Dahlonega in the spring

Spring came to Dahlonega slowly… I’d seen spring, and longed for spring, for a few weeks when I drove to the airport in Atlanta, a mere 80 miles south. Then one day, the grass, the trees, the moss, the ferns, everything hinted green in this tiny, hilly town. A few more days, flowers, red buds, goldenrods, jonquils, everything flowered. The dogwoods came last, a quiet riot of pink and white, and were well worth the wait.

grey ceiling | UNG flowering

grey ceiling | UNG pink dogwood

grey ceiling | UNG willow tree

greyceiling | UNG dogwoods

A Life Update

I’ve been slow to write in the last months as these months have been emotionally formative and that generally leaves me with nothing to pour out here. But, today, sitting in a crowded and loud LAX terminal, I had the desire to write. A wise, dear person recently told me not to write because I had the drive to do so, or the need to do so but because I have the desire to do so.

Right now, I’m 34,100 feet in the air over the deserts of the southwest US. I’m flying home from my company’s big user conference (to be clear… “my” company is the company that I work for, not a company I own :)) in Anaheim. This trip was my third to southern California. I love southern California.

The week was full of presentations, working sessions, meetings, catching up with colleagues I haven’t seen in months, yummy food, and a trip to Huntington Beach. I love these weeks. The atmosphere of bringing 8,500 users from our client base together to share experiences, knowledge, and beautiful spring days is almost electric. The weather was perfect – warm, slightly breezy, and clear.

Work is changing for me. Remember my new job from a few months ago? I haven’t really started it yet because the transition period from my old position to my new position has taken awhile. However, when this plane touches down in Atlanta later today, I will complete the last trip I have booked. For the past three years, I’ve not had a “last trip currently booked”… I’ve landed at the airport, driven home for two, three, ten, maybe twelve nights, and then headed back to the airport for the next trip.

I’ve loved these days.

I’ve also loathed these days.

And they are now concluding. Yes, I’ll continue traveling, and may even have periods of heavy travel again, but my new position doesn’t require travel like my old position did. Instead of nights in a hotel, I’ll have nights in my own bed, in my own home, with my husband. I’ll have mornings of coffee on the back deck before work, and evenings of cooking dinner in my kitchen. Weekends will become just that – weekends – instead of feeling like a long layover at my house.

I’m a little antsy about this change. Traveling exposes me to people, places, ideas, views, experiences. I love these things, and I hope I’ve appreciated these things as I’ve traveled in these last few years. Home seems more obscure. Four walls with various rooms tucked inside and a computer serving as my portal into the world. My personal world will change from airports, flights, taxis, hotels, restaurants, schools, clients face-to-face, noise and into a quiet room, an open window, a five-second commute, conference calls on the front porch, seeing no one but Justin for days on end, small town life. From feeling as though the entire world is at the other end of a jet bridge to feeling as though my entire world is within four walls on a quiet country road in the mountains of Northeast Georgia.

It’s a good change, a welcomed change, and a needed change. I need time with Justin. I need time in my kitchen, in my laundry room, and on my back porch. I need time to revel in the quiet and to heal in the solitude. I also need time to build a new life in a new town.

I dearly miss our old home. I miss our house, with it’s gorgeous hardwood floors and enormous back deck, and I miss the rhythm of our life. How we planted a garden each spring, cleaned out our flower beds, listened to Braves games on the radio on the back deck, walked miles and miles around our favorite campus, ate brunch at the Local Yolkal, ran into friends at Kroger, sunned ourselves on hot islands on the lake… it was home.

I know we’ll establish a new rhythm of life in our new place. And I know – or deeply hope – this new town will become as beloved as our old home. These are days that need space to explore those new rhythms, calm and quiet to simply live life.

A month and a half ago or so, I started the unofficial infertility series in this quiet space on the Web. I’ve carried the thoughts penned in those posts with me for days, months, years, and it’s been so good to share them. Difficult, yes, but so very good. I’m learning these things don’t have to be carried alone. For a long time, I couldn’t even let Justin into the hurt places in my heart. Once I did, the burden was suddenly lighter – he knew, he understood, and he simply loved me no matter what. I opened up to close family members next, and found the same thing. They were so kind, so caring, and simply loved me. After sharing my thoughts the first few times, I knew I had to get the thoughts out of my head and into words on pages… so the unofficial infertility series began. Right now, I’ve shared the thoughts I’m ready to share. There are more, always, but it’s not yet time to share those.

The days in these months of quiet on the blog have been messy. I hope the messiest are past, but there’s really no telling. Today is a beautiful day – a great day for a flight – and tomorrow is looking bright as well. So, here’s an update from the quiet. I’m so glad you’re [still] here. I’ll leave you with a picture from our new town.

Misty mountain vineyard (Cavendar Creek Vineyard, Dahlonega, GA)

Misty mountain vineyard (Cavendar Creek Vineyard, Dahlonega, GA)

Six months ago.

Six months ago, Justin and I had been trying to have a baby for two and a half years.

Six months ago, my college roommate birthed a beautiful baby girl: Madilyn Lane.

We drove to their house not even a week after Madilyn was born because we were so eager to meet her. We smiled and oogled and expressed our disbelief that life had flown this far this quickly – they are parents now!

We settled in for the afternoon and I curled up in the corner of the couch with a tiny Madilyn tucked in my arms. The conversation swirled around me as I took in every detail of her sweet little newborn face.

I couldn’t stop the tears as they pinpricked the back of my eyes. In an instant, they were pouring out of my eyes and streaming down my face.

Precious people that they are, my roommate, her husband, and Justin let me have my moment. I practically jumped off the couch, Madilyn still in my arms, and sought refuge in her nursery. The tears came hot and fast and long.

I grieved.

It’s March, now, and the memory of that August Saturday afternoon hasn’t lost its crispness. At the time, I couldn’t even touch the reasons behind such an outburst. I couldn’t name the emotion, and I certainly couldn’t understand why such a beautiful, precious little one prompted such deep, gut-wrenching grief.

I’m not sure I can now, either, but I want to try: My arms never seem as empty as they do when I’m holding a baby that isn’t mine. As I held Madilyn, visceral grief at not knowing the feeling of holding my own child, and of very quickly losing hope of ever knowing that feeling, spilled over.

Six months later,  I know the boundaries of this grief, and I avoid them religiously. I’ve never allowed myself to imagine what a child of mine and Justin’s will look like (did you notice that “will” verb? Evidence of hope living on), or how I might decorate a nursery, or anything connected to having a baby. I’ve stopped imagining how I would tell Justin he’d be a dad, or how I’d announce a pregnancy to the world. I’ve drawn these boundaries of protection around the rawness of my heart.

I want to chastise myself for doing so. Surely the heart is made to feel and dream and hope. But I look back on the years leading to these boundaries and I ask who wouldn’t set such boundaries? Who wouldn’t retreat into themselves and channel any and all effort away from this line of thought? Who wouldn’t attempt to ignore the very existence of pregnancy? I can’t claim, in the least, that this is a good, healthy, or positive approach… but it is how I have coped in these days.

Long on learning

Being real in this space means talking about the new beginnings and the halting new starts even when I’m afraid to acknowledge yet another start of something I’ll likely not complete. That thought line is such a trap, I know, and it’s vicious. Why try when I’ve failed every time before and the effort seems wasted every time before?

Yet here I am, tucked away in a corner of this new, still-somewhat-unfamiliar house, playing a piano of letters and words and emotion and feeling on this keyboard.

Saturday morning was ugly. I’ll spare you the details, but the conversation ended with Justin asking probing questions, giving me time to answer, and challenging me to walk with God again.

I say again, and I feel a bit like a drama queen. Why can’t I be one of those slow and steady people? Why can’t the study and the discipline and the grace and the joy and the passion come naturally, effortlessly?

The truth is… those things take work. Like any relationship, the daily walk is important. It’s as important as the wedding day, as the anniversaries, as the vacations. The everyday walk is the reminder that God is with us. That He’s in the middle of our mess, in the middle of our awful thoughts, in the middle of our frustrations, in the middle of so many things where we forget Him.

And it’s not just that He’s there… it’s that He wants to be there.

We lie to ourselves, over and over, about the things God doesn’t care about. That He doesn’t care about the frustrations of my heart, or that He doesn’t care about the stress I feel will break my back. Even worse, that He doesn’t care about my empty womb and doesn’t hear my prayers because He hasn’t answered those prayers.

How selfish.

So I laid my head on my favorite chair, wet its cushion with my tears, and asked God to help me tear down the walls in my heart to let Him back in. I’ve already been working on the emotions, and while neither pretty or comfortable, this is good. And as those emotions unwind themselves and I deal with the hurt and the good and the hope and the bad, there’s so much more. There’s an emptiness, a void, where those pent up emotions used to sit, and in this void I just want Jesus.

I want Jesus that healed the woman that touched his cloak and believed He could heal her. I want Jesus that challenged the sinless in an angry mob to cast the first stone. I want Jesus that turned water into wine. I want Jesus that walked on water, Jesus that turned tables over in the synagogue, and Jesus that told the rich young ruler to leave all his possessions behind.

There are still so many unanswered questions about this belief and this religion I live out. I look at those questions and think they are insurmountable… I can’t walk with God if I don’t have _______ worked out! and the like.

But the truth is, God doesn’t mind that I don’t have those things worked out. He has mercifully granted access to His throne through the death of Jesus… and that belief is enough to start anew upon. He’s here, as I write these words. And he’s here, as I work through the stress that each day brings. He’s here as I sit and think, and He’s here as the deepest part of my heart stirs. He’s simply here.

I am short on answers and long on learning to walk with Him again.

I’m not sure when I realized we were having trouble getting pregnant.

We started trying to have a baby in February 2011. Before we blinked, a year passed and we celebrated my niece’s first birthday. Mom and I drove the seven hours (during the daylight, this time) to my sister and brother-in-laws and celebrated a whole year of life of this adorable little girl.

I learned so much about a baby in this year. Like how perfect squishy baby legs are, or how soft wispy baby hair is, or how you’re supposed to wipe front to back on a girl (worst aunt ever right here). And how the smile of a little one lights up parts of the heart yet unknown. Or how enchanting watching cars drive by is to a new life. Or how naturally a little one fits in the arms and snuggles up close.

I think the questions began about a year after we started trying to have a baby. The wondering if it would actually happen. The slight inkling that maybe something about life really wasn’t fair and maybe things don’t always come easily. The why-does-she-get-to-be-pregnant-when-I’ve-done-everything-right-and-am-not-pregnant thoughts.

And over the next two years, those questions dug so deep into my being I hardly remember what the world looked like without them. I couldn’t see a cute pregnant belly without feeling the dagger in my heart.  I deleted a Pinterest board I’d created before I knew we were not having a baby easily and unfollowed friends’ baby boards. I created the Ten Day Rule: no pregnancy test until I’m ten days late [because so many were taken at day one, or two, or three, and all turned up negative despite my pleading]. I spent an afternoon throwing item after item into an Ikea buggy after seeing not one or two but five pregnant women on my way to the restroom where I discovered I was not pregnant that month.

I’ve spent so much effort trying to numb this pain I can do nothing about that the emotions I do feel which are prescription strength: raw, consuming, blinding, white hot.

So this in-between has become a hell of my own making. The questions started innocently, worked their way deep into the roots of my heart, and became poison in my soul. The joys and the sorrows are rolled into a numbness that I carry like a drug ready to be administered at a moment’s notice – that moment when I notice the clear baby blues of a tiny new person, specifically.

And so this has continued for months. I’ve only recently realized the situation, and I’ve only recently begun to name the feelings and the coping mechanisms and the thoughts that shifted the foundation of my world. I can’t speak for everyone, for this is my story alone, but if you have a friend having trouble having a baby, remind her of who she is. That she is loved dearly by God. That His timing is perfect (but not in that platitude way). That He wants her to ask the hard questions of Him. That He wants to reveal Himself more to her, and in ways she never imagined, during this time. That God knows her heart, her pain, her questions, her thoughts, her emotions, her rage, her fury, and her despair.. and loves her all the same.

Three years and ten months ago.

Not quite the same tone as “four score and seven years” but close, right?

Justin and I were celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary with a long weekend in Amelia Island. Mid-day Saturday, my sister called. I missed the call, and she called back three or four times. By the time I saw her missed calls and called her back, I was worried something was horribly wrong.

Turns out, she had delightful-but-surprising news: she was pregnant!

I was so excited for her and my BIL. They were going to be parents! Nevermind the overwhelming nature of a surprise pregnancy… I was going to be an aunt!

Justin and I were not thinking seriously about children at that time. We’d talked about “when” but always in terms of starting to try to conceive when we were thirty. We wanted some time to ourselves, and we wanted to get our careers off the ground, and then we wanted to think about children. By thirty, surely we’d be “settled.” Ha.

Nine months passed, and the call that my sis was in labor came around 4:00 on a Thursday afternoon in early February. She was in labor and at the hospital.

Seeing that Justin and I have no ability to wait when something exciting is happening (or when there are gifts to be given to one another), we raced home, hastily packed, and set off to make the seven-hour drive. Around 2AM, we pulled into town, crashed at the hotel for a few hours, and headed to the hospital as soon as we woke up the next morning.

My niece was born in the early afternoon of a rainy winter day on February 4, 2011. I met her very shortly thereafter and marveled at the life in my arms. An alligator tear escaped her tightly squeezed eyes, and she became part of my heart I never knew existed. A few seconds later, she opened her eyes and looked at me. I couldn’t breathe. She was beautiful and a miracle and my sister was incredible.

We left late the next day after more visits to the hospital and moments of marveling at Ryleigh. At barely 24 hours old, she was raising her head off my shoulder and looking around at the world. She had Aunt Amy wrapped around her tiny, crinkly pinky finger.

Halfway home, a blinking Krispy Kreme sign forced us (like we had no choice, right?) off the interstate for a dinner of hot, fresh, warm donuts. I can still taste them. We were standing in line, and I looked up at Justin. He met my gaze, and I forced out the words I’d been thinking since the moment we walked out of the hospital for the last time: “I want a baby.”

My adult heart-walls.

We’ve heard the teenage story ad nauseam… teenage love flowers, dies, and the jilted party builds a wall around their heart to protect from further teenage love flowering and dying all over again.

Harsh, I know. I was there one day… it was real, and it was painful, and I shouldn’t poke fun. Oops.

When I met Justin, fell in love, and married, I thought I’d retired my brick mason skills. Here was a handsome, caring, loving man that promised to be mine forever. Goodbye, trowel.

What I’ve been wholly unprepared for in adulthood are all the other places of pain and the stealthy-but-even-more-fine-tuned trowel I carry each day. Something unpleasant pricks my heart, and I hastily slap down some mortar and a brick. Done. All better.

Unfortunately [and what I hate to have realized], the walls I build keep me out of my heart.

Tonight, I read the most beautiful story about a girl and a boy and their struggle with infertility. I finished the story, hung my head in my hands, and waged war on the emotions threatening to creep into  my heart. The emotions betray my doubts, my fears, my unbelief, and my faltering walk with the Lord. They remind me I’m not tending to the hurting corners of my soul.

I haven’t shared my story or the overwhelming emotions related to our inability to conceive in much detail. I haven’t wanted to burden others, and I haven’t wanted to complicate my relationships with some of my most favorite (and currently pregnant, or recently pregnant, or likely-to-be-pregnant-soon) people. I haven’t wanted to say “woe is me” and I don’t like to talk about things until they’re resolved.

But (you knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?)… this is my story. It’s part of who I am right now. It’s part of the darkness that has lived in my heart and soul lately. It’s unresolved and it’s messy and it’s complicated… but I’m afraid if I don’t take this wall down, brick by brick, I’ll never find the sunlight again.

So I’m going to start at the beginning… as best I can remember… and talk about this in the open. I have no named purpose, no shiny bow of encouraging others in which to wrap this, and no happy ending of slightly over-exposed whimsical pictures of adorable baby blues and pudgy infant legs. What I do have, however, is a story I simply can’t keep in any longer.

Consider yourself warned. Teenage wall-building skills be damned.

What I’m Into [January 2014]

Hello, moving day! @gaines150

First, I can’t believe we’re already to the end of January 2014. Time is flying.

JANUARY FUN

We started the year in Folly Beach, SC (just outside of Charleston). Justin and I spent a week exploring the Charleston area (click the pictures to go to the posts).

Folly Beach, South Carolina

My parents visited my sister, brother-in-law, and niece in Italy for Christmas (!). Their flight home happened to be the same day we drove home from vacation, so we made the spontaneous decision to drive to the airport instead of home and surprise them in the arrivals lobby. Everything worked like a charm! We ate dinner together, and heard all about their trip. One of my favorite evenings of 2014!

I experienced really, really cold weather (repeatedly, ugh!). I was in Philadelphia when the #polarvortex (I had to…) came through… it was five degrees two mornings in a row. I wore wool long johns for the first time in my life. When we walked to work on the third morning, the temperature had risen to a balmy 25 degrees. I joke, but I could tell a difference in the temp, and that surprised me! I suppose, being a Southern girl all my life, I assumed anything below 32 felt about the same. I stand corrected.

JANUARY FOOD

Can you believe Justin and I ate a burger from Five Guys for the first time this month? My favorite part were the bag fries! Side story: growing up, Dad convinced me bag fries taste better than any of the other fries, so we would always eat through our meal, then relish the fries hiding at the bottom of the bag. One of my favorite memories.

I tested Chocolate Salted Caramel Bars - they were delicious! I used a bar of unsweetened baking chocolate and liked the chocolate-but-not-too-sweet flavor (may not be for everyone, though!).

JANUARY LIFE

Justin started his new job! He’s been in the role for almost three weeks, and is doing a great job (I’m not at all biased… :)).

We moved. Our new house and town is starting to feel more like home… the people here are incredibly friendly, and the town itself is absolutely beautiful.

We celebrated marriages and baptisms with family and “adopted” families. We’re so blessed to have so many loved ones.

I made some stupid decisions that [hopefully] imprinted a lesson on what wisdom is NOT … which is my least favorite way to learn things.

Justin spent 18 hours traveling 80 miles during the snow storm that gridlocked Atlanta. It was not his favorite experience AT ALL.

JANUARY LOVE

I finished The Book Thief sitting on a cracked leather sofa at a rented beach house with tears streaming down my face. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something so moving, creative, and life-giving. The courage of the characters made me catch my breath more than a few times. And, I’m so fascinated with the narrator – which I assume to be death – and how heavily the very nature of the narrator foreshadows so many events.

I also finished A Homemade Life… what a beautiful book. I loved Molly’s stories, and the recipes she shared had me drooling. I closed the book feeling as though I’d made a friend, and was sad to see them go. I’m looking forward to reading Delancey!

Shortly before we moved, dear friends proposed brunch at our favorite breakfast place in our old town. They brought their smiles, happy hearts, and beautiful daughter and brightened our day!

We packed a 17-foot UHaul to the brim one cold Friday evening, and were so incredibly blessed by friends that came to help us pack. Growing up, we moved many times, and I remember knowing those that came to help us pack the truck and haul stuff around the fifteenth time were dear, sweet, special friends.

February Anticipation

I’m going to take a break from blogging… life is at one of those stages where everything doesn’t fit at the same time, and I need to make room for a few other things. Given we’re in a new town with beautiful scenery, I’ll probably do some picture posts, but that’ll be all. I’ll be back in a few months!

Reflections on Milledgeville

Spent the day working on fall flower beds with @gaines150. #favoritethingsThe house we made a home inside and out that graciously hosted the moments in which we learned one another, loved one another, encouraged one another.

Sailboats on a lake. #happiness

The lake on which we spent many, many hours with some of our favorite people and developed a fondness for Jack Johnson.

Beautiful day at the #oconeeriver in #milledgeville. #oconeerivergreenway

This beautiful river we explored in our kayaks and learned beer is best enjoyed at 10 AM on a Saturday morning floating down a river in the early heat of a Southern summer day.

Grateful for beautiful evenings in one of my favorite places, sidewalk conversations with friends, and quiet, restoring time at home. #intentionaljoy

The school where we met, fell in love, worked, and dreamed. We’re so fortunate to have started our careers at such a wonderful place and to have loved a place so deeply. Georgia College will always hold a special place in our hearts.

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The memories are endless, and as we walk away from this place that became home, we cherish the lessons learned, the memories made, the friends cherished, the milestones celebrated, and the life passed here.

When the answers are not there.

I’ve been digging through the posts I wrote and never posted… and I think it’s time to share this one. It’s 1.5 years old, but the reminder is timeless. We are still TTC, and reading this today was encouraging… I hope it is for you as well.
———-

Mothers Day was hard this year.

Sixteen months of TTC and nothing. At least twelve pregnancy tests and nothing.

Two visits with my most perfect niece, rejoicing over the beautiful relationship she and my sister have, and dying on the inside.

Knowing. Knowing God has a plan. Knowing life is exactly as it should be here and now. Knowing I’ll look back on these days and be grateful they happened. Knowing all things happen for a reason. Knowing my heart praises the King of Kings and Lord of Lords no matter what – even, and especially, in the moments when all I want to do is break into a million pieces inside. Knowing I’m not the only one struggling.

It’s that last piece that has finally prompted me to share something otherwise quite personal.

It’s okay.

It’s okay that there’s no bun in the oven yet. It’s okay life isn’t moving along the mommy plan [or the marriage plan, or the career plan, or the whatever plan]. It’s okay that it’s all hard to deal with. It’s okay that it’s messy, tearful, and emotional.

It’s okay because God promises Romans 8:28. “We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” (Amplified Bible)

If baby-ness is not in God’s perfect plan for my life right now, it’s okay because something else – whatever, wherever, however – IS in His plan. Right now, that’s traveling, working long hours, trying to live this life He’s given me in a manner that brings glory to the name of Christ. And it’s messy, and it’s personal, and it hurts some days, and it might even involve anger. But it’s also beautiful. And perfect. And exactly what God has ordained to be before even one of my days existed (Psalm 139:16).

I don’t know why life is here right now.

Which makes me think back to other times when I didn’t know why life was where it was at the time. Like the summer before my sophomore year of college. And how now… now, with the gracious blessing of hindsight, I can see. I can see things were the way they were then because it was perfect. Because the things coming next were more meaningful. Because the people God put in my life along the way were perfect. Because the lessons I learned live on today.

When the answers are not there, it’s okay.

Really.

Give in to that place, deep down, that wants to accept that it’s okay. God is there. And He’s carrying us through this time in life. Loving on us, teaching us, offering boundless grace, and rejoicing over all He has in store for us.

Let’s live in it’s okay.