Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One More Day...

I absolutely cannot believe another Thanksgiving is upon us. This last year has passed by in a blink and I realize more and more everyday how necessary it is to just slow down. I'm known to be a meticulous planner and one who needs everything lined up, organized, and thought out. I have a really hard time being spontaneous (looks like this will be a new years resolution!) and just allowing myself to "be". This is actually one huge point of focus for me as I go through counseling because, if you're not careful, life WILL pass you by. Quickly.

At any rate, on the eve of another Thanksgiving celebration, I find myself really and truly thankful for so much. I'm not sure that I've ever felt a peace in my heart the way I do this year and I think that's opened several more doors of opportunity to feel humbly grateful for many things in my life. It's so easy in life to become cynical, bitter, hopeless, full of resentment...the list could go on. Far too often, we skip right over the truly simple pleasures of life that are like tiny individual blessings. Instead, our minds go straight to the things we don't have or to the things that aren't "fair". We look at other peoples' lives and covet what they have and we measure ourselves to a standard of the 'world' that is both unattainable and, quite frankly, shameful. I've always found it so fitting that our faith is often related to being child-like. Kids are so innocent, joyful, and simple. It requires next to nothing to make them happy and they believe in miracles in a way that should really teach us adults a lesson. They love freely, give openly, and want nothing more than to be happy. What a lesson to learn! If only we could apply the example of being child-like into each and every day we live. Can you imagine what joy there would be around every corner?

This year, I am so humbly thankful for where I am and, at times, I feel like my heart might bust into a million pieces with how overwhelmed I am with blessing. I'm working really hard to get back to a place of simplicity, where love, acceptance, and patience are the virtues I live by. I've become hardened and callous to so much and my biggest prayer is that god would melt down the cynicism and open my eyes in a new way to what it means to live by love. A friend I know through Tom wrote me yesterday and posed this question:

Am I too much of a romantic and/or naive to think that, regardless of age/our station in life/goals etc., that love IS enough and that the heart CAN dictate what we end up doing...?

Granted, we were catching up about what had happened between Tom and I, (he had just found out that we broke up) but this question holds so much more weight to me than in what context it was posed. It is the first time in so very long that I've heard like this with a belief in love/the heart that outweighs logic and analysis. It forced me to think seriously about what it is that I DO really believe. Years ago, I would have been the one posing that question to someone else. Over the course of time, many painful and wrong choices, and lots of heartache, I have become hardened to the ability to think with the heart. I've become too logical in ways and lost some of the magic that comes along with thinking with my heart. I used to be so carefree and giving of love and the years have eroded the bank of joy that's produced through feelings. I talk here about being child-like and letting go of trying to control each outcome, yet do I really take the time to let my heart do some of the talking every now and then? Of course as you get older, decisions become harder and choices hold more weight, but I wonder if some of the 'secret to life' IS to believe that love is enough and that love has that much power. Needless to say, Dave gave me a big fat chunk of something to ponder and it's aroused a way of thinking for me that's been dormant for a very long time. The funniest part is that I never would have pegged Dave for being such a romantic, ha! It's funny what you can learn about people when you just begin to engage interest in who they really are.

I have no idea what lies ahead for me but I do know this...I would so much rather believe in love and in the magic of what it can do in life than remain hardened. This ties completely into my faith as well since, as Hebrews states, faith is being "sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see". Doesn't love operate on the same illogical basis and doesn't it require faith, too? Hmmm, something very very real to think about and I am quite grateful for all the ways in life that things like this are revealed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dave. I'm thankful that you did.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Countdown Has Begun

I came into work this morning already mentally checked out for the week. My boss doesn't come in until later this afternoon, I've gotten totally caught up on work, and I can only think of Thanksgiving food. This is gonna make for a looooong day. However, I'm still smiling from having such a fun weekend! I had beers with friends, did all the Thanskgiving shopping with Allison, heard an awesome sermon at church, and had the greatest football Sunday to date. First off, Allison and I did great this year not going overboard with the food shopping. Most people know that we cook enough to feed an army each Thanksgiving so we made it a goal not to go crazy this time. However, there will still be enough stuffing made to feed us for a week. :D That's become my favorite dish over the mashed potatoes so, since it's Allison's favorite as well, of course you know we have to make a gluttonous amount. Anyway, I'm absolutely counting down for Thursday and I'm just so excited to eat delicious food, thank the good lord above for so very much, and to share an eight year old tradition with my sister.

Back to Sunday. We do football every week at a little bar called Citibar in my old neighborhood. The manager, Derrick, has been so good to us since the first day we came in. I love getting people together there to bring him business and we've gotten a nice little crowd of regulars together for Sundays. Anyway, the owner is friends with retired Giants punter, Sean Landeta, and he actually agreed to do an appearance there yesterday afternoon:
Derrick had told us about this last week but I'd never have thought it would be so much fun. Sean brought his Superbowl and other championship rings for people to see and he had his original jersey and helmet. I mean, we were like little kids playing around, taking pictures, was honestly so fun. He spent the most time with our group and it didn't hurt for him to see us gals representing in our jerseys either, hehe. It was a blast:
I just had to make a note of all this because we really spent the day laughing and enjoying being together. It seemed to be fitting as a way to kick off Thanksgiving week and I was able to just smile as I went to bed last night knowing just how blessed I am with the people I have in my life. So, that said, I begin the countdown to turkey day and can already taste the stuffing. 3 more days...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Introducing Gianna...

Let me just say that I am beyond blessed with the friends I have in my life. Not only is my sister one of the closest people to me, but I have the most amazing girlfriends too that are honestly like precious jewels in the crown of life. One of them, Erica, had her first child, Gianna Marie, back in May of this year. I couldn't resist posting a photo of her while she was pregnant, this time last year:
Isn't she beautiful? :) Anyway, Erica is my first very close friend to have a baby and it's been so much fun for me to be a part of. I was actually fortunate enough to meet sweet Gianna, or Gia as we call her, two weeks after she was born! I went down to GA for Ami's wedding (another precious friend of mine!) the weekend of May 22nd and I was lucky enough to spend an entire afternoon with Erica, her husband Austin and sweet Gia. It will always be one of my favorite memories:
Anyway, as the year has gone on, I've had to deal with being a thousand miles away and watching Gia grow in photos. She's already been on a plane a couple of times, she's had her first Halloween, her first tooth is coming in...I mean, she's already growing like a weed! Ok, I just have to brag on her and post a couple of my favorite photos of her so far:
I mean, how cute is she?!? I just want to squeeze her. I write all of this today because, as of this morning, she is officially starting to crawl! I swear, I get so excited about every Gia update, you'd think she was my kid. I had to dedicate a post to this sweet little girl because, even though she doesn't know it, she's brought a smile to me on some of my toughest days. So, I had to 'celebrate' her a bit this morning and share exactly why she is so dear to my heart. :) Happy Wednesday!

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's A New Day

Another weekend has quickly passed but happily not without laughter and fellowship. I had a wonderful time on Friday cooking, sipping wine and chatting with my girls. I honestly just cherish those evenings. It brings me joy whenever I'm able to cook for people and I seriously wish that was my job. I realllly need for Allison and I to get this personal chef business off the ground, hee hee. Anyway, it's been so long since I had chicken and dumplings so I enjoyed every bit of the dinner myself:
I'm proud to say that it was delicious. :) I had an awesome six mile run on Saturday and had a blast doing Sunday football ritual. I did meet Kristine for church before football but it was funny because neither one of us got anything out of the sermon for some, nothing big to report there, haha! Can't win 'em all though, right?

I also finished 'The Shack' over the weekend and just loved it. It's the most wonderful portrayal of the lord's presence in our lives and it conveys who he is in the most unexpected of ways. I felt a variety of emotions as I went through the story, each one sort of 'teaching' and reminding me that there is just so much to experience and absorb about god. We have the most limited viewpoint as humans of who he is and what he can do. It was refreshing to read a story that not only allows the imagination to run free but that conveys the most important of all things about god - love. Thanks for the recommendation, Erica! I'm passing it on to Allison to read next.

I worked more in Esther as well and we're beginning week three already! I absolutely love Beth Moore and I seriously wonder how I've never done a study of hers before. I forgot how great it is to get into the "meat" of scripture by way of a bible study like this. I'm enjoying it so much! I think it's exactly the right study for myself, Erica and Allison to be sharing together and god is sure to do some awesome work in the three of us as we go forward. Such a sweet blessing!

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Love Friday!

I know I know, we all love Friday...but this has been a particularly long week for me. I've been slammed at work and trying to keep my head above water and I'm also staying strictly in line with my running schedule. Combine the two and I've just been exhausted. My shins have been acting up this week and it's made for a couple of stressful runs. Back when I first started running I had issues with my shins. I grew out of it but I felt discouraged this week with feeling pain again, as I haven't in quite some time. I have file miles scheduled for tomorrow so hoping I can knock it out with ease.

Anyway, back to being happy that it's Friday! I'm having sweet friends over for dinner tonight and I'm cooking homemade chicken and dumplings. This dish brings back such warm memories of growing up. My mom would make this for us as a treat and, each year when the weather turns colder, I instantly think of it and long to be near her. That said, I thought it would be so fun to cook it for my friends and share a little piece of home with them! It's windy and cold here today so I really look forward to some red wine, comfort food, and laughter with my favorite people.

Allison and I also finalized our holiday party invites and got them sent out yesterday. They are SO cute and I'm totally excited to finally throw a party after four (yes four!) years of talking about it. We've gotten great responses so far and I even have a couple of friends who had already planned to be in town the weekend we're having it. So, I really can't wait to share some of the holiday season with people dear to my heart. I absolutely love the holidays and I'm totally one of those people who want the tree to stay up for months, hee hee. So, this plus getting ready for Thanksgiving in LESS than two weeks has me all buzzing with excitement. I love it! :D

On a side note, I read a verse this morning that I thought was so neat. It's from Ecclesiastes 9:4 and it says, "Anyone who is among the living has hope". I mean, wow! That is just the most uplifting 'promise' to reflect on and I share it because I've had a smile on my face since reading it. I love how some verses in the bible are incredibly short "but sweet" and that one is no exception. So, as we go into yet another much needed and deserved weekend, I'm excited by such hope and feel a bit giddy by it, too. I have just a few hours to go before I leave the office, throw my apron on, and get to cookin'. Hooray for Friday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

God Works In Mysterious Ways

You always hear people say that "god works in mysterious ways" and I've literally scoffed at that in the past. These days I feel differently. Yesterday, I was privileged enough to get the most thoughtful and encouraging note from an old high school friend. She had come to read my blog and was able to catch up on where I am in life and she empathized completely. She shared a bit of her heart with me about a similar experience she'd had with a breakup and how she found herself feeling empty, lost, alone. She told me how painful it was and how she felt she'd never go on. Then, she told me that she DID find strength through faith to carry on and that life took a totally different turn than she thought. That turn lead her to her terrific husband and the life she leads now. What a glorious blessing! Out of the blue, this gal literally reached out to me to share her sorrow in hopes that I could take comfort in the place I find myself currently. I thought it to be so touching and a complete gift from god. She encouraged me to press onward and to not lose faith, assuring me that god has something greater in store.

How often do we pray for a "sign" from god or for an answer to let us know he hears us? I have asked over and over for the lord to hold me up and sustain me in this time of change but I've mainly asked for a way to "see" him here on earth. I cannot even list all the little things that have been happening to me lately that are absolute examples of his presence. I'm being strengthened daily in the strangest of ways but I truly believe that my prayer is being answered. This is not coincidence. To receive that note from sweet Amanda yesterday was another completely unexpected (yet tremendous!) way that I know god is listening. In moments like these, I know truly that god very much does work in mysterious ways.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Why Does The Weekend Fly?

I'll never be able to understand how Monday comes around so fast. I'd gladly work a ten or even twelve hour day just to have three day weekends. Sigh. Anyway, I had a terrific weekend. My friend, Patrick, came through town with some buddies on Friday and I was so thrilled. It's been about five years since we've seen each other! He and his friends were heading up to Niagra and I was lucky enough to have him pass through the city to visit me. Allison joined us and we just spent the evening laughing, trading stories, making memories. It was a good night. :)

Saturday, I went for a run and had an awesome phone date with Brant after. He's one of my oldest friends and has seen me through some terrible times in life. So, it made me feel really great when he commented on seeing some changes in me and feeling as though I'm different. He said he can tell that there's a part of me that's "letting go" and it made me smile. Because I am. Though I already feel this way myself, it's so neat to hear the friends that know me best voice their opinion which kinda allows me to have that validation, in a sense. Right after I hung up with Brant, I got the best call from Ami, too. She was baking with her niece, nephew and step-daughter and they called me on speaker to tell me they missed me. I swear, there's nothing like those sweet little voices yelling WE MISS YOU, VALERIE! to brighten your day. :) Anyway, I met some friends for dinner and drinks that night and had such a great time.

Sunday, I met Kristine at Redeemer for church and it was yet another awesome sermon from Tim Keller. That man is just amazing. I really wish I didn't dislike the church so much as a whole because I'd become a member in a heartbeat. Afterward, we did football Sunday as usual at Citibar and then I invited Allison over for dinner. I cooked shepherd's pie (which I'd been craving for two weeks!) and we had a lovely evening in.

The weather was gorgeous here all weekend, too. It was warm in the sun and cool when the breeze blew. People were out and about sipping coffees, strolling along, sitting out on stoops. Everyone seemed to have one common goal of enjoying the beautiful sunshine and sharing laughter amongst friends. I love these days in NY where it feels like the whole city is on exactly the same page. It was just about a perfect Fall weekend! I really had a great time meeting some new people over the last couple of days and it reminds me of just how many things there are to experience out there. I can only hope that everyone was equally as fond of me. :)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Happy Fall Y'all!

I so love my sweet banner that Allison bought for me. It allows me to have a little touch of GA in my Big Apple apartment:
Fall is my favorite season. You get that crisp air while the sun's still warm and the evenings are just cool enough to wrap up with a blanket and a nice glass of red wine. I also get reflective every year at this time as some of my most significant experiences in life have happened in Fall. People tend to have a "never look back" attitude in life but I'm so opposite. I love looking back at the mistakes that I've either learned from or not and also at each detail that has brought me where I am. I don't look back with regret, I look back with fondness and anticipation of the future.

This year, Fall is an equal mix of challenge and hope for me. There has been a great deal of change happening in my life recently and, though I feel like I'm balancing it the best I can, sometimes I feel so weary and wish someone could just take sadness, pain, and heartache away. I've gotten very good at stomping out negative thoughts (thanks Cori!) and I know time will only make that better for me but boy, is it exhausting and such hard work. It's funny because I see a mixture of this same challenge and hope in many of my friends presently. Some have gotten engaged to the people they love and some have found new jobs while others are suffering loss of relationships and heartache of trauma in their marriage or work life. It's just a crazy thing to see such contrasts but I'm trying to absorb as much 'education' as I can from others' situations and my own past experience so that I can consistently grow and learn. I really hope this time of reflection can be different for me this year and that I can work hard to just "be", here and now, instead of look too far ahead.

On a brighter note, I sent the cookies to Jack yesterday and got the sweetest 'thank you' from him. It really warmed my heart. I adore him and he's definitely a big gift from my time with Tom, as he introduced me to Jack. :) I definitely saved a few cookies for myself also and ate two for dinner last night, mmm:
They were freakin' good. Now, if I can just make it through the next couple of hours, I'll finally have a glass of sangria in hand and much needed time with my sweet girls. El Faro, here we come!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Esther and The Shack

I started a new Beth Moore bible study last night called 'Esther: It's Tough Being a Woman'. Mom has been doing this very study in a group back home for a few weeks now and thought Allison and I would really enjoy it. She decided to buy us the books, Erica jumped on board too, and the three of us started it officially last night. I had had a very tough day yesterday followed by an intense counseling session so I needed somewhere to put my focus last night. In doing just one day of the study, I'm already excited and hopeful for what I'll learn and take with me!

Additionally, Erica had been talking to me forever about reading 'The Shack' and, after Cori mentioned it to me last week as well, I decided to see if dad had it in stock. He did! He sent it right up to me and I'm 3/4 through already. It's fantastic and I'll probably end up finishing it tonight. I think anyone out there feeling a lack of connection to the lord these days would benefit from being reminded of just how much love he has for us. Check out the book for an easy and quite poignant read:

I'm ready for the work-day to end so I can go for a run, bake my famous chocolate chip cookies (a treat for Jack to celebrate his awesome marathon finish!), and jump into day two of Esther. :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Marathon Sunday

The New York Marathon happens the first weekend of November every year and it proves to be the most incredible day of the year in the city. 40,000 runners take on the task of completing the 26.2 miles beginning on Staten Island and concluding in Central Park and nearly all residents of the city come out to cheer on and applaud these amazing athletes. It is truly the most touching and unifying day in a city normally so full of selfishness and hardship. I look so forward to this day every year because it personally touches a part of my heart, both because of my love of running, and because of the tremendous support that total strangers show one another. It is awesome. For example, this guy from last year really gave out hugs to runners who were weary and needed a boost:
Another marathon has now come and gone (took place yesterday) and it was another tear-filled celebration that I'm so privileged to be a part of. Shamefully, we took NO pictures this year so here are a couple from last year:
This is at Mile 23 in Central Park:
You can get an idea of how neat it is to be alongside such amazing runners. Marathon day reminds me so much of what hope and opportunity is out there in life. It's such an inspirational showing of dedication, drive, ambition and passion which are things that I strive for in my everyday life. I am a runner myself and, as mentioned, have a love of the "sport" that reaches a place in my heart that's quite personal and moving. I've always placed this stigma on myself that I "can't" do certain things and it's a stronghold in my life that I pray fiercely against. Running a marathon is one of those things I "can't do" and, each year that passes, I swear I'm going to train for it the following year. I've run countless races of all mileage counts, including a half marathon which was one of the greatest days of my life:

I smiled practically the whole race and cheered as people cheered for me:
I finished with a 2:15 time and, for my first half marathon, I was incredibly pleased AND overjoyed to share the experience with Allison:
I point this out because days like marathon day spark a fire in me that is hard to describe in words. But, so much of our walk with god can be compared to that very race. With the marathon, you have to be slow and steady starting out while eating properly along the way, steadily hydrating, and maintaining focus for an extended period of time. This is so like our relationship with god and how he grows us over time as we maintain focus and draw life and strength from his word and plan. We trust blindly and give ourselves over to the lord so that he can shape us into being able to 'run the race of life' with joy and faith. It's such a moving analogy that I identify with completely each and every year as marathon day comes around. As Hebrews (12:1-2) so powerfully says, "...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." If, or should I say WHEN I do run a marathon, I know this passage would play in my mind as it would be a true accomplishment for me in more ways than one. We'll see if this time next year I'll be posting full marathon photos vs. half. ;)