Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Happy Heart at the end of "The Journey"

This story... the last story of "The Journey", is one I have been waiting to tell since last September.  I feel it is so appropriate that it would be the last story because it exemplifies the support and encouragement I've received from so many along the way for what I set out to do. Although I'm not sure I ever stopped to consider exactly what I had set out to do during these last 18 months of overseas travel. But make no mistake, this journey has not been without purpose. As I traveled I tried to keep in mind the goals of "wherever you are, be all there", be flexible, find rest, live simply and continue in my life's purpose to "be a blessing."  I may have been successful at attaining some of these ideals more than others and at varying times but I must say I'm fairly satisfied with the outcome. But I digress. 

Let me introduce you to Kristen and Ty. 
Kristen and I go way back.  I think I met her in 7th grade at FUMC youth group. But it was probably our sophomore year of high school that we became good friends. I would be remiss if I didn't consider that having names near the end of the alphabet had something to do with it. Vanek and Weaver had lockers not too far apart and I believe from that point on we had lunch together everyday of high school, sharing our table of 4 with either Tiffany and Sarah or Cullen and Chris. This past week we even reminisced over the food that we ate every day. (Snapple fruit punch and Smartfood white cheddar cheese popcorn for me. She would reserve a quarter for a sugar cookie.)

Oh, Richwoods, Home of the Knights, take me back. Although I'd never want to go through high school again... a sentiment both of us shared.
Graduation Lock-in

Kristen was a swimmer (a really good swimmer) and I was a runner (a really average runner). But somehow we still managed for our paths to cross enough for our lives to be intertwined to this day. Much of that came from going to church camp in Happy, Texas... a place where "my faith became my own" as well as for Kristen a year later. And then we shared high school hardships (and joys) together in small group with a dear mentor, Wendy. (Wendy and Melissa... We talked about you this past week and how we don't know how you had time for a bunch of high school girls as you were starting families of your own. God bless you for it!).  We spent a memorable week in Washington DC with Mrs. Bales on a Close-Up trip. (Remember the illegal game of ultimate on the grounds of Capitol Hill or paddle boats in the Tidal Basin?) Somehow our parents agreed for us to spend Spring Break '99, our senior year, in Texas, half to visit an ex-boyfriend by then, on the campus of UT - Austin and the rest to stay with her grandparents in Wimberly. We reminisced of Tae-Bo workouts and sun burns as Kristen burned me on the tennis court.  
Ceta Canyon "One Way" Camp in Happy, Texas - Summer 1998

Hanging at the pool with our friend Wendy and her little guy Brad - '98?

Plane Tickets in hand to DC and we've never looked back! - April 1998

Spring Break 1999 - Wimberly, Texas!

Wreath making fundraiser at FUMC

Six Flags Great America!

You can't hide this Mystery Machine! Summer 1998 - Cornerstone Music Festival in Bushnell, Illinois

And then we parted ways as we set off for college, Kristen to Iowa State and me to Taylor. I recall her suggestion to pray through the Psalms for one another during our freshman year. And from that point on, our relationship was made up of phone calls, lunch or coffee if we both happened to be in Peoria for the holidays and a weekend visit maybe once a year.  But one lunch at Chili's I'll never forget was when Kristen told me about this guy named Ty that she had recently met... while waiting for an elevator at a CAT event, if I'm not mistaken.  But by the time I finally met this guy, on a boat cruise around Lake Union in Seattle, they were already engaged.  Full approval was granted!  Ty was a winner and it was so fun to see my friend so happy with this guy. Then came an amazing wedding in Oahu, a visit to their home in Seattle, their visit to my home in Edwards, and a few Minneapolis rendezvouses, one 6 weeks after their first-born Ivan came into the world. 


Cooking in Seattle...
something we've been doing together since an apple cake for a project in Mrs. Bales U.S. History Class

Cooking in Edwards

Meeting Ivan in Minneapolis

This was also the same time that my sabbatical dreams were beginning to take shape. Kristen and Ty were super psyched for the plans I was making. In fact, I would have to say that outside of my family, these two have been the most encouraging of the journey I was setting out on.  Let me give you just one "for instance."

Last September, Kristen and Ty began to make plans for the birth of baby Siena. A love for travel is something that they both share and were committed to keeping up, even with a young family. And Ty's job allows him to work anywhere he has a decent internet connection. So they decided to spend two months of Kristen's maternity leave on the Costa del Sol, Spain.  It sounded like a brilliant idea to me, but even more so when Kristen invited me to meet Siena for the first time in Spain! Twist my arm. 

This is the kicker, people. Kristen and Ty were inviting me to Spain, their treat! 

What?!? I'm clearly not one to turn down travel opportunities. So I didn't have to think twice on this one. 

But there was a catch. 

Ty had some traveling to do.  For years he had dreamed of taking two of his aunts on a European tour.  When he considered the fact that he would already be in Europe and I would be coming for a visit, the time seemed right to make plans for the Aunts' Euro-Adventure. (Seriously, can we see that Ty has a heart of gold and is a genuine "keeper"? I think, yes.)

So the catch: I had to help Kristen with 2-year old, Ivan and 4-month old, Siena.  This is one "catch" that I was more than willing to agree to, and one in which I'm quite sure I got the better end of the deal. The thought of spending 2 solid weeks with my best friend from high school and her two sweet babies... in Spain, no less... was almost more than I could handle. 

And so, if you were wondering why (or better yet, how) the Journey ended up back in Europe, now you know the reason. 

Now I'm reflecting on the past two weeks I was able to spend with Kristen, Ivan and Siena near Marbella. It was a part of the journey that was anticipated for so long, and I can't believe it actually happened and now it is over.  But, oh, how sweet it was. 

I was definitely immersed in "mom world" and it was a beautiful thing.  I slipped right into the routine of breakfast, then a mid-morning visit to the pool, back for lunch time and then nap time, followed by the late-afternoon visit to the pool (aka - "Happy Hour"), and then back for dinner and baths and bed time. We changed it up a bit with a couple of outings to Ivan's favorite, the "pirate" park, and a walk down the boardwalk to another park, favored for the awesome cafe on the perimeter (a brilliant idea parks in the U.S. could borrow from Spain!)  And all along was an ongoing dialogue of travel stories, baby stories, reliving high school memories, and catching up on the latest with our own family and friends.  Ivan provided plenty of comic relief as well. This two-year and 4 month old kid has a vocabulary like no other kid his age I've ever met. 

Chocolate Croissants - One of the best things about waking up in Spain!

Ivan loves them too!

But he is pretty selective about which part to eat.

"Thanks for making me dinner, Ashee" (I think that was the only bite he ate.)

Bus stop with Rescuebots

Exhibit "A": Ivan's nanny back in Minnesota reminds him to "calm his body" when he gets upset at something. Ivan has realized that he is told this when he is doing something an adult doesn't want him to do. So logically, the converse is also true. If someone is doing something Ivan doesn't like, he uses this phrase as well. The first time I heard Ivan tell Kristen "Calm your body, mommy," I about died! 

Exhibit "B": Kristen and I took turns on having some alone time in the mornings. I found a rock that was the perfect spot to enjoy my morning coffee. Kristen got away for a jog a few times while I had the kids. The first time she left Ivan alone with me, Ivan asked for the first ten minutes where his mommy was. But one time he asked me, "Where are my people?"  I asked him who his people were. He told me "Mommy and Daddy." He is only lucky boy to call those people his people.  

Exhibit "C": Kristen had gone out on a run. I laid Siena on the couch to get Ivan his second helping of toast and jam. When I went to set Siena down, Ivan says "Don't break Sissy because mommy will be really mad when she gets home."  And this is only the beginning. But not to fear, little wise one. I would do nothing to harm that sweet little sister of yours!  

Which brings me to this sweet face. 

Oh man! I can hardly stand it. I have definitely decided that 3 to 6 months is my favorite baby age. It's the age when babies are old enough for them to express themselves... hopefully in the smiley sense like Miss Siena Marie, but still not too wiggy that they can't be cuddly, like Sister.  She and I became buds. Maybe I could bestow upon myself the title of Sissy Marie's "first best friend"! As you can see, Siena had many names, but I usually resorted to some combination of "Precious", "Peanut", "Pumpkin", and "Pie" ... all of which could easily be strung together.  And lucky for my Precious Peanut Pumpkin Pie, Ashley couldn't stand to let her cry for more than a few seconds, something I know Kristen is cursing me for now. (Update: A text conversation 24 hours after leaving indicates my fears have been realized... she has barely slept.) But I'm holding fast to her Mimi Cindy's belief that you can never spoil a baby!  I'm so thankful for the opportunity to know sweet Siena during this stage of her life, fully aware that the next time I see her, she may want to have nothing to do with me. Such is the life of a baby/toddler.  Needless to say, my baby-fix has been fulfilled... but I could easily go back for more. 

And so, it was with great joy in my heart that I was able to watch my sweet friend turn into an incredible mama for Ivan and Siena. Kristen warned me when I arrived, that over the course of two weeks, I was sure to see "the good, the bad and the ugly."  But I'm pretty sure two weeks with anyone would reveal the same.  Despite the fact that we are in two very different stages of life, we still seem to "get" one another.  One thing that amazes me is that even though we became friends when we were in our early teens, we have more in common now than ever before: our love for travel, good food, living simply and most importantly...a love for the Lord. 

Kristen's face after Ivan "helped" make French toast by dumping the entire bottle of cinnamon in the mix.

And it's even more beautiful to watch my friend and her husband teach Ivan about the love the Lord has for us. 

So I keep coming back to the prayer that the Huls family says before dinner. 

"Thank you, Lord, for happy hearts, for rain and sunny weather. Thank you, Lord, for this our day and that we are together." 

This sums up the essence of the last two weeks. Never before and perhaps never again will I get to spend 2 solid weeks with a friend that is so dear. 

So thank you, Lord, for bringing us together, in mostly sunny weather, for on this day and days to come, my heart is most surely happy.  

And that doesn't just sum up my feeling for the last two weeks, but the last two years.  I have nothing but thankfulness and a happy heart as I consider the path the journey has taken and trust and thankfulness for the path that lies ahead.

So this is it! "The Journey" is over! But it really is just beginning.  I'm surprised that as I find myself half-way over the Atlantic that I barely feel an ounce of sadness that this season of my life is turning over into another season filled with just as many unknowns as before. However, just as before, I place my trust in the Lord that He will provide just as He has been faithful to provide during the past few years, and every year before that. May I be faithful to follow the path that He sets before me. 

I'll close with this quote that another youth group mentor, Kris, shared yesterday to honor the faithful life of Elisabeth Elliot. (Crazy... the quote "Wherever you are, be all there" is attributed to her martyred husband Jim.) I don't believe there could be a better ending to "The Journey" than this quote by Elisabeth:

"It is God to whom and with whom we travel,
and while He is the end of our journey,
He is also at every stopping place."  

This thought leaves this girl and this journey with a happy heart, indeed.  The happiness is even greater as I consider you all who have followed along the way. Blessings to each of you, wherever your journey is taking you. 

The End (AKA - "Bunsie Patrol" -  Ivan can explain.)