Scotland & London, a year late

This time last year, I was traipsing around Scotland. I was there on a work trip, with a two-day trip to London tacked onto the end. A work trip typically means long nights, but the up side is that I can usually find time during the day to explore.

Here’s a summary of that trip in photos.

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Welcome to Peterhead, Scotland, one of the biggest fishing ports in Europe.

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Peterhead is the easternmost point in Scotland.

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The beautiful lighthouse synonymous with the city.

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A banner in Peterhead announcing the event we were there for, the Celebration of Hope with Will Graham. Somewhere around the corner was a restaurant called Lettuce Eat Healthy where the owner gave us birthday cake.

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The cutest post office I’ve ever seen. I wish I’d had something to mail.

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Atop a rock.

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A very noble looking polar bear in the library.

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A typical street full of character.

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Cruden Bay, about 26 miles north of Aberdeen. 

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Some of my co-workers posing in front of Slains Castle. Somewhere on the other side were university students throwing water balloons at each other.

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Bullers of Buchan, a collapsed sea cave.

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That’s me on the edge!

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Not sure whose boat that was …

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My phone couldn’t capture the incredible sunrise the day we left, but I tried anyway.

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I think I’d like to go back.

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Now onto London!

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In front of Buckingham Palace. Honestly, not as elaborate as I’d imagined, but that’s what TV does to you. Still beautiful, though it was a shame we missed the guards.

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Taking the tube to Buckhurst Hill.

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It was a work trip, remember? Cicely and I grabbed a couple of props and took over the UK office for the 20 seconds it took to get this picture. (We actually did do a full day’s work.)

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I mean, what’s a trip to London without a picture of a phone booth? I won’t tell you how many times I tried to get just the right photo.

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I think I took this on the way to Piccadilly Circus.

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Hope to see you again someday, Ben.

 

 

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Welcome home: Moving, part 2

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Read part 1.

It’s been a solid three months since we moved into our new house, and a lot has changed. Paint colors, light fixtures, furniture, pictures, potted plants.

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Our first mailbox flag.

We’ve said goodbye to spring and welcomed summer.

We’ve had our first guests.

We’ve found different routes to work, different grocery stores and different doctors.

We’ve met new neighbors.

We’ve both been locked in a spare room and locked out of the house.

Pete fixed our old dryer, and I experienced 12 loads of laundry in three days.

I caught my first lizard on the windowsill and have misplaced the vacuum more than once. (There are more places to put it now.)

We’ve figured out where the hardwood floors creak and what doors make which squeaky sounds.

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New kitchen table centerpiece! Made it myself.

And now the mailbox at the entrance of this beautiful home we saw nine months ago is ours.

I haven’t thought about our old house much. We’ve been so busy making this new one our own.

For the first little while we were there, it was overwhelming with so many projects to do, and it didn’t really feel like home until we started hanging stuff on the walls.

Now that we have some movie nights and meals on the patio under our belts, it definitely feels like our space.

There are still some big things to tackle—kitchen countertops, emptying the garage, etc.—but I like being there, and it’s fun to watch things shape up.

You should’ve seen me Monday when I was still on a shopping high after getting new curtains. That’s the fun stuff. 🙂

 

The way July 4th used to be

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Yes, that’s me in the waist-high parachute shorts with a plastic ribbon clipped to my shirt, circa 1993. I must’ve thought I was a real winner.

As a kid, I spent several July 4ths with my grandparents. I remember getting ice cream at this little place near their house called Desta Cup, then driving to the Kmart parking lot to watch fireworks from their Buick.

My grandmother is in failing health now with her short-term memory getting shorter. She used to watch VHS documentaries about other places in the world, but now the spirit for travel has been reduced to the occasional trip out of the house. And that’s a hassle in itself.

She still carries on conversation and gets that twinkle in her eyes when she crinkles her nose in laughter, but I can feel the time with my grandparents slipping away. Mamaw will be 85 next week, although she doesn’t believe it. (According to her, she’s not even 80.)

And now there’s my grandfather.

This July 4 was met with a phone call from Mom telling me about Papaw’s recent trip to the doctor. He has nodules on his lungs and goes in tomorrow to see if they’re active. If so, the next step is a biopsy to see if they’re cancerous.

My hope and prayer is that nothing major is wrong, but even if it’s nothing, it’s a reminder that they’re grandparents, and our grandparents don’t usually outlive us.

That’s what I thought about for hours after Mom’s phone call.

Tuesday night, after getting together with friends, a few of us headed downtown to watch fireworks. I got a little choked up midway through as I stood there, looking up toward the skyscrapers to watch the explosion of color—one after another, boom, boom, boom. It was a beautiful night with great company, yet I would have given anything to be back in that maroon Buick, poking my head through the middle console as I finished off an ice cream cone and watched fireworks over Kmart.

When your friend is dying

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*Update: A few hours after I posted this, I learned that my friend passed away.*

My friend is dying and I’m painting the bathroom.

That’s all I could think about last week as a gallon of Sherwin Williams helped color our bathroom walls blue. Up and down, up and down the roller went until I paused to refill my tray. Some melancholic song was playing on my phone in the background.

Thirty-nine is an unacceptable age to die. And barely 39 at that. You’re not even over the hill yet. Not even halfway done.

I know this stuff happens and that we may never know why, but it still sucks. It’s horrible, heartbreaking and sucks. I’m tired of people having cancer.

My friend has been a fighter from the beginning. We aren’t close, but I’ve known her for about eight years now, first as she and her husband joined our pre-marriage class, then as they joined our small group at church. We went to their wedding and celebrated when they adopted their daughter. I went to an ovarian cancer fundraiser and watched the husband run in teal heels.

But now it’s getting close to the end. No one wants to come out and say it, but it’s true. We can tiptoe around it, talking about how she doesn’t have much time left or how we’re praying for the family as they move forward, but she’s dying. I hate it.

Instead of planning vacations, juggling work and kids, lamenting over house projects and whatever else almost-forties do, she’s getting weaker, frailer and about to leave a little girl behind. And a husband of seven years—such a short time.

Unless something miraculous happens—and I’m not discounting that possibility—she won’t have another Christmas or birthday or anniversary. Her plans for the future are from here to tomorrow. I almost feel guilty as I settle into a new house, making plans for new countertops and wondering where I’m going to hang that picture.

I know I could drop dead in five minutes. Any of us could. But knowing death is around the corner … well, I can’t imagine. Not at 39.

At least she’s had lots of friends visit. That’s huge. I’m kicking myself for not knowing her condition sooner and planning an earlier visit myself. Now it’s too late, no more visitors, although I hope she liked the card we sent.

Things like this always bring up the words “wake-up call.”

“Life is short,” people say, and of course it’s too true. It makes me wonder why any of us waste time arguing about insignificant things or whining about stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run. Life is truly a gift, and today will never be repeated, so why don’t we treat it like that?

In the middle of all the sadness, I can’t leave out the one bright spot, the one thing that makes me happy.

I will see my friend again.

From our time together, I know her soul to be secure, destined for a place she’ll no longer live in pain or be frail or have cancer. The C word doesn’t exist there. I’m still sad and devastated for her family, but content knowing where she’ll be after this. I know not everyone can say that about people they’ve lost, but I sincerely hope whoever is reading this can say that about themselves.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Leaving the familiar: Moving, part 1

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Our first home. Cute, isn’t it?

This time next week, I’ll be calling a different place home.

All our things should be out of the house I’m currently sitting in, and I’ll likely never see the inside of it again.

I admit it’s a little sad. This is our first home together, and there have been lots of firsts here: first holidays, first guests, first time buying real furniture, first landscaping attempts and first arguments as a married couple. It’s where I fell in love with the coffee shop around the corner and where I trained for our first 5K. We’ve had so many great moments here, along with some tough ones, and it’ll be weird getting used to a different place.

A different route home, a different grocery store, a different spot for the dishes. New neighbors, new paint colors, a new key on my key ring.

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Dreaded moving boxes

I’ve been ready to move for the past few years, and now that it’s happening, the reality of it strikes me during the most mundane moments. Like when I’m walking across our bedroom, unloading the dishwasher or waiting to turn right out of the neighborhood.

A week from now, I won’t be doing that anymore, I think. At least not in the same places.

We’re moving only an hour away, but it’s far enough to feel like a completely different community. I still don’t know where a lot of things are there, so I expect I’ll be GPSing my way through the first couple of weeks or so.

The thing I’ll miss most is the friends who live close by. It’s not like I’ll never see them again, but distance has a way of making it harder to keep in touch. Although I’m pretty good at it and I really don’t want to lose these friends.

I’m ready for this move, and I know we’re going where God wants us. Why there, I’m not totally sure yet, but I’m 90% excited and only 10% nervous.

Over the next weeks, as I Google new vets, research dentists and get used to climbing stairs again, I’m sure the new normal will set in. In the meantime, we need to find a day to make one last trip to that coffee shop.

 

5 things people assume because I’m a writer

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Ten years ago, I started my first blog. I’ve always loved to write—ever since those first-grade writing assignments on super wide-ruled paper—and over the years, it’s become my outlet. It’s therapeutic. My best form of expression. And my job.

After writing for my high school and college newspapers, I got my first “real world” job as a reporter at a local paper. Five years ago, I switched things up and started writing and editing for a ministry.

Thousands of articles, dozens of news briefs and four blogs later, I’ve come up with a list of things people assume about me because I’m a writer.

1. I need more journals in my life.

Right this moment, I have four empty journals on my bookshelf. A fifth one is half empty, and I just gave two to Salvation Army. Of the seven journals, I purchased one of them myself, and that was because it had my name on it. (Well, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but same thing.) The rest of them were gifts. I know a lot of writers take time to journal, and I do appreciate each one I get—especially if it’s unique—but I just don’t use them. That’s what this blog is for! I do, however, go through lots of pens and always appreciate a new pack of Pilot Precise V5s.

2. I read a lot.

This past weekend, my father-in-law asked what I’m reading. I expected the question since both my in-laws are readers, and unfortunately I didn’t have a great answer. “Well, I just finished a book I started a year ago,” I told him. It’s true; I started a book months ago, then put it down, and just picked it up and finished it last week. I have three others that are half read. It’s almost embarrassing—I come from a family of readers, for goodness’ sake—but frankly, after reading and writing at work all day, I don’t necessarily want to come home and read more. Plus, most of what I do read isn’t in book form. It’s news articles or other blogs. So when people ask if I’ve heard of so-and-so-author or such-and-such-writer, many times I haven’t. (It feels good to confess that.)

3. I always know what to say.

If you’ve ever gotten a birthday, wedding, anniversary, congratulations, thank you, get well soon, Christmas or sympathy card from me and Pete, I probably wrote it. I’ll set the scene: I’m sitting at my desk one evening, pen poised over a card, trying to figure out what to write. “What should I say?” I ask Pete. “You’re the writer,” he says. Sometimes the words flow, and sometimes they don’t.

4. I’m making a mental note of your grammar errors.

OK, this one is true. I’m constantly finding spelling and grammar errors in everything from menus, posters and pamphlets, to magazines, books and billboards. You can afford a billboard but can’t have someone run the words through spell-check first? I admit I do the same with emails, Facebook posts and blogs. Sometimes even texts, although I’m more lenient on those given the quick nature of communication. I know not everyone cares about misspelled words and comma abuse like I do, but at least proofread. Poor Pete has to hear my corrections all the time: “They misspelled ‘marshmallow’ on the dessert menu.” … “This ad needs a comma.” … “The church bulletin should’ve lowercased ‘director’ in this context.” I can’t help it; they jump out at me. The worst, though, is when I make a mistake myself. (Yes, it happens.) I once caught a spelling error on this blog from two years earlier and immediately changed it, completely horrified.

5. I’ll gladly read your résumé.

This one is actually true, too, with a small caveat. When people need a résumé proofed, a letter edited or a recommendation written, they often come to me. And I like that. In fact, I do the same thing but in different ways; I go to my crafty friend for help with projects, I go to Pete with help fixing stuff, and so on. When people come to me with something to proof or edit, it says to me, “You know what you’re doing, and I trust you to do a good job.” I take it as a compliment, and I thoroughly enjoy trying to make the letter/email/whatever else sound better. What’s not so great is when the text in question has been sloppily put together, assuming I’ll fix it all. Not cool. I may be a writer, but I have teacher-like tendencies and need some effort here.

So what about you? Do people assume certain things about you because of your job or hobbies?

How long should I keep praying?

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There’s something I’ve been praying for a very long time … if you consider six years a long time. It certainly seems like forever when you pray for the same thing nearly every day.

Toward the end of last year, I was getting discouraged. Truth be told, I’ve been discouraged on and off throughout the past six years, but it was really coming to a head last fall. Over and over, I heard Psalm 13 in my head: “How long, Lord?”

It was around the same time I kept coming across messages on the persistence of prayer—on the radio, in devotions at work and in the devotional messages I was reading on my phone. Just last month, I read a particularly encouraging post about waiting on Boundless.org.

OK, I’ll be persistent, I thought. But for how long? When should I stop praying about it?

I wondered if maybe God had already given me an answer but I just didn’t realize it and kept praying in vain. I wondered if He was trying to change me instead of the circumstances, but, I reasoned, even if I change, the situation has to change, too. It has to. It’s too toxic, too destructive.

This can’t possibly be His will long-term. … Can it?

I know God’s answers aren’t always what I expect. Sometimes He answers no. Sometimes He says wait. Those are valid answers, too. It’s not just “an answer to prayer” when I get what I want.

On the other hand, the Bible doesn’t endorse giving up.

So how do I persist without begging? How do I approach God in confidence without questioning His will?

I always come back to this: God is God and I am not.

I trust that He’s smarter than I am. If He wasn’t, He wouldn’t be much of a God. He knows why things happen, whether we understand them or not, and as Creator of the world, has every right to operate in His own time. Who are we to argue with that?

I know my prayers aren’t falling on deaf ears. I know I’m not praying to an imaginary presence in the sky. I’m praying to the God who knew me before I was born. The God who calls me by name and whose presence lives in my very soul.

I also know through experience all the many ways He has answered me in the past. I have emails to friends and page after page in my prayer journal to prove it.

And so, after six years of praying for this particular thing, I’m still praying. Yes, I’ve taken brief breaks now and again when I’ve grown tired of praying for the same thing, but I always come back to it, hoping and believing I’ll someday hear a “yes.” Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe it’s just not time yet.

Has there ever been a time when you were ready to give up on praying for a certain thing? What did you do?