The Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountains view 3

We just had the best week in Gatlinburg, TN.  I’ve never been there before so I didn’t know what to expect.  I kind of figured it would be a lazy mountain town, I was pretty shocked to find it’s anything but.   We gave it our best shot but I don’t think we scratched the surface of all the activities.  There are shops, shops and more shops.  There is food and shows to go along with your food, and in the back drop watching over it all are the beautiful Smoky Mountains.  We live near the Blue Ridge Mountains now and I thought they were big, but I’ve decided “our” mountains look like large hills compared to the massive Smokies.

They are take your breath away scary and exhilarating all at once.

I’ve never considered myself one to be afraid of heights, not really anyway.  I mean, I don’t want to hang off the balcony of a ten story building, but I don’t mind looking out the window.  Well, if you’re going to a mountain town, you better put on your seatbelt because everything is high.

Everything.

Smoky Mountains 2

It started with the drive from our house to Gatlinburg.  I was totally unprepared for how intimidating it would be to drive over the mountains.  Did I mention they are BIG?  Ignorance is bliss they say.  Sometimes I think ignorance makes it even scarier. I guess I like to know what I’m facing if possible.  Then I can worry over it in advance and get my act together while I anticipate what I’m about to face.

Maybe not entirely healthy, but it makes sense to me.

But, in real life, difficulties don’t come with an email warning us what’s ahead.

My husband drove us to Gatlinburg and I sat unsuspecting in the passenger seat.  I had music playing and I was flying high anticipating a great week with family.  When we started driving upward for what seemed like forever, I began to get suspicious.  Why is there no downhill?  Pretty soon the road started to wind and there were signs warning of chicanes ahead that looked like the letter “S.”  I started to feel my heartbeat elevate.  It was then I began to notice all the semi-trucks around us. They were driving like we were on a straight, flat road all the while their trailers were swinging in the wind.  What in the world would these guys consider hazardous enough to slow down?

It was very cold so there were signs posted reminding us there might be ice on the road, oh, and falling rocks.  What the heck??

FALLING ROCKS??

Smoky Mountains 1

This was all too much for this girl from the Deep South to bear.  And that reminds me, there were bear crossing signs.  Are you kidding me?  This is the reason I nearly ran to the woman’s bathroom when we stopped at a rest area.  Speed walking to stay ahead of the bears while keeping a constant eye out for falling rocks.  Of course by the time we stopped at the rest area I nearly needed oxygen because the semi-trucks.  But, short of breath or not I was still able to speed walk.

Why did no one warn me the Smoky Mountains were big enough to hide the sun?

After our bathroom stop, we began to see signs that the road was narrowing down to one lane.  So, our windy, curvy road was going to cram us all into one lane with the crazy semi drivers.  Great.  As you can imagine, I wasn’t singing praise and worship anymore, I was “helping” my husband drive since I was sure I could see things he couldn’t.

There was a river on one side and a million feet of rock straight up on the other.

Then there was us.

And the semis.

And falling rocks and bears.

Smoky Mountains 5

Why was I going to Gatlinburg again?

What seemed like hours later we finally made it to the other side of the mountain or maybe we stopped halfway down, whichever, I was never more thankful to see civilization and roads that didn’t feel like they were going straight up or plummeting down.

When did I become so afraid of travel?  I used to love new experiences.  I would’ve loved driving between the river and the rock and would’ve looked for bears, cautiously, for selfies.   But, on this day, I was terrified and something equally terrifying was exposed in my heart.

When we were smack dab in the middle of that drive I felt so trapped; it didn’t matter which way I went, it felt scary.  Every mile we drove I felt unsure of what might be ahead.  What if a semi tried to change lanes on top of us?  What if a large boulder crashed down in front of us?  What if a bear was hiding behind the bathroom?  It all kind of sounds outlandish, until you’re living it.

When did new things become so scary?

When did I quit enjoying the ride?

Smoky Mountains 6

To me, the road of life is like that mountain road with falling rocks and bears and dangerous drivers and it makes me want to curl up in a ball in the floorboard.  It’s so hard for me to be completely comfortable from day to day because “what if?” What if one of my kids gets hurt or worse?  What if my dad suddenly dies?  What if my husband gets in a plane crash?  What if I get a terrible diagnosis?  These are all so much more real the older I get.  I’ve received scary phone calls with bad news, I’ve watched death up close, and I’ve had to have some medical procedures that made me afraid.

But, because of those hard things that have happened and because the Lord is doing “open heart surgery” on me, I knew I had to look that fear in the face and ask God what the source is.

Why am I so afraid?

Instead of giving me the answer, He (the Lord) made me spend a week in a place that feels like it hangs off the side of a mountain.   More windy roads, then Gatlinburg had flash flooding, what seemed like endless rain, dangerous fog and finally snow.  During this crazy week, we went to shows, museums and ate way too much.  One day, when the weather was only slightly perilous, we rode a ski lift up the steep side of the mountain and then walked across a suspended bridge that had a glass bottom.  It just seemed like anything we wanted to do involved facing a fear, and I DID IT.  I faced them one at a time and then, as fate would have it, my husband was called into work and I had to make the drive back across the Smoky Mountains by myself.

Interesting fact, after facing so many hard things in one week, the mountains didn’t feel quite so terrifying.  One particularly windy road offered a place to pull over and enjoy the view.  On the way there I didn’t want to see the view I just wanted to be done.  But after prayer, and reflection and continuing to face smaller scary things all week, I was ready to pull over and see what all the fuss was about.   Wow!  The view from up there will take your breath away.

In full transparency, I did stay kind of close to the car just in case, you know, a bear.

And I didn’t stop for the bathroom until there were no more bear crossing signs.

A girl can only take so much.

I believe the Lord uses ALL the things in our lives to teach us and grow us up in Him.  Nothing is wasted.  Even road trips over scary mountains.

And thanks to that, I’m on the road to brave again.

Smoky Mountains 7

Gratitude

Jeff and me in Gatlinburg

Our first time to Gatlinburg.  

It snowed this morning.  For this girl from the Deep South who’s only seen snow maybe twice in the last thirteen years, it was a big deal.  My dog and I played in the back yard while the white flakes peppered our hair.  Such a fun way to start the day.  It made me feel like a little girl again trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue.   The snow has now turned to rain and I am tucked away inside, out of the elements, sipping on a cup of coffee with oat milk creamer.  This is new for me, this oat milk thing, but so far it hasn’t been too bad.

I’m also trying my first ever Acai bowl.  I’ll let you know if it’s any good.

Seems this is a season for “new.”

At the first of this New Year a word started coming to mind randomly.  I would be thinking about something else entirely and this word would pop up and interrupt my thoughts.  I would push it aside and continue my thoughts a little annoyed that it kept coming up.   It was a persistent word and I couldn’t shake it.  Some people choose a word for the year, it helps them to stay focused and to keep a theme in their day-to-day lives.  I’ve tried to do it before, but it seems about half way through June I’m left wondering what the word was? And why I chose it??  So when this persistent word kept interrupting my life, I had no choice but to ask the Lord if it was meant for me.  I had decided not to do the word for the year thing, I was going to leave that to folks a lot more organized and goal oriented than me.

You know, the Lord can be a little bossy.  If you know Him, and I desperately hope you do, you know I’m telling the truth.  Could be He’s bossy because He is the boss, but I suspect in this case it’s because he knew how much embracing this word and the theology behind it would make a difference in my life.

So, here I am declaring a word for the year.  Well, maybe not the whole year bur for the foreseeable future.  It really is something I should internalize all the time but, sadly, I don’t.

Gratitude.

So simple in theory, but not so simple to live it daily.  Saying I’m thankful is a good start, but to really live a thankful life has proven to be a little tougher than I’d imagined.  For example, am I thankful the snow turned to boring rain??  Nope.  I was on the elliptical this morning watching the snow out the glass doors, it was magical, and, then as I watched helplessly the white flakes turn to watery blobs, I grumbled.

Why is complaining so easy??  No one helps with the dishes, the car is out of gas again, the house needs dusting; and didn’t I just do that a few days ago?  The lights in this fitting room make me want to never try on another piece of clothing again.  My child didn’t return my thirteenth phone call, what do you mean you forgot you’re the snack student for the whole class tomorrow…there’s just so much to complain about.

I’ve found complaining and gratitude can’t coexist, at least not for long.

I looked up the meaning of gratitudethe quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Doesn’t that sound like a great way to live?

Honestly, I was a little offended when God kept pushing that word on me.  I mean, I thought I was grateful, thankful…whatever.  Maybe he had mistaken me for someone else, someone less abundantly thankful than me.  I say grace before every meal and everything.  But when I finally surrendered to the idea that I needed more gratitude, I felt such a peace.  This is exactly what I am supposed to be focusing on right now.  There was no mistake.

latte

Vanilla latte with oat milk. I highly recommend.

If you’ve followed my blog the past two weeks you know I’ve been struggling with purpose.  Then I found surrender.  And now it seems I’m giving in to gratitude.  I don’t know myself at all, it would seem.

Here’s what I do know so far as I’m approximately forty five minutes into this journey.  Just kidding, it has been a few days.  I have a long road ahead.   I’ve learned in these few days of not JUST being thankful but having INTENTIONAL gratitude, that life looks a LOT brighter when you’re looking at the bright side.  I’ve learned gratitude can diffuse anxiety and lift a heart in despair.  I’ve learned when I’m thankful for the things in my past, in my present and those yet to come, I feel so much lighter inside.  Isn’t that what Jesus is? The LIGHT of the world?  I’m seeing a strong connection here.

Gratitude is not just a list of words we string together, it sets the tone of our heart.

Well, I guess the rain is not so bad, it makes a cup of coffee taste like comfort.  That mean lady that cut in front of me in line at Wal-Mart isn’t going home with me, so that’s good.  My bad hair day can be a conversation starter or the dishes in the sink can be a reminder that I had food to eat.  Cleaning up dog poop in the yard may be a chance to talk to the neighbor who is outside doing the same thing.  The bad traffic might be a chance to listen to that podcast I’ve been putting off.  Maybe when every register at Target has a long line it’s the Lord giving me a chance to stand still for a minute and gather my harried thoughts.

I have a lot more to learn.

Gratitude is a lifestyle, and it is work, but man, so far, it has been so worth it.

I want to challenge you to join me in a quest for more gratitude.  For those of you who have mastered this virtue, I would love to hear your stories of how God taught you to be more thankful.  He’s teaching me through a season of longing for purpose and learning surrender.

And by sipping coffee while watching the rain.

Acai Bowl

My first Acai Bowl and I liked it!!

 

 

Speaking in Code

Pic of Me and Jeff at Biltmore

I’m sitting in the cutest little coffee shop waiting for my Crepedillia.  That’s a crepe with a Mexican flare in case you’re wondering.  The day is glorious, the sky couldn’t be any bluer and there’s just the right amount of chill in the air.  It feels perfect, honestly.  Kacey Musgraves is singing Rainbow gently over the speakers and I find myself swaying softly, enjoying the music.

I am grateful for this place, for right now.

I just got off the phone with my youngest and he is having a good week in spite of the work load of being a full time student and having a part time job.  My middle child, Dreamer, as I’ve named him, is having a great week too.  The Lord is opening some opportunities for him and he, in his usual zest for life manner, is thrilled.  My daughter, and oldest child, has found a full time job now that’s she’s graduated from college.  She loves it and feels so blessed.

So, I ask myself repeatedly, why all this self-reflection and battling sadness?

Last week I wrote to you guys about how I feel a lack of purpose in my life these days.   I wrote it not intending to post it to my blog. I was just trying to be honest with myself in hopes to figure out all of these emotions that feel like a kaleidoscope.  When I decided I would send it out to all of you, I pressed “post” with a knot in my stomach.  I mean, how much honesty is too much, you know??  Several of you responded and I am so thankful for the encouragement.  As much as I appreciated the advice and love shown to me, it just didn’t seem to make me feel any better.

I needed to hear from HIM.

From Jesus.

I want to continue my story today, fill you in on what’s happened since I decided to tell my truth on such a raw and public level.

I recently finished a book, it took me three months to read it and it wasn’t even that long.  What happened to me??  I used to be such an avid reader?   Definitely getting back to it in 2020.  Anyway, at the end of this book, and right after I published last week’s blog, the author began to remind me why I picked up the book in the first place.  We do our deepest growing in the unseen, she said.  I’m paraphrasing.  Our most important goal in these times of feeling alone, or not seen, is to focus on our relationship with Jesus.  I knew this.  I decided I might just skim the last chapter and call it DONE.  But, the Lord wouldn’t let me.  He gripped my heart and I knew there was something deeper in this message.  The author explained she broke her ankle and all of her plans for the spring had to change.  She had a choice to make: surrender to her circumstances with a grateful heart for what she was still able to do or be angry.

She chose surrender.

Okay, Lord, I was listening but I still wasn’t sure why I needed to read about her ankle problem.

The church we’ve been attending started a series on I Samuel at the first of the year.  It’s been really rich and, at times, above my head.  But I keep hanging in there.  I appreciate good teaching.  This week’s message was in chapter four and he explained that God was following through on a promise he made to discipline (punish) the Israelites if they didn’t turn back to Him.   In the middle of his forty minute talk he explained that God is our king and not our servant.  We are to surrender to Him in all things.

There was that word again.

Surrender.

When I was little my mom would sometimes have to get on to me in public.  I understand, now that I’ve had kids, this probably embarrassed her as much as it did me.  Well, in an effort to be discreet she wouldn’t directly say that she was going to “beat my tail” if I didn’t stop my bad behavior, she would say it in code but I ALWAYS knew what she meant.  None of her words were lost on me.

That’s how it felt sitting in church.

I KNEW the words were for me even though I wasn’t a worried Israelite waiting for punishment.  I knew he was speaking into my personal circumstances.  He was whispering, at first in the book, and then clearing His throat to say it a bit louder again in church.  “Surrender, Sandi, surrender.  Quit trying to figure it all out, quit focusing on all the things you miss and surrender to this place, this place right here, right now.   This place of wondering why you’re here, this place of feeling like you’re not needed, this place of sadness.  Surrender to it, I have work to do in THIS PLACE.”

It was code for “I’m gonna beat your tail if you don’t obey.”  (figuratively not literally)

He didn’t speak in an audible voice.

It wasn’t some powerful message that left me undone.

Nothing in my life changed.

But, in that moment when God was speaking discreetly and a bit in code so I would understand…I understood.  It is time to embrace what IS, even if I don’t particularly love it.  It is time to be lonely and not run from it.  It is time to be sad and not search for distraction.  It is time to surrender to whatever God wants to teach me through this feeling of being lost with no purpose.

Maybe that’s it, maybe there’s purpose in what feels like purposelessness.

Wow, you may need to read that last sentence again.  It’s a mouthful.

Maybe He’s going to teach me to surrender so I’ll be available for what comes next.

Or maybe I need to surrender because He is king I am the servant.  Maybe I need to learn that when I don’t get my way it doesn’t mean he isn’t faithful, it means he gets the final word because…

He is KING and I am the SERVANT.

Not the other way around.

Well, guys, I just had the most precious encounter with the cutest little girl.  She couldn’t have been more that eighteen months and her smile lit up my heart.  It is a good day, it’s not the day I would’ve chosen, but it is the day I’ve been given and I surrender to whatever it holds.   I’ll take all the little girl smiles and giggles I can get, oh, and my Crepedillia was awesome.

If you’re ever in my area, we’ll go get one together.

Crepedillia

Crepedillia

I Always Thought

Midlife crisis pic

I had something totally different to write about today, but I can’t shake the feeling that I need to be completely transparent with all of you.

I’m feeling a bit forlorn as I stare out the window on this glorious sunny, chilly day.  I have no real reason to be.  Well, none that anyone passing me on the street would recognize.  I am not unhappy, just not really happy. I know, that doesn’t make any sense.

This is a big year for me, my forty-ninth year on the planet, in August I will start a new decade.  There’s something about my fifties that has me doing a lot of personal reflection.  Maybe it’s also the new decade, the roaring twenties, that has me thinking so much.

At this age, I thought my life would look a lot different than it does, if I’m being honest.

I thought I would be largely successful at something, anything.  I don’t mean famous, just really good at something.  Maybe making a good living, the kind where I could contribute more to the causes that matter to me.  When I was younger I always thought I had plenty of time to become successful, or to go back to school, to travel the world or start a business or write books…all the things I ever dreamed of.  But, now I face a new decade and with it comes the realization that I’ve lived over half my life already.  What is there really to show for it?

This is where my thoughts are today.

I am not writing this for pity or fishing for compliments, I’m just being honest.  Honest and real about what goes through the mind of so many of us who reach the age where our children are grown and we’re not far from retirement.

Is this what a midlife crisis feels like?

I moved in the middle of last year.  I quit my long time job and I remember so many asking me if I was excited about retirement.  I also remember being slightly offended at the time because I wasn’t old enough to retire, at least I thought.  Well, now here I am a few months later and I still have no job.  Am I retired, I asked myself this afternoon?  And if I am, do I really want to be?  But what do I do?  I have no real skills.  I hear you clearing your throat to tell me I do have skills, and I thank you for wanting to encourage me.  I am just trying to be transparent about how it feels like to be this age and wonder if a job is really going to meet the nagging inside that says you missed your chance, it’s too late.  Maybe it’s purpose that’s missing?  Yes, purpose is what I need.  But, how do I get it?  I’ve done Bible studies and read scripture and it all seems to leave me with more questions.   It would be so nice if someone knew all the answers.

Is it disappointment I feel? Probably.   Disappointment that I never knew exactly what I was really good at so I never pursued any one thing.  I just did whatever came along.  I wasn’t really willing to fall headlong into something that seemed too scary so I settled for what was less scary and now I wonder what might’ve been if only…

To the person (so much like me) who wants to shout through the screen “pray about it,” let me assure you I have.

And I will.

I won’t stop.

I just thought my life would look different than it does.

These thoughts are personal and deep within me, I carry them around like a hidden secret.  But I don’t want to hide anymore.  I have no idea what comes next.  Maybe my lot in life is to try out all the new coffee shops in my area and leave good tips to the baristas, or to be emotional support for my traveling husband.  I know I’m to be available to my kids, but is it selfish to want something more out of life than just being there for others?

At almost fifty is there more for me?

Am I to sit down now and live out the rest of my days on the sidelines because the “better” part of my life is over?   I know some of you will declare that there are great days ahead and I’m not even going to argue with that, I believe it.  What I wonder is are there days with deeper purpose ahead?  How do I develop what I think could be shaping up in my heart?  Where is the manual that tells you how to figure all this out?

I bought a calendar this year, as I do every year, to hang on our fridge. My husband complains it’s too big, but I love it.  Each month has a picture and a Bible verse.  This month’s verse is “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”   Isaiah 40:31

I know I am in a period of waiting.

At least I hope I am.

I don’t want to believe this is how we go out.  I can’t let myself buy into the idea my brain is trying to sell me that somehow the best is in the rear view mirror.

Again, this blog isn’t for you to send me compliments, to feel sorry for me or even to remind me that Jesus loves me, I know he does.   This blog post is to let you know, if you’re feeling like me, you’re not alone.  I’ve learned over the last forty-nine years that when I don’t understand, I just need to hold on.  Hold onto whatever doesn’t move and the only thing I know of that doesn’t give way is Jesus.  I am hoping and praying for renewed strength to pass through this place of purposelessness and into richer sweeter days.

I need that to be true.

I need what I always thought would be true to be true.

Praying for you today, and for me.

Let’s hold on together.

School Shopping

Three girls overlooking the ocean

Anybody else out there remember taking a once a year shopping trip for clothes when you were in elementary and/or middle school?  One and done.  The tennis shoes you bought better last you the whole school year or you’d be lining them with cardboard.  Sorry if your jeans got too short, better just try and wear socks that matched as closely as possible and hope no one noticed.

Ah, the memories.

Momma used to take us school shopping right at the brink of each new school year.  This was back before the internet.  Yes, there was life before the internet.  Back then, you couldn’t get online and order everything you needed and have it show up on your doorstep in the speed of light.  Nope.  You actually had to get in your car, drive across town, pick out the clothes, try them on, then stand in line to purchase them.

Archaic, I know.

School usually started in sweltering August, right about the time of my birthday.  Side note:  I was always deeply disappointed in elementary school because school would start right AFTER my day of birth and I never got to wear the birthday crown with all of its benefits and accolades.

Not sure I’m really over it.

On one exciting morning Momma, my sisters and I would climb into the hot car, (most of the cars we owned over the years didn’t have air-conditioning, oh, and we never wore seatbelts), and head out to shop.  I heard some of you young mommas gasp at the idea of not wearing seatbelts.  I’ve seen ten year olds strapped down to a car seat that barely fit under them, seems like society goes from one extreme to the other.  Also, keep in mind this was way back before it was the law.  Cars were equipped with them, but they were buried under the seat somewhere only to emerge when you were searching for lost change.  I’m not encouraging not wearing seatbelts, but I think it’s worth noting that we did live to tell the stories about it.

Anyway, back on track, we each received one hundred dollars for our once a year shopping trip.   For our family that may as well have been one hundred thousand dollars.  It was a LOT and I felt like I must’ve entered into a wild dream as we sat shoulder to shoulder in the back seat, sweat dripping down our backs because, you know, no air.  As I sat with the windows rolled all the way down, and my hair slapping me in the face, I dreamed of all the fine things I was going to buy and how amazing I would look walking proudly down the halls of school in my one hundred dollar clothes.

That was the best day of the year to me.

Up until high school, Momma used to take us every year without fail to Monroeville, AL where the Lee Jean Factory lived.  Back then, it was a huge warehouse chalked full of everything from underwear to blue jeans.  Momma would walk us in the door and then set us free with clear parameters of where we could pick and choose our new clothes.  Funny thing is, I didn’t know we were shopping in the misfit section.  I had no idea.  Misfit being the jeans that were rejected and couldn’t be sent to the finer stores, like the ones in the mall.  They might be missing a button or a pocket was sewn shut, or the hem in one leg was longer than the other.

It was the section for imperfect items.

Thinking back on those trips to Monroeville, I can’t help but grin.  We may have worn lopsided jeans and three legged panties, but we didn’t have a care in the world.  As a kid I was clueless, but now I realize I fit perfectly in the imperfect section.  So many things about me are far from perfect.  But I’ve noticed the more I embrace all of my flaws, the happier I am.  I will never have Pantene commercial hair, or Oil of Olay skin, no, you’ll find me on the aisle where there’s shampoo to help volumize thin, mousy hair.  And, no amount of moisturizer is going to make these wrinkles go away.

But, I wonder, should we even call those things that make us an individual, flaws?  Maybe it’s our distinctions that make us uniquely beautiful.

This year, this shiny new year, I’m dedicated to being more thankful for all of it.

Even my stretch marks.

This life is a gift.

Beautiful, imperfect life.

You know, I may take a trip to the Lee Jean Factory sometime.  I think the proper name for it is Vanity Fair, but I like the name I gave it as a kid better.  It would certainly bring back a lot of memories.  And, who knows, maybe I’ll even venture out of the assigned parameters to see what else they sell?  And maybe I’ll buy a shiny new pair of jeans with the pockets sewn shut, just for old time’s sake and as a reminder…imperfect really is perfect.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!”

 Psalm 139:13-18