Friday, May 23, 2014

Above the Clouds

Right now I am 30,000 ft in the air on a plane somewhere between Portland and Texas. Although I am enclosed in a large metal tube that somehow defies gravity, I can tell that the air up here is crisp and clean. And the sun is shining up here above the clouds. Although I hate getting in a plane and leaving the city I love, I do love slowly ascending through the clouds that so often hover over Portland; and as the plane breaks through the clouds, the sunshine breaks through the plane windows. And I’m immediately overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation.
Being 30,000 ft above the earth brings a fresh perspective that tends to get lost in the chaos of our everyday lives back on the ground. From up here everything down there seems so small and simple, so smooth and easy. The rivers seems more peaceful and less rapid, the mountains seem more glorious and less treacherous, and the motion of cars and humans seems more fluid and less hectic.
As my flight took off just before 7am this morning, I was overcome by a strong feeling of gratitude. I’ve been feeling quite grateful lately. But as I sat here in my window seat, I became very aware of the many blessings in my life. And I couldn’t help but smile. And with my smile came surprising tears. I don’t know if I’ve actually ever cried “tears of joy”; I’ve never even really understood them. But there they were, mixing with my smile of gratitude. I think my gaze out the window hid these emotions from the woman sitting next to me, who probably wouldn’t have known whether to give me a high five or a Kleenex. And as you’re reading this, you’re probably not sure whether to smile with me or pray for my sanity.
What an odd flood of emotions. But despite my questionable lucidity, the focus of this post is gratitude and blessings. I truly have so many things to be thankful for…
I’m so thankful for planes that carry me from one place to another. I am thankful for people in Portland that I am sad to be away from for 10 days. I am thankful for people in Texas that I can’t wait to see and hug. I’m thankful for little nieces and nephews whose extra loud and exuberant phone calls make me extra excited for time with family. I’m thankful for a lake house where the whole family can spend a weekend full of nothing but hanging out with each other. I’m thankful for amazing college friends who invest in each other and value reunions. I’m thankful for a job that allows me to spend a little extra time out of the office. I’m thankful for a house and sweet roommates to come home to. I’m thankful for a God who shows up in a million big and little ways in my life.
God is Good
A month or two ago, life felt very heavy. Nothing seemed to be going my way. I can think of four big aspects of life that were up in the air. I was scrambling to pull everything back together, but waiting for it to all come crashing down around me. And then I made a conscious decision: I’m actually going to hand all of this over to God. So with each thing that was up in the air, I did my part to try to help the situation and then said, “Ok God, I’m handing it over to you. I trust you. Do what you will with it.”
My constant thought a month ago was: “I just need to somehow make it through.” My strongest thought today was: “I didn’t know life could be so good.”
What a radical difference, and what an overwhelming experience of the goodness of God.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bold Prayers and Gratitude

For most of my life, I think I’ve had a skewed understanding of prayer. I think a lot of people do. We learned when we were young that prayer is how we talk to God. But somewhere along the way, prayer becomes simply requests that we present to God. “Help me with this… provide that… show me what to do…”
I’ve felt pretty needy over the past month or so. There seemed to be so many different things that I have needed help with. And I hate asking for help. But we’ve been told to submit our requests to God and to come before him with the desires of our hearts. So I’m really trying to pray boldly. And big.
Prayer, and even more so “answered prayers”, is a very complex concept to me. I know that I don’t have a full understanding of the practice and purpose of prayer. Over the past few years, I think I have grown in my understanding of how I should approach prayer. But how God handles prayer is still a mystery to me (and always will be).
A few weeks ago I had a really rough week. One of those weeks where it seems that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. So many things were up in the air and I was constantly praying to God for help.
And you know what… things began to happen. Problems were solved. Questions were answered. And my worries faded.
Oftentimes when I pray specific prayers to God, I just throw them up there and then forget about them and continue to work on solving those issues on my own. And then when those specific prayers are “answered”, I forget to give a prayer of gratitude. This is something I’m trying to be more aware of, and better at.
You know how you often have to remind young children to say thank you? I tend to be that young child when it comes to praying to God. I ask and I ask and my “please” comes out in a whinny, begging tone and I forget to say thank you.
But I’m working on being more grateful and expressing my gratitude to God more consistently; giving him the thanks and praise when prayers are “answered” and things start looking up. Thankfully our God is a gracious God and he is patient and forgiving. He doesn’t scold me or punish me when I am slow to say “thank you”, but when I do finally say those simple words I can feel him say with a fatherly smile, “You’re welcome. Use that answered prayer well.”

Praying Big
Another way I'm trying to amplify my prayer life is by praying big prayers.  I've gotten pretty good at the casual, everyday, basic prayers but I've always been a bit afraid (and even a bit skeptical) to pray really big prayers.  But I've come to realize that if I don't even pray those prayers - if I don't even speak them or actively hope for them - then there is no way that they could be answered.  So why not pray big prayers?  Go ahead, pray big!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Best of Friends

I feel to blessed to have many long-time friends in my life. You know, those friends who really know you and you can totally be yourself around. In the past week and a half, two of those best friends came to visit me here in Portland.
At the beginning of May, Hannah came to visit me for the 5th time! She was really here for work (Baylor MBA had a great partnership project with Nike), but she added an extra day before and after her work trip to just hang out with me. This time she brought an extra little person with her: Baby VanDyke that will be born in just a few months! Hannah has done it all in Portland, so we were able to just hang out, enjoy some good meals, nice walks, and great conversation. Hannah and I have always said that we’re each other’s “special friend” – we just get each other. Hannah is one of the most devoted friends I have and I am so grateful and amazed at how we’ve been able to maintain such a close relationship even though we’re 2,000 miles apart. Thanks for coming to visit, Hannah! Can’t wait for Baby VanDyke to have his first real visit to Portland someday!

hanging out watching an exciting Blazers game

yummy brunch at Tasty n Sons
apparently we took more pictures of our delicious meals than we did of ourselves
This past weekend my friend Anne came to visit me for the 4th time! Anne is my longest-time friend – we went to elementary school together and have been close friends ever since. She now lives in Denver and she popped over to Portland for a weekend getaway. Anne has also done it all in Portland, but we somehow still found fun adventures to fill our weekend. We enjoyed great meals, went to the farmer’s market, hiked in the Columbia River Gorge, spent an afternoon in Hood River, went to the Trail Blazers vs. Spurs playoff game (the highlight of the weekend, even though the Blazers lost and I was surrounded by Spurs fans), went to church, kayaked on the Willamette and just enjoyed hanging out in the sun. We had wonderful conversations and being together felt like being home for both of us. Thanks for coming to visit, Anne! I’ll be out to Denver soon!
Anne enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of the
Portland Farmer's Market

hike to Horsetail Falls in the Gorge
enjoying the sun and a taster tray at Full Sail in Hood River

such a fun game (besides the fact that the Blazers lost)

Sunday morning coffee date before church

Anne kayaking out on the Willamette - look at those arms!
Forever Friends
My family members will always be my closest relationships.  We're related and kind of stuck with each other for life!  But I am so grateful to have such amazing friends who are pretty much like family to me.  The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I am to have such amazing friends in my life.  I am truly blessed with friends who challenge me, speak honestly to me, give me their true opinion and value mine as well, get my sarcasm, like my quirks, encourage me and honestly make me a better person.  And the best part is, since they are my forever friends our relationships can only get deeper and better!