The truth as I know it:

We witness a miracle every time a child enters into life. But those who make their journey home across time & miles, growing within the hearts of those who wait to love them, are carried on the wings of destiny and placed among us by God's very own hands. ~~~ Kristi Larson

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye to the year from the pit!

Okay, I actually never really like New Years.  I think I've said it before, but it's worth repeating... I guess this is a dark side of my psyche, but I always think at the stroke of midnight, "What if?"  What if this is the year your sister dies, what if this is the year you find out you have cancer, or what if this is the year your marriage ends?  I rarely see New Years as an opportunity for a fresh start.  A long time ago, a friend of mine questioned why people make New Years resolutions.  He said, "If I find something in myself that needs to be changed, I change it today, not a specific date on the calendar."  That was a profound thing for me to hear.  I've lived by that ever since.  I no longer say "I'll start running on Monday or I'll do the laundry more in the new year, etc. etc."  If I think something needs to change, I just start changing it.

But THIS year, this year is quite different for me.  I cannot WAIT to see 2011 go down in flames.  If 2011 were a person at the party, I'd flip it a giant bird, shove it out the door and slam and lock the door with or without 2011 having it's coat! :)  I can't wait for 2012.  Although, I know that things can ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS be worse, I think SURELY God will do something amazing in my life in 2012.  I feel that this will be a year of redemption.  This will be a year He whispers to me that I am His and that He has great plans for me.  If He doesn't, then they will write another book of the Bible.  It will be right after the book of Job.  It will be called, "Job II, the Modern Day Sequel."  :)  Just kidding God!


For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:10-12 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Just sayin'


This is the truth, as I now know it!  You TOO could be one run away.  Seriously, even if you're not a runner, just start.  Start somewhere.  You don't have to start with a 10k or even a 5k.  You can start with 200 yards.  I guarantee, the only run you'll ever regret is the one you don't do! 


I survived a hell of alot more than that, actually, so...... 


I'm quiet mouse, still mouse now Lord.  Come and fight for your girl!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Proof that Pinterest isn't a total waste of my time!

Today I ran across this on Pinterest.  See, if nothing else ever comes of my attempt at time passage, this was worth it!  It's the top 30 things you should STOP doing to yourself.  I wonder if I could tackle all of these in 2012?  Nahhhh.... doubtful.  Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My obsessions (a.k.a. ways to zone out!)

I'm a bit obsessed with quotes right now.  I pin them all over the internet onto Pinterest (my other obsession.)

Here are a few that spoke to me today.


So, this one is pretty funny... and I want to know why in the heck this season of my life seems to be taking soooooo long! 


And it's getting LONGER.... better get busy Karma.


I think about this quote alot when I'm running.  Sometimes it's the only way to get through it.  I wish there was a way to run faster through seasons of life! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

There are days....

There are days when I hold it together very well.  Days when I think to myself that I'm beautiful and that I won't be alone forever and that my husband was an idiot not to see what he had before him.  There are days when I walk through my life thinking, this is okay, even if this is it.  Even if this is all I ever get.  After all, I have so much more than many people ever experience.  To want more than this is just greed.  I have enough experiences, enough enrichment, enough love, enough joy, enough enough enough for a lifetime already, and I'm only 42 years in.  Those days, I believe that I am a child of the King.  I believe that I am a Princess, made in His image, beloved of the Most High.  Those days, I believe He cares, He sees me alone in so many circumstances that I DON'T WANT to face alone and He didn't make me the lonely type.  Those days, I believe it will all work out for me. And that I will find happiness someday.

Then there are days when I just can't seem to pull it together.  Painful days when the tears flow freely and my breathing is labored and I swear the Earth has run completely out of oxygen.  That I'm alone and no one will ever share my life with me.  That I'm undesirable.  Satan wins the battles in my mind and I believe, in those dark days, that what I have to offer is not nearly enough for the cost.  There are days when I feel that this will be my forever.  That what I've known wasn't enough.  That I can't bare the thought of living a lonely existence another minute, much less the rest of my life.  On those days I see myself becoming the crazy dog lady who just has a house full of dogs, whose kids never come to visit because her house is too gross, and who no one really understands.  That's when I know I'm losing it, but that's not the point here.  :)

So, the point is, what do I know for sure?  I know for SURE that at the core, I am still the girl who left the farm life with a wide eyed wonder. I know that I have had a spark that is still in there somewhere.  There is a line in a song that I have always thought described me, "a torch of a girl with a hurricane in her soul."  Yes, that's me.  Always!  I was always a torch passionate about whatever it was I was pursuing at the moment.  I always had a spark, a spunk, and a little something devious in me.  So, now, I just have this opportunity to remind myself of what I KNOW FOR SURE about myself.  I know for sure that I am made in His image, and therefore, He must have a passionate side, a side that likes to be surrounded by friends, even sometimes the wrong friends.  After all, Jesus loved a dinner party, he turned water into wine for his first miracle, for goodness sake, don't tell me He didn't know how to have a good time.  I know that for me, being made in His image, does not look like being something He didn't create me to be, that going in the opposite direction of who I was made to be just doesn't work.  It's not natural and the reason it feels all wrong is because that's not who HE intended me to be.  If you read Eat, Pray, Love, there is a point in the book where she tries to take a vow of silence and the "universe" just isn't having it.  All sorts of situations keep popping up that make it nearly impossible for her to be silent.  And she finally realizes that "God didn't make her the quiet brunette in the back of the room.  God made her the loud, talkative blonde out front."  That didn't mean that she couldn't be a BETTER loud, talkative blonde, it just meant that it was dishonoring to God and herself to try to be the person He didn't ever intend for her to be.  Sort of a "bloom where you're planted" mentality.  So, I'm going to be the best extraverted, social, caring, compassionate, enthusiastic person I can be, and stop trying to figure out how I'm ever going to survive my current state of misery.

I don't have a verse to end with today.  But instead, I have this quoted text message.  I will share this with you, sacred as it is to me, because I think it honors the kind of strong women/friends that I'm surrounded by.  And I think it's honoring and true to Emmanuel, God with us:

Me:
"... I'm so angry with God right now!  Why is this season lasting so long?  I know He could rescue me.  I know He could stop it.  Why must I continue to suffer?"
Friend:
"I hear you, what would rescue or Him stopping the suffering look like?"
Me:
"Just f'ing tell me the point already.  Whatever lesson I need to learn, write it on the wall so I can move on.  Why does everything that brings a little relief have to be taken from me?"
Friend:
"Here's my take.  I think Emmanuel with us looks a lot less like teaching us lessons... I think instead he cries in your room at night for you as you sleep alone.  I think He sees your heart as one that's been wronged, wounded, and treated terribly.  And I don't get why he's not making this pass quicker.  But I trust that in the in between, He is actually the truest friend you have.  But is also the sturdiest.  So slam the door in his face if you need to."

Oh, dear friend, YOU were Jesus with skin on for me that day.  You, said it so perfectly.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back Where I Come From

Y'all have heard me talk about home before.  About how I grew up with a Daddy who was larger than life to me, I loved Loretta Lynn, my Mama and Granma took a casserole, desert or pimento cheese to every Baptist who ever had a baby or any elderly shut-in that ever existed within a 15 mile radius.  My grandparents had gardens, big ones, and canned and shucked and shelled every summer.  No matter how far I've fallen, I was raised up right.  No matter how far I've traveled from home (and Honolulu is a LONG way from Fulton), that country girl, raised in a small town, was in there all the time.

I think, for me anyway, when things go wrong in my life, I always think about returning to ground zero (not the one in NYC, but the my ground zero.)  It's sort of like going back to the last place I knew everything was right.  If life goes haywire for me, in my mind, the last time I KNEW what I wanted and where I was going was when I was home.  Of course, when I was there, the place I knew I was going was "anywhere but here."  But still, there's this nostalgia about home, my hometown, and the life there that isn't realistic, I'm sure, but that in my mind, is safety.  In my mind, I know that if everything goes wrong in the world, if I lose the roof over my head and the food on my table, there's a safe place to land. And that's home.

In the end, I could say that my parents are a roaring success.  If, at the mid-point in their lives, my kids could say that home is their safe place to land, that they know when ALL else fails them, no matter who's right or who's wrong, no matter their part in the mistakes or whether or not the whole mess is their fault, they know that they have a safe landing near me, then I'll be pleased with the job I've done as a mom.  That's all I really want for my kids, in the end, if they take nothing else.  And I hope that they take 1,000,000 other things too.  I hope I prepare them for ANY path they choose in life, whether it be ditch digger or brain surgeon, I hope I give them confidence and humility both enough to embrace their lives and know that they are accepted, any way they are.  That's what my parents gave me, above all else.  I know that no matter what, I can go home.  I could always go home.  I would always have a roof over my head.  I would always "figure it out" and "make it work" if I had to.  And that is something I do not take for granted.  I don't think everyone could say that in this world.  I don't think everyone has that kind of safety net.

Believe me, I'm not saying that is anywhere close to optimal.  My kids need to be raised here, or close to here, where they have their own support network.  There are psychiatrists and experts to help Liam.  There are "city" activities that interest Jack.  There are all sorts of enrichment opportunities for the kids that aren't offered in my hometown.  I would never uproot them again unless I had no choice at all.  But in the end, when I find it hard to breathe because I am unsure about the future, I know the option is there and if nothing else, I'll have food and shelter and people who will welcome me.

Today as I was praying, I just felt a renewed sense of strength come over me.  I have felt that everyone thought I was this strong person, but that in reality, I was so weak and I was broken and I really didn't know what in the world I was going to do to survive.  I didn't see any happiness in my future.  I didn't see anything around me that looked like the life I wanted.  I didn't have any dreams or any hopes other than survival and my kids being okay.  I know it seems ridiculous to think that my life is over at 42 and that my only hope was that I didn't screw my kids up too badly, but that's where I was (and am dangerously teetering on that edge throughout the day at times.)  But just for today, I heard God say, "I've got this. I've got you!  I'm big enough to take all this, child.  Give Me your sorrow.  Give Me your fear.  Give Me your children.  I've got this!"  And I literally envisioned Him reaching His hands out and taking my worries and my fears from me.  It was such an amazing feeling.  Just to let it go.  Just to open my hands and just offer it up and just for today, I haven't really worried at all.  The fears and thoughts have not been overwhelming.  The doubt has not shaded everything else.  I have felt strong.  I haven't had the catastrophic thinking that this was it, no one would ever love me again, I would never feel secure or known, that I would be lonely forever.  P-lease! I'm so morose sometimes!  I know that God knows every single thought, every desire, every yearning, every fear, and I know that He wants what's best for me.  He has something for us to do, somewhere for us to go, and we can't get there with me holding on to these things that are not of Him.  I found a quote on Pinterest that I think is so appropriate and I hope I can remember it moving forward:


So, I don't know if what I've been through really qualifies as a chapter.  I think it's more like, you can't watch the sequel if you keep re-running the original.  It's more like an installment of a saga than a chapter, but I digress.  You get the point.  

Romans 5:8
"I loved you at your darkest."  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Super Glue, Nutella, Wine, and Light Bulbs

Today was a difficult day, breathing wise.  I get this feeling in my throat like my throat is actually numb.  It's weird. I think my body is actually starting to rebel against the stress.  I have aches and pains with no logical explanation except just that my life sorta sucks.  So, I decided today that I will start to change my perspective.  If you're familiar with the Enneagram (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE and am sort of addicted to), I'm a 7.  Some call 7's "Enthusiasts", but Richard Rohr titles 7's "The Need to Avoid Pain".  Yes, that describes me.  7s are known not to have a very high tolerance for unhappiness, we have a short attention span for the unpleasant.  So, with that in mind, I just needed to really change my frame of reference.  I have been stuck in this fearful mindset, trying to think through my entire life scenario every morning and make it better TODAY.  Unrealistic, I know.

So, positives for today.  These are a real stretch, but work with me here.  First, Super Glue... Thank you, whoever created super-glue.  At my house, alot of stuff gets broken... super glue has spared me many a tear.  Tonight, however, I had a little "run in" with a tube of the super stuff.  I'm now sporting a second skin of super glue.

Nutella and Wine... when you're not really expecting to impress anyone with your cooking skills, you can make scrambled eggs in the microwave and frozen waffles for the kids and just have a spoon of Nutella and a glass of wine for yourself.  Keeps things simple.  And almost no dishes.

Light bulbs... I'm so thankful that today, a light bulb went out in our mud room and I didn't have to get out the ladder to change it.  WE have someone doing work around the house right now and he changed the light for me.  It's the little things.  :)

Mornings and other stuff

I don't know why I always have the hardest time breathing in the morning.  I am pretty good at night.  Some people have told me that night is the hardest time for them, but not me.  For some reason, things always look better in the night.  Mornings, I have a hard time catching my breath.  Mornings just seem overwhelming.  I'm not really sure why.  It's not like there are things going on here that I haven't been doing for 11 years already.  It's not like my mornings are hard.  They aren't.  We have a really good routine.  We run pretty well most mornings.  It's not without it's chaos, but it's not too bad.  I can logically ask myself why I'm fearful in the mornings, but I don't have any answers.

There are SO many things in your life that become entangled when you are with someone for 17 years.  Not only stuff, but everything has to change.  Computer passwords, addresses, traditions, routines, everything that you have just sort of taken for granted for a very long time, now require some thought and strategy to get through them.  It's difficult to go through this sort of thing without stepping on some toes, but I am really trying to be as dignified and compassionate as possible.  That's probably alot of my problem, I just feel TOO much, I worry too much about everyone else's feelings.

I can't believe how many people I know who are going through this right now.  It seems like it's happening in a giant wave.  I guess there are people suffering and hurting all the time but when you are in the midst of it, you seek others out in your same boat.  That's what I did during the adoption process.  Now I'm proving the old saying, "Misery loves company."  :)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Strength

Strength is a funny thing, I think.  A mystery.  Elusive even.  People keep telling me I am strong. I don't feel strong.  I have a few friends who are going through the same thing I am and at least one of them could run circles around me in her strength.  Everyone's situation is different, but when I look at these other women, I feel weak.

I am reminded of the saying, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but action in the face of it."  Okay, so does that mean that because I am getting out of bed every day and moving forward through my life that I am strong and courageous?  I don't know.

Strength Defined:

strength
  1. The quality of being strong.
  2. The intensity of a force or powerpotency.
  3. The strongest part of something.
  4. positive attribute.

Synonyms


I am not sure that I qualify as "strong".  But, I do know that I can do what needs to be done.  I do know that in almost every single scenario in my life, I have landed on my feet.  I think that was one of the things that was most difficult to me about the failure of my marriage and why I hung on as long as I did, I have never really experienced things just going wrong no matter how much effort I put into it.  SO.... the thing that keeps a lump in my throat is the loneliness of the situation.  The lack of companionship and the lack of a partner in making decisions.  But this too is making me stronger.  I know that I can trust myself.  I know that I have a good head on my shoulders, it's just that I haven't had to make big decisions by myself in many years and therefore, I'm a little unsteady on my feet.  But you know what, I am starting to feel a little stronger now.  I'm praying my way out of the pit.  I'm learning that in situations where I would normally have a spouse to talk through things and help me make the decisions, I can talk to God and ask Him for guidance.  If I don't immediately feel an answer, I know that I should just sit on it.  This is hard for me because I hate leaving things hanging and I don't like to mull over decisions for too long.  But I'm learning.

So, what makes a person strong?  Is it strong if you can survive a heart break?  Is it strong if the ground is shaking and everything around you is smoking and unrecognizable, but you're still able to get out of bed?  Because I think that might be what I am doing.  I might be surviving and getting out of bed every day, I can't say that I'm doing much more than that, but I'm feeling my way through the darkness of the days and I do know, somewhere deep down inside me, that the thoughts of doubt I have are not real.  I know that there will be happiness for me somewhere down the road, one way or the other.  I don't know what that will look like, but whatever it looks like, I really trust that God will put me at peace with whatever that picture is.  Of course, I have some ideas that I am suggesting to him, but that God of mine, He has a mind of His own! :)

Then Samson prayed to the LORD, “Sovereign LORD, remember me. Please, God,strengthen me just once more..."
Judges 16:28

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Time

I was thinking today about the adage "Time heals all wounds" and I was actually arguing in my head that I don't believe it.  First of all, on April 4, 2010, I told myself, "I can't wait for April 4, 2011.  Surely things will be so much better by then.  We will have gone through our first of every single thing in the new light of our story."  See, when my sister was killed, I found out that the first time you experience every milestone without that person, it's the hardest.  You have the first birthday without them, the first holiday, the first first day of school, etc. etc.  But once you've been through that pain, it doesn't go away, it's just that it's not as sharp anymore.  So, I thought experiencing the first of everything in my new reality would surely make things so much better and after the year had passed, I'd be well on my way to accepting the new normal of my life.

Then April 4, 2011 rolled around.  Honolulu, HI.  Dinner out.  I was so naive.  Ridiculous really, when I think back on it.  But very indicative of how I handled the entire situation. I thought if I could somehow commemorate the event, acknowledge it, try not to avoid it but just straight up admit that it was the day the earth shook and the sky went black for me, then I could somehow get control of it, take it in my hands and make it bend to my will.  DUMB DUMB DUMB!!!!!  The night was a total disaster.  I walked halfway home, threw my favorite pair of heels at a homeless encampment (someone in Hono, HI is walking around in a really nice pair of Madden's now) and in general lost my mind.  That day is a really bad day in my life history, that April 4.... I don't like that April 4.  From that moment forward, I had this frantic urge to get the heck off the island.  I felt like I was in jail, I felt trapped there.  I felt so completely caged.  I remember feeling like a tiger at the zoo, pacing back and forth in the cage, this primal urge to DO something and nothing to DO but pace.  So, I did what I ALWAYS do, I ran.  I ran and ran and ran.  All over Honolulu and Waikiki, I just ran.  I ran and BEGGED God to change things.  I begged Him to make things better.  I begged Him to change my story and not ask my kids to live the life of divorced parents.  I begged and begged.  I screamed on the black rocks under Diamond Head.  I cried my eyes out, drowned out by the crashing waves, only God and the bright purple eel that lived there could possibly hear me, but my groans were spiritual, they were deep, they were primal, and they were painful.  I have journal entry after journal entry, typed on the phone while sitting on those rocks.  And the cries are not that different from the cries I have today.

Here's the difference though, in what I know today that I didn't know that day, or any of the days leading up to this week, but I know now.  I have an enormous heart for the hurting and wounded of the world.  Anytime I see someone behaving badly, being mean, or being sad, I only see an individual who is in deep pain.  That's why when my friend got so mad at me last week, others were angry with her for her reaction to me, but all I could do was apologize over and over to her because I knew that there was alot of pain coming out in the wrong way.  It's the same thing that happened in my marriage.  I never told anyone what was going on because I felt sure I could handle the crushing blows on my own.  Heap it on me, I can take it.  I can handle your pain because I see that it's not personal to me, it's your pain and you aren't meaning to hurt me, you're hurting inside and I'm an accidental victim.  My therapist pointed out this week that I am willing to take just about any amount of "abuse" (don't read that wrong, I was not an abused spouse) as long as it doesn't affect people I love.  I rarely draw a line for myself that says, "I won't take more than x."  I only stand up and put my foot down when people's pain starts to hurt innocent bystanders that I love and care about.  While that might sound noble on the front end, I encourage you not to congratulate me on my huge heart or caring ways.  Contrary, I've created a mess of a person, a weary soul, and a situation I've got to dig my way out of because I didn't feel WORTHY of having a standard for myself.  I don't know why.  It's not because I wasn't loved as a child, etc. etc.  I was.  I don't blame it on my raising, I don't know where the hell I learned this.  But somewhere along the way, I started to believe that as long as someone would love me, I could or should take whatever else came along with that too.  I just want to be loved so badly that I am willing to be treated in ways that I shouldn't.

So, therein lies the REAL difficulty for me in this whole marriage situation.  First of all, I want my children to learn that there are limits to what they should accept from others in order to be loved.  Yes, love can be unconditional, love can be tolerant, but the key is, if you are being asked to tolerate things that are not loving, then it's not love you're receiving.  I want them to know that they are SO WORTHY of being loved unconditionally, not for what they do, not for how they look, how they perform, whether they get it right or wrong, but just by the mere fact that they ARE... they are children of God, they are precious, wanted individuals who deserve to be cherished, protected, and valued by me, their daddy, and everyone else in their life, regardless of any other thing in the world.  Without doing a thing, they deserve that.  How do I demonstrate that to them though, if I can't expect it for myself?

But then also, I wonder, will they ever understand what drove me to drastic measures?  Will they ever forgive me for drawing a line for myself?  Will they ever not blame me that I couldn't figure out how to put this thing back together? I know that this is painful for them, I know that there will be times for the rest of their lives when it will be painful, and then eventually just plain inconvenient.  And I'm damned if I can figure out a way to avoid that for them.  Which makes me feel selfish for not just sucking it up and figuring it out.  But then I think of all the things that have occurred in the past year and a half and oh the ache for my own inner child... the ache for why I wouldn't/couldn't protect HER from some of these things... I should have shielded her the way I shielded everyone else.  I'm trying.  I'm learning what that looks like.  I'm trying to keep my eyes forward focused when others question me and plant shameful thoughts.  I'm trying to remember that I have to heal myself first if I am ever ever going to experience what it is I was wanting so desperately.  And I'm SO hopeful that when I DO heal, and when I DO experience that, then my children will naturally flourish in the light of that.  They are truly my only concern in this.  Because if I come out of this alive, I've survived it.  If I come out of this as happy personally as I've ever been, but my children wither, I will be a shell forever.  If I come out of this alone and lonely, but my children thrive, then I will have lived well and I won't count the cost.

Matthew 28:20
"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Exhale....

What a week!  I can't say that I've been this happy to burn a week of my life in a long long time.  I thought there were bad weeks in my life from time to time, when I had something stressful coming up, when I was waiting waiting waiting in the adoption process... when I was planning a WEDDING!  UGH!  But I can't remember days on end where I would wake up unable to breathe prior to April 2010.  Even when I first realized that my marriage was in jeopardy, I wasn't nearly as stressed as I have been in the past few weeks. I think all the uncertainty, all the reality, and all the responsibility has come crashing in on me and I can't keep my head in the sand anymore.

I know there are several reasons this is occurring:  1) the Holidays... I've always always always loved the holidays.  When I was a little kid, my mom didn't really like the holidays and I never understood why we would leave our tree (artificial) decorated all year long with a sheet thrown over it in the attic.  My mom or dad (can't remember... probably my mom) would drag it down out of the attic on December 23rd or 24th.  It was pine with flocking and blue glass balls on it.  Reminded me of Elvis growing up, the whole "Blue Christmas" thing.  Anyway, that was my experience of Christmas as a kid.  December 26th, Elvis would head back to the attic for another 363 days.  Every Christmas night when the last package was opened, my dad would proclaim, "Well, there's another 365 days til Christmas."  So, when I left home I went a little Christmas crazy.  My mom's friends even threw me a Christmas shower where I registered for tons of decorations when I got engaged.  It was so fun.  Anyway, I always put my tree up a couple of days before Thanksgiving.  This year was no different.  I was determined that my holidays would not be depressing so I invited a few really close friends over to put out my decor and make sure that nothing was exactly like it has always been.  We got the stuff done and had fun in the process and I felt really good about the kick-off to my season.  But then, my kids left for Thanksgiving, I had the fight with my friend (not really a fight, it was more her telling me how disappointed she was in me and me just crying and apologizing, but that's another story for another time), I floated around on Thanksgiving day, and then Sunday through Wednesday I cried every moment I could.  Thursday was a little better, but I still had my minutes.  So, that's reason #1.

2) My birthday is this week.  Ugh!  I'm OLD!!!!  My dad keeps telling me that I'm in the best decade of my life (40) because I'm old enough to realize what matters, but young enough to still have alot of life ahead.  Doesn't feel like that... feels like I just have ALOT of life ahead (if it stays like this) or not much life left (if things get better.)

3) I am getting to the point in my process where I have to meet with attorneys and actually pull my head out of the sand (or my butt, depending on who you ask) and make decisions, face the music, realize reality, etc. etc. etc.  It's devastating.  Not what I wanted my life to look like.  Not how I anticipated the 40's rolling in.  But here I am, nonetheless.

SO.... in true Ondrea fashion, I only have patience for myself and any situation for a limited amount of time.  Call it compartmentalization.  Call it numbing.  Call it whatever you want, but I can't live my life for a long time in pain-land.  I just don't have the capacity for it.  I am not a victim, I'm a fighter.  I allow myself a period to grieve and then I put a smile and some lipstick on and get on with it.

So that's where I am today.  I'm getting on with it.  This business of grieving is heavy and hard.  It SUCKS!!!!!  There's no guarantee out there.  There's no promise of tomorrow.  There's no promise I won't be alone for the rest of my life and die that way.  But there's also no promise that I'll wake up tomorrow.  I'm going to make the most of what I have while I have it.  I'm going to focus on the four souls who need me the most.  Three of them were crawling on top of me this morning like little puppies in a whelping box.  It was pure joy and I just thought to myself, "if God wants me to be alone, then He'll have to hear me whine about it for the rest of my life, but I'll NOT settle for less than what He has in store for me."  So, that's me today.  I know there are hard days to come.  I know that it's not over by any stretch.  I now that the next few weeks will be the hardest of my life in many ways as the sadness of my reality is square in my face.  I know I will need every single one of you to comment and to pray for me so that I can feel your arms around me, even though you aren't here.  I need all of you to prop me up, not only for me, but for my kiddos, so that I can keep a smile on for them.  They seem to do better if I'm better.  So, please, if you're a lurker, leave a comment.  If your a dear friend, leave a comment.  I've depended on you, my blog community, through so many times and here I am still needing you.  And I promise, one of these days, I will read your blogs again and I will pray and laugh with you too!  Right now, I'm just adrift in me!  :(

I LOVE this verse, it feels like balm to my heart!  Don't you just love Hosea?  Is there ONE man like him in all the world?

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.
Hosea 10:11-13

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Beautiful People are Made


In counseling, I'm processing the difference between compassion and co-dependence.  When people hurt me, I often see them as wounded, hurting people and I instinctively want to make it better for THEM.  And I think there is a fairness in that, a goodness.  However, how much of that is because I feel that my self-worth is tied up in them seeing me as worthy?  I think alot!  And that's how I end up in relationships where I accept less than what is best for me.  I end up accepting things from friends and spouses that diminish my value because I don't, deep down, believe I'm worthy of being treated better.  I somehow see that I "deserve" to be last on the list.  

I think part of this is my religious background.  I was sort of raised in a religious environment where I was taught to put myself last.  My parents surely didn't put me last, it's not that.  But it wasn't considered "Christian" to expect certain things for yourself.  When someone hurt you, turn the other cheek.  Repay evil with kindness.  And you know what?  I'm passing it on to my kids too.  When someone is mean to them, I use that old expression that I learned in Sunday school, "Heap coals of kindness onto them."  Why am I teaching my children that the meaner someone is to you, the nicer you should be to them?  Isn't this pretty much what led me to be devalued in the first place, somewhat of a doormat for the past few years?  

In fact, I think Jesus was trying to tell us the importance of loving OURSELVES FIRST when He said, "Love others as you love yourself."  If we are to know how to love others, then JESUS tells us that we must know how to love ourselves. If I loved others the way I love myself, always putting them last and expecting them to take hurt upon hurt without regard for their own feelings, then I'd have no one in my life at all.  

For now, I'm really trying to learn how to love myself the way I love others.  I have to learn to protect myself the way I protect others.  I have to see myself as the hurting little girl that I see in my friends when they are angry or cross the line with me.  I have to learn these things and it's SO difficult and so painful and so lonely and so hard.  But there's no shortcut to it.  I want the blessing I know God has for me at the end of the road.  I don't want to miss it because I took a shortcut through the pain, but oh, dear, the pain! 

Matthew 22:38-39

38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[a]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's a new day....

It's hard to get up in the mornings.  My alarm goes off and I want to pull the covers back over my head.  But, today I have a few appointments and a reason to get dressed, so that's a very good thing.  I'm trying to be intentional about how I fill my days, not over-booking, but certainly trying to keep busy.

When the rough patches hit, I confess that I want to lay down and just give up.  I just want someone else to come and tell me what to do and where I'm going to land. I want someone else to have the conversations about the tough things.  My heart is weary of all the pain.  I don't know how people go through a divorce when it's truly just "I'm no longer happy."  I could find a way to be happy if there weren't these huge transgressions.  And even then I could probably figure it out to avoid all this if all this hadn't occurred on top of it all.  I'm exhausted.  Have I said that?  Did I mention that I'm just freakin' TIRED!?  I'm tired of the fight, tired of being intentional for my kiddos, tired of trying to prop them up every day when I'm barely standing myself, tired of worrying about where the money for unexpected things is going to come from, tired of worrying about how in the heck I'm going to take care of this huge yard and four kids and a 25 year old house all by myself without my parents close by.  I'm weary of all things.  I want to have some joy, some fun, some rest, some relief from the strain of it.  I'm so tired of the guilt I feel over the legacy my children will now carry.  I swear I'd do it differently if I could stomach it.  My heart hurts at the thought of what my kids will endure for the rest of their lives.  Oh how I ache for them.  I can't stay for them, I've been told 100 times by counselors and psychiatrists that it is no more healthy for them to live in a home where there is discord than it is to live in a single parent home where there is peace.  But so far, no one has peace.  People tell me it will come.  My friends remind me of what my August and September were like and they say it's better now.  I guess it is.  But it doesn't feel better.  It feels the same.  I do know that there was a brief reprieve.  Maybe  why this feels worse.  There was a two or three week period of time where I thought things weren't too bad.  But then that seems to have only made the contrast of how I feel now more acute.

Psalm 147:3-5
"3 He heals the brokenhearted 
   and binds up their wounds. 
4 He determines the number of the stars 
   and calls them each by name. 
5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; 
   his understanding has no limit."

Thank you, Lindsay, for reminding me of this verse.  I LOVE the thought of him literally wrapping bindings around my wound.  I think of the way I tenderly "doctor" my children's scrapes and cuts, how I make a big deal over the smallest of things and I rush to alleviate the pain of true hurts.  I can imagine our Lord doing this for me, rushing to my side when I am alone and hurting, wrapping my heart in bindings and holding them tight until the pain has eased.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Just Breathe

I think I've quoted this before, but there is a line in a Jars of Clay song.  The song is called Work.  The line says, "I have no fear of drowning, it's the breathing that's taking all this work."  That is SO accurate for my life right now.  I have ridden this wave of emotions since April of 2010.  Days when I would wake up thinking that life was possibly resuming something that looked like normal.  Thinking, "Okay, I can do this... not exactly what I thought I wanted, but okay God, we'll go with it."  Then out of nowhere I slam hard into a space that has no oxygen, there's no normal in sight, there's only lonely and scared because how in the world am I going to do all this?  How am I going to take care of this house and four kids all by myself?  Really?!  I look around and all I see is work work work and no one to help help help.  So, I don't fear drowning.  Drowning would probably actually be better.  I'm drowning for sure.  Actually going down would mean I could stop fighting the water and the waves and just let go.  But I can't do that.  Number one, I have my kids to fight for.  I have to keep swimming (like Dory in Little Nemo, I've said to myself 1000 times and more, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming....") Plus, I honestly and truly don't know HOW to stop swimming.  I've been swimming all my life.  I've been striving toward something that felt invisibly pulling me along, a feeling of unrest before, now a feeling of life or death, but still, that same feeling with new intensity that I have keep going.  I just hate waking up in the morning wondering what I'm going to do for 14 hours until I can go back to bed and forget the world for a while.  I dread the new day and what pain it might bring.  I have always sort of hated New Years Eve because alot of people get excited for what a new year might hold, but since my sister was killed, I've thought of it as "what if this is the year your sister dies, or what if this is the year your husband leaves you, or what if this is the year it REALLY gets bad."  I hate when people say, "It can't get any worse, because it can ALWAYS get worse."

So, I know it's nice and depressing to read my words on a Monday morning.  I know that it's not the ridiculous antics people usually come here to hear about.  There are still alot of funny things that happen in my day, but I see them through a painful fog right now.  Last week, I was almost cheerful, I said to a friend, "This is the first time in a long time I haven't dreaded the new day, I think I'm coming through the other side."  WHAM! Thanksgiving and reality and fear and I didn't see it coming. I truly got clotheslined by it and am sort of experiencing a shocked feeling of once again trying to get up off the floor.  God, how many times must I pick myself up?  Lord, how many times must I hit a low, think it's the bottom, only to realize there's further to fall?  How much must you allow me to hurt before it's done? I look around and see that You have gently put people and words in my path to encourage me.  You have been with me, I know You haven't left my side, and I have physically felt that God Himself has suffered with me all this time.  I'm just calling out today that my praying friends would intervene for me, I need something encouraging, something hopeful, something new....

"The Lord hears his people when they call to Him, He rescues them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, He rescues those whose spirits are crushed." 

Anyone know what verse this is?  I found the quote, but couldn't find the Scripture location.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Time, Obedience, and Trust

Today's sermon was about prosperity.  That God's intention is for us to prosper and ENJOY the gifts He has given us.  It's sort of a foreign concept to me because my religious upbringing left me believing that God loved me, but that He was ready to thump me on the head anytime I did wrong, which in my life was alot because I'm a rebel at heart, natural challenger of authority, tell me I can't and I will die trying, etc.  It took 41 years, but I think God has finally thumped it out of me!  I'm broken of spirit.  This week, Thanksgiving, put me over the edge.  I think I came undone.  It was lonely.  I missed my kiddos, who were with their dad and my in-laws, who are my family too.  I met them all for the first time 18 Thanksgiving's ago.  It was so hard.  The hardest week of my life.  In the process of my grief, I also carelessly hurt a friend.  So, here I sat today, in church, listening to how God wants to give me these great things and how He has planned things for my life that are beyond my imagination right now and I just want it to be true SO badly.  I want to skip through all this difficulty, all this first holiday as a broken family.  I want someone to wake me up when the pain is over and tell me I can start to look for more than one day at a time now.  I want to take a breath without it hurting.  I want to look forward to the day, and the night, and tomorrow without dread.  I want the loneliness to end and the healing to begin.  I am so tired of hurting and so tired of fighting for rest.  I'm just tired.  Scared and tired... mostly I'm just tired.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Here we go... you better sit down for this one!

This blog has been everything from a little scrap book of my kids, to rambling thoughts on whatever crossed my feeble brain, to trials and tribulations of trying to live a life a world away from my beloved friends.  But this one is most likely going to be a shocker for many of you, so if you're here because you followed or know me, you better have a seat.

I've had a very big secret in my life for quite a while.  I shared it with only one other soul in the world for 14 months.  Then I slowly began to share, only on an as needed basis, in June of this year.  Now, most people who know me personally, in real life, know the story, in one form or the other.  But the silence here, in blog world, has been a hard one for me.  See, you are my friends too.  You have been such an enormous source of support for me through many hard times in my life.  So I am ending my silence because I need you all now.

My husband and I separated the day after we returned from Hawaii.  That was June 4, 2011.  It had been a very long time coming.  Probably 20 months or so, to be exact.  14 months of that time, I was aware that it was possible, but I held on with all I had, hoping that I could affect the outcome of my life.  Once again, I am learning that I have very little control over anything.  A lesson God continually teaches me... "Let go and let God!"  But June 4 is a day that I will never forget as long as I live, to date the hardest day I've lived through.  That's saying alot because I've buried very beloved grandparents, a sister, and faced infertility.  But this topped all my experiences in the pain department.

The particulars of why and what are really not important anymore.  I thought they were when he first left.  I thought people needed to know the details, or at least a broad reason why.  I thought people would think less of me, like I was somehow a failure, if I didn't share some of how this came to be our reality.  But what I have learned is that people DON'T need to know.  That only really makes things worse.  It only brings opinions and suggestions and none of that is really all that helpful.

I've learned SO much about being supportive during this process.  God has groomed me into something different through all this pain.  I realize I've made so many mistakes in the past, while thinking I was being supportive.

At this point, I've stopped living in blinding pain.  The kind of pain where you are on auto-drive, no thought or reason goes into your actions, you're completely in survival mode.  You know the kind, it's the one where you live in the fight or flight portion of your brain, every single even triggers a response that is not necessarily a strategic or well-executed one.  I'm now finally, I believe, moving into real acceptance.  How do I know this?  I think I am able to handle things more rationally, I don't feel like I am grasping and grabbing at anything and everything that might stop the pain.

If you know me in real life, and you've offered support or help, you cannot imagine the gratitude I feel toward you for the late night calls, the offers to help with the kids, the little drop-in visits, the flowers, the meals, and everything else people have done for me.  It's hard for me to accept help sometimes, I want to believe, and I especially want everyone else to believe, that I have it all together and I can handle it.  But every kind gesture was felt and appreciated, even though I was usually too proud to ask for help.  Thank you for guessing at what might be helpful and just doing something.  I've learned, through this experience, not to ask people what you can do for them.  Just do SOMETHING!

My main focus right now is to protect my children and make sure they have as little fall-out from all this as possible.  Everyone knows there is no way to completely shield them from the affects, but Brian and I are both committed to making sure they don't carry the burden of this very difficult, very adult situation.  That is the main reason I regret ever giving details to anyone, I would never want my kids to hear second-hand all the reasons behind this life we are living.  They are my focus.  They are my future for now, and they are absolutely without a doubt what has kept me from staying in bed every day.  I can see that I would have spiraled dangerously out of control if I had been given that luxury.  I have said many times that my children saved me, but now I know in a new and completely different way that they continue to save me.  I got out of bed every morning for them.  I put a smile on my face and didn't cry in front of them.  I made sure there was food in the house for them, not because I cared at all about eating or smiling or even living.  Because of them, and by the grace of God, I am back among the living now. The pain is there, but it is manageable.  I can see through the fog, though the fog still exists.  I have been given the gift of clarity.  Clarity about some things I wish were still unclear.  I know now, who my friends are, who can be trusted, who can be depended upon, and who will be there when the pieces fall and break.  It's good to know.  Though that, too can be painful in it's own way.

So, my virtual friends, I have now come completely out of the closet.  This is out there for the world to see.  You have graciously asked me to end my blog silence, but I am sure this is not the way you thought I would end it.  Your prayers for peace and continued clarity are very much appreciated.  The road is narrow and fraught with false prophets, discernment is difficult and critical.

All my love to all of you for your precious presence in my life.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ending Radio Silence

Whew!  (That was a giant exhale for those of you who didn't hear it.)

We have been home for over a month now... I can NOT believe it.  I feel like I've been in a blender.  We landed on June 3 to a very sweet welcome party at the airport, lots of friends and neighbors stopping in to say hello and bring food, etc., and the boys have burned up the sidewalks and bike tires visiting long missed friends ever since.  It seems hard to believe that we are back and school starts in less than a month and our tropical adventure is behind us.

I'm absolutely opposed to going anywhere for the rest of my life that does not involve my friends.  However, as I knew would happen, I miss so many things about Hawaii.  My friend Carla asked me if I felt like I totally fit here in now, and I had to answer no.  I now have a longing for something that I didn't even know existed a year ago.  This time last year I was packing for a month at the beach.  And here I sit, how could I have imagined how much my life was about to be radically changed.

One thing that I miss the most about Hawaii is the voice of the Holy Spirit.  I can't explain it, but the voice of the Spirit is almost impossible to hear here because there is so much "chatter" in my head about general life stuff.  Even though I have intentionally kept our world small, I have not signed the boys up for even one organized sport, we haven't had a schedule or an obligation other than the absolute necessities, but there is this clamor to "do" here.  Paint rooms in your house, buy new clothes, fix your hair, do do do do do do do do do do do......

While I was in Hono, HI, a friend of mine came to visit.  She was staying on the North Shore with some folks who had moved to Tennessee from Hawaii and then moved back to Hawaii.  Katie said that this woman told her husband, "I have to go back to the island.  I have to be somewhere where they don't obsess about interior decor.  And I cannot fix my hair and make-up one more day or I am going to go insane."  She's right!  When Katie told me that, I sort of laughed thinking it must have been the folks that this lady hung around.  But it wasn't.  Even in my very real, loving, laid-back circle, there's this urge to have one of the houses from the West Elm catalog (all 2500 square feet of it! :)  T-shirts and shorts that I wore in Hawaii and felt perfectly adorable in now look really shabby.  I was actually looking at my shorts in the mirror yesterday thinking, "Have these shorts always looked this bad or do they just look like this here in Tennessee?"

I loved living where your swimsuit counted as underwear because you needed to be ready for the water at any moment.

I promise I will try to stop whining about where I live.  I realize that the whole time I was so far away I was pining for all the stuff that fills my life now.  And I spent a great deal of time and energy looking forward to coming home.  Brian is in Hawaii this week working though and it's absolutely killing me to Skype with him and see "my" pool, my yard with the palm trees, and my "fancy porch" in the background.  Ugh!  Why can't I just talk my friends and family into moving with me and then I can "have it all"! :)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Goodbyes

I couldn't really say any of this until today.  I still don't really WANT to say it... that we are leaving Hawaii. The last post I did was about going home and all the wonderful things about home.  And I need to read that today to be reminded of why I am leaving this paradise on earth.  Because I thought I would make a long list of the things I like about Hawaii, but it's too painful right now, I think.  And some of it is escapes words anyway, it's just a feeling... an experience.

I spent a while last night, sitting outside in a chair, in Brian's lap, just looking at the trade winds in the palm trees, listening to the sounds of geckos chirping, which has become the soundtrack of our daily living.  It's hard... leaving.  And it's hard to explain to the people at home who are anxious (hopefully) for your return, but it's scary.  We've been here in this sanctuary for a while now.  We've grown accustomed to it's incubation, it's warmth, it's isolation, and it's lack of guilt and obligation.  I feel pressed upon, a bit, now by the things that call me back.  It's scary, this re-entry.  It's scary to know (or at least to naively believe) that I have changed and wonder how I will fit into the space I occupied before.

And we are leaving friendships behind here too.  Friendships that I hope were nurtured long enough to have strong roots.  Certainly friendships that we will never forget and that will forever be a part of this blessed year.  I remember the fear I felt when I got off the plane in Nashville after coming here last year to look for a house.  How I wished I was getting off for good rather than just embarking.  How could I have been so ridiculously rooted to the sameness?  God has really been so kind in putting me here, He was so careful in the choice of location, He was so deliberate in the friends he put in our space, He was so gentle in His extraction!  I am blessed.

I have a long day ahead.  I woke up early with a cup of coffee on our lanai (the "fancy porch" as Amy called it) and watched the sun come up one last time over our palms and pool.  And I read a poem by John O'Donahue that fits quite nicely into my space today.  So I'll just let these words speak for me as I travel.... thanks, truly, for sticking it out with me this year.  You were all familiarity in the unknown!

FOR THE TRAVELER

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
INto a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
will pretend nothing changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
to the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye
watching you abroad;
and how what meets you
touches that part of the heart
that lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
to the timbre in some voice,
Opening a conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough Inward,
on some unsaid dark,
to create a crystal of insight

You could not have known
you needed
to illuminate
your way.

When you travel,
a new silence goes with you,
and if you listen,
you will hear what your hear would love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing;
Make sure, before you go,
to take time to bless your going forth,
to free your heart of ballast
so that the compass of your soul
might direct you toward the territories of spirit
where you will discover more of your hidden life,
and the urgencies that deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an
awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your
inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely,
arrive refreshed,
and live your time away to its fullest;
return home more enriched,
and free
to balance the gift of days which call you.

From a book of blessings: To Bless the Space Between Us

Aloha!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Home!

Just the word alone evokes a VERY strong emotion in me.  It's a "trigger" of mine.

We are counting down the days to our return to Tennessee.  We wrote the names of things we are looking forward to on little strips of construction paper and every day we've torn one off.  We have 15 links hanging on that chain.  15 names of things that are precious to us and awaiting our return.  So, in the interest of looking forward, I was thinking of all the things I love about HOME!


1)  Home is where I have great friends who love me all around.  These are the amazing ladies that I call on when I need to laugh, run out without the kids for a minute, complain about something, cry about something, or just need some company for a glass of wine or an episode of Modern Family. And it's not just once in a while, we live life together.

2) Home is driving without GPS and making appointments without having to call someone for a recommendation.

3) Home is never knowing what weather will await me for the day!

4) Home is where my dog is!  (Apparently, my dog has gained nearly 25 pounds while vacationing at the farm.  He was already 10 pounds overweight.  I wonder what Dr. Jim will have to say about that one!  Can you say, "never free feed a retriever?")



5) Home means the 12 hour commute with the hula kitty will be a thing of the past (and I can stop worrying about it.)


6) Home is where my kids can run out the front door and have a choice of about 10 kids to play with any time of day.  

7) Home is where I can smother my nieces with kisses and hear them cackle with laughter.  And I can see my nephew and hear him talking (which he wasn't doing before I left.)

8) Home is where I know and am known.  

9) Home is where there are friends whose homes I walk into and instantly relax, because I know there is a place where I don't stand alone.

10) Home is where I don't have to calculate time difference before I pick up the phone.

11) Home is where I love and am loved.  

12) Home is where my family is!

13) Home is where my children are loved and nurtured by an entire community of people who share similar values and have a vested interest in making sure everyone is okay.

14) Home is where people know about the orphan crisis and they "get" my passion about it.

15) Home is where I can be late for something and someone calls me because they know me well enough to know that I've most likely forgotten about it altogether.  (Kaye, you're back on duty!)


16) Home is where I want to spend a long time going around town to visit every single person I think of when I think of home.

17) Home is where I can show up unannounced on the doorsteps of a friend, pretty much any time of day, no need to wait for an invitation, and be welcomed in without alot of fanfare.


18) Home is where kids ride a bus to school.


19) Home is where everything around me is mine and not someone else's.  And the things that surround me are largely things that have been in my family for years and years.  Furniture and photos and everything else has meaning, a story, a sentiment, not just a function.

20) Home is where I can ship the kids off to the grands so my husband and I can get a weekend together.

21) Home is where I feel safe and embraced.

22) Home is where my heart is!
Having said all this, there are always going to be things I miss about our time in Hawaii.  I had alot of trepidation about our return, knowing that I have changed and hoping that I will feel at home there in my different skin.  I will miss a million things about Hawaii and maybe I'll list those too so I won't forget when life returns to normal.  I've made some dear friends here too, who I know will be missed and not soon seen again.  But the closer I get to that return, the more anxious I become.  With each passing day, I'm more aware of the things my heart yearns for that I have lived without for long enough.  As we close in on our return, I am becoming anxious and excited about getting home.


"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by.  And that has made all the difference."  Robert Frost

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Weekend

We spent Easter Weekend in Kauai.  It is SO gorgeous!  I won't waste your time with words except to say that words won't suffice!  These are straight out of my camera so some of the colors may be off a bit.

Our kids could have literally spent the entire weekend at the pool.  They loved this large lagoon.


We took a boat ride on the Na Pali Coast.  Amazing!

Liam


Meg


Jack


Connor


The dolphins ran along in front of the boat... so amazing!


Na Pali Coast





Me and Brian


Amy




Easter morning we stopped at a little Episcopal church.  The minister told a story about hiking in East Tennessee.  :)  They were so sweet.  They gave us all these crocheted leis.  It was a sweet morning.


This photo was taken at the lighthouse



A bird sanctuary near the lighthouse... on the East side


Can you spot the monk seal hauled out to get some sun?


Here he is....


Monday, April 18, 2011

Week 15: Shoot and Edit Challenge: Easter

Nothing says Easter like a little bunny in the kitchen!


Cookie, anyone?

I'm participating in this weekly challenge with Jill Samter and Ashley Sisk.  in an effort to hone my skills a bit more in the photography arena.  I haven't taken many portraits since I've been out here in Hawaii (lots more landscape) and I feel a bit rusty.  I'm finding it pretty inspiring for getting me back in the saddle.  Hope over there if you'd like to participate, it's been alot of fun and it's pretty simple steps to improving your photos.