Set a story in Chicago and I’m glad to read it: Review of Secrets of Sloane House by Shelley Gray

I first knew of Shelley Shepard Gray as an author of Amish fiction. Now I know her writing credits stretch beyond those boundaries. In Secrets of Sloane House, writing as Shelley Gray, she pens a novel of suspense, mystery and romance set against the Chicago World’s Fair. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers Program in exchange for my review.)

sloane houseI love a story set in historical Chicago, and even though I don’t know much about the era, it’s still fun to read about the city I most love to visit. My husband recently read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, a true story of events that happened during the Chicago World’s Fair. As I read Secrets of Sloane House, I got the impression that it was like The Devil in the White City meets Downton Abbey.

Rosalind Perry is a servant in Sloane House, but she’s there under false pretenses–investigating what might have happened to her sister who was a servant there and has disappeared. As she asks questions and tries to uncover the mystery, she begins to fear for her own safety when it becomes clear that everyone around her is keeping secrets and her questions are drawing the wrong kind of attention. Only Reid Armstrong, the heir to a silver fortune, agrees to help her. Remembering his middle class roots, Reid forgoes propriety to help Rosalind, a servant in another house, much to the dismay of some of society’s members.

Though it’s not a fast-paced action kind of story, it is intriguing and held my attention. I wanted to know what happened to Rosalind’s sister, and I was interested in the World’s Fair come to life in the lives of ordinary Chicagoans of the day. The relationship between Reid and Rosalind is full of potential problems and it was fun to see how their story played out.

Secrets of Sloane House is the first in a series that I would continue reading. If you’ve read any of Gray’s Amish fiction, you’ll find this a departure from those stories, but if you’re not interested in Amish fiction, this one is worth a try.

And it makes me wish for a Downton Abbey style show set in Chicago!

The surprising word that sums up our vacation

I remember the year everything about vacation changed.

It was sometime in those middle school years, I think, and my parents took us on a trip to Florida they or someone in our family had won through some kind of promotion. And of course, there was a catch. The kind where you go on the trip in exchange for sitting through an hour-long promotion from an agency that sells condos. (We did this on our honeymoon to score some gas cards and a restaurant gift card. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done, but it also wasn’t pleasant.) My parents sat and listened to the man and his sales pitch while my brother and I did whatever we could to entertain ourselves. I remember they told my parents afterward how well-behaved we were. Maybe that was part of the pitch.

Our family walked away from the meeting that day the proud new owners of a time-share condo in Daytona Beach. I secretly thought my parents might be crazy, but I was a kid, so what did I know?

From then on, our vacation destination was set: Daytona Beach, Florida. Or, if it wasn’t too much trouble, somewhere else we could exchange our week. One year, it was Arizona. (The aforementioned honeymoon was in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is thanks to that time share week, so I guess I better not complain!)

The beach. Most summers we drove for two days to spend time at the beach.

And what I remember most about those summers is ridiculously painful sunburn (the fate of the fair-skinned) and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy about my body (the fate of the non-bikini-clad, at least that’s what I thought then). I was never a partier, so a week at the beach was not the raucous good time I’m sure some of my peers might have envisioned. In truth, I was happy to sit on the balcony of the condo (in the shade) and read book after book after book. But that was how I would have spent my summer no matter where I was. The view was just a little better in Florida.

Two years ago, our little family of four got to go to Daytona together with my parents, and that trip redeemed most of my so-so memories of Florida vacations.

But I still had my reservations about the beach. We are reluctant acquaintances.

Months ago, our friends posed the question: What would we think about taking a vacation to the beach with their family?

We’ve lived in Pennsylvania for six years and the “shore” has been on our list of things we wanted to do, just to experience what so many of our friends and acquaintances know and love. But we didn’t know where to begin or if we could go for the day, and frankly, we’ve never had the money or time to do it. Our friends go to Cape May, New Jersey, and they stay in the same house each time, and we’ve heard wonderful things about that area. So, this seemed the perfect opportunity.

Still, I was hesitant.

I’m not really a beach person, I told my friend, who is the complete opposite. She could live on the beach and be happy the rest of her days (and I love her for that). But we kept talking about it and because we love this family so much and their kids and our kids are friends, we agreed to look into and consider the costs and availability.

Long story, shorter, we booked a week in a house in Cape May, New Jersey, and last week embarked on our first-ever vacation with another family to the beach.

In the week leading up to vacation, I was super stressed out. Our kids had been back from Illinois only a few days before our beach week was to begin, and I hate packing. Plus, our travel was going to be split up. The moms and kids were going on Saturday and the dads would follow on Sunday. So, I had to segregate the packed belongings into Saturday and Sunday piles. It was overwhelming. 20140719_103529

By the time I got in my friend’s van on Saturday, I was ready for some R&R. Except that we had five kids between the two of us and more than three hours of driving ahead of us. R&R was maybe a far-fetched dream.

Traffic snarled and crawled as we drew closer to the beach. The miles ticked down on the GPS and time seemed to stand still. Then finally–FINALLY–we were at the house and out of the car and unpacking our meager belongings (the second wave of provisions would arrive Sunday night with the men). And we could hardly wait another minute to see the ocean. So, we piled back into the van and drove out to the park where the lighthouse stands. We raced over the dunes, spread our arms wide and exhaled.

IMG_20140719_175613With a breezy welcome, the ocean crashed its greeting onto the shore. We cast off our shoes and let the sand fill the gaps between our toes. The ocean teased us with its gentle lapping, and we let the cool waters wash our feet. It was a foretaste of the week to come, just enough to remind us that we had made it. We walked the shore, the kids running off their dormant energy, collecting shells, until our feet couldn’t take any more. We bid the ocean “good night” then searched for a pizza place to satisfy our hunger.

We woke the next day with plans to hit the beach for real and after a Herculean effort to wrangle five kids into swimwear and pack a lunch, we made it to the beach and the children frolicked while we soaked up sun and let the rhythmic ocean waves soothe our weary souls. (But lest I forget, the wind was fierce that day and the sand was stinging us. We may look relaxed in our pictures but we were fighting for our happy place.)

It is not easy getting to the beach, but once you’re there, it’s worth it. Each day we were at the beach, I felt like time stood still.


After dinner, we walked the promenade and stumbled upon a wedding taking place on the beach. As my friend, Beth, so eloquently observed:

We (2 exhausted mammas and 5 full of energy children) walk the mile or so to the end of the promenade-where ocean meets rocky shore-where a wedding party forms. Bridesmaids clothed in teal, hairspryed hair withstanding wind. Groom wringing his hands. A bridal white horse drawn carriage rolls to a halt. The girl children-busily imagining their weddings 20 years the making-“Ohhhh and Ahhh” as they see her, the Princess bride. As we all are taken by the magic of the moment-of the majestic ocean and mystery of love-the horse, adorned with braided hair and roses, urninates while all five of our kiddos loudly observe, “Ewww He’s peeing.”

Our men arrived later that night to find their wives barely hanging onto sanity. They’d never been more heroic in our eyes.

We had literally already been to the nut house.

We had literally already been to the nut house.

The week was full of surprises. Perhaps the most surprising was this: I actually had a good time. And by that I mean I would do it all again tomorrow. All the packing, all the driving, all the washing sand out of everything, all the protecting our lunches from seagulls, all the sunscreen, all the lotion, all the walking and sweating and cooking and cleaning.

It’s not that I expected to have a horrible time. I knew it would be fun because our friends are fun and seeing new places is fun and being together as a family is fun. I just didn’t expect to have so much fun I’m actually missing it today. Me? Missing the beach? Who’d have thought?

I had hoped to write a post listing all my favorite things about our trip or recounting all the best moments, but the truth is, I can’t choose favorite moments because there are too many. Each day was special for lots of reasons and to single out a best moment is too hard. (Plus, I don’t want you to hate me for having a fabulous beach vacation. Trust me, it’s a rarity for our family. We do not live glamorous lives all the time. Case in point, this blog post.)

So, how would I sum up our vacation? You’ve read this far, so I owe you a word, and that word is the word that I’ve been meditating on all year long.


From the splashing in the water to the digging our toes in the sand to the climbing the lighthouse steps to the date night with tasty seafood to the shared meals around the kitchen table to the late-night talks to the overall ambiance of this historical seaside resort, I enjoyed our vacation. (And if you need to know why it’s so hard for me to enjoy life, read this post.)


So, here’s my question for you: When’s the last time you were surprised by how much you enjoyed something? Care to share your story? Leave a comment so we can enjoy together.

When it’s Father’s Day and I remember

When Throwback Thursday comes around each week, I find myself thumbing through a bin of photos looking for just the right one to capture that week’s sentiment. More often than not, I spend a whole morning looking and remembering.

A few weeks ago I found a bunch from a family vacation we took out West to Utah and Arizona in 1993. The one where we drove through the desert and saw awe-inspiring rock formations and stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon breathless and speechless.

My brother is that white speck at the bottom.

My brother is that white speck at the bottom.

Later that week, I was thinking about all the places I want my kids to see in their life. How I want to take them to Niagara Falls because it’s closer than it ever was from where I grew up. How I want them to experience people and places all over the world. How I want them to remember road trips as fun and exciting, not torturous boredom. (Our daughter just agreed that traveling U.S. Route 30 from here to our hometown sounded like fun. Parenting win!)

I want them to see beyond the small slice of the world we live in. And I have my dad to thank for that.

Last year, I wrote a little bit about my dad, but recently I’ve discovered another way he has quietly shaped my life: He planted in us–my brother and me–a sense of adventure.

My dad showing us how tall this tall cactus really was!

My dad showing us how tall this tall cactus really was!

I was not what you would call a risky child. Constantly worried about doing the wrong thing or getting in trouble, I was a stick-to-the-rules-and-nobody-gets-hurt kind of girl. And trying new things was not high on my list any day of the week.

But I remember loving the idea of seeing new places.

I couldn’t tell you from memory what our first family vacation was, but I can tell you that I remember taking them.

The one that probably stands out the most is the one I mentioned earlier. It was our longest trip by car, spanning two weeks, and we packed a lot of sightseeing into those weeks. (And remember this was before the days of Google and GPS, so we planned our trip with maps and travel brochures. Old school!) Arches National Park. Zion National Park. The Grand Canyon. Utah. Arizona. And lots of places between there and our home state, Illinois.

What I always remember from those trips, imperfect as they were, is my dad. He made sure we experienced things in our childhood that were missing from his. When he saw the Grand Canyon, it was his first time also. Sharing that awe gave me a greater appreciation for whatever we were experiencing. No matter what we were doing, Dad made it an adventure.

We had this sort of unofficial rule that we couldn’t eat at places we could eat at if we weren’t on vacation. We avoided McDonald’s and Wendy’s whenever possible so we had to try new things.

Confession: This terrified me. I was so insecure in my growing up years that I didn’t know what I liked, including what I liked to eat. Ordering at a familiar restaurant was easy because I would usually just get the same thing every time. New places, though. I could hardly make up my mind and would usually just panic at the last minute and order the first thing I saw. I also had an overactive imagination (serves me well as a writer though!) so I’d imagine all the trouble we’d find by visiting a new place.

For my dad, though, it was part of the adventure. And a necessary part of the adventure. I don’t remember every off-the-beaten-path place we’ve been to, but I know my husband once found his new favorite barbecue sauce at a joint attached to a gas station. If we’d been traveling alone, we might have missed it, but my dad pulled in ready to try something new. We’ve eaten at family restaurants and new-to-us fast food places.

And I survived every single one of them.

With two young kids who I’d only call picky about when they eat not what they eat, we don’t do this enough on our travels, but my husband has a similar sense of adventure to my dad, and he builds on my childhood experiences by taking me places I’d never venture into alone. (And trust me, I’m not sorry he does it. I’d have missed out on a bacon milkshake if not for my husband.)

I’m still less of an adventurer than some people I know. I won’t be the first to volunteer for something new and even when trying something new, I’m still hesitant sometimes. I still crave the familiar and comfortable but my life is so often enriched by the unfamiliar that I’m learning to embrace those times.

I don’t know if my dad knew that’s what he was doing all those years we went on vacation or if he just brought us along on trips he thought would be fun. But I can definitely say that my increasing love of travel, of seeing new places, of visiting local eateries, started with him.

So, even though it’s hard beyond words sometimes that our family lives 800 miles from our families and hometown, our living in Pennsylvania is part of a lifelong adventure we’re passing on to our kids.

My dad took us across the country on vacation. That led me to take a trip across the ocean for a semester of college. Then it was a trip across the eastern states to make a life with my husband. Where it will lead next, I don’t know, but I’m so very thankful for a father who challenged us to see a world outside our hometown.

I’ve heard said that the best things parents can give their children is roots and wings. Because of mine, I have both. And so, I hope, will my kids.

Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all the dads out there!

What is one thing you’ve learned from your father?

What happens when God says ‘go': Review of Road Trip to Redemption by Brad Mathias

Brad Mathias’ family survived a crisis due to his infidelity when God miraculously restored his marriage and transformed his life. Eight years after that life-changing event, the Mathias family would find itself in crisis again when their middle child, Bethany, began to withdraw from everyone and everything she used to enjoy.

Responding to a prompt from God to ask her what she was hiding, Brad and his wife, Paige, discovered the root of her withdrawal, a close call with death and an eye-opening revelation that they were not as engaged with their children as they could be.

One of the ways God led them in healing and restoration was to take a two-week roadtrip to Canada and the western United States to experience nature and be together as a family.

road trip redemption coverIt’s a journey Mathias chronicles in his book Road Trip to Redemption. (Disclaimer: In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers through the Tyndale Blog Network.)

The first section of the book is some backstory and parenting principles, and while I found them helpful, I was eager to hear about the road trip and the experiences the family had traveling together. So, the first 100 pages were a little slow for me.

But sticking with it paid off. The road trip chapters are well worth the first part of the book (which gives the road trip context) and are inspiring. Mathias’ love for his children and his desire for them to see God for themselves in a personal way in their lives is evident. We’ve experienced one road trip vacation as a family with our young children and Mathias’ tales of their trip made me eager to take our kids on trips as they grow older.

The point of the book, however, is not to say that every family needs to pack up and head out on a road trip, although Mathias provides some tips and plans in the back of the book for that. Instead, he encourages families to be in tune to the uniqueness of their personalities and engage kids where they are. One of the reasons this road trip was necessary for Mathias’ family was the disconnect between the parents and what was really going on with the kids.

In the final chapter, Mathias ties the road trip to parenting and what all parents can learn from this experience.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, which contains pictures of their trip and journal entries from Paige and the kids, and found it a helpful reminder to invest in my kids and my marriage and not become too busy or out of touch that I can’t see what’s really going on. I was inspired by Mathias’ obedience to God when he heard things that didn’t seem to make sense but turned out to be some of the most special experiences of the trip.

For more, check out

5 on Friday: Day trips in my neck of the woods

One of the perks about moving to a state that isn’t your home state is the adventure of exploring the area and discovering its day-trip treasures.

Here are 5 day trips we’ve taken since living in Pennsylvania.

1. Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This is one of the most memorable things we’ve done. We even had the chance to look up Phil’s ancestors and find out more about their arrival in the U.S.


2. National Zoo. Pandas. Enough said, right?


3. Longwood Gardens. This has become one of my favorite places. My soul sighs when we walk through the doors. Flowers, plants, water, beauty. It’s been a while since we’ve visited, and I miss it. (And no single picture can do it justice.)



4. Jim Thorpe. We took a train ride through a gorge and learned about the man after whom the town is named.


liberty bell5. Philadelphia. Our first, and really most obvious daytrip after we moved. I want to go back so we can see and do more.

And that barely scratches the surface of all the cool places within a day’s drive of here. Guess we’ve got plenty to keep us busy!

If you’ve got cabin fever like me, I encourage you to find some neat places within a day’s drive and make plans to visit. Local treasures are the best!

Safe travels

I drove today. Nothing shocking in that statement; I just had a lot of time to think. None of us left the house for any reason yesterday, which was a rare treat. Still, there are days I wish we had somewhere to go.

When I worked for newspapers, I did a lot of driving. Not a truck driver’s worth of driving  or anything, but more than I was used to on a regular basis. I usually enjoy the chance to let my mind wander and ponder. On many nights driving home from a late school board meeting, I’d write the story in my head so I’d have less work to do when I got to the office. Now, I find that I do most of my in-head writing while I’m washing dishes. I suppose I should be thankful for all the dishes needing washed. The novel I’m working on takes on new dimensions every time I find myself tethered to the sink with a mound of dirty dishes.

I’ve become sort of a homebody. Almost hermitish. If I don’t have to go somewhere, I don’t look for excuses. Home is comfortable. And safe.

© Xposeld |

But I’m starting to miss the movement. I want to be on my way. Our family feels a little stuck right now. Like when I was on my way today, stopped in single-lane traffic around a curve in a construction zone not-so-patiently waiting my turn. I’m always sure that just when I pull up to the flagger holding the sign, he’s going to flip it to “stop.” That’s what life feels like, a little. Just when we feel like we’re going somewhere, God says “wait.” Or “stop.” And we sit there, letting all the oncoming traffic pass us by.On the way home, at the same construction zone, I got behind a dump truck when it was our direction’s turn to use the single lane. Part way through the zone, the dump truck pulled off to the construction side of the road and I found myself eerily alone on the one-lane road. And I thought how much trust I had placed in the flaggers to do their job and not send a horde of oncoming traffic into my path. The same is true for this zone of life we’re in. I have to trust that God can see what’s around the bend and when He flips the sign telling us it’s time to go, we can trust that we won’t be headed for a nasty crash.

Trust. So easy to talk about. So hard to live out.

As I planned my route into a city I’m not so familiar with, my husband gave me an alternate route that tested my sense of adventure. I’m forever terrified of getting lost in a “foreign” city with no one to rescue me. I’ve taken enough wrong turns–literally and figuratively–in life to make me want to avoid them at all costs. My sense of direction and driving instincts are pretty good, but sometimes I panic and take the wrong turn because I don’t trust myself to know the right way.

But I made it to my destination. Even parked in a parking garage and crossed the street to the coffee shop like a big girl. I never thought of myself as a country bumpkin but every time I have to pay for parking or dodge traffic to cross the street, I’m reminded of just how much rural there is in my system. (I’m by no means a farm girl, either. I live somewhere in between city and country.)

Trusting. Pushing boundaries. Leaving what’s comfortable. Taking a new path.

All of this plays in to the current chapter of our story. It doesn’t solve anything. But it fuels me for the continuing journey.

I’m still not sure where God is taking us, but I know we’re safe in His hands.

A work of art: Review of The Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner

I can find no appropriate words to describe how beautiful Susan Meissner’s new book is. Magnificent. Stunning. Fabulous. Somehow, they all fall short.

The Girl in the Glass is a masterpiece, a story that draws you in from the first page and doesn’t let go. Written in the voice of Nora, the long-dead Medici daughter, and Meg, the 30-year-old, travel book editor who longs to see Florence, Italy but has never been, the book brings these characters into the room. I could feel Meg’s longings, disappointments and emptiness. I could hear the same from Nora on the eve of her wedding. And as the story moves along, I wanted to break out my dusty pictures of Florence and relive a trip I took almost 14 years ago. Meissner captures Florence in a way that made me feel like I was there yesterday. And if you’ve never been, you’ll feel like you have been after reading this book.

Usually when I read a good book, I want to tear through it to find the ending. (I’m not a read the ending before I’ve read the rest kind of girl.) Not so with this. I wanted to savor each word. Take it in. Linger. I didn’t want it to end, even it meant good things for the characters.

One of Meissner’s skills is the intertwining of history and present-day. She did it with A Sound Among the Trees, the only other book of hers I’ve read, and it’s captivating. I can’t wait to pick up more from her.

This is a love story. But not in the way you think. It’s less about girl-meets-boy and more about girl-meets-city and finds more of herself than she knew existed.

Can I say it again? I loved this book. Too bad I don’t speak any Italian. Maybe then I’d find a word that fits.

Read the first chapter here.


In exchange for this review, I received a free electronic copy of this book from WaterbrookMultnomah Publishing Group through its Blogging for Books program. For a chance to win your own copy, click here and rank this review on the Blogging for Books site.

Saturday Smiles: The Sunday (again) edition

I’m not even going to apologize anymore. Saturday, Sunday. At least I’m posting once a weekend.

If I’d posted yesterday, I might have called this “the hiking edition.” Our field trip this week is my No. 1 reason to smile.

We took a family hike on Friday, a sort of early Father’s Day, my husband didn’t have to work, we love hiking and it’s summer kind of trip.

Our destination was this waterfall at Sweetarrow Lake County Park in Schuylkill (sounds sorta like skoo-kill) County, about a 30-minute drive from our house.

I love water. And nature. So this was a spiritually and emotionally refreshing trip for me. The hiking wasn’t rigorous and the views were gorgeous. (And I’ll say that even though we brought home some ticks with us and I’m still a little freaked out by it.)

I want our kids to love the outdoors, or at least be exposed to the outdoors.

Not to worry. Lewis and Clark here are leading the way. Isabelle often takes the role of trailblazer.

Corban, on the other hand, worries about rocks and mulch in his shoes.

Summer sunshine. Not too warm. A new place to explore. What’s not to like?

There’s my family. Don’t worry. It’s not dangerous. Dad’s in charge.

My second smile of the week would be my husband, and in honor of Father’s Day, I have to say how much I appreciate him as a Dad. Sure, he does things differently than I would. And he lets the kids take more risks than I might like.

(For instance, letting our 2-year-old climb the rock wall at the park’s playground. Don’t let the hand fool you. Corban didn’t  need it. He has picked up on this skill much more quickly than his sister.)

But he cares for them. He teaches them about life. He protects them from harm. He plays with them. I call him the fun parent because I’m the serious one. (Rough-housing before bedtime? That’s totally Dad’s department.)

I know not every kid gets to have a Dad around, which is maybe why I’m super glad for the one my kids have.

VBS was a blast this week. I was too busy corralling preschoolers to take pictures, but I’m always impressed by how the church comes together for a week to take extra time to care for kids and teach them about Jesus and His love. (And I’m still singing the songs. SOOOO catchy!)

We had a night out on Saturday thanks to our friend Abbie stepping in to babysit and new friends meeting us for coffee and dessert at this amazing place. If we lived a tad closer to it, it might be my favorite hangout.

God is still working. He’s moving behind the scenes right now but we’re catching glimpses of what’s possible for our future. I wish I had more great news to report where jobs and ministry are concerned. I don’t. But God’s faithfulness makes me smile. He has good plans for us, and that’s not just wishful thinking.

To wrap up our hiking report, I give you Corban’s travelogue. Enjoy!

Wait for it

Sometimes, I wonder what God is up to. And why I can’t see it.

Last month, Phil and I took a few days apart from the world, in the woods of Cowans Gap State Park, to celebrate a bunch of  milestones for our family. We drove up to this overlook, expecting a scenic view. Instead, we got fog.

Lots of fog. And the view we had hoped for was hidden from us.

We sat for a bit because we really had nowhere else to be. And as we waited, something happened.

Gradually, we could see green. The rolling mountains I’ve come to love in our region of the world.

We caught a glimpse of what the fog was hiding.

The longer we waited, the more we could see. We pointed to hills as they peeked through the clouds. We identified farms and roads and houses. And although we never saw the whole view clearly, without the cloud covering, we could imagine what we were missing. We saw evidence of what we could not fully see.

So it is when we live by faith. Phil and I are still clueless about where this journey is taking us. We climbed this metaphorical mountain hoping to see something extraordinary only to find the view cloudier than ever. Having an obstructed view of the future can be frustrating. Maddening, really. I have found myself mad at all sorts of people and institutions and God, Himself, for the current state of things in our life. Like Naomi, in the Bible’s book of Ruth, who returns to her homeland a widow and childless with little hope for the future, I want my name to be “bitter” not “pleasant.”

I want to see the view I was promised!

And God, ever gentle, ever patient, says, “Wait.”

“Don’t give up.”

“Don’t trust in only what you can see.”

“Wait for it. It’s coming.”

So, we’re waiting. Waiting for the clouds to clear. To give us a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Waiting so often feels like inaction to me. I want to DO something. I want to act. To fix. To restore. To rebuild. To forge ahead. (And sometimes run over anyone who stands in my way.) And when that doesn’t work I want to retreat. To withdraw. To escape. To close my eyes and hope that whatever trouble we’re facing will go away on its own without me.

And all the time, God is telling me to “wait.”

Waiting. Can you think of anyone who waits well? I’ve imagined what that looks like. I wrote a poem about it, and our local library picked it as one of the winners in its annual contest. Here it is.

I showed up on time,
so I thought.
He’s late.
Or is he?
Have a seat.
Get comfortable.
I’m told I’ll have to wait.
How long?
No answer.
I watch the door.
When will it open?
Time passes slowly
as I watch the clock,
tap my foot,
sigh loudly.
How much longer?
Again, no answer.
Someone else comes along.
She’s waiting, too.
She doesn’t watch the clock.
She crochets.
How long do you think it will be?
It doesn’t matter.
I’ve got crocheting to do.
I’m making a blanket.
And if he doesn’t come?
She shrugs her shoulders.
I’ll have made a blanket.
Waiting might be sitting on a rock until the sun comes out and the clouds clear. Or it might be doing what you’re doing now until you’re led in a different direction.
Wait for it, friends.
I’m waiting, too.

Love & Marriage: Reflections on five years of both

Saturday marked our five-year anniversary. Not a major milestone as far as milestones are concerned but certainly something to celebrate.

I won’t tell you it’s been easy or perfect or blissful. It’s had its moments of those. It has also been hard, imperfect and disappointing.

And worth it.

It’s a huge act of grace that no one tells you the WHOLE truth about marriage before you get married. I fear no one ever would take the vow if they knew the truth. (Similarly, I’m thankful I never saw a birth video before I was pregnant and enrolled in childbirth classes.) Had I known how ugly, exhausting and challenging marriage could be, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to walk down the aisle. Or maybe I would have been too naive and lovestruck to believe it. (Note to self: I was too naive and lovestruck to believe it.)

Three days after Phil and I wed, we hiked a mountain.

Here we are on day 4 of married life, ready for a hearty breakfast before the descent.

When Phil first suggested this part of the trip — a daylong hike up a mountain to spend the night in a primitive cabin at the top — I didn’t hesitate to say, “Let’s do it.” Bear in mind that we are not now, nor were we then, in peak physical condition. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Looking back, our honeymoon prepared us for the next years of marriage in ways I would have never imagined.

We hiked a physical mountain …

… unaware of the mountains we would face in our marriage in the years to come.


We pledged to love each other, whether poor …

(our primitive cabin on the mountaintop)

… or rich

(we visited the Biltmore two days after we’d slept in the woods).

A lesson in contrast not easily forgotten.

We’ve had days when marriage feels like this …

And ones where it feels more like this …

We’ve learned that marriage requires sacrifice …

… sometimes even death (of self, of dreams, of expectations).

And it definitely takes patience, acceptance and love. I mean, those sound like no-brainers. They are easy to agree to. Much harder to live out day to day. Especially with a husband like this.

Truly, he makes the journey fun. (When I let him. I’m way more serious than I need to be.)

Five years of marriage feels a little like the morning we woke up on a mountain.

We were tired and achy from the previous day, but we’d seen some amazing views, breathtaking, really. We’d made some new friends. And it was time to move on. To head back down the mountain, continue our honeymoon and get on with our married life.

After five years of marriage, we know tired. And exhausted. And weary. We know beauty. And take-your-breath-away moments. We’re beat from the battles of two individual lives coming together to make one life yet we’re somehow stronger than we were when we started. We’ve reached a peak. And it’s time to move on.

To celebrate, Phil took me back to the woods for a combined anniversary/birthday/graduation/Mother’s Day present. (Wood is the traditional five-year anniversary gift. Isn’t he clever?)

We hiked again. 

Because we’re gluttons for punishment. And because we can’t help ourselves. I connect best with God in nature and solitude. My husband granted me both as a gift.

We found another mountain, different from the one from our honeymoon but not without its challenges.

The sign told us what to expect. “Very steep” is an accurate description.

We went ahead with it anyway. We could have backtracked and taken an easier path. “We’re not in a backtracking phase of life,” my husband reminded me, and up the mountain we went.

I sense another metaphor for our life and marriage.

I’d like to think that in the last five years, we’ve had all the trouble we’re going to have as a couple and a family. That we packed a lifetime’s worth of trials and tears into a short period so we could enjoy the rest of our married days without the hard stuff.

I’m not as naive as I once was. And I hope that doesn’t sound cynical.

We have a steep road ahead. More than one I’d imagine.

We’re going to sweat. And suffer bruises. (I got one on my hand on our latest hike. I have others on my heart.)

We will ache and hurt and moan and complain. (And NOT take anymore pictures of ourselves while hiking. Egad!)

And we will smile at the memories, even the times of not knowing how or when the hard time would end.

Because in the end, we will have seen something beautiful.

The pain will fade. The hurts will heal, if we let them.

And we will sigh in satisfaction, knowing we did something hard and survived.