Sunday, October 30, 2011

The 20 Year Old Snowman (Thoughts on blogging and the power of Story)

At this very moment, there is a crumpled snowman made of construction paper hidden away in a water-tight box under our bed.  Mr. Snowman wears a faded green scarf and has poorly cut, crooked square buttons on his mid section.  He has a dozen or so tiny puncture wounds in his head to match the number of years he spent hanging from a tack that held him on my childhood cork-board.  I made him when I was in first grade, and he doesn't have a lot of significance except that... I made him in first grade.  The crumpling of his edges began my freshman year of college; the year he was freed from the tyranny of the tack and began living a gypsy life in a box that traveled from one location to the next.

As we moved out of our first home together and into our first apartment last month, I found myself ruthlessly throwing away things I no longer cared or had need for.  That is, until I began searching through the Beloved Box in our basement that held all of the things that have very little 'place' or 'purpose' in my current life... things like Mr. Snowman.  I sat on a cold cement floor for two hours (which is also apparently how long it takes for my toosh to go numb from sitting on cold surfaces). I was scouring for traces of my past, and often found myself caught off guard after rediscovering something that touched me deeply, and calling out to Josh to tell him the story - my stories - that are connected to it.  In the middle of a transition where many of my more 'practical' belongings were given (or thrown) away, most of the contents of that box survived yet another move, and some have even been officially upgraded to 'permanent storage'. 

If you're anything like me, you have a lot of "snowmen".  Artifacts from your past that are impossible to get rid of, but hold no real meaning to anyone other than you (not even your future children).  I think the significance of these fragments of life is something to consider, though. Why do I continue to keep these seemingly meaningless items?

As I've pondered this, I've figured out why I keep them and also why I enjoy blogging so much.  I need the contents of that Box to trigger memories that remind me of who I am and where I've come from.  I have seasons of life and entire memories that would be completely forgotten if it weren't for those small trinkets I seem to find only when I'm moving to a new home (and isn't it interesting how, especially in the midst of change, it sure is nice to be rooted to something?) Even if it is a lot of work to haul this Beloved Box from home to home, it is worth the effort so that I might have the privilege of searching through it and finding the almost-forgotten stories that are mine and mine alone.

This, I've realized, is also why I blog. Because on a regular basis I make memories with my sisters, go on fun dates with my husband, take silly pictures, and learn lessons about marriage and friendship. What's more, is that most of those experiences have nothing tangible to accompany them; nothing that I could place in a water-tight box under my bed for safe keeping and future inspiration.  So I write. I write to remember. I've finally realized that this blog is a type of Beloved Box, as well.

Because I want to remember the silly and the thought provoking moments of my life.  I want to remember what Josh and I did with our time before we had children.  I want to be able to go to my archives and be reminded of how I felt when I learned a valuable lesson that strengthened our marriage, or took a trip that changed the direction of our lives.

This is how I remember.  This is how I give meaning to the mundane and to the magnificent.  This is how I am reminded of the stories that could easily be forgotten.  Show the Wonder is a space for me to stand in awe of the life I have been given and the God I love, and I hope that it's a space that inspires you to stand in awe of the life you've been given as well.  I hope that you hang on to the snowmen and the blankies and the teddy bears and the burnt cds that remind you of the life you've lived.  And I hope that you are able to find an avenue to tell the stories - your stories - the ones that will beckon you to look back, put your hand on your heart in fondness, and remember the journey that has brought you to where you are today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Putting my oxygen mask on.

I flew to Washington D.C. this morning to meet up with my new friend Lenae.  As the plane prepared for take off, I sort of zoned out and didn't really pay much attention to the flight safety instructions.  However, there is one set of instructions that I can't help but notice every time I fly: In the event of an emergency, everyone is instructed to "put their own oxygen mask on first and then turn to the person next to them and help them get theirs on."

Because if you don't get oxygen and you die, you won't be any help to anyone else, right?

It's a pretty simple concept to understand, and yet I would imagine it's quite difficult to put into practice in the event of an emergency. In fact, I feel confident guessing that a lot of us are pretty good at making sure that everyone else is taken care of in life, and caring for our own state of mind and heart comes in somewhere close to dead last.  We are, all too often, an afterthought. Even to ourselves.  

It make sense to put on someone else's oxygen mask before your own.  It's noble; heroic even.

Unless, you don't succeed.  Then you both die.

This weekend, I am attending a Christian blogging conference called Relevant.  It's honestly a complete miracle that I'm even here.  It's been sold out since March and I just got a ticket three weeks ago! My heart has been hungry for some inspiration.  The last conference/retreat that I went to was over two years ago, and I walked away from it not feeling very encouraged, rested, or uplifted.  (I even had to leave that conference to go to work on one of the days.)  It just wasn't restful.  It didn't fill me up.  Since then, we have been pouring out our lives for others nonstop.  We've taken a few vacations here and there, but spiritually speaking, I have been feeling quite dry lately.  

Uninspired.  
Bored.  
Tired.
Empty.

So I began looking for tickets to Relevant.  I knew it had sold out months ago, but I emailed and tweeted and even entered a blogging contest. (Remember this post? It was my entry).  All to no avail.  I couldn't get my hands on a ticket.  Finally, a little over three weeks ago, I just decided to quit.  I realized that if I was meant to go to this conference, I would go and if I wasn't meant to go, I wouldn't.  Simple enough, right?  Well, the very next day, a lovely lady returned an email of mine saying her ticket (that she had already sold once) was back up for sale.  For $60 under the full price. I was ecstatic!  I felt like Charlie with a golden ticket to the chocolate factory!  Do you have a happy dance?  Because I do.  It involves wiggly arms and kind of just bouncing up and down.  It's silly and it's honest and I was so excited when I got my ticket that I was happy dancing all night long.  God had made a way.  He wanted me there. 

So now I'm here.  I have my oxygen mask on.  I'm taking the time to make sure that my somewhat tired soul is being encouraged, inspired, refueled, and taken care of so that when I leave here, hopefully I will be able to do the same for others.  Maybe even help them put their oxygen masks on. 

I have two full days of speakers, breakout sessions, prayer time, and making new friends ahead of me.    If you're a praying kind of person, please pray that I would have a fulfilling time and that God speaks to me this weekend.  Pray that I make new, lasting friendships, figure out more about who God is and who He has made to be, and maybe that I'll even figure out a little bit more of what this whole blogging thing is all about.


Monday, October 24, 2011

We come from good stock.

We purchased an iPad for important things. Things like showing people pictures and information about the country we'll be moving to.  And of course we DO use it for that, but only about 8% of the time.  The other 92% of its usage is for things like this:

Family Portraits.


Yours Truly.
The father of my future children.

Baby Sister.


Sister In-Love



Sister In-Love's love.


           


aaaaand Buddy.

It was worth every penny.

(P. S. Every time I look at the picture of Buddy I can't. stop. laughingggg.)



Parents In-Love

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts on Marriage: Go see the Elk.

During our stay in Pennsylvania last week, we got wind that it is a great time of the year to spot Elk.  Just a quick 30 minute drive away from Josh's parents house is a large elk reserve where, if one was so inclined, they could go and observe these majestic creatures in a somewhat natural habitat.

Being the outdoor goddess that I am, (ha), I hardly even remembered this brief portion of the conversation where elk were brought up.  Josh, being the actual outdoorsman, was so. excited. to. see. the. elk.  He kept talking about it throughout the week and finally, on Thursday night said, "Leslie, lets go see the elk tomorrow morning.  Lets wake up at 6:00am (me: eh), drive 30 minutes (ehhh), and go for a hike to see the elk (EHHH). Doesn't that sound fun?"  I decided to just assume that he was asking a rhetorical question and silently prayed for rain on Friday morning.  I felt bad about my lack of enthusiasm, but it just wasn't anything I was even remotely interested in.  When we talked about it later Thursday night, Josh shared with me how much it would mean to him if I went (a lot) and I responded by saying something like, "Aren't they pretty much just big deer?".  Just go ahead and pin the Wife of the Year award on my lapel, why don't you.

Anyway, as we crawled into bed at 1:00am I was very pleased to notice it was raining.  Very, very pleased.  I said a selfish prayer that went something like, "Thank you for the rain, God, keep it up til 6:00!" However, when the alarm went off at the aforementioned hour, it was not raining and for some reason, I was wide awake.  Feeling alert in the morning before 9:00am almost never, ever happens but there I was, thinking clearly and actually blinking instead of holding my eye-lids open.  I laid there in bed thinking, "UGH. I am SO awake. I have to go now.  Maybe he won't want to go.... Maybe he'll fall back asleep!"  Much to my dismay, Josh was also wide awake. He went downstairs, checked outside on the weather and came back to report zero rain and zero fog.  He laid back down with me and said, "Les, I'm going to go, and if you don't want to it's really ok, but I'm going to leave in 10 minutes" and went back downstairs.

This is the important moment of the story.  As I lay there, comfortable, dry, and warm (but oddly alert) I went through both possible scenarios.  I could either:

a.)  Go with Josh. Die to myself and do something he wants to do simply because he wants to do it.  By going, I would be living out three of the *major principles that we have based our marriage on.  First, the "Thousand Strings" principle which says that the more common experiences we have together, however odd they may be, the stronger our bond will be.  Second, the "Avoid Creeping Separateness" principle which says that if we don't take interest in each other's interests, we will eventually both be living separate lives, with common experiences becoming lesser and lesser.  Separateness in marriage isn't something that is always big and drastic, often it just creeps up on you.  Included in this principle is the belief that if the person you love enjoys something... whatever it is... there must be something good about it, and finding the good in it and sharing it with each other is possible.  Third, the Biblical principle of putting the other person ahead of yourself.  In every area of life, putting Josh's needs/wants/desires before my own.  (This = hard and I fail every day at it, by the way)

or my other option

b.) Sleep in.

I wrestled pretty extravagantly with my selfish side for a good 3 minutes (Josh says it was more like 5) and finally did what I knew I would do all along anyway.  Got up.  Put on warm clothes. Walked downstairs.  Got in the car, and drove to see the stupid elk.

Now, on the ride there, I was one grumpy duck.  Sleep still sounded better.  I spilled hot chocolate on my pants.  It was far away and dark and cold and there WAS some fog.  When we finally arrived at our destination, we began the ascent up the hill to the reserve still in the car.  As we made our way along the dirt road, I looked up to my right, and there on the top of a huge hill was the silhouette of a full grown male elk.  He was beautiful.  Suddenly, I was so excited to be there.  "Josh Josh JOSH! I see one!"  We pulled over, opened the windows, and started listening to them.  It just so happened to be their mating season (Autumn Romances aren't just for humans, I guess) and their mating call (or "bugling" as it is appropriately named) sounds simply prehistoric.


We drove the rest of the way up the hill, and began hiking.  Suddenly I wasn't just 'doing something for Josh'.  I was having a great time.  There were SO MANY ELK I couldn't believe it.  Josh was thrilled and honestly, so was I.  It was an adventure and a really fun experience.


The entire time I kept thinking. "I almost missed this for SLEEP?!"  It seemed so ridiculous, so obvious that it was the right thing to do. But in the moment, the important one, I really wrestled with my desires versus Josh's, and I made the right choice.  Now, even if I hadn't enjoyed Elk spotting as much as I did, I still think it was the right choice for our marriage, but I'm happy to say that it was a lot of fun.



We even saw bear tracks!


After an hour of hiking, we started our trek back home.  We stopped at a greasy truck stop diner and had a delicious breakfast and went back to the house to take a nap.  



I learned a lot that morning.  A lot about myself, a lot about what I'm willing to do for our marriage, and a lot about Elk.  I'm glad I got up.  I'm glad that I picked Josh and our marriage and created one more string to strengthen our bond. 

(*Many of the ideas and principles that we have based our marriage on, for example the "Thousand string"' and "Creeping Separateness" ideas mentioned here, were inspired by the book "A Severe Mercy" by Sheldon Vanauken.  We recommend it highly for any married couple who wishes to bravely and passionately attempt to stay in love their entire lives!)


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My boys.


::sigh:: 

Photographic evidence that I am, in fact, surrounded by the cutest boys around.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tried and True.

Due to the fact that Josh and I will be moving overseas in the next 6(ish) months, we have put a lot of miles on our car.  A LOT.  Many of these miles have been covered during the late hours of the night into the wee hours of the morning.  On several occassions, we have even gotten to the point where caffeine, loud music, windows down, and switching drivers every 30 minutes is necessary. Like last night, for example.

It can be horrible and stressful driving late at night but I'd like to think that Josh and I are getting pretty good at it.  I've composed a list of 10 tips that I would like to share with you if you find yourself driving the route from Michigan to Pennsylvania for the millionth time after an entire day of speaking engagesments on the same boring route you always take really late at night.

1. CAFFEINE.

2. Good music.  Music that engages your mind and soul and neck-bobbing muscles, preferably. (Last night's song of choice: Florence + Machine "Shake it Out".)

3. Once you've listened to all of the good music, find some funny music.  (This song kept us laughing for about an hour.)

4. After you've listened to the all of the Good and Funny music, throw on a comedian. Laughing makes everything better.  (Brian Regan and Mitch Hedburg are our personal favs.)

5. Find a good friend you can text who will sympathize with you while you complain about how miserable driving through Ohio is.

6. Recruit your facebook and twitter friends to text jokes to you. (Last night we received at least 40 jokes from 25 different people.  It really made the time fly by!)

7. Switch drivers regularly.  Don't be a late-night driving hero.

8. Express your appreciation to your driving partner about how thankful you are that they are on your team and that you aren't alone.

9. Once you hit that wall where you have to sit up straight and lean forward and the road takes longer to come into focus after you've checked your blind spot, keep your thoughts surface-y. I'm serious.  Don't go deep in your thought-life. Focus on the basics that are keeping you alive... like open eyes and breathing.  Do NOT think about your fears or anxieties or personal flaws or past arguments.

Last night as I drove the last stretch at 2:00am knowing I had a mere 4 hours of sleep ahead of me before I had to get up to go to work, I kept thinking of terrible things.  Things I was nervous about.  Things I didn't think were going to work out.  Things that upset me or make me frustrated.  Let me lay this out for you plainly:

Exhaustion and Reason are not friends.  They hate each other, in fact.

So don't think about serious things and especially don't talk about serious things with your spouse.  This is the worst idea ever.  Two exhausted, irrational people will never solve anything, I promise you that.  I did a great job "thought-bouncing" last night.  My left brain would say, "You should be mad about this!" but my right brain would bounce back with something shallow like, "Heyyy that's not fun to think about.  Lets listen to some Taylor Swift!"

10. When you get home just go straight to bed.  Try not to talk a lot.  Just GO LAY DOWN.

So there you have it.  Leslie's Late Night Driving Tips.  I hope at least a couple of them are helpful to you the next time you find yourself enduring a long road trip!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Inspiration {in poetry}


“The Stranger”
by Marilyn Maciel
In what ways am I a stranger to life?
I am a stranger to...
tightropes and chafing dishes and
holding lizards and reading poetry
out loud and rock-climbing and
yodeling and wearing my clothes
backwards and dissecting frogs
and roller coasters and bungee-jumping
and political speeches and
shaving my head and playing
country music and studying for
a degree and hitchhiking and 
scuba diving and writing a novel
and giving birth and running a
marathon and getting a
Brazilian wax and eating brains 
and driving cross country and 
owning my own business and
brandishing a weapon and wearing
contacts and winning a Nobel
prize and traveling to Africa and
going to prom and baking a
pie and shooting a film
I must remind myself that life
is not a stranger to me...
it is I who make myself
a stranger to it.


{Lets all agree to make sure 'life' isn't a stranger, shall we?}

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Viva La Revolution!


My 15 year old sister, Katie, and her friends decided to start a mini-revolution at their school this year for Homecoming.  She and a number of her friends have grown tired of the scandalous clothing and dancing that occurs at every single dance at their school and decided to start a movement. A movement to "bring classy back" to their school.





She and her friend Maddie emailed, recruited friends, and designed t-shirts for them to wear.  The shirts said, "I'm bringing classy back." on the front and "Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all of your life." on the back.  On Friday, October 7, they all wore their shirts to school.  If I'm being completely honest, I was a little nervous for her.  I felt like I was sending my baby sister into the lions den (because that's what high school often seems like, if I remember correctly). Would her classmates make fun of her? Would they understand what she was trying to do?  All I could do was wait by my phone for a text from her about how things were going.

As it turns out, she and her friends got mixed reviews.  Some of her peers loved it and wanted shirts of their own, and others teased them for their stance.  But the mission was accomplished.  They got their classmates talking about what they should be acting like at their school dances.  

I'm really proud of Katie for being the spearhead behind this little revolution.  She and her friends all got together before the dance on Saturday night and took pictures with their t-shirts.  It's been exciting to see how much support they've gotten this week, too.  Our pastor mentioned what they had done in church last Sunday, and we've had a lot of friends (even a few guys!) say that they'd like a shirt themselves.



Becka, Hannah, Katie, and Makenzie
If you'd like to support their efforts, feel free to follow Katie's blog "Bringin' classy back" and encourage her by leaving a comment!  And if you'd like a shirt for yourself, let me know because we are placing another order sometime soon and will be happy to get one for you! 

Showing my support!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Three Years.

Yesterday, Josh and I celebrated three years of being married!  What an adventure it has been.  This year we celebrated with Josh's sister and her boyfriend in beautiful Pennsylvania.  Remember what I said about loving autumn last week?  Well, autumn + Pennsylvanian rolling hills + autumn + ROLLING HILLS = splendor.  

We decided to take a picnic lunch up to a place called Hyner View.  It was a bit of a drive, but it was mostly through State land which meant it was stunning and twisting and there were creeks all along the route.


For some reason, all I can see in this picture is the huge knife.  We brought cheese and crackers, ok?  That's what the knife was for!




Three years!

The view.





Hyner View is a Hang Gliders dream and we were fortunate enough to see a couple of guys take off.  The gentleman with the blue hang glider offered to take anyone tandem, and it's one of Josh's dreams to go hang gliding, but Josh weighed 5lbs too much.  It was quite devastating.  For a moment, we were tempted to lie about it but then thought that's a terrible idea when doing something that involves soaring hundreds of feet above the ground.  Needless to say, watching them float gracefully and peacefully away, it quickly became one of my dreams too.  They were seriously flying.  It is now on both of our bucket lists and I can see it being a hobby I would love to do for the rest of my life.  

Hang Gliding

Up, up, and away!




It was a lovely, low key, peaceful anniversary.  I can't believe it's already been three years.  We're still in love. We still do nice things for each other.  We still haven't had a huge fight.  I'd say we're doing pretty well, friends :) Pretty well indeed!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Art Prize

Every fall, Grand Rapids has an international art contest called ArtPrize. This year is their third annual event and it's always really exciting to be a part of!  Over 1500 entries filled the downtown area and it brought tens of thousands of people to the city to enjoy and appreciate art.

Last year, Josh and I went to ArtPrize after taking our "Up" pictures.  We had about 20 balloons to get rid of, so we brought those with us and had a swell time giving them away to children :)  

This year we went down (sans balloons) and had great time walking around, eating, dancing, and enjoying the entries. 

 

::sigh:: I like the way he looks at me.


An interesting entry.


This was probably my favorite entry we saw.  It was a 'forest' made up of pages from the Encyclopedia.  I ignored the fact that they were encyclopedia pages and imagined that they were pages from a fictional book.  I felt like I was literally getting lost in a story, the same way I figuratively get lost in stories while I read.  It was absolutely whimsical.



After three years of being married to a photograher, I'm finally getting comfortable with posing and letting him take pictures of me. Most of the time.
  

There was a live jazz band outside of the museum, so we even got to do a little swing dancing! Swoon!


Grand Rapids is a growing city and we love living so close to it. If you live in the area and have a couple of hours to spare this weekend, I would highly recommend making it downtown to check it out. We almost didn't make the time to go out and see ArtPrize ourselves this year, but I'm so glad we did!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An Autumn Romance.

 Autumn is officially my favorite season. Why, you ask?  Because two of the most incredible experiences of my life occurred during this beautiful season.

1. I fell head over heals in love with Joshua as the leaves changed in the Autumn of 2007

2. I married him as the leaves changed in the Autumn of 2008.

Those are two pretty spectacular 'seasons of life', and they both happened to occur during the same annual season.  Fall.  On September 21, 2007 Josh and I went on our very first date.  He planned the entire thing.  We began our date by creating ceramic gems at a local art shop called The Mud Room, then had dinner at Texas Roadhouse, and finally we drove out to Lake Michigan at midnight for a walk on the beach. Pretty impressive first date, don't you think?

 A little over a week ago, we celebrated the four year anniversary of that very first date by re-creating the Mud Room portion of it :) On our first trip there four years ago, Josh painted me a lovely ceramic vase and I painted him a lovely ceramic snail.  (I think I was a little afraid of being creative so I just went the silly route which has worked pretty well or me the last few years.)  One week after that first date I came home to find the fired and finished vase in my house with flowers in it.  It was the beginning of being swept off my feet in the romance of a lifetime and I didn't even know it yet!



An Instax Mini of our time in the Mud Room this year

This year, we decided to paint a piece together. We each painted one half of a mug for the other.  The side I painted for Josh says "Hero" and the side he painted for me says "Daisy" in the local language of our future home.





The inside of the mug says "Love" on my side and "Always" on his.




In 2007, I of course had no idea he was going to be the person I would spend the rest of my life with. I specifically remember thinking, though, "This must be God writing my love story.. because I don't know how He's going to top this if it isn't."  We didn't take many pictures of our first couple of months together, but these next few that we did take are quite special to me.



We did a lot of dancing.  One of our most memorable dancing dates was this one, where the average age of the dancers had to be close to 75.  Our dear friend, Betty, invited us to go and we had such a nice time dancing with each other and watching a bunch of elderly ladies and gentleman dance the night away!

Probably inappropriate behavior considering the crowd.



We also went to the local Fall Art Festival together in 2007....




...and we went this year as well :)


Kayaking together was another adventure that first Fall.  We packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and doritos and got ourselves stuck on some rocks and ate in the middle of the river.  This was the night that I knew we were writing an un-beatable love story.


This year we had a picnic down by the very same river :)







So here are a few little snapshots of the very beginning of our love story.  I'm sure you can see why I get so nostalgic every time the weather starts to cool off.  I put on scarves and Josh puts on his winter beanies. We cook chili and spend time outside. It's the season of romance for us and I have a hunch that it always will be.