June 28, 2010

Exploration, Energy, Encouragement...

Kindred spirits: you may or may not be familiar with the term.  You've probably heard it a few times, but you're only familiar with the term if you've experienced it.  You know, people who have entered your life for either a season or the long haul with whom you share a connection that you can't quite explain.  Kindred spirits span the gaps of age, race, gender, and status, and are certain to encourage the heart.  I've had the good fortune to have had several kindred spirits, and today, I think I discovered another.

I spent the morning/early afternoon with a former colleague and yes, kindred spirit.  I was refreshed and energized after scones, tea, conversation, and St. Petersburg exploration.  While our lives have been and continue to be different and there are years between us, I was blessed to by our common ground today.  The Lord used her to both encourage and inspire me.

And in other news, I've become a St. Pete fan.  A legit St. Pete fan.  This old city has more charm and character in its little finger than the rest of the greater Pinellas area has in its whole body.  We drove down cobblestone streets and oohed and ahhed over the glorious old bungalows, we lingered over beautiful art in a couple galleries.  We explored a huge bookstore, complete with that wonderful old-book smell and a friendly cat.  We stopped to take pictures of architecture, and popped into a tiny cupcakery next to a little European chocolate shop.  And there was still so much more to explore!  Well, I'm a convert.  I'd live in one of those little old houses in a heartbeat.  In these photos, I hope you'll see even a fraction of the beauty I saw, and maybe you'll become a St. Pete fan too.

Regardless of your opinion of St. Pete, I hope you'll do some exploring of your own, and hopefully with a kindred spirit.

June 26, 2010

Date Night...

I went on a date last night.

Sorry Mom, it was with some of my single ladies.  But it felt good to have a reason to get dressed up, especially after camp, where it is required to look and feel disgusting, and a week at home sick and reclusive.  The fellowship with these ladies made me thankful for this season of my life, where I can get dressed up just for fun, eat a delicious meal at Casa Tina's and not worry about getting cilantro stuck in my teeth, take goofy "modeling" pictures on a windy pier, and finish the evening off with this:

It was a great date.  Thanks ladies.  Other single ladies out there?  Grab your girlfriends and go on a date.  It's good for the soul, especially when it includes ice cream and laughter.

June 24, 2010

Move Over, Prince Charming...

Once upon a time, there was a young girl/woman who read Christian romantic fiction.  Led into delusion by poor writing and tacky storytelling, she came to believe that there were men who were paragons of virtuous manliness, handsome beyond compare with chiseled features and luxurious hair, brave warriors... and they were sensitive and knew exactly how to bare their soul in the choicest of words and most sensational turns of phrase.

And then I went to college and realized the myth that is the Christian romantic fiction hero.  I truly have a bone to pick with these writers-- why help young women (or old women, for that matter) fill their minds with expectations that will never be met, making us vulnerable to discontentment?  Regardless of how I now feel about Christian romantic fiction (that's a soap box for another time), it caused me at one point to develop a running list of characteristics I'd like in a future husband.

In the back of my old flowered journal that began eight years ago with the beginning of college, this list is a reminder to me of my youth and my ignorance.  Of course there were sensible things on the list, but here is an example of how detailed my list had become:

34.  Likes pets.
45.  A great storyteller.
64.  Gives bear hugs.

I know, I know.  I'm laughing even as I type.  And yes, there were 71 items on this list.  71.  I was setting myself up for disappointment.  I suppose the list became more of a list of things I appreciate in a man, not necessarily characteristics my future spouse must have.  But my list was a description of Prince Charming.  Yuck.  Who wants a perfect Prince Charming, anyway?  Not me.

If I was still expecting that list of 71 items to be met in one person, I would be concerned for me.  But as God has molded me and shaped me and changed my thinking, he's peppered a bit of reality into my list.  It's funny, because as I was talking to my dear friend over Chick-fil-A in the mall about a month ago, I realized that I'd pared that list down to one thing.  One very important, all-inclusive, umbrella thing:

1.  Is striving to love the Lord more than anything else in this life.

I mean, obviously I have personal preferences.  Like, I would much rather marry someone who makes me laugh than someone who is always serious, and I would much rather marry someone who can carry a conversation than someone who is quiet.  But when I think of what really matters, this is it.  Everything else that truly matters in a spouse trickles down from this.  If I hope he'll be respectful, humble, a good steward, and a servant, these things will naturally occur in a life that is focused on loving the Lord.  That is the one characteristic I am looking for.

And let it be known, I'm also not expecting to find a man my age who has the spiritual maturity of a John MacArthur, either.  I expect that we will learn and grow in the Lord together, and that's part of the partnership adventure.  I think the key word in that one characteristic is striving.  That implies someone who is teachable and zealous, who will make mistakes but learn from them and grow from them.  And it's my hope that this man will be looking for the same one characteristic in his future wife.  Because then our relationship will be built on the one thing that lasts-- not bear hugs, not stories, not pets, but the Lord.

I am confident that God will bless that, and as a reward for my long wait, will not only provide me with a husband who is striving to love the Lord more than anything else in this life, but also a husband who gives pretty good bear hugs, tells good stories, and likes pets. :)

June 22, 2010

Traveling Nostalgia...

Writing again?  Yes, yes, it's true.  All this down time as school is out and camp is over and I'm recovering from a sore throat has given me a lot of time to think.  And since I'm trying not to spend every waking moment on facebook, I resort to spilling my thoughts into my blog.

Today I pulled out the journal in which I wrote during my post-college backpacking trip across Europe.  I flipped to June 22 and found that at this time four years ago, it was our last day in Mittenwald, Germany.  Mittenwald is a tiny winter skiing town in the Alps, right next to Austria.  It was a little haven, seemingly untouched by consumerism and the downsides of modernity.  Mittenwald was our happy accident, and one of the highlights of our trip.  When we walked onto our balcony, this was our view (well, except I was not always sitting there):

This is where we rested up and recharged our batteries for the last leg of our journey.  We rented bikes in this little town and biked through the countryside and into Austria, feeling a little bit like we were in The Sound of Music.  Our hearts were light, pedaling and singing and smiling.

May I share some other tidbits with you?  I found another section in my journal in which I describe the perfection of Rome at night.  Rereading it, I could feel the cool breeze on my skin, see the full moon beyond the shadowed olive trees, and smell the night-blooming jasmine.  I could remember the contentment as the four of us settled into the little plastic chairs outside our cabins, ready to play cards and not quite ready to say goodbye to another day in Italy.  But I threw a coin into this fountain, so it is written that I return one day:

And then the closest thing I've come to heaven: the Cinque Terre.  It didn't matter that we four were sleeping in a 9 x 9 tent with our feet propped up on our luggage.  It didn't matter that I left my glasses there in the bathrooms far from our campsite.  It didn't matter that I had an asthma attack hiking the cities.  This was the most idyllic, pristine section of Earth that I've ever seen.  The water was more blue than any blue I'd ever laid my eyes on.  We walked the steep, narrow, crumbling steps through vineyards teetering on cliffs, hundreds of feet above crashing blue.  Each view was more breathtaking than the last (literally):

At the tail end of our journey, we took a few day trips.  One day we went to Normandy Beach.  I stood on the sand upon which hundreds of Allies gave their lives to help end WWII.  It was remarkable.  Then we went in search for the D-Day museum and got lost on the winding country roads, and nearly had to hitchhike back to our bus.  Then the next day was the 4th of July, and we went to Monet's gardens at Giverny.  When we returned, the four of us felt quite depressed, as naturally the French do not celebrate the American Independence Day.  So I drew a very rudimentary American Flag on a piece of paper and held it up.  From the un-air-conditioned attic room of the hotel in Paris, we raised our voices in a harmonized "Star-Spangled Banner."  And as dusk settled over Paris and we tried to stay cool in the blazing heat, this was my view:

This little "walk" down memory lane is borne of my very intense desire to travel yet again.  There is just something in me that must see the world.  I would visit each of these places again, but I have many others on my list as well.  Hopefully, Israel will be my next trip, next summer.  I have been reading Worldliness, edited by C.J. Mahaney.  In the last chapter, Jeff Purswell writes that "If creation is both God's witness and gift [and it is], we have the dual responsibility of studying and enjoying the world around us.  Such activities are part of what it means to glorify God as his image bearers."

I see what he means.  During my trip I saw through the sin, the modernity, the rush and rubble and could see the parts of God's creation that he would have called "good."  And I had no choice but to praise the Creator for the beauty He'd created, and long for the beauty of my heavenly home, which will be far greater than even the best of what I've seen so far, or I'll ever see.

PS, all of these photos are indeed mine.  Should you have any interest in the rest of the pictures from this journey, they begin here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2004374&id=163800206&l=8b28468d5f

June 21, 2010

I Just Know What I *Don't* Want...

Is it so wrong that I just don't want to put as much effort into the online dating thing as others do?  I am not a lazy person, I guess I just don't feel the same time crunch or whatever that many of the singles on the sites seem to feel (Single Friend excluded, of course).

Take New Zealand, for example.  Despite my discomfort in the idea of talking on the phone with a complete stranger, he would rather do that than email.  Most people tell me to go for it, what do I have to lose?  Just do it, his accent is cute!  Maybe they're right, but I can't shake the feeling that this is not for me.  The forced, strained, awkward phone calls that could occur-- no thanks.  The vague emails that are uncomfortably mysterious-- hmmm.  Nope.

Is it too much to ask that I will date a real man, face to face?  That we will have real conversation and real chemistry and not have to play the email/phone games?  How will a man ever break down the walls around my heart without looking into my eyes?

I don't think it's too much to ask.  I think if anything, this experiment has solidified my belief that while it may work for some, this whole online singles thing is not for me.  So as funny as this experiment has been, I don't think it will last too much longer.  Too much longer would mean I'm playing games, and that's not what I'm about.

Maybe I'm being stubborn, but that's me.  Say goodbye to New Zealand and the others, because I'll be signing off unreality and entering back into reality-- where I'm sure I'll have just as much to write about.

June 20, 2010

My Founding Fathers...

Breaking from the topic recently at hand (mainly because I just don't want to think about it right now at all), I wanted to blog about my 'fathers,' which is quite appropriate, what with today being Fathers' Day and all.

I hate to admit it, but John Mayer was actually right about something: the importance of fathers in their daughters' lives.  They often make or break a girl's confidence, independence, and self-respect.  Let me tell you first about my grandfathers.  It will not be eloquent or witty-- just from the heart.

My mom's dad, Jack, is the quintessential Irishman.  The only thing that would make him more Irish would be a brogue.  In fact, I just called him and he said, "How's yourself?"  Grandpa has been to almost every Grandparents' Day, play, band performance, church program, and graduation that I've ever had... no matter how terrible the music sounds or how much he would rather be sleeping.  Grandpa has a perpetual twinkle in his eye and smile on his face, and one of the things I love most about him is when he thinks he knows what you're going to say next so he tries to finish your sentence. :)  He's also a fantastic dancer.  He and Grandma won a Jitterbug contest on their honeymoon, and he still can dance with the best of them.  He tears up every time the whole family is together as we hold hands and pray before dinner.  I remember him saying, "Hello, Gorgeous," to me when gorgeous was and is not an adjective typically attached to me.  He's a man of many talents: he painted ceramics and cross-stitched masterpieces.  Though not a typical cuddly grandpa, not one of the ten of us grandkids has ever doubted his love for us.  Grandpa turned 80 last Christmas, and I'm thankful for every moment I savor with him.

I never met my dad's father, Len.  Growing up, I would listen with eager ears to every story Dad told about him.  I thought he was fascinating and I wished so badly I could have known him, but he died even before my parents were married.  Dad says Jackie Gleason from "The Honeymooners" reminds him of his dad, so watching that show made me feel a bit like I knew him.  He wasn't in many pictures, so I actually hadn't seen a picture of his whole face until very recently when my aunt mailed this picture to me.  I couldn't stop looking at it and wishing I'd known him.  I used to imagine what it would have been like if he had been in my life.  I imagined that he'd always make me laugh and that he would be a lot like my dad, but more gruff like my great-grandpa, Papa Len (see previous post about him).  Though I never knew him, I look forward to the day when I'll meet him in heaven and tell him that he must have been a great man to have made my dad and his sisters.

And now, my dad.  He was (and is) always, always there.  He was home for every summer break and every holiday.  His very presence was comforting, knowing if for some reason I needed him, he'd be there.  I think I probably savored this more than most because I knew that he might not always be there.  My dad was very ill several times in my life, and at a young age I realized he might not be around forever, or even very long.  I used to think about who would walk me down the aisle if my dad was gone.  But God was gracious, and my dad stuck around.  Dad taught us to be hard workers and good stewards, not just in word, but in deed.  He painstakingly restored our 100 year-old house with my mom and maintained it well, because God had provided it for us.  We wasted nothing, and we wanted for nothing even though we had little.  And Dad always made us laugh.  I remember Sunday afternoons playing Barbie upstairs and hearing my dad howling from the living room watching "America's Funniest Home Videos."  I remember goofy puns and funny voices and fart noises and ridiculous dancing that he'd do just to make us laugh.  He is a great storyteller.  I remember sitting on his lap on the couch in the living room, asking him to tell stories.  They were usually about bad things he'd done as a kid.  He taught us, too.  I learned to love history because he'd teach us about it at every opportunity and my parents would take us on vacations to historically important places.  His quirkiness taught us about culture-- whether it was old B movies or vintage toy soldiers or old Marvel comic books.  Most importantly though, Dad was and continues to be an example of a godly man.  He loves the Lord and serves Him daily, and I know that is what drives his heart and life.  More than anything, that is what I appreciate about my dad.  And though this is a post dedicated to fathers, I have to acknowledge that my mom's partnership probably helped make Dad the great dad he is... I'll write one for you soon, mom. :)

I hope that didn't sound too much like three eulogies.

Tell me what you love about your fathers!