Friday, September 17, 2021

A week in my life, Monday-Thursday

- Monday-

I wake for the day and get ready for the day. Despite my feeling of accomplishment at getting from my bed to the car in 12 minutes one morning this summer, I try to give myself a decent 30 minutes. I get ready for work, make some tea, and uncover the bird cage. It's earlier than they are used to getting up (although they are on the way to getting used to it), and I'm almost positive they glare at me. Mango at least is definitely still too sleepy to take his customary waking up stretch, lol. Daddy leaves at about the same time, but other than that, the house is very quiet.

I arrive at the school at 7 to help with early drop off. I worked allllll the younger grades as a sub last year, and I knew all the kids from preschool-3rd grade well, but working in just two set grades this year, and with all the new arrivals, has me a little lost on who's even attending this year. I'm enjoying this chance to be a little invested in some of the younger kids lives again, even if it's just to tell them hello each morning. The first and second graders remember me well from last spring, though, and I love their big hugs and little inside jokes!

When school opens, I quickly switch gears. I am working as a paraprofessional with the older brothers of the little girl I have taken care of, this year. It's been a major change, going from working as a sub in the younger grades to full time in the high school room. But I am enjoying it as well! And I still see Little Girl frequently, as I eat lunch at her table every day, and have her during an afternoon each week. We both missed each other the first couple weeks, being able to see each other in the halls but not actually spend the day together, so it's nice to have that time together :).

School gets out at 3, and today I head straight home. The "little" guys (who are actually getting quite big) are just going down for their afternoon rest, and so I sit down to read a chapter of our book together. We have been reading "The Mysterious Benedict Society" series for a longgggg time now, haha. But we are finally on the last book, and we've loved every minute of it! I sit down for a bit to answer some emails and clean out my inbox.

Daddy is able to come home early afternoon today; that almost never happens. His store is so understaffed, it's terrible. He's working open to close 6 or 7 days a week, and I have no idea how he is still going. He and Andrew work on fixing a mower, while Mama and I make dinner together, and I also pack work lunches for the next day. It's been a long time since we've been able to have a family meal, so that is a treat!

The rest of the evening is spent cleaning up the house, taking care of the pets, and doing my devotions. I was completely planning on reading a bit before I went to bed, but by 10 o'clock, I literally can't keep my eyes open any longer, and I take a nap before we do family devotions, haha. Then everyone is off to bed.

-Tuesday-

Up at 6:20 again, and I pull out just behind Daddy. Tori is subbing for the little girl I take care of, this year, since I can't, and she ends up getting a call to come in; so I help with early care until we get a few more teachers in, and then I duck out early to run home and pick Tori up before school starts. The school is only about eight minutes down the road. Living in the middle of nowhere is hard for Daddy, but because I rarely have to do anything that isn't also in the middle of nowhere out here, it's nice for me. If I have to drive these roads so frequently, at least they are pretty - I can't wait for the fall colors to come in! Plus, there is a cattle farm on our road that has calves right now, and they were chasing each other like little puppies the other day, it was so cute.

It's a busy day at school today. Our morning is fairly normal; testing, studying, lunch. One of the teachers and I finally set up my own office last week, and this is the first time the boys and I get to use it for our study hall; we enjoy it so much more then settling down in the "quietest corner" we can find, which has been anywhere from the cafeteria to a closet! This afternoon, I have Little Girl, so Tori takes over with the boys. The younger grades are going to the apple orchards tomorrow, so they do a unit study on apples for science, then I have to take Little Girl home early for her therapy appointment. Since Tori has the boys and I'm staying to take her home, I take this afternoon to get the high school English tests typed up for next week. 

Tori and I head home and compare notes on our day, and I pick up Abbi and Emmi to go run some errands. I need another key to my van, but the process is going to take almost an hour, so I scheduled an appointment for next week, because I didn't get into town early enough for that, I wasn't expecting it to be such an operation. We do the weekly grocery shopping, and the girls pick out some sour patch kids as their outing treat, "in honor of Aunt Tessa", who introduced them to this candy a couple years ago, which we enjoy on the way home while listening to Andrew Peterson's "After All These Years", because apparently his music is what the girls look forward to being played in my car, haha.

Many hands make light work of putting the groceries away, and I hang some valances in my bedroom before dinner. Afterwards, everyone gets their evening chores done, and the little guys come sit on my bed to watch a show and drink some tea while we wait for Daddy to get home. I also do my devotions. I have learned that the "perfect devotions" - early in the morning, with unbroken focus, for an hour or more at a time - are impossible at this point in my life. If I were to get up at 5:30 in the morning, I would both barely be able to stay awake, and worry the whole time about watching the clock so I wouldn't be late for work. So I have decided to move my devotions to the evening while everyone gets their showers, when I can usually get 40 minutes where I can truly concentrate. I work on a writing project until family devotions, and then call it a day!

-Wednesday-

Another running morning; early care at school, home for Tori, back to school to assist in the high school. I might have eaten a couple cookies for breakfast as I ran out the door, haha. Little Girl's field trip was today, and Tori took her; she was SO excited to show me her apples before she went home. There's a big test today, a zoom class that we had issues working through because technology is not all it's cracked up to be, and some catch up work to do during the afternoon, but all in all, it's a good day for everyone!

The "little girls" (literally the age Tori and I were when we became "the big girls" of the family, so weird to think of) made some brownies this morning, and we older ones sit down to watch a movie with brownie sundaes when Tori and I get home, but I've been really bad at watching movies the past few weeks. I worked on this blog post a bit, and made a birthday card for my friend's little boy while I listened rather than watched. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing little to-dos that I didn't want to put off and forget; adding addresses to my address book that I'm constantly having to look up, watering the porch plants, depositing a check, and things like that, then getting most of my evening chores done ahead of time, because after dinner I was planning a phone call.

I also sat down to do my devotions a bit earlier than usual. Most of my family is taking part in the Christ Church Bible Reading Challenge again this year, and I'm grateful for the encouragement to keep reading the Word. I almost didn't join this year, thinking I'd do a slower plan that I'd be "less likely to fall behind" in, but I knew without the accountability, it would be too easy to go days without sitting down and dwelling on truth, and I know I need that, especially when I am busy! I read the day's chapters, and a few pages from "Piercing Heaven", a prayer book that I have greatly enjoyed so far! I also read a chapter in the book that the kids are reading in english class at the school, because I missed a chapter when I switched with Tori yesterday, and it's kind of hard to direct assignments when I don't even know what's going on, lol. Philip speeds around the bedroom terrorizing everything in his path while I read, but then he has to be so ridiculously cute when I scold him, that it makes for quite a bit of distraction ;).

My aunt and I chatted for almost an hour, and it was so nice! Since I'm working early care now, our schedules have not been matching up like they used to, and so it's been harder to plan to talk. A couple last minute to-dos + family read aloud/devotions time, and then I tuck the younger kiddos in bed.

-Thursday-

I'll be honest, I think I was on auto-pilot getting ready for work this morning. I slept to my last alarm, somehow got out the door without being terribly rushed, but I wasn't awake enough to make time-saving decisions, so I'm not sure how. I made it out of the house with tea, remember to mail a card, and only forget one item, in my van, not at the house. so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The mornings are just starting to get chilly, and the afternoons are definitely not - when even I can't wear a jacket the *whole* day, and so I have to make the decision whether to freeze for a couple hours, or carry a useless jacket half the day, lol. I'm kind of glad that I don't have to pick up Tori today, not because it's hard, but just because I'm fairly certain that I would have forgotten to watch the clock this morning. Instead, when my door duty is taken over, I run down to the preschool room and hang out with the kiddos for a bit, my favorite part of this bonus job.

It's an easy day today. No tests, and only a half day. One of the boys has a zoom appointment, and the other has a self-directed assignment to work on, so I use that time to make a biology terms vocab sheet. This afternoon, we take a field trip to the apple orchard. It was a nice little place, a family-like business run by believers, and I think it would be fun to go as a family at some point if we get the chance! I've heard Carter's Mountain is good, too... we'll have to see what we can do - if we ever all have a day off at once, lol. I bring home some apples for the fun of it, including a tiny one just for the fun of seeing what Isaac will do when I hand it to him.

I grab a snack and read a chapter to the boys, and then I try to get some things done that I've been meaning to get to for weeks. I call my Granny, and we have a quick chat, and then I try to start the work of getting back into my employment account. I fix one issue and discover another, so I'll have to call again next week. They updated the website a couple months ago, and nobody is happy with the bugs the update has resulted in...

I usually clean the animal habitats on Thursday, but I spent a little too much time with the birds today, and will have to help Abbi with her frog tank later in the week. It's been a year to the day since I brought Mango home, so I wanted to spoil them a bit, ya know? But after cleaning the cage, rearranging/swapping out some of the toys, and taking way longer than expected to put together a puzzle treat feeder I bought them that ended up being much bigger than expected - they were terrified of the puzzle feeder. They got the treat irregardless, because thankfully I had a cheap, boring treat holder on hand, too, but I was mildly disgusted with how worthless that turned out to be.

Dinner, clean up, and showers are in order for everyone. The littlest guys and I snuggle in my bed for a little bit and read some board books, and then devotions end out the day!

Rejoicing in Christ,
Ambrielle

Sunday, September 12, 2021

In My Weakness, Christ is Strong

How much difference a year can bring.

One year ago today, we lost both my Great Grandma Whitson, and a very special friend. Coming on the heels of an emotionally taxing move, it was a saddening shock. Watching my Mama grieve, and believing we'd miss Grandma's funeral was hard. Knowing we'd never see them again... and how close we'd been to visiting Grandma for years, but life always hit us just when we were ready to take on something extra again. And yet, they found their joy at seeing Jesus' face, and reuniting with the spouses they had missed for years. And through my Great Grandma's memorial service, which the Lord did allow us to attend, I was given a glimpse at her legacy...  a heritage that, despite not knowing her as well as I would have liked, I have been taking part in for years. I got a glimpse of something beautiful, and my heart was given a deeper resolve to the lifework God has given me.

One year ago this week, we lost our bird. Nursing her on my birthday, sick to my stomach and hoping against hope that she would survive, I stood in the hallway staring down at her, tears streaming down my face, and whispered, "I can't do this." If I couldn't be strong enough to support a bird through medical needs, how could I purposefully seek out caring for people with medical needs? When all my efforts resulted in her cold, still body, just when I thought she'd been made it past the crisis, I was positive the Lord had sent the experience to me as a final closing door, to get it through my thick head that I wasn't cut out for what I thought He'd made me for. My Mama, not knowing these thoughts, told me, "watching you care for her was so confirming to me that this is what you were designed to do". And then I remembered this post I had written during another discouraging time in my life, when I wondered if the path I was working towards might not be what I was meant to do... http://forget-not-his-benefits.blogspot.com/2018/01/strengthen-your-wings-but-rest-in-lord.html

Dawn never did truly fly, because she didn't learn to trust me until the last two days of her life. I can't describe to you the bittersweet ache I get when I remember how, sick as she was, she ran to greet me at the cage door that last night... and how she never got another chance, because within hours she was gone. Nor the bittersweet ache I get when I remember that Dawn made me question where God was leading me... and reminded me that what I feel in a moment is not who God made me to be. Dawn's death required me to open my heart to a new companion for Misty, and Mango has become a bright reminder that pain is not the end. My heart was given peace in God's timing for my future, even in the struggle of not seeing the end.

A year ago this month, I was given the sweetest little kitten. For years, I had told people I was going to own this kitten someday. I hadn't known her; she was only 6 weeks old when we found her. But I'd known I'd know her when I met her. There are cats all up and down our road here, and she wasn't the first stray we have helped get off the streets over the years, despite my Dad being allergic and unable to keep them. But when Tori brought this baby to the house after finding her alone and crying near our mailbox and handed her to me, I took one look at her and I knew. My sisters knew - Bethi from behind me asked "so, you're naming it Raspberry, right?" My chest tightened a little bit as I told her not to say that, as if refusing to voice the facts changed the truth. But she was - my spunky, friendly, vocal grey tabby dream cat, Raspberry. She climbed on my shoulder right away, and that's where she perched like a parrot any time she was frightened for the next week, as I tried to justify keeping her. But after my initial frustration - why now, when I couldn't keep her? Why when so much hurt already?- I realized I loved her too much to keep her locked up without the constant companionship she wanted. I gave in. I called her Raspberry... and then found her a home where she could be right in the middle of life with someone who loved her. I realized the Lord used that broken dream -probably planted it in me on purpose for this lesson- to likely save her life and work on mine. I texted a friend, who I'd told before that I could never even consider being a foster parent... "that was basically foster care. I loved her completely, to the point I had to let go. And I survived. It's just as hard as I've ever thought it would be, but far more rewarding than you could imagine - and THAT was just a cat". My heart feels just a little bit bigger.. and far more open.

A year ago, we had a little brother on the way. I couldn't shake the crippling fear of losing him and Mama like we almost did when Josiah was born. It was irrational - I knew they had been given a perfect bill of health - but with life hitting us from every side, I just couldn't see things going well anywhere. But the Lord was gracious, and everything did go well, and over the past 11 months, just looking at Philip's beautiful face fills me with intense joy. Our hearts needed his sunshine in what has, otherwise, been a hard, hard year for our family.

A year ago, I was exhausted, from health deficiencies, and probably stress, to the point that I was seriously reconsidering whether I should be looking for a job or not at the time. When I realized I couldn't do a simple task like clean our aquarium without needing to recover afterwards, I knew I was at the end of my rope. I had to stop being stubborn, and I have made some changes... and the difference in a year is huge. Don't get me wrong, naps are still frequently in order. But if you'd told me a year ago how much I'd do last week and still be standing this afternoon, I would have cried simply because I was too tired to imagine actually enjoying that much "life".

A year ago, sobbing over all this and more, I texted a dear friend...

"I wasn't looking forward to my birthday this year - even before it got screwed up - because the sound of being 23 defeated me in a way. I feel like I've done nothing with my life, like I'm miles behind where I wanted to be, like everything pushes me away from where I genuinely feel God had given me a passion to be. To know another year has gone by and I've literally just been waiting the whole year seriously tore me down, although I didn't want to admit it. ...I've been avoiding this for idk how long... probably ever since I was offered the hospice job and had to turn it down because I knew in my heart we were leaving SC, even though Daddy hadn't found a job yet. ...I know my place is with my family, for now.... otherwise, I wouldn't be here right now. Knowing that my dreams were being stripped away again, and yet I was where I was supposed to be... it's been so. hard."

She responded with these precious words...

"God has brought you to the place of total brokenness - to the end of yourself - to where you see things in a way and have experienced things that you never would have if your passion had happened at the time and the way you wanted. ...To see the way He's prepared you - it's beautiful. I'm sorry it's had to be so much work, so hard, so long, so heartbreaking. There's beauty in these ashes. You are strong in Him. ...and He's preparing you so that you can live [your dream] and love it in the most beautiful way possible."

"I think He's about to do something incredible," she told me, from her vantage point that wasn't so completely overwhelmed with grief. 

And within months, the incredible was happening. The year I felt the locust had eaten was restored four-fold to bring about something more perfectly suited than I'd dared hope for. Once again, the Lord used something that seemed completely insignificant years before - stumbling upon a blog - to show me that always, He works all things together. I shared some of that incredible story here on my blog last spring. And God has continued to give me glimpses of where He is taking me as the year has gone on. It has been awe inspiring. I feel like I talk or allude to it so often at this point, but it's hard to fully express how beautiful it is to have such clear examples of the Lord's purpose unfolding. I told another dear friend,  "I could write a book right now of how God works in the smallest of ways to bring the most unexpected answers to prayer about -to bring blessings we don't realize until later were connected. But I don't feel like I know what the end of the book is yet." Because I still feel the Lord working on me. I'm still watching things unfold. Just last week, my sister was officially hired for a job that was offered her through what the Lord has been doing in my life. Just a couple weeks ago, I read a book that opened my heart a little wider to something I feel the Lord is preparing me for. No, I don't feel like I'm ready to undertake a huge writing project, but maybe someday. Not because I'll ever reach "the end" of God's faithfulness; it will never run out. But just because I want to see His faithfulness praised. He is mighty, and wonderful. In my darkest despair, He was preparing me for bright joy. Through seeing His purpose in the past, it gives me peace and trust here in the future, even as we walk through difficult circumstances with my Dad's job, having no local church community currently, and with some remaining unfulfilled dreams. The Lord is using those things for something. I will rejoice to wait patiently for it.

Since a year ago, so much has changed. And yet, the most important thing - that I am right where God has placed me - has not changed at all. To be perfectly honest, my grief has not been taken away. I still hurt over what I experienced and felt a year ago - and even longer. It was real pain. And yet that is why what has happened since has meant so, so much. I can't tell you how many sentences I have written in this basement over the past year that have shattered my heart in a million pieces, and yet brought healing in their honesty. I shed tears at numerous points writing this post even now, because even in it's deep beauty-from-ashes, it pierces my soul. But this year, I do not dread turning 24. I pray that no matter the cost, the Lord would continue to do His work in my heart. That no matter what discouragement I may feel, I will remember the encouragement He has given. I want to live life to the fullest, even if right now I might not even be able fathom the fullness that might be. 

A friend asked me several years back to do a post about a day in my life. I said I would, but never got around to it... my days never look the same, and I didn't feel like I had anything worth sharing, anyway. But over this next week, I am going to invite you all to have a look at my day-to-day life. My days are never the same, but my weeks do hold much the same things, and I think it would be fun to share that with you all. I may not be doing anything hugely significant from a human stand point. I'm not irreplaceable, and, unlike last year, I realize... that's okay. But I am the one the Lord has doing these things now, and that is all that truly matters. It fills me with a deep, joyful purpose.

So as I head into my 24th year... if there is anything that I would say I want to share that I have learned in my life so far... it is to trust in the Lord and HIS plans for you. Keep your heart open to seeing the small ways He works. In your weakness, HE is strong. I know this, because a year ago, I was nothing but broken and weak... and because I could do nothing of strength myself, the Lord's might was on full display as He carried me forward.

Rejoicing in Christ,

Ambrielle

Friday, August 6, 2021

Stars in the Night

It's been a week of anniversaries I really didn't want to think about, especially realizing just how many more there are going to be in the next 7 weeks, and I've perused my photo memories and my Instagram posts from last summer as I contemplated how I felt about it all. 

Saying goodbye to our best friends.

Last baking done in our old kitchen.

Last meal at the table in our old home.

Saying goodbye to home.

Those unwitting last weeks with my bird.

Those last hopes that all seemed to whither and crumble faster, the harder I tried to hold things under control.

I looked at my pictures, thought about the rollercoaster, decided I hate the idea of celebrating my birthday this year, and I posted this on my Instagram about the wildly swinging emotions and events that we've been through the past year...

"Seasons change, and time moves on, and lessons are learned, and still, life swings, back and forth. Sometimes slower, sometimes wider. But never quite stopping in the middle.

This world is broken. God heals.

This life is dark. Christ brings light.

Pain is a result of sin. Joy is a result of grace.

We grieve. Because we love.

All a constant reminder:

This is not our home, where we are estranged from our Creator.

But we have not been left estranged, for He delights to give His children what we could not bring about.

Never sitting in the middle. Either one with the world, or one with Christ.

With one blessed difference; when our souls are claimed by Christ, He holds us to Himself. We don't count on our nature, our naturally swinging chain, to keep us there; He acts upon our nature, and we are secure because *He* will hold us fast."

Today marks the one year anniversary of our arriving in Virginia. And as I drove home from work, it weighed on my heart.

I didn't really plan on going down to the river, but I made a last minute decision when I reached our driveway, to keep going. I've always found a quiet, breezy place outdoors the best spot to just have my cry and get it over with.

Just to go soak up the beauty God had placed around us, and pray.

For what? That we would be taken back to South Carolina? That this coming year would be easier?

In truth, yes.

But as I came before the throne of the One who knows the beginning of my life and it's end, I realized I felt less pain than I expected, and most of the unfulfilled desires I did have, had nothing to do with where we lived... And, in fact, I found myself giving words to feelings of genuine gratefulness for things we've been given since that move.

That He had sustained us through so much.

For the little man He added to our family at the perfect time... so much of our joy through all this has come from watching him grow.

For foraging even deeper friendships, when I was afraid I'd lose them.

For reconciliation in situations I didn't expect.

For the little girl I watch.

For countless other things.


Yes, I cried tears today.

But they were nothing like the tears I shed a year ago.

For in the dark contrast of the past year, some brilliant stars have been granted us by the Lord's hand. 

"In the daytime there are stars in the heavens
But they only shine at night
And the deeper that I go into darkness
The more I see their radiant light
So let me learn that my losses are my gain
To be broken is to heal
That the valley's where Your power is revealed."
-In the Valley

Rejoicing in Christ,
Ambrielle

Monday, July 26, 2021


-----

Saturday night, my Great-grandma Krouse passed away.

I was able to see her one last time two weeks ago while we were in South Carolina. She couldn't remember me, but we shared a moment that I will hold dear when, for one moment, I took down my mask just to share a smile with her, and she gave me the brightest smile back at the joy of it. I realized in that moment that a smile meant just as much to her as it ever has to me, and her's was a gift.

I remember attending church with her when I was little- specifically climbing the stairs to the door, though I don't know why that stood out so clearly. Going to the grocery store with her one morning, and either she needed sausages or I asked what they were, to this day I'm not sure, but I remember a conversation about them. Getting to sit at her kitchen table in the evening, playing with her lite brite and perler beads, as she and my mom had a conversation in the living room.

We got family photos done with her one time, and she read a book to Tori and I - skipping every other page because it was long and we were on a time crunch, but she didn't want to disappoint us. We caught her because she had trouble turning the pages one at a time, let alone two, and I chuckle about it to this day.

We saw her at the park a few years back, after she had moved to a nursing home near her children. She got to meet her newest great-grandchildren, and she and Grandma sat and sang some of the songs Grandma Krouse had sang to Grandma when she was a little girl.

But with these memories, I think the part that hurts the most is that, though we shared a middle name, I have very few memories we really shared together. And never have a chance to create another. It's like a homesickness for somewhere you've only visited.

This world is broken... full of pain and death and regrets.

Hopeless.

Hopeless, when not seen through God's eyes.

This world is not our home. This groaning creation finds hope in the redemption of Christ, and we ourselves find comfort in the knowledge that we need not be part of this pain forever, when we find wholeness with the Father, and our hope in His truth.

"And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." - Romans 8:23-25

-----

"This is not the end here at this grave
This is just a hole that someone made
Every hole was made to fill
And every heart can feel it still
Our nature hates a vacuum

This is not the hardest part of all
This is just the seed that has to fall
All our lives we till the ground
Until we lay our sorrows down
And watch the sky for rain

There is more
More than all this pain
More than all the falling down
And the getting up again
There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity."

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Beauty in the Commonplace





There's a fresh hydrangea cutting on my nightstand, mexican sunflowers from my great-grandma right outside my window, my "rescue plant" is putting out new shoots and leaves.

I come home and baby Philip greets me with a double handed wave and asks to for me to take him in my arms, my bird hops on my finger to eat a treat I offer him, I snuggle down to read another chapter of our book to the little guys.

I've got a to-be-read list longer than my arm. I've got a to-do list that grows as often as it shrinks. I went back to work earlier than expected after we got back from our trip.

With all of it, I'm *living* life. And I'm *loving* it.

-----

Our trip to SC was wonderful. We stayed with my mom's parents; saw our aunts and our cousins. Visited Daddy's family. Had lunch with some friends from our SC home church on Saturday, and I got to stop in for a fast, wonderful 15 minute visit to see my friend and her babies, when we thought we wouldn't even get that. Stopped by the Chick-fil-a I used to work at. Went to church on Sunday, and stayed for the fellowship meal afterwards.

There aren't words to really describe it. If you don't know what it's like to live away from home, you can't picture it. And if you do, you don't need to be told. There were so many moments that would have made the whole trip worth it by themselves.

Worshipping again with a group of fellow believers. Singing those beautiful hymns, hearing the word preached without watching from a screen, all the words of encouragement and people offering to help shoulder any load.

Watching the deer in the back yard with my Granny. Ice cream and fireflies and laughter.

Staying with my mom's family and getting to catch up with them. Cousins playing together, my aunt and I catching up, Grandma going through scrapbooks with my little siblings just like she did with me years ago.

But I didn't get those moments by themselves, I got them all together. Blessing upon blessing.

It all amounted to one gift... coming home. Realizing that we might have to pack a lot into each day, because we only had a week; but having stayed so connected that even the new people at church felt like old friends. Feeling like it was the most natural thing in the world to run in and drop some stuff off at my friends house, give hugs and run, because that's what you do at home. Seeing things I've only heard about in the past 11 months, hugging family and friends so tight, realizing that it doesn't *feel* like a year since I saw them, because distance hasn't separated us.

You can feel the difference as soon as you cross the state border, it's marked. South Carolina may not be the prettiest place on earth. Or the most exciting. It may be down right uninviting for some people. But to those of us who know it as home, even it's simplicity feels so comforting.

I was afraid the visit would stir up feelings of unrest, a wild desire to get back *now*. But, in fact, I think it did the opposite. It showed me that after a year, nothing has changed. I haven't lost anything I had, it's just a little further away. If I can make it one year - and such a hard year, at that- and still feel this way when I come back, I can make it another year just fine. And, if need be, another, for as many as it takes. Going back didn't make my desire to go home hurt worse, it brought comfort that it would wait for me until God is done with me here.

He's got me working with the most amazing little girl and her family, in my dream job, that came about in the most beautiful way possible. My family is here, and we can love and care for each other, our pets, and our plants just as well here as anywhere else. Technology means that we haven't lost our friends to the distance - some have actually become even closer. Covid restrictions loosening means we may be able to find a local body of likeminded believers again to become our home away from home in the near future. I've got projects and interests to keep me as busy as I want. Yes, I can be happy and useful here.

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And I still have dreams. That is huge.

Back last September, I felt like every single dream I'd ever had, was stripped away within a six weeks time. February, I started to see that some of the dreams weren't taken, but altered to be better than I had dared hope in a fallen world. I was full of trust in God's plan, awe at what God had done; but not much hope for what He would do in the future.

Then May threw a curve ball at our family, and I realized I hadn't *actually* lost every dream back in September. Because I was losing another. One I would have thought unalterable. And the grief was shattering.

But the Lord was gracious, and He turned that pain around, too. The grief was real, but when it was over, when I came through the other side and was given that joy back, it also gave me something else; it gave me my hope back.

I haven't dared hope since September. I've been able to say "I *can be* content for now, and I trust God's plan."

With our trip home, and the final turning around of this summer's pain, and feeling that comfort of the Lord's shower of blessings, I feel as if I am able to say "I *am* content, and I am hopeful for what God is working out."

It's the most beautiful thing.

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Two other things I feel have changed my perspective in the past two weeks, arriving at just the time that I was ready to embrace and make full, lasting use out of them; I read this book, "Seasons of Waiting" at the recommendation of a friend. I'll try to share some real thoughts later, but for now, suffice it to say that you need to read this book. The purpose of waiting itself seems so hopeful reading this book. And the permission, given from a gospel viewpoint, to wait with *all your heart* without guilt is so comforting.

And for the first time in probably 5 years... well, I woke up one morning for work after only 4.5 hours of sleep, and thought to myself, "wait, is this how normal people wake up?" I do not recommend only 4.5 hours of sleep, but it made the contrast of how I felt even more obvious. There have been so many times over the past few years that I had to force myself to get from my bed to the couch after 9 hours of sleep. To wake up refreshed and see the day full of possibility and things to do? For days on end?! I forgot what that felt like. I've made intentional changes to get here, and need to make more. But the fact is, I've seen that there is a manageable plan for this that *doesn't* just involve pushing myself to be less "lazy" (and then needing even more rest afterwards), and that's pretty exciting.

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All in all... yes, I am living life to the fullest. And I am loving every minute of it, even if life is not picture perfect. Even in the broken - and maybe because of the broken - we have trust, hope, dreams, beauty in the common place, written out in a plan far above our own sights by a Father who delights to bless His children for His glory.

Rejoicing,
Ambrielle