Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Magnificent Are Your Works, Oh Lord!

My honey strongly encouraged me to plan a vacation, however, I found the whole thought overwhelming. Where would we go? What would we do? We rarely travel and that’s my doing, mostly because I don’t want to waste money on airfares, eating out, or hotels when we can use the money for more practical things. Still, it had been a few years since our last getaway and my sweet husband who works long strings of twelve hour days needed a real vacation. He wanted time away from the same routine and surroundings.

After putting it off for months and months, I finally planned a vacation to Arizona. He had never seen the Grand Canyon and a trip there wouldn't involve a beach or having to wear a swimsuit. I went on the Trip Adviser website and spent countless hours researching and reading other traveler’s itineraries and advice. Three months ago I came up with a plan and began booking reservations.

We just returned from our trip and I am surprised to find that I can’t stop thinking about it. Nor can I stop thanking God for eight incredible days of special memories and experiences sealed in our hearts and minds.

We flew into Phoenix, rented a car and headed north to Sedona. It was a two hour drive but we stopped twice. Once to pick up supplies at a Wal-Mart (mostly bottled water and food for hiking) and once for lunch at an adorable restaurant that was once a stagecoach stop.

Once we entered Sedona, my jaw dropped and I was amazed at the beauty of the red rocks. We spotted them in the distance but seriously, it’s not until you are close up that you realize how incredible they are. We stopped at the Ranger Station for the parking pass, then checked out Bell Rock and Chapel of the Holy Cross. The little town was as charming as could be as we drove through it, looking for our hotel. Once checked in, we were thrilled at the view that awaited us from our balcony (2nd photo below).

 Our week was filled with exciting moments. We went extreme four wheeling in the red rocks of Sedona (driven by well trained experts, not us!), we did a four hour river raft trip on the Colorado River and flew in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. All were memorable and fun. What I loved most, were the quiet morning hikes, the breathtaking beauty that I couldn’t get enough of with the bright blue sky and fresh air (and no humidity or bugs!). The only sounds were that of our feet crunching on the trails, an occasional bird, or the clicking sounds from our camera. I also loved the sense of accomplishment after a challenging hike, walking hand in hand through the cute shops, the unhurried dinners each night on the scenic patios. I must admit that going out to dinner every night wasn’t bad either!

To experience God’s creation with my honey was such a gift. I tried to take it all in, absorbing each moment somehow so that it wouldn’t be forgotten.

Three hours north of Sedona is Page, AZ. If you are ever there, be sure to check out the Glen Canyon Dam, the Antelope slot canyons, Horseshoe Bend and the Colorado River Raft trip.

On the surface, only a small opening is visible.

But when you crawl deep below the surface through the narrow opening, this is what you see. Sculpted rock from the water that flows through the underground canyons. We walked for over an hour and the images were constantly changing.

Horseshoe Bend (the drop off is MUCH further than it appears and there aren't any guard rails)

This was taken during our raft trip. Gorgeous.

After leaving Page, we visited the G.C. National Park. The Grand Canyon is grand indeed!

This was posted at the Grand Canyon. How perfectly appropriate.
Hiking a portion of the Bright Angel Trail. Something to remember: it's uphill all the way back!
I considered hopping on!
Seeing the canyon from another viewpoint

It’s funny to me that I didn’t want to go and now I can’t wait to return.

Thank you Lord, for blessing our trip. Your creation is truly awesome!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Am A Baby Sister

Yes, I am. I am a baby sister and I have to say that even though I have known this fact for the last third of my life, I’m still surprised every time I think about it.

I was always curious about my past. Actually, my heart ached for answers, however there were little matters like sealed records and laws. Then one day, my doctor casually stated while scribbling notes in my file that I should try to find my medical history. “It would be helpful” he said. That began my quest to find my birth mother.

I was adopted at the age of 22 months to a nice couple in their late 30’s. They were loving and kind, and I was raised as an only child in a cute little home. They gave me the best life they knew how, but I often felt very lonely. My heart must have known something that my mind couldn’t remember.

It took two years from my first request for information before the manila envelope from the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services arrived at my door. My hands shook as I carefully read through the stack of papers trying to learn of my past. So many years of not knowing left a hole. I needed to know and I was finally holding the answers.

And there it was, at the bottom of the fourth page, typed in almost as an afterthought. “Siblings - Connie is 9th of 9.” I read the words again in disbelief.

The shock continued. I always thought my mother was an unwed teenager who gave her baby up for adoption. Imagine my surprise as I read through the file that my parents were married and had nine children. Wow.

It was all there. The social worker’s notes as she observed a little baby girl through the entire process (that child was me!). There was my brother’s attempts to petition the courts to find me. There I was, going through life and someone was looking for me. My brother was looking for me. I love that. (Thank you D!!!)

As I read through the paperwork, I noticed that all the identifying information had been blacked out. Names, addresses, dates, all disappeared. It made me angry. Who has the right to decide what I should know about my own life?

I am amazed now that I reflect back on how it all unfolded. My pleading with God through tears during a sleepless night, a name suddenly appearing on the adoption certificate that we hadn’t seen before. The ladies at church praying that God would help me at the very time I called George, who happened to be home that morning when usually he wasn’t.

George had the same last name as mine. “I’m looking for my family”, I told George. “I haven’t seen them in over 30 years and I’m hoping you can help me.” He said we weren’t related. And then, before exhaling my sigh of disappointment, he continued.

“My wife took me to a wedding a few years ago. I had a two minute conversation with the bride and found out we had the same last name. She told me that she is from a small town in Wisconsin and came from a large family and all the kids were given up for adoption when they were small. Let me talk with my wife and see if I can find out who that was.” And that’s when my heart skipped a beat, because somehow I knew I was getting close.

Two days later on a Saturday afternoon, my phone rang. When I answered it, I heard a beautiful voice that said, “Connie Beth, where have you been? We have been looking for you!” I still get choked up when I think of that moment. It was the bride. My sister.

I found out that our birth parents had problems. I still don’t really know the whole story, but I know that the State of Wisconsin came in and dissolved our family. The kids all went to aunts and uncles so they stayed in contact with one another. Another brother and I were adopted outside of the family.  My birth parents separated but never divorced.

My sister gave me names and phone numbers. What a gift and I held the list close. I had numbers for my birth parents, my two other sisters and five brothers. It was like a dream.

I am so thankful I was given the opportunity to see and talk with both of my birth parents as an adult. I really liked them. It was important to me that they knew I didn’t hold anything against them. We mess up all the time and thankfully, God forgives us. They passed away shortly after that. God let me find them just in time.

I also was able to meet some of my siblings. Some I spoke with on the phone but haven’t had the joy of meeting them all in real life yet. I’m hoping someday.

Brothers and sisters. A connection that is unexplainable. Having once lived together as a family, we share something special. There is a bond. Perhaps it's from growing up with the same ache in our hearts because we all feel that same loss.

It’s not always like Oprah or in the movies. We didn’t stay in touch. Everyone had a lot going on in their lives and I personally needed the time to process it all. Also, out of respect for my adoptive parents, I didn’t stay in contact with my first family. They wouldn’t understand. To them, they were my parents and the subject was never allowed to be brought up while living with them. And they were right. They are indeed my parents and I thank God for them. My Dad passed away over seven years ago and I still miss him so much it hurts.

And then, this year Facebook brought us together one by one. I am at a place now where I feel complete having them in my life. We’re still getting to know one another but I feel a strong love and connection with them. My sister R. is so, so special to me. I just love talking and laughing with her. And even though our lives are so different, she gets me.

My brothers are everything I imagined big brothers should be. They are smart, encouraging and funny. They make me laugh and tear up. I love it and I love them. And, I love being a baby sister.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Treasures from this week

What a treasure this week has been! The unexpected little surprises are the best! I am so thankful...

... for a simple card, made with sweet four year old hands and a heart full of love. Thank you Tyler! It’s wonderful and makes me happy, just like you.

... for the beautiful new microwave and oven that you bought and worked so hard to install in my kitchen, thank you honey! And thank you for agreeing to take me out to dinner to celebrate the new oven. You're fun.

... for the completely unexpected message on Facebook. Thank you J, my sweet brother! I am so, so glad you are back in my life again.

... for the fun voice message from my daughter and son-in-law who remembered a moment over a year ago when I got excited over a silly little kitchen gadget they have. Okay, it's just a meat tenderizer but it's very cool. Anyway, they were so thrilled to call to tell me they found one just like it and bought it for me. Thank you L & B!

... for that special house that my other daughter and son-in-law found that happens to be in their favorite neighborhood and, if You will it, will soon be their home, thank you God.

... for filling my life with so much joy, I could just burst! For blessings too numerous to count, for special people, for much needed rain, for air conditioning, for goose bump moments singing praises during worship and for hugs from grandchildren. But mostly, for forgiveness and unconditional love, thank you Jesus. A love so unexpected, undeserving, so appreciated. I am blessed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Remembering the 4th of July

Has it really been two weeks already? That is what’s going through my mind as I sit here in my living room starring at a pile of toys on the floor. I am constantly amazed at how quickly time seems to fly by.

Just two week ago today, my house and my heart were full. The day began with such fun as I played on the floor with this little guy. He and his parents live three long hours away from us so when they visit, I try my best to soak up every second with them. I had my youngest grandson all to myself while his mommy and daddy went to pick blueberries. Heaven!

Two weeks ago today, my daughter L. and I sat in this room and through laughter belted out all the patriotic songs we could think of. The key word here is laughter. Not a polite little giggle but the bend over and hold on to your stomach because you can’t inhale while you wipe the tears away kind of laughter that we always enjoy whenever we are together.

Two weeks ago at this time, both my daughters and their sweet families gathered here in the afternoon to celebrate July 4th. (Missed you M. Too bad you had to work!) I stressed about the food taking too long and my oldest daughter gave me that “It’s okay, Mom” look and smile that reminded me that it’s not about the food.

We didn’t attend any parades or watch live fireworks this year, but it was a celebration none-the-less. We wore our patriotic clothes, enjoyed our little cookout and just loved the gift of time together. 

The precious faces of my grandchildren helped me to appreciate the holiday. As they munched on their watermelon, I silently thanked God for the freedoms and opportunities we have in this country. My heart was so moved as I thought of all the men and women and their families that have sacrificed so much. Our country has plenty of problems but I am still so glad we live here.

I think I’ll just leave the toys right where they are for a little while longer. Can a pile of toys make me smile? Yes. They remind me of a special weekend, special people and so many blessings.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What's wrong with a nice big safe car?

He looked so grown up when he walked through the front door and set his helmet down on the table. That did not, however, settle the uneasy feeling in my stomach. “Hi mom! How are you?” he asked sincerely while giving me a big hug. Will I ever get used to him being taller than me?

He bought a motorcycle.  My son, my baby boy, bought a vehicle that offers zero protection from irresponsible drivers that share a road with him. I am having a hard time getting used to the idea.

Perhaps it’s because he is my only son in a family of two girls. Maybe it’s because he is my youngest. My last one to enjoy all those growing up experiences with. The child I took extra care to simply remember the moment because he was my last baby. The last to rock to sleep, use the high chair, learn how to walk, teach how to tie a shoe, ride a bike, push in the swing, go to kindergarden. He was the last child in the family to graduate from elementary, middle, high school and college.

Quite possibly it’s because he enjoys the thrill of adventure. While the girls took ballet and horseback riding, my little guy was jumping off ramps with his bike or skates. He had two broken arms and stitches in his face before finishing elementary school. He was so brave and never cried. But I did. When he was in high school I prayed like crazy while enduring ice hockey games each week.

I am happy for him. I really am, but only because he enjoys it so. My son and husband went skydiving awhile back and although there is no denying the fear I had, at the same time I was thrilled for them because I have never seen those two happier.

There just aren’t words to express how proud we are of him and what joy he brings to our life. His personality is easy going, likable and happy. I feel an unexplainable joy simply having him around.

“I’ll be careful” he says as he slips on his gloves. I know he will. It’s the other drivers that scare me. “Bye mom, love you” he says over his shoulder as he turns out of the driveway.  The feeling is a familiar one as my mind recalls a little boy peddling his tricycle as fast as his little legs can go and everything in me hoping he doesn’t get hurt. “Wuv you mommy” his little voice would call over his shoulder. And just like before, I find myself pleading the very same thing I prayed back then. “Please Father, keep him safe.”

Thursday, June 30, 2011


I get excited every time I open the refrigerator door and notice the special treat waiting on the shelf. 

My honey and I drove out to a beautiful blueberry farm early Monday morning. I love it out there. Just a short 20 minute drive from our suburban neighborhood, it is like entering another world. It was peaceful at first, as we walked down the well worn trail, white buckets in hand. The dew sparkled on the leaves, the birds were singing, and the sun was still low in the sky. The bushes were covered in blue, sweet, beautiful berries.

We picked the berries in silence. Talking seemed wrong somehow, there in the quiet morning with the sun’s gentle rays peeking through the branches.  Only the soft thump was heard as berries hit the bottom of the bucket when handfuls were dropped in. 

Soon more people began arriving. There were families and people of all ages, ready to enjoy their time together, picking little blue gifts from God. Being in the country, the sound traveled easily and I couldn’t help but smile as I heard the chatter of all the distant conversations. So many various sweet voices all at once and I wondered if that is how God hears prayer. I heard the laughter of children and remembered bringing our own children to this place when they were much younger.

(Two years ago my oldest daughter, little Tyler and I visited this farm also. She shared about it here. The photos of that precious little guy make me smile every time.)

Ninety minutes later our buckets were full and the sun was higher in the sky. We could definitely feel the humidity and heat of the summer day settling in and we headed for home.

Apple crisp is the dessert of choice in our family. It is made often, especially during the cold winter months, usually enjoyed fresh out of the oven with vanilla ice cream. I love how it makes the house smell like apples and cinnamon.

It seemed perfectly logical to try the recipe with blueberries and it didn’t disappoint. My favorite way to eat blueberries is plain or mixed with yogurt, however if you want a wonderful dessert, I highly recommend this. Below is the recipe I used.

Blueberry Crisp
(Adapted from the Betty Crocker's Cookbook)

3 1/2 cups of blueberries
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup softened butter

Heat oven to 375. Place berries in 8 x 8 x 2 pan (pie pan works also). Mix remaining ingredients thoroughly. Sprinkle over berries. Bake 30 minutes or until fruit is bubbling and topping is a golden brown. Serve with ice cream if desired.

Note: I have made this with apples only (use 4 cups of thinly sliced apples), or just blueberries. I have also made it with half berries and half apples. All are very good. Many times I double the recipe and make in a 9 x 13 pan.

I’m so thankful for those silly little berries. I love that God blesses us with something so healthy and yet so delicious. I’m thankful I’ll have fresh picked berries for the holiday weekend. But mostly, I’m thankful for the little slice of time spent picking berries with my honey.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Finding words

My arms were full as I juggled too many grocery bags at once. It was my attempt at not having to make too many return trips to the car in the Texas heat. It was then, while fiddling for my keys when I looked down and noticed them. And I smiled.

That was his intention. He does things like that. He planted flowers to surprise me.

I have known my husband thirty-four years and quite honestly, I can’t think of a single hurtful or negative thing he has ever said to me. He is hardworking, honest, generous, wise, and loving. He is so many good things. He has a sweet and gentle spirit about him, and he doesn’t feel the need to fill silence with words. My husband is organized and disciplined and pretty much all the things I’m not.

A simple “thank you” seems so inadequate when I thank God for this sweet man in my life. A man who is sad when I’m sad, who loves to spend time with me, who will work out twice so I won’t have to go alone. He is someone who compliments and encourages and who truly believes I can do anything if I try. He fills my life with so much love and makes me feel safe.

But it’s the little things he does that mean so much. The impromptu slow dance in the kitchen in our pajamas, the excitement in his voice when he shares of a Bible study he listened to while jogging, the appreciation of pretty much every little thing I do. I love how his eyes tear up when he talks about his children and grandchildren and how he fills our home with beautiful creations made by his own hands. A labor of love.

What most touches my heart is the comfort of his hand as he rests it on my arm at the end of the day, right before I drift off to sleep. I feel the warmth settle in as he keeps it there for a few minutes, and I know that I am being silently prayed for during that time.

My throat still tightens when I try to find the words. Thankfully, God knows my heart and “thank you” is enough.