There’s No Place Like Home

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Our family is moving to Denver.

It’s been in the works for some time now, as the job offer was presented to Jay six months ago. We spent months in prayer, in depression, in arguments, in anxiousness, in excitement, in faith. We traveled there, looking at neighborhoods and trying to decide if it felt like a good fit for our family. We talked to people, did some research. Prayed a LOT… and finally realized that for many different reasons it was the right move for our family.

More accurately, that this was without an ounce of doubt God’s plan for us.

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We’ve struggled with an incredible amount of emotions along the way. South Florida been my home for over 35 years; I don’t think a week has gone by in those six months that I haven’t cried at the thought of leaving all that I love. The list is endless: the humidity, the crazy thunderstorms, the rough-around-the-edges people, the alligators, the colorful vibe, the palm trees, the diversity, the traffic, the year-round vegetation, the heat. I even love the hurricanes. I am a true Floridian, heart and soul, to the core.

There’s the people we are leaving. My parents and brother. Jay’s parents and his grandmother. My best friend, Sanne, who I only met 7 years ago but has become the sister I never had. Kim, the girl who’s been my best friend since we were 6 years old and has been with me through every major stage in life. Christine, my roommate from college who has seen me at my absolute worst and has chosen to love me through it anyway. Tina, the friend who more than anyone has taught me how to love and accept myself. Leanette, who has never stopped encouraging me to move forward and not be afraid to face my fears. Jen, who has become my favorite running partner and motivates me to never quit. And the countless others in my life that have shown me the best and worst things about myself and have never given up on me as I’ve worked to be the best me I can be.

And then there’s our church. We fell in love with the community vibe of our church immediately, and felt like we’d finally found a place we could grow in our faith. And grow we did. Jay and I went through many seasons during our years at Crossway – our struggle with infertility, Emily starting school, job changes, marital struggles, and now this move. And although our church isn’t perfect and there have been bumps and hurt feelings along the way, we have always felt God’s presence while there. God has used the people in our church to shape us and prepare our hearts, very likely for this move, and their loving prayers have been an incredible force in this journey.

But to be honest, this whole thing sucks.

It’s so ridiculously hard to fall so deeply in love with a place and an entire family of friends and then feel called to leave. It breaks my heart. I don’t understand it one bit. Everything around me holds a memory. I can’t look at a palm tree without getting a tear in my eye. I can’t drive down the street without thinking of the roads ahead. I can’t think about saying goodbye without choking up. I just can’t.

I love having connections to people. And when I make that connection, no matter how silly or small or insignificant, that person has officially found their place in my heart. Do you have a brother named Kevin? You’re already cooler. Do you have a fondness for banana sandwiches? You’re awesome. Do you love Criminal Minds and jigsaw puzzles and ironing? Well hey there, new friend. That’s how I roll. I can’t not feel something for you once that connection is there. Because I seek out those connections, I find them. And as a result, I end up loving everyone. I just can’t help it. Yes, there are some people who have gone beyond that surface connection and reached the depths of my undying loyalty and love, and others who have rubbed me wrong, but if you’re in my life and there’s any sort of link between us, I’m happy you’re there and I genuinely mean that.

Yesterday a whole bunch of those fabulously awesome people in my life came together at a local park to say goodbye. Some were those deep-soul people, others I’ve only known a few months. We ate together, cried together, played together, and prayed together. And I left feeling more emotions than I think I’ve ever felt at once in my whole life. I’m overwhelmed with joy and sadness and excitement and pain and nervousness and eagerness and expectations and hurt and gratitude and peace. But the one thing I’m feeling more than anything is love. It’s smothering absolutely every other emotion.

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I look at Jay, who has been so loving and supportive through this whole process, always letting me feel whatever I need to feel. I look at Emily, who has been so encouraging on my worst days – yes, my 9 year old is telling me it’s going to be okay. I look at Julia, who’s just a total bubble of excitement now that she knows moving to Denver doesn’t mean we will miss Christmas. I look to my friends, who have cried with me and made time to be with me before we go and are already planning their trips to come see me. I look at our church, who has prayed with us and encouraged us and loved us through it all. And I gratefully look to God, who has blessed us with absolute peace every step of the way.

So we look forward to our new adventure. We are confidant that God is the Maker of our path, and that His will in our life is what’s best for our family… even if that means His will lies 2,038 miles away.

Just look at what He’s done for us here in South Florida.

We are truly blessed. ❤

Thankful for the Captured Moments

Kids can be a total pain in the butt – especially when you pull out the camera. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t give birth to children who know how to look into the lens with super sweet and genuine smiles on command. I don’t blame them that their mother doesn’t have the slightest clue about angles or backdrops or flashes or anything photo-related – those are completely my fault. But I do blame them for thinking that “freeze” means “dance around wildly”, that “say cheese” means “give me the most annoyed look ever,” and that “hug your sister” means “please hug her so hard you knock her into that massive mud puddle on the ground.”

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No, in our house beautiful photographic moments are almost always immediately ruined by the arrival of a camera. We have fun with it though, and even though most of my photos are blurry, out of focus, and full of weird faces I love knowing that who we are has been accurately captured forever.

But every so often I manage to snap a photo that freezes a perfect moment for all time. Usually this means the girls aren’t aware that a camera was present, and so the image collected is one of absolute genuineness – the definition of a candid.

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While I love all the photos in this post, the following are my absolute top favorite candids ever, with a little backstory on each. Be warned, these photos might melt your heart… they sure do mine.

❤ Julia had colic as a baby and cried constantly. She quieted down before I got to her room one morning, and when I peeked in I saw that Emily had brought in the stool so she could give her sister the pacifier. I think this is one of first candid photos I ever took of the girls together, and I love that you can’t even see Julia in it.

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❤ On a family vacation to Savannah we stayed in a hotel room that was a bit too small for the hotel-provided crib and Emily’s cot. We were worried that the girls would play all night and that none of us would get any sleep, but especially that Julia would bother Emily all night since their beds were bumped right up beside each other. Shortly after getting them both settled down, we looked over to see that Emily was already passed out. But instead of bothering her sister and waking her up, we saw Julia’s little arm extended out of the crib, offering Emily a pacifier. Yes, I died in a puddle of Mommy Mush.

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❤ Emily is a natural-born nurturer, always looking out for Julia and wanting to protect her. The girls rarely get sick, and when they do it’s almost always completely out of nowhere with very little indication an illness is on the way. When I went into Julia’s room to wake her for school one morning I found the girls like this and rushed to my room to get the camera. Julia had become sick during the night, and when Emily had gone in to read to her in the morning Julia passed right out in her lap, exhausted from her sick bug.

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❤ This last favorite is just more evidence of Emily’s love for Julia, who had just received a couple of shots at her doctor’s visit. Julia didn’t want me to comfort her, she only wanted her big sister.

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I’m thankful for these moments more than I can express, and I’m sure every mother out there completely understands why. The girls are 9 and 4 now, and as their interests begin to differ and they begin to grow more independently from each other the opportunities for these beautiful moments will begin to dwindle as well. I know there will be fewer and fewer photos on my camera as the girls grow and live their lives, and more and more photos on their cameras of people I won’t know and places I won’t be with them. And that’s okay – it’s part of letting them grow.

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But for now, I’ll take as many pictures as I can – both candid and cheesy-posed. And I’ll cherish the moments I’ve already captured – for myself as much as for them. ❤

How a Song Changed my Feelings on Temptation

Temptation pisses me off.

I have struggled with accepting the idea of temptation’s existence my entire life. I’m not talking about being tempted to eat a glazed donut when you know you should eat a banana or being tempted to buy a cute pair of fringed boots when you know you’ve got to pay the electric bill.

I’m talking purely about the temptation to stray while in a committed relationship.

I have no idea why this has been such a hangup of mine, but ever since I was a kid I’ve found myself ridiculously angered whenever I’ve heard that someone has been unfaithful to the one they swore to be faithful to. I’ve never considered myself a romantic or one to have “fairy-tale dreams” about living happily ever after, but I do believe – very strongly – that if you vow to spend the rest of your life loving someone then you darn well better keep that vow – and not put yourself into situations where you’ll be tempted to be unfaithful.

Now, I understand that people sometimes fall out of love. And I’ve watched enough Lifetime movies to know that feelings for another person can sneak up on you and develop without you ever seeking them out – especially if things are not well in your primary relationship. I know that people change, tragedies happen, mistakes are easily made, and the day-to-day monotony of life can make you crave something more exciting.

But I still can’t stand the thought of someone actually going through with it.

I have always been an insecure person, and I spent the first 8 or 9 years of my marriage convinced that one day Jay was going to find someone better than me and decide he’d rather be with her. Someone kinder (I can be quite snippy), someone more beautiful (I still get huge ugly pimples), someone cleaner (always barefoot = dirty feet), someone smarter (I taught Kindergarteners… not an easy job, but not exactly the same intelligence level as a neurosurgeon). I know now what a stupid thing that was to let myself dwell on. Feeling like I wasn’t worth his love began to heighten my awareness of the physical temptations that are absolutely everywhere: miniskirts, high heels, perfect skin, big boobs. Jay finally told me that it hurt him that I didn’t see myself the way he did, that I thought so little of him that I didn’t think he was capable of keeping his commitment to love and be faithful to only me for the rest of our lives. Seeing how my fears were hurting him, I decided to let them go.

But it’s still hard to not be afraid from time to time when temptation is everywhere, and enjoying its presence in our everyday lives is completely normal: movies… TV shows… songs… books… checking out and enjoying someone else while in a committed relationship is inarguably prevalent in our society, and it’s more abnormal than not to consider the potential consequences for indulging in temptation… even if nothing is “actually” done.

Please don’t misunderstand, I am completely aware of human nature, of how men are “wired,” and that women have emotional needs that sometimes men just have no idea how to fill. But it’s hard for me to believe that we can face sexual temptation over and over and somehow manage to never cave. The Bible teaches us to lean on God to help us fight temptation, to pray for the strength to turn away. But it also points out that the flesh is weak. I was starting to feel like everywhere I looked I saw more examples of weak flesh than strength in action. When you see friends, celebrities, and pastors cheat or be cheated on, it’s even harder to believe that any of us has the strength to say no.

So here’s where the song comes in.

Lately I’ve been hearing Andy Grammer’s new song, “Honey I’m Good,” on the radio a lot. Catchy lyrics, a kind of hoe-down-y beat – I found myself singing along almost immediately. The song is about a guy who’s out at night, having a drink or two and noticing the girls in the bar around him. He notices their legs, their nice tushies, and even acknowledges that they would probably be a lot of fun to spend the night with. But, unfailingly, he chooses to go home to the love of his life.

I struggled with the message behind this song for a while (though I was always singing along). Even though he remains faithful to his girl, I hated that he even mentioned the pleasing appearance of the other women there. I didn’t understand why he would even allow himself to be somewhere – drinking almost to the point of giving in to temptation – if he loved his girl so much. In my eyes, if he really loved her he wouldn’t be there in the first place. I really wanted to see the good in this song, but I couldn’t tell if it was about him being faithful to his wife or wishing he didn’t have to be.

Then I saw the video.

And I get it now. At least, I think I do.

I can’t keep allowing myself to notice and focus on the failings of others. Their lack of resistance to temptation is no reflection of my marriage or Jay’s commitment to me. Despite the fact that I’ve always known this (I wouldn’t have married a man I didn’t trust my heart with), seeing this video gave me the visual I needed. Made me realize that there are still lots of people out there who are determined to remain true. Dedicated. Loyal.

Faithful.

It’s not that they’ve been faithful because they were never tempted and it was easy. No. These couples made a choice – a choice to fight temptation and maintain their commitment. And they aren’t upset that the temptations exist, because the truth is, they do exist. And all we can do is make sure we don’t give in. For Jay and I, that means leaning on Christ to help us remain forever loyal to one another.

Which we have. And will continue to do. Hopefully until we can hold up a sign saying we’ve been married for 71 years… or longer. ❤

A Spoonful of Love

Today is Valentine’s Day. ❤ It’s also the 39th anniversary of my in-laws.

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I love these two more than they’ll ever know. But they also don’t know that one small interaction between the two of them impacted me so deeply that it caused me to have more love for their relationship, more love for them as individuals, and more love for their son.

Jay and I will celebrate our 13th anniversary later this year, and we’ve experienced our share of ups and downs. Our biggest arguments were always centered around children – mainly whether or not we were ready to have them (I was, he wasn’t so sure). We’ve disagreed with the best ways to spend our money (he’s a genius at this, so I usually defer to him), struggled with infertility (it took us just over 16 months to get pregnant with Julia), and loss (both of Jay’s grandfathers passed within the same year). We’ve seen each other at our best – and our worst. We’ve done sickness and health. I don’t handle sickness very well – Jay’s or mine – which is usually when he sees me at my worst. 😀

Pam and Woody, my in-laws, have never been an outwardly lovey-dovey pair. They are affectionate with each other, for sure – a kiss here, a backrub there. They laugh and catch each other’s eye when out together at a restaurant. They vacation together and support each other’s aspirations. But they don’t always hold hands or giggle or finish each other’s sentences or anything like that. I’ve actually seen them disagree (usually about mundane details like the last movie they saw or the name of the guy that installed their windows) more than I’ve seen them smooch. Jay and his father are ridiculously alike, and Pam and I have had many fabulous “you’re-not-the-only-wife-going-through-this” conversations where we vent about our handsome hubbies. My mother-in-law is a strong, no-nonsense woman; my father-in-law a hardworking goofball. Their marriage isn’t perfect, and although their expressions of love are subtle, it’s plainly evident how strong their love for each other really is.

I’ve watched their interactions for the past 14 years. In all this time, one singular moment in their marriage stands out to me more than any other: watching my strong, no-nonsense mother-in-law patiently feel spoonfuls of ice to my father-in-law. Such a small, silly thing, but it touched me more deeply than any other act of love I’d witnessed in my life.

Let me give you a little backstory to that spoonful of ice. Exactly a year ago, Pam and Woody were in London celebrating their 38th anniversary when Woody stepped into a pothole in the street and fell, causing multiple and severe injuries to his ankle and leg. They ended up spending the rest of their vacation in a London hospital, the doctors doing what they could to ease his pain while Pam and Woody waited to fly home so that he could have his injuries cared for back here in the states. Soon after they arrived, my father-in-law had the surgeries necessary to put him on the slow road to recovery. The girls and I went to visit him in the hospital, and that’s when I saw Pam spoon-feeding him the ice.

In that moment, I saw what true love is all about. My father-in-law was nothing short of a mess in that hospital bed – unshaven, unable to sit up, completely groggy from the pain meds. My beautiful mother-in-law was gently giving him ice. He was looking right into her eyes with nothing but gratitude and adoration. There wasn’t an ounce of no-nonsense in her, not a drop of goofiness in him. It was a side of their relationship I’d never seen before. I know that Woody would probably have been happier if I hadn’t seen him like that, and at first I was a little uncomfortable myself. But I’m so thankful I did witness this almost private moment between them. It was beautiful, and that image has remained with me over the past year.

Today is Valentine’s Day. ❤ Pam and Woody are celebrating their 39th anniversary today. My parents will be celebrating their 37th anniversary later this month. Jay and I will be celebrating 13 years this June. Love takes many forms and looks like many things, and I pray that even my most ordinary actions towards Jay reflect the depth of love I saw in that one small spoonful of ice.

_MG_1928Happy Anniversary, Pam and Woody. I love you both so much. ❤

*** Photos by Linda Benedict Photography ***