This week I welcomed my first house guests! 3 of them!
And for the sake of simple math;
3 guests + the 3 of us = 6 people
6 people in my 650 sq feet New York City Apartment!
6 people not including our mouse ‘friend’ Luca –Yes, I gave him a name… and no, a name doesn’t make me anymore excited to see him bolting into my kitchen in the middle of the night!
3 days, one bedroom, one bathroom, a pull-out couch and an air mattress! Praise Jesus!
As I prepared for my guests arrival, I couldn’t help but to think of how much my life had changed in just a year…
In my ‘past life’ I often enjoyed making extravagent themed meals – because a meal with a theme, is so obviously more enjoyable 😉 – and making wall art out of paper bags and poster board! I even noticed when Rachel started folding her bath towels differently, and went home to practice folding mine the same way!
I know some of you probably want to punch me in the face! I kind of want to punch me in the face too, when I say things like that, but ’tis the truth!
I started to cry at the thought of how my life had evolved from throwing exquisite 1st birthday parties – complete with intricately handmade party favors and melted ice cream cone cake pops – to transporting already-smushed hamburger buns for an hour long train ride from Manhattan to Yonkers, for a shotgun 2nd birthday barbeque in Ricky’s aunt’s neighbor’s backyard!
I recalled my previous guest room – the one I had designed straight out of a magazine, with crisp white linens, a dramatic gray wall, and a crystal chandelier overhead.
Only to then have my thoughts turn to our ‘new accommodations’, which consist of nothing more than a cracker-crumb laden pull-out couch that the mice feed under!
Tossing in bed that night, I was overwhelmed with how little I had to offer my guests.
The next morning, I woke up in a frenzy; scrubbing the grout in my bathroom floors for an hour an half, rearranging my dishes, and doing anything I could to overcompensate for the fact that my new home is reminiscent to that of a tree house!
Hours later, and after I had exhausted myself, I sat breathless and weary… and even more, frustrated with the Lord.
In that moment, I couldn’t help but to feel that by God calling us to move here, that He had chosen to take something sacred from me; relocating us to a place where cooking is a near impossibility, and Pinterest is a taunting smack in the face! It often feels like my back’s up against a wall of mediocrity – thanks to such a small living space, and an even smaller patience level!
With only had an hour till my guests arrived, I looked around, and was surprised to find that after scrubbing nearly every surface, and moving random pieces of furniture around, that my apartment looked almost exactly the way it had before! Only difference was the air smelled of ‘Autumn Sunset’ thanks to the scentsy pot that I had running on over drive!
All that work, and nothing to show for it!
I realized then, it was something in me that needed to change!
I recalled the story of Mary and Martha; two sisters who invited Jesus into their home.
The bible says Martha was distracted with serving; probably scrambling to pick up the shoes that the kids left scattered on the floor, fluffing pillows on the couch in a fury, and looking up a quick pinterest recipe to ‘wow’ her unexpected guest! Maybe even fretting when she didn’t have the right ingredients, wishing she would have picked up some fresh flowers on the way home, and anxiously wondering if the little she had to offer Him was enough -just as I had done the night before!
Her sister Mary -who seemed to not have a worry in the world – chose to instead, sit at the feet of Jesus and listen intently to him as he spoke.
Jesus then called Martha to his side…
” Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
I could feel the Lord asking me in that moment, to do the same-
to be like Mary and not Martha…
Martha in the bible, and even more, not like Martha- flipping- Stewart!
You see, Martha’s primary focus was on RESPONSIBILITIES while Mary’s priority was RELATIONSHIPS!
Martha thought about what she could DO for her guest, while Mary wanted to savor the moment she was blessed to SHARE with them!
Oh, how I need that reminder at times!
In 2 Timothy 1:16 another example of true hospitality can be found when the apostle Paul describes a home that graciously took him in.
Paul writes these words,
“May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for they often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains”
By the sound of it, this family wasn’t appreciated simply because they made homemade pot roast, and provided 400 thread count sheets and a clean towel every day!
The family of Onesiphorus stood out to Paul above all others, because ‘In the heat of his affliction and persecution, they were like a fan in hot weather; cooling and reviving his spirit.’
They didn’t care about the baggage Paul carried – the chains he wore – and the mistakes he made! They showed love to him regardless, and openly welcomed him into their home.
I realized then, that biblical hospitality has less to do with what you can do for someone, and a whole lot more about what you can give of yourself!
No matter what our living situation is we can always offer a listening ear, an encouraging word, or an open mind! Always!
And so I put the mop and clorox wipes away…
I worked hard to be present, and to refrain from demanding that the shoes be put in the closet.
I chose to stock the fridge with take-home pizzas, and premade conveniences – that the ‘former me’ would have scoffed at – but continuously reminded myself that this weekends guests were getting my attention, not just my efforts!
There were times when I struggled to find my sense of humor- like the one flippin’ time I attempted to turn the oven on and the fire alarm went off!
And other times, where I had to adamantly choose to let go of hurt and past offenses –the chains we had been wearing– and instead choose not to hold a grudge.
In the end we would all share a surprisingly wonderful birthday weekend together – even with the smushed hamburger buns, store bought cake, and sleepless nights on the pull-out couch!
And the Lord taught me a lesson I can only pray I will have the courage to live out…
To choose today, to be present above all else!
To do less, but savor more!
Step away from the mop, and say yes to staying in our pajamas!
To quit checking emails, and get on the floor and play with our children.
Let the dishes sit in the sink and instead, eat double stuf Oreos with our husbands!
And maybe even spontaneously invite someone over… for take out!
Truly seek to refresh others,
And don’t be so surprised when you too, find the refreshment your soul has been longing for!
I wanted to be Nicole Thompson. I envied her long blonde locks, and the perfection that was her handwriting. I can still remember how she munched awkwardly on her apple at snack time; avoiding getting pieces of fruit lodged in her braces. I pleaded with my mom to pack me an apple for snack time too, and every day, attempted to eat mine in the same fashion.
I was her best friend.
The only problem was, so was Emily!
Nicole often enjoyed pitting me and Emily against each other; taunting us with the most miniscule reasons why she was going to play with one of us, and not the other…
“I like Emily’s shoes, so today I’m going to play with her on the monkey bars instead of you!” she would say, leaving me alone to drag my feet in the bark, and contemplate what was so wrong with my shoes.
Many years later, and after I had just recently gotten married, the first couple I – so nervously – invited over for dinner, spent the first few bites of the meal I had made , bickering back and forth about whether the pasta she makes was better than the one I had made!
She savored another bite, and then looked to her husband. Both of them nodded in agreement. Her’s was most definitely better, it seemed.
Mine was ‘missing a little something’ she would go on to say, resting her fork on her plate and graciously asking my husband to pass the bread.
Around this very time last year I posted a request for prayer on Facebook; specifically for me and my extended family in a time of great need.
I had someone contact me privately and tell me how inappropriate it was for a Pastor’s family to reach out for prayer like that.
Whispers then began to circulate; speculation spread about why I had asked for prayer in the first place, and our moment of desperation as a family was met with a wealth of malicious rumors and lies!
Months later and completely unrelated to my plea for prayer, my husband got a job in New York, and we were surprised to find that our decision to be obedient and follow God where He had called us, was met with unwelcome opinions openly declaring that we were making a huge mistake!
Some even laughed, as if to say God wanting us in Manhattan was a joke…
Many others, wouldn’t even say goodbye.
Haters. Haters. Haters.
Now I know from the title of this post, it would be easy to assume that I will be addressing those haters, and no doubt use verses like “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths”, or how “a dishonest man spreads strife” in an attempt to put those haters in their place…
but that’s for another time!
It’s much more valuable instead, to address the nature of the Lord in situations like these.
Because around that time last year, when I found myself overwhelmed with grief and betrayal, I also found myself captivated by a verse; a verse that as a lifelong Pastor’s kid, I had never heard before.
And I will restore to you, the years the locusts have eaten…
This verse spoke straight into my current heartache, and every hurt proceeding it.
Because not only was God accepting the fact that there will be times in life where swarms of locusts will come – devastating our crops and stripping them of all life! He promises even then, to restore them!
He promises to restore us!
How long have ‘haters’ (aka locusts) been cutting down everything you have worked so hard for? Eating their fill of everything you have labored endlessly to protect, the very crops that we have spent our entire lives tending to -the very person we have worked so hard to become!
Locusts, leave us feeling defeated, and lifeless; laughing in our face, and spreading cold hearted lies, until they move on to the next crop that they want to destroy.
Just last week I traveled back home, and met these feelings head-on when past hurts and betrayals all came flooding back!
Especially when upon returning, I noticed a few people still shuffling awkwardly to avoid me in the church lobby and struggling to maintain eye contact through half-hearted inquisitions of how my husband and I were adjusting to our new life in the city.
I was discouraged – but only for a quarter of a moment! Because just as quickly as the pain of rejection was felt, I could hear the Lord’s still strong voice reminding me, that even without the ‘blessing’ of others, that I am indeed still a blessed person in spite of it!
How thankful I am that the Lord doesn’t rely on majority rule to determine the level of blessing He will put on my life! That He wont withhold His blessing just because others have!
He is bigger than the people bringing you down!
And He will see us through our hurts, and bring us back to a place of immeasurable blessing!
Just as Jesus who was beaten beyond recognition and who looked to be defeated on the cross, had come to life again just 3 days later – so can we rest in the fact, that the same power that brought His spirit back to life, is at work to do the same on our behalf!
During my trip back home – just as my past heartache came back – so also did my eyes open to the Lord’s amazing power of restoration in my life!
The flood of people who have seemed to leave my father’s church in a frenzy, have now given way to a crowd of others who have found their place amongst the same seats; finding Christ come alive, awakening their souls and calling them to life change, just like the previous people had!
The same friends who walked with me through the darkest of days last year; meeting me for coffee at random hours of the night and holding me as I cried, can now chat about more light hearted topics, such as mice eating brownies off my counter and Tom Selleck sightings!
And in just a year, the family that I requested be lifted up in prayer, has now taken giant strides – with or without the prayers of others – thanks to the Lord’s unfailing love and restoring power!
No more hiding behind fake smiles, of past hurts. No more shielding ourselves from the extreme ill will of others. Instead, we laughed over banana waffles, and participated in group hugs until everyone screamed out in frustration. I went on a lunch date with my dad and went shopping with my mom, and made nearly every effort I could to embarrass my little brothers.
And Just like the emerging blossoms from a tree after a barren and bitterly cold winter,
Or a loved ones embrace after too many months and miles have seperated you.
Like a heartfelt apology that mends the deepest wounds,
And the first laugh after a season of sorrow,
So is the restoring power of Christ
Available to each of us!
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace… will Himself, restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
1 Peter 5:10
*** And to all the Haters: Quit being a locust. It’s not a flattering look on you!
This week marks 6 months that my family has been living in Manhattan…
6 months that will go down in history as some of the most challenging and exciting months of my entire life!
-Since moving to to the city, I went from living in a 4 bedroom house in the suburbs, to a one bedroom apartment in the middle of the insanity that is New York City!
And while our living space is 1/3 of the size that it used to be, our rent and grocery budget has easily doubled!
-We got rid of both cars, and nearly all our possessions – even down to our dog, grade school yearbooks and christmas tree – and are now limited to keeping the little we still possess to one tiny coat closet off the living room.
-We have transitioned from my husband working what would have been considered a flexible schedule, to that of a grueling ‘6 day a week, every week’ schedule, thus teaching me to navigate life and parenting without him always around.
-I also have found a super-human physical strength in myself that I never knew existed, being that I am now one of the many Manhattan Mommies that can carry my 2 year old, sitting in her stroller, with the diaper bag filled with enough snacks to keep an entire eskimo family fed through the winter, up and down up to 20 flights of subway stairs!Take that, Jillian Michaels!
And the look of astonishment on tourists faces, always serves as the perfect reminder that even I, didn’t know something like that was physically possible! Until I moved to NYC, that is…
-I am also proud to say that I have memorized all the Upper East Side and Upper West Side streets!
…And can now make perfect sense of the subway map!
-I have learned how to use the subway, bus, Metro North, New Jersey Transit, and PATH train. That’s 5 methods of transportation, covering 2 states in 6 months!
…and occasionally you can even find me giving a tourist or two some PHENOMENAL directions! 😉
– Not to mention, I can now walk wicked fast, even for a girl with short legs!
Since moving to New York City, I can barely recognize the person I used to be!
Growing up I was paralyzed by perfection.
In elementary school, I spent PE class hiding in the bathroom while the rest of my class played kickball, for fear that I would let my team down. I can remember sitting at my desk, endlessly ripping sheet after sheet of paper out of my notebook, so that I could start over when my handwriting wasn’t neat enough.
I also falsely believed my outer beauty was directly correlated with perfectly curled hair, flawless nails that coordinated with my outfit, and high heels. And that the best way I could adequately show my love for my family, was by making every meal homemade and slaving in the kitchen for hours.
Since moving to New York however, I’ve had to let go of the expectations I unknowingly, seemed to have placed on myself over the years…
For one, my kitchen is tiny, and any meal I make is sure to set off the fire alarm!
And even on my best days, my curled hair wont be flawless by the time I take the 3 trains it takes to get to my desired location!
Not to mention, heels are entirely out of the question!
Growing up I also was surprisingly dependent.
I would definitely still categorize myself as independent, but until moving here, I never realized how dependent I was on the men in my life.
Throughout my childhood, my Dad was always there when I needed him; voluntarily calling the mechanic for me when my car broke down in college -and if we are honest, probably paying for it! My husband than took over the reigns once we got married, and I relied on him to do everything from calling for takeout, putting gas in my car, taking out the trash and going with me to every one of my daughter’s doctors appointments.
In our new lives however, with my husbands new schedule and responsibilites, I have spent the better part of our time here, braving New York City alone.
Learning how to navigate life with a toddler without a car, how to get my laundry done without a washer and dryer, and learn how to get my groceries up ‘the stairs of death’ without dislocating my back or having my toddler lock me out of the apartment!
It literally felt like someone dropped me and my daughter ‘Hunger Games style’ from a Hovercraft into some foreign land- a place where the languages are different, the people are meaner, and literally everything is a trillion times more difficult!
My Dad called a couple months ago and laughed at my newfound life “ Krista, you realize as a child you struggled to order your own food at a restaurant? And now look at you! You are jetsetting around New York City!”
My 16 year old brother put it a little less kindly when he blatantly called me out, “No really… how are you surviving?”
By the grace of God, my friend, by the grace of God… 😉
In the last 6 months, I have been stretched farther than I thought could ever be possible-
and yet, I have to say, I am empowered!
I feel privileged to know that I COULD BE stretched that far, and even more honored that HE WOULD stretch me that far!
And although all my earthly possessions fit in a mere 650 square feet-
my heart is unexplainably full!
In Matthew 19:27-30 Peter asks Jesus
“See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”
Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you… everyone who has left houses, or brothers and sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold…”
Just like in this verse, I feel like I have sacrificed it all! Often times even questioning God the same way Peter did; inquiring if there could possibly be anything left…
And yet, like I said, there is no denying that my heart is unexplainably full just like He promised!
And I can assure you its not just because NYSYNC reunited! Although, that definitely doesn’t hurt… 😉
In John 10:10 the Lord goes on to outline His purpose as wanting to ‘give us a rich and satisfying life’
We like the sound of that don’t we? “Rich and satisfying…”
Our thoughts jump to winning the lottery; buying a penthouse suite complete with a chefs kitchen, and floor to ceiling windows overlooking Central Park, with a doorman named Alfred, that greets you with a “Good morning m’ Lady!” and who regularly insists on bringing up my groceries, refusing a tip!
Or maybe that’s just me…
And yet after poring over this verse for the last couple days – knowing that my heart is full, but tossing around whether I consider my life to be the rich and satisfying life the Lord talks about – I realized that if we were to talk about ‘rich and satisfying’ as it pertains to food, the meaning would change almost entirely!
A rich and satisfying meal doesn’t always mean you have endless amounts of food – or even the highest quality food for that matter – a rich and satisfying meal is one that leaves us full, with no need for even a bite more! Complete fulfillment.
There are times where we are ravenous, and it takes much more to keep us satisfied, but even then it doesn’t take grass-fed filet mignon seared to perfection by Chef Curtis Stone to do the trick! The simplest beans can satisfy even the emptiest of bellies.
Other times its a small taste of the richest velvety cheesecake, that is just enough pure bliss to hold us over to the next oppertunity to indulge.
As I look back on the last 6 months, there have indeed been moments – small bites – of pure bliss in my new life in Manhattan, and times where I have ate my fill of the greatest experiences…
And then there have been days where I have ate my fair share of beans – day in and day out – until I was blue in the face!
Even then, I have never been less than satisfied!
Haha, Ok, that’s a horrible analogy… But the point is, my heart is full, and I am in need of nothing more.
Do I have wants? Bet your bottom dollar, I do! But my greatest needs are covered, which leads me to believe that I indeed DO have a rich and satisfying life! Or at the very least, am headed in the right direction of obtaining one…
Looking back on my time in NYC, causes me to feel overwhelmed to the point of tears; remembering all the sacrifices that had to be made, all the fears that had to be worked through in the middle of the night, and the excuses that had to be put aside.
The conscious decision I had to make, to stop hiding in the bathroom when there was adventure to be had, and to tear down the walls that I had barricaded myself against for so long in the name of ‘what was within my comfort zone’ !
To be willing to fail miserably, venture out alone and get beautifully lost in the process!
It’s only been 6 months, but I can barely recognize the person I used to be!
And the truth is, I think that’s exactly what the Lord intended! 🙂
***Thanks for listening to me reminisce, and for being an encouragement just by reading! Thanks to those of you who have rooted for me, laughed with me, cried with me, and for those who have bravely shared their own amazing journeys with me along the way!
Let’s see if you can relate to the week I just had-
My family has had an ongoing cash reward for whoever finds the missing sippy cup, that was filled with milk, and got misplaced 3 weeks ago…
and this week we found it!
Although I wouldn’t categorize what we found as looking like ‘milk’ anymore – or tasting like milk for that matter – by the look of my daughter’s face when she took a swig! – Praise Jesus.
I also got in my first ‘NYC style argument’ with my husband, and am now fully aware of the problems it poses; because when you are exceedingly annoyed with nearly everyone in existence, and you live in a 650 sq ft apartment in Manhattan, and your daughter is sleeping in your one and only bedroom, and your husband is watching sports in the living room…
the only place left to retreat is the bathroom….
and the only place to sit in the bathroom, is the toilet!
Definitely not my most glamorous exit-in-a-fit-of-rage-to-prove-my-point scenario!
But I probably deserved it since my newfound New York attitude had me out of character and spitting off attitude that had me groveling endlessly the next day.
Then my sunglasses broke!
And my daughter woke up an hour early every. single. day.
I also got so lost in Central Park that even google maps couldn’t pinpoint the trail that I was on, and I broke my dining room table chair when I sat down to eat dinner (which I don’t have to tell you is upsetting for more reason than one!)
And after a long night of having nightmares of mice. ..specifically mice getting their back legs stuck in the sticky traps I layed out and dragging their bodies still attached to the traps, by their front paws, squealing as they make their way towards my bedroom… The next morning, I sit down groggy and disoriented, my morning cup of coffee in one hand, and flipping through the latest Martha Stewart magazine with the other.
I pore over her promising tips on which grain will help lure your “ideal bird” to come eat of the $40 bird house you have in your spacious back yard that you had landscaped to look like a Japanese Garden. And continue reading, to consider her recipe for ‘Pork with Pears and Parsnips’ that she vows will make all your dinner party guests swoon…
I don’t even know what a Parsnip is.
And I secretly kind of want to punch you in your face!
So after a long week of being taunted by Martha, trapped in the bathroom, and pleading endlessly with my daughter to STEP. AWAY. FROM. THE. MILK CUP!!!!! Naturally, the only thing that would suffice in reversing the trauma of this past week – other than therapy, of course – would be to dim the lights, and take a candle lit, lavender scented bubble bath where finally, I can be alone with my thoughts!
Oh to dream…
because our bathtub is broke!
Sigh. Only in New York City….
I doubt it’s any surprise to all of you who have been reading these past few months- but since starting this blog and writing out my thoughts each week, I have truly realized how despicably human I am! It seems like every week I am in desperate need of an attitude adjustment – a ‘Come to Jesus Moment’ if you will!
So after a week like that, I did what I thought would put me in my place, and I opened up my bible.
I read about Noah, and how out of obedience to God he built an ark…
I read about Abraham, and how even after he reached the land God had promised him, that ‘he was like a foreigner, living in tents’ -and I laughed, because boy can I ever relate to that now that I live in NYC!
But believe it or not, it was once I closed my bible and instead, got on Facebook, that the Lord truly spoke to my discontent and weary heart!
And I can thank my friend Christina for that!
Christina and I have been friends for a little over 3 years. And in the short time that I have known her, she has been the picture of immeasurable strength and courage! A true example of what it looks like to possess true happiness; the kind that isn’t dependent on outside forces.
Christina is a dear friend to me, and yet I have only met her face to face twice.
It’s complicated, but I think Christina’s words to me best describe our friendship:
I know we’ve hardly ever met, but something about you and your husband is special to me, I don’t know how to describe it. Sometimes people are put in our lives at just the right time.
You and Ricky reminded me what it was to be young and in love, and inspired me with your posts, just when I needed a boost. So it always seemed like a friendship.
In our mere 3 year Facebook friendship, she was one of the very first people to ‘like’ our ultrasound picture the day we announced that we were expecting a baby. And still to this day, I can remember the heartfelt message she sent the day we brought our precious little baby girl home with us from the hospital – no doubt reminiscing herself, of the day when she did the same with each of her own children.
Even when my husband and I humorously bickered back and forth, or posted borderline cruel pictures of each other on Facebook, she seemed to instantly get our sense of humor and was always sure to intergect her playfulness and wisdom – which of course, always pointed towards me being right!
She was always so genuinely happy for us, and I couldn’t understand it. I almost felt unworthy of the overwhelming kindness she never failed to flood us with!
Still to this day, she is one of the only strong friendships I’ve had on Facebook, with someone I’ve nearly never got to spend time with in person!
But like Christina said, “Sometimes people are put in our lives just at the right time.”
That was proven, when throughout my father in-law’s battle with cancer her constant presence was there; leaving encouraging messages of high hopes and support, and offering an understanding few others could give…
because she too, was in the fight of her life!
We watched as she battled stage four breast cancer, and as the fiery red curls that had once cascaded down her back, fell out…
But she was never anything less than captivatingly!
We read her vulnerable posts expressing the immense physical pain she was under…
But she stayed courageously hopeful!
There were times when she was candid, and raw; vocally standing up to the cancer that kept knocking her down…
But her graciousness and compassion never wavered!
There were small victories, where we all rooted enthusiastically for her from the sidelines,
And there was heartbreaking lows, that had us in tears on the other end of the computer screen.
After an extensive battle, it was decided that all treatment would stop and that she would enter hospice.
Once again, she would take us all by surprise, when – the day the heartbreaking plan was announced – she changed her Facebook profile picture to one similar to this;
Life is good.
And there it remains still to this day!
Looking back on her posts, I read one from January 1, 2013
I’m feeling pretty good today, on and off, the best I’ve been for awhile.
I got to witness some great acts of love and holiday spirit. I live for those, you know…
A good and happy day where I can type, are few and farther now, so I celebrate them.
Thank you all for the happiness and love and great visits and chats. Thanks, so many thanks.
6 days later Christina passed away.
As I almost ‘studied’ her last facebook status, I was overwhelmed with shame -imagining the magnitude of the pain she had suffered over the course of those last two years-
Her ability to describe a “good and happy day” as one where she can merely type!
Embarrassed, I thought back to the last few days of this week, where upon my husband returning home from work, I could barely muster up the words to describe my day as anything more than “difficult”
Why, because my living room floor is an endless sea of books and toys?
Or because as a stay at home mom, my lack of reasons to get out of my pajamas and put on makeup in the morning, often leaves me to question my worth?
Or the fact that I am up to my neck in errands that need to be run, behavior issues that need to be handled, and baths that need to be given – and re-given when fuchsia frosting is found, and my daughter looks like a real life ‘Pinkalicious’!
Not to mention the looming responsibility of making a ‘homemade meal’ that by society’s standard should be prepared with love (and preferably organic with no GMO’S), and conveniently being pulled from the oven at the exact moment my husband walks through the front door- Inconvenient for me however, because this is also around the time that I’m nearly at my wits-end and about .04 of a tantrum away from having one myself!
Christina reminded me however, that no matter how real these feelings can be at times, one thing is certain- I don’t know ‘difficult’!
My heart sank, as I realized that if SHE was able to speak out of such sincere gratitude when she was facing ultimately, the greatest loss – her life! – Then what on god’s green earth was MY excuse?
This week, Christina taught me a valuable lesson that both Noah and Abraham combined couldn’t have breathed into these lifeless lungs!
I need to celebrate life!
Celebrate till my last breath the way Christina did!
Celebrate that fact that even the dingiest apartment can be made ‘homey’ with vanilla scented candles, early morning giggles under the covers, and freshly baked bread on the stove.
And that the husband I may feel like doesn’t see eye to eye with me every second of every day, is still the only man on the face of this planet that can give me butterflies!
Celebrate that even on the most tiring of days, with my daughter cuddled up in my arms, all the tantrums, timeouts, and snotty noses, melt away in the name of snuggles and bedtime stories.
Even when my frustration mounts, and the endless people and pandemonium of NYC gets to be too much, I can celebrate the beauty of it from across the river, allowing just enough space to fall in love with it all over again!
Christina is right, it’s most definitely ‘a good and happy day’ !
Life is good.
And we’ve been waiting way too long to celebrate it!
Though much is taken, much abides;
And though we are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
-Alfred Tennyson, as posted by Christina’s husband throughout her battle with cancer.
“Before I read your blog, I always thought Manhattan was so glamorous!”
The truth is, Manhattan IS so glamorous!
… And then it isn’t.
It’s true, we walk the same streets as the rich and famous – or are lucky enough to see Tom Selleck outside our apartment window!!! <—- It happened. And for the record, I may never be the same!
We have our weekly bible studies in places like Whole Foods where you can literally watch celebrities buying their weekly granola and almond milk (Only if you are watching though -which of course you are NOT because you are wholly immersed in the Word Of God! 😉 )
We also picnic in Central Park, and kick back on our friends rooftop decks drinking sparkling water as the sun sets over the city. Ok, that’s a total over-exaggeration, but it sounded cool!
Even still, there is an entirely different, MUCH less glamorous – yet, completely intriguing – side to living in this city! One, some of my ‘fancier’ Manhattan friends might not want you to know about!
Like the fact that I nearly broke our tv remote last night when I chucked it at a mouse in my living room!
A mouse, that is nothing compared to the size of the RATS that I see in the subway Every. Single. Day!!
Or that I once saw a homeless man peeing into a soda can as I exited the train one morning!
Not my proudest collection of moments, that’s for sure….
But all that to say, I’ve decided to create an ongoing blog topic called “A Day In The Life” where from time to time, I will attempt to capture the nitty gritty of what real life looks like in Manhattan, and even the abnormal way us city folk do some of the most normal things! All the things I can assure you, that us Manhattanites aren’t posting on our Facebook’s for the world to see!
This week I will show you how we do Costco!
And if you thought the method for shopping at Costco was pretty universal, well than Blimey! Tis’ wrong you’d be my dear!
Sorry, I have been watching waaaay too many Downton Abby reruns this week!
In Manhattan- the young, fabulous, and car-less, have to be a whole lot more creative when it comes to taking part in the surplus of underpriced bulk goodness that is Costco!
And while it’s not necessarily as easy as it once was, it is nevertheless, just as worth it!
So let the journey begin!
Once the hubby gets home from work, we walk a block with the little one in one hand, and our Costco reusable bags in the other!
… and then another block and a half!
Then we wait at the bus stop, and I sneak a couple quick pics of this sweet little girl, who by the looks of it is the only person excited to ride the bus tonight! (What’s not pictured however, is that I look like a mule; carrying all the snacks, diapers, and toys needed to KEEP that smile on her face!)
Then we ride the bus; and I whisper promises of gooey turkey provolone sandwiches and hot dogs the size of newborn babies to my daughter and husband, to keep them both sitting nice and acting well-behaved during our 20 minute ride!
Once we get off the bus, it’s another 2 blocks…
Until we finally reach our destination!!!
Then we shop just as you would.
But when we come across Double Stuf Oreos, a moment like that in Manhattan, literally demands you stop everything you are doing and break out in an interpretive dance to symbolize your gratitude to the Nabisco Gods for all the double chocalety goodness that they have so graciously bestowed upon you!
Because in Manhattan, those cookies – which my husband would argue are essential to living a happy and fulfilling life – are quite the luxury around here at nearly $6 a package at our local grocery store!
So after living a tragic six months without even a single Double Stuf Oreo, this is one extremely happy man!
What I refuse to tell you though, is how many boxes we bought…
And you know it’s been a job well done, when your cart is filled to the top, nearly $300 has been spent, and that cute little toddler from yester-year has turned into unrecognizable arm flailing, head spinning demon in the laundry detergent aisle!
And after you’ve checked out, this is where those handy dandy reusable bags come in!
Because while living in NYC means you have nearly everything at your fingertips, I have learned that customer service isn’t one of them- so pack up yo’ own bags Busta’!
And if you want some of those shipment boxes that Costco is so known for packing your purchases in, then its your responsibility to sift through a mountain of leftover boxes that are in the corner waiting to be recycled, and do it yourself!
Oh suburbia, how I miss thee….
Upon leaving Costco, there are cars lined up outside waiting to take us ‘city peeps’ back to our apartment! They help you load up the car, and drive you home for a flat rate. Awesomeness!
As for my husband, this is about the time he started not being super enthusiastic about me following him around with a camera. Like he has a new-found street cred to uphold or something? Whatev’s…
Then we head home!
And yes, my daughter is sitting in the car without a carseat! GASP!
I know my mother is probably having a heart attack right now, but know matter how truly alarming it is, this is how we do it in Manhattan!
On an entirely different note, how cute is that finger sucking action?
And while your method for bringing home groceries probably consists of that handy little devil that allows you to – at the push of a button – open up your garage (aka the HOUSE you have for your CAR that is equivalent to the size of my entire apartment for a family of 3!!!)
If I sound jealous, it’s because I am…
Our method however is a little different; my husband unloads the car on the street and pays the driver, while my job is to unlock the two doors leading into our building and use the heavier items to keep the doors open so that he can bring the rest of the stuff in.
…. All while pleading with my 2 year old in an attempt to prevent her from breaking every bone in her body while trying to climb “The Stairs of Death”….
(Case in Point: The Stairs of Death)
Once everything is in the building, it’s the hubby’s job to bring each each item up [The Stairs of Death!] and into our apartment.
And – as you can see in this picture – to question why we bought so much stuff in the first place!
The final step is to find a home for all these lovely little treasures, which in 650 sq ft can pose as quite a challenge! A challenge I am always up for! Because these groceries would cost $200 more if we bought the exact same items at the grocery store down the street!
That my friends, is an Urban Hallelujah!
Now quick! Grab your keys and take a drive to Costco!
And when you catch a glimpse of Double stuf oreos, think of us-
better yet, pray for us- because like I said, we still have mice!
And as you tuck your kiddos into bed and close your eyes to recite heartfelt prayers thanking The Lord for Great Aunt Bertha, and cousin Jimmy…
Make a quick addition and thank God also for your car, garage, pantry, Costco employees who smile as they box up your banana nut muffins…
and for the absence of the stairs of death in your life!
And once you’ve settle in for the night and turn the tv on to watch the latest ‘America’s Got Talent’ LIVE at Radio City Music Hall, observe how the opening shot sweeps over the city capturing the bright lights and glamour of Manhattan
Crowds of our closest friends and family roared with excitement as we pushed open the door and stepped out onto streets of Downtown Portland! Gwen Stefani’s ‘Sweet Escape’ played out in the open air as we made our way down the steps, where a Volkswagen convertible waited for us -the backseat filled with beautifully adorned presents. Just Married.
After last hugs and well wishes, we waved until everyone lining the streets behind us had faded into the distance. I let out a deep sigh of relief and grabbed the hand of my new husband. A perfect end, to a perfect day!
At the stoplight, a flood of panic ensues! He looks at me, You grabbed my bag right? The one with all my clothes? I have no idea what he is talking about. WE HAVE TO GO BACK THEN! He persists. I instantly burst into tears at the thought! He turns the car around and I literally scream out to him, YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN MY EXIT!!! I plead with him to turn the car around, imagining the embarrassment of going back to face our guests just to casually grab a bag, when we had just previously exited so dramatically- so perfectly!
He turns to see tears streaming down my face, his eyes soften when they make contact with mine. This is not how you envision your first moments together as husband and wife.
He ends up giving in to my demand and leaves his bag behind -And our wedding night is instead, spent searching for a gas station in an attempt to find toothpaste!
But I was happy-
because at least everything looked perfect from the outside!
Isn’t that how marriage so often is? We are content so long as we look perfect.
So long as our family doesn’t suspect anything has gone awry, and so long as our Facebook profile represents what a picturesque family should look like to all of our friends.
Though our tear stained faces, and nightly yelling matches may prove otherwise!
After celebrating my 6th wedding anniversary last night, I got to thinking about the most significant lessons I have learned over the last few years. And believe I am in no way saying that I know it all in our mere 6 years, or that the lessons I share are ones that we have mastered. ‘I speak from scars and not theory…’
Lesson #1: Practice Fighting
My husband and I were doing premarital counseling with a couple just months before they were to get married, when on the topic of ‘conflict resolution’ they brought up the fact that they don’t often get in arguments and even when they do, it’s always about something petty.
The couple then described their last disagreement which was about whether Sweet Potatoes were the same as Yams. We laughed with them as they described how the conversation actually got heated! They couldn’t agree, and it resulted in the both of them getting frustrated with each other!
Those of you who have been married for even a month, know that married couple have no problem finding MUCH more to fight about then just spuds! But I have found for my husband and I, it’s not what we fight about or even how often, it’s how we fight that is most important!
If my husband and I have a differing opinion on who should take out the trash, and every time its brought up I shut down and he leaves the house in a fit of rage, then how do you expect we will handle a different – more serious – conflict?
In our case, we resorted back to what we knew – to the unhealthy fighting habits we had put into place from the beginning! And because of that, our lack of communication skills nearly threatened to end our marriage before it had truly even started!
I don’t care what you are fighting about potatoes, pa-ta-toes, or who’s choice in carpet matches better with the curtains; Practice fighting each fight as if its a BIG one, because the truth is, one day it will be!
Life can bring deaths in the family, children, surmounting bills, and debilitating illnesses -all of which make effective communication more difficult. But if you allow yourselves to struggle in the beginning – doing your best to make a habit of good communication and problem solving in the small areas – when difficult circumstances arrive in the future, you will have already worked out most of the kinks that will help you walk through the most daunting disagreements a little more effortlessly!
Lesson#2: Say Nothing Negative to your Spouse
Two years into our marriage, my husband and I were at a crossroads; He had hurt me, and I had forgotten how to love him. We didn’t have children yet, and were considering our options of walking away from it all and getting a divorce.
We wanted it to work, it just didn’t seem likely that it would.
It was around that time, that we picked up the book “Love Dare” from the movie Fireproof (that I’ll admit, had me falling asleep due to incredibly horendous acting. No offense Kirk, my heart still skips a beat for you on ‘Growing Pains’)
The reason I bought the book though, was because it was a devotional that each day gave you an assignment on how to better love your spouse – which is exactly what I was struggling to do at the time!
The first assignment: For the next day resolve to demonstrate patience and to say nothing negative to your spouse at all. If temptation arises, choose to not say anything.
I kid you not, it took me 9 whole days to sucessfully complete this assignment!!!!
For the life of me, I could not stop making biting remarks towards my husband!
“Don’t say anything negative….Don’t say anything negative…” I would think to myself, and then I’d nag at him about the dirty dishes in the sink.
“Don’t say anything negative…” and then I would bring up his past and why we were in our predicament in the first place!
Either way – whether justified or nit picky – the book clearly said “Say nothing negative to your spouse” -and I even more clearly, sucked at it! I could only wonder how long the rest of the book was going to take me!
But the truth is, once I got past the first assignment, I was surprised to find that the rest of the book – and the journey to learning to love my husband – got a whole lot easier!
Choosing simply, to not to cut each other down, laid the foundation to help us build our marriage back up!
In the book “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts” they discuss a study conducted by Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington. ‘Gottman and his team of researchers have been studying marriages for more than twenty years, identifying which ones will improve and which ones will deteriorate. They are now even able to predict their results with an astounding 95 percent accuracy rate!! ‘
He says it’s all about how the couple can handle conflict within their marriage. And he goes on to discuss ‘the four ways of interacting that will sabotage you attempts to resolve conflict constructively’
The #1 way to sabotage your marriage: criticizing your spouse!
Saying negative things to your spouse is proven in this study to be a gateway for the other things that can creep in and destroy your marriage! (You can read more on that here)
Lesson #3: Admit Defeat
This might not mean what you initially think it means.
Admitting defeat to me, means finding someone you trust and being honest about what you and your husband are going through. Let go of the perfect image you are trying to uphold and reveal your true dishelved selves.
This lesson proved to be one of the most helpful steps we took in our marriage – I only wish, I would have done it on purpose!
I doubt I would have, if it wasn’t for a family friend who came up to me after church one night and asked how Ricky and I were doing, and when without thinking, I responded with a desperate plea for prayer. I can remember regretting my vulnerability almost immediately! Yet because of that vulnerability, God was able to use her as a pivotal piece to getting my marriage back on track!
She met me regularly for breakfast over the course of that year; relating to my heartache, walking with me through my uncertainty, and telling me of the miraculous ways that God had saved her marriage 15 years prior!
In Psalm 145:4-6 It illustrates this perfectly
Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power.
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles.
Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness.
Find someone who can speak up when God seems silent, and remind you of all the extraordinary ways He has provided for them in their lives and in their marriages!
Someone who’s story gives you the hope to hang in there just a little longer – to give it your all until there is nothing left- so that we too, can proclaim His greatness when he transforms our most fragile relationships one day!
But in order to do so, we have to step away from the facade that we have been living behind, and admit we can’t do this on our own.
Lesson #4: Meet At The Cross
I had the privilege of hearing a Pastor by the name of Wayne Codeiro speak just last year in Orlando, Florida. And what he would say in a room of thousands of other pastor’s and their wives would be a game changer for me and my marriage!
He spoke of a prenuptial agreement he made with his wife before they got married:
After asking her what she would do in a handful of different scenarios that could occur over the course of their lives, his wife always responded, “I will follow you”
“What if it gets really tough?” he pressed
“I will still follow you!” she replied with no hesitation.
“We’re going to get lost you know…”
Confused, she asked what he meant.
“We are going to get lost, and there will be be times where you or I might drift… but will you make me a promise?”
“When we get lost and we can’t see the light of day -when we can’t find each other- would you promise that you would meet me back at cross?
He pauses, tears whelling in his eyes as he outloud recalls the conversation he had with his wife 38 years ago,
“And if I stray, will you wait for me?
I pledge that I will come back.
And if I get there before you, I promise I will wait for you.
Just meet me at the cross.”
The truth is, we stand with our spouse before God on our wedding day- dressed to the nines, giddy and clammy-handed, anxiously awaiting our future together- and yet along the way we do get lost, and our future together may no longer seem identifiable.
But I pray in that moment, each of us could stand together in the presence of the same God -badly bruised and broken maybe– but willing!
Expect to lose sight of one another,
but promise even then that you will meet at the cross.
My family and I just recently returned from our first vacation since moving to New York City!
We were able to spend the week in beautiful Rhode Island -and let me tell you friends, it was pure bliss!
And here is why…
For one, we had a car!!!!!
And while I’m sure that doesn’t sound like a big deal to most of you reading, maybe it’s time you get a fresh perspective on why that hunk of metal you drive aimlessly from errand to errand, is a god-send that should have you on your knees daily thanking the Lord God Almighty for all the blessings he has bestowed upon you!
Because although I am honored ( ha! ) to ride public transportation every day (via the subway, train, and bus) it’s not that much different than taking your child on an airplane – only minus security!
Those same prayers you say to yourself as you enter the aircraft with your little one, are the exact same ones we manhattan mommy’s pray every. single. day. as we cram into an overpacked subway with some of America’s most over-worked and moody individuals!
(And I can assure you that even the most intimidating woman from Texas sitting next to you on the plane, – who rolls her eyes when your child makes even the most miniscule of sounds -has got NOTHING on nearly anyone you are going to sit by in NYC!)
That being said, the beauty of having a car while on vacation is that, not only can you let your child scream their head off without getting even the slightest look from someone else – except for the one you and your husband will give each other when out of the corner of your eyes, and without words, you will communicate, “who’s idea was it to pro-create?”
But having a car, also means your child will be perfectly confined to their car seat, all while being entertained as they look out the window until they peacefully doze off into oblivion!
On the contrary, in the city- if it keeps your child safe, keeps them entertained , and puts them to sleep, than its probably a nanny!
When on vacation, I thought I was in Heaven when I remembered that cars also hold your luggage for you, your coffee, even your sunglasses! And thanks to the AC and heat, I never had to worry about not being the perfect temperature at any given time!
In Manhattan the only equivalent would require a salary and would be called your personal Assistant!
Bet that hunk of metal is lookin’ a little better to yah now, isn’t it?
Another thing I loved about our stay in Rhode Island, was that although we were warned by locals how busy and hectic it would be, we found it be pleasant and slow paced compared to the intensity of NYC!
Only when Buddy from Cake Boss was in the local park giving away 10,0000 free cakes, did it look even remotely familiar to our life in the city!
During our stay, I also came to appreciate even the smallest of things:
like not having to sleep with my head smashed in between two pillows- thanks to the trucks fighting it out in a honking war outside my window at 3 in the morning!
And not having to turn every light on when I get up in the middle of the night- for fear that a mouse is going to jump out in front of me!
(Yes, you heard right! We have mice in our apartment!
Mice. as in plural!
And for the record, I do think God is punishing me!)
I also enjoyed dining at half- empty restaurants with no wait
and leisurely walking down streets where you don’t have to dodge people with your stroller
I loved how people greeted each other kindly as they walked passed one another
and how EVERYTHING was So. Dang. Cheap!
I loved hearing the birds chirping, the waves crashing, and – secretly enjoyed even more – the sound of my husband calling out to my daughter in an attempt to get her to cooperate!Told yah! Sucker…
In the end though, Rhode Island proved to be nothing less than a peaceful getaway in which our family could reconnect.
I truly enjoyed our vacation! But if I’m honest, maybe too much!
Comparing my ‘real life’ to that of our vacation had me at one point, in tears in an empty parking garage, and filled with frustration! ( all of which helped me write last weeks post! )
Wishing my life in the city was easier…
Wishing to enjoy even the simplest of pleasures, like being able to roll down the windows of the car on a nice day,
Missing the convenience of putting items in the trunk of the car, and not have to lug them around myself- along with my feisty toddler!
Reminiscing back on the times where I was able to walk the aisles of Target, thumbing through the clearance rack, scoping out my next shade of nail polish. Oh, how I miss Target…
But most of all, I missed the amount of time that I used to spend with my husband!
There were so many things about Rhode Island that made me miss some of the most mundane things that my old – more simplistic – life back in the Northwest offered!
I realized my attitude needed a check, when one night, we met a group of the darn cutest old ladies -straight out of the YaYa Sisterhood – who were out on the town and had offered to take our family’s picture in front of the river.
When they asked us where we were from, they were completely taken aback when we said New York City!
“But you guys don’t live IN the city, right?” the leader of the clan said eeying my daughter in her stroller – and probably questioning the sanity of anyone who would choose to raise a family in such madness!
“Yep!” My husband said delighted that they asked, “We live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan!”
I probably rolled my eyes.
“Oh! How terribly exciting!!!!” one of the women squealed
Then turning to me, tightly gripping my arm, another one asked, “Do you absolutely LOVE your life there?”
“It’s different…” I would say, as if to dismiss her intrigue.
I doubt that’s the response she was looking to get out of me, but that truly is so often how I feel!
My tune desperately needed to change! And luckily it began to,over the course of the next few days….
Like when we decided to walk the half mile, it would take to get to a localdiner for breakfast one morning!
Why not walk right? I mean we do it ALL the time!
But something was different this time… it felt like the blocks never ended! And that we’d been walking for what seemed like forever and a half!
Later, we realized we were unable to recall nearly anything that we passed along the way!
We laughed to ourselves, as we passed the syrup and attempted to name off as many places that – were not only within just half a mile of us – but were both, connected and within a block of our apartment back home!
A Jewish Deli
An Italian Restaraunt
A paint store
A Mexican Bbq Restaurant
And a French restaurant
Only then did we realize how awesome it was to be surrounded by so much in NYC! Not to mention, so much variety!
I thought to myself how much more fun it is to walk in Manhattan than anywhere else!
And seriously… I have a frickin’ McDonald’s attached to my apartment! Is it even possible for life to get more uh-mazing than that?
I think not.
Rhode Island: 9 NYC: 1
Then the quietness and slow pace of Rhode Island – which was at first so refreshing and peaceful – then began to ‘irk’ us!
We started complaining that there was less energy on a Friday night than when it’s 5 in the morning in the city! Which surprisingly, wasn’t as big of an exaggeration as it sounds!
There were also no amusing people to watch; only normal civilians and homeless people! – Which in NYC, its the people in between that are most fascinating!
Rhode Island 9 NYC:3
And then the night before we were to head back to the city, while laying in bed and scrolling through my friend’s pictures on Facebook.
I noticed my friends back in suburbia posting pictures of things like:
the ginormous loot of produce they brought back from the farmer’s market that day
the homemade butter they made
Their kale, blackberry, and coconut oil smoothie
My friends in the city however posted these pictures:
I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud at the complete difference!
And to the farmers market phenom- please take no offense! I love the farmers market just as much as the next person!
And I am happy for you really! I mean seriously… you got 62 tomatoes, 4 watermelons, 43 peaches, and a onion for less than I could get a toothbrush in the city!
But what I realized that night, was that maybe I fit in better in the city than I sometimes give myself credit for!
That maybe I relate better to randomness, than to ‘pinterestish-ness’!
And the next afternoon after we had said our farewells to Rhode Island and headed back home, It was when we neared Manhattan and were able to see the city skyline peaking out of the fog up ahead, that I was surprised to find myself getting butterflies!
Partly I am sure, because deep down I still question whether I can make it in this unruly city, but also because something undeniably inside me truly missed it!
I thought back to the fun loving old ladies and about their remark about living In the city, and smiled to myself knowing how truly honored I should feel – not only to live near, or on the outskirts – but IN arguably one of the greatest cities in our country!
And upon returning to my apartment -and after double checking to make sure the mice hadn’t made babies in my couch while I was away- I indeed did feel like this was my home!
That night in honor of our homecoming, my husband and I planned a night on the town -in true NYC fashion- to go see Jay Z and Justin Timberlake in concert at Yankee Stadium.
And I attempted once again, to embrace this crazy city that God has led me to!
And the moment the beat to Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind” filled the air, I sang along with the other 20,000 voices
Because I get it now..
The only thing better than leaving the city, is coming back to it!
It seems like ages ago, when as an acne faced 18 year old girl, I stood before my graduating class in heels that had me wobbling up to the stage, to open up our Baccalaureate ceremony.
“Well, here we are…” I said nervously, pausing just long enough to question why I’d volunteered to speak infront of so many of my peers in the first place.
I continued, “Most of us have spent countless times sitting next to each other, either as good friends or fellow classmates. While others of us are sitting next to each other for the very first time. But together, there is one thing we have in common- we have all shared many memories over the years.
Maybe you remember Elementary school, where your popularity was determined not by your social status or amazing good looks and charm, but by whether you got to sit in the back of the bus and by which boy you had chasing you around at recess pulling your hair… We know who you are! “I said eyeing the culprits who were sitting among us.
“Luckily in Middle School, the boys came up with a less excrusciatingly painful way of showing their affection. How could we forget the ‘Do you like me? check yes or no’ love letters that were usually thrown at our heads in the form of paper airplanes!
Yet before we knew it, we were walking the crowded halls of high school, where it’s not unlikely that some of the wisest things you learned were things you read scribbled on the bathroom stall.
These were the years where we made the grade, broke a record, found love -or were just lucky enough to find a prom date!”
I spoke with certainty as I closed, “But as the day gets closer to graduation, who knows what memories we have yet to experience in this next stage of our lives? In Jeremiah 29:11 the Lord says, For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
We have been given a future in Christ, and by following the will of God we are not only going to hit the target, but the bulls eye!
(I’m sure when I said that last sentence, I thought it sounded waaaaaay cooler than it actually did!)
So as your fellow classmate and friend, I would like to encourage you to remember this… God is there for you and always will be no matter what the future holds!
I look back on that speech often, and smile to myself as I picture an awkward girl standing before her peers, firmly believing what She thought God’s plan’s was for her – when in reality, she had no idea!
I was going to go to bible college in Florida for a year, and then transfer to a university in Washington State to get a master’s degree in teaching.
I wasn’t going to get married until I was in my late twenties…
and as a lifelong pastors kid, my only major requirement was that he NOT be a pastor!
(haha… it’s humorous, really!)
Once the marriage license was signed at age 20, and I found myself hitched to a man who was equally as passionate about me as he was being a pastor someday, the plans I had for my life evolved once again…
I wanted 3 kids all by the time I was 30 and no more than two years a part.
I wanted a Red Porsche SUV,
and a kitchen table that could fit 8 people comfortably for a dinner party.
Its laughable, because look at me now: Married young, and to a flippin’ pastor!
and no doubt, in over my head with only one kid!
And thanks to my new life in Crazy town USA -aka Manhattan- I am without a car, and with little room for even the smallest of gatherings in the 650 sq feet apartment my family calls home!
It’s obvious really…
I need to stop telling God what to do!
Just like in the Story of the Two Monks:
“I need oil,” said an ancient monk, so he planted an olive sapling.
“Lord,” he prayed, “it needs rain that its tender roots may drink and swell. Send gentle showers.” And the Lord sent gentle showers.
“Lord,” prayed the monk, “my tree needs sun. Send sun, I pray thee.” And the sun shone, gilding the dripping clouds.
“Now frost, my Lord, to brace its tissues,” cried the monk. And behold, the little tree stood sparkling with frost, but at evening it died.
Then the monk sought the cell of a brother monk, and told his strange experience.
“I, too, planted a little tree,” he said, “and see! It thrives well! But I entrust my tree to its God. He who made it knows better what it needs than a man like me.
I laid no condition. I fixed not ways or means. ‘Lord, send what it needs,’ I prayed, ‘storm or sunshine, wind, rain, or frost. Thou hast made it and Thou dost know.’ “
~Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow~
So often our prayers consist of us telling God what we need – pleading with him even- like we know better than He does!
I have experienced a lot of this during my last 5 months in New York City- where in a moment of overwhelming emotion, I cry out in a panic,
“No!! don’t let THAT happen God!”
“Haven’t I sacrificed enough?”
“Why can’t My life be more like so-and-so’s?”
“This is not how my life was supposed to turn out!”
And the truth is, as an 18 year old girl, this wasn’t how I envisioned my life turning out!
Not even in the slightest.
But in Proverbs 3:5-6 it says,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”
I need to be reminded that all seasons of life -the storms, sunshine, wind, rain, and frost- all serve a unique purpose.
And that if I seek the Lord above all else, and still find the path leading me in an entirely different direction than what I had originally planned, its not only ok -but it’s divine!
Even more, maybe it’s what I needed to thrive!
We need to be less interested in getting our way, and more interested in fulfilling the Lord’s will for our life!
And while I don’t know exactly where my place is, in this brutally large city that He has led me to…
Or why he chose a person like me, who admittedly was perfectly content living a comfortable life in suburbia.
I do know I need to entrust each and every day of my life to it’s maker! And to pray less for merely just what I want, and more for what only He could possibly know that I need!
I can remember, closing my eyes as I listened to my husband’s heart beat the night before I was to drop him off at camp. I would keep myself up late that night in an attempt to savor every last moment with him.
Grabbing his bags out of the back of the car, I can recall how strangely hard it was for us to say goodbye that day. I remember struggling to make eye contact with him for fear that he might see my uncertainty.
The sun was to be my clock that night, and I knew very well that I needed to get through the desert valley before it got dark. I knew I should’ve headed out awhile ago, but it had been difficult to leave my husband’s side. He would stall also, finding silly excuses to tell me one more thing, and to sneak in one last hug.
It was only seconds after we had said our goodbyes, and after I had made him pinky-promise that he would be safe, that I made my way down the gravel road to head out on my 3 hour journey back home.
I will forever remember the last thing I saw as I left the campsite – over 100 counselors collectively gathered together in an open barn under the stars, arms outstretched to the heavens, singing praises to our Lord!
I took a deep breath as almost to reassure myself that God’s presence, was so obviously with them. I had nothing to fear.
Even still, I cried the whole way home. My heart was terribly troubled and I couldn’t understand why.
It was only after I came upon one of the most captivating back drops along my drive, that I’d at last, be able to calm my restless thoughts.
Not more than an hour into my journey and just as I neared a mountain up ahead, the sun began to set picturesquely beside it in a way that illuminated it’s peak in the most stunning shades of blue that I had ever seen!
And as far as I could see, I was the only one driving through the expanse of the valley that night.
The setting was all for me, it seemed.
I smiled to myself, upon hearing the chorus of a song playing softly in the background…
“Savior you can move the mountains,
My God is mighty to save,
He is mighty to save.”
“That’s cute, God…” I thought to myself, and of the mountain-themed coincidence.
And yet, as I hummed the lyrics that I had no doubt sang hundreds of times before, the words began to come alive to me in an entirely different way that night.
Because as I looked up at the greatness of the mountain ahead of me, there was no denying how truly massive it was!
It felt as if the Lord was intentionally illuminating the entire mountain – all the way to it’s utmost peak- as if to allow me to fully grasp how incredibly enormous of a mountain it really was!
So that He then could declare, that this mountain in it’s entirety -and any other mountain for that matter- were never too large for Him to move.
He was mighty and able to save!
He spoke this so clearly to me that night, that I took this picture to remind me of my moment alone with the Lord in the desert.
But I could never have known when I casually snapped this picture, what the Lord was ultimately preparing me for.
Only He would be able to foresee the very same counselors, that I had last seen lifting their hands and voices in worship, hours later, falling to their knees at the foot of the cross in complete anguish.
And yet, my God did not cower in fear at the sight of the mountain ahead of us! (-the way I so badly wanted to-)
The promise He made remained; ” I am mighty to save”
I am eternally grateful that God prepared my heart that night.
Because just a day later, I would get a phone call from my husband in a voice of hysteria I could barely recognize. The words he spoke, would be so awful and unbearable, that I can recall having to repeat them back to him in an attempt to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
It felt as if my mind was refusing to recognize what he was saying – refusing to believe the heartbreaking end to the days events – as truth.
…But He was mighty to save.
When Caleb’s family asked Ricky to speak at his memorial, close family friends would come to me privately, overwhelmed with a deep concern that it would be too much responsibility for someone in such a fragile, emotional state.
I would hear out their concerns, but ultimately would look back on my encounter with the mountain that night – remembering how impossibly huge it was – and how even then, the Lord never waivered.
I would choose in that moment, to believe that God was going to use this irreparable loss to move some miraculous-sized mountains. And that in the process, I wasn’t going to be the one to hold Him back.
And so I would choose to believe that my husband could. And for the record, Ricky proved he damn well could! 😉
I will never forget how stunned I was to hear a message of boldness and strength from a person who was no doubt, void of either at the time!
But again, just like He promised, the Lord showed up in a room of Caleb’s closest family and friends, and He indeed, was mighty to save!
Even as I observed my husband struggling to write out his deepest and most private thoughts for last weeks post – tears streaming down his face as he read it aloud to me – I would be lying if I said I didn’t question whether it was wise for me to have asked him to write from a place of such immense pain and tragedy.
And yet, 3 days later we stood in awe at the computer screen! Eyes wide in disbelief at the realization that his post was read by over 1,000 people all across the world!
The United States
1,000 people in 3 days heard of last summer’s unimaginable loss and yet, God’s unmistakeable presence in the midst of it!
Our Lord, is without a doubt, mighty to save!
And my encouragement to you, is that no matter how massive of a mountain you have found yourself up against today – no matter how long you have stood paralyzed in fear, staring up at it wondering if this is the one, due to it’s enormity, that He can’t move on His own – I want to assure you that the very same God that met me in a desert in Oregon, will again remain faithful and true to you!
In the chaos and confusion, I know You are sovereign still.
So how do you write about something you wished never happened? How do your describe something that felt so dark, but in reality was actually illuminating? Where do you begin?
I guess I’ll start from the beginning…
Sunday, July 8th around 8:45pm – First Day of ETV Summer Camp
It was a typical tent-discussion with a handful of 9th and 10th grade boys following the first message from camp…”What’d you like? What didn’t you like?” etc., etc. One comment stood out from the rest…It came from a boy entering the 10th grade named Caleb Justice. In a conversation about the relevancy of God and the Bible, Caleb spoke up and said, “It doesn’t surprise me that God’s word still makes sense to us today [after being written some 2,000+ years ago]…I mean, He’s God and that’s just what He does…”
It’s amazing how enlightening a single statement can be. Words have a way of doing that…to inspire…to reveal truth…to stick. Caleb’s words stuck. I left that conversation thinking about the nonchalant, “no duh”-type of way that Caleb spoke about God.
“What else did I expect? God always works. He never fails. Every year at ETV, He does something amazing. Yeah…this is what He does.”
Little did I know that God would begin to work in ways I could have never imagined. But this wouldn’t be the kind of work that was easy or brief. This was to be a work that would involve pain and loss. A work that work that would require faith and courage. A work that would require sacrifice…
Monday, July 9th around 11:00am – Arriving to the Lake
My main responsibility for the week was to oversee all of the lake activities – we had a great week planned with multiple boats for students to go tubing & wakeboarding, we had water polo goals for the shallow water, countless water floats for the students to use and enjoy, and we even had fried chicken for lunch (which is way better than the usual ham & cheese sandwich with no mayo)! So it was set to be a great week!
For months I had been preparing for the week of camp. I had several areas of responsibility that I was overseeing for the week and I wanted to make sure that I was as prepared as possible to lead and serve well.
One of my areas of responsibility was the Lake Team…I know, I know – tough gig, but somebody had to do it 😉 Like I told the ETV Leadership Team, “If somebody needed to suffer in the sun and make sure the lake was covered, I would be willing to ‘take one’ for the team.” So I did 🙂
I planned for a great week at the Lake with lots of fun activities, but I learned quickly that you can’t plan for the unexpected. Within a matter of hours everything would change.
Looking back now – a full year later – it seems as if this was a “small” microcosm of what to expect over the next year. Life is full of so many twist and turns – almost all of which are unexpected. It’s as if we set our plans only to appease our minds and give us some sort feeling of control.
It’s interesting really – with so much being out of our control, we fight and struggle for every little bit of control that we can muster. Now I’m not advocating abandoning plans, or saying that plans don’t have purpose, but it’s foolish to think that because we plan things will unfold the way we expected. If there is anything that I’ve learned in this life it’s that few things go the way I plan.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
Only God knows fully our exact steps and the direction of the paths we journey. All that we experience and all that we go through are part of God’s plan and His purpose.
This is the foundational truth that I’ve held onto over the last year. It’s what has brought me peace amidst turbulence. And it’s been the light that has guided me through darkness.
And darkness was certainly looming…
Monday, July 9th around 2:30pm – “The Phone Call”
The shore was silent…the music had stopped…the “vibe” was changing…not a problem. I would simply get my iPhone, restart the playlist, connect it back to the stereo dock, and the beach party would resume. As I reached for my phone, I realized that I had an incoming call – it was the Camp Director, Mathias Califf – unassumingly so, I answered the phone. What was said to me was not what I expected – how could anyone ever expect what happened next…
Mathias: “Hey, do you have a moment?”
Me: “Yea, what’s up?”
Mathias: “Listen, Greg (Goosetree) just called me and there is a situation happening at the waterfalls. I don’t have all of the details, but Caleb Justice slipped off a rock into the river. Brett McLean went in after him but neither of them have come up yet and it’s been about 5 minutes.”
Me: “What do you mean? Did they get carried downstream?”
Mathias: “I don’t know man. I don’t have all the details, but it sounds pretty scary. I’m on my way there now, so I’ll call you as soon as I have more information.”
Paralysis can be defined as a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act. I’m not 100% sure that this is what I experienced, but it definitely captures how I felt in that moment. I suddenly became overwhelmed by a flood of emotions…fear, uncertainty, disbelief, hurt, and even anger. Each emotion reared itself, making me well aware of its presence.
Yet, amidst all of those feelings I had a sense of hope. Uncertain hope, but hope nonetheless. “Maybe they’re just around the bend…They should come up any moment now…When Mathias calls back, everything will be ok…There’s no way that this could happen at camp.”
It was that small measure of hope mixed with the other wild emotions that led me to prayer. I mean prayer like I never prayed before. It was a desperate prayer. A prayer like I’ve only prayed maybe once before. I longed for the best, but I feared for the worst.
It makes me wonder – in that moment I begged of everything from God…I believed in His ability and in His power maybe more than I’ve ever believed – so why is it that we don’t seek God in this way even in the smallest of matters?
To pray with that same level of burden, to believe with such a deep sense of conviction, to trust with the highest degree of reverence – this is what I’ve learned. That in all things God desires for us to seek Him in this way – even when the outcomes are not what we desire.
Monday, July 9th around 3:00pm – “Cruel Reality”
The phone rings. Mathias Califf calling. Swipe to answer.
Mathias: “Hey Ricky…man, I don’t even know how to tell you this…”
In that one, half-sentence I knew…more was said, but it didn’t matter. As cruel as it seemed, reality set in. Things would be forever different.
Mathias: “Do you want me to call the parents? Or is that something you think you should do?”
Me: “No, I think I should call them. I think it would be better for them to hear it from me.”
That 30-minute window felt like eternity times three. It’s funny how we can want something so badly – in my case this phone call – yet when we receive what we “wanted” it ends up not being what we wanted at all.
As soon as those words were uttered my heart sank. This game of life had dealt it’s cruelest hand – death.
As reality set in, I couldn’t help but feel as if someone was playing a cruel joke on me. That day at the lake, I did my best to make sure that everyone was safe. I watched the shore to make sure no one was too far out. I kept an eye on every person – I didn’t want any accidents happening on my watch.
Yet here I was having to face a situation in which I was unable to protect one of my own students. In all honesty, I felt like a failure. Doubt began to creep it’s way in, ”If only I had been there – maybe I could’ve reached him. This happened because I wasn’t there. This was my fault…”
As foolish as it may seem, these were my honest thoughts in that moment. I don’t know how long those thoughts lasted, but it couldn’t be very long. Within moments I had to muster the courage to call Caleb’s father and break the news to him. There was no room for doubt or self-pity. Courage was what was need. Yes, courage.
Yet again it seems that this moment – when all of life seemed still – served to be a reminder of a greater lesson that God would begin to teach me.
You see there are situations that we experience far more consistently than we’d like to acknowledge that cause us to doubt. They have to do with relationships, with family, with work, with school, with ourselves – and they all cause us to doubt. We doubt who we are; we doubt what we’ve learned; we doubt what we’ve become; we doubt the process that has led us to this moment; we doubt our decisions; we doubt the decisions of others; we doubt God.
But it is in these moments, these seasons, of doubt that God is often times pulling us forward, urging us to live with courage. He’s at work within us stirring up the courage that will drive away the doubt; courage that will fortify who we are; courage that will cause us to overcome.
It is this courage that allows us to face all of life’s cruel realities, even when we don’t know how…
Monday, July 9th around 3:05pm – “The Conversation”
Search contacts. Locate Shawn Justice. Take a deep breath. Say a prayer. Dial mobile.
Shawn: “Hey Ricky!”
Me: “Hey Shawn. Do you have a minute to talk and can you sit down?”
Shawn: “Yea, sure – what’s going on?”
Me: “Shawn, I don’t even know how to say this but…Shawn, today Caleb was at the river near the waterfalls. He was on the rocks around the pool and he slipped in. Another leader was nearby and he went in after Caleb to try to reach him. It’s been over 30 minutes and neither one of them has surfaced. Shawn, I’m so sorry…”
Shawn: Pauses. Deep breath.
Me: “I’m so sorry Shawn…I’m sorry…”
Shawn: Exhale. “Ricky, it’s ok, just pray…I’ll get Sara and we’ll head up to the camp.”
Just typing this very conversation is incredibly difficult. With each keystroke I relive the conversation. Moment-by-moment, line-by-line, sentence-by-sentence everything comes back. This is a conversation that I’ll never forget – and trust me, for good or for bad, I’ve tried to forget. But my mind won’t…it can’t…let go.
It’s a conversation that has been re-played in my mind every week for the last year. 52 weeks. Every. Single. Week.
How do you tell the father of a 15-year old boy that his son has just passed away in a drowning accident at summer camp? Better yet, how do you respond to his sense of peace and understanding?
As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t wish this conversation on my worst enemy…
There is much to be learned from this conversation. While I’ve learned some things, I’ve not fully extracted all that is to be gained from this brief phone call. In fact, when I think of this conversation it only leads to more questions and more learning.
How does one maintain a measure of calmness when you’ve been dealt terrible news? At what point in my relationship with God will I begin to know and understand God in such a way that I am not panicked about life’s troubles? When I face an unbelievable challenge or reality – do I think to pray? Or why think at all – why not pray?
I’ve had a year to think on these things and to be honest this is still in “process mode”. I haven’t arrived yet. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m working on it. This conversation that I sometimes wish I could let go of, has become a source for deep introspection and self-evaluation. So for that reason alone, I will continue to replay this conversation and relive possibly the most difficult thing that I have ever done in my life.
Monday, July 9th around 3:30pm – The White River Falls
Right after calling Shawn Justice, I was on my way to the waterfalls. While the distance was only 7 miles, the entire drive seemed to move in slow motion.
Upon arriving to the falls I saw Joshua, Caleb’s older brother, who was just yards away when his brother slipped into the falls. I could hardly bring myself to look at him as I still battled feelings of guilt and failure.
I walked towards the White River Falls – a set of falls so gorgeous, hidden in an Oregon desert valley. I had been to the falls many times before. I always stood in wonder and in awe of God’s creation.
It was here that I was able to gather myself for a few moments. Emergency crews were on the scene and the state park was now closed as rescue crews sought to retrieve the bodies of Caleb Justice and Brett McLean. Still I was able to sit silently, to reflect, to talk…
I found a place of solace – a place where I could approach God and talk with Him about what had occurred. He already knew, but I knew He wanted to hear it from me. It was there that I told Him all about Caleb and Brett. I told Him about how Caleb once tried to play “Hide and Seek” with me even though I didn’t know I was playing, plus he was hidden in plain sight. I told God about the time Brett and I sat in a pizza shop and laughed because we were two young guys with matching “doulos” tattoos on our left wrists sharing a vegetarian pizza.
I told God that on the surface Caleb and Brett appeared to be polar opposites, but that in reality they were very much the same – both were risk-takers; both had a passion for life and even more passion for Jesus; both had unique personalities with their own quirks; and both were comfortable being who God wanted them to be. I also told God that I would miss them dearly.
Yes, it was at the White River Falls – the place where the waters roared loudly and violently – that I was invited to talk with God.
Psalm 27:8 – “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.’”
Over this last year I have found God’s invitation to talk to be one of the most comforting things in my life. In God, I have found a friend that I can approach about anything at anytime. He’s worthy of being trusted with deepest hurts and our darkest fears. He’s gives us reason to celebrate and provides us with great joy. No matter my situation, I take God up on His offer to talk and many times this is exactly what I need.
Monday, July 9th around 5pm – “The Message”
After some time at the falls, Mathias and I began to talk about the rest of the day and evening – what would be the plan? Who do we communicate to? What do we communicate? How do we let the other students know that haven’t heard yet?
With several other youth pastors unaware of what was going on, and with Mathias having to stay with the emergency crews and law enforcement, I headed back to the camp to take the lead on communicating to the students and to the volunteers.
I’ve given dozens of speeches and I’ve preached hundreds of messages in my life – many of which I’ve prepared for hours, some I’ve done ‘off the cuff’ – but none were as conflicting as what I was about to say. It was up to me to tell about 150 high school students and 100+ adult staff & volunteers about the incidents of the day. I didn’t know what to say exactly, but I knew two things: they needed the truth and they needed hope.
So on the drive to the camp, I began to think. I gleaned on an experience that occurred just 9 days before the tragedy at ETV (which I wrote about here) and I knew that despite the tragedy, the call had to be to worship and to love.
To worship because the day we arrived to camp we celebrated God’s greatness and how good He was; and if God was good yesterday, then the truth still remains that God was still good on this day. Like David when he lost his son in 2 Sam. 12, the only appropriate response seemed to be worship. The beauty of worship is that it requires a total surrender of one’s self in acknowledgment of One that is bigger, or superior. Despite our troubles, I knew God was still in control.
And to love because this was an experience that we all went through – it wasn’t just me, everyone at camp was going to go through this…together. And since we were going to walk through this experience together we needed love. Love for our brothers, love for our sisters, love for our Creator. It was love that was to become the pillars of support on which we would stand.
So this became our “rally cry” of sorts: To worship and to love. That night we broke into groups, told stories, laughed, cried, supported one another, exhorted each other, and sang songs…we worshipped and we loved.
Singer/songwriter Reuben Morgan from Hillsong United once said, “When we are more aware of our weaknesses than our strength, it is ok to sing out of HOPE rather than certainty.”
Although two friends were lost, we all sang out of hope.
It was in this moment that I learned I could worship in any and every situation. That worship of the one true God is not dependent upon my circumstances. No…God is far greater than that. He is much more deserving of that.
Only a God so gracious and so loving could receive and accept a worship so broken yet so pure.
Monday, July 9th to Tuesday, July 10th – Reflection
The 24 hours that followed felt like I was in the twilight zone. All of it felt like a whirlwind…I remember looking at my watch exactly 24 hours after I received the first phone call and thinking how fast, yet how slow, time had moved. So much had happened in such a short span of time. Little by little I began piecing together my thoughts and looking for what God was doing in me and around me…
I’ve always been a “big picture” kind of guy. I’ve always tried to step away from a situation and see how everything was coming together and try to assess what could be. This has always come very natural to me – even when I was a young teenager.
This situation was no different. As time passed, I began to step back and look for what God was doing. He was doing something and it was BIG. All over the world people were becoming aware of what had occurred and they began reaching out and praying together. God’s people were rallying together and sending their prayers and support our way. At the camp, there was a spirit of unity and humility. God was at work and I began to see bits and pieces of what He was doing.
I went from looking around to looking within – what was God doing in me? I wasn’t sure, but I had questions…Why was I chosen to be at the center of these events? What did God want me to see about Him? This wasn’t a short-term learning experience, so how would this affect the rest of my life and my ministry?
In this last year, I’ve walked through all sorts of challenges and I’ve faced countless situations that have required reckless faith. I’ve had people tell me that they know God is going to do great things in me and that they can’t wait to see the story God has written for me. I’ve pursued dreams that I’ve had for 10 years and I’ve seen God honor that in my life.
One reason: I’ve sought every opportunity to be used by God and I’ve accepted every situation that He has presented me with.
There’s no magic here. There’s nothing special or unique about what I’ve done. It’s something that every single person can choose to do. No matter who you are, you can decide to embrace everything that God puts before you and learn to see it as an opportunity to bring honor to Him.
My Continuing Journey…
Sadly, many of us don’t choose to be used by God in this way. We choose comfort and convenience over character. We settle on contentment rather than growth. We look for shortcuts rather than trusting in the process.
It’s certainly not easy, nor is it always fun. There are many seasons where you truly walk by faith not knowing where you are going – but that is the essence of the Christian belief system. It’s Faith.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “It is impossible to please God without faith.”
It doesn’t say that your chances of pleasing God are reduced…it says that it is impossible. Faith isn’t an option, it’s a must.
Not only is this the chief lesson that I have learned, but it is what was exemplified in Caleb’s life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the length of life, but the depth.”
Through all of this, I have discovered that the key to depth is not possessions, pleasure, or even experiences; but rather the key to depth is faith. You see I’ve learned that faith is what leads to a life that is full of depth, meaning, and significance.
It really is amazing how much you can learn in a single day. There are some things you learn that will stay with you forever – you’ll never forget them.