Spring out of Winter

Spring is such a happy time of year, don’t you think? The pastel colors. Pops of red. And endless growing lime green.

But there’s one major thing that makes spring wonderful. Without it, spring wouldn’t even exist. That cold, bitter season many of us wish would discontinue.

Winter. Seriously, winter.

Now, South Carolina doesn’t have as long or brutal winters as my past homes in Northern Pennsylvania, New York, or New Jersey. Brrrrrr. Winter lasted from October to April. On my first anniversary – October 30th – we had a foot of snow. There were more than a few blizzards in mid-April too. But when May came to Pennsylvania…..oh, it was beautiful. Those first crocuses peak through the brown mud, and frost-covered tan grass. Sunny daffodils wave hello in the crisp winds. I appreciate spring. I NOTICE spring. The colors make me pause because they didn’t exist a few days ago.

Some tropical places don’t even get a spring. Sure, the calendar still holds the spring equinox. They celebrate the first day in late March, but spring can’t have physical evidence in nature. Without the cold, the trees don’t need to lose their leaves. Without the frost, the grass doesn’t disappear. Without a freeze, even the bugs don’t take a break.

Winter can be a season of rest. A season with no harvest. A season where we hold onto trust, hope, and faith. The trees appear dead, but we trust they’ll grow back in the spring. Those daffodils, hostas, irises, daylilies, etc. lay hidden in the ground, out of sight, and we have faith they’ll return with warmer temperatures.

Like those long winters in the north, sometimes life’s “winters” feel extra long. Maybe you’re waiting for an answer to your prayers. Maybe you feel like no one hears you, or listens to your cries. Maybe you feel like you’re in an endless loop of work, mundane responsibilities, or thankless jobs. You’re stuck in a cycle of laundry, dishes, errands, school, taking care of others, etc. Or, maybe, you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything because you see no evidence of making a difference.

I’ve lost count of how many “winters” I’ve endured. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been part of one endless winter with mere glimpses of sunlight through the thick clouds – that’s depression and I won’t dwell there, but I will say this: no matter how you feel; no matter how depressed or hopeless you feel… God never desires for you to stay in that place. NEVER. While wait periods, peace, rest times, and mourning seasons are normal, wallowing in pity, guilt, and anxiety aren’t meant for us. Depression and rest are two VERY DIFFERENT things.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3

That all being said, winter can definitely hold a lot of sorrow, trials, and turmoil we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. But, even those things can be used by God.

I bet the blind man in John chapter 9 felt like he was in an endless dark winter. He wasn’t resting, just waiting. Waiting for a spring he didn’t know was coming. Even the disciples thought he must deserve his predicament. Perhaps he was depressed. I know I would be if I had to sit stuck in the dirt on the side of the road. He was alone. No friends. No comforts. Then Jesus walks up and says He’s “the light of the world.”

Do you know what thing makes us notice light more?

I bet a blind person would know the answer.

I like to nickname my hubby “Andrew the bat.” I’ll usually call him this as I laugh at his squished face when I brighten our bathroom in the morning. He’ll be standing there at the sink, washing his face in pitch darkness. I’m sorry, but I need light to see where I’m going. Light illuminates the area, showing what we can’t see at night. And in that dark bathroom, the sudden flick of light calls attention to the brightness. The burst of colors momentarily blind us in their brilliance, and we acknowledge the light’s existence.

The bible doesn’t describe the moment the blind man found his sight. It simply says “he came home seeing.” I like to imagine he ran home with a spring in his steps, jumping for joy. He wasn’t shy in proclaiming the miracle to his neighbors, so we know he was excited. He appreciated the light because he knew what it was like to live in darkness. Like Jesus said in verse 3 “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Knowing this story helps me look back at the “winters” and dark moments in my life in a new light, if you will. The sicknesses, depression, lost careers, deaths, disappointments, and valleys weren’t brought on because of sin or as a punishment… they were present so God’s work could be displayed in my life. Here, let me break it down in a simple list format:

Cancer caused me to thank God for health, and trust that “by His stripes, I am healed.”

The lack of having more kids naturally caused me to appreciate the one I do have. It also gave us the desire and opportunity to become foster parents and prospect adoption.

Depression caused me to appreciate joy. Joy everlasting. To seek out Psalms and the words of David when he also went through depression. I declared myself a woman after God’s own heart.

My failed careers each brought me to the place I am now. To quote Chariots of Fire: I feel God’s pleasure when I write. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and can’t wait to see the next steps He has in store.

Each waiting period forces me into God’s word. Some people might need far less to get them to see, but I know I need a kick in the pants too many times. I need a winter to notice when an answer to prayer sprouts life. I need a dark valley to notice the bright morning joy.

When you look up the definition of spring, two examples say “originate or arise from” and “a sudden jump upward or forward.”

It’s time to arise, my friends. Rest when you need to, endure the trial if you’re currently in it, but don’t neglect your call to jump out of it. Don’t stay in winter. Sprout into spring. Grow from the difficulties. Arise from the ashes. It’s time to thrive and spread the joy everlasting!

A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:1-3

Living Blessed, even in 2020

It’s been one year. One whole blessed year. Like marriage or a child’s age, it feels like a lifetime and yesterday all at once.

On December 11th, 2019, I was being prepped for surgery. My surgeon prepared my mind and body for the worst. A 17 cm mass engulfed my left ovary, hemorrhaging my abdomen, and causing me to bleed at an alarming rate. Cancer. An egg sack tumor the size of a grapefruit. Forever altering my probability of having more children. And scarring my body.

You can read more about my experience in last December’s blog post here.

My Pennsylvania friends. I miss you all!

I’ve had ghost pains the last couple of days. A body’s memory is a funny thing. But it’s only fear playing tricks on us.

I had so many fears last year. Fear of dying with unfinished business. Fear of leaving my family. Fear of the darkness. And fearing my life would remain the same. I had so much stress too. I had the most anxiety I’ve ever had. But I also had hope. Hope for a bright future. Hope that all this darkness would soon be behind me. Hope that the cancer would never return. Hope that our move south would change everything. And hope that God had the BEST in store for us.

The next few days of 2019 were a whirlwind to say the least: mountains of moving obligations, visits with family on all sides, goodbye visits with friends, and bidding farewell to all of our Pennsylvania life. 3 days before Christmas we journeyed to our new state. 11 hours of driving with only 3 short stops because we were so excited to go to our new home in South Carolina. You can read more about our move here.

I took things easy in January and February since I was instructed to not lift anything for 6 weeks after my surgery. Yeah, that was an interesting move-in to say the least. lol My 6-inch scar took a while to heal, but it closed with time. I became strong enough to walk the 1/2 mile to Riker’s school each day to pick him up. I met several amazing new friends as we waited for our kids at what’s called “the back path.” We had play dates, ice cream gatherings, and excursions to the local parks. I enjoyed a stress-free life for the first time ever!

Then covid hit. And fear crept its ugly head back in.

After my surgery, I had 3 doctors tell me I should get chemo “just in case.” But all 3 agreed that my blood work showed the cancer was most likely gone. “But,” they said, “there’s an 80% chance the cancer could returning within the first year. After that it goes down drastically, but, don’t you want to be sure?”

I always want to be sure. I’m a planner. A scheduler. I say I like surprises, but honestly, I just want to know everything. So, sure, I wanted to KNOW the cancer was gone for good. But, something didn’t feel right with these doctors’ words. I heard God plain as day to NOT get the chemo. So, I said no. No to the chemo. All 3 times. Once in December. Once in February. And once in June.

When the first rumors of covid hit the media over the winter my immune system was strong. Sure, I’d just been through surgery, but I was eating healthy, no crippling radiation coursed through my body, and the southern sunshine does wonders for the spirit! In fact, in all of 2020 my little family and I weren’t sick once. Not even a sniffle. Until a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks to living in a state with few lockdown regulations, and our thriving immune systems, we actually ENJOYED this year. We’ve climbed mountains, splashed in waterfalls, traveled to neighboring states, vacationed on the beach, sailed on ships, saw dolphins, went to small parties, enjoyed neighbor’s campfires, kayaked a river, refinished my dining room set, held a birthday swim party for Riker, toured a vineyard, tried countless different foods for the first time, had friends over, went to friends’ homes, went out for girls’ nights, and joined my church band. I wrote a novel, a picture book, and a short Christmas play. Riker learned to swim, then competed in several swim-meets and won a couple! Riker played flag football and scored a few touchdowns. We lived despite 2020!!!!

Then for Thanksgiving we journeyed back to Pennsylvania to visit our families. We were so excited to see everyone, but had anxiety about passing over the forbidden Pennsylvania boarders. You see, PA just instated a travel ban asking all travelers to quarantine for 2 weeks once entering the state or have a negative covid test within the last 72 hours. We don’t trust a 40% accurate rushed covid test, so that option was out of the question. We were only going to visit for 4 days, so 2 weeks quarantine didn’t make any sense. We didn’t know if we’d be met with a string of checkpoints from police officers checking out-of-state plates. We didn’t know if we’d be turned in by a whistle-blower. But I felt strongly about going. We hadn’t seen some of our family members in a year, and I feared we wouldn’t get another chance to see them again for awhile. -There’s that fear again.-

We stressed for several days whether going would be the right decision. We agonized over it. I could feel my immune system compromising as anxiety raked my body. On our drive up, a sore throat formed. The soreness stayed for the entire trip, but that was my only symptom. It forced me to not eat as much junk at Thanksgiving at least, but I worried that I might be coming down with a cold soon. Sure enough, the day after we got home a cold hit me full-force. I was tired to my bones, no appetite, and zero energy. I was couch-ridden for almost 3 days. But I never got a fever, no cough, and no congestion. By the evening of the 3rd day I felt like myself again. And that was it. A whole year of health except for a 3 day cold. I think that’s pretty impressive for a cancer survivor. But I wonder if I wouldn’t have been so healthy in this crazy year if I had accepted chemo. Guess I’ll never know for sure.

Fear stems from the unknown. I didn’t know if the cancer would return during my first year. I didn’t know what would happen when we crossed over the PA boarder. We didn’t know if we’d have to battle covid.

Instead of fear coursing through my veins this Christmas season, I’m so extremely thankful. I’m thankful the cancer is gone. It didn’t return this year. And I’m believing in Jesus my healer that it’ll NEVER return. I’m thankful we never hit a single obstacle during our Pennsylvania trip. It truly was a wonderful time with family. I’m thankful the cold, or whatever sickness I had, was short-lived and didn’t stay in our house for long. I’m thankful that Jesus is Lord over all. It’s been a blessed year of living. I pray you all had a blessed year too. Despite the obstacles of 2020.

This year had its challenges too. I got a few more scars, several sleepless nights, battled some surges of depression, got numerous book rejections, and struggled to keep it together. My life isn’t all roses and sunshine. But like I’ve said many many times before: it’s about perspective.

Near-death experiences definitely give you perspective on life. But like children, marriage, and a year of living in a pandemic, it can pass by in a blink or feel like eternity. It depends how much you live. I pray you all take the time to live.

“It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” ~ Galatians 2:20

Following the Leader

Five years ago, God laid on our hearts that He wanted us to move. We didn’t know where or when, but we felt the pull south.

It feels like such a lifetime ago. We were so different, so young, so naive, and so full of dreams of possibilities. Yet, we somehow knew our future would hold something neither of us were currently expecting.

God first put the idea into Andrew’s mind during a trip to Tennessee, with the question “what if we moved?” I responded “maybe so.”

The idea would roller coaster over the next few years, get hidden under a mountain of work or try to be forgotten when having fun with friends and family. But God kept bringing it to the forefront of our minds when we’d least expect it. Usually during a snow storm, to be honest. Other times it happened when my work flourished, activities abounded, and we couldn’t be happier in our current lifestyle. But still God knocked on our hearts.

We first looked at Cleveland, Tennessee. Toured a few houses even, but knew it wasn’t right. The idea laid low for a few years, until almost forgotten. In 2016, we wanted to go to a new state on vacation. We almost went to Colorado, then Michigan, but ultimately we found Greenville, South Carolina in a Pinterest search. Yeah, I’m a Pinterest junkie. The more we researched this area, the more we got excited for our vacation. Then, about one month before we went, Andrew said “what if we moved there?” I laughed and said “maybe so.”

On Liberty Bridge in the heart of Greenville, South Carolina

We spent a glorious week in that city/area, fell in love with it, made a few friends, and dreamed of possibilities. Then we returned to PA to enjoy the friends and family at home, but didn’t forget our experiences in Greenville.

The next winter was hard, and we talked about leaving the snow. But South Carolina sounded too far away. Maybe we should look a bit closer? We considered Maryland for a long time, and thought of Delaware for a hot minute. But all the while, we compared everywhere we went, to Greenville, South Carolina.

During these months and years, we only saw these moves as dreams. There was even a job opportunity that arose fall of 2018, and I told Andrew to turn it down. There’s too much for us in Pennsylvania, I said. How could we even begin to think of leaving our amazing friends and family? Sure, we hated this northern weather, but it’s all we’ve ever known. Dreaming is one thing, acting on it is quite another.

This year is when it all changed. It started with the Nativity performance in December 2018. I played Mary, and greatly enjoyed this annual role. During the final performance on Sunday night I felt God’s presence flow through me. It became a worship song, and I talked to Him as I sang. I heard Him say to me, this would be the last time I’d play Mary and perform in this Nativity. I sat down to a hushed crowd. The man playing Joseph leaned over to me and said “That was your best performance yet, I could feel the Holy Spirit. No one clapped because they were just too stunned.” We laughed, but I felt the same way. And I wondered if this would be the year everything changed.

In February, it was Andrew’s turn to proclaim he no longer wanted to move. Life was too good up north. I agreed we had a lot to live for in Northeast Pennsylvania, but I mourned the loss of our fun dream. Because I had never truly stopped hoping for it “one day.” And I wondered why God told me that bit in December, if we weren’t going to move after all?

In April, Andrew had again had enough of our long winter and said maybe we could move one day. I laughed in agreement. And we searched online for grace-filled churches in South Carolina. It was done in curiosity, but we stumbled on one called “Real Life” that intrigued us. I listened to their Easter message as I painted the props for the school play I wrote/directed/designed. And immediately felt like I has hearing a missing piece to our puzzle. That’s the best I can describe the warm feeling settling into my heart.

In June, school was out for the summer, and two jobs in Charleston, South Carolina came to the surface. Both looked promising, but both fell through.

In July, I quit my job at Rock Solid Academy just weeks before it closed its doors. I suddenly had nothing but my writing to fill my work days.

August is when it all truly came together. We could no longer ignore the pushes from God. It was like we were being propelled into our future path. Our destiny. We had no control, we just knew the steps mere hours/days before they happened. To quote Pride and Prejudice “I was in the middle before I even knew that I had begun.”

We spent a week down in Greenville. We called it our “test week.” We were testing God to see if this was really where He wanted us. EVERYDAY held a miracle or a step forward, that entire week. Zero closed doors, only open ones with flashing lights and lit arrows lined our path. Andrew had only one job interview, but he only needed one. We made friends, connections, found our future neighborhood, found multiple places where we fit in like a missing puzzle piece, and were told my multiple people – strangers – they’ve “been praying for us,” etc. etc. etc.

Jones Gap State Park, an hour north of Greenville.

We drove back to Pennsylvania with heads swimming and hearts torn. How could we feel so connected to a place so quickly? How could we even begin to tell our family and friends? How could we explain to them that it had nothing to do with Pennsylvania, but EVERYTHING to do with Greenville? God had shown us a glimpse of our future, and we couldn’t say no. We didn’t WANT to say no.

We waited 2 long months for things to finalize with Andrew’s new job. Meanwhile, our prayer life grew stronger. We listed our home, and prayed that regardless of the slow real estate time of year, we’d have a bidding war and sell quickly. It sat for a week and a half. Our prayer life grew. We suddenly got a bidding war of 3 offers. Our house sold to a beautiful family from Texas who is moving to be a part of the Tim Tebow foundation. It must have been waiting for them.

We drove once again to Greenville to pick out our home. We say a dozen homes, but in the end only one was perfect. It was listed just above our price range. We put in our offer and prayed. God came through once again, and we got it at the perfect price.

Things seemed to finally be moving smoothly. We hurdled over a few inspections on both our current home & our future home. Family took it hard, but God still continued to move. The weeks blurred and we were suddenly only 3 weeks from our closing date. It was starting to feel surreal, this dream was finally going to happen….

That’s when my cancer scare happened. It was a difficult time. My surgery robbed me of energy and the ability to lift anything heavy during the weeks surrounding our cross-country moving process. But we didn’t let that bump in the road stop our God-given dreams from coming to fruition.

You see, dreams are never easy to accomplish. If they were, I believe more people would be living in overwhelming joy. But we had gotten tastes of this joy throughout the years. And it only made us hungry for more. When the obstacles came in the form of sickness, finances, disagreements, and questions. It only made us ask God what it all meant. And we heard His voice in our hearts saying “GO!”

So we left. 4 days before Christmas. In 16 degree weather. We drove 11 hours, shedding our coats, gloves, and scarves along the way. We exited in the mid 50s to our new home.

We’ve been here for a month now. We’re making new friends, growing in our new church, Riker is settling in to his amazing school, Andrew loves his new job, I’m relishing in all this inspiring writing time in my new favorite coffee shop, we feel like royalty in our beautiful house that we’re customizing to our desires, enjoying the endless warmth and sunshine, and I learned last week that I’m cancer free!!!!! Praise God!!

I honestly don’t know what the future holds. I do know that we are where we are meant to be, and that our dreams are happening before our eyes. I believe that I’m only days away from FINALLY getting published, getting back into drama/acting, picking up my flute once again, and whatever else God wants me to do with my talents. It feels so surreal. It’s like a lifetime has passed, yet I’m a newborn child. This is our new chapter, but in the same book. New beginning, with the same characters. We’ve awoken to a world of our dreams. And there’s nothing but joy when we follow our great Leader. He knows exactly where He’s taking us.