I’ve decided I want to write recaps regularly as I move through this month of adventure, but I don’t want to write too fussy, you know? I just want to write and not worry about being a writer or I’ll put off writing and then I’ll forget altogether. So bear with me or skip the posts marked “recap”, K? If I decide to try to be a good writer instead of an efficient one, I’ll let you know.
DAY ONE: Weird Things Abound in This Great Big World of Ours
Day One of my Big Fat Italian Adventure begins in Portland, Oregon at 8:00 a.m. and ends in Schiphol, Amsterdam at 8:00 am. The first leg of this trip involves Tess & David and Josiah. Tori is also coming – but she took a different flight that traverses a whole lot more of the globe than ours. I ran to Starbucks while my kids woke up and got ready, and I ran into this weird little French/Vietnamese bistro in a strip mall and bought a breakfast sandwich there. Whatever you might be imagining right now about the wisdom of merging those two cultures into one sandwiches, you’d be right. It was not pleasant, but for some reason, it felt like the right way to launch a day of globetrotting.
Cliff took us to the airport which was so kind of him and snapped this photo as he drove away and it’s already one of those photos I know will always be dear to me. (Josiah had just jumped through the big revolving door and missed the photo.)
Our flight from Portland to Amsterdam was ten hours and ten hours is a long time to be squished into a seat, hurtling through the air at unnatural rates of speed.
SEE? Josiah came too! The in-flight entertainment selections included a documentary that I had really wanted to see and that would be really great news except I watched a full season of Real Housewives of New York instead. It’s not culturally enriching, but it does make me really happy for my comparatively drama-free life.
We landed in Amsterdam at 11 pm our time and 8 am airport time. Our flight to Florence is only 90 minutes so it would seem that we’re going to make it with our hope and happiness and sanity in tact, except – plot twist! – we have a twelve-hour layover here. And “here” is Schiphol Airport which is almost impossibly hip and cool, but we are TIRED. And CRABBY. And not the good kind of crabby, the “Why did I ever agree to this?” kind of crabby. We wandered the airport in an aimless stupor for about an hour, searching desperately for any horizontal surface on which to rest our crabby heads, but alas, other savvy travelers had beaten us to them. We ended up finding a little hotel in the airport that was equal parts weird and wonderful. We got rooms there, where ‘rooms’ = ‘sleep pods”. Tiny climate-controlled spaces comprised mostly of a bed with excellent linens, cool lighting and a see-through bathroom. We booked our sleep experience for four hours, which was very expensive and very, very worth it.
Upon waking, we visited Starbucks yet again (before we got Euros, so one small coffee + one small tea + international transaction fee on my card = $12 American dollars.) One thing I’ll say about Starbucks: they’ve nailed consistency. The first sip of my coffee felt like home and at that moment, while immersed in the great unknown, a little taste of home was exactly what I needed. We next visited a little Dutch bistro where my kids had dutch babies and I had another weird little sandwich, but this one worked somehow. Now, we’re reading, recapping and waiting for our next and last flight. In fact, this will be my last flight for a month and if I’m honest, I’m feeling…exciety. Some mix of excitement and nerves. Can I do this? How will everything work? Will I love this place as much as I did the first time? So many emotions, plus a fair amount of tiredness – but I do feel ready. Ready to see what’s next, to remember that His voice is clear and real even when my circumstances aren’t. I’m ready.
And as I sit in this airport, surrounded by all kinds of languages and accents and people, I am nearly overcome with the beauty of this big, weird world of ours. It’s breathtaking, really, the way we flow together and apart, moving in and out of common spaces and creaky corners, hoping to catch a glimpse of beauty and life and truth. Because really, it’s those three things. If I have a soul-deep awareness of those three things, then I can lose everything and still have everything. Beauty. Life. Truth. You may want to add love to the list, but I suspect that love IS the list.
So, here I am 5900 miles from all that I know best, but already seeing the ways He came ahead of me to decorate the walls of this world so I’d spot ‘home’ when I saw it. His goodness has gone before me, I know it for sure. He left His fingerprints all over the place.
Next stop, Florence.
It’s been awhile, yes? I know. I never call, never write. I’m sorry. Life has been full and busy, but more than anything, I’ve been holding words close to my heart for the past few months. Sometimes you feel ready to chisel your thoughts into the stone of social media, and sometimes you don’t. Recently, I just haven’t.
Today, though? Thoughts! I’m sharing ’em!
Remember when I launched Project Yes to Life? It came on the heels of my husband’s death when I was reeling with uncertainty and lacking in courage. I read a book that caused me to commit the next year of my life to saying YES to hard things, scary things, exciting things. Some people pushed back a bit and said, “But saying the right ‘no’s” is important, too. And yes. They are correct. In fact, in order to say Yes to anything at all, No to something else is usually necessary. But I have in the past, used No as an excuse to stay stuck and so for me, for 2016, YES was the right word. And I used it, y’all, I really did. I said Yes to all sorts of things including – a six-week sabbatical from my job in 2017. My job graciously allows a sabbatical every seven years. I took one right after Steve died, though it maybe didn’t fit the definition exactly, and I’m taking one now, having just passed the 15-year mark at Westside. I’m now on Day 6 of said sabbatical and I have to say: it’s going great!
My goals for this time are a little squishy right now. Mostly, the plan is to regroup, refresh, probably write, take in new sights and sounds, see the world and Jesus and life from another vantage point. The vantage point I’ve chosen for my time is Florence, Italy. Ever since my first visit in 2011, I’ve wanted to go back and spend significant time there. I had it in my heart to go when I retired, but when I got rolling with the whole Yes situation, I decided I needed to do it now. I booked an apartment last December, and have been waiting anxiously, second-guessing, anticipating, regretting, hoping, dreaming ever since. It really has been a roller coaster of “I’m so excited I’m doing this!” and “Why the heck am I doing this?”
But, now, on the brink of stepping off the map of this city I’ve called home for the past 23 years and into the great unknown, I am nearly 90% Yes. I am nervous, for sure. But I am ready. I am so, so ready.
I’m hoping to document my time away on the blog or Facebook or something that will some day provide me with evidence that I really did do this thing, but I’m also not promising anything right now. I want to live in the day and in the moment and in the gelatto. So, we’ll see. Please don’t be mad at me if I don’t post much. And please don’t be mad at me if I do. Please don’t be mad at me in general. I know what an extraordinary gift it is to be able to travel and to have a job that gives me the time to pursue this dream, and I think there is enough dream-fullfilling power in our Great God to satisfy all of us. All I know for sure is, without Him none of this would be possible and I am so, so thankful.
So, follow along if you’d like to see more pictures of cappuccino than you know what to do with. I hope to share them and to share some bits of what I’m learning, feeling and experiencing as Project Yes to Life goes to Italy.
I love you.
This morning a tattered piece of paper fell from my journal – a prayer I wrote during my husband’s battle with ALS, when I felt my son, who was 11 at the time of diagnosis, was overwhelmed by the sorrow of the situation. I’ve since prayed it so many times over so many different areas of my children’s lives. Praying it always gives me peace, so I thought I’d share it with you, with the hope that your children feel safe in the storms that they face and that you feel safe as you watch them sail.
A Prayer for Josiah
Lord God of Hosts, who is strong like You, Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds You. You rule the raging sea; when its waves surge, You still them. Psalm 89:8-9
The worries of the world rise and rage like a storm
I want to calm it
Or take his place
Or steer his boat
But these seas are his to sail.
Remind me that he is not alone
Because You, O Captain, are strong for the storm
You are surrounded by Your own faithfulness
You, encircled by You, encircling my boy in his boat
You are there when the waves rise
You are there when the waters roar
Before he calls, You answer the winds
Peace, be still
Worry, be quiet
Chaos, be calm
And when he forgets to call, or refuses to call
When fear or pride keeps the words caught in his throat
Knuckles tight around the wheel,
Speak to the storm in him
And give him ears to hear
A heart to respond
And courage to rest.
I have a few questions I ask myself – some daily and some weekly – to make sure I’m emotionally healthy and aligned with God’s purpose for my life on any given day. My overly analytical tendency is to think too far forward and forget to find meaning in the moment, so building a quick self test has been really important.
The handful of questions are very basic. They measure things like how peaceful I feel, how obedient I’ve been, whether or not I’ve stopped to listen to Him and others, etc. But recently I added a question to the metric and it’s made a very big impact on how I view my life’s purpose. The question is this:
Are you having fun right now? If not, why not?
Seriously. That’s the question. And before you yell at your computer screen that sometimes life is hard and suffering is important and we gotta do the difficult, let me say: I agree with all those things. I’ve had a pretty immersive experience in dealing with sadness and doing hard things. But I also believe that those seasons should not be the norm. When the battle is over, we should go on home. And home should – at least in some small way – be fun, or maybe we’re doing it a little bit wrong. Fun should not be the once-annual byproduct of having cleaned up all the messes and eliminated all the negative ingredients. Fun should be had in the very middle of the messes and in rebellion to the negative elements that want to sink our happiness and steal our whimsy.
I have a job I adore, a family I would die for, friends who make my life more rich and full than I ever could have imagined, an amazing boyfriend (**see footnote) and grandkids that are so cute they make my heart do backflips. Most importantly, I am alive in the right-now, right-here good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The seasons of sorrow have been real and treacherous, but they have made me more compassionate, more wise, more rich than I was before. So much is good and right and beautiful in my life that I’m beginning to believe if I’m not having some serious fun living it, then maybe I have bought some kind of of lie that the other shoe is about to drop, or other people have it better or I’m too busy (*see other footnote – it’s a footnote kind of day) to really enjoy it right now or any manner of excuse-making we do when we’d rather stay stuck than change.
It certainly doesn’t need to be your life motto, but it is becoming one of mine: If I’m not having fun, I might be doing it wrong.
Have a really fun Monday!
*I just read this article by Eugene Peterson about The Unbusy Pastor and it was like the best sort of punch in the gut.
**It’s still feels wonky to say “boyfriend” at 51, but “gentleman friend’ seems yet stranger. In fact, let me honestly state that dating is the most weird, whimsical, outrageous, controversial, risky thing I have ever done, and I do not love risks. My life would be so much more ordered and calm and predictable without it but it would also be exponentially less fun and full and happy.
Happy birthday! 55 is such a cool number – I woke up this morning thinking about how we would celebrate this year if you were here. I know what you would want: Your family and a few close friends around you, good food – maybe something Greek – and a good round of golf. Your loves were simple and consistent.
Sometimes I wonder what your life would be like had ALS not interrupted it but my imagination won’t reach very far because it’s impossible to know for sure and because I feel so certain that you completed your mission here on earth so well. I am confident you would love being a grandpa and that those boys would both have golf clubs by now, but beyond that I’m mostly content to replay our best moments in my head, knowing your life is more amazing today than it ever could be here with us.
These past years without you have been long and strange and wonderful and terrifying and beautiful and difficult. It’s been a season of contradictions, where I have felt strong and weak, loved and lonely, confused and certain, scared spitless and profoundly brave. So much of what I knew before, I knew because of you. Our lives were so intertwined that when you flew away home, I sometimes felt that half of me had flown with you. You were such a builder for me. Your patience, encouragement and unfailing kindness built the house that I call My Life. You set the foundation in place for what I know I can do and be. You tethered me to love and in the most selfless act, as you saw your days ending, handed the hammer over to me and constantly reassured me that I could build without you near; that I would survive and grow and become.
Thank you. For sticking with me when it looked so shaky and uncertain. For loving our kids with such quiet strength. For strengthening your friends with determined faithfulness and grace. You were a brilliant builder and you completed your part of the work so well. We promise to keep going. We are building and becoming and I think you’d like what we’ve done with the place. In fact, I know you would.
Riley asked the other day, “When does spring really start in Central Oregon?” I didn’t have a good answer then because this winter has felt endless, but today I think do. Spring starts whenever we decide that winter is over. For me, on this beautiful anniversary of your birth, spring starts today.
So, happy birthday dearest Steve. My greatest joy and honor will always be that I was a witness to your beautiful life.