2018

They Changed His Whole Night

From the busy highway, a long line of vehicles keeps turning left into the crowded parking lot. Every day of the week headlights beckon us in to come, sit, and eat pizza. Massive, Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Have you tried Oreganos? When I noticed the Arizona pizza chain was opening here, I was skeptical. For mysterious reasons, whatever joint went in the vacant restaurant on the busy corner seemed to fizzle and fade away. I’m pretty sure the last restaurant in that space mysteriously caught fire. Nothing seems to stick.

Now freshly opened, the cars keep turning and the parking lot is always full.
We had to know what we were missing.

We’ve been twice now and we’re hooked. Delicious cheese, buttery crust, drinks the size of your face – diners beware – they serve family style meals and when Dylan and I went just the two of us we came home with leftovers for twenty.

So there we were, Friday night, joining the stream of eager eaters. We put our name on the list and we waited. And waited. And waited.

Across the room, perched on a black barstool, was an older gentleman. Wearing a suit, worn leather shoes, red suspenders and a dusty grey Fedora. His aged hands sat folded in his lap, and another couple my age were chatting with him quietly, shoulders leaning in to cut the noise around them.

Many moments past. The waitress called the woman’s name, and the couple stood and said their good-byes to the man as they were led to their table.

And then, moment’s later, the woman my age was back.

“Would you like to eat with us?” she asked the older gentleman leaning gently towards his ear.

I don’t know what he said, but his face magically morphed.Have you seen faces change when loneliness turns to light?

The waiter walked their new guest to the table and he placed his hat on the coat rack near the booth before taking a seat.

I only watched the last few minutes of the exchange. I don’t know why that man was there by himself, dressed up fancy on a Friday night. I do know his eyes looked sad and the invitation from another added just a tiny bit of sparkle.

I started tearing up standing in the foyer.

“You gonna be alright?” Dylan asked, gently poking my side.

“Mmhmm” I nodded with my hand covering my mouth.

As we waited, fires burned, politicians scrambled, hearts broke. Fear and uncertainty abound. But in the busy Italian restaurant, one brave woman asked a simple question and connections were formed. One beautiful gesture.

Those people asked a stranger to eat with them and it changed his whole night. Seeing people need not be difficult.

I hope they had a delightful dinner.

 

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What’s Next?

The remnants of my French manicure I paid for before we left for our trip is still on two of my fingernails. The pinky and ring finger of my left hand have off-white reminders of my time abroad.

I refuse to pick off the polish because when all the gel is gone, so means our trip is also finished. Never mind we’ve been back in the States for a full three weeks.

Like the stubborn remnants of faded glamour on my fingertips, I’ve been resistant to let go and settle back in to our routine. Much of this year was focused on dreaming, planning and executing our trip.

Coming home, returning to work, accepting the quiet reminders of things now behind us have been a bit disappointing.  What will be next? – is the question nagging at me now.

Next?

Next can look like elections, applications, piles of dead things turning to detritus.

Next could look like holiday planning and juggling schedules and muddled opinions and the huge ache of missing people no longer at the table.

Next might look like playing family diplomat (h/t Anne Lamott for that phrase) and navigating intense emotion and breezes of grief.

Next feels unsure, uncharted, unmarked.

I just finished reading Anne Lamott’s newest book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

Her short essays on the important things in life feel like someone rubbing my back when I’m sad. A mix of there-there with a “I see you … these things you think and feel are not, in fact, crazy.” I love her writing and outlook on life.

Lamott doesn’t put her head in the sand and pretend it isn’t bad out there. Nor does she refuse to participate in the mysterious wonder this world offers. Beauty, majesty, and magic are always available when we slow down to look.

Her next? She’s getting married. And encouraging all of us, to lift up our chin as we swim in the churning uncertainty of national dread.  It’s so easy to tip into dread.

When we boarded the plane at Heathrow, settling in for the nine hour flight home, Dylan turned to me and said, “I don’t want to go home because we don’t know what’s next.”

I responded, “but what if what’s next is better than what is. We never know what’s coming round the corner.”

I’m choosing to believe what’s coming round the corner might just be beautiful too. This act of believing is much harder than anticipating disaster and doom.

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Photo by Karol Smoczynski on Unsplash

It’s risky to dream and hope – we could have our hearts broken yet again.

My friend from high school is often repeating to me, “Our biggest problem when we envision the future is we never view God in it.”  Easier to believe we are all alone in the unknown future – surely God stays behind in our past, forcing us to doggy-paddle ahead with our heads just-above water.

Hearts break. In big, shocking, crackling ways.

Lightning strikes, politicians hate, cars crash, organs fail, people hurt.

People hurt so stinkin’ much.

And yet, the bravest thing we can do, is believe something beautiful is coming next. God is here, now, with us. And God will be with us down the road too. This truth gives me hope.

While I’ve been wallowing about Europe and upcoming elections and political ads, creamy soup bubbled on the stove, water splashed in the lap pool, and my brother sat next to me at breakfast. Sheets were washed with clean water and soap. Marigolds welcomed back spirits on the Day of the Dead. Dogs gave me kisses and people did too. Folks filled out their ballots and made plans to get to the polls.

On Halloween, I answered the door at 8:45 pm. A small Batman stood at the stoop quietly saying, ‘trick or treat.’ When I offered him all of the candy left in our bowl, he politely declined.

HE DECLINED.

He turned down a bowl full of treats and kept on walking down the street.

Perhaps, he was waiting instead, to see what beautiful treats waited at the house next door.

 

 

November 2018 – Favorite Things

We’ve raked leaves the past few weekends and we have two feet of the little guys crunching down into our garden bed for winter. My hands have blisters, we’ve taken trips to Lowes, and our new leaf blower is getting a work out. I fear I will have to rake again this weekend. Halloween is over and Starbucks releases their infamous Red Cups tomorrow.  Notice how I mark the passing of time with Starbucks beverages? Apparently, I’m not the only one as I came across this countdown yesterday.

I feel ready to think about the holidays, perhaps earlier than my usual self, and am starting to dream of snow, hot cocoa, and seasonal things. I usually wait until Thanksgiving to indulge in festivities, but this year feels different.

As we wait for December, here are some favorite things that are taking up space in my heart and my closet.

  1. Jag Jeans

When I first saw these pull-on jeans I started laughing. On the rack, they look like maternity pants. However, after a friends recommendation, I tried some on and on me, a person, they became the most comfortable pants I now own. So take them off the hanger, or just take my word for it, and buy a pair of black, comfort jeans in your size.

2. Pink Lipstick

I bought some frosty pink lipstick for my Halloween costume – Samantha from Sixteen Candles – and I actually kinda like it. The 80’s are coming back right? Can I wear it to work?

3. Hot Apple Cider with Brandy in it.

As the nights get colder, it’s nice to sit and sip by the fire. If you want to get fancy you can add spices, like this recipe here, but honestly I just mix the two simple ingredients. Serve in mugs like this.

4.  We were GIFTED a dishwasher.

Sometimes God answers prayers in mysterious ways. I have been praying to see God’s provision in my life because most of the time I have a hard time trusting it’s going to come. And then, boooooom, we were gifted a brand new (ok, two year old, but still) dishwasher.

God is present, listening, comforting, active, joy.

I had a conversation with a friend who told me, “God always comes in joy and peace.” Not shame, not fear, not feelings of inadequacy. Joy. and. Peace.

And dishwashers.

5. This blurb someone posted on Facebook.

I always fall asleep during Lord of the Rings, but this metaphor makes sense to me. I dream of turning into Pippin and Merry.

“My mother once told me that trauma is like Lord of the Rings. You go through this crazy, life-altering thing that almost kills you (like say having to drop the one ring into Mount Doom), and that thing by definition cannot possibly be understood by someone who hasn’t gone through it. They can sympathize sure, but they’ll never really know, and more than likely they’ll expect you to move on from the thing fairly quickly. And they can’t be blamed, people are just like that, but that’s not how it works.

Some lucky people are like Sam. They can go straight home, get married, have a whole bunch of curly headed Hobbit babies and pick up their gardening right where they left off, content to forget the whole thing and live out their days in peace. Lots of people however, are like Frodo, and they don’t come home the same person they were when they left, and everything is more horrible and more hard then it ever was before. The old wounds sting and the ghost of the weight of the one ring still weighs heavy on their minds, and they don’t fit in at home anymore, so they get on boats go sailing away to the Undying West to look for the sort of peace that can only come from within. Frodos can’t cope, and most of us are Frodos when we start out.

But if we move past the urge to hide or lash out, my mother always told me, we can become Pippin and Merry. They never ignored what had happened to them, but they were malleable and receptive to change. They became civic leaders and great storytellers; they we able to turn all that fear and anger and grief into narratives that others could delight in and learn from, and they used the skills they had learned in battle to protect their homeland. They were fortified by what had happened to them, they wore it like armor and used it to their advantage.

It is our trauma that turns us into guardians, my mother told me, it is suffering that strengthens our skin and softens our hearts, and if we learn to live with the ghosts of what had been done to us, we just may be able to save others from the same fate.”

S.T. Gibson

In an effort to turn my grief into narrative, or at least take away the stigma, I’ve joined The Dinner Party to raise money for their end of year campaign. Can you help me reach my goal of $500 to support grief groups for 20-30 somethings who have experienced loss? People like me?

All funds raised go towards their goal of $75,000 to match hundreds of folks to tables across the country as well as awareness events and public campaigns.

Donate here and spread the word.

 

Just a little more sparkly …

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post about my experience with my mountain top metaphor. I’m a Colorado girl so the physical overcoming of rocks and stones makes a lot of sense when we connect the image to our challenges in life.

For snobby, Colorado me, the metaphor feels a bit, well, overdone. I get it. The smell of the pines, the crunching stones on a dirt trail – idyllic – but I’ve lived the mountain ups and downs for a long time. I haven’t lived the ‘shouting from rooftops’ metaphor or the ‘view from the top of church staircases’ or ‘tripping on cobblestone’ or ‘lessons found when getting lost in London’s alleys’ metaphors.

I’m not a very big risk taker and the hills and valleys in my backyard were spiritually working for a long time. Until they weren’t.

Deep breath – here it is – I’m tired of mountains. I needed a change of scenery.

This year, the bravest thing I’ve done was plan a two week vacation to places I’ve wanted to go since I was a teenager. I knew I needed respite and took baby steps to see if maybe, magically, we could make a dream come true. I made lists and price comparisons, read blogs about places to see and interviewed seasoned traveler friends for their advice.

I asked my boss for two weeks out of the office. He agreed.

Then, I bought plane tickets.

Then, I waited for weeks.

Dare I take another courageous step? Did I believe I could invest in me and the universe wouldn’t retaliate?

With each planning step my palms would sweat. Every time I clicked purchase on a hotel reservation, or a show I wanted to attend, my heart beat loudly in my nervous chest. I wrote about my fears and my doubts and all the reasons why chasing this dream could be halted. I was sure, if I left, someone else would die or need me back at home. An unhealthy pattern, yes. A pattern that my friends in grief group nod along to when I voice – ‘I’m just scared of who is going to go next.’

Time passed. I prayed. I planned. I clicked purchase. I made an itinerary on Google and copies of our passports. We bought luggage, we packed, and eventually we boarded a plane.

Nine hours later, a conversation with a nice lady at Passport control, and we walked out the airport doors and into the English air.

A dream came true and we made it happen. A beautiful thing.

I have lots of stories about our trip and much like Dylan is editing the 700 photos he took on his DSLR, I’m still processing the lessons I learned over there. I’ve waited to share here because one little post seemed inadequate to capture the joy found in exploring museums, churches, magical places with cones of rose-shaped gelato in our hands.

So here goes.

There are a lot of stairs in Paris. Stairs in the subway stations, in the art galleries, in the lines of the tourist destinations. They seemed to be everywhere. Just like the stairs of life. Sometimes, we fall down them. Then we get back up and keep asking, ‘what can I see at the top?’

On a Thursday night, Dylan and I climbed stairs to the 6th floor of a big building hoping to see some modern art. We went to late night hours and found ourselves gazing out at this view instead. A little different the tops of mountains I’m used to.

The things we’ve overcome to stand on this rooftop! I was moved to tears.

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Beautiful tears for the past, for the new memories made we won’t share with my dad as we debrief at home, for the pure joy that comes from believing my own dreams are worth pursuing. Beauty found in the power of listening to the little voice inside my heart that said, ‘you are worth it, go explore. These people you love will be ok.’

The people I love, they were ok. We were too. More than ok.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

– 1 Peter 5:10

From under the lights of the Paris skyline, to the sides of the Thames river my heart soared in places unfamiliar. I kept saying to Dylan, “I feel so ALIVE here.”

Every time we walked in a plaza, sat in a beautiful garden, slurped onion soup at a sidewalk cafe, I would whisper thanks. In Europe, 7,000 miles from home, I couldn’t believe how far we had come in our restoration journey. God brought us there, at the steps of these famous, picturesque places. With my ability to trust and release my paranoid control of the lives of my loved ones, I stood at the foot of Notre Dame, saw the London Eye, visited Queen Elizabeth’s home, and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle up from the top of a building, dazzling in glow of Parisian light.

Travel was balm to big wounds, the scabby heart ones still grazing my grasping fingers each day. I’ve been home two weeks and continue to integrate these new experiences. I’m realizing all over again I can heal and hurt and delight all at once.

Perspective from any kind of higher ground is a beautiful thing. The metaphor is just a little more sparkly in Paris.

October Favorite Things

It’s come to my attention that I’m a little behind schedule. I didn’t have the energy to pull together a favorite things post to schedule for when I was traveling. Then we got home and I spent a week going to bed at 7:30 pm because of jet-lag. Then I … then I … then I … filled my time with other things.

Here we sit on October 21st and I’m just now posting my collection of favorites for this month. Thanks for eagerly anticipating what I’ve got to share. My thoughts and reflections on our trip are stewing and I’ll post soon. Until then, pick up one of these books, bake some pumpkin bread, or use these tools to plan an adventure. It’s a big world out there.

  1. The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

I just started reading this book for our book club. Set in Denver, just an over an hour away from where I live, this journalist’s account of refugee students attending South High School is grabbing my heart. Humans live through amazingly horrific things. We need to be tender. We need to be kind. We need to be aware. I’m only 100 pages in and keep turning the pages.

2. The Shack

This book was incredibly popular when I was in college. The girls I lived with in our Christian dorm could not stop talking about the story line. I wasn’t ready to pick up the title then – my own faith wavering in big swirls of doubt. Years passed and for some reason, I was ready. I read the book on our long flight and murmured, ‘yes, yes, yes’ to the metaphors portrayed in these pages. God sees us in our suffering and gives us grace where we need it. For those doubting God, fearing faith, or feeling a bit hopeless, this story may be the spiritual hug you need.

3. Dandelion Travel adapter

Getting ready to travel abroad? After scouring the internet and starting at selections at travel stores, a friend generously lent me her travel adapter taking my stress away. This little adapter worked perfectly to charge our devices in both the UK and France. It’s size makes it easy to carry and easy to change between power sources. Note – this does not convert voltage which lead us on an interesting adventure to sketchy electronics stores in London.

4. Pumpkin bread

It’s baking in the oven right now. I like the recipe from Recipes from Minnesota with Love.

I wrote about it last year too. Cut the sugar down to two cups. With the chocolate chips, the bread comes out plenty sweet.

5. French Perfume

I’m not a big souvenir girl. Picking a special something feels overwhelming when I travel and I don’t need another glass, or keychain, or vase. After spending an afternoon at Fragonard and their interesting perfume museum, I did treat myself to a little bottle of French perfume. The little gold bottle, the spritz on the wrist, the memories a scent creates. Worth it. And yet, still odd because while I bought my bottle in France, I now know you and I can get the next set on Amazon. Ahh globalization.

Thank you again to everyone who contributed their lists of good things in your worlds. Keep searching.

Last Call

I received one more submission this morning – better late than never I always say – that brings this little adventure to a total count of 475 Beautiful Things. Things good, and right, and holy, and ordinary that are happening right now, in this mess of a world. While a bit far off from my lofty goal, this list is nothing to sneeze at. Thank you, thank you to all that contributed. Here’s a few more batches.

#456 Weekends “off” from school that give space & time to read a book
#457 My cat, Pippa, – she reminds me to never stop being curious
#458 A quiet snowfall while sitting in a warm cabin by the fire
#459 Wine and dance parties to old music
#450 warm sheets fresh from the dryer

#456 – #460 Contributed by Madeline Huey

#461 A cool, calm, fall morning on the golf course
#462 changing into sweatpants and a hoodie after a long day
#463 Lord of the Rings marathon while snow is falling
#464 hot tea on the porch
#465 When your pup is little spoon & falls asleep

#461 – #465 Contributed by Rachel McClintock

#466 drinking a 15 year Tullamore Dew with your dog Tulla
#467 playing footy on freshly cut pitch
#468 hot Chinese food on a cold winter’s night
#469 watching any movie from the ’80s
#470 celebrating a goal at White Hart Lane

#465 – #470 Contributed by Travis McClintock

# 471 I was given enough time to rest and refresh myself 🙂
#472 I started my own blog
#473 got nice books to read
#474 I got a new job
#475 I have great people surrounding me

#471 – #475 Contributed by Naz Garcia

#476 Being able to go to the university of my choice
#477 The warm sun
#478 My Spotify Premium
#479 My amazing family
#480 The dutch education system
#481 Fall fashion
#476 – #481 Contributed by Amber Cornelissen

So, when you’re feeling down, return to this list, or make your own. There is magic to be found.

 

Slightly cooler …

It’s supposed to get cold tonight. Nine degrees. Nine. When we left two weeks ago it was in the 80s. Now, I’m prepping for nine. Sometimes life shifts abruptly, at others it eases. I’m not ready for the shock of nine. So as I sit and gather your lists, I look out my kitchen window. Leaves turn yellow and the weather prepares to drop while I think about shivering, cozy blankets, and warm meals like lasagna and chili.

Thank you to the following contributors for sharing your beauty with me.

#403 The weather shifting into slightly cooler temperatures, promising cozy fall evenings to come
#404 Running into old friends out of the blue in random places!
#405 Strangers who say “bless you” when you sneeze, it’s a nice reminder that we’re all paying attention to each other and care
#406 Getting random discounts at my local coffee shop and wine store! Because who doesn’t love coffee and wine?
#407 Watching sunlight reflect off of rain-soaked streets and sidewalks
#408 Petting big pups outside of the local coffee shop
#409 Feeling successful at work after a long time of not feeling great about it
#410 Getting to know someone in a new relationship!
#411 Walking into a restaurant/store and realizing that it’s happy hour/50% off whatever you were going to buy
#412 Finding the perfect song(s) for your mood when you need them

#403 – #412 Contributed by Katie Myers

#413 I have a job that I can grow in
#414 And the opportunity to grow my own business and blog as well
#415 Family and Friends that love me
#416 A super sweet pup
#417 The beautiful Fall weather to enjoy
#418 The ability to release into my artwork
#419 Hot tea to curl up with
#420 Always a good book to read
#421 A great new car this year
#422 Food to eat everyday

#413 – #422 Contributed by Laura Romberger

#423 Fresh snow fall
#424 Watching Frozen with my girls
#425 Playing Candyland with a 3 year old
#426 Pumpkin spice flavor (now that it’s October)
#427 Prayer time
#428 Children napping at the same time
#429 fireplaces

#423 – #429 Contributed by Elizabeth Timpe

#430 being surrounded by Music
#431 a long conversation with an old friend
#432 When it rains, but the sun is still shining somehow
#433 Driving through a familiar place late at night when it’s empty and quiet and peaceful
#434 A song that perfectly articulates something you needed to hear

#430 – #434 Contributed by Laura Glyda

#435 I have an amazing and supportive family. Missing them as much as I do is a daily reminder of how much I adore them
#436  I have found a field of work that fulfills me and about which I am crazy passionate
#437 A cup of tea, a cozy blanket and a good book on a crisp fall day
#438 I have the means to pay for an apartment that is warm and safe and beautiful in one of the greatest cities in the world
#439 My body is healthy and it allows me to do the things that I love to do
#440 Dogs
#441 The fact that strangers let me pet their dogs as I talk to them on funny voices
#442 A beautiful soul that remains a bright spot in my life despite our recent break up
#443 I get be with my family to celebrate Thanksgiving this year
#445 Joining a CrossFit gym has allowed me to feel like an athlete again

#435 – #445 Contributed by Leah Wylie

#445 the first snow of the season
#446 Puppy cuddles near the fireplace
#447 Video games that make me feel like I’m still a kid
#448 Binging seasonal movies
#449 That way a good book magically transports you to another world
#450 Family and friends to share life with. 😊💕❄️

#445 – 450 Contributed by Carly Hennegan

#451 Having enough money to travel to a different country and explore a new place every year
#452 Having friends from other countries, visiting them in their countries, learn their culture and also bring them around at my home country.
#453 Having stayed overseas in Sweden for 6 months to learn how to be independent. In Singapore, most people stay with their parents until they move out to their own house with their spouse.
#454 Having a supportive family that encourage you to chase your dreams and to help me up when I’m down.
#455 Having a lot of different cuisines in my country. Good food makes me happy and I’m lucky that my country has great food.

#451 – #455 Contributed by Chee Zhiquan


We are so close to 500! With only a few days left of the challenge, I invite you to share your list of 5-10 things going well in your world right now. More details are here. Tag a friend and spread the word!