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A Bridge Back To You

I feel as if my heart is spinning atop a compass which can’t find its’ true north. Endlessly turning, searching, and incapable of finding that which it longs for.

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My heart hasn’t been in the mood to write recently, but today is a day that requires more than a passing nod.  I’m going to get a little sidetracked and write what is on my heart, so be forewarned. For the first time in three years, I am again a resident of West Virginia. And to be honest, I don’t feel the way I thought I would about this move. It feels like I’ve been running from my past, only to have it catch up with me, throwing me back into the life which I left behind. Even though I am a different person than the one who left, even though I am stronger and a better version of myself, I feel drawn back into that shell of a girl, constrained by my environment and the obligations of life.

I always thought my heart was here. But now I feel as if my heart is spinning atop a compass which can’t find its’ true north. Endlessly turning, searching, and incapable of finding that which it longs for. Maybe there is no right path or direction. Maybe we just live the life which is thrust upon us. But why should that be good enough!? Why must there always be a sacrifice? We give up so much. We let happiness slip through our fingers to cling to responsibility, to obligation, to commit to our own perceived duty. What if it’s all wrong? …But what other path is there? Even if I wish I could be somewhere else, I am currently constrained and confined to this place. Once a place of peace for my heart, now feels like a prison.

Perhaps my heart just longs to wander forever in search of a place… or a person… to make me feel like I am where I should be…to make me feel like I am home. Home is becoming less of a physical destination in my life. “We will never be truly at home again. That is the price we pay for knowing and loving people in more than one place.” The more places I travel, the more people I meet, the more my heart is torn in different directions. I am torn in two, forever pulled between who I was and who I am becoming. Three years ago today, I first set foot in Idaho. Maybe I am just being sentimental today. Maybe I just miss you and what we could have been. Maybe I let you slip away, but maybe you let me go. Perhaps there is a bridge out there, which will one day reconnect our worlds. Perhaps that bridge has been burned forever. But for you, I would build a brand new bridge if it meant I could come back to you.

Count It All Joy

Trials not only help us to grow as individuals, they give us an opportunity to become more like Christ.

On our voyage across the United States from West Virginia to Idaho, my mother and I took our time exploring as much as possible while we were blessed with the opportunity. Missouri allowed us to visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum & Library. Regardless of your political affiliations, Presidential Libraries are pretty neat if you enjoy jumping into history for a time. Now, since I haven’t really studied American History since 9th grade….this part of our journey was a nice refresher. It was interesting to follow the political trail of one of the leaders of this country and to learn more about his personal background. It was a day immersed in the life of our 33rd President.

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My personal favorite sight was viewing Truman’s famous desk sign “The Buck Stops Here.” I now have a replica of this sign on my own desk to inspire me to press on. Sometimes life becomes overwhelming and work piles up. Dumping our problems on someone else may seem like a good idea at the time. In reality, no one can do our job as well as we can. We are unique. We were stitched together by the hands of God. He has given us individual talents and gifts which we can use everyday to reach a broken and hurting world. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes the shoes we have to fill just seem too big. But God has reminded us that nothing is too big for Him to handle. He will sustain us, strengthen us, and support us in this life no matter what path we walk. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” ~Galatians 6:9

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I was reading one of my favorite novels the other day. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte wrote: “Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.” Sometimes life brings us more than we think we can handle. We want to take the easy road out, to say that we simply can’t do it. We may be tempted to give up, but we have to press on. If we are placed in a position that requires us to give of ourselves, if our spirits are strained by the burdens we are up against, we should be thankful. Trials not only help us to grow as individuals, they give us an opportunity to become more like Christ. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” ~James 1:2-3

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Life is confusing, complicated, and it never works out the way we plan. Everyday new challenges await us. We have to learn to view those bumps in the road as opportunities. Maybe God is trying to tell us something, teach us a lesson, give us an experience that we can use to help someone else later on. God has given us a job to do. No matter what your chosen career path is, if you are the President, or a humble farmer….the buck has to stop with us. We have to give it everything we have within our heart and spirit to give. Maybe that extra push will allow us to reach someone in need, to help heal a hurting heart, or to lead someone towards Christ. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for the Lord.” ~Colossians 3:23

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When The Road Seems Long

Idaho. It might as well have been on the opposite end of the Earth. My mother and I had been driving for days and it didn’t seem like we were making much progress. We decided to stop for a while and explore more of Fulton, Missouri. After a quick Google search, we discovered the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College. My mother and I have very similar interests, one of which includes a love of history. The pull of the WWII era is always enticing given that my Grandfather served in the Navy. He loves to tell us stories of his war days, and we love to listen.

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The architecture of the church was beautiful and the history lessons abounded. We were thoroughly enchanted by the woodwork, captivated by the immense size of the organ,  and charmed by the intricate details of the space. This stop on our road trip was a delight for the eyes, and proved to be rather instructional and refreshing.

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And yet, surprises lie around every corner. While strolling through the gift shop, we came across some hand blown glass pieces which were made by Blenko in West Virginia. What. Are. The. Odds???????? The very church we had just toured… the beautiful stained glass windows we had seen…made in West Virginia, not 30 minutes from our home. This small card brought me to tears. It felt like home was a million miles away. I had been trying so diligently to distract my heart and my mind…but sometimes you just can’t forget so easily. Sometimes the pain comes in waves and the road seems very long.

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Winston Churchill often spoke of endurance, continuing to fight through difficult circumstances, and embracing our failures as learning opportunities. He was a man who refused to give up. One of Churchill’s most famous quotes is: “If you’re going through hell – keep going.” I had to keep moving. I had come too far to break down now. I had made so   many mistakes and done so many things that I can’t take back. I had lived through pain which I never thought possible. This was my chance. One very long road to a new life. One path to find forgiveness.

Romans 5:3 says: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.”

James 1:2-4 says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 

Rejoicing in our sufferings. Finding joy in our pain. That is not easy to do  when you are going through the fire is it? Often all we can feel is the pain, all we see is the hurt, all  we know are the broken hopes and dreams which once made up our lives. It takes time.

Looking back on my past, I see how God used my circumstances. He used my pain to spring me forward into a different life, a new life in Him. He healed my broken heart and brought me out of the shame of my previous life. His purpose was in my pain. Had I never gone through what I did, I would never have learned to fully trust God. I would have never found strength through Him and within myself. I would never have left West Virginia, and the Good Lord only knows where I would be now. Sometimes we need the fire. We need to burn away everything that we were. We need to let God refine us and rebuild us into something better than we could have imagined.

It won’t be easy. It will be a long road friends. But, it will be worth it in the end. Just keep moving forward, one step at a time. Just keep Gracefully Seeking.

 

 

Unexpected Turns

Unexpected turns may, in fact, be among our greatest adventures.

Life doesn’t always go the way we expect. Sometimes we end up at a cross-road and we don’t know which way to turn. Other times, we happen across the most amazing things which just seem to be dropped in our paths. Things pop into our lives when we least expect them to, and that can be wonderful, or terrible depending on the circumstances.

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When I last wrote about my road trip across the country, my mother and I had just visited St. Louis. Our next stop was to be Chimney Rock, but we got more than a little sidetracked on the way there. Somewhere in the middle of Missouri, we happened upon a little town called Fulton. We saw a sign for an auto museum and decided to check it out since we  were a  little tired of driving. After driving down a gravel road to a giant building out in the middle of nowhere, we were not entirely sure what to expect. But, it seemed like a nice detour since we both enjoy classic cars.

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To our surprise, we had the place to ourselves. We wondered through the rows of beautiful cars and let our thoughts dwell on the history in that room. It was an incredible collection that made you feel like you had taken a Delorean for a drive back in time.

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But my favorite part was the antique piano. After placing a couple of quarters into the machine, our ears were delighted with a lively tune that set a brilliant atmosphere to enjoy the views. We sat on a bench and admired the general splendor. Music can really make an ordinary experience, extraordinary.

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We had no idea such an eclectic adventure had awaited us when we hopped in the car that morning. However, my mother and I have reminisced frequently about our random stop to the auto museum and count it among one of the best random finds of our road trip. We can’t always see where God is leading us, but trusting in him to direct our path can lead to some of our best and most amazing memories. Psalms 16:11 says: “You make known the path of life.” He brings us to joys which we never saw coming. Unexpected turns may, in fact, be among our greatest adventures.

Gracefully Seeking

I have heard many people say that God will never give us more than we can handle – but I don’t think that is the truth.

When I started this blog, I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be or what it would become. Perhaps it was because I was a little lost myself, and maybe I still am. Many people do not think as I do. We all have different beliefs, thoughts, aspirations. That in itself is wonderful. The fact that we are all different means that we can learn from one another. As I sit at my computer, I still can’t see the end picture. I can only look back and try to fit the pieces together in my life. It’s not always easy when you can’t see the road ahead and that sense of feeling lost, without direction, can be overwhelming. There are so many things that I will probably never understand. What I do know, is that everything happens for a reason and that it is all part of God’s masterful plan.

I know what you might be thinking: (oh great- she’s going to talk about God – I’m not sure I even believe in God – If there was a God then X,Y,Z wouldn’t have happened-Ect.). Please hear me out. This world is full of pain and heartache – believe me I see it everyday. It is not always an easy path, trust me on that one. But if I have learned anything from my life, it is that God’s plan is always, ALWAYS, greater than what we can imagine. Every step, decision, struggle, and tear can, and will be used for His glory. I have cried many tears in my life and I am very familiar with heartbreak. In fact, it is those trying times which often lead me to the trails. I hike to escape, to disconnect, to feel something-anything-when life has pushed me to the point of feeling numb. I have heard many people say that God will never give us more than we can handle – but I don’t think that is the truth. I think he will give us more than we can take, so that we are pushed to our knees, and our only option is to cry out to Him for help. He allows us to go through difficult times so that we learn to be strong. He lets us be broken so that he can heal us. Parents can’t keep their children safe all the time. Eventually, they have to let them grow up, to think for themselves, and to walk on their own two feet. God, our Heavenly Father, does the same for us. He molds us and makes us into who we are meant to become. No growth or change could occur in our lives if nothing ever happened to us, or if we were never given the chance to help another in need.

We all learn to deal with things in different ways. We tend to drift toward those things or people who bring us joy. I have always been a solitary person. I go to the woods, walk through the trees, and beside the flowing streams. I take photographs of things that I find beautiful to remind myself that there is still beauty in the world. The solace that nature brings to my soul allows me to reconnect with God. It makes me feel alive again. As I said before, I believe that there is a reason for everything. When I was trying to decide what to call this blog, I chose Gracefully Seeking. Little did I know that God even had His hand in that. I was going to tell of my adventures, to start another travel blog, to explain how I have been seeking life in this world. Writing brought me joy and served as an outlet for the stress which accompanies my life. I had no idea that God was leading me to this…but I feel it now. I have been seeking something in my life-a way to follow my passions and to find joy in what I do. I have been seeking His grace.

I have a confession. I have been angry. With life, with God, with circumstances outside my control. I have been avoiding God. I know I can’t hide from Him, but I could miss church, and not open my Bible, and forget to pray. I’ve let it all build up inside me and I was ready to explode. Tonight, I had finally had enough. I was in my kitchen, cooking dinner, thinking, when I just started talking out loud to God. Saying that I was mad and that I didn’t understand and how I couldn’t believe He had brought me here. I broke down in tears, and then I prayed – for guidance, direction, for a way out, a light for the path ahead because I had NO IDEA where I was supposed to go next.

Then I opened my Bible, looking for passages on finding direction and dealing with anger. I was led to Ephesians 4: 25 which says: “…speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” I knew I had to tell someone about how I have been feeling. Verse 26 continues and says: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Then it clicked – all this anger inside of me, everything that I had bottled up, wasn’t helping anyone – except the devil; it was allowing a weakness to be in my life, an area that he could target and pull me down. I read on to verse 31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” I have been forgiven. You, my brothers and sisters, have been forgiven. That is great news. What place does anger have in my heart? My heart should be filled with thankfulness due to the mercy and grace that has been shown to me. The next chapter in Ephesians talks about walking in love – showing that forgiveness and grace to those around us, holding fast to our faith to see us through every circumstance, and seeking to be like God. Seeking. What I didn’t see all this time is that God has been gracefully seeking me! Waiting for me to return and to seek His grace once again.

I will continue to share with you the many adventures and beautiful sights God has led me to thus far. But I am transforming this blog, as He has transformed my life, into something that will be for His glory, and not my own. My story has been written by His hand, my steps have been directed by His light, and everything that has happened in my life, good and bad, has led me to this moment. He has given me a way to use my gift to His glory and honor, and I hope you will seek His grace along with me.

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The Day Which Started It All

It’s never easy to leave home, to embrace change, to step out into the great unknown…literally…but I did.

July 22, 2014…the day which changed my life forever. It’s never easy to leave home, to embrace change, to step out into the great unknown…literally…but I did.

I grew up on a small farm in the hills of West Virginia. It was always beautiful. I was surrounded by a loving family and the best friends I could ever ask for. I told them all that I was leaving for a job. When you come from West Virginia, that is not an unbelievable statement. The poverty rate has always been high and good jobs are scarce. But, truth be told, that was a lie conveyed in a selfish attempt to make the separation easier. I wasn’t fooling anyone – especially myself. Leaving my family, and West Virginia, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But, at that time in my life, it was just harder to stay.

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Small towns are beautiful. You feel the connection to everyone around you. There is always someone around willing to go out and have fun, or to grab a cup of coffee if you want to chat. You can’t go out in public without running into someone you know. Which can be great since you never feel alone. But there is nothing worse than being in a small town when you want to be alone because you don’t want, or can’t, talk about what is going on in your life. The events which led up to my breaking point could fill up a book, much less a blog post, so I will save that story for another day. What matters is that I found myself in a state of…restructuring…for lack of a better term. My life, plans, and emotional stability took a major hit. Actually my life plan was completely obliterated. I was left clinging to nothing but my faith and hope that God could make it all work out someday. Looking back now, the transformation that those heartaches allowed me to go through dramatically, completely, and utterly restructured me into the best version of myself. But believe me when I say that it has been a LONG road…a road that has led me to the opposite side of the country and back again.

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Escape. A fresh slate. That is what I wanted – to go to a place where no one knew my story. That was the only way I could get past it all. I had to move on. I needed to forget, and that meant leaving everything that I knew and loved. I applied to internships all over the continental United States and then I waited. Believe it or not, I didn’t wait long. Actually, it was all of two days before I received a phone call. After a phone interview and a smack to my own face to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I had accepted a job in Twin Falls, Idaho. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even sure where Idaho was. I had to Google it. Potatoes. Right? That’s all I knew having never been farther West than Kentucky. I packed my bags and my car with reckless abandon and prepared for the long (2000+ mile)  journey ahead. I was excited, and terrified, and overcome with all the emotions swirling through my heart. Everything happened so quickly. It had all fallen into place so easily. I thought that somewhere in the midst of all this chaos must be God’s plan. Or at least I hoped it was.

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Worst case scenario – it was only for a year. After my internship was over, I could finally finish my graduate degree and I could come home again if I wanted to. I remember that morning like it was yesterday. My Rav-4 was completely packed to the ceiling with my belongings. I said a tearful goodbye to the animals. My mom got into the passenger seat of the car. It was time. My Dad is not a man of many words. Well…that is not entirely true. Normally, if I was leaving on a trip, he would begin chatting off a large check list of things to do, and check, and ways to be careful. But not that day. He just looked at me and I at him. Neither of us could say goodbye and we were both on the verge of tears. So I hugged him, really hard. And then I practically ran to the car before I could call the whole thing off. Then I drove. Praying to have the strength not to turn into a crying ball of mush.

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We needed to make time the first day. Well, I needed to put enough distance between myself and West Virginia so that I wouldn’t turn around. My mother and I had big plans and sights to see. It was to be a Mother-Daughter-Trip-Extravaganza! Road trip playlist was a go, and so was the coffee. We headed West – through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and into Missouri – St. Louis to be exact. Lucky for us, I had a friend who was living in town with her husband. They were kind enough to let us crash on the couch for the night. The next day we were given the grand tour of St. Louis from the Gateway Arch down to Union Station. We walked through the train museum and ended the evening with a pasta dinner at Anthonino’s Taverna which had been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It was certainly worth the stop. We enjoyed the company of friends and prepared for our next stop on the journey. As much as my heart was still hurting, the sense of adventure was starting to set in with each mile and every new sight.

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Reminiscing

What is is about New Years Eve that brings up the past, even though we should, for one night, be focused on the future?

What is is about New Years Eve that brings up the past, even though we should, for one night, be focused on the future? Every year I find myself looking backwards. Perhaps it is to relive the good memories, or an attempt to learn from our mistakes, or even to be inspired to live differently after that clock strikes midnight. Personally, looking back through my photos allows me to recall nights of laughter with good friends, road trips to unforeseen places, and helps me to reignite those feelings of pure, surrendering awe as I stood in each captivating scene.

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I have been truly amazed more times than I can count while traveling through this enchanting world. After driving across the United States – twice – along with countless road and hiking trips, I now have photographs coming out the ears and stories just waiting to jump through my keyboard. My resolution last year was to travel as much a possible, and to seek out the small, beautiful moments of life. I would like to expand upon that resolution by sharing those moments with you. I am going to start at the beginning of my journey – when a small town girl from West Virginia got in her car, drove west, and her life changed forever. It is my hope that each of you will be inspired to seek out adventure, to break out of your comfort zone, and to enjoy the quiet, captivating moments of life. But for now my friends, enjoy your night. Drink, dance, be merry, cuddle up on the couch with your dog…whatever makes you happy. Welcome in the new year with open arms and a heart ready to seek adventure. Happy New Year To All!

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“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.” ~Traditional Irish Blessing