Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year of Being Refined by Fire

It's the last day of 2013. I can not believe it. I say that every year, but more often now the older I get. I remember my dad once telling us kids that the time just seemed to fly by and that we would understand one day what he meant by that. I think I'm finally understanding! December 31, 2013 - 365 days of 2013 gone by...how does that happen?! I'd by lying if I said that I'm sorry to see 2013 go. In actuality, I'm ready to be done with it. I'm ready to start fresh with 2014 and see what all God has in store for me and my family and my friends.

2013 brought with it some of the most devastating times and yet, God is faithful, and sprinkled in between the devastating times were also memory-making, happy times. The main theme this year of my life has been being refined by fire. I see how God is refining me through the fire. Everything that doesn't kill me, strengthens me. This year wasn't all good. It was hard. It was messy. It was sad. It was LIFE. But, at the same time there were moments of pure joy. Celebrations years in the making. Laughter so hard, I'm surprised it didn't kill me! LIFE!! I'm thankful for the year that I had because it only served to help me grow. Sometimes, the fire of life is so hot, even if you don't want to be refined, you're forced to do so :) With growing comes growing pains. I've been shown in glaring light my shortcomings and failures and the things that I need to work on the most. But God's shown me grace. When I didn't think I could take another breath, God was there. While, I'd rather not have the massive wild fires running through my life, they do serve a purpose. What I've learned this year is that God isn't a "reactive" God. By that I mean, He doesn't spare us from heartache just because we are "good" nor does He heap it upon us because we are "bad". We live in a sinful world and because of that bad things happen. It's by His grace that we experience the good things. I have always, always believed that everything happens for a reason. Nothing is random. God's got all the "balls in the air" and not one of them drops without Him knowing about it and having a plan for it. I'm alive because God's not done with me yet - He's got a plan for me. You're alive because God's not done with you either and He has a plan for you too. Nothing happens without Gods ordaining of it. I, of all people, need to be reminded of this time and time again, especially in the depths of despair.

My dad wrote a story for this year's Advent service sermons at our church. It was titled: "Josh and Kate's Absolutely Horrible, Miserable, Downright Depressing Holiday Season". I feel like that was my year. My life isn't perfect. It has cracks in it. My life is bitter. My life is sweet. My life is being refined by the One who created it. LIFE is worth living, even when it's hard. I came across this Bible verse the other day and it's going to be my "it" verse for 2014: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." (Romans 12:12 NIV)

I'm ending 2013 knowing that I'm still being refined, but I'm also in the palm of Jesus' hand and in that, I will rest!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Magical Night

There's only one word to describe tonight: magical. Two of my favorite things: Amy Grant and figure skating combined to create one spectacular show and a night that I'll never forget.

It all started at the beginning of November when I read in the paper that Scott Hamilton and Friends on Ice was coming to Knoxville. I couldn't believe it!! I really didn't think much about it though, because I didn't think there would be a chance that I could go. That is, until I was talking to Mom on the phone one night and mentioned it to her. She asked if I would like for that to be one of my Christmas presents. Without even hesitating, I said yes! A few days later she told me that we were going. A mother/daughter outing I could not wait for!! The news only got better when, a few weeks later, I found out that the skaters would be skating to Amy Grant music and not only that, but Amy would be there in person to sing. Figure skating plus an Amy Grant concert equals one magical night in my book.

So tonight finally came. I was beside myself with excitement! Not even the pouring down rain could dampen my spirits. Mom and I got off to a little later start then we had planned on, but we still had plenty of time to get to the Knoxville Coliseum, or so we thought. The rain plus the Knoxville Christmas Parade being held at the same time meant that we were delayed. We had to take a detour, but eventually found our way to the parking garage with five minutes until show time. But it wasn't as easy as just walking into the building. No, we had to walk down these long steep ramps and over a crosswalk and through the woods (OK, maybe not that last one!!) to get to the Coliseum. I was almost in tears, knowing that we were super late. I even exclaimed that we would miss half the show (I can be a little dramatic every once in awhile - ha!) Mom kept me focused on the task at hand though - which was getting inside. To most people, this would not have been a problem, but to me it seemed like we would never make it in time. Mom even exclaimed that one day we would look back on this and laugh, but at the time it was not funny! But, with Mom's help we finally did make it inside, only to be met by the realization that we had to walk down several steep rows with no railing on them to get to our seats. I left my walker at the top of the row and with the help of Mom and my cane made it precariously down to our seats. God knew that I wanted to see this show from start to finish and it's only by His grace that for whatever reason the show did not start until literally 30 seconds after Mom and I took our seats. Mom looked at her watch. It was 6:10 and the show was to have started at 6pm. All I can say is, Thank you, Jesus!! :)

The show itself was absolutely magical in my eyes. I was transported back to being a little kid seeing everything with wonder and amazement. It truly was a spectacular evening. I loved spending it with Mom and will treasure it always in my heart. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. About a half an hour into the show I looked over the railing down to the lower level and spotted a familiar bald head. I nudged Mom and she looked too. Scott Hamilton was standing right below us watching the show from the side lines. Then I turned into stalker lady and started taking pictures of him. I wasn't the only one though. I was sitting next to a husband and wife and the wife started taking pictures too. Her husband called us the paparazzi. I sang along to all the songs and was enthralled by all the skaters. It was a truly blessed night in which I will forever remember.

Amy Grant and her band (which included her stepdaughter, Jenny Gill)

The stalker picture I took of Scott Hamilton :)

The entire cast of figure skating performers: Katia Gordeeva (my favorite!), Ilia Kulik, Paul Wylie, Jozef Sabovcik, Michael Weiss, Nicole Bobek, Caryn Kadavy, Alissa Czisny, Ryan Bradley, Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker, and Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

November in Review

Wow - November completely got away from me and I had absolutely no time to post a blog entry. So sorry! Some have asked when a new blog post would appear, so here it is!

November marked 20 years that my family and I have lived in Tennessee. That is, minus the four years I spent in Kentucky for college, but since that wasn't year round and I wasn't a resident of Kentucky, I don't count that :) Twenty years!! I have to admit that I was the one who did NOT want to move from my birthplace of Alabama. Dad reminded me that I was the sole person who gave him the most grief about moving. I remember even declaring that he amd Mom and the boys could move, but I would stay in Alabama. To that he responded that since I was only 13 the law would not allow that! I did not quickly warm up to Tennessee either. It took a few years (maybe a little longer!). There were things I liked about it, for sure, but if you asked me those first few years, I would proudly declare that I was not from Tennessee, but Alabama. While I'm still proud to be Alabama born and bred (up to age 13!) I am truly a Tennessean now. I love my Smoky Mountains and Knoxville is home. While I love, love, love the people of Gardendale, Alabama, now - after 20 years - Knoxville, Tennessee is home. I returned to Gardendale a few years ago - driving myself for the first time and it struck me that it was the very first time I had actually ever driven in Gardendale. It's a whole different ball game when you're in the driver's seat instead of the passenger seat. Places, I thought I knew how to get to, I didn't! But in actuality, that's not saying a whole lot, because even after 20 years in Knoxville, I get lost regularly! I have NO sense of direction and unfortunately, I don't think it would matter where I lived, I'd still get lost! But after 20 years, I finally have embraced the orange and white Tennessee Volunteers. I love the Smoky Mountains. I truly believe that I live in one of the most beautiful places in the nation, if not the world. I love with all my heart the people of my church and now I have a place to "go home to" in Gardendale! It's the best of both worlds. I am so thankful that Mom and Dad, in their wisdom, decided to move our family to Tennessee. It has been a huge blessing on my life and I wouldn't trade it for the world!
I hope the family doesn't kill me for posting this picture, but this was us, 20 years ago:

November was an extremely busy month for me. The real reason I haven't posted for so long is that I was trying to write a novel. Truly. I'm not joking. November was National Novel Writing Month. A couple of my co-workers told me about this website: http://nanowrimo.org/ in which they encouraged you to write a novel within a month. To write a novel to their specifications, it had to be 50,000 words. Unfortunately, I didn't make it :( But in all honesty, I didn't know about the site or the competition until November 7, so in my mind, I still have time! The "prize" was 1.) the satisfaction that you wrote a novel 2.) You got a coupon to Amazon.com to get a discount for getting your novel published. So far, I've got 28, 266 words. I would have made my goal (I think!), but life got in the way - haha- and I didn't force myself to write. However, I'm not giving up just because the month is over. I'll continue with it and refine it and who knows - maybe someday I'll be a famous book author! We'll see about that :) But, again, that was the real reason I didn't write a blog post in November - I was tired of writing!!

Here's some highlights of the month:

The beginning of November saw my brother Stuart moving in with me. Yes, after 8 years of living by myself, I've once again had to learn how to close the bathroom door, share the TV, and so much more! This is only temporary, just 2-3 months. He is a commercial real estate appraiser and is taking certification classes. These classes are a week long and he has to take 4 of them. That, along with some other reasons led us to the decision that it would be wise for him not to have to worry about rent for awhile and focus on his studies, so he moved in. I'll admit, I was a little leary of this, but it's actually been a blessing. He's helped out a lot around the house. He's even cooked me a couple of meals and I have to admit, he's a pretty good cook. It's also brought back the feeling that I've always had: even if we aren't in the same room or even talking to each other, just knowing there is someone else in the house is very comforting to me. As much as I love having my own space, I also love having someone around. He might be moving out at the end of the month, but more likely in January.

Mom, Dad, my grandmother (Oma) and I went to a piano recital at the beginning of November. In all honesty, I didn't want to go, but it turned out to be a really fun night. It was at the Clayton Center on Maryville College's campus. The pianist was a guy named Emile Pandolfi and he infused humor with his piano playing. I had no expectations for this concert at all. I thought it would be boring, actually. But surprisingly, it was not! It was a great night and I am glad that I got to go and spend it with Mom, Dad and Oma.

November also brought with it the "I have so much PTO (paid time off) that I have to use before I lose it" freak out that I always do around this time at work. That meant, I started taking days off - one per week to be exact! Next year, I have to spread my time out more during the year and use it more wisely. Although, I mudt admit that I do like this time off that I have now :)

I saw my neurologist, Dr. Matthiessen on November 11. I had every intention of telling him about all my problems (like he didn't already know them!), but the waiting room was a huge wake up call for me. Usually, when I go in for an appointment, the waiting room isn't all that full and when it is, it's people that I think, "why are they here?" because they show no outward signs of being sick, but this time it was different. There were several patients in the waiting room and they were all much, much worse off than me. There was one guy in a wheelchair and several using walkers (as was I). The ones using walkers had major problems walking with them. It struck me that I shouldn't be having a pity party for myself. I had NOTHING to complain about. And that's exactly what I told Dr. Matthiessen and his nurse. His nurse came and got me for the appointment and asked how I was. I responded that I actually didn't know why I was there, because compared to the people that were in the waiting room I was doing excellent. She completely understood and said that even she marvels at what she sees in the waiting room and that she knows she is blessed. We talked more than we ever had before and she told me that she's used up 2 of her 9 lives. She is a breast cancer survivor and she had been in a car accident 6 months before and had just gotten back to work that week. She was echoing my sentiments on how blessed we truly are and how much worse it could really be. When Dr. Matthiessen came in he remarked that he saw me whip right into the exam room, exclaiming that he thought I was walking pretty well. He asked how I was doing and I again said that in comparison to the people in the waiting room, I was doing excellent. He liked my "redo" of the walker (I reupholstered it!) and he wanted to know again if my weight loss was on purpose. I assured him it was. He asked how I was getting along and I told him that I still have issues, but they haven't gotten any worse and I manage. We decided that the dose of medicine I'm on now is the right dose for now. It was all in all a great appointment and I left feeling encouraged and more determined than ever not to let this disability get me down. I have to use a walker and that's what it is. I shouldn't be ashamed of that, even though at times I am. It is what it is. I love my life, cracks and all. I still have hope that there will eventually be a cure or a surgery that would fix my walking issues, but I'm determined not to be a hermit in the meantime :)

I also had a dentist appointment. No cavities - yay!!! But, I am parent's daughter - ha :) I have one tooth on each side of my lower jaw where the gums are receeding. The last time I was at the dentist, the hygentist mentioned that I should take it easy on my lower left side tooth and not brush so hard or floss so hard. This time around, that side looked better, but it was my right side that she was concerned about. She and the dentist discussed sending me to specialized dentist to get a skin graft, but in the end - thankfully - they decided to give me another 6 months to see if it would heal, since the left side did. The hygentist came so, so close to telling me not to floss, but then at the last minute said "I don't want to tell you not to floss at all!" That would have been a first! I told the dentist, I'm a little agressive (to say the least!) when I brush and floss. In my mind, the harder you brush, the more germs you kill. But he told me to go easy and be gentle on my teeth. Dad has told me this too, so I think I'm finally listening!

Stanton and Aubrey (my brother and sister-in-law) came in to town on Novemer 23-24. Stanton is a resident in Emergency Medicine at Erlanger in Chattanooga and had to work on Thanksgiving, so he and Aubrey made the hour and half trip the weekend before to spend some time with us. It was a fun weekend. Vanderbilt (where both Stanton and Aubrey graduated from) played Tennessee in football, so we watched the game and Vanderbilt won. Stanton and Aubrey cooked dinner for Mom, Stuart and I on Saturday night. Dad was in San Antonio for a conference. Mom had lunch for us on Sunday after church. It was a great weekend. Stanton told me stories of his adventures on the Trauma Unit. I loved it!!

Thanksgiving was awesome. Two of my Mom's three brothers (yes, history repeated itself with me and my three brothers!) came in from Michigan and Wisconsin respectively. My Uncle Chris and Aunt Edith came with their two sons, Markus (10) and Lukas (5) and my Uncle Danny came with his son, Jakub (10). They all stayed at Oma's house. Steven (my youngest brother) came in from Birmingham, Alabama where he goes to college at Samford. And Aubrey drove in from Chattanooga. The surprise of the day (or should I say night?!) - Stanton drove in after a 12 hour shift arriving at 8:30pm just so that the whole family could be together for Thanksgiving!! We had eaten Thanksgiving dinner without him, but there was still plenty of food left over for him to have a Thanksgiving meal and then we ate dessert together. He came in his scrubs. I know, I'm weird, but I thought that was so cool!! :) I still can't believe my little brother is a doctor!!! He was in Knoxville for a grand total of two hours. He had to be back in Chattanooga for a 5:30am shift, but would be back in Knoxville as soon as his shift ended on Friday.

My Mom's yummy pumpkin pie:

Thanksgiving day was spent watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade at Mom and Dad's while Mom made all the sides for our Thanksgiving meal. Then we watched the National Dog Show and talked and just got to be together. Then we headed over to Oma's house and spent the rest of the day and night hanging out with all the relatives. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful family. This was the first year without Opa, as he passed away in April, but even so, Thanksgiving was a truly blessed day and memories were once again made (like the fire alarm going off at Oma's 5 times, but not because of the cooking!!) The day after Thanksgiving, Mom, my Aunt Edith and I went shopping. But not the crazy, midnight, Black Friday shopping!! We left the house at a respectable 10 am hour and went to Kohl's in search of gifts for my cousins. Kohl's was a madhouse, but there was a method to the madness and even though the check-out lines wrapped around the entire store, the wait was surprisingly not that lon; we moved along very quickly! We also went to a shoe store, where I ended up getting 2 pairs of Clark's shoes for $35 each. If you know about Clark's you know that $35 is an amazing price for them :) We dropped my Aunt Edith back off at Oma's house and then Mom, Oma and I went to a funeral at church that my Dad was officiating. Then Mom and I ran to a few more stores, before heading home where everyone beat us there (Stanton and Aubrey arrived from Chattanooga, Stuart and his girlfriend, Katie were there too). We had a fun, fun family night with just the eight of us: Mom, Dad, me, Stuart and Katie, Stanton and Aubrey, and Steven. And since we were even again, we had the perfect scenario for playing games. We played Catchphrase all night. It was boys against girls. The girls won over and over and over again - ha! I will say, the guys did win a couple of times :) It was a great, fun night and again memories were made to last a lifetime. Saturday, I ran to the grocery store for Mom and then Aubrey and I wrapped presents for Mom and ran an errand to pick up Christmas presents for my cousins. Halfway through our Christmas gift wrapping, Aubrey commented that she was sorry she wasn't talking much. I realized then, that I hadn't been talking either. We were so engrossed in our wrapping that we couldn't talk and wrap at the same time :) It was still fun though! I'm a horrible present wrapper, so I gave Aubrey all the hard to wrap presents, but still managed to get my fair share of them. I have to say, little kid's toys are very hard to wrap sometimes!! We were laughing at the horrible job we did. I should say, that I did. Aubrey did fantastic :) When we were done with the wrapping, we emerged to boys engrossed in the Alabama/Auburn game. I did mention at the beginning of this blog post that we are from Alabama, right?! Well, Stuart is a die-hard Alabama fan. Die-hard. There was screaming and talking and on-the-side-lines coaching coming from the living room. He and Steven and Stanton and Dad and Stuart's girlfriend, Katie were all focused on the game. It was fun watching them watch the game. We even delayed dinner with the relatives (they were coming over) because of the game. They all came over and we began dinner and then there was silence. And that's when the unthinkable happened - Alabama lost! What?!! Did that just happen?! I saw the national news this morning and they are still talking about the game. Needless to say, Stuart was not happy, not happy at all. But despite the loss, Saturday night was fun, fun, fun - filled with food, people and laughter. Sunday, we all went to church where Dad preached a fabulous sermon (I may be a little biased!) and then it was time for professional family pictures. We haven't done this in years. There could have been blood shed, but alas we survived and got some great pictures to prove it!! Mom thinks it's harder now to get pictures made of all of us then it was when we were kids. We each have our own opinions of what we should wear and how we should pose and what we should do. To cut down on the "what to wear", she provided us our "uniforms"!! I'm secretly, very happy she did so, because that meant I didn't have to think about it :) Her one request was that I get a hair cut, which I haven't had in a long while - probably two years (I know, I know, that's super bad!) So I got 3 inches cut off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

This was the madness of the picture taking adventure:

This isn't all that happened in November, but I have to keep some things close to my heart. I was, however, reminded again how blessed I truly am. Through the good times and the struggles in life, I know that I have a purpose. I may not know what that purpose is yet, but I know, God is refining me and molding me and showing me how much He loves me. I learned much in the month of November. I laughed a lot; I cried a lot; I thought a lot. I am thankful. I hope your November was blessed and that your December will be one filled with praise for the Lord. It is, after all the month we celebrate His birth. So much has happened in December already and it's only the 3rd day. I will definitely write another blog post soon to tell you all about it!