Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vacation memories...and thoughts

 We have had a fabulous time away from our "normal" routine. It was a cold, windy start to our time away but the weather cooperated and we have had days of sun, sand and waves.  Just what I really needed.  I have always said that sitting by the water, listening to the waves and watching the rise and fall of the water somehow "resets" my spirit.   We were sad when we left the beach this morning, but it is always good to think about being home.  There really is "no place like home!" Here is a shot of our last sunrise and the beach, as I waved goodbye.

We did do a few interesting things on this trip. We got to check something off of our "want to do" list.  We watched the Blue Angels during their homecoming practice at the Naval Air Base. I believe that 90% of the other people vacationing in this area ALSO decided to attend.  The web site actually says that only 1,000 people can get into the viewing area, but today they did not stop the crush of people entering through the gates.  I can not imagine just how many people crammed into that area.  Ken and I waited in a line to get in for over an hour.  Then I waited in line for about 40 minutes to buy water!  It was HOT and SUNNY - but we saw the show!  I actually missed the take off (while waiting in line) but I can assure you that I heard and felt it!  The dollar we paid for ear plugs was certainly worth it!  Ken has actually seen the Angels several times at the Air and Water show.  I had never seen them before.  It was special to see them at their home base.  We also got to see the 2017 show for the first time ever.  Ken took lots of pictures. We walked through the museum but didn't spend much time there.  We had visited it on a previous trip to this area.  We did stop for a photo op with this Blue Angels plane!
We also visited the Fort Pickens National Park and the Gulf Shores National Seashore.  It was really amazing to drive miles and miles and see only white sand dunes and see water on both sides of the road (the bay on one side and the gulf on the other).  It was so peaceful and just the opposite of the busy, touristy area right around the hotel and the pier.  There were lots of big birds and I saw more than a couple bald eagles.  The only really negative thing about the National Seashore is that you can not stop along the route - only in designated parking areas.  So we couldn't get pictures of some of the really amazing things we saw.  But, it was still a wonderful way to spend several hours.

We had a couple of interesting things happen during this trip.  There is a toll bridge to get out to the outer island that we were staying on.  We made several trips back and forth over that bridge - in spite of the toll.  Let's face it - we live in Chicago and pay tolls ALL THE TIME!  So a buck to go for ice cream seemed well worth it.  On Sunday (following our ice cream run) we were told by the friendly toll taker that someone else had paid our toll!  While it was only a dollar, it was a reminder that there are kind and caring people out there, spreading good cheer to others.  Such a simple thing, but it sure made us smile!

The hotel was very busy, as you might expect at this time of year.  We had several families with small children in rooms near to ours, but we never had any noise at all!  We figured that swimming and the sun and the beach must have tired them out.  It was all quiet on our floor after 10pm!  We have stayed in some very noisy hotels before, so we were especially thankful for the quiet on this trip.  Again, it might seem like a small thing, but we sure appreciated the nights of good sleep.

The last time we visited this beach was in 2007.  There had been really bad Hurricane damage in the fall of 2004 from Hurricane Ivan.  There was very little rebuilt around the hotel and there was no access to Fort Pickens.  The National Seashore did not exist.  They had started to build two more hotels just down from the hotel we stayed at.  It was interesting to see the development that had happened in 10 years.  So many more places to eat.  And the pier and public beaches are so nice.  It really puts into perspective just how quickly material things can be "blown in the wind".  I love the reminder that no matter how much destruction seems to be in our life, Jesus is in the reconstructing business!

As always, this time away has filled my mind and my spirit with so many thoughts and images and things to ponder.  The fierce  winds that started our trip reminded me to pray that the wind of the Holy Spirit would surround me and fill me with all that Jesus has for me.  Several nights, as I went to sleep with roar of the wind in my ears (instead of the lapping of the waves), I prayed for more insight and wisdom and direction.   And Jesus was faithful to speak to me in my dreams!  As I walked in the water while searching for shells, I was reminded that Jesus doesn't just look at "perfect" people.  I was seeking that perfect shell, but more often than not, the shells were broken and chipped from the intense waves caused by the strong winds.  I have certainly felt pushed around and tossed in the waves of life over the last few years.  And I know that I have broken and chipped places in my heart and spirit.  I am so thankful that Jesus looks ESPECIALLY for us broken ones.  In His hands, held by his heart, we are whole and perfect in his sight.  Yes, I will treasure those broken, chipped shells more than the few "perfect" shells that I did find.

On the last day of our trip, I found out via Facebook, that an old friend, Dave, had passed away.  Ken and I had spent many, many hours with Dave and his wife Marie in the years right before and after our marriage.  As a matter of fact, I was the Matron of Honor in their wedding.  Shortly after their wedding they moved to Wisconsin.  We kept in touch with Christmas Cards prior to Facebook.  In the last few months we realized that one of their daughters lives just blocks away from Gwen and her family.  What are the odds of that?  We were hopeful that we could connect with them when they visited their daughter.  Sadly, the last time they were in town was the weekend that our new little Grace was born.  So we were otherwise occupied and couldn't connect with them.    It has been a reminder to me that it is important to make time to see people that are important to you.  You just never know when it will be too late.   It certainly makes me appreciate all of my great friends - those that I see often and those that I  only connect with via Facebook!  Every contact, every picture or post helps me stay close with friends and relatives - in spite of distance!  Today I am thinking about Marie and just how broken she must be right now.  I am praying that Jesus will hold her and her daughters close during this difficult time.  And thanks to those broken shells, I am sure that He will.

Jesus, thank you for a wonderful time away.  Holy Spirit, help us keep our eyes on all of those little simple things that happen each day and remind us to share your love with others - even in small ways.  Thank you for winds that help clear away the clutter in our mind.  Thank you Jesus for holding close all those who grieve.  Thank you for your healing touch.  Amen

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Where have I been the last week or so..... and where am I today?

I took this picture this morning, just after putting on my sandals!  Yes, that's right!  Not snow boots, not winter socks, not heavy shoes.  Sandals!  And I was enjoying the (gasp) 40 degree temperatures while anticipating the 70's that were to come in the afternoon!  And we actually saw 80 degrees today!  Yes, we are traveling south for a much anticipated vacation.  Last weekend I spent a glorious three days doing my favorite thing - scrapbooking.  And the icing on this wonderful weekend was that Susie came and brought Grace!  So I had three solid days to just love on that newest granddaughter.  It was wonderful.

Ken and I have certainly visited some unusual places during our travels and this trip is no exception.  I would have to say that I experienced something today that was a first for me.
Just after taking this picture, we went inside of this building to inquire if Ken could take pictures of the "gold vault" which is visible from this visitor center.  The girl told him that he could take pictures from the parking lot, but no closer.  So he took his camera and took some photos.  After returning to the car, he realized that he had not taken any cell phone pictures, so he went out and walked a bit away from the building to take a cell phone photo, when a police car came zooming up to him with lights flashing!!!!  I was sitting in our car, in the parking lot, thinking I might have quite a story to tell.  I was imagining having to bail Ken out of Fort Knox jail!  Needless to say, the officer was very nice, but Ken was informed that NO PHOTOS are allowed!  Thankfully, we were able to leave the base, with no further problem.  Yes, quite an experience.  

We are traveling to the Florida Panhandle so we decided to stop in Montgomery, Alabama.  There are many Civil Rights era sites in Montgomery, as well as a river walk along the Alabama river.  It is a really nice small city, however the parking stinks!  We drove around for quite some time trying to find a place to park.  We ended up in a parking garage that had this very unusual walkway on the third floor.  It actually was exactly where we needed to be to get to the river walk. We started across that open walkway (three floors up) and I realized that I really do not like this at all!  
The wind was blowing and the sides are open.  Needless to say, I freaked out but Ken encouraged me to just keep looking straight ahead and he also offered to hold my hand!  We made it to the other side and safely onto the river walk.  
Ken took lots of pictures of the boats and the river.  We discovered a tunnel on the other end of the river walk that got us back to the city center.  So I was spared going back across that bridge!  I was extremely happy about that tunnel!  We also drove to the Capitol and Ken was able to get some really great pictures, just before the sunset.  

Tomorrow we are headed on to Florida and the beach.  I can not wait. Today was a really good day - interesting on so many levels.  As I said,we started the day in fairly cold temperatures.  It was only in the high 30's when we left our hotel.  There were spring flowers in the gardens however.  A reminder that it was going to be warmer that day.  As we traveled south, you could actually see the season change.  At first there were still no leaves on the trees, no flowering trees and the grass was mostly brown.  But as each hour passed, more and more leaves appeared on the trees.  We started to see Red Bud trees in full bloom.  And then there were Magnolias.  And then many other flowering bushes and trees.  The grass was green and the fields mostly planted and growing.  With the sun blazing into the windows of the car and the temperatures in the high 70's, we actually had to turn on the air conditioning!  (I had mentioned to Ken that I left his snow scraper in the car when I packed it on Wednesday - just in case!  That seemed a bit silly this afternoon!)

What a great reminder of just how quickly things change.  When you are in the midst of that dark and scary time (or that high up walkway with open sides) you just have to keep on walking. Put one foot in front of the other and keep your eyes off of whatever is lurking around you.  It also really helps to have someone to offer to hold your hand!  It especially helps to remember that the seasons change!  The cold, darkness of winter gives way to the newness of springtime.  All of the cold damp weather will turn into warm sunshine.   And the best news of all of this, Jesus is with us and walking right there along side of us.  We just need to keep on looking up!  

Jesus, today I am thankful for warm temperatures and flowering trees.  I am thankful for sunshine and sandals and having a hand to hold when I needed it.  Thank you for the reminder that seasons change.  Jesus, thank you for always being with us.  Amen

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ups and downs - in the weather and in life!

Here are four happy kids today, after a late winter snow.  Now, granted, we have had a very mild winter and the kids were so excited about the possibility of snow.  But really???? On the day AFTER the dreaded "spring ahead" time change?  When you already feel like you are getting up extra early (and you want to have extra time to travel, because, well the roads are not going to be good).  At any rate, the kids did have a wonderful time and the snow was perfect for sledding.  They have a good sized hill on the side of their house, which was just perfect for lots of fun.  Zeke said he made a "roller coaster" track (of course, since he is currently obsessed with them).  Even Anna finally warmed up to going down the hill on the snow tube!  I had a difficult time getting them to come in the house for lunch.  HOME SCHOOL FOR THE WIN!

It was sort of an interesting conclusion to a somewhat up and down last couple of weeks.  I have gotten to spend lots of time with baby Grace.  While this is certainly an UP for me, it was not so much for Susie, who has been having some really bad back issues.  I am so thankful that I have been able to help her out during this time.  It is not pleasant to see someone you love, hurting so much.  Thankfully, Grace has cooperated by being a really contented newborn.  She eats, sleeps and fills her diapers.  Which is exactly perfect.  We had some really wild weather at the start of last week - winds that would pick up almost anything!  Along with those winds, we had some thunderstorms and severe weather.  It was really crazy.  Certainly a downer!   By the end of the week, we were so grateful for the absence of that killer wind.  We were grateful also, that Susie was feeling better, with less back pain.

Because life is always busy, this weekend Ellie got her birthday "family fun day" (thanks to Doug and Susie) and she decided that she wanted the girls to get a pedicure!  Last year it was warm enough for the boys to go fishing on the day the girls went to the salon.  Sadly, it was 24 yesterday and the lakes were iced over.  So no fishing for the boys!  They found a great playground and had a fun time while the girls got their toes painted!  Grace came to the salon and slept the entire time!  Here is Ellie getting her toes done! This was certainly an UP part of the week for us!
After the nail salon, Ellie requested an ice cream treat (actually Frosties).  And Grace finally woke up for all of us to at least get a peak at her!  Great up ending to a fun day with the family!

This morning when I got to Gwen's house, the kids informed me that they had opened their own nail salon (in their bathroom).   I was invited to have my fingernails painted.  Lia was hard at work giving Anna a pedicure (she was not old enough to go to the salon with us).  So Ellie decided that she needed to paint my finger nails.  
Yes, that is black nail polish and there are blue and red "flowers" (which are actually just dots of polish). Not bad for an eight year old stylist!  I guess this is what you have to expect from girls after a visit to the nail salon!  

There you have it....... the up and downs of Chicago weather.  Sunny, warm, windy, severe thunderstorms, rain, more wind, and then cold, followed by snow.  All in one week.  It is said that you can experience all four seasons in one week in Chicago and this past week proved that to be true! And there were a few ups and downs in our family also.  No health issue is ever good and was certainly a bit of a downer for us all, as we were concerned about Susie.  The good news is that she is on the "UP" swing and Grace is doing great!  

I am always surprised when I  hear someone comment that Christians should always be UP!  That is just silly.  Over and over in the Bible, we are told that there will be ups and downs!  That is just what it is to live in this world.  The secret to living like Jesus is to walk THROUGH the down times and keep looking up!  When you keep your focus on Jesus, you won't get stuck in the muck of those inevitable nasty things that just happen.  He will help you to keep on putting one foot in front of the other so that you can get through those downs.  It is good to remember that every situation, every bad thing, every really tough issue you might be in the middle of right now, will come to an end.  Just like the weather, things change.  

This was my view from Doug and Susie's driveway as I left last Thursday.  I just love when God paints the sky with colors!  This sure had me looking UP!   I am so thankful that we have these wonderful reminders - right in the middle of a week of crazy weather - that Jesus is in control.  And I am thankful that a beautiful sunset helped me to remember to look up!

Jesus, thank you for this amazing week, filled with family time.  Holy Spirit, help all of us to remember that we need to move through those bad, down times.  Give us courage and boldness to walk on, and hope for the good times that are to come.  Thank you Jesus, for health and healing!  Amen

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sometimes you just have one of those days......

I started off my day seeing this graphic.  I really thought about it for some time.  Isn't it true?  Don't we all have people that we know (or family members) that always seem to have drama following them around?  I loved the positive take on all that drama..... just don't "attend the performance"!  Yes, this is a piece of advise that I will be reminding myself to put into action!

But, alas, then my day sort of took a turn for the worse.  And I don't mean to be one of those "drama fueled people".  And this really isn't truly DRAMA!   In fact, it is just what happens sometimes when you have one of those days.  I started a load of laundry and was going about my business, when I heard an unfamiliar little "song".   For anyone who doesn't have one of the new fangled HE washers and dryers, you don't get a sharp BUZZ when the cycle is finished.  Instead, some engineer someplace decided that it would be nicer to have a little tune play.   I couldn't resist..... here is link to the end of cycle song. I am used to that familiar signal that my load of laundry is finished.  But today I heard a much different sound and there it was...... a dreaded "code" on the display.  After several internet searches and several text messages back and forth with my son-in-law, it became clear that a repair was needed.  So, after finding places to hang my damp laundry all over my house, I managed to arrange for the parts to be ordered and the repair to be done next week.  It was not how I had planned to spend the morning.

I headed out to the grocery store for my weekly shopping trip.  Back at home, as I was unloading the groceries and putting everything away, I noticed an "unpleasant" odor from my kitchen sink.  There were a couple of dishes waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher.  Thinking that might be the odor problem, I quickly got the dishwasher ready to run.  When I reached under the sink for the dishwasher soap, I found the source of the very bad smell!  The cabinet was flooded and it was clear that the garbage disposal was leaking everywhere.  So, out came everything from that cabinet, a very smelling mess was cleared up, and my afternoon was over.  As a side note, it is very difficult to clean up a stinky mess when you can't use your kitchen sink.  Something I hadn't really considered when I started the job.

I was not looking forward to springing the news of the day on Ken when he got home from work.  I decided to take the bad news/good news approach.  Yes, the washer/dryer was broken....but the good news was, I had already arranged for the parts and the repair!  There was nothing that Ken needed to do with this.  But then I had to spill the bad news (which did not have a good news bit to add to it) about the garbage disposal.  Needless to say, replacing the garbage disposal was not on Ken's list of items to do tomorrow.  But, in spite of muttering (under his breath) "I hate plumbing!,  a new disposal is purchased and ready to be installed tomorrow.

This morning, just before I saw the quote that begins this blog, I was reading a really amazing post by a young guy, that is a missionary in New York City.  Yes, a missionary in New York.  His name is Josh MacDonald.
But this guy is much more than you might expect.  While there is a formal ministry center that he works from, his true work happens every day, right on the streets where he and his family live.  Here is his post from this morning....

Had a great talk with my uber driver Ivan on my way to the airport this morning. Ivan moved to NYC from Egypt eight years ago and is a devout Muslim. We spent 40 minutes talking about the difference between the god of Islam that doesn't relate to his people versus The Father who wants to have real communion and relationship with His people. We talked about Isis and I proved to him that in his own Koran it is actually biblical and scriptural for them to commit these acts for Allah. By the end of our ride he was definitely challenged about his belief system as well as puzzled by the idea that we as Christians have full assurance that we will make it into heaven. Turns out he is actually my neighbor!!! Take a moment and stop right now and say a 15 second prayer for Ivan to encounter Jesus!

I am so in awe of the work that he does for Jesus.  Just going about his day to day life with his wife and two children.  This post is just one example of the impact that he is making in a very difficult place.  I am so thankful that I was reminded this morning, that in spite of my day, I can join with Josh and pray for Ivan.

And that put my entire day into perspective. I started out the day with the message to use wisdom to avoid being drawn into other people's drama.  Things in my own day went awry.  But then I remembered Josh and Ivan the uber driver.  And my day was suddenly much brighter.  Even in my mixed up day, I could pray for Ivan.  In thinking back on my day, it seems very.......mundane really.  Yes, it WAS one of those days when things just didn't go exactly the way I had planned.  There were some challenges, there will be some financial expense around these things, and some time was spent on things that were not planned.  But it wasn't really that bad in the greater scheme of things.  And nothing in my day prevented me from joining with Josh to seek change in someone's life.

Yes, I needed that reminder today.  No matter what is happening around us.  No matter what drama might be swirling from someone else.  No matter how many things fall apart in your day.  No matter what.  Jesus is always there.  And he is ready to hear our prayers.  What a comfort and peace that is.  It was much needed today.

Jesus, thank you for giving me exactly the right messages to begin my day.  Thank you for Josh Macdonald and his boldness and courage to share your love with the world around him.  Bless his work and his family.  Holy Spirit, remind us all that we can always, always, pray.  No matter what the situation is.  No matter what.  Thank you Jesus for Ivan, the uber driver.  Pour out your love on him.  Amen