Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thank You!

When I wake up with something good on my heart and mind, it gets me in the blogging mood.

There were SO many things to cherish about the "Sending-Off Celebration" last night at church. Here are just a few....

*Looking around and taking time to realize that the core group of people that I love the most in Athens was all together.

*Hearing that God's grace and love are indeed growing and shining outwards in my life.

*Ending the evening praying with 3 of the most wonderful and faithful friends that I could ever be blessed to have.

*The laughter, and fun that abounds when God's people come together and break bread and relax for a while.

An ongoing joke was, "Who has ever heard of organizing your own going away party?" And while it was a unique idea, Jennifer, Jessica, and I really did have a great time, pulling together just the right type of celebration. A good time was had by all, and that is all that matters in the end:)

I already miss my Athens family in Christ. I did not get to tell each person last night, but the faithfulness and acceptance I enjoyed during my 4 years here has been phenomenal! It is a true testament to a group of varied people, who have more differences than commanilites. But the overarching thing we share is the life-changing power of Jesus Christ! And that, I continue to learn, is a bridge from my very best self, to the very best self of these other wonderful Christains, that were my family for 4 years.

Here is a blessing for each of you. From the bottom of my heart and soul, I pray this over each individual and family who has loved me and supported me and kept me going in the right direction during my stay here in Athens.

I pray that you all continue to enjoy the life-changing greatness of a life that is daily grounded in God. That you would be the exact combination of strength and weakness that God can use to influence this world and use for his supreme glory. I pray that the laughter and pure joy of life be overflowing and that when tears come, the sorrow be shared and the burden divided by those who love you in Christ. I pray that even though I will not be in constant communion with you all, that our faith and circumstances will keep you on my heart and that my spirit will never in this lifetime forget just how kind, thoughtful,true, and Christ-like you all have been to me. You were all strangers and now you are part of my family, praise the Lord for his great mercy! Amen.

To close up this blessed chapter of my life, here are some scriptures that still continue to change me, when I remember to find humbleness, and let God have his way.

My Senior Quote- Proverbs 27:19 "As in water, face refelcts face, So a man's heart reveals the man."

My manta during the hardest trial of my life, my sister's illness. Psalm 61:1-2 "Hear my cry. O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the Earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I."

My reminder to keep the faith- 2 Corinthians 2:14 "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Act Kind

One October afternoon during my first year as a School Counselor, I was feeling pretty dejected and disillusioned. You know that feeling, when real life is just not living up to the glittering expectations that you had hoped. My work was real and much more difficult than I had imagined.

And I had smiled all day on the ouside and fretted on the inside. And I just needed to talk to someone, so I went to our Gifted teacher, and I just spilled out all of my concerns. I am sure it was a mess of words, and confusion. She is much older than me, and full of quirks, but she listened to me like my problems were her problems. At the end she hugged me and reminded me to breathe and look at all of the things that I was actually doing that were being successful. I felt heard and appreciated and was able to go home and get ready for another day.

Well, that next morning when I opened my office door, there was a big handmade banner that said "Happy Fall! We love you", a Chik-Fil-A biscuit, and a card. I was so taken aback, who could have done such a kind thing for me? I smiled and I also cried because who knew that I was desperate for a kind deed. The card was so sweet and it was signed "Everybody" and of course I knew it had to be her. I rushed out in the hall and hunted her down and just gave her the biggest hug ever. How could I ever express that her kindness was like water to my emotional desert? How could I let her know that she disarmed my hysterics and self-pity, by being simply kind.

Today, I had lunch with this same teacher, as I prepare to say goodbye to life here in Athens. And we talked about so many things; growth, changes, family and the aging process. And as we said goodbye and hugged again, it was so easy to say "I love you!". And I made sure and took time and thanked her for her kindness that gave me renewal to press on at my work. And she tried to downplay it, but I said it again, that she would NEVER be able to know how her caring uplifted me. I let her know, that her one act has been multiplied SO many times over, as I have been kind to students and encouraged them to go be kind to others.

This life seems so complicated at times. Both rushing ahead and yet also dragging along. But, there are small things, that are like keys to a better way of living. Acting kind to others is one of those keys. Acting kind and expecting nothing in return. Acting kind at just the right moment, can change the day, week, month, or even the entire life of a person. That is something powerful right there! Do I have within me, the capability to made a positive and important impact on another person? Yes I do, and that is something to cherish.

In the midst of the hurry and busy and plans, I would ask you this. When is the last time you remember being kind on purpose? When is the last time someone shared with you, and you set your mind to helping them lift their burden? If not recently, then I hope that very soon you get a circumstance that crosses your particular path, that only your unique kindness can help. And a tip is also that if you are too plugged in to the TV, phone, tablet, wallet, etc. you might possibly just miss out on someone who needs you to be kind. They need it more than you even know, so listen carefully, and look closely, and then act wisely and lovingly and watch your little piece of this world change for the better.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Summer Vacation- The Falls

What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable? Unknown 

Part 2 of a 3 part reflection on two weeks of sweet summer vacation. Also known as, I am a woman who likes to make plans and see them through to the end. 

I am a traveler. And yet I crave stability, I am still trying to work out this contrast within myself. I grew up with a close aunt who traveled the world and those postcards from places far and near opened up my mind to endless possibilities.

I was also an avid reader, I still am actually. And so, though I lived in the same house from birth to college, I had roamed the Earth through my reading adventures. 

In college, I met my travel buddy, Kristin and we decided to go to Europe together. We found a foreign exchange program called Beyond Borders, and the summer after our Sophomore year, we spent 3 weeks in Germany and 1 week in Italy. That trip gave me the boldness that you need, if you like new travel adventures. And I was already the super planner, who could create itineraries, and connections between airports, trains stations etc. 

Fast forward life, and my passport was set to expire in 2015. And I knew I just HAD to use it one more time. And so, that is where the idea came from to travel to Niagara Falls. I had the urge to go somewhere new and I had always wanted to see Niagara Falls. So, I called Kristin and she agreed and just like that a plan was formed! I think every independent, travel-loving girl needs a friend who will get up and go with her to sights and destinations unseen:)

To describe Niagara Falls is to apologize in advance. I am going to try my best, but know that it won't reach the wonder of what I was able to experience.

Ontario, is this interesting mix of majestic, natural wonder, and super touristy exploits. Mini golf with flaming, fiery volcano, Rainforest Cafe, bright lights and the whole bit. We called it little Las Vegas. Niagara Falls, is also very Amercanized, so you can pretty much find your favorite chain stores, hotels, and restaurants. You can also use your American money, at least at all the places we frequented.

Life was so busy leading up to our trip, that Krisitn and I did not plan out our actual schedule, but that worked out just fine. We went before the tourist season kicks up, and we liked it that way. It was still pretty cool weather wise, and lots of families and older people. I also suggest that if you go, make sure and go to the Canadian side, the views are much better!

To see the falls for the first time is to literally be breathless. It was amazing, I just wanted to jump out the cab and get as close as possible. Well, as close as safely possible;) I was just chattering to myself, and the cabbie  payed me no attention. The massive length and depth of the falls was amazing. And the sound of all of that rushing water could be heard for miles! You just get mesmerized by the enormous amount of swift, rushing, and cascading water. I was in love with the whole beautiful thing!

Kristin and I didn't rent a car, and we didn't really need one for the few days. But we became pros of the super convenient, We Go shuttle.

We enjoyed the best of tourist experiences. Scenic moments, walking and true exploring. Unexpected fun. There was this thing called the Whirlpool Aero Car   that Kristin rushed me on, before I could remember that I have a thing with heights:) However, the view was fantastic! Here I am looking brave(ish) below. We had an amazing dinner and view from the gigantic Skylon Tower. The views of the falls from thousands of feet in the air were awesome!

I can't forget the additional natural beauty that we enjoyed. The Floral Showcase was in the midst of a hydrangea show, and it made me feel like a little girl. Everything was just so soft, feminine, and pretty! I was in love again:) Beauty was literally covering every surface!! Then we had the Butterfly Conservatory, where you had butterflies covering almost every surface.

I think that Niagara Falls is a once in a lifetime trip. And I am so happy that I got to experience the wonder of God's nature in majestic array. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer Vacation- The Wedding

There are so many beautiful reasons to be happy. Unknown

Part 1 of a 3 part reflection on two weeks of sweet summer vacation. Also known as, I have great friends all over the county, and they support my love of travel, and let me crash at their homes, as long as I ask nicely;)

Last summer, one of my best friends got engaged to a great man, who was just the exact right match for her. It was a happy time, as Melanie was also recently engaged. Weddings were on the brain!

Rebecca and Mason live in Pennsylvania, and soon I knew that I would be taking a trip to see Becca get married. I figured that while I was going "up North" it would be a great time to realize one of my travel dreams, and go to Niagara Falls, Canada! Also, my passport expires in 2015, so I had a urge to use it one more time. My brain loves to plan, and so I also thought while I was traveling, it would be the one and possibly only time to go visit my lifelong friend, Brandis in Rhode Island. So, yeah, these 2 weeks have been full of refreshing and good travels! To have amazing friends is a rich blessing:) I do not take it for granted.

So, back to Becca's wedding. For months we have been talking and writing back and forth about the big day. She answered and re-answered the many questions that I always seemed to have! For some reason, I have been involved closely with two very calm and laid-back brides. They both have made being a bridesmaid so fun! Life flew by and all of a sudden it was time to board that plane and help with wedding "stuff". Being supportive was the name of the game, and it really was a privilege to get to share in such a special time, with a friend who has known me since 7th grade. Good stuff!

I am glad Becca and I go wayyyyy back, because I went up a few days before the wedding. So it was her family, and I, all working together to get those last minute details all wrapped up. I could not help but think about what a testament it is, to have such a friendship. Becca and I made lists, and ran many errands together. She processed and I listened, and it was a bit surreal because I remember us as awkward teenagers, and now here we were, navigating the days leading up to a marriage. It felt like our friendship, so stable for so many years, reached a new level. It felt so mature. Like, the kind of friendship, you want to have for the rest of your life.

The town of West Chester, PA, where I stayed was just as quaint and peaceful as you can imagine. It is always good for me to travel, and see more of this world. It gives me much needed perspective, and helps me remember that I am a drop in a vast ocean. And I need that reminder, when I get a little too "concerned" about things.

The wedding was an intimate gathering of family and friends from all over the county. Becca and Mason are Floridians by way of New York, who ended up in Pennsylvania. So it was quite the mix. The weather was perfect, not too hot. So, it was beautiful, and Becca was radiant. SO happy and excited! It has been wonderful, to see a love story take shape over many years. And as Becca and Mason said their vows, I got a tiny bit teary, because the love was so evident. It zapped me back to Melanie & Lee's wedding in December. It had me quietly thinking about what could be in my possible future one day. It was a sweet ceremony, and then an evening filled with laughter, music and dancing.

Pennsylvania, was just so green! I loved being in a different climate and the one thing that kept standing out to me was the difference in architecture. I loved comparing the homes to what I am used to seeing down South. Also, there were no palm trees in sight. I ate at a restaurant that only served a plethora of grilled cheese. I took some time to walk and explore around West Chester University. I slept with the windows open all night!! And the cool breeze wafting in, as the morning sun woke me up, was so refreshing. Kinda perfect really. I know, I know, it is the small things that count:) One of the most pleasant memories, was the morning of the wedding. The wedding party all gathered downstairs at the Faunbrook Bed and Breakfast to start the day. That old fashioned long, rectangle table seated about 14 of us. Besides the AMAZING food, the conversation and laughter were perfect. It was one of those moments in time where you can be completely relaxed, and just enjoying life, and people, and good food. Its been a week and that morning still sticks out in my mind. I think there was something about the casual atmosphere and the right mix of people.

Anyway, stay tuned for Part 2, my reflections on visiting Niagara Falls. By the way, this vacation has propelled me happily along my 30 before 30 list, I will write more about that later as well.