The People Part!

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Andy on the ferry from Orcas Island to Anacortes in Washington

After visiting the North Cascades we went back up into Canada, but this time to see friends. Our number 2 reason to take this trip was to spend time with people we love that we rarely get to see. We started calculating our vacation time versus the distance and cost to travel to see people and how many years it would take to see them all, and it would have been years upon years. So when we started kicking around the idea of this trip, dropping in with friends and family along the way made great sense! We couldn’t think of any better way to maintain those relationships than to spend time together- so we did.

We lived and laughed with everyone we connected with and our time together was heart and soul filling. Often our friends shared how God has been working in their lives recently and we stepped away encouraged. It would be a ridiculously long list if I mentioned each person individually and shared how much we enjoyed our visit so I’m going to summarize and please know that we LOVED our time with you and are so grateful we were able to visit!!

From BC, Washington, Oregon and California we visited 48 friends and family! (Not counting Montana and Alberta there were another 19.) Huh, it really didn’t feel like a lot until I counted them all! See– this would have taken years to pull off with annual vacation weeks!

The big chunk of visiting took place over a month, with camping and a hotel night in between. It was definitely what Andy affectionately calls, “The people part of the trip.” He said if we were going to move somewhere we should pick the Pacific Northwest because we’d have some built in support to build community out here. All I have to say is tempting… because everyone we’ve spent time with is wonderful. And then I think of the people that call us Auntie and Uncle and I want to point the car east and head toward home.

But not yet. We have a month to go (roughly- as I’m writing this) and I’m doing my best to enjoy these moments as I’m in them. I’m thankful for this time that Andy and I have together and am so grateful for the kind people in our lives that we’ve been able to reconnect with on this trip.

Thanks for inviting us into your lives, homes, vacations, breakfasts, lunch meet ups, sailboat, football stadium, beach bonfire and ice cream shops. We love you all.

And come to Minnesota, will ya?

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North Cascades National Park

This park gets its own entry because we stumbled upon a beautiful place here. Andy and I bought the annual national park pass for this trip, but it turns out, you don’t need it for this park. There is no fee station at the entrance, but there was a visitor center just before the park. Since Andy and I have always learned something new and helpful at visitor centers, we don’t pass these up. A kind volunteer gave us a slew of options for places to see and we were on our way!

As is custom for our trip, Andy was driving and I was staring aimlessly and happily out the passenger side window when suddenly something caught my eye, I yelled, STOP! PULL OVER! I have to give Andy credit for this part, and maybe it’s because I hadn’t done this before, but he pulled over at the next pull out all while subtly questioning me at the same time with “are you serious?” All I could think to say was, I saw something pretty.

He parked and followed me back to what can only be described as a scene out of a fairy tale. Everything was lush, green, squishy and beautiful. There was a smallish waterfall with down trees all over and moss and old man’s beard was growing everywhere- on the big rocks, on the bark of the fallen trees across the water stream, on the ground. In a word, it was breathtaking. Once we arrived Andy said, “Oh wow.”

I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by green things in nature and water in the form of lakes, oceans, waterfalls, brooks, streams, rivers- but I love it all. I was pretty happy in this place and was pretty content to gently explore around it. There were a zillion shades of green under a canopy of extremely tall trees.

There was no one else there, so we took our time in climbing and looking at everything from different views. It was so peaceful. The further I climbed the more little mounds I could see on the upper left side- it looked like a hobbit could come bounding out of one at any moment. I’ve tried my best to describe it with words, here are some pics that don’t nearly do the place justice. Probably because sunlight was streaming in making the place all the more magical and it was midday, or maybe just because I was just stepping around in awe, trying to capture with my little phone what my mind could hardly contain.

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My attempt to capture a storybook scene

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Doesn’t this look like a great place for a hobbit to live?

 

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What I saw out the window that made us stop

We came about this place from the west entrance of the park and it’s near a sign that says “Pyramid Lake” in case anyone wants to scope it out. I don’t know if someone else would think it’s as cool as we did. I am, self admittedly, easily amused. But this stop makes my “favorite places” list of things we’ve seen so far on this trip.

 

Homebody as a Nomad

We have a road trip tradition of stopping at A&W for a root beer. For this trip, our first A&W stop was in BC on a 96 degree day. It was notable because we had been in the mountains for the past three weeks and the highest temps we had were in the low 80s. We had our lunch in the cooler so we pulled into the A&W parking lot and Andy suggested we make the sandwiches in the shade of the car. He stood on one side, I on the other. I handed him the cutting board and knife and he passed the bread and mustard to me. He sliced the cheese and I layered the turkey and I handed his completed sandwich back.

We moved to the front seats with the car windows down and in between bites Andy said, “Nomading is weird.”

I laughed thinking back on the scene that had just unfolded and how far it was from our normal day to day life at home. After a few moments of silence I said, “Yeah, I don’t think I could do this long term.” Andy’s response was immediate- “You couldn’t! You’re a homebody.” I thought for a moment before agreeing– I am a homebody.

I like being in one place or at least having a place to come home to. 

We’ve been traveling now for 60 some days and we have just under a month left. We’ve stayed in countless tent spots across ND, MT, WY, Alberta, BC, WA, (friends and family in OR) and CA. We’ve had a couple nights in the car (one when our tent pole broke) and two hotel nights. It’s two more than I thought we’d have, but they’ve both been a refreshing break when we needed them.

And the best has been the days and nights we stayed with friends and family. Twice I’ve stayed up past 2am talking to different friends in their living room, catching up on life, sharing thoughts and ideas, discussing how we’re learning to be better adults and all sorts of real, honest things.  

For a self identified homebody the repeated changing environments have been an adjustment. I’ve had to find a new way to feel, “at home” on the road. And here’s the surprising part I discovered: Home is where the tent is

I was totally shocked by this. I didn’t even realize it until after staying with friends and family for a bit. But when we set it up after a few days without it, I crawled in, and I’m not sure if I said it aloud, but I certainly felt my heart say, “hello, old friend.”

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Andy making breakfast north of Jasper National Park, Alberta

At night I bring in my tiny bag (about the size of my hand) that holds medicine, earplugs, (I never know who we’ll be camping next to) and my headlamp. I usually grab whatever book I’m reading and my journal in an effort to stay caught up on our daily events.

And here’s something I never thought I’d say….I looovvve our tent. My 20 year old (not exaggerating) sleeping bag, teeny thermarest and inflatable pillow have become my creature comforts. Even with those things, it’s really not that comfortable. If given the option to climb into a tent or not at home, I’d never hop inside. But somehow, this tent has become my my safe place.

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Andy with our tent in California

This tent was our first joint purchase while we were dating, 11 years ago. It seemed a little roomier then!

Even if it’s cozy, it’s nice to have a home away from home on the road.

Oh, Canada!

After staying nearly two weeks in Montana, we spent 16 days in Canada visiting the National Parks of Banff, Yoho and Jasper along with some beautiful provincial parks. We crossed over from Glacier National Park into Waterton and stayed the night with gracious friends in Cochrane. We drove south the next day for our one reserved campsite of our entire trip, in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Our site was awesomely huge and private with gorgeous trees all around. The next morning was our ten year anniversary and we went back toward Banff to find a place to camp. We found a place at the municipal campground wedged between train tracks and a highway and it’s just as romantic as it sounds 😉

We went into Banff on our anniversary day where Andy skipped rocks at Lake Minnewanka, below.

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Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park, Alberta

We went out for our anniversary at a little indian restaurant. Once back at our campsite, we opened a bottle of wine at our picnic table that we had been carrying around with us since we left MN two weeks earlier.

The next day we went to Lake Louise, along with hundreds of others.

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Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta

We took a hike up from Lake Louise. The water looked greener and greener the higher up we hiked. We saw views like this:

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Lake Agnes Tea Hike in Banff National Park, Alberta

I’m a big fan of lakes and Andy is a big fan of mountains. We were both happy in the Rockies. It was my first time to see most of these places.

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Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta

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Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta

The Banff park area was great and beautiful, and also very crowded. I prefer to be where the people aren’t, so we drove into Yoho National Park just west of Banff into BC, and we saw a whole bunch of pretty places. There was a natural bridge formed by a waterfall, Emerald lake was gorgeous and green depending where the light was hitting it. Takakkaw Falls was also in Yoho, a huge tall waterfall– everything seemed prettier with less crowds 🙂

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Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, BC

Canada camping was some of the cheapest camping we’ve done on this trip. I’d like to thank the exchange rate for having some of our nights cost only $11. Snaring overflow campground just north of Jasper was one of my favorites, even without sinks, showers or flushable toilets. We were able to duck our tent into the trees a bit and had a great time! We had some amazing sunsets there. We kept laughing too, because for about 3 weeks in a row, each new place we camped we were right next to train tracks.

My home as a teen was next to train tracks so I felt right at home. We must have been following the Canadian railway system closer than we realized. I offered Andy earplugs at night.

If you get a chance to visit the Banff and Jasper area, I highly recommend Yoho and Kootenay is the other national park nearby too. Even though we didn’t get to the last one, I bet it is just as nice at Yoho.

Happy travel dreaming.

A non-hiker hikes in Montana

To understand the significance of me hiking Beehive Basin, I need to get one thing out of the way first. I have to give an accurate picture of how out of shape I am. I have never exercised more than three times in a week– actually, I’m probably being generous there- let’s say twice in a week. And those occasions were extremely rare. Like the times that I’ve exercised twice in week has happened maybe…. 10 times in my life. So yes, I am the person who gets winded walking a steep flight of stairs just a little too quickly (read: at a normal pace). Okay, so that’s me.

Andy loves to hike, loves Montana and he loves Beehive Basin, a hike in Big Sky, MT. He calls it his happy place and recently had the mountain range of the Spanish Peaks (the range at the top of the hike) tattooed on his arm. It’s a place in the world where he feels most at peace and most himself.

Andy’s family has been visiting Big Sky since the 90s and this is a hike I have heard the whole family talk about often. On our first trip out here together 5 years ago I twisted my ankle the day before the hike so this year was my chance at redemption and to see what all the fuss is about.

Andy told me the hike was 2 miles, so I thought it was weird we had packed a lunch, but whatever. And let’s also be clear- this is not a difficult hike for probably most humans on the planet. People in their 70s were passing me. I’d like to blame the elevation (a gain of 1600 feet up) and the length (turns out it’s between 6 and 7 miles total) or the time (I think we were gone for 6 hours) and any other excuse that sounds reasonable, but really, I’m just out of shape.

At one point when the hike got hard I looked down and I saw my arm. I saw where I had my brother’s signature tattooed a couple months ago. His writing was taken from a card he sent me years ago. My dad calls it, “the perfect Justin scrawl.”

We were in a flat part of the hike and I had gotten ahead of our little group of me, Andy and his mom and dad. (Which, PS, my in-laws can do this hike in their sleep. They kindly slowed down so I didn’t feel like I was the one constantly stopping us, though at the beginning, I most certainly did.)

Anyway, I looked at my arm and thought of my brother. And I also thought about his death. I thought about his last breath. And I reminded myself that I was alive, I had air in my lungs, and I could do this hike. I could keep going even when it was tough.

My brother doesn’t have breath in his lungs anymore, but when he did, he wanted to keep on living. It wasn’t his choice to die. So I kept going because he can’t. I thought of him and cried because I missed him. I cried because sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s really gone. I cried because I hate that he’s gone.

I was glad I had on sunglasses and was a ways ahead of the group for these thoughts and memories. I was cruising at this point, having something else to think about and focus on probably helped. Andy actually had to call out to me to stop because it wasn’t safe for me to be by myself in bear country.

After a while of processing all these thoughts and continuing to push myself further than I thought I was capable of, I stopped to take a picture of my arm. But the rear facing camera was on which made me laugh (because when is that ever a flattering angle?), so I grinned and got this one first.

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I switched the camera back to get a picture of my hiking motivation, my brother’s signature complete with a little heart and arrow he used to draw when signing his name on cards.

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My brother’s signature

I felt my brother’s presence with me on that hike which made me smile because I don’t think that hike would have been his first idea of a good time either. I got brave at one point and asked him what he thought of me doing this hike. He liked to tease me for being what he called, “unathletic” for well, my whole life. And when I asked what he thought, I only heard four words back, “I’m proud of you.”

And yes, I sobbed exactly like a woman talking to her dead brother’s spirit on a hiking trail.

When we got to the lake at the top and were rewarded with an up close view of the Spanish Peaks, I felt glad I had done something that was hard for me. And I noticed another feeling. I was proud of me, too.

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The view at Beehive Basin with Alpine Lake and the Spanish Peaks

First Days on the Road

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Teddy Roosevelt National Park, channeling my inner Ansel Adams

Last week we left town for three-ish months on the road. As I hugged my mom goodbye she said, “Have enough fun for all of us who wish we could go with you!” I told her that was a lot of fun but we’ll do our best.

Here are some highlights of our first few days.

We arrived at our first stop, Teddy Roosevelt National Park in ND in the pouring rain. Andy said, “Let’s go take a pic at the scenic overlook!” and he took off running. I yelled, “Oh, you’re serious!” as I pulled up my rain jacket hood and ran after him. We took a pic and got soaked. It was a great first stop.

After the rain moved on we drove through the park and we got out to do a hike. Andy said it was like walking in mud slippers as the clay stuck to our hiking shoes. There were sage bushes everywhere that smelled amazing.

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Andy’s mud slippers

After this hike we did another short one. At the end of the trail there were a couple benches to take in the scenery. Andy jumped up on one and yelled, “I’m the King of the World!” Excited to be the Kate Winslet to his Leo I jumped up too and grabbed his arms ala Titanic. Andy did a quick jump back and he does this on heights sometimes to fake me out like he’s falling. But then I heard him whisper, whoa! I followed his gaze and about 15 feet away was a huge buffalo eating some grass on the hill just below us. We stood frozen, watching him, until the buffalo made eye contact and I whispered in Andy’s ear, “time to go!” We walked briskly back to the car and watched as the buffalo walked right up the trail we had just been on. Very cool, but we don’t need to be that close again!

It was nearing sunset at this point so we needed to find a place to sleep. The park campground was full but I had seen a run down sign that said “campsites” with an arrow a couple miles back in Medora, so we went to check it out. There was karaoke going on outside and that sealed the deal. After we set up the tent we went back to listen and cheer on the brave singers as they sang everything from Achy Breaky Heart and a teen who killed it with Halo by Beyonce. Andy even did a duet with another camper of Sweet Caroline for the closing song of the evening.

I kept smiling all night telling Andy this was my best camping experience ever. Every campground should have live karaoke. This was the perfect ending to a really great first day of the trip.

The second morning we did some more hikes in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, the sky was spectacular and looked like a Microsoft background of clouds had been laid behind each gorgeous view we were treated to hike after hike.

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After a few hours we hit the road again to head to Montana. We stopped at Pompeys Pillar that has the last physical evidence of Lewis and Clark’s original exploration from when Clark etched his name into the rock and dated it on July 25, 1806. Next we drove to a family friend’s home in Joliet, MT which had gorgeous views of its own. She treated us to a home cooked meal and great conversation, so kind and fun- she even sent us off with homemade cookies!

We drove into Red Lodge the third morning and took the Beartooth Highway, the highest elevation paved highway in the northern Rocky Mountains. It’s 68 miles total but takes about 3 hours to cover due to the slow speeds for the switchbacks and hairpin turns. Also, it’s beautiful so there was lots of stopping to take in the views.

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Overlook in the Beartooth Mountains

We slept in Wyoming at a campsite next to Beartooth lake, making our fourth night in a row of sleeping in a different state each night. The next morning we drove to Yellowstone National Park and did some exploring of the Lamar Valley as well as taking in the sights of the lower falls near Canyon Village.

At one point we pulled over to watch a bison who was eating some grass. Andy was in the driver’s seat and I had my door open to take some pictures. Suddenly the bison started walking toward our car so I closed the door but kept taking pics through the open window. It was less than 10 feet away before Andy yelled, “Holy, Wow, Sheesh!” and hit the gas and got out of the way.

After leaving Yellowstone we found a taco bus for a late dinner, with authentic Mexican and handmade tortillas in West Yellowstone. The back half of the bus was converted to a kitchen and the front half had bar stools and a small counter for diners. Maybe we were just hungry, but we both said it was the best tacos we’ve ever had.

Once we were tucked into our campsite in West Yellowstone, at about 12:30 am lightning filled the sky and the rain poured down on us. It was the worst rainstorm we’ve seen while camping since our small group camping adventure in 2008 (remember that, friends?). The storm lasted for 9 more hours. We stayed dry and packed up the sopping wet rain fly and tent the next morning.

We’re now visiting with Andy’s parents who are vacationing in Big Sky, Montana for the week with beautiful mountain hikes and views. It’s wonderful being in one place for longer than 12 hours, and the chance to sleep in a bed and wash hands in a sink- oh the little things I had forgotten I take for granted!

The “Why Not?” Trip

About a year ago we started lightly kicking around the idea of taking time off work to travel. Now it’s actually happening. We are leaving in July. We expect to spend around 3ish months road tripping.

Only one campsite reservation has been made for one night, so the trip is pretty wide open. But so far it’s looking like….Montana, Canadian Rockies, BC, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

When we first started testing this idea of travel out on unsuspecting friends and family- we wanted to hear how it sounded coming out- did we believe ourselves? Could we really give this a try?

One of the best responses we received was from a family friend who shared this story:

It’s from a commencement address attributed to Brian Dyson, who held several senior management positions with Coca-Cola during his long career. He told a class of Georgia Tech graduates, “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air: work, family, health, friends and spirit. You’re keeping all of these in the air.

“You soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. It will never be the same.”

We knew it was true.

And we realized this trip would be giving space for nurturing and growing our faith, relationships, and hopefully our health too.

If you live in or have connections in these areas and want to give us recommendations of places to see or people to stay with- we’d love to hear about it. Please share your tips in the comments!

It’s time to bounce that rubber ball! 

Doing the Right Thing- Taking a Sabbatical

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Photo by Andy in Badlands National Park

Andy and I have made the decision to travel for a few months. A whole bunch of prayer, conversation, and planning with calculators, library travel books, and maps have led to this choice.

We talk about this travel time in a bunch of different ways. There are a couple words we keep coming back to in an effort to describe it. We’re hitting the pause button on our day to day life, or maybe more of a “reset.” A time to try something different.

Taking a few months off is a risk, to be sure. And this trip is also full of potential to be restful, refreshing, and maybe even life changing? It’s been a tough few years in some key areas of our lives, and we’re looking at this time as a sabbatical of sorts.

The word sabbatical comes from the biblical word “sabbath” which reflects the human need to stop and rest. Shabbat in Hebrew literally means a “ceasing”. Other language describes a sabbatical as simply a break from work.

While we are on our road trip we will take time to reconnect with each other, and with family and friends we’ll visit along the way. When we’re not bumming a spot on someone’s couch or spare room, we’ll be camping and exploring National Parks. 

In some ways, this was a really easy choice to make and in some ways it was hard. But mostly it came down to the fact that we had talked about it so much- we knew if we didn’t give it a try, we’d always regret it. And we knew if we actually did it, we’d never regret it. The short question we asked ourselves was, “Why not?”

I saw a photo of a piece of paper on Instagram recently with the handwritten words, “I did the right thing for me.” The note was a reminder for when they’re making big decisions filled with risk and possibility to make decisions based out of love instead of fear. I really like that way of thinking, especially as it relates to our desire to take this sabbatical.

After all the prayer, conversation and planning, in this moment of time– this is a good thing for us.

Does Grief Have a Timeline?

This morning as I was backing my car out of the driveway a song was just starting on the radio. It was a song that reminded me of Justin because he had said something about it once. “I almost stopped believin’ once, and I bet Journey was pissed!” So I smiled, laughed at the memory of how funny my brother was, and .02 seconds later I was full on ugly crying. I cried through the entire song, up the hill, through the stop lights and into a new town, until it ended. I hadn’t had a long cry like that over Justin in quite a while.

So I started thinking, it’s been over a year and the missing him waves can be just as strong as it was the moment he was no longer in this world.

A friend’s dad recently died and he describes the void in the world as a hole he lives with where his dad used to be. I saw an author say those feelings are the cost of loving deeply, and I think that’s true too. If there wasn’t such great love there, there wouldn’t be such great pain and grief without them.

Facebook memories reminded me this morning that a year ago, a friend posted a picture on my page of an hourglass that said, “There is no timeline with grief, take all the time you need.” I like that. I don’t know if I’ll ever be “done” grieving and I definitely don’t think grief is something to “get over” or “move on” from.

But I like the language about moving forward, in spite of the grief, continuing to live around this hole where our person used to be, acknowledging their life and the sadness of their absence for as long as we need to.

Even if it’s as long as we live.

 

Recent Reads- When we were on fire

This spring I started and finished Addie Zierman’s first book in two days, When We Were on Fire: A memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting over.

A friend recommended it to me based on her honesty in the book. My very favorite part was at the end during her Q & A. She was asked, “Where are you now in your spiritual life? What kind of church do you attend? What qualities attracted you to it?”

I would say that I’m still in the place of rebuilding and redefining what I believe. Our church journey was a long, difficult one. The church we ended up at in the final chapters of this book is not the one we attend now- though it was a safe place to land for a while. We connected with a few other couples and had a chance, for the first time, to share our story vocally and honestly. Our years there played a major role in my own journey of relearning to love “Church People” and in making peace with certain aspects of the evangelical world.

The church we’re at now is a small community church, and it’s really not all that different from any other church. But when we walked in, I could feel my heart expanding- and it was almost inexplicable to me, the suddenness of it. The pastor spoke, and he wasn’t saying anything new, but for the first time in years, I could hear it.

And I think in the end, you’re not really looking for “the right church.” You’re looking for yourself. Finding a church is about finding a place where your specific, beautiful heart can hear good news and take it all the way in. A place where they talk about God in a language you understand. A place where you can serve with your whole, broken heart and be healed in all that giving. 

I don’t really know. All I know is that we landed in this tiny church one Sunday morning and I felt entirely myself. And we’ve been there ever since.

This resonated so much with me because I’ve felt that heart expanding feeling before. When I got my driver’s license I visited a new church because it was the first time that I could choose to go somewhere on my own. They met in a large gym and we sat on wooden bleachers and I thought that was cool. I loved listening to the pastor and I remember walking up and challenging him on something he preached a few years later when I was in college. We disagreed, but he was kind. I wandered around a bit but kept coming back there for the next 10 years.

The next time I felt at home at a church was when I walked into a new (to us) church 8 years ago. We were there for five minutes when I turned to Andy and said, “Can we go here?” And we did, for 7 years. And so many wonderful things came out of that time. Deep friendships that feel like family. The opportunity for us each to serve in a bunch of different ways. Years of volunteering with teenagers who are simply amazing and many who have turned into incredible twenty-somethings that we still get to hang out with! There we learned the value of vulnerability by hearing others stories, told openly and honestly and in turn we were able to share our own.

In the last year I’ve felt that heart expanding-ness again at a new church (okay, technically it’s the same first church I found when I was sixteen but it’s changed and I’ve changed in the past 8 years). As I read Addie’s words, they rang so true. I can hear the good news and take it all the way in– in a language I understand and relate to. I look forward to the serving part. It’s been a year with very little volunteering and I think that’s okay. This season has required some extra space for healing.

Thanks Han, for suggesting that book. And thanks, Addie for writing true words.