know they have something special here and do their best to preserve it. There is nothing quite like the varied, gentle, but also rugged English landscape, dotted with breathtaking estates and crooked, picturesque villages. One of my greatest joys living here was being a member of the National Trust (and previously of the English Heritage) and visiting the many lovingly preserved estates and gardens this country has to offer. It has made it so easy to help our kiddo fall in love with nature. While living here in East Anglia, I’ve really missed dense forests of the American midwest, but man, no green I’ve seen back home compares to the stark, bold hues of a wet, English spring and the bright contrast of the iconic red poppies, Royal Mail boxes, telephone booths, and yes, the dog poo bins.

A third emotion I’m feeling? Grief. We are definitely grieving as we leave. We have absolutely loved living here. We feel knitted in to our community, especially at church, and could easily put down permanent roots here and stay. And yet, that’s not the calling we feel on our lives – we feel God calling us back home to the US and we are trusting Him and taking a big step of faith. But that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult to leave. We have made deep friendships here – ones that can only be forged by going through day-to-day life together, joyful celebrations, difficult seasons, and times of change. We served at church alongside friends, we worked alongside them, became parents at the same time, dined together, prayed together, vacationed together. I believe we’ve made friendships that will last long after our plane takes off, our boxes get unpacked, and new friendships are made. We are changed because of the friendships we made here. We are better people because of them. And for that I am incredibly humbled and grateful. But still incredibly sad to say goodbye.

Yesterday our family was in a local pub for a quick lunch when a group of older men sat at the table next to us for a pre-lunch round. They sat with their pints, ready to drink, and glanced around at each other for a cue to drink.

One chimed in, “‘Cheers, dears,’ as they say.”

After an awkward pause, his mate replied, “Who says that then?”

It was followed by a hearty laugh from all, clinking glasses, and the standard brief pause while they wiped ale foam from their upper lips. They quickly settled into their obviously familiar chatter. It was such a simple scene, but one that brought massive smiles to the faces of us eavesdropping Americans. That quick interaction pointed to so much of what we’ve loved here and what we’ll miss most – the culture, the wit, the humor, and the connection.

I’ll leave you with one more emotion I’m feeling, though there are several to choose from (including hunger… that’s an emotion, right? This post is long, I need a snack).  That emotion is hope. Mindset might be a better term, but hey. We are so hopeful and excited about our future and the changes we are making as a family. (If you know us but don’t know what I’m talking about, feel free to message me and I’d be happy to explain in a less public context.) We can’t wait to spend more quality time together, to begin our new business adventure, to see what communities and connections God has in store for us, and ultimately to be closer to family and to be able to invest more in those incredibly important relationships. This next season is going to be difficult, opening up a new set of challenges and vulnerabilities, but I also know it is going to rock our socks off. (Which, if you know my husband, is saying a lot. That guy loves his socks.) We are fully trusting God to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV) through us for His glory; we are ready for this next adventure.

So, it is with immense gratitude, true affection, yes grief, but ultimately hope that I say goodbye to this season of our lives abroad.

Cheers dears,

Leslie

Toddlerparenthood

What a wonderful, terrifying, difficult, and beautiful thing it is to be a parent of a toddler. Most days it still feels unreal that I made this tiny human who follows us around, eats all my food, demands to be held, and copies everything we say. He looks at the world with such fascination, such intrigue and adventure. Every rock is worth collecting, every flower must be smelled – real or fake, and every motorcycle that passes is clearly Daddy. If he sees a tractor, bulldozer, bus or airplane it is the best thing ever and must be pointed out STAT.IMG_3166.JPG

Recently I find myself trying to quiet my mind and stay present as I parent, if only to see things a little more like he does, rediscover things with him, and share in life’s simple joys – all things that he is naturally great at. One of his first phrases was “Wowww” said with exaggeration and wide eyes. Now he says, “Let’s go!” with the same vigor. This kid doesn’t stop. When he’s awake, he rarely pauses – except for the occasional zone-out in front of CBeebies or nap time, thank goodness – instead it’s go go go, all day, all the time. When he’s awake, he’s awake.

He gets it honestly, really. I don’t rest well, though it’s something I’ve been working on. I’d rather be doing, because there’s always stuff to be done, right? I’ve been reading “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist this past week. If you’ve never read anything she’s written, she is a fellow Midwesterner with a heart for Jesus, food, hospitality, friends and family. Although it is cliche, there is nothing better to compare her writing to than a rich, filling meal shared with friends. Her writing is delicious, deep in flavor, with unexpected notes that linger in the best way.  Though you may want to devour it, something tells you to slow down and savor it, to not miss out on a bite. This book specifically felt like it could have been written about me. She, like me, is a doer – was, I should say – and this book is written all along her journey of coming out of the fog of accomplishment, of achieving, of always doing and going and instead reawakening to the small pleasures of life, relearning how to rest with family, be vulnerable, and soak up quiet times without filling the space.

I couldn’t have read this book at a better time. As the realization that I’m not working settles in, and as I look towards this summer (albeit a busy one) being home with my son, I don’t want to wish the days away, or fill them with meaningless tasks. (What? You want to play soccer again!? But this laundry isn’t gonna fold itself, kid!) I want to cherish the days, look forward to when my sweet boy begins his morning crib-chatter, gabbing away until I go to fetch him. I want to notice and remember his little chubby hands, how they so steadily and purposefully point out my nose, my chin, “eyeballs!”, over and over. I want to remember his weird little toes, the middle one always resting on top of the others, wriggled into the picnic blanket as we sit in the sun eating cheese and crackers. I want to memorize his clear blue eyes, just like his dad’s, always with a hint of a smile. When he looks at me I want to really notice, meet his eyes, stare until he giggles and flashes his bashful grin, shrugging one shoulder at me.

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Because – all parents, prepare to say “duh” – parenting a toddler is hard. HARD, I say. It’s sweet and special and wonderful, but that doesn’t make it less hard. Toddler tantrums are not to be downplayed. But even as I learn how to deal with a toddler very stereotypically pounding his fists on the floor because he couldn’t have my raspberries (he had his own), I’m trying to remember that this moment is just as important as picnic cuddles in the sun. That helping this little magical bundle of kid-energy handle his emotions, learn about sharing, learn the meaning of “no”, etc. is a good thing, and a beautiful thing in itself. Sure, it may be a different kind if beauty than bedtime stories, exploring outdoors together, or singing and dancing in the kitchen, but it’s no less important, no less developing – for both him and for me. I’ve heard a few times, from a few wise people, that the important things usually aren’t the easy ones. No one has ever said raising a toddler is easy (and if they have, they don’t have kids – I guarantee that), but it is a brilliant, stretching, soul-bursting, thing, and truly, it’s an honor.  Hopefully I will remind myself of that the next time my sweet boy dissolves into another almost-2-year-old-tantrum-puddle… because we all know that’s inevitable.

Writing

I think it’s a wonderful thing that almost 30 years into life, there are still parts of myself that I’m figuring out, quirks I’m better understanding, giftings that are coming to light, and interests that I’m discovering. What a wonderful thing it is to learn, grow, find confidence, and do new things as time goes on.

Lately I’ve come to realize that I enjoy writing. I’m far from penning the next great American novel – really far; no, farther; like, imagine a far distance and when you finally get there, blow past that exit on the highway – but regardless, I enjoy it. Fingers settle on the keyboard and the steady clicks begin (and then pause, resume, repeat). Or stark ink flows on lined paper, cursive scratches coming together forming whatever is in my head.

The nice thing about this new hobby is there’s no pressure, no deadline. It’s mainly for me, and it’s still fun. I’ve mainly used this blog for travel writing, or updating on major life events (and by looking at blog posts alone, it would seem as if neither of those things have happened in about a year) but I’m going to start writing on here more. About whatever. Travel. England. Being a momma. Jesus. Coffee. Who knows. But I’m putting this out there mainly to keep myself accountable. We’ll see how it goes. You don’t have to read, but I’m going to write.

Change

Isn’t it odd how occasionally in life we go through times where routine abounds, days can blur together – in a good or bad way – and we have this deeply buried nagging, a hidden stirring, for something new, some sort of variation? I am someone who loves routine, craves it, yet sometimes in the midst of even the good, enjoyable, and fulfilling days I get that itch. For change.

It’s universal, I think. I recently read the book “Through Painted Deserts” by Donald Miller and I 100% recommend it. I’m a sucker for travel/roadtrip/wonderlust themed non-fiction; I get sucked into the mental and emotion journey the author takes as well as the physical stops along the way. Donald Miller starts his book by talking about how we all have this built-in desire to leave. To just go. Because part of us truly desires change.

“It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. I want to repeat one word for you: Leave.
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”

So sometimes change is like that… Intentional and purposeful and needed. We sense it should happen so we make it happen.

But other times change smacks you in the face. Or tiny changes beyond your control sneak up on you, looming in the distance, until you’re surrounded. You have to face them.

OR sometimes all of these kinds of changes (intentional/purposeful and not) decide they get along really rather well and throw a big ol’ party right in the middle of your life. How fun.

This may sound off topic, but I realised the other day that I have worked 15 different jobs in my not-quite-but-pretty-close-to 30 years of life. Ya know what that represents to me? Change. If you look at your life you probably have a similar “stat” that points to change as well – maybe the number of apartments you’ve lived in, how many crazy hair cuts you’ve had, how your family has grown or changed over the years, etc. Or, if you want to really talk about change, just look back at a school picture from your awkward adolescent years. I’m guessing you’ve changed – probably for the better – am I right?

That’s because change isn’t really unusual, is it?

To quote one of my favorite bands, OK Go:

“Nothing ever doesn’t change, but nothing changes much.”

 

Change happens constantly. Look at the creation we’re surrounded with – blooming, budding, growing, dying, transforming, breathing… constantly and consistently. God models change in every millisecond and at the minutest detail of his creation.

And yet change throws me for a loop every time. It requires me to be intentional about my use of time, my attitude, my motivations. (Ewww…. so much work, right?)

But it also reminds me, often later rather than sooner, that change can be good. Even the hard change that makes us want to fast-forward, God can use in our lives. We can open our eyes to what God is showing us and we can decide to make the best out of what we have no control over. Because you know what’s sometimes difficult to remember but also incredibly encouraging? Our God is unchanging. He doesn’t even need to change. He’s the definition of perfect. Perfect LOVE, no less. And he’s the one thing solid in my life when the change party rages on long into the proverbial night.

“[He] is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

(Hebrews 13:8)

That changes everything.

I can change and I can embrace change because I have a rock to stand on.

So I echo the sentiments of Donald Miller again…

“I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.”

So I’m along for the ride. I’m backing away from the fringes of the change party – resisting my wallflower instincts – and jumping in on the fun.  Not just because I know God can use this all for his glory, but because I am hopeful trusting that he will

 

Giving Thanks

Recently it seems it’s difficult to mention Thanksgiving without an outcry against the holiday’s unsavory roots. Social media has helped point out major flaws in the elementary textbook history that most of us learned about the supposed “first thanksgiving.” Turns out it was not a friendly feast between natives and newcomers; a supposed joining of two cultures. Because of this, many feel it’s an odd holiday to celebrate – and rightfully so. But who really celebrates Thanksgiving as we know it because of what pilgrims did or didn’t do years ago? Sure, I may have a picture somewhere of childhood-me with in a little sailor-style dress with a construction paper pilgrim hat adorning my 90’s hair, but that’s really not what it’s all about. (Though I was darn cute.)

Actually, Thanksgiving seems to be one of those cultural things that is difficult to put into words. I find it difficult to explain Thanksgiving well to my English friends –

“We gather around, give thanks, and eat. Then rest for a bit, talk, hang out, and eat more. Because we’re thankful. Oh, and some people watch football. Or parades.”

“But why?”

Because it’s nice? And we get good food?  And good company? And we would get fat if we ate all that food on our own?

Kidding.

(Not really).

But… temporarily setting the controversy and Thanksgiving’s sad roots aside, the modern celebration of it – the pausing to show thankfulness and gratitude (don’t even get me started on how this goes out the window the next day. ugh.) – is something I just love. While the world is a difficult place, and horrible things happen every day, most of us have at least a few things to be thankful for. Many of us have so much more than that .

Here are a few things I’m thankful for today.

First of all, for healing. Two years ago I just made a tiny mini-Thanksgiving dinner for us and some visiting family. Because I was recovering from an extremely painful surgery to repair my pectus excavatum, I couldn’t even stoop to lift the turkey in and out of the oven. I couldn’t help with the dishes afterward (oh darn), or go for a much-needed long walk to walk off the turkey-induced stupor. It was a time of waiting. Of resting and recovery. Of growing pains. Before the surgery I often wondered (and worried) if I’d be able to have a healthy pregnancy and support a baby full term because of my condition. But then at this time last year at this time, I had just had my bar removal surgery a few months before and we had just found out we were expecting a baby! Now, here we are a year later, a thriving family of three, and we feel so incredibly blessed. Looking at his little grin is a reminder of God’s perfect love for us all, and his plan of healing and recovery in my own life.

Secondly, for community. When living away from home, holidays are bittersweet. You yearn to be with family, to experience those traditions you grew up with. To vie for a spot in the front of the food line (yes, we’re all about the potluck buffets in my family) before the rest of your family towers their plates up. To rub shoulders and catch up with your cousins over a slice of pumpkin roll. But, we’ve been so blessed by the community we’ve found over here and it makes holidays rich again. Our church has become our home away from home. We’ve been so thankful for the relationships we’ve made over here and my heart felt so full when I looked around on Thanksgiving and saw a table full of people to be Thankful for. And this year for Thanksgiving we had the best problem ever – we didn’t have enough room around our table to invite all those we wanted to! How blessed are we, that we had more friends than seats available?!

Finally, I am thankful for memories. I have so many rich memories of Thanksgiving. Today I remember fondly my MeMe and Papaw, two of the best people that ever graced this earth. A few years for Thanksgiving we would pack up and drive to their cabin in the mountains of Virginia. They lovingly built that cabin themselves. It was bare bones, nothing luxurious, but I loved that place. I’m positive the mountain water from the cabin’s kitchen tap, icy cold in a metal mug, is the most refreshing drink in the world. I can still remember the taste, almost 20 years later. Upstairs in the loft were twin beds in rows, heaped with my MeMe’s homemade quilts and hand-stenciled pillow cases.  The loft was warm and stale (like a large linen closet) and the sounds of the cabin echoed off of the low ceiling. Up in the loft my cousins and I could hear every creaky floor board, each mid-night toilet flush, and the symphony of snores from the adults below. My movie of memories from that cabin includes sitting on Papaw’s lap in the recliner as he told stories, watching MeMe throw on her blaze orange vest and ball cap to go for a walk in the woods, driving to Dollar General in town to use the payphone or pick up essentials like cheap craft supplies. We dined on buttery biscuits made from scratch, and played games of canasta over scraped-clean dinner plates. No television, no phone, no internet, no timelines, no hurry, no interruptions. I am so thankful for those memories with MeMe and Papaw and the rest of my family. And thankful for the legacy they left.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with memories in the making as well as those wonderful warm-fuzzies from thinking back on holidays past. After all, that’s what this holiday is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Sleepy Carl

I’d like you to meet a new member of our family. No, Dad, don’t worry – not another pet. And no,  Mom, I’m not with child. 🙂

I’d like you to meet Sleepy Carl.

I’d post a picture, but he looks a heck of a lot like Sam, so just use your imagination.

I only met Sleepy Carl a few weeks ago, but it seems like I’ve known him forever. One night a few weeks ago Sam and I returned home from our Connect Group. Sam was not happy about leaving the fun right away to go do the homework that waited for him. He trudged up to the study to read and do his forum post. By 10:30 he still hadn’t surfaced so I went up to check on him… His reading position looked a lot like that of students who fall asleep in the uni library drooling on their books, but he said he was reading so I left him alone to finish. Just about 10 minutes later, suspiciously quickly really, Sam tottered into the room, casually mentioning that he was going to bed. I asked if he had finished his homework.

“Yep.” He replied. Once again suspiciously quickly. 

My Teacher Senses were tingling, indicating that he had not in fact done his homework, but I didn’t say anything..

Remember when I said Sleepy Carl bears a striking resemblance to my husband? Well, it turns out that it was Sleepy Carl who told me that Sam finished his homework! Sam confessed the next day that Sleepy Carl had reared his lying head and Sam was ashamed of his actions.

We’ve learned Sleepy Carl surfaces in the groggy hours of homework procrastination and late night studying stress. It’s Sleepy Carl’s drowsy digits that repeatedly push the snooze button in the morning and convince Sam he doesn’t need to get up that early anyways.

In the days since meeting Sleepy Carl I’ve also become acquainted with his wife – Sleepy Carlotta. It seems she’s the one who thinks it’s a wonderful idea to have a bowl of ice cream at 10pm, or that I should definitely watch another episode or read another chapter when I should have been in bed an hour ago. Sleepy Carlotta decides that I really don’t need to wake up early to exercise or tidy the house. And Sleepy Carlotta just raves about my morning hair – “You can totally fix that cowlick without shampooing your hair; that’s what hair straighteners are for!” Sleepy Carlotta adores a warm, cozy bed in the morning and loathes having to trudge up the stairs at night to get from the couch to her bed.

Now that I think about it, I can really see why Sleepy Carl and Sleepy Carlotta hit it off so well. I think they’re on to something.

——–

(Full disclosure, Sleepy Carl hails from the brain of comedian Mike Berbigaboo Birbiglia).

A Weight Off My Chest

(Yes, that joke was 9 months in the making).

ravitch procedure bar

Sam with his new “letter opener.”

It’s amazing how quickly the human body can become conditioned to things. Up until the last year of my life, I laughed, sneezed, even hiccuped normally. The pectus excavatum had it’s symptoms, but none that simple or obvious. But when I had the bar in these last 9 months, it wasn’t always that easy. Towards the end of the time, the bar had become quite embedded (I think this was due to a fall down the steps in April). Sneezes were pure torture once that happened; I was petrified of getting a cold. I essentially stopped sneezing, at least as far as I could help it.  Whenever I felt that recognizable tickle I’d proceed through my checklist of sneeze-preventing procedures. Hold my breath: check! Squeeze my nostrils closed: check! Push on the roof of my mouth with my tongue: check! Look like an idiot if doing these things in public: check!!!  But, that google search was productive, as those things did usually help keep the sneezes at bay. Sadly, laughing wasn’t fun either…  it especially hurt when it was a sudden fit of laughter, like when Sam would throw in a random funny comment out of no where and I would burst out laughing. In a positive note, I’ve realized how blessed I am to live a life filled with frequent laughter. 🙂

So, when I returned from the hospital just two days after having the bar removed, I felt lighter in more ways than one. Once it became clear that it didn’t hurt to laugh, Sam and I sat down and watched gag reels on YouTube for way too long, chuckling, chortling, and even guffawing together – pain free. Praise God! And, since my surgery two weeks ago, I’ve enjoyed several pain-free sneezes. (Yes, enjoyed. I actually love sneezing usually.) For the first week post-surgery my instinct was still to shut down the sneezes (No! NO!!! Initiate Anti-Sneeze Protocol!) and I had to actively think about sneezing, but this week I think I have enjoyed more carefree sneezes than I did the entire past 9 months. I even had a fit of hiccups while cooking dinner tonight and it just made me feel silly, as opposed to sore. These little things have meant more to me than you’ll probably understand, and to me they truly mark an improvement.

My general recovery after this surgery has been a breeze, especially compared to the first surgery. Now, two weeks later, I feel great! I was able to sing in the worship team on Sunday, I’ve been back to work for a week already, and I’ve even done some gentle yoga a few times. Soon I’ll begin physical therapy to begin tackling the bingo wings I’ve gained these past few months of not being able to lift anything over 15 lbs. Cardio will come soon – jogging, running, dancing – all in its time.

So, I’ll commit the next months to these worthy tasks: praising God as I laugh more, dance around my house simply because I can, and sneeze whenever the sunshine tickles my nose. 

Surgery #2 – Looking Back

Here I sit, back “in hospital,” about 9 months after I had my first surgery to repair my pectus excavatum. What a long road it has been…

photo (1)

Tomorrow I will have part two of the surgery – removing the metal bar that I’ve had in my chest since November. I read back over my posts from my diagnosis and surgery (see the links in my first sentence), and I realize how far I’ve come and how much God has taught me. I’ve told a few people that I’m actually excited about this surgery, more for what it means than the actual procedure.

On Sunday, during worship at church, I was really struck by the lyrics of the worship song “Dance Again” by Life Worship UK. You can listen to it here. The lyrics are:

Praise Him, when your heart is breaking
When your strength is almost gone
Sing out your song and praise Him, in the fire and fury
In the dark night of your soul, your God is in control

Praise Him, for His love and mercy
Praise Him, for His grace and favour
Praise Him, our God is faithful
Praise Him, He is strong and mighty
Praise Him, He is holy, holy
Praise Him, He is always in control
His love has conquered all, His love has conquered all

Your tears will dry, your heart will mend
Your scars will heal and you will dance again
And of His kingdom there will be no end, for Christ our King is coming back again

( by Matthew Hooper, Copyright © 2013 Integrity Worship Music & LIFE Worship)

As I sang those words I thought of the limitations I’ve had since the first surgery: no running, jumping or doing anything that could jostle the bar; no lifting anything over 15 lbs; limited twisting and bending; occasional chest pain when I laugh or breathe deeply; back aches as my posture changed; worry over the bar shifting, etc.

But even as I thought of that, I pictured myself teaching Zumba as I used to. Dancing, feeling alive, thanking God as I often did for giving me the health to dance. And I remembered… I will dance again. My God is faithful. His plans are far better than mine, and his timing perfect.

Looking back over my old posts from my first surgery – they act as a journal of sorts – a few things stood out to me:

  • “Hopefully when I look back at this post in a week, two weeks, a month, etc. I will see some real improvements.”  That post was from the end of November and I really have seen improvements… At that point, Sam had to help me lie down, and help me up. I couldn’t use my abs to pull myself up at all, and I was not allowed to “log roll.”  It even hurt to raise my arms above my head and shampoo my hair.  This morning, as I pulled myself out of bed and got ready for work, I remembered how much of an accomplishment that really was.

 

  • “Was this even worth it?” A day or two after the surgery, when I was in the worst pain and my thinking was clouded by nausea, I remember moaning this. Months later, even though the bar isn’t out yet, I can see the fruit of that pain and the surgery. If nothing else, God has strengthened my faith through this and built my character. He’s taught me to trust him unconditionally, even in the “dark night of your soul.”  On Sunday, my friend Rhiannon preached and delivered an encouraging and insightful message  on waiting for God, called Watching Paint Dry (you can listen to it here). She mentioned Romans 5:3-4 at one point:

    Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4, NIV)

    I realized as she spoke that hope doesn’t always come first. We must persevere in order to build our character, and that in turn gives us hope. In that painful time after my surgery I couldn’t see how God was going to use all of this – I only felt pain – but God showed me how to hand every day and circumstance over to him and persevere.

 

  • Another small thing I mentioned before was noticing the weight of the bar. I said it felt like my cell phone was sitting on my chest. Now, 9 months later, I don’t notice the weight at all. I’m hoping that means I’ll feel light and free once it’s removed. And I’m praying that my lung capacity will improve as well without that pesky bar in the way!

So, I’m about to go to bed. When I wake up, I’ll begin all of the typical pre-op procedures. Please pray for my surgery, my recovery (anesthesia and I don’t get along), and my doctors and nurses. Also please pray for my at-home nurse over the next few days (his name is Sam… and I hear he’s pretty cute). Thank you so much for your prayers – over this whole journey – and I’ll update you again after I’ve recovered.