Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The sweet, the bitter, and the bland

It's funny how quickly our bodies adapt to change. There have been several days of very cold temperatures, with even lower "real feels." And the wind! OH, THE WIND IN YOUR FACE! HOLY MACKEREL, THAT'S SOME COLD STUFF!

This morning though, I cleared my car of snow--the powdery kind that's kind of fun to swipe away, walk through, make snow angels in. I was wearing a coat but no gloves or scarf when I heard the radio announce the current temperature of eighteen Fahrenheit. I had just been thinking, "Gee, it's really warmed up in the past few days! It kind of feels nice standing here with the sun shining down on me." In 18 degrees. It is fascinating how our minds shift the perception of "cold," "hot," "quick," "slow," etc based on our surroundings. We define our situations relative to where we are, how long we've been there, where we've come from, where we're going.

When I got in the car, I turned on one of the podcasts I had backlogged. The author begins speaking about being grateful and considering the joy of the great things in our lives, big or small. "...Every good thing is sweet." I know she was intending for us to not take those small joys for granted, but it got me thinking about those things that don't feel so wonderful at all. Should we take those for granted too? If we try to see the sweet happenings as joy, what about those bitter and bland happenings?

Usually when people say, "Oh, I'm so blessed!," they really mean, "I'm so happy! Life feels good and is going just the way I like it!" When "blessing" is used in the Bible, it seems most often to refer to closeness to God. We gain His favor, which seems to be simply relationship with Him, safety, care, not that bonus in our paycheck.

Those who keep His laws gain blessing. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice gain blessing. Peacemakers are blessed in that they will be called children of God. Over and over the verses seem not to talk about tangible, material goods as being blessings, but the favor and view of God toward us, our characters being strengthened, the fact that we can even have a relationship with him because of Christ. It's like a big virtual hug, a longing look, a desire for that person's well-being and safety. Perhaps it means more too, but it does not mean what we typically assign as meaning.

In any case and back to my point about joy from the bitter and bland, we take the sweet and happy and count it as joy. You and I both know that life is probably 20% sweet, 20% bitter, and 60% bland. Or wait, is that just me? I'm defining this as: the sweet is the extra wonderful stuff, the bitter as the grief, loss, utter disappointments, frustrations, and failings, and the bland is, well, the everyday ins and outs of life. Every good thing may be sweet, and every sweet thing may be good. But every everything is good insofar as it builds you, shapes you, and contributes to the very you-ness of you. God intends it all as good.

If awareness of God's care, a tenderness and openness toward Him, and increased trust in and dependence on Him are what "blessing" really is, it certainly comes most to me in the bitter and bland. When life feels chaotic and just a mess, it helps put all in perspective if I take a step back from my volatile emotions and see the goodness and sweetness. Even the bitter and the bland are good, and the more I recognize and acknowledge that, the more I see it as such when it comes along*. I'm probably not saying anything you don't know; I just needed to write this down.

*I do not mean you may "feel" like skipping through fields and so happy during difficult times. There are definitely frustrations to be had and tears to be shed, but how these times are defined and what we get out of the process can be different than what our feelings dictate.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A pledge and affirmation

It started out like other trips. The online searches and planning of activities and sights, the daily forecast check to make sure we weren’t traveling in a blizzard, and the building anticipation. Work and school have been busy, and I was looking forward to a weekend heading to one of my favorite cities with my favorite guy.

I had given him tickets to a favorite band’s concert for Christmas in New York and conspired with his friend to let him stay for the weekend, and in exchange, his friend got to go to the concert. Win-win for them since they both really like the band and Matt would have a buddy to enjoy it with. Matt had the option of a guys’ weekend with his friend or I could go and also spend time with some friends in the area. Obviously, and wisely, he chose to bring me along.

We had some snow-related drama on Saturday morning but were able to get into the city by lunch. Fun lunch (I should probably mention the really delightful crispy Brussels sprouts I had), procuring discount show tickets at TKTS, visiting the Guggenheim. His friend went back across the river to give us a date night. (I don't want to inundate you with details here because the post is about more than this particular story.) Wonderful dinner. An amusing show. And then a stroll to Times Square. I was not quite sure if we were heading back to the metro station or going somewhere else but went along with it. Night, the city, the hustle and bustle, the lights...it's just so captivating.

We walked a couple of blocks to get a lovely shot of the Empire State Building: 

I love that picture. I'll have to chat with the photographer* to see if it can go on my** wall one day. And you see that lovely little area with the trees on the left? The park in the middle of the hubbub? He used this photo-op to lure me to the park*** and ask me to spend the rest of my life with him. 

Here's a post-engagement, post-getting-thrown-out-of-the-park, post-calling-family photo taken by strangers on the street. This girl used to detest PDAs. 

Here we are**** the following day spending time with friends, capturing moments and memories. 

And so after time unfroze, and so did we, I think I was expected to launch into flower varieties and the giddiness of planning a dream wedding. It's never been about that to me. 

While a wedding is fun, it is only the first day in the celebration of a marriage. I wanted to just whip through the planning and spend most of the time focusing on marriage and our new life together. 

I have dated off and on in the past and always had an uneasy feeling or that gut "no," until this guy. There has always been a quiet, still "yes" in me, even despite my objections to time and effort and reason when we began dating. It felt like it came out of thin air and was sort of shocking to this planner in me. But always, the feeling of rightness drew me back. It is a mystery, this way God compels us.

A week after we were engaged, we were chatting about this and that when he shifted the conversation. This is a paraphrase (from that night and other conversations):
I am looking forward to this life we are going to build together, how we're going to serve and love the world. I am looking forward to figuring out how our money and time can be best spent to help those in need, in being creative and practicing love. I am looking forward to hopefully having children and raising them right. We will teach them to care for others and tie their shoes and how to build a snowman. We will serve each other and serve others together.    
This is the man I said yes to. And over and over again, I am affirmed in this decision--this decision we make eyes widened, hearts opened. 

* Him
** Our (didn't want to give it away in the text body yet!)
*** We may have broken into the closed park for this magic moment--cue The Drifters.
**** This has to be one of my favorite pictures of us in the history of us.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My heart is happy and full of exclamation marks.

I am long overdue for a blog post. It has been precisely one month since I last posted. I have not posted a year wrap-up. I have not listed or shown what I have been thankful for from the year. I have not posted my word to focus on this new year or goals I have. This is unusual for me; however, that does not mean I have not thought about this. I definitely have.

The year was far beyond anything I could have hoped. I went on several amazing trips. I finished a year of grad school, enjoyed it, learned a lot. God answered my prayers of a desire for life balance, mindset, and keeping priorities.

And then, in the midst of the craziness and my reluctance, I met this guy. Oh, man. Knowing him has changed my life. Here are some favorite moments of the holidays. 

From friends' holiday party--the beginning of the many festivities!

And then a quick photo op at my office's holiday party (our 2nd holiday party of the evening, after his work party). This one included dancing and me laughing a ridiculous amount. The more I laugh, the more he makes me laugh.

We took a brief pause on the Downtown Mall after his holiday concert with the Oratorio Society. The man can sing. And rock a bowtie.

He is not as great at checkers though. Ha. I swept the board at Cracker Barrel before we met a few friends from college on our trip down south.

What is a trip south without introducing him to Bojangle's? His face is amusingly funny here. 

And now for some real favorite moments...

We spent a few days with my brother's family. My parents were quite sick, and the kids actually got sick too. My brother and his wife both worked most of the time, but overall it was okay. First holidays together. That was great. Two weeks solid together, and I couldn't have hoped it would have been any more fun than it was.

My oldest nephew took such a liking to Matt. It probably helped that Matt knows all the superheroes, likes video games, and will have (foam) sword fights.

After the holidays, my brother told me that from the week we were there and the week they visited my sister-in-law's family, one of nephew's top 5 things of the holidays (even including all of the many gifts he received) was Matt. I mean, come on. How adorable is that?? 

We had a really enjoyable week visiting Matt's family too and had more time to rest and be surrounded by children. So fun!

Since my family had been really sick while we visited, we had a Christmas do-over this weekend! My brother's family came up to my parents', and we got to see everyone, including having our holiday dinner with some of mom's family. 

The first thing oldest nephew asked when he saw me Saturday morning (they were in bed when we arrived and I often sleep in the living room so I'm one of the first to get morning greetings) was, "Where is Matt??....I'm going to go get him up to play!" hahahahahahaha. omg. THAT IS SO CUTE I WANT TO BOTTLE IT UP!

And play they did. So, I'm sharing a few other moments I caught on camera. 

Back to Charlottesville we went. He drove so I could do a little work. We had some great chats, sang a bit, had a little dance party, and oohed and ahhed at the sunset.

My heart is happy and full of exclamation marks.