A Collection of Thoughts

For this introverted yet people loving Mama these summer months of transition and unknown has been quite challenging.  I don't even know where to begin.  May is an expected whirlwind and it definitely lived up to that expectation this year.  June is holding her own though and competing with a fury.  As I'm sure July and August will as well.  Sometimes it helps just to write, unedited so the thoughts in my head space are given life and matter and hopefully it all begins to make some sort of sense.  This morning I woke early, like before our 6:30am alarm early to attend a study discussion surrounding the Enneagram, a new topic I've been studying.  And then when I arrived at the noted location, no study group or discussion.  So here I sit, enjoying the sounds at the local coffee shop, typing away, Bible at the ready, people watching, listening and drinking my coffee, otherwise known as my happy juice.  It's hard for me to take this time for myself.  My mind wanders, I should be at home preparing everyone for their day, then I start listening in on the tables beside me, groups of women conversing, business meetings taking place, etc.  Focus Leanna, focus.  This commitment to write and practice and create is difficult.  I liken the process to running.  Some days are harder than others to roll out of bed, lace up the trainers and get going.  Now if I could bottle the feeling I have after a run I would never have a problem getting myself out there.  Same for writing.  As much as I love the creative process I struggle to make the time, to have it hold importance and priority in my schedule.  And it should.  Or better, I want it to.  It was one of my goals for this year of 2017, more writing, documenting and creating.  Not necessarily curating anything in particular but sharing my thoughts, observations and our lives.  Honestly and unfiltered, without holding back.  Still though I will re-read this post and fine tune where necessary before I hit publish. (Duh!)

So here's the latest and greatest with us.  We received news in May that Husband Jared had been offered a position with Apple in Vienna, Austria.  Let me begin by gushing for a moment on just how proud I am of him.  There were a few intense months of conversations and interviews and Face Time appointments with overseas market leaders.  After the lengthy process, including much prayer time and several family conversations he accepted and thus the ball was set in motion.  Allow me to share the back story here.  When we were traveling through Bavaria in the fall, after having dropped off Thing 2 at school, Husband Jared and I had a conversation that I haven't forgotten.  We were sitting at a cafe dreaming about our future, talking about how at peace and comfortable we were with the European lifestyle.  How invigorated our souls felt while traveling.  We were dreaming about the future and reminiscing in the sweetest way.  The memories we recalled about our time in Turkey and how that grew us in unexpected and necessary ways.  And then without hesitation we both said, we need to do this again.  As a family.  And thus, this journey begun.  With prayer and much enthusiasm Husband Jared started looking for openings abroad.  Asia was and still is a growing market and although there were opportunities it didn't "seem" right.  We were open to anything but I was hesitant to say the least. About a month later, while we were still debating the option of South Korea, a text from Husband Jared came through letting me know there was an opening in Vienna, next line, "what do you think?".  Without a second thought I responded with an excited, "go for it!".  Little did I know what the Lord had prepared for us.  Isn't that the case more often than not?  At least it has been for me in my walk with Him.

Here we are, mid-July, yes I started this post in June.  Negotiations are just about complete, we don't have a concrete move date as of yet and we are in the process of navigating leaving two of our four Things here in TN while we embark on this European adventure.  Now that is something that the Lord had not allowed to enter my mind throughout the decision making journey.  Maybe that was His protection, I don't know.  What I do know is that my Mama's heart is having to steady itself in new and uncharted ways.  Isn't that something?  His work is never done in me.  And everyone bellowed a resounding "Hallelujah"!  Wink, wink.  So, yes I write with confidence that the Lord has us exactly where He wants us and will move us where we need to be when it is time for us to be there.  My head is quite clear on the whole, they're His before mine, and His ways are higher and whatever other confidence inspiring Christian-ese you'd like to throw my way but my heart, well that's a different story.  What I am learning is that doesn't change who He is or who I believe Him to be or even my relationship with Him.  For me, it means that sometimes my heart is a bit slower to make the head-heart connection.  I logically know the truth but when it needs to sink in deep and take root, well now that takes time.  It also means being tethered to His word, His promises and His wisdom.

For reals though, I feel as if I've been on a roller coaster ride these last couple months.  They have been full and good, don't get me wrong, and hear me when I say I am grateful beyond measure.  But it's been tricky and messy.  Peaks and valleys friends.  And I'm talking about both my head and heart space and how that translates into actually living real life.  I'm feeling all the emotions, both my own and everyone around me.  Thank you Enneagram for helping make sense of that for me.  We'll just sum that up to my "two-ness".  Ahem.  Moving on.  I am revamping my business which calls, no actually demands, a level of self awareness and introspective thinking that has proven rather interesting for me.  Talk about revelatory moments.  In the midst of all this living, Thing 4 has been in Costa Rica with Royal Servants.  So we've been moving forward, having family meetings and celebrating and mourning all that has transpired and I've been missing a piece of my heart.  Cue the tears.   I am not looking for pity or sympathy.  No.  As I write my heart spills onto the page and the words and thoughts consuming me start to unravel and make sense.  They're less powerful when I see them on the screen, name them, give them a space to live in and then let them float down the river.  Another metaphor learned through the Enneagram and creating a meditative practice.  So much learning and growing.  Well, at least trying to and definitely being willing to.

See how quickly I digressed?  What began as a sort of catch up post morphed into a tangled page of words.  Spilled from head and heart unfiltered.  There you have it friends and here we come August.  We're ready for you.  I think.


Thing 2's 18th Birthday

Thing 2's 18th birthday.  Thankfully we were able to celebrate this milestone before leaving for Germany.  The family joined in, we sat around the table, told her the things we love about her, made a wish on a ginormous donut and spent the day doing whatever her heart desired.  It truly was a beautiful way to begin her year of 18.  My favorite is hearing all the beautiful parts of her that our friends and family appreciate.  I can't remember when or how we started this tradition but the pure joy on the receivers face of these edifying words is nothing short of heaven on earth.  Here's her celebration in photos.

Birthday dinner: caesar Salad, vegetable lasagna 

Birthday pie, chocolate silk of course, courtesy of Thing 3

Family selfie around the table 

Cousin Love

On your birthday confetti is a must!  

Present time!

August-September 2016...A month of preparation!

August was a full month, as they all are it seems.  Thing 3 returned from her mission trip with Royal Servants after being away for about 8 weeks.  Then our 19th anniversary.  We spent the night in Nashville, being tourists, eating at a few of our favorites and recounting the years, one at a time.  That's a new tradition for us and one that I hope continues.  From anniversary celebration to family time at the beach.  We traveled to Amelia island for a few days away from it all as six.  Again, a new to us place and one we so enjoyed exploring.  The shelling was incredible, shark teeth were found, there was a 9 mile accidental walk with Thing 2;  barefoot, in bathing suits and wildlife with no cell phone.  An adventure for sure.  At the end of it all we found our family and after easing their worries and apologizing profusely we promptly planted ourselves in the sand and vowed not to leave their sight.  We wandered around the quaint downtown, tasting treats from bakeries and fudge shops and a new craft brewery, it was sublime.  These people are my favorite to travel with and each trip opens my eyes in new ways.  So the photos below are of our time on Amelia island and then the drive home through Savannah where we made a quick pit stop to stare at the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, walk the fountains and countless squares and ooh and aah at the architecture and art alike.  Not to mention there was a bakery Thing 3 had been researching that required a taste test.  How could we have said no to that?  

She's home and I didn't let her out of my sight.  

Anniversary dinner at Lockland Table, of course.  

In the Capitol Building.

Road trip to Amelia Island, lunch stop at a Turkish restaurant in Midtown, Atlanta.  

Card playing a the beach.  

Family sand selfie!

Seafood lunch for the win.

This is how we all feel about being at the beach! 

Skim boarding, all day, everyday. 



Downtown Amelia island.

Boy wonder or pirate?

Savannah, GA.  

Back in the Day Bakery.

Fountains and plazas and parks.

The remainder of August and the first few weeks of September were filled with the joyful mundane and a bit of prep and planning for Thing 2's adventure to Bible school in Germany.  There were family breakfasts, game nights, a tournament in Kansas City, MO for Thing 4, a few weeks later a trial for the academy team for Thing 4, the first days of school for Things 1, 3 and 4, and a race in which the entire family participated in some capacity.  Here are those highlights in photos.  

Thing 2 and his best buddy, on and off the pitch.  

Team lunch with the teammates visiting from South Africa, an unforgettable experience for Thing 4. 

Rube Goldberg machine planning.  Hours were spent with tape, cardboard scraps and his imagination.

The game of LIFE.

Family Breakfast.  Almost all of us were awake. 

Thing 1's first pop up with SHINE jewelry! 

The only photo I snapped of Thing 4 at his academy trial.  I never want to forget that moment.  From the hours of training, the locker room tour, his nerves, the prayers spoken over him and the result and thus the conversation and consoling that ensued following.  

5K and 10K finishers!  

Family Labor Day run benefitting Mercy Clinic.  Aunt Natalie, Thing 4 and myself ran the 10K, Uncle Jeff, Things 2 and 3 ran the 5K and the littles ran the 1K.  

Husband Jared and I were away with Thing 4 in Kansas City for the first day of school so Thing 3 sent me this photo to document the day.  In her jammies at her dining room table beginning her junior year.  Three cheers for homeschooling!  

Thing 4's first day of high school, in a Starbucks in Kansas City, MO, in between work outs.  

Thing 1's first day of college at Nashville State University!

A Post for Polo

I never planned on becoming one of those people.  You know, the ones that talk about how their pets are part of the family.  Well I did and I was.  That was clearly evident when we received news that our beloved Polo had lymphoma and he was deteriorating quickly.  For a week he had refused his food, had labored breathing and declined our long walks around the park.  I noticed the symptoms but attributed them to a cold and then the bladder issues began and there was no turning back.  I am aware this may be too much information for some, but for me, I woke up with a pull to write Polo's story because it was so intertwined with our family's.  And I miss him.  A lot.  

Our girls had petitioned us for a dog for years.  I believe since their brother had been born, so we were going on at least three at the time we started considering the notion of adding more crazy to our chaos.  It was then, with Husband Jared and I both working retail management positions full time that we agreed to "get a dog".  The caveat was that Thing 4 needed to be potty trained before said pet could be acquired.  Ha.  At the rate that was going I seriously believed that I had a few months, at the least, before we would be asked again.  Little did I know that a few weeks later on a rare day off as a family of six the Things and I would wander into a Petsmart and discover it was adoption day for the local animal shelter.  Hmmm.  We looked through the glass and then we spotted him.  I am almost certain the kind volunteer took one look at us all and thought "this ones in the bag".  He opened the kennel and brought the sweetest, most rambunctious pup out to meet us.  "Oh, we're just looking", I said.  And then two minutes later, after being introduced to "Mohamed", his name at the time, I was calling Husband Jared and asking him to meet us in the back of the store.  Ahem.  So much for a united front and waiting until that whole potty training thing happened.  I could not resist the cuteness.  First, of my Things talking in sweet, high pitched voices and secondly of this odd, yet endearing pup that was staring through my soul with his big black, eyeliner eyes.  

If you're wondering, yes, Polo did become ours that day.  Although he wasn't able to join us at home for a week, which left us more than enough time to purchase all gear puppy related.  Never mind an actual training class or a book on dog behavior.  We were parents of four children under the age of five, we had this one in the bag.  Laughable I tell you, that's what that thinking was and is.  Anyhow, after spending a gazillion dollars on all the necessities we welcomed our pup home.  The big decision weighing on everyone was his name.  With four Things all invested in this process we tried to be democratic.  Which means, everyone (the kids), wrote their two top choices for his new name on a piece of paper.  Our plan being that which ever name was drawn out of the hat would be his name for life.  Needless to say that did not go exactly as planned.  Doggy-dog was the first name drawn, after that Mohawk and it digressed from there.  The noise level was rising and everyone thought theirs was the best fit.  That is when I looked across at Husband Jared sporting a "Polo" brand shirt with the trademark embroidered polo player and I might have shouted, "his name WILL be Polo".  And there you have it folks.  Democracy out the window, order undone.  Parent rule wins.  He has been Polo ever since.  Or Polo-lolo, or Lollipop, or Marco-Polo and any other of 100 names he has been called. Some of which do not need to be mentioned here.  

So life with a dog and four Things under the age of five commenced.  Kennel training was a nightmare, the puppy had more energy than any of us had to give and he thought he was herding sheep for a while with our four chasing him around the yard.  Thing 4 was just the right size for him to jump on and paw at.  Funny enough, none of the Things seemed to mind.  They would chase him around the back yard for hours.  All four taught him how to climb our stairs and patiently carried  him up when it was time for bed.  It was all too sweet.  Most of the time.  I had no recollection of what life with a puppy would be.  Exhausting and frustrating would be my two choice adjectives.  The dog was insane.  He would jump over our bed, mess the covers and dart from room to room, snagging the berber carpet we had at the time.  Better yet, when I would try to stop him, he'd stare me straight in the eye and run the other direction.  Yes, funny.  At least now it is, at the time, not so much. 

We survived those early puppy months and then Polo had his first plane ride.  In June of the following year Polo boarded his first flight to GA, where Husband Jared and Uncle Jeff would be meeting him and then driving him to TN, our soon to be new home.  I owe Uncle Jeff and Aunt Natalie a debt of gratitude for all the time they invested in Polo.  He had his first taste of a normal schedule, boundaries and rules at their home, along with his cousin Bobby Jackson, the Horel's new puppy.  Polo learned not to jump on the counter, or people, and he also learned how to walk properly on a leash.  Go figure.  It wasn't all roses over there.  I love hearing the story of Uncle Jeff catching Polo with his paws on the counter and then how Polo skidded across their floor trying to run away from his master at the time and Uncle Jeff tackling him.  The dog was fortunate not to be sent away at that point.  

Soon after the rest of his family arrived and he took up residence with us.  The Things could be found chasing him around the neighborhood.  That is after they had left the storm door open and he darted out of the house thinking this was a fun game of run away.  We did get to know our neighbors well though.  There are countless stories to tell here.  Trust me, I could go on and on.  Polo spent so much time in the backyard here, it was fenced in and one spring day we were planting a garden with the Horel's and Bobby Jackson did not like what Polo was doing, Polo never was a fast learner and so he got the worse end of it was a piece of his ear missing.  I was devastated, wrapped his ear in gauze and didn't want to leave him because it wouldn't stop bleeding.  He was fine.  Here's the thing about Polo he was resilient and forgiving.  

After four years of living in TN we moved abroad and Polo went on another adventure, to AZ this time.  He spent the winter there with Poppi and Nana and then returned before the summer heat to live with Gpa and Mema until our return.  Polo logged some miles that year and learned about scorpions and desert animals and then ducks and turtles and just how tiring swimming in ponds can be.  He had mellowed out a bit at this point, well, at least somewhat.  It was a necessary survival mechanism living with four Things and having to be flexible in your accommodations.  Polo then road tripped to MN, our soon to be new home, with Husband Jared, spent his first night in a people hotel and then had a few weeks reprieve from all of us at the pet hotel.  According to Husband Jared he was quite the road trip companion.  Once we were settled in our new home we picked him up from the kennel and I don't know who was happier, us or him.  It was as though part of our family was missing. Even while living in Turkey I missed our walks and having him greet us at the door with his wagging tail.  In MN Polo learned about winters and icicles on his beard and paws.  He sledded and walked on the slippery ice and enjoyed our walks through the prairie.  Usually.  I must share one of our favorite stories about Polo at this point because it took place in MN.  All of us were gathered in the dining room when Polo realized there was a crumb left behind.  It was under the bar stools and he poked his head between the slats when he was stuck.  Of course this startled him and his head was lodged in between the slats of the stool and he couldn't get himself free.  Once we realized he needed help we came to his rescue but anytime we are reminded of this shenanigan the laughter ensues.  Or maybe the time he ate two pounds of raw Italian sausage that was supposed to be our Christmas eve dinner.  Then there was the time he ate a dozen chocolate cupcakes, wrappers and all.  He loved butter.  Anytime sticks of butter were within reach on the counter he would help himself and then stuff the wrapper in the couch cushions, hoping to hide the evidence.  Four years later we were once again moving.  This time back to TN.  Polo road tripped with us, no flights necessary,  and stayed in a people hotel too.  His manners left a little to be desired and he dropped a nice present for all the guests in the hallway.  Oops.  Such is life traveling with a dog, who most of the time thinks he's a person. 

It was cold in MN!

Snuggled in his favorite place, my bed. 

Now the present, for the past, almost, two years we have been in TN, Polo included.  We began noticing he was slowing down but then he would surprise with a youthful run or play time and we would happily continue about our business.  He no longer ran away when off the leash and was accustomed to sleeping on our beds, usually Thing 4's.  The two of them have a special bond.  I like to think that's because they grew up together.  Thing 4 would always be right in Polo's face, staring into his eyes, squeezing him, kissing him, etc.  You get the picture, right?  He tasted his first "pup-cup" from Thing 3's Starbucks and life was good.  And then all of a sudden it wasn't.  

We all kidded and talked about his demise, I think because we all believed he was going to live forever, or at least until he was sixteen.  The Things would ask about getting a puppy to help Polo feel young again, or make comments about what we were going to do when he was gone.  Even I would.  In my heart I hated to even fathom that notion.  He was my sidekick.  My shadow and dare I say, my buddy.  When no one else was home he and I would have some great conversations.  Stirring discussions about nature, what was for dinner, if we should go on a drive with the windows down.  All manner of topics.  He would curl up underneath my desk when I was writing or grading school work.  Polo made it painfully obvious that he was not himself any longer.  It hurt us to watch him suffer and still when it came time to make the decision regarding his diagnosis it wasn't easy.  We wanted to hang on a bit longer.  Go on one more walk.  Have him chase one more treat around the house just so we could watch him when he looked like a rocking horse.  But that wouldn't have been best for him.  So we had to say goodbye.  Friends, let me tell you that was not an easy thing to do.  Watching our Things grieve Polo was rough.  I couldn't keep it together.  It was almost as if he knew.  There was a blanket waiting for him in the room and he laid down immediately.  We showered him with love and held his fu-man-chu face in our hands and rubbed his ears, all his favorite spots.  I kissed him and cried into his neck.  And then it was over.  

I woke up today looking for him, waiting for him to come running down the stairs to go outside.  I walked over to his water dish to refill it, only to realize Husband Jared had already moved it.  Weird, how an animal can become so entrenched into our daily routines and our lives.  Polo existed with us.; A part of our family and by doing so I learned so much.  It sounds cliche and I hesitated to even write this post because of that, but he did teach me and I did love him.  We all did.  He taught our children about responsibility, caring for something other than yourself.  I learned about forgiveness and unconditional love.  It did not matter if I had punished him thirty seconds ago, he would still come to me with his tail wagging, licking my hand and wanting my attention.  Especially if I had bacon.  Polo was loyal.  Our wanna-be courageous guardian.  Although, really, he would just bark until you were close enough for him to lick and sniff inappropriately.  He tried.  Regardless, I felt safer when I was the only human in the house if he was with me.  The dog was not typical.  He lived outside the "dog" boundaries and I loved him even more for it.  Which in turn is an applicable life lesson as a human too.  Be you, no one else can.  Polo had a gentle, mellow spirit with children, with adults, with other dogs.  It was who he was.  He was sad when his people weren't around.  And now we will be sad without him.  So here's to Polo, you are loved and you will be remembered.  Thanks for loving us for 12 years, it was a good run.  

A Weird Day...(a few months ago)

I am sitting here at Starbucks.  My intent was to have a reading hour while Thing 4 was at training but alas I could not resist the urge to write.  I just experienced the most kind encounter with an older gentleman.  Earlier in the day I held a woman while she was convulsing on the asphalt.  What a Monday.  My day began as usual, before the sun and with Husband Jared heading into work.  Start the kettle, pack the lunch, dish out our Juice Plus and blend the protein shake for breakfast.  Done and done.  Then off to the morning training session for Thing 4 and a run on the trails for me.  I could hardly wait.  A podcast was streaming through my head phones and I was off.  In the zone if you will.  On the turn around one of the walkers I had passed was down.  As in laying on the pavement and moaning in despair.  I stopped, checked in and realized her friend was in a panic.  She quickly called 911 and held this stranger's head in my hands, allowing her shoulders to rest on my legs.  Her sweet pup was in a state and jumped onto his owner's chest, nipping at me as I tried my best to offer support.  With the 911 operator on the line we were making progress, although the sweet lady was not coherent and I wasn't sure just what to do, so I prayed.  I cried out to the Lord, in my mind, and asked for a quick response from the paramedics, for help, for peace, for healing and for love to be felt.  That was literally the only thing I had to offer, other than my sweatshirt for warmth.  We, my new found friend Tami, and myself, waited and listened for sirens and attempted to comfort Marissa, who lay in my lap, with Willow, the pup.  And there we waited.   Speaking words of comfort, rubbing her back and trying to illicit any manner of response from her.  Another bystander, an angel in my mind, offered assistance and called the police and aided in tracking down said emergency vehicles to show them our whereabouts.  Thank goodness for kind people.  Still waiting, Tami and I shook our heads and shared looks of concern and helplessness with one another.  What does one do in that situation?  I had certainly never experienced anything quite like that before.  Ever.  This woman apparently has no history of such incidences and to be honest, I was becoming more worried by the minute.  She wasn't opening her eyes, any response we did receive was a head shake or barely audible answer to a one word questions.  We were counting breaths and holding her hands, reassuring Willow and on the lookout.  Finally we heard sirens so I bolted down to the road to flag them down and it was a police officer.  Thankfully he was in communication with the paramedics but the four of us just sat there, mostly clueless.  Occasionally the 911 operator would ask for us to count breaths or give her a status update but other than that, nothing.  And then the ambulance arrived.  Only after another episode which we did determine was a seizure and screams of agony from the patient just before her body gave way and went limp.  It was terrifying.  I am not sure if it was more the not being able to offer relief or the lack of knowledge surrounding this sort of situation, or maybe being a total stranger.  In my mind, it was a combination of all these things.  Once the ambulance determined their course of action I had yet another first time experience;  I rode in the back of a police car.  Yep.  My new friend, and I were sped away to our waiting vehicles.  With that the incident came to a close.  We hugged, exchanged phone numbers so I could be kept apprised to the outcome.  That was it.  She left for the hospital and I went my  own way to collect Thing 4 from training.  On that short drive I attempted to process it all.  So much.  Then Husband Jared called and I was sharing the details with him all he could say was I am so thankful you were there in the moment to offer help.  God knew just what they needed and that was you.  Wow.  Overwhelmed with emotion his words were a balm to my shaky heart and mind.  And isn't that the truth, though?  We are simply asked to show up.  Allow Him to ordain our days.  Work through us.  Later on in the day I received a text.  Tami was catching me up on the doctor's report, the next steps and as we exchanged messages it was apparent that we were both a jumble of scattered thoughts.  She spoke sweet words of gratitude to me and in agreement we hoped for the best possible outcome and complete healing.  The latest update I received confirmed that what the doctors had originally thought was the  worse diagnosis was in fact treatable and Marissa is expected to recover fully. Praise the Lord.  Through this interaction I was once again reminded of  the importance of being available.  The act of paying attention to those in need.  You know, the ones right in front of you.  Yes, thank you Jesus for that "subtle" nudge.  

Gillian is Seventeen!

Girl, what a year 16 was!  You wrote in my Mother's Day card this year, which always falls shortly after your birthday, "thank you for being there for me because I know this year has been hard".  Oh sweet girl, it is my privilege to "be there for you", to walk beside you and shine light on the dark, to speak truth into your struggles and to hold you when it is all too much.  And let's be real, it can be too much for all of us sometimes.  You have blossomed in this year of 16.  Truly.  Your Dad and I have seen an air of confidence about you that wasn't there before.  A deeper smile, a louder laugh and a lightness that has been fought for.  Way to press in and do the work.  Please don't ever stop.  This one precious and wild life is a gift and I want nothing more than for you to live it to the fullest with Jesus.  In this year of 16 you were invited to be a part of the Nehemiah team with Royal Servants and you spent all summer traveling and serving with them.  From Poland to Slovakia and Israel too.  You returned to us marked.  In the very best way.  A love for Jesus and his people that was so much more than where you started from.  More knowledge and new friendships that took you to Boston and made you hungry for adventure.  Your volunteer role with Freedom Reigns moved  to a new level and you are leading a session and have been asked to train one of the new horses.  I just witnessed you working with Dancer for the first time and it was something special for certain.  There was a countenance in your positioning, the way you communicated with the horse, the calmness.  It was so beautiful to watch.  Your level of horsemanship has increased ten fold this year.  You planned a trip to London and Paris with your Dad to visit the Le Cordon Bleu campuses in each city.  After an email chain of conversations with admin representatives you had scheduled tours and asked questions.  And so off you two went.  A whirlwind of a visit, filled to the brim with sight seeing, housing inspections, tours and eating.  Not to mention a special birthday dinner at a Michelin star restaurant.  You showed initiative and a commitment to your dream.  You began a new discipleship relationship and we have seen the fruit of that in many ways.  Not to mention, you started a new job with Starbucks and are now sporting the green apron.  Whew, what a year!  So with all of that, all of the new and unknown I pray you enter into this year of 17 boldly.  Unafraid.  Ready for change and ready for a new chapter in your journey.  I pray you continue to love, to speak the truth, to be you.  Beautiful, known and created in His image,  YOU.  I love you Gilly-Bean, happy 17th birthday!

Israel Day 9-11

Our time in Israel is quickly coming to an end.  I could sense it too.  The days were becoming longer, fuller and a certain urgency was tangible.  With the agenda full and the importance of this place I surely did not want to miss out on anything and yet at the same time there was so much to process already.  Here we go with our last few days in this beautiful country.  

We visited the Israeli museum and gained perspective on the city.  Within the museum walls are original scripts found on the Dead Sea Scrolls with descriptions of where and how they were found and what is written.  There was also a trip to the market, where my five senses came to life. So much to take in.  Lunch at a fish and chips stand, wandering through crooked streets and alleyways, stumbling upon a tiny coffee stand and watching the students navigate bartering, purchasing and enjoying treats of local fare.  My very favorite things to do while exploring. 

Lunch in the market!

To scale model of the city of Jerusalem

The bus traveled dirt roads and hills to take us to the Elah Valley, the site of David's memorable battle against Goliath.  While sitting and reading through scripture of that fight I was reminded of David's faithfulness in the everyday.  The way he developed his relationship with the Lord, daily through praise and worship. It was powerful being on this hill overlooking the valley, reading the story of what went down here. I could see David, small and mighty, Goliath too, full of ego and confident in his stature, almost certain of victory.  And then in a way only the Lord could, the unexpected won.  

Valley of Elah

One night we walked to the ancient citadel of Jerusalem, around the tower and into a viewing of the Tower of David Night Time Spectacular light show.  And spectacular it was!  The lights displayed within the courtyard of the Citadel depicted the history of Jerusalem over 4000 years.  I sat mesmerized by the music and the craftsmanship of not only the ancient walls we were sitting within but the story being told on them.  

We traveled to Bethlehem early one morning and as we did the stark contrast to what we were leaving behind was obvious.  It is a Christian Arab town under the PLA and as we entered in I was unsure of what was waiting for us.  There is the Church of the Nativity, originally built in the 4th century and then replaced with a larger more ornate church in the 6th century.  Within this building are segregated areas belonging to various religious sects and just beyond the Greek Orthodox altar are steps leading to the Grotto of the Nativity, said to be the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus.  Nearby is another chapel, where she supposedly laid Jesus after his birth.  This tour was heady and filled with information, more than I could absorb.  While useful and helpful in understanding context and geography my conclusion is that there is skepticism around exactly where the birth took place.  And understandably so, none of us living today were present then.  Moving on.  We stopped at the Shepherd's field where angels could have appeared to the shepherds announcing Jesus' birth.  There we paused and offered our own worship in the form of songs.  The day continued in Bethlehem with a trip to an olive wood factory.  We saw the master carvers at work and the pile of olive wood waiting to be turned into masterpieces.  Their shop was filled with the most beautiful nativities.  Side note, there is also a coffee shop in Bethlehem known as "Stars and Bucks", not to be confused with Starbucks as we know it and most definitely not the same.  

At work in the olive wood factory.

Shepherd's Valley overlook.

City steps in Bethlehem.

Leaving Bethlehem we saw a different kind of scenery out our bus windows.  Watch towers, barbed wire and military personnel in search of land mines.  How surreal.  I don't really have the words to accurately describe what I saw or what I was thinking as I took it all in.  

Another stop on the itinerary was Golgotha, known as Skull Rock and the Garden Tomb.  After gaining some perspective on location and our whereabouts I realized just how close in proximity we were to actual neighborhoods and city living while at these sites.  Life has been built up around them.  And yet here they are, withstanding the test of time.  There we were.  The supposed location of the tomb where Christ was buried and then rose.  The grounds are beautiful, meticulously maintained and we sat and listened to a brief explanation about the mountain side, where a bus transit lot is adjacent.  Once again modern life continued on as we heard these ancient stories.  A line was formed to enter the tomb and even if it isn't the actual place where Christ was buried the real life viewing of it is otherworldly.  Beyond the photo opportunities is a quaint chapel and there I sat, with our group, waiting to partake in the elements of communion.  To celebrate our time in this sacred land together and worship our King who rose from the dead so we could have eternal life.  It was beautiful.  

We're almost there and yet there is still so much.  We entered the Western Wall Tunnels and saw the largest single cut stone in the world, weighing in at 600 tons.  Underground we continued witnessing Herod's grand design and impressive architectural conquests.  On to Bethesda.  The place where Jesus healed a paralytic, as told in John 5:1-15.  A man that had been an invalid for thirty eight years, who sat waiting in the colonnades for potential healing.  And when Jesus came to him, he asked, "do you want to be healed?", the man answered that he had no one to help him into the pool, and when the opportunity would arise someone always steps in front of him; Essentially leaving him without another way.  Jesus told the man to get up and walk.  And he did, immediately, leaving the area.  Just like that.  Maybe it was in the asking.  Maybe in the believing.  Whatever took place here was a miracle.  And not the only one in this place.  But this one, this one spoke volumes to me.  The man asked.  Jesus did not hesitate.  He granted the man's request.  Then the paralytic got up and walked.  He did not have to worry about someone stepping in front of him.  He didn't have to push or shove, fight or negotiate, plead or compromise in any way.  He got up and walked.  Right after asking.  There is a lesson in there for me.  Also, this was one of two miracles Jesus performed in Jerusalem.  Interestingly enough, they both took place at the water, the one referenced above and the other at the Pool of Siloam, which we had seen at the outlet of Hezekiah's tunnel.  St. Anne's Church, the church of Mary's mother, is located near the Pool of Bethesda and we walked in awestruck.  The acoustics in this place were phenomenal.  Our group formed a circle and began singing and my heart just couldn't contain itself.  Pure and holy.  On to the Holy Church of the Sepulcher, the more likely place that Jesus was buried due to excavations uncovering a rock quarry wall where tombs had been cut into during the first century AD.  The grandness of this church caught me off guard.  Up the steps there was a service taking place and priests walked the entry way with outstretched hands waiting to be kissed.  I felt a certain heaviness in this place and I didn't spend too much time inside.  We walked the Via Dolorosa, otherwise known as the "way of agony", a Catholic created path of the traditional Stations of the Cross.  That lead us into the marketplace.  We had time in the market to explore in small groups and once again barter and shop and take in the local fare.  This area and market was a bit different as we were in the Muslim quarter.  The negotiating did not come as easily and there was a noticeable shift.  Not one to accept the first offer and most definitely not one to pay asking price in a street market I walked away empty handed quite a bit.  Sometimes to my own detriment because I simply forgot the exchange rate or was being too stubborn to accept defeat.  Which of course wasn't really defeat but a bruising in my prideful way.  Yes, I am aware.  I only hope I didn't offer too terrible an example for the young eyes watching me.  I did walk away with a few treasures for the family and some ice-cream that I even attempted to bargain for.  And in the end Thing 2 and I along with our buddy had quite the adventure.  Lessons learned for certain and if nothing else I can laugh at myself now, and I did then too!  What a contrast to the holy singing I mentioned not sentences before.  Hmmm.  

Western Wall tunnels.

My girl.

Singing in St. Anne's Church.

Pool of Bethesda- five porticoes mentioned in the Gospel story (John 5:2)

Via Dolorosa

Walking within the Western Walls.

Light streaming in the church.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

While we were within the Western Wall we visited the outside of it.  The place where prayers are offered and pleadings are made for the glory and light to return.  Men and women are separated in this place, and underground within the men's area is the foundation stone.  On our side there are women and children, covered and not, tourists and not.  There is wailing, which the wall is aptly named for, there are tiny pieces of paper tucked in between it's stones and backwards walking to exit the place.  It is so much to digest.  In one place.  At a single time.  On an isolated visit.  The history, the conflict, the pain, it comes to a head for me here and I am about undone.  I want to understand and yet there are some things that are not meant to be understood.  Or at least that is what I tell myself in the moment.  

The Western Wall

And with this brief description of our late afternoon Ramparts Walk we are just about at the end of our journey.  Psalm 48 was referenced while we stood and waited to began our walk.  In this particular Psalm God is touted as the defender of Jerusalem, His presence is glorified and His power praised because He is within this city, as was believed because of the Temple's presence here.  Let it be so.  We walked up and down the stairs, peeked in the lookouts and it struck me what a mighty city Jerusalem is.  At the end of our walk we prayed and it was powerful.  Hearing the hushed words of our group, pouring out hearts and crying out to the Lord for this city and her people.  I wonder if there has ever been a more beautiful act of worship than offering thanksgiving to our Savior.  

View from the Ramparts.

And now to our final meal together in Israel.  We had a brief window of time to return to our hotel and shower before our trek home began.  In a frenetic pace we divided boys and girls into single rooms, showered, packed and readied ourselves for the journey to our last meal at the table as a group and our flight home.  Dinner was at a small restaurant off the beaten path, a hidden gem if you will.  We even drove on the Road to Emmaeus and landed in Abu Gash, the very place that Samson would have been "hanging out", so many centuries ago.  The tables were covered with platters of delicious food, local to the region and we devoured each and every bite, all while we laughed and shared a special memory of our time together with the entire group.  I'm not much for speaking in front of large groups but this act of remembering and celebrating and sharing marked me.  I relished this time hearing out loud what was significant about this time from everyone, including our tour guide, Aaron and our trip leaders.  The students had been preparing a song for our extraordinary tour guide and bus driver and so when dinner was over, photos were taken and goodbyes exchanged they made a tunnel and sent Aaron and his family as well as Elie our bus driver off with fan fare, in the very best way!  This group knows how to celebrate well!  And from there it was karaoke on the bus all the way to the airport and laughter that filled the bus.  Never, ever a dull moment.  

Table #1

Table #2

The goodbye tunnel! 

And with that we boarded our plane and headed back to the United States.  First stop, Minneapolis.  That was a sweet lay over for Thing 2 and I.  We were able to say hello and give hugs to a few friends and then we waited for our next flight.  After about 36 hours of travel time we landed in TN and were oh so happy about it.  It was a remarkable ten days spent in Israel and I will be forever grateful to have shared that experience with Thing 2.  

Us, worn out but still smiling in Nashy!