Beginnings

beginnings

I wonder how many “firsts” or beginnings there are in life. First breath, first step, first love. Beginning of the month, beginning of a new school year, beginning of hopes and dreams. If every day brings a fresh beginning and every end a start of something new, the number of changes and adjustments we make through our lifetime must equal an infinite number.

The beginning of our homeschool year started on a high note. The first days were excellent. Our schedule flowed smoothly and we were excited to dive into new books and curriculum. But as things often go, the novelty soon wore of and by Thursday reality hit. Summer was over and the idea that a good part of our day would be consumed with schooling started to sink in. We were exhausted from reigniting parts of our brains that seemed content to linger in vacation mode.

Grumpiness and discontent started to weasel their way into our Thursday morning activities. Short answers and ungracious responses added to the rocky start of the day. With determination, I pushed through my planned activities and the lessons. The activities and lessons I was so sure we “needed” to cover. My kids tried to keep up but the whole day felt forced. This was not why we homeschool or how I like to teach or how I wanted my children to learn. We managed to get through the day but I decided to call a time out and push the reset button. Friday was going to be different.

My Friday lesson plans looked like any other day of the week but it was my expectation of what “needed” to be completed that was different. The pace was led by my kids. If one subject was dragging on or frustration levels with a new skills were rising high, we stopped and moved to something else, returning to the subjects and tasks later. We spent more time on science and read alouds, which we all enjoy, and we focused on our attitudes. I was convicted of my role in modeling a good attitude and gracious responses and my children soon followed suite. I am not saying that it was a perfect day. Curriculum still needed to be covered and some difficult skills still needed to be mastered but there were other things needed to be addressed first. The foundation of an ideal learning environment needed to be rebuilt, one that included a whole lot of grace and a lot of love.

With every new beginning, I think it is important to remember these things:

1.) Make space for grace. Give grace to yourself, to your co-workers, family members, strangers, whoever else may be joining you in a new start. Beginnings and starts require change and adjustment. Adjustment takes time. There may be new things to learn and new ways of doing things. Shifts in mindset may be required too. Allow grace and patience in the process.

2.) Take time to breathe. Deep breaths. It sounds simple but few people take more than a few deep breaths a day. Deep breathing helps your muscles to relax and delivers oxygen to all cells in your body. It also helps attention and concentration. For an even better and more impactful result, pray while you are breathing!

3.) Stop and reflect. Contrary to popular belief, we need to pause, stop, and rest. Allow time for reflection and think what can be done differently. Ask yourself, what is my role? How can I use my gifts, talents, and personality to help improve this situation or make this adjustment easier?  Can I be a good role model for others even as I make mistakes and am learning through the process? Focus on the good things. There are always good things to find.

Now in our second week of school, skills are getting more difficult and the amount of curriculum to cover is increasing but there is a sense of peace. I am trying to keep a gentle pace to our day. We are still adjusting, slightly mourning the loss of summer, but we know there are some new exciting things are to come.

 

 

 

 

Kat, Mexican Buddha, and The Scarlet Knights

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The other day someone asked me if I was going to finish writing about my June hiking trip. It’s true, I never concluded the adventure in writing. Back in June, when I stepped off the trail and into the sunny parking lot, I thought it was the end of the trip. In actuality, the step turned out to be only a pause, a short rest, to catch my breath before continuing down another trail.

I have been “hiking” all summer. Each smaller adventure an extension of the mountain hike with different landscapes to view and different people to hike with. “The Summer of Adventure” has truly lived up to its name. I have experienced many wonderful, challenging adventures. From finding the wonder in small, daily tasks that required great feats of patience and faith to fearlessly jumping out of perfectly good planes with my grandmother.

Reflecting back, something stands out greater than all the adventures. Each adventure acted as a catalyst for community. My summer days were graced by unique and beautiful people who allowed me to visit special places and belong to groups of special people.

Take Kat, for instance. I met Kat and her family at Galehead Hut, 3,800 ft high the White Mountains. Her clear blue, twinkling eyes and her warm welcoming smile invited us (fellow hikers) to join her in celebrating the completion of hiking all of NH’s 48- 4,000 footers. Her family had packed a bottle of wine to celebrate the accomplishment and the bottle was passed around and poured into chipped, plastic camp cups. With plastic cups raised, we all joined in a song led by the hut croo, “For she’s a jolly good hiker. For she’s a jolly good hiker, for she’s a jolly good hikerrrrrrrrrr, which nobody can deny.”  As I swallowed my sip of wine, I was overwhelmed by the special moment and how strangers had suddenly become a family (even if for a moment) sharing in Kat’s accomplishment and inspiring us to hike higher mountains. Communities do that. They celebrate with each other and inspire each other to greater things.

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We continued our hike the next day and cleared the tree line sometime mid morning, that’s when we heard trumpet music. (Trumpet music 3,000 feet up on top of a mountain sounds beautifully out of place.) It didn’t take us long to find the source of the music. Mexican Buddah and Honey Bear, two thru-hikers, one with a guitar and one with a trumpet, had stopped for lunch, to rest, and to make beautiful music. Surrounded by breathtaking views, the wind as their accompaniment, and the White Mountains as their audience, we stopped to chat with them. I remember thinking how absolutely wonderful the meeting was. I felt like Alice in Wonderland stumbling upon the most interesting of characters running after the White Rabbit (or in my case the next White Mountain.) Communities embrace one another and respect where each person has been. Communities are made up of many different, uniquely talented people who share a love of a common interest. And communities benefit from those unique talents and gifts which each member has to offer. Mexican Buddah and Honey Bear’s music was a gift to us and their serenade was a reminder to continue on what ever journey you find yourself on but to remember to stop once in awhile to take in the views.

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Towards the end of the summer, I had an opportunity to revisit a community that was forged and formed 20 years ago. My 20th year high school reunion of the EWG Scarlet Knights. So much of who I am now was shaped in those few years of high school (the good and the bad.) The impact of those years and the people I shared them with have somehow come along with me like no other time in my life.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked through the doors of the function room. Would I remember people? Would they remember me? What would they remember about me? All of my anxious thoughts dissolved when I was greeted with smiles and big hugs. I know not everyone has a good experience at their high school reunions but mine…well, mine was awesome and I think that has to do with the special people that were in my class.

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I was especially impacted by one of my classmates who worked so hard to make the reunion happen. She reached out to all of us, kept sending Facebook messages and reminders, and genuinely made you feel special and you were wanted there. She went out of her way to interview former teachers and collect pictures for a slide show. She pulled people in from the outside and strengthened the community from the inside. Community takes leaders who are willing to put in the work and remind its members that they are special and needed.

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I could write all day about all the other people I met, the friendship formed, relationships which were strengthened, and the communities I was welcomed in. I had set out to be intentionally adventurous and it happened in more ways than one. The last adventure of the summer started where it all started.

My last adventure was shared with my most important and most intimate community. My family-my husband and three beautiful children. We were in the White Mountains, hiking on a trail that was the complete opposite of the trail in June. This trail was wide, flat and there were no inclines. The weather was perfect for hiking and exploring. We stalled along the trail watching chipmunks eat mushrooms and searching for heart shaped rocks. It was completely peaceful and I felt so loved and blessed to be sharing it with these four beautiful souls. These four people show me unconditional love on a daily basis. They make me want to be a better mother, wife and Christ-follower. These four people make the path (whatever it looks like) worth taking. All communities should be like that. Loving each other and making the trail easier. They should walk in grace and extend grace to the other members.  Communities should encourage each other to be better each and every day.

As summer of 2016 closes,  I am committing myself to community. I want to build up the communities I belong to by using the talents and gifts I have been given. I want to embrace my community members by encouraging them to use their unique gifts and callings. I want to help people find their value and their purpose in life to make the world a better place. And I want to keep hiking. I want to hike with my communities in truth, grace and most of all love. To celebrate with them and mourn with them and hike beside them on whatever path we find ourselves on.

You Are Never Too Old to Try Something New-Skydiving with My Grandmother

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Tuesday will be a day I will never forget. A day filled with adventure, friendship and inspiration. Inspiration provided by my eighty-six year old grandmother, Gammy, who continues to surprise me with her resilience, endurance and her energy.

Gammy has been living with us since the beginning of July and at the beginning of the summer I made a promise to her of a summer she would never forget-The Summer of Adventure. She loves to be “on the go.” Seeing new things, meeting new people and going out to eat are some of her favorite things to do and I have affectionately hashtagged our adventures as #gammyonthego.

We have chanted “Gammy on the Go! Gammy on the Go!” on our way to visit mansions in Newport, RI, chasing sunsets to gorgeous views, and road tripping to NY. Most of all, I think we have enjoyed the good company of family and friends and getting to know each other better by living life under the same roof. My kids and I have been blessed by this time we have had with her. I have heard stories never heard before and we both have been stretched and grown in different ways. I am trying to take it all in as I have become increasingly aware of not knowing how much more time we have with each other here on earth.

We arrived at Skydive Pepperill  under gorgeous, clear blue skies. A warm breeze was blowing the various flags decorating the Skydive Center and skydivers with colorful parachutes were gracefully landing with expertise in a large, adjoining field. Three other fun-loving, adventurous souls from our church family were jumping with us and some other church members had come to watch. The whole experience was made even better with them there and I was again reminded how much I love my church. The relationships that have built over the ten years at Centerpoint have become some of the most treasured relationships in my life. When it comes down to life, it really is all about relationships. Relationship with Jesus, with your family, with your friends. Relationships and trust take time to grow, through good times and hard times, but it is so worth the time put in. Life is better with good people around you and we have a whole church filled with good (FUN) people.

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I could try to describe our experience. The multiple-page waiver we had to sign, the video that stresses multiple times how you could die, the gear, the plane, the 45 second freefall, and the landing BUT a picture is worth a thousand words. So….here are some pictures and the “most awesome video in the whole world” to take you on our adventure with us.

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Our Skydiving Declarations
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Gearing UP
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Walking Up To The Plane

 

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The Queen of Skydiving

 

The plane

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In the Plane
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At the Door
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Free Fallin’

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The Coolest Grandmother in the Whole World
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Parachutes Deployed
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The Landing. Look at Gammy’s legs. They are in perfect position, better than the instructional video.
Our Instructors
Our Instructors- Vinny and Keith

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PS The record for the oldest female jumper at this center was 94. Gammy said we will be back on her 95th birthday (if not sooner.) I hope that am half of what she is when I am 86. So incredibly blessed!

 

You Two Remind Me of That Couple…..

 

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With all the advancements in technology, I find it hard to believe no one has invented a more comfortable and less awkward way of taking dental x-rays. I am not talking about film versus digital or the actual x-ray machine used. I am talking about the “bite-wing-bit-block.” You know, the extremely intrusive and sharp plastic objects strategically placed in your mouth by a stranger who then directs you to “bite down and hold.”

Until today, I had been on a two year hiatus from dental care. I know, I know. I should have been to the dentist every six months but whatever…life happens. The more important thing was I was back in the chair, wishing the x-rays were over, dreading the news of how many cavities needed to be filled, and preparing myself to hear how I should floss more often. My husband (who had been on a longer hiatus than me…just saying) was talking with the dentist. We had decided to schedule our appointments together, one right after the other. He had gone first and now was in the x-ray room saying goodbye to me and bragging reporting that he had no cavities.

The dental hygienist, a pretty woman in her late twenties, came into the x-ray room and led me down the hall. Once seated in the chair, she instructed me to open my mouth and stuck the suction-straw-thingy that hangs out of your mouth. I think my kid’s dentist refers to this tool as “Mr.Thirsty.”  As she worked, she began to share with me about her life and ask questions about mine. I mumbled back and shook my head “yes” and “no.” Amazingly, she understood my incomprehensible syllables and sounds.

The cleaning and exam continued and she continued to share. I continued to mumble. This pattern continued for awhile. Some of the details she shared were very personal and private. She had recently been through some dark times in her life. A single mother, trying to make her life better for herself and her son. There was an incredible sense of sadness and exhaustion about her.

As she talked, I wish I could be free to speak without all the “stuff” in my mouth. To touch anything besides the chair and the cup they give you, seemed off-limits. But as she talked, I felt moved and could not be silent any longer. I don’t remember exactly what she said but I knew she needed some encouragement. So when she went to clean my top teeth, I stopped her. I defiantly closed my mouth, yanked Mr. Thirsty out and started to ask her deeper questions about her life. Amazingly, she answered them. She listened to my advice and I tried to encourage her without seeming to like a counselor. She seemed a bit surprised by all of it but at ease and I felt some peace seep into the air. By the end of the exam, we were good friends.

“You know,” she said. “It’s funny to meet you and your husband on the same day. You remind me of that couple on TV…..you know the Fixer Upper couple. You both are so cute. You seem so happy and…well, like you have the perfect life.” 

Oh, my sweet girl! Bless you for the compliment! Joanna Gaines is beautiful and I love her style. Yes, we are very happy but we are far from perfect. There are a few things you need to know.

I cannot speak for the Gaines. I can only infer they might agree with me. There are some similarities between us.The Gaines have a reality TV show, sometimes our life feels like a reality TV show. The Gaines are in the business of seeing the potential in “fixer-upper” houses, we are in the business of seeing potential in “fixer-upper” people. We are not perfect couples. We are not perfect people. We both have faith in Jesus Christ and He is the only thing perfect in our lives.

Everyone goes through dark times in their lives. Everyone experiences trials, temptations, consequences of poor decisions and challenges. Each one of us is navigating through life, have hopes and dreams and wants to be loved.

Sweet girl, the difference is we have found peace in Jesus-perfect peace. We walk through the dark times with The Light. We are loved beyond measure and rely on Someone greater than ourselves for strength. Jesus is “fixing-us-up” daily. As he “fixes” us, we hope others can see Him. Light, love, hope, restoration, and peace (all to God’s glory not our own.) Our smiles are wide and bright not because everything is perfect or we have great hygienists, we smile because we have been redeemed by the blood and love of Jesus. And that my friend, is worth more than anything the world could ever give you.

PS One more thing sweet girl, (yes, I can call you that since you are ten years younger than me. Thank you for referring to me as your age and I am sorry I did not correct you right away! That was wrong but I still feel like I am 28 in my head!) I will be praying for you and I will see you in six months. The appointment is booked but I believe it was booked a long time ago before we both knew it. There is a God who loves you and is perusing you. xo

 

August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar with Reflection Questions

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August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar

July’s Scripture Writing Plan focused on God’s movement in our lives. The idea was to set aside ten minutes a day, copy the scripture and circle the verbs found within the passage. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, I hoped we would ask God to help us recognize His activity in our lives and journal our reflections.

Each morning,  I tried to slip away to a quiet place to open the Word of God. This worked best when the kids seemed occupied or when I turned on the TV to occupy them (just keeping it real…sometimes you got to do what you got to do.) Some days I was more successful at this than others, but on the days when I was able to give my complete attention to God, His Word and His voice, I felt the time spent prepared my heart and mind for the day’s constant barrage of requests and demands thrown at me. I noticed my reactions to other people seemed more gracious. I said “yes” more than “no.” I was less distracted with social media and more aware of relationships. Heavenly, eternal things seemed way more important than the earthly, fleeting things. I was filled with peace and joy. Don’t get me wrong, life was not perfect, easy or without challenges. There were still trials and life to work through but how I approached those challenges was different. I found myself prompted to rely on the LORD’s strength and reflecting on the words I was hiding in my heart and mind.

Growing up, my dad always said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” I have always remembered that phrase (see Dad, I was listening.) I do not think we give enough thought to what we are filling our ears, eyes, heart, mind and even our mouths with. What we allow in our lives will shape and mold us and eventually those things will impact the way we think, speak, act and respond. This month (and every month), I am choosing “Truth in, Good out.”

The August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar contains scriptures that refer to our reactions to God. For deeper reflection, I have included question for each passage. My hope and prayer is for you to join me as we dig into the scriptures and ask God to align our reactions to His word.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8

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Hut Life-Hiking Trip-Chapter 4

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Through the trees, I could hear voices and see glimpses of the camouflaged hut. I couldn’t wait to get to the top of the rocks but it was not to lay my eyes on the hut, to take in the spectacular views or to enjoy a moment of recognition of the day’s accomplishments. My main objective was to get out of my damp clothes and put on EVERY SINGLE layer I had packed. I was cold, chilled to the bone, and I dreamed of holding a mug of steaming, hot coffee in my hands.

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When we reached the clearing near the hut, one of the first things I noticed was the line of muddy, wet boots and sweaty, stinky socks, all different colors and sizes gathered together to dry out in the cool air. Other gear was scattered on the ground, draped over the hut’s porch railings, and hanging from tree branches in hopes that some drying would take place. There seemed to be no separation of whose stuff belonged to whom, no boundaries between strangers. This was communal ground and our muddied, wet gear was the physical evidence of a shared experience. My first taste of hiker camaraderie.

A friendly member of the hut croo (yes, that is spelled correctly) welcomed us at the front desk next to a basket of complimentary ear plugs and hut merchandise. He assigned us to the South Bunk Room. The sleeping accommodations at the Zealand Falls hut are bunk beds stacked three high. Each bunk bed is a cubicle built into the cabin and includes several built-in shelves, lots of hooks to store and hang things on and a small personal reading lamp.

Many of the bottom bunks had already been claimed but we managed to find a cluster of bunks close to each other. Loving Leader, Hot Mama and I took the tippity-top bunks and dragged our gear up the tall ladder.

Now, let’s pause a minute… I was about to be introduced to the very thing that has caused me the most anxiety about this whole trip. It seems a bit silly now but we all have our hang ups and issues. One of mine is germs and cleanliness.

At our first trip planning meeting, Loving Leader explained the AMC huts and sleeping arrangements to us. We had asked her about what gear to bring for sleeping and she shared some suggestions. She also explained how the hut provides each hiker with three wool blankets and a pillow. This may not seem like a big deal BUT having just heard about the huts being minimally equipped, the outdoor facilities, all supplies and trash having to be packed in and out by the croo (on their backs,) and the fact of no running hot water got me thinking. How exactly and how frequently were those wool blankets and pillow cases washed? And how many heads had rested on the pillows? And how many bodies had been wrapped in the blankets? The possible answers to my questions made my skin crawl and itch. I knew, no matter how tired I was, I would not be able to get a good night’s sleep with those blankets and pillow around me. Before I left for the trip I made the decision that I needed my own, reliable sleep system. A system that I could depend on- a sleeping bag that compresses to the size of a football. My sleeping woes and anxiety were defused and I crossed the worry off my list.

(Dear EMS employee, Thank you for your encouragement and the validation of my feelings  when I explained to you why I needed a sleeping bag. You listened with grace as I over-explained my issues and phobias. I also thank you for not making me feel like a fool, a wimp or a weirdo, even though you may have been thinking that. I know that you were hoping to make a sale and I am sorry. I went to Dick’s to purchase my sleeping bag because it was on sale.I hope you understand.  XO Melon Ball) 

 

Oh, glorious joy filled me the rest of the evening. Warm, DRY clothes, good company, new friends, beautiful views, delicious food, and a warm, attentive croo. All of this made my first hut experience wonderful.

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Lights out came sooner than I thought. I wrote in my journal by headlamp, made one more bathroom run in the dark, put in my set of complimentary ear plugs, and then snuggled down in my mummy bag. As I fell asleep to the distant snores of the stranger two bunks below me, I thought again how great it was to be alive and how strange it was that I felt safer than I ever had in a room full of people I did not know. Somehow they did not feel like strangers any more. I did not know all the details of their lives. I didn’t even know all of their names. It didn’t matter though. We had become a “community for a night. ” A community brought together by sharing a hike, a rainstorm, a meal, good conversation and now much needed rest.

As I drifted off to sleep, I thought how wonderfully simple all of it was and how complicated our world has become. If only we would share more, listen more, cheer each other on more, and love people more(even in all their stinkiness), what a better world this would be.

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This video will give you a little “taste” of the huts:

July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts-Actions of God

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July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts

This summer I am co-leading Margaret Feinberg’s  Bible study called “Verbs of God-How God Moves on Our Behalf.” The study focuses on the active nature of God even when our emotions, moods and circumstances makes it hard for us to see Him, hear Him or feel His presence. God is always active, engaged and fully involved in our lives. He continually redeems, restores and renews us. He draws us closer to Him and desires to have a full, loving relationship with Him. Relationships take two people though. How can we get to know God and His nature better?

As I was preparing for this week’s session, it was put on my heart to create a scripture writing plan and prayer prompt calendar to further focus on God’s movement in our lives. The idea is to take ten minutes a day to copy down the passage and circle the verbs found within the words. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, pray that God will help you recognize His activity in your life. Listen for His voice and journal any reflections or revelations you may have. I hope we will be able to find specific themes by the end of the month. (The word/passages correspond with the ESV and NIV translations of the Bible.)

Prayer is simply a two way conversation between you and God.

-Billy Graham

One note on prayer….Prayer doesn’t have to be a long-winded “speech” filled with big words and deep theology. Some of my best prayer times have been short prayers filled with unrefined words drenched with emotion. God pays attention to what is in our heart and our posture towards Him. If praying hasn’t been “your thing,” don’t worry, start small and say what is on your heart and mind. Prayer is also about being quiet and listening. There is no right or specific amount of time you should pray for. It is okay to say a few words and be still before God.

If you want some ideas of what to pray for, here is a visual to use. (It is a great resource for teaching kids how to pray too!)5 finger prayer

 

I hope you will consider joining me this month and I pray that you will see, hear and feel God working in your life.

July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts