Getting to the Top of the Mountain

This year we went to Chattanooga for our vacation.  I experienced a pretty massive panic attack at a cave on the first day.  You can read about it here. We left the cave and drove 4 hours to our hotel in Chattanooga.  We arrived at 11 p.m.  Brett went inside to check in.  15 minutes passed.  What in the world is taking so long?  He came out and said the hotel had canceled our reservations.  Really?  They had one room left if we wanted it.  Brett didn’t have a good feeling about the place.  But he took the room because it was late and he had 5 exhausted females he was trying to keep happy.  Bless his heart.

The room was awful.  I’ve always said I can stay anywhere for one night.  But this was pushing it. TripAdvisor had steered us wrong on this place.  I went down to the front desk and made one simple request.  My request was denied.  I was mad and the lady at the front desk knew I was mad. TripAdvisor will be getting a negative review from me about this place.  You can count on that.  We were supposed to stay for 2 nights.  There was no way I was staying 2 nights. I grabbed my iPad and I started searching for another hotel.  I found one just up the road that had rooms available. Brett called and made a reservation for the next night.  It can’t be worse than this place.  I was still awake at 2 a.m.

The next day we went to the Tennessee Aquarium.  Mikayla and Hope love animals so we knew it would be a fun place to take them.  As soon as we entered the building Brett noticed the sign beside the escalator.  You can’t use the escalator if you’re wearing crocs.  Great.  The girls have their crocs on since I accidentally brought 2 right tennis shoes for Hope.   We took them to the restroom and then we got on the elevator and headed to the 4th floor.

The girls were excited when they got to pet the stingrays.  We stayed for a long time since Mikayla and Hope were enjoying it so much.  Then we went to the 3rd floor.  We’d only been there for a few minutes when one of the girls yelled that she needed the bathroom.  We couldn’t find a restroom anywhere.  Brett asked an employee and she said there weren’t any restrooms on the 3rd floor.  We’d have to go to the 2nd or 4th floor. Back to the elevator we go.  Our girls go to the bathroom frequently.  When they’re in an unfamiliar place they get anxious and they go even more frequently.  It makes traveling a lot of fun.  At one point I had a little sweetheart crying on the 3rd floor and saying she was going to wet her pants.  I grabbed her and her croc covered feet and we jumped on the escalator.  There was no time for the elevator.  I’m normally a rule follower but during a bathroom emergency all rules can fly out the window.

We enjoyed the aquarium but we spent entirely too much time in the restroom.  Mikayla and Hope eventually started fighting with each other and it became very stressful.  Clearly it was time to leave.  We went to the gift shop so the girls could buy a souvenir.  It was taking forever for Mikayla and Hope to pick something out so Taylor and I decided to walk up the street and look at another gift shop.  When we were done I called Brett to tell him that we would meet him at the van.  He told me he was at the check out and the credit card was denied.  What?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  He asked me to bring some cash in so he could pay.  I paid the cashier while Brett was on the phone with the credit card company.  Then we went to the van.

The man from the credit card company told Brett that our credit card was deactivated because of a fraud attempt.  Brett was on hold forever while the man checked into why it was deactivated.  The more minutes that passed the more frustrated I became.   We’re not going to be able to pay for our hotel if our credit card is deactivated.  I totally flipped out and I told Brett we just needed to go home.  He agreed that we might have to.  Finally the man from the credit card company came back on the line.  The hotel from the night before had charged us 3 times for our room.  Now why doesn’t that surprise me?  They reactivated our card.  The man told Brett he needed to go back to the hotel and get it straightened out.  He said to call him back if they wouldn’t cooperate and he would take care of it for us.

Brett dropped us off at our new hotel.  I was scared to open the door.  What if this place is as bad as the last place?  We opened the door and I was relieved to find out that the place was very nice and super clean. Hallelujah! Maybe I’ll get some sleep tonight.  Brett went and talked to the first hotel and they said it would be straightened out by morning.  I certainly hope so.  We were exhausted and didn’t feel like going out for supper.  Brett and Taylor ran and got milkshakes.  Yes.  I fed my kids milkshakes for supper.  And they liked it.  I collapsed into bed.   This was definitely not how I had pictured vacation.  I hope our trip tomorrow to Lookout Mountain will be relaxing and fun.

As soon as Brett opened his eyes the next morning he called the credit card company.  They told him the hotel had credited back the 2 charges that we didn’t owe.  Phew!  Glad that’s off our minds.  We ate breakfast and headed to Lookout Mountain.  It felt relaxing as we walked the trails.   It was a very hot day but Mikayla and Hope didn’t seem to mind the heat.

The view from the top of Lookout Mountain was amazing.  It was definitely the highlight of our vacation. We could see 7 states from the top of the mountain.  We could hear a waterfall.  There was relaxing music playing.  Mikayla and Hope were happy because they got to hug Rocky the Gnome. What more could we ask for?

We left the top of the mountain and continued our way along the trails.  I was feeling totally relaxed and happy.  It finally felt like we were on vacation. And then it happened.

We arrived at Fat Man Squeeze.  You’ve got to be kidding me!  I didn’t want to see another Fat Man’s anything on this trip.  First it was Fat Man’s Misery at Mammoth Cave.  And now this?  Good grief.  Can’t a claustrophobic woman catch a break while she’s on vacation?  They really need to warn people about these things before they buy a ticket.  I took a deep breath and away I went into Fat Man Squeeze.

Ok.  That wasn’t bad.  Fat Man Squeeze was a breeze compared to Fat Man’s Misery.   I didn’t sweat my clothes through and my heart never started racing.  I’d been to the top of the mountain and I’d conquered Fat Man Squeeze.  This 3rd day of vacation was pretty amazing.

We finished our tour and we all agreed we would love to visit again.  We drove back down the mountain and started looking for a place to eat lunch. And then suddenly one of our sweethearts got that look in her eye.  And I knew what was about to happen.  I grabbed the bucket and got it under her chin right before the vomit started flying out of her.  I might be the gal who packs 2 right shoes for her kid.  But I didn’t forget the puke buckets.

Something didn’t feel quite right.  Looks like my little sweetheart’s aim was a little off.  I could feel the vomit running down my hand and collecting under my wedding ring.  Ugh.  I suddenly was no longer hungry for lunch.  We pulled into the Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que restaurant parking lot, deposited our mountain sickness into a trash can, and then walked into the restaurant.  I convinced my stomach that it needed to let me eat something.  It was going to be a long ride home if I didn’t.  The food was amazing.  TripAdvisor had got this one right.  We finished our meals and started our trip home.

The trip home was uneventful until we were an hour from home.  And then the sweethearts started freaking out.   They were exhausted.  She knocked her french fries on the floor.  And then she knocked her hamburger on the floor.  And then there was a whole lot of screaming.  Are we ever going to get home? There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.  I never want to go on vacation again.

I crawled into bed and I felt angry.  That was not the vacation that I’d hoped for.  I’d experienced the worst panic attack of my life.  Our hotel reservations had been cancelled.  Our credit card was deactivated.  And the minor issues of mismatched shoes, frequent restroom visits, elevators instead of escalators, and vomit weren’t fun either.  Overall our vacation was just really disappointing.  In my frustration I asked God “What was that vacation all about, anyway?  Why did all of those things happen? Why couldn’t our vacation be relaxing?”

He answered my prayer immediately.  He said If you’d given up and went home you wouldn’t have made it to the top of the mountain. Wow.  I hadn’t thought of that.  Thank you, God for wrapping up this vacation with a valuable life lesson.  2017 has been an extremely difficult year. We had to make several really tough decisions one right after another.  It’s been exhausting. I’ve had a few disappointments that were difficult to get through.  And I’ve been battling some physical issues in the midst of everything else. Sometimes it’s really hard to get out of bed and face the day. Honestly, there have been days when my family went to church and I stayed in bed feeling sorry for myself.  I’ve felt like giving up at least a million times.  So what does God do to teach me to be an overcomer?  He takes me to the top of a mountain.

This vacation wasn’t about relaxing.  This vacation was about learning to overcome some stuff.  The biggest thing I had to overcome was my this is too hard, let’s just go home attitude.  If my family had listened to me the Chattanooga vacation of 2017 would be remembered as the year that we gave up and went home. But it will be remembered as the year we made it to the top of the mountain.  I was talking to Taylor about our vacation after we got home.  I told her I was sorry it wasn’t the best vacation we’d ever had.  She said “It had its moments of not being easy.  But Lookout Mountain was worth it.”  I want to be like Taylor when I grow up.  The valleys of life make us appreciate the mountaintops more.

Next time I feel like giving up on life I’m pretty sure God will say: Remember Lookout Mountain?  If you’d given up and went home you wouldn’t have made it to the top of the mountain.  Don’t give up now either. This is the valley that you’re in right now.  You have to keep going if you want to get to the top of the mountain.  

Little Girls, Birthday Parties, and Bathroom Stalls

Facebook.  I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.  I love that I feel connected to the outside world when I can’t actually get out into the world. I enjoy seeing pictures of sweet little boys and girls who’ve lost their first tooth.  I love seeing all the pictures of families at Christmas. And Facebook is one of my favorite things on the planet when someone posts something that makes me laugh on a really tough day.  But then there’s the other side of Facebook that I hate. I don’t enjoy people arguing about the current or former President.  People share the best parts of their life and I compare it to the worst parts of mine.  And I find myself feeling empty and less than.  And then there are the pictures of little girls at birthday parties.  You would think I would enjoy those pictures but they’ve always made my heart ache.  I’ve carried a secret around for 11 years that has hurt too much to talk about. Mikayla and Hope have never been invited to a birthday party.  I’ve waited for years for them to have a friend.  And last year I celebrated as I watched two sweet girls from church befriend Mikayla and Hope.  My dream for them to have a friend came true and I began to believe that other dreams I have for them can also come true.  Maybe someday they’ll be invited to a birthday party.  That would be amazing.

I was driving to church one Wednesday night in January.  Life was beating me up and I was feeling pretty hopeless.  I parked the van and the girls started jumping out.  I told our older girls, Taylor and Brynna, that I needed a moment to myself and asked if they would take Mikayla & Hope to class. I looked up to heaven and I said a desperate one sentence prayer.  God, would you put someone in my path tonight who will speak something that will give me hope?  

The very first person I ran into was Amanda.  She told me that her daughter, Katelyn, wanted to invite Mikayla and Hope to her birthday party.  The party wouldn’t be until March but Katelyn was already making plans.  Amanda was telling me that Katelyn wanted to have the party at a children’s museum.  And then I burst into tears.  Is this really happening?  11 years of waiting and my girls are finally going to be invited to a birthday party.  I began to explain to Amanda the reason for all my tears.  I told her that Mikayla and Hope had never been invited to a birthday party. And that I had never told anyone because I didn’t want to be the one to make it happen.  I could’ve went around to other moms and complained or cried about my girls never being invited to a party.  And someone would’ve felt sorry for them and invited them.  But this was happening simply because they were loved and wanted.  I had asked God to send me someone to speak something that would give me hope.  And He answered my prayer within only a few minutes.  My girls finally being invited to a birthday party renewed my hope.  God cares about every detail of our lives.  Even the little details that no one else knows about.

I’ll never forget the day that Katelyn handed me the invitation to her party.  I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the dinosaur on the front of the invitation.  Mikayla and Hope love dinosaurs.  I put the invitation on the refrigerator.  It was a reminder for me to take them to the party.  But it was also a reminder to never give up on my dreams.  Don’t give up even if I have to wait for more than a decade.

March 18th was the day.  We loaded up and headed for the children’s museum.  The girls enjoyed watching Katelyn open her presents.  They were all smiles as they ate their cupcakes and ice cream.  And then they got to explore the museum and have fun being with their friend.

About halfway through the party I took Hope to the restroom.  She looked up at me and she said “Where’s my friend?”  I told her Katelyn was probably playing with some of her other guests.  And then the tears started to come.  Not in Hope’s eyes but in mine.  “Where’s my friend?”  It’s a question I never thought I would hear her ask.  She has a language disorder so just the question itself coming from her mouth was a miracle.  But it was so much more than that.  A friend was something I wasn’t sure she would ever have.  A birthday party was a place I wasn’t sure she would ever be. But yet here we were in a bathroom stall and it was all happening.  A friend, a birthday party, and a question that brought tears to my eyes.  My heart overflowed.

The invitation to Katelyn’s party is still on our refrigerator.  It reminds me to never give up on my dreams for our girls.  Don’t give up even when the road is long and I feel like my dreams will never come true.  Don’t give up when Facebook constantly reminds me of what my family doesn’t have. Because one day my dreams for our girls just might come true.  And if they don’t come true I can always choose to dream new dreams.

You’ve Got A Friend In Me

It seemed like every other Sunday morning.  I was standing in line waiting to pick up the girls from their class.  I was wondering what we were going to eat for lunch. Should we stay home and rest after lunch? Or should we go visit grandma and grandpa?  My thoughts were suddenly interrupted as I noticed something beautiful was happening.  Hope was dancing, smiling, and giggling with a girl named Livvie.  That may not sound like a big deal.  But it was.  It was a dream come true.  For years I’ve sat and watched kids running and playing together.  Making friends seemed so natural and easy for them.  My heart ached for my  girls to have a friend.  Someone to dance with, laugh with, and share secrets with.  But it’s not been easy for Mikayla and Hope to make friends.  Their language disorder seemed to be a roadblock between them and the friends they deserved.  I’ve hoped that they would one day find a friend but wondered if it would ever happen.  Then suddenly on what seemed like an ordinary day the extraordinary happened.

Livvie’s mom asked if Mikayla and Hope could stay all night at their house one night during the week of vacation bible school.  I packed their bags for their very first sleepover at a friend’s house.  They went to the park and went swimming.  They had the time of their life.  I’m so glad that Livvie’s mom got some pictures of the girls.  The joy on their faces is priceless
13599819_1326048714090104_7797194446454736222_n

13584858_1326047244090251_8085303699055099376_o

One night I decided to watch the girls while they were doing the games at VBS.  Mikayla was standing in line waiting to do the obstacle course.  And a girl named Katelyn was holding her hand.

DSC01164

Katelyn continued to hold Mikayla’s hand and helped her through the obstacle course.  Katelyn was selfless and she didn’t worry about taking a turn by herself.  She took her turn with Mikayla.  I stood with tears in my eyes as I watched this young lady love my daughter so well.

DSC01168

The next night of VBS they played soccer during the games.  Katelyn once again held Mikayla’s hand and helped her.  They ran together.  They laughed together.  And my heart was full as I saw the sweet smiles on their faces.  DSC01221

DSC01224

Proverbs 13:12 says Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.  It was so hard to wait for years to see our girls make a friend. I often lost hope while I waited.  There were times when my heart felt sick.  But then suddenly God sent Livvie and Katelyn to fulfill my dream.  I can’t even put into words what it feels like to see our girls smiling with Livvie and Katelyn.  I shared on facebook about Hope dancing with Livvie.  And I found a mom who’s waiting for her daughter to find a friend. My heart aches for her because I know exactly how she feels.  I told her that we should meet at the park so that our girls can play together. Mikayla and Hope have another opportunity to make a new friend.  And I smile every time I think about it.                    

What Great-Grandpa Taught Us About Love

When Brynna was little she dragged the card table to the end of the driveway and put a “flowers for sale” sign on it.   She walked around the yard, picked flowers, and tied them together with purple yarn. Great-Grandpa showed up to buy some flowers.  He reached in his pocket, pulled out $20, and purchased a small bouquet of clover. And before he left he reached into his pocket again, pulled out $20, and he gave it to Taylor just for standing there and looking pretty.

Great-Grandpa passed away in April and then 8 weeks later Great-Grandma left us as well.  He was 94 and she was 91.  They were 4 weeks away from celebrating their 73rd wedding anniversary when Grandpa passed away.  It’s hard to imagine life without them. Great-Grandpa was always the life of the party and Great-Grandma was his sweet, quiet companion.  Right now we feel like our hearts have been ripped out.  A friend told me the other day that it doesn’t get easier it just gets different.  Yes, life is different now.  Two very special people are missing each time we have a family get-together.  Great-Grandma and Grandpa won’t be at anymore birthday parties or Christmas Eve breakfasts.  And it hurts. A lot.

We visited Great-Grandma the week before she passed away.  Brynna took me over to a cabinet in the dining room.  She smiled as she showed me the clover that Great-Grandpa had bought all those years ago.  He had taken his clover home and hung it from the handle of the cabinet.  The clover was special to him.  So special that he put it on display for everyone to see.  Brett was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house the day before Grandma’s funeral.  He saw the clover and he brought it home to Brynna.  He knew it was special. That dried up clover holds a memory that Brynna shared with Great-Grandpa.

IMG_0412

We went to church on Sunday.  I still felt numb from the funeral and just didn’t feel like being there.  During the worship service I couldn’t sing because I had a lump in my throat and tears trickling down my face.  I began to think about the high price that Great-Grandpa paid for that clover.  Why did he do that?  He paid a high price because he loved Brynna.  She was worth it.  And he saw Taylor standing beside Brynna and he gave her the same gift.  She didn’t do anything to earn it.  But he gave it to her anyway. Because he loved Taylor.  She was worth it.

The tears continued to flow down my cheeks as I realized that Great-Grandpa’s love is an earthly example of the love that Jesus has for each one of us.  He paid a high price for our sins by dying on the cross. Why did He do that?  He did it because He loves us.  We are worth it.  We don’t have to do anything to earn His love.  He gives it freely to each and every one of us.  All we have to do is accept His love and share His love with others.  That’s all that really matters.  Loving Jesus and loving others.

As we watched things leave Grandma & Grandpa’s house it made us pause and really think about life.  Things just really don’t matter.  We spend a lifetime accumulating things that we can’t take with us when we leave this earth.  The most important thing that we can leave behind is a legacy of love.  We can create memories that can be passed down through the generations.  Perhaps one day Brett and I will celebrate our 72nd wedding anniversary.  And we will gather around his Grandma & Grandpa’s table and Brett will tell our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids about the time that Grandpa Jimmy paid $20 for clover.  And we’ll laugh and remember the greatest lesson that Grandpa ever taught us.  He taught us how to love.