...with a husband and 5 sons, I am truly outnumbered....stories and thoughts on life from a mom in a houseful of little men!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When Irritation Leads to Peace

The vibrant colors have given way to muted shades of gold, copper, and brown.  It's still autumn, but winter is knocking gently on our door. 

It's a completely new experience for us.  For the last sixteen years, we saw golden leaves beginning in August, which waxed quickly before waning just as fast with a sucker-punch from winter.  That is fall in Alaska, and we would have been "punched" several weeks ago.  Instead, we're in the throes of fall in Tennessee.  Both are so different; both are so beautiful.  Seasons of change.

We have seasons in life as well.  Some come softly and linger, while some of them hit us with the full-force of a Northwest gale and refuse to quit.  But unlike the cycle of seasons, life seasons are often not so easily predicted. 

It's nice when we can expect what to expect, but to have everything wrapped up so neatly doesn't leave much room for unexpected blessings, does it?  I love such surprises, so living life unwrapped, so to speak, is appealing to me for that reason.  However, what about the "unwrapped" seasons that go on with no apparent answers, with no obvious surprise? 

Our family has been through a season of tremendous change during this past year.  It's been a crazy combination of exhilaration, heartbreak, joy, hope, and dashed expectations.  And though we are settled, we remain in limbo. 

I feel time ticking, and I am full of questions.  Where do we go from here?  Will these healings be complete?  What about other journeys you've called us on?  Adoption process at a stand-still...what about that?  God whispers to me in the midst of all my questions.  He gives an answer which at first seems so irritating.  "Be still and know that I am God." 

Be still?  Are you serious?  "Yes," he whispers again.  And then I am reminded of all the knowns in the midst of the unknowns.  The knowns are the things that have happened already.  They are also the things that are true.  So many of them are things to be thankful for. 

Where do we go from here?  We continue to listen to His voice to lead us, and we thank Him for bringing us to where we are.  We live well, and enjoy all the fullness and beauty that the days hold--right here.

Will the healings be complete?  We don't know, but we thank Him for taking the seizures away from a son, and for providing a diagnosis and plan that has evaded me for the last two years, and for giving us access to the best eye doctor in the U.S. for another son.

What about the adoption process we began in 2010 that has gone seemingly nowhere?  I have no answer for that either, whether it is meant to come to fruition or was a test of obedience.  But we thank Him for increasing our faith and for the miracles He has worked along the way.

What additional questions would you add here?  What are the answers that evade you in this season you are in?  I most likely wouldn't have your answers, but I can point you to the One that has them.  I can almost guarantee that if you listen closely, you'll hear Him whispering, "Be still..."  It's irritating at first, but that's ok.  God is not threatened by our irritation.  What's even more awesome than that, is that when we choose to be still even though we don't like it, suddenly, there is room for us to give thanks.  We give thanks in the midst of our questions, for the knowns and you know what?  An unexpected blessing occurs afterall.  We realize it's ok to not have the answers.  We are filled with joy as we focus on the giving thanks.  There's so much to give thanks for, and we are filled with peace.
Thanks.  Peace.  Joy.  Those are good things to be had in any season.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

What I've Learned: day 31

This post marks the end of this series.  In reflection upon all the hours spent thinking and writing and photographing and uploading, and uploading and uploading, what have I learned?  For one thing, I've learned this is a pretty awesome place to live.

There are ample opportunities for adventure and travel.  There is beauty, so much beauty, in the form of rolling hills and mountain landscapes, flowing rivers and wildflowers, giant, ancient trees and meandering country roads and of land being worked by the plow.  It is land teeming with life in all forms.  It is rich in history, and so much is accessible in terms of bringing that history to life.  We have access to rich culture in cities, while peaceably living country life, and can easily trek to the seashores.

We are living this, and we're so thankful, yet truth be told, I still desperately miss Alaska.  It is home to me, to my family, in all it's grandeur and quirkiness and freezingness.  Is that even a word?

I chose the subject for this 31 day blogging challenge, based on the homesickness I am experiencing.  Driving home one day from a swim at Maryville College, I marveled at the fact it was mid-September, and I was driving home while windows down and sunshine streaming in dried my hair.  For me, that was incredible, and I began to think about all the other things we could experience because we are here.  As thankfulness began to well up in my heart, the homesickness lessened.  It's difficult to feel wistful or sad when you concentrate on just giving thanks for the now.  It's been good for me, as I truly have grown to better appreciate the now.  Still I find my mind wandering to the "what next?" and I do not know the answer to that.  You know what?  It's ok that I don't know the answer to that.  I know the One who does know the answer to that.  He knows what brought us here.  He knows what He's accomplishing in us here.  In short, He knows our path, and somehow that needs to be, and in fact is, enough.

Just knowing that He knows is enough.

This month of writing has been good for me, as it's caused me to dwell upon this every day: there's so much to love here.  As much richness as we enjoy, however, nothing replaces the fact that the things dearest to us, our family, our deep friendships, those things are thousands and thousands of miles away.  Familiarity.  Friendships which have weathered over a decade.  The babies that were born and have been raised up alongside our own babies.  All so far away.  It takes years and years to put down those sort of roots, and we've felt the necessity of leaving it all behind, for now anyway.  How can I reconcile these truths?

Sometimes what you love is not what is good for you in a certain season.  Sometimes what we need is to be uncomfortable.  Sometimes, God calls us out of the familiarity of Ur, so to speak, and we are called to venture out of our comfort zones.

"Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you." Genesis 12:1

To ignore the call would be torment to our hearts.  There would always be the wondering.  "What if?"

So we chose to answer  by stepping out.  We won't need to wonder "What if?" and there is much peace in that.  We'll continue to enjoy all that is here, right now.  We'll continue to grow, work on healing that needs to take place, make new friendships, maintain old friendships, minister to those He puts in our path, and chart this new course.  And all the while, we'll do our best to keep hearts focused on the Captain, and keep ears open for His call for what's next.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll be writing about that next October.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Odds & Ends, aka The Longest, Most Rambling Post Ever: day 30

Tonight, the 30th day of this series, I admit to be scraping the bottom of the barrel a bit.  I've kept a tattered old notebook handy this past month, on which I scribble my ideas for posts and then strike off when I use them.  Some things I thought were undeserving of their own post; other ideas lack the photos to go with, simply because I haven't had the time.  So tonight, I'll highlight these humble things to love about the South.

Southern Magnolia trees.  To this northern girl, they look like fauna from another world, with their thick, leathery leaves.  Check out the fruit they produce!  This one is about the size of a softball, and it's soft and velvety to the touch.  Sorry, to my knowledge you can't eat it.  Just lately, the individual pods in this fruit burst open, revealing black bean-sized, crimson, rubbery seeds.  Dazzling.  I'm on the edge of my seat to see it bloom next spring.  That will probably earn a post of its own.
 Tropical-looking flowers.  These beauties in our back yard remind me of Hawaii.  All sorts of lovely associations there.
Stunning wildflowers. Most are unfamiliar to me, blooming at their appointed times, but I smile each time I see one of my young men running across the field with a fistful and a smile on their face.  I know I'm about to be introduced to more of the beauty growing around and about.  I'm so familiar with the Dandelion-Bluebell-Wild Rose-Lupine-Fireweed cycle in Alaska.  We know just what time of year it is, based upon when each of them are blooming.  I expect it's the same for the locals here in East Tennessee, when they see these,
Or when these amazing, towering, royal purple lovelies enter the stage.
And speaking of flowers, how about roses still blooming in October?
They're planted everywhere, it seems, and in the tenth month of the year, they're still showing off.  If that isn't astounding enough to me, imagine my surprise when I noticed landscaping companies busily re-planting the flower beds around town with Pansies, in October.

Now let's talk food for a moment.  I absolutely love being able to buy fresh peaches.  Baskets of "South Carolina peaches" are sold in markets and on corners.  They are absolutely delectable.  Many still have fresh green leaves on.  
Are you still with me?

Produce markets.  Seriously love the variety of fresh, local food here.  Remember my plug for heirloom tomatoes?  Heirloom Peppers are just as noteworthy.  They're gorgeous, in all mottled shades of green, red, brown, and purple.  I never knew peppers could taste like an heirloom pepper tastes. 
I absolutely love to see roadside produce, especially with hand-painted signs, being offered on the honor-system.
 Black Walnuts.  These are yours for the harvesting.  Just listen for the tell-tale sound of the fruits falling from the trees, or if you are very unlucky, discover them by having one fall square on your head, like I did.  It took us awhile to figure out what these lime-like things were.  They actually look and smell like limes.  You gather them up when they fall, rather than pick them from the tree.  Then you save them in a cool, dry place while you wait for them to season.  That's what I call the process of letting them turn from their lovely yellow-lime color to dark brown.  Here's our personal stash.  Getting the nutmeats out of these guys is quite difficult, we've heard, not to mention the process stains your hands.  That ought to make a fun, future post as well.
Yet another thing to love?  Butterflies.  Butterflies everywhere, in all sizes and colors.  They flit from flower to flower, reminding me of my childhood days spent catching and collecting and releasing.
Cumberland Mountain State Park.  Some dear friends introduced us to this, and surely it is deserving of its own post...but shoot, I'm just running out of days.  So here you go.
 In addition to a lovely campground, they offer use of canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, fishing boats, and paddle boards, all at no additional charge.  The beautiful, man-made lake is just a short & crazy ride across the park from the campground.  We highly recommend riding in the back of a pick-up, to get full-effect.
 One of us went out on the water for the very first time ever.
 Neighbor horses.  I grew up next door to an Amish family.  I always loved seeing their horses at work or rest or play.  It's an absolute joy to have horsey neighbors again, and we visit with them often.
There are other things, too, friends.  So many things to love.  I haven't even mentioned extended sandal-wearing into October, or wild Morning Glories twirling and twisting up roadside signage and fences.  Nor have I yet mentioned how Papa Murphy's $5 Faves are all. week. long. rather than just Monday through Wednesday.
I also have not mentioned the joy of finding (with the help of our car salesman, 1 1/2 hours away--true story) our new church family here in the South.  Missing our beloved Alaska church tremendously, we now have part of our hearts here at Church of the Cove, too.  After all, every time we go somewhere new, we have a chance to meet more of the family.  As He so tenderly reminded me as I grieved leaving Wasilla Bible Church, "My people are everywhere, Jessica."
I'm so thankful for a bright and familiar place in the midst of feeling like strangers in a strange land.  And with that, a scraping-of-the-barrel, hodgepodge of things to love, I will close for tonight.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Cove to Love: day 29

At risk of overdoing it, allow me to indulge one last time in raving over living so near the Smokies.

Cades Cove.

John Oliver's cabin, War of 1812 veteran
It was the first place on my list to visit here in East Tennessee.  For the last few years, I have pored over photos and articles of this place in magazines.  I had no idea we would actually live so near it, affording the opportunity to visit as often as we like, during all times of the week, and in all seasons. 

Back in a day, this was prime, Cherokee hunting ground.  Later, it was settled by Europeans in the early 1800's. 

Cades Cove boasts the widest variety of historical buildings in the Park.  I still can't get over the fact that the buildings are all left open to walk through at any time.  If you time it just right, you can have the place all to yourself, enjoying the silence except, of course, for the imaginings of former inhabitants' voices in your mind. 
You can walk through and picture the family who lived there, getting along with regular life.  You can look out the windows and see the same, timeless view they enjoyed, or position yourself in front of a fireplace and imagine all the times that took place there. 

Nobody lives here anymore, except for so many deer, elk, and many other critters which call Cades Cove home.  Along the 11-mile loop, there are a working grist mill, numerous barns, log homes and other structures.

There are also 3 churches, which are always a favorite of mine, because you can sense the part these buildings played in the settlement. 

They were a place of gathering, of worship, of community.  They were places of celebration, and places to find comfort in grief.
Walking along the grounds, there are so many tiny gravestones.  I am saddened by so many lives seemingly cut so short.  But I am also heartened to see how precious and valued these little ones were.

To me, the magic of Cades Cove is meandering through such a large space that is in essence left as it was.  So much history.  So many stories. So much to learn.  God-willing, we'll be spending a lot more time here, delving into all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Community in These Parts: day 28

We've been informed of an interesting fact of life in the South which we've not experienced yet.

Apparently, the stores are crazy with the slightest mention of inclement weather in the fore cast.  People head to the grocery stores in droves, filling the milk and bread aisles.  We hear it's frantic.  The shelves empty as bags of bread overfill in carts, and sometimes spill onto the floors.  Folks, already having secured their booty, hang around and visit with other folks, some of whom they haven't seen since the last bread and milk extravaganza.
Bread and milk.  It doesn't matter if you actually eat bread, or actually drink milk.  If there's a snowflake on the forecast, you run to the local Food Lion or Food City or Kroger. You buy bread and milk.  Around these parts, it's just what you do.  My guess is it's much more about community than about sustenance.
As extreme Northerners, there are few weather reports which cause us to run to the store in preparation.  I can think of a couple.  We went for face masks, duct tape, and a few other things in the face of a volcanic eruption and the threat of volcanic dust.  We may make (an air-conditioned) run to Food Lion during a particularly hot part of the inferno they call summer here.  One can't be low on tea to make into sweet sun tea.  We all have our standards I guess.

Community is a good thing.  We were never created to do life alone.  We all need to be supported and to be supportive, whether we realize it or not.  If a single snowflake in the forecast does that for people in the South, I hope there continues to be runs on bread and milk for a long while, whether people actually consume it or not. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stories Brick & Mortar Tell: day 27

I love historic buildings, particularly those built of stone and brick. They express a look and feel of permanence, encompassed in cobblestone walkways, stone columns, dental work, and wide staircases of brickwork.  Nothing material lasts forever, of course, but although they become weathered, blemished, and re-purposed, buildings can be a bridge to the past for us.  
timeless storefronts, downtown Maryville

They provide a bit of timelessness and tradition in a rapidly changing world.
Palace Theater, downtown Maryville
Maryville has some amazing history, as does much of this entire region.  Settled in 1785 when a Revolutionary war veteran built a wooden palisade around Fort Craig, the settlement was later incorporated in 1795.  This station was originally built to protect Euro-Americans from Cherokee attacks.  Talk about history coming to life!  One such Cherokee village was in walking distance from our house.  This place is brimming with reminders of stories past.  
New Providence Presbyterian, downtown Maryville.  We call it the "castle church"

relics from old train station, downtown Maryville
Perhaps one thing that is so fascinating to me, is the longevity of documented history in this region.  There is so much to learn about the Cherokee tribal history, as well as Revolutionary War history, Civil War history, WWI, WWII, right on up to present day.  To see tangible evidence of all these periods in time intermingling is riveting.
old Maryville library
new Maryville library, one of our favorite places

During the Civil War, Maryville was predominantly Union.  Confederates set fire to many buildings, including the courthouse, in order to expel Union soldiers in hiding.  An African-American slave, Polly Toole, is credited with saving the majority of documents therein.
Blount County Courthouse at present, photo credit Deb Campbell
Maryville was a center of abolitionist activity in the early 19th century, largely supported by Isaac L. Anderson, founder of Maryville College.
Maryville College, founded 1819
So many beautiful buildings, each with multiple stories to tell, which weave in and out through many generations.  

Writing this post, I'm positively giddy to begin exploring these topics more thoroughly.  It's one of the first things on my list after finishing this 31 day blogging commitment.  Now I just have to choose which area to begin with...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Andrews Bald and Clingmans Dome: day 26

Today was a day we were utterly saturated with natural beauty.  Driving down narrow, winding roads canopied by trees in colors of the rainbow, leaves cascading down in front and all around us, it felt like we were in a postcard.  Perhaps the autumn version of a snowglobe would be a more accurate description, if there was such a thing.  We'll call it a leafglobe.

The color was astounding. 
Rivers ran cool and crystal clear as we drove through the wonderland that is The Great Smoky Mountain National Park up to Clingmans Dome.  As we gained elevation, the trees became leafless.  They had already had their turn to shine, and their garments had become a forest floor carpeting.  More Firs appeared, the temperature dropped, and we suddenly felt a whole lot more at home.
The plan was to hike Andrews Bald.  We became parents of a 12-year-old again today, and this young man usually requests some sort of adventure for his celebration.  He aches for our beloved mountain hiking, as we all do, so we thought this may be a bit of a cure.  I must say, it delivered.

We walked through rocky, wooded terrain for 1.7 miles,
 when suddenly,

we stepped out into grandeur, the wide-open space that we know and love so well.  Sure it wasn't exactly the same.  But there was a certain familiarity in the quality and temperature of air at 5900 ft. which felt like home to us.  Breezes wafted and blew.  The sun warmed the soft grasses where we reclined for our afternoon meal.
We ate and relaxed, and told fun stories.
My how I love these people I'm so blessed to call my family.  There was just nowhere I would rather have been than right there, right then, with those people.  The Creator gifted us with Andrews Bald today.

After a long and leisurely while, we packed it up to head the 1.7 miles back.
There was one more hike we wanted to get in today, before they close Clingmans Road for the winter, and that was its namesake, Clingmans Dome.
This one, being paved and all, seemed quite a bit more tame than what we're used to.  However, after nearly four miles already under our belts, the steep incline of this one had us worn out.  Admittedly, I didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into once we got up there.  When I realized we were going to go up a concrete fibonacci spiral,
Clingmans sort of freaked me out. 
But I tell you, the spectacular, 360-degree view of the Smokies and beyond was totally worth it.  I have only one, very non-impressive picture of part of the southern view.  I took it because we could see Andrews Bald in between the Firs.
It's always frustrating to experience something and then not be able to explain it properly.  Sometimes the awe is in the span and the depth and the scale of things.

In any case, it was an amazing day to be thankful for, as we celebrated 12 years of an amazing boy.  What a gift all around.