Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lessons in Marriage from A Stuck Jeep

The day after Christmas was a beautiful one. The snow covered the ground and we decided to go out and play. We drove up to the mountains in the Jeep with our pups and frolicked around in over a foot of snow, taking pictures and feeling the joy that is a white Christmas season.

But Cameron. . . oh Cameron. He was high on winter and his newfound camera skills. He took a few good pictures and bam! he thought he could do anything. So after a while of frolicking he decided that we were going to drive deeper toward the mountain, even as the snow got thicker and thicker.

"I don't think we should go any farther," I said politely. "We have already gotten stuck once, let's just stay where we are at." 

But Cameron did not listen to his wife. Cameron, like the little engine that could, kept driving forward. The tracks ended and you could see that the snow ahead was at least a foot and a half deep, and yet Cameron pressed on the gas until. . . thwump. Vroof. Vroof. Vrooooooof.

That's right folks. We were stuck. Like really stuck.

I got out of the jeep and didn't have far to go- the snow came up to the bottom of the door frame!

I stood by as my husband did everything he could to get the Jeep to move. He pulled branches from the forest, dug snow out from under the vehicle, made me try to take the wheel as he pushed (stick shift is not my thing so this was a serious endeavor!). As time passed and passed and nothing seemed to be working, I sat on the only non-snow-covered rock and I prayed that God would do something to help.

I had visions of trekking through the woods, walking miles to the main road, rationing out our two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until we could find help. I had dreams of the Jeep being stuck out there in the woods for days as it became an icy Jeep grave, never to be used again. I sat on that rock and pretended we were in the Amazing Race and Cameron was doing a Roadblock. I knew that being mad wouldn't help, so after quite a few "I told you not to go any farther," and "are you going to listen to me next time?" I began yelling encouraging things like, "I believe in you babe!" and "Do you think we should call your dad?"

I'm not sure that was actually helpful but it was my contribution to the situation.

When an hour had passed and no progress had been made (despite immense efforts) we decided it was time for a break. I could tell Cameron was frustrated and I figured a peanut butter sandwich could be sacrificed to make him feel a little bit better about the situation.

And that is when we heard it. 

The crunch of another vehicle moving towards us through the snow. It was the sound of salvation.

"YESSS! FINALLY" Cameron yelled into the air. We were saved!

The two trucks pulling up were not new and fancy. They were a bit rusty, with around 12 hounds yelping from the back. But the two older men did not hesitate when we asked if they could pull us out of our predicament. Salvation came to the sound of hounds and I could not have been more pleased. As the Jeep finally began to move I was overwhelmed. . . mostly because I had had to pee for over an hour.

All was well in the world again and Cameron and I headed home.

So what did we learn?

Well obviously Cameron learned to listen to his wife ;) . . . but more than that, I think it showed us how far we have come in this year of marriage. In the beginning we were mostly about ourselves- our own ways, needs, wants. We clashed often because we weren't on the same team. We were fighting to assert ourselves against the other. But the year taught us a lot. As it peeled off our layers, as we reconciled over hurt feelings, as we took our mistakes to heart and decided to be better, we found that we really were on the same team and together, we were better.

When the Jeep got stuck it wasn't just his problem, and I didn't sit sullenly to one side as I might have done a year ago. I knew that this was a situation we were both in, and I needed to be on his team. So I did what I could to help, I shoveled snow in my (fake) leather gloves and my fancy coat, and I tried not to complain as the time passed. I am still a work in progress, but when we got back into the Jeep to go home, holding hands and talking joyfully about our lives, I was so pleased to see how far we both have come.

God has blessed us in so many ways and ass we gear up for year 2 all I can say is. . . I can't wait to see where we get stuck next!

Monday, December 19, 2016

How Cameron Saved Christmas

Do you have dogs? Dogs are great for the cuddly, happy to see you part but they totally suck when it comes to Christmas at my house. In my theory, dogs are like toddlers that you can leave outside all day without checking on them. Inside the house though, leave them for a second and bam! Things are broken.

In this case, my dogs decided they hate Christmas. Last year Bean was a puppy and ate all of the Christmas lights. Seriously she cut them all off by the outlet and chewed them up, lightbulbs and all. I have no idea how she is still alive.

This year, their first attack came in the middle of the night. While Cameron and I were happily sleeping and sugar plum fairies were dancing over our heads, our dogs were gleefully ripping up my Christmas presents. Not Cameron's presents, just mine.

With a start and a dash Cameron ran out to save my presents from their claws. Thankfully they were only interested in the wrapping paper, but man was I mad.

Fast forward a week and we have put a toddler-dog barrier around the tree to keep any doggie-Grinches away from my joy and happiness. So one night we come home all nonchalantly thinking that Christmas is safe and good.

But oh no, there is no such luck. There is a stench in the air that cannot be ignored. I search. And I search. And then I find it. One of the dogs has pooped (the gross kind) all. over. my. Christmas. presents.

Again, not Cameron's presents- oh no!- just mine!

As I start to lose my Christmas spirit and begin to channel my inner Scrooge, Cameron looks at me and says, "Why don't you just go stand on your porch for a while."

Ahh my porch.

My little front porch, thanks to my husband, has twinkly icicle lights hanging down from it. This in and of itself is a huge deal because I begged my dad for years to put up Christmas lights when I was a kid and he always refused. The neighbors, who we were close friends with, actually had their kids ask if we were Jewish or Muslim because our house was so dark at the holidays. Seriously.

So Cameron made my Christmas dreams come true when he said in the car one day, "Would you like me to put Christmas lights up for you?" Swoon.

So there I stood, on the porch of Christmas joy, breathing in the twinkles while he wiped poop from my presents, unwrapped them, and re-hid them so that he can wrap them again.

And that my friends, is how Cameron saved Christmas. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Loose Rocks and Marriage Testing at 12,637 feet

This past summer Cameron and I hiked to the highest peak in Arizona- over 12,000 feet high. Times that by three and that is a plane's cruising altitude. Kind of crazy.

I know what you are thinking right now. You are thinking, "Wow. Meredith is so hardcore and awesome. What a beast." I appreciate those thoughts. I wish they were true.

The truth is that I kind of lost it on this hike. I can blame the altitude, the distance, the lack of water, or anything else, but the truth is, I lost the mental game of hiking.

Disclaimer: My natural tendency is to quit when things get hard. This has always been my trend, and it is something I am having to work so hard to overcome. Hiking helps I suppose because even though I tell Cameron to just leave me at the top of the mountain and call a helicopter, he isn't going to do it. It isn't in the budget. ;)

This was before we almost killed each other:) 
All started well of course, and going up the mountain wasn't so bad. I got a little nervous trekking over snow, ice, and mud, and I complained quite a bit on the final push over all the stupid false summits (nothing is as discouraging as thinking you see the end point and being told it is still 3 peaks past that one). But I wasn't the worst. . . yet. The push at the end was understandably hard. The elevation is so high that it requires hikers like me to have to stop every 10 minutes to breathe and drink water, as dehydration happens a lot quicker up there.

So when I reached the peak, yea, I was still pretty hardcore.

But here is the thing about hiking: Once you go up you have to come back down. There is a pesky lack of helicopters at the top.

Obstacle #1: First of all, and I know this isn't an excuse, but- bugs. At the summit there are millions of little sweat-sucking gnat things that literally swarm all over your body. Now, I have come a long way when it comes to being outdoorsy, but bugs are still one thing that I can absolutely not handle. They are my personal hell and I am sure I looked like a crazy person swatting and generally freaking out over these tiny devil creatures. It was the beginning of the end of my sanity.

Obstacle #2: Loose rocks. This sort of terrain isn't my thing and it really freaks me out. At the time I still had a lot to work out in terms of healing from the trauma I had witnessed because I would get irrationally frightened and anxious about dying, especially when I hike. Its weird, I know, but my brain gets all crazy and freaked out and I turn into a hyperventilating grandma crawling down the side of a mountain. It's not my best look. (Side note: After this hike Cameron graciously let me buy some new hiking boots with better tread so hopefully next time won't be so bad.)

Let's just say that when I finally fell and cut my elbow open that was the tipping point of being overwhelmed. I'm not proud to say that I sat on a rock and cried while telling Cameron to shut up as he bandaged up my elbow. He was trying to be helpful but his technique was. . . less than desirable at the moment.

I will be honest when I say that every hike is marriage therapy for us. We almost kill each other, but in the end we come out stronger- it just takes a few hours, some snacks, and a nap before we are ok again. But hey, if we can overcome 12,000 feet together I feel like we can do anything!

Three times I fell flat on my back on the way down, and 1/3 of the way down we completely ran out of water. This had officially turned into a non-official survival situation my friends. And in times of survival Cameron and I have very different reactions.

I, naturally, get pissed. I was tired, thirsty, and literally had a dirt mustache and the stupid woods were never ending. Therefore I get quiet, except to say, "Someone just kill me" or "Cameron stop talking and being so happy. Nobody wants to listen to you."

Yes, I lose the mental battle. In a cannibalistic situation I would be eaten first just because no one would want to be around me.

Cameron, on the other hand, likes to maintain Cody Lundin's "party on" mindset, which just makes me want to kill him more. Even hiking 4 miles without water he still can talk forever. He is all chipper and joy and "one foot in front of the other." Its a gift. It is also annoying if you want to hate everyone like I do after 10 miles of hiking. I am actually impressed at how positive he can stay when the woods are playing tricks on your brain, the sun is setting, and your wife is being the grump of the century. Don't tell him I said so though. He already thinks he is awesome.

But here is the thing about hiking: Eventually you get back to your starting point. All the loose rocks and the bugs are behind you and you come into the clear open field. You didn't die, you didn't find a hiking lawyer and get a divorce, and you didn't lose your mind from dehydration and fatigue (although that was a close one). Eventually you get to sit down, take off your shoes, and breathe.

And if you are me, you may still cry in the car from sheer exhaustion, but eventually you hobble into Whole Foods and things start to look ok again. You did it. You climbed the highest peak and you made it out alive.

And isn't this true with any of our hardships in life? In the midst of it, it seems that we will be swallowed by the darkness. It seems impossible that we will ever get out of the woods, that our relationships will survive, that we will still be loved despite our failings. The challenge seems, at its time, to be all-consuming. But we will get out of the woods. We will be reconciled with those around us, we will find rest and we will be ok. Yea, sometimes we do things we regret when we get overwhelmed, but that isn't held against you once you reach the clearing. There will be peace, there will be joy again, and there will be an end to the hardships.

God is so full of grace isn't he? Sure, we have to climb the (literal or figurative) mountain, but doesn't He also deliver us from it? Isn't He the most incredible Savior to keep pushing us forward when we feel that all of our strength is gone?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Back at the Writing Wheel

You know that scene in The Notebook where Rachel McAdams says to her man, "I don't paint anymore" (Southern accents only please). Maybe it is a silly reference but in the movie you can tell that her lack of painting represents that she lost something in herself as her life progressed.

Well, the other day I realized, "I don't write anymore." I know what happened, but I didn't realize how significant it was.

You see, this past year has been a struggle. I fought tooth and nail with situational depression and anxiety for the first six months of the year as I stepped into a life with boundaries and had to come face-to-face with the impact of the trauma I had witnessed over the last few years. I don't believe that makes me weak, that the sadness of the reservation shattered me so. I believe it points to the spiritual warfare present there.

In truth, working on the reservation shattered my faith as well, though not beyond repair. I have had to wrestle with a lot of truths and lies. My faith in God was always without doubts until I walked onto the battlefield. The battlefield made me question so much, and I am still in the process of repairing all that has been broken. Thankfully our God is patient and kind, and He has been good to me in this process of trying to understand my purpose here. 

In those hard months I wanted to write but I didn't know how. The depth of my sadness and anxiety was still being processed, and I was unable to process that publicly. Any silly or superficial posts sat unwritten and though my mind still thought in terms of the blog, the half-finished ideas floated around without conclusions and without substance.

Even now my fingers struggle to find their pace again, struggle to let the words flow from my heart onto the page. Writing has always been healing for me but public writing such as this holds its risks- did I share too much? Did I make myself clear? I will never have the most readers or the perfect blog, but I believe that God can use my words to heal others, to let people know that they are not alone. I know there is a purpose behind this little piece of the world wide web.

I am happy to tell you that major healing has occurred in my life over the last year as well. I have overcome the sadness that was buried so deeply in my soul and I have been blessed by a wonderful husband, who though he did not always know how to handle the hard days, has stuck by my side and loved me so well. My ministry with the kids on the reservation is also thriving and they are such a happy and joyful part of my life and for that I am so grateful.

At any rate, I have decided to write again! It may take a while to get back in the swing of things, but I hope that God will spread these words to where they are needed.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Cedar Fire, A Plastic Lobster, and Prayer

It is an unsettling sensation to be packing your car, realizing anything that you leave behind could be destroyed. 

I had seen the billows of smoke earlier in the day, and recognized that it seemed closer than normal, but I hadn't put much more thought into it. Then around 3:30pm on Wednesday, Cameron called me from work to let me know that I needed to prepare for a potential evacuation. The fire was only 10 miles from town.

At this point I basically panicked because I had no idea what this really meant. I had no idea if an evacuation was coming within the next hour or the next few days, so I frantically started packing. You don't realize how much stuff you have until you are about to potentially lose it all. 

I threw a bunch of clothes in a suitcase (mostly our hiking clothes for some reason) and started pacing in random directions looking for things we couldn't replace. 

Obviously I grabbed the plastic lobster that I have had since our family vacation to Maine in the 5th grade. Ir-re-placeable! But I also grabbed our wedding album, souvenirs from around the world, photos, family heirlooms, and a few things from our wedding. Add to that the camping equipment in case of evacuation, instruments, and the 2 dogs and the car was getting pretty full. 

Honestly, the longer I spent in the house waiting, the more random stuff got shoved into my car. Children's books, coats, notebooks, Christmas decorations (in my defense, my ornaments span my lifetime and each hold special significance, so they were coming with me!), and the box of encouraging letters people have written me over the years. 

Everyone kept saying, "it's just stuff," but the "stuff" I have all has sentimental value so it was harder than it seemed to face the potential of losing our new home and the life that we had built within it. I knew it could in a way be replaced, but there was a lot of anxiety involved as I tried to make these hard decisions on my own. I also knew that Cameron was going to give me a quizzical look when he discovered what I had deemed as important, but the best decisions aren't generally made in the midst of a panicked pre-evacuation notice. 

For days I drove around with my car full of our possessions, waiting anxiously for the call that could come at any moment. I had no clue what was going to happen and Cameron was still required to go to work so that made me even more nervous. Eventually he needed his clothes back, so we brought the stuff inside, but it is still ready to be packed into the car if an evacuation is called. 

I will be honest, my heart is breaking as each acre burns. Cameron just texted me that since yesterday the fire has increased to over 26,000 acres. This land is beautiful and it has been a source of peace, joy, and freedom for me as I have lived and worked on this mountain. God gave us this land to protect and I have shed some tears for the loss of its beauty. It won't be easy when all of this is over to go see the damage that has been done. This land is precious to me and 26,000 acres have been burned to the ground. 

So what now?

The fire continues to spread, the workers increase, and the constant flow of helicopters and small planes soar over our home that we are so gratefully still sleeping in. As days have gone by we have been able to relax a little bit, but the danger isn't over. The firefighters and crews (over 700 of them) are still working day and night to contain the fire and keep it from coming closer to our town. We truly owe these men and women our lives and the livelihood of our town. 

We believe that your prayers have kept us from an evacuation thus far, and therefore we need your prayers to continue. Another community has been added to the pre-evacuation status and the fire continues to burn. We need you to pray miraculous prayers for this fire to become 100% contained and the pre-evacuation notice to be lifted. We want our firefighters and crews to be able to go home to their families and our lives to go back to normal. We believe that God will be faithful. 

Certainly this experience has made us appreciate one other and gain perspective on what is truly important in this life and what is fleeting. Yes, it was scary to imagine losing everything, but God would still have been good to us. You guys are proof of that. Your prayers and thoughts have changed our lives. 

We are so grateful for the community that holds us up in uncertain times. Lucy the plastic lobster, Bean and Mango the dogs, and Cameron and I all send our love and thanks to everyone. God is good. . . ALL the time. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My Night of Softball Glory

Last night I had my very first-of-all-time softball game. That's right. I am a bonafide member of an actual sports team where I wear a legit jersey and own a glove and do sportsy things like run and put forth effort.

I know, I know, those of you who know me well are probably both surprised and a little bit worried. I've never been the athletic one in the family, but by golly I am 27 years old and determined to be a valuable member of this team!

So after a lot of practicing with my imaginary bat I was ready to not fail at this new athletic endeavor.  I had been to two practices, done my batting practice, and 10 minutes before the game started I had finally asked someone how you catch a ball with the beautifully brand-new and un-used softball glove on my right hand.

And then my moment came.
I was up to bat.
I had anticipated this moment for days. Elbow up, knees bent, eye on the ball (whatever that means), swing straight and swing hard, DON'T MISS. I bet I look pretty cool in this jersey right now. FOCUS! 

I missed on my first swing, but the friendly umpire said, "nice swing!" so I gained a bit of confidence and stared at the pitcher with eyes full of gumption and desperate hope. At the second pitch I heard that beautiful sound of metal bat on whatever-it-is-made-of softball contact. As I watched the ball hit the ground and start to roll I realized that I had done it. I had actually hit a softball and no one had caught it. So with complete surprise and excitement I ran as fast as these out-of-shape legs could take me and I jumped onto first base like I had just made a home run in the last inning of a tied major league game.
In all of my excitement I totally forgot to play it cool and started screaming, "I MADE IT ONTO A BASE! I ACTUALLY AM ON FIRST BASE!" And then I got my very first actual "good game" butt slap from my friend Jess. In my own glorified remembering of this monumental moment the whole team was also cheering in amazement that I had succeeded.

It was glorious my friends. Pure glory.

In the end I got to run to every base and go through home plate, which was a total dream come true (I had low expectations). Of course I had to ask my teammates at every base when I was supposed to run (turns out there is strategy in this game!) but afterwards I ran back to the dugout to a stream of high-fives and mediocre-glory, face flushed with accomplishment and joy (again, low expectations when it comes to sports). No lie, I immediately called my husband from the dugout (who was already asleep at the late hour of the game) to tell him what had happened and how awesome I was.

I, Meredith Agan (formerly Meredith doesn't-play-sports Carpenter), had actually hit a softball in a game and made a run.


Call the press, people, because this is big.

But here was actually my favorite part of the experience:

I had been so nervous that my team was going to be frustrated and critical of me because I am the worst softball player on the planet and I had joined their team just for fun. I knew I was going to let them down and I knew I was going to pay for that with cross words and disappointed looks. It is simply what I expected based on experience.

But that wasn't what happened. Not once. This group of people, who are my church by the way, were consistently encouraging and uplifting. Without an ounce of annoyance they explained the rules, gave me pointers without making me feel dumb, and celebrated my tiny baby victories. They took time to teach me how to throw and catch, they laughed at my ridiculousness, and they made me feel like a valuable member of the team, not just a liability.

This was the church in action.

We were all different people from different walks of life who wanted to win and wanted to do well, but there was an understanding that we were a team and supporting one another was our first goal.

This was a group of Christians that I wanted to be a part of. After isolating myself for years in my mission work, my job, my responsibilities, I had finally joined a group of church members to do something as a community. They were competitive but kind. Straightforward and forgiving. And I am going to put this out there. . . these Christians were fun! 

I know. I just shocked some of you right there.

In the end I drove home with a friend, yelling Sia's song Chandelier (I only know 8 words of the whole song but I was high on success so I owned it), and ended the night with an ice cream bar at 11pm (I know I went a little crazy, but come on, I earned that midnight snack). It was glory, and it wasn't glory just because I stayed up way past my bedtime and ate ice cream, it was glory because I really felt like I was a part of something.

I felt as if, in the words of an animated penguin, I was a "meaningful and valued member" of the team, and I realized that I was finally connected to the Christian community and family that I had been longing for (yet perhaps avoiding) since I moved to this small town.

Joy had come in a game of late night softball and it was a new kind of beautiful.

Mentally preparing myself, in all my awkward glory, to throw the ball back to the pitcher. 

Look at that form! That left leg angle!  That softball simply soars! 

That is pure concentration and ready-stance, in case you were wondering. Also, I was totally afraid of being hit in the face by the ball. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Husband-Love, A Picnic, and Recovery

I was talking to a friend of mine at the church picnic this past weekend when we looks at me and says out of the blue, "You know, I love your husband." Said husband was at that time on a little walk around the park with another guy we know and I immediately agreed with a whole-hearted, "Well, thank you! I do too! I am so glad to hear that!"

As we continued to talk I could see that this guy had a deep respect for Cameron, as well as a joy for when he is around (I don't tell Cameron to his face so he won't get cocky, but he always makes all of us laugh. He is simply a fun guy to be around). It really seemed to be a continuation of a theme that had been appearing a lot recently. I had noticed it when I went to softball practice the other day too (that's right, I joined the church softball team. I'm a boss.) Everyone happily greeted me and almost immediately said, "Where is Cameron?" People like to be around the guy, and that makes me happy.

Of course I would be the first to tell you I married an awesome guy, but that isn't exactly what this is all about.

You see, the guys that we were hanging out with at the picnic are some of our favorite people in the White Mountains. They are all a part of a beautiful and transforming recovery program called Blue Vase. These are some of the most happy, encouraging, kind, friendly guys I have ever met and every moment we spend with them is an absolute joy- in part because man, God is MOVING in these fellas! It's crazy and it's awesome and it's fantastic to be a part of their healing and growth. (Because come on, we are all healing from something and it's great to see guys really transforming and giving us all hope that we CAN change!).

When our church started partnering with this program last December it was just me and our pastor. We loved these guys from the get-go, but my hope and dream was that one day it would be more than that- that these guys would come to church and they would feel loved on by people not just on staff with theChurch. My dream was that they wouldn't be a group that came to church, but that they would be members of our church. And my secret hope was that it would begin with me awkwardly introducing my husband to them and forcing them to have conversations.

(Funny side note: The first weekend these guys came to church after I had been introduced to Blue Vase I was all prepared to introduce Cameron to the ones whose names I remembered. As they walked in the door I went to say hey and they all totally walked past me and ignored me. Cameron looked at me and said, "Well that went well babe." We definitely laugh about that now!)

And that is why I was so excited to hear one of them say he loved my husband. The husband who at that very moment was out walking and talking to another guy in the program. The husband who knows these guys by name and loves them alongside me, who has spent enough time with them that they look to him for advice and wisdom, and who takes it seriously as we strive to show them a good and healthy marriage (where there is mutual respect and a whole lotta love and fun). The partnership and the community is growing and its starting right where I had hoped it would- with a funny guy named Cameron who I get to call my husband. And I'll go ahead and say it, we all love this guy a lot.

What can I say, God is good. . . all the time. . . and his blessings never cease.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Canyons that Rivers Make

This past week I spent a lot of time in canyons (a simultaneously beautiful and frightening experience) thinking about life and God and everything in between. It seems that this is always the case with nature- it enables me to leave the chaos of life behind and breathe more deeply, to think more clearly. So it was as my parents and I were hiking to the bottom of Canyon De'Chelly in Navajo nation that we began contemplating what this beautiful canyon revealed to us about God.

 For my mother, she reveled in Psalm 8:3-4. She was amazed that the God who created the universe and the canyons still cared to be mindful of her. A God so big still cared about someone so seemingly small.
My father was amazed by God's creativity. The way that the water had eroded the rocks into works of art was incredible. As we got deeper into the canyon the type of rocks and their patterns would change and there were trees growing out of complete rock. At the bottom of the canyon there was a beautiful stream, and my dad marveled at God's creativity, that He had thought to provide us with such beautiful sights. 

But I began contemplating the history of this place and the way that the canyon was made. Hundreds or thousands of years ago this canyon did not even exist. In its place was a river, maybe a flood at one point, and over time the water etched, and moved, and rode away the rock to create the beauty that now surrounded me.

And it made me realize just how much our God is a "big picture" God. When people were using the river as their hydration, their place to wash, their life source, they could never have imagined that part of this river's purpose was actually to slowly etch out a canyon that would be a marvel in hundreds or thousands of years.

The small purpose was certainly of no less importance, but who could have guessed the greater vision? Who could have seen what God planned to do with the river in the long term? They saw a river but God saw a canyon. 

It seems that the same concept applies to my own life, and I am sure you will be able to relate too. My life is made up of seasons- good ones, hard ones, sad ones- and in the moment I cannot see God's greater picture. But every experience, every season, is a river etching away and building the canyon I cannot see or imagine. Every curve of the river is part of creating something new and beautiful.  I have to trust in what I cannot see. I have to believe that God is molding something beautiful out of the flow of the river that is my life, because this is all part of a purpose that is so much bigger.

It is about perspective really. God sees the future of the river and the beauty of the canyon, and He knows it will take time to create. We must learn perspective, as well as patience, and trust in the vision we cannot yet see because He is creating something beautiful. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Titanic, Rockets, and Happy Endings

When I was a kid I wasn't allowed to watch the Titanic movie. 

It wasn't because of the love story or the painting scene, it was because my mom knew that after watching it I would have cried for days. As a child I could never get over the fact that they didn't put more people in those lifeboats, and even 75+ years after it happened I still felt the pain as if it had just occurred yesterday and those people on the ship were my family.

It was the same thing with the Holocaust museum, the evening news, and movies without happy endings. As a child all the way into being an adult, I felt the pain of others' sorrow with my entire being. I was sheltered because the depth of the sadness would have overwhelmed my tiny soul and I simply could not handle it.

As an adult I am able to handle things much better, but I suppose old habits die hard because the other day this happened:

It was just a normal night at the Agan household and I was watching a tv show called The 100 with my husband. It is a completely unrealistic show about the last of humanity who lives in a space station and sends some kids down to earth to see if it is safe to live in again. Complete fiction. But in this episode the kids were trying to send up these rockets to let the space station know it was safe before the station killed off 300 people (they were running out of oxygen). I knew, I just knew, that those rockets weren't going to get there in time and those people were going to die unnecessarily. 

So naturally I threw my head under the covers and begged Cameron to turn it off before the inevitable happened (because if you stop the television before the bad things then you can at least pretend there was a happy ending). Cameron tried to tell me repeatedly that neither the show nor the people were real and so it didn't matter, but I couldn't differentiate. To me this show was just a piece of real life, where real people die unnecessarily every day and I couldn't handle it.

So with my head under the covers and my hands pressed to my ears (yes I am a very weird adult) I began to be consumed by the sadness of our world, by the unneccesary deaths and the half-full lifeboats leaving the sinking ships. As I began to cry over a show about a fictional space station I thought about the one thing that could give me hope in a world of holocausts and terrorism and rockets that don't get there in time. . . . Jesus

It sounds cheesy, but I am being serious that in that moment I could only focus on one thing for sure. . . that this isn't the end. In the light of Easter I was reminded that Jesus is going to return to make things right, to fix all that is bad and bring all that is good. And I thought about Easter being important because it means that the sadness doesn't have to last forever. One day all will be well because death could not conquer the light.

And this was the hope that made me come out from under the covers and breathe, knowing that everything will be ok. The pain of the world will end. And I believe that God will hold so tightly those who have been through unhappy endings as He reminds them that there is a happy ending after all. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cookies and Childhood

As a kid I always loved when my mom made homemade chocolate chip cookies. I have distinct memories of rushing to the kitchen, the warm cookies sitting on wax paper, my mom by the oven as we scooped up as many as we could handle (or were allowed). By the end of the night you had eaten at least nine, but only admitted to five, and the whole house was happy.

I think a lot about what I have brought with me from that childhood home, what traits and examples I have grown into. Marriage brings to light a lot of the flaws and beauties that we learned through life and family, and it can certainly be both joyous and annoying. Cameron and I grew up so differently and we fight into and against all that we learned before we met each other. We strive to be the best versions of ourselves, and so much of what we know we have brought with us from our youth.

As I reflect on my own childhood I am moved toward thinking of my girls, the sweet teenage girls who are having children of their own this season.

These young ones haven't always had the easiest lot in life, and so much of what has been instilled in them will be instilled in the little ones they are now charged to raise. I hope to walk alongside them as much as possible, but those little ones are in their care and therefore the best thing I can offer is to lift up my prayers.

I pray that they, as new young moms, will be able to pass along only the good and the lessons learned. I hope that they can leave behind any times that they have not been treated well, or loved enough, or taken care of. That their memories of being tucked in as a child, of being held or hugged or encouraged, of laughter and joy, will be what they pass on to their children.

I pray that God uses their experiences to strengthen them, to put in them a determination to make a better life for the little one they will now spend their life raising. I pray for a better future for the sweet little innocent babies I get to hold in my arms, one where they don't have to fear abuse, where they don't have to worry about having nice clothes or enough food in their homes.

My prayer is that these little ones grow up with chocolate chip cookies.

Last night I made chocolate chip cookies at my house with my new husband and everything was happy. We've been through a bit of a rough patch but God has brought healing and love and a renewed joy to our lives.

And isn't that the prayer for everyone? That God will renew our joy, help us to learn from our mistakes, and bring peace to our surroundings.

I think I like the sound of that. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Marriage Advice from an Amateur

Today we are going to talk about marriage since, you know, I have a month and a half of wisdom going on over here in Show Low, Arizona and I know you are dying to hear it.

Just call me the wise woman of the forest.

Anyways. . . In the weeks surrounding our wedding a lot of people wanted to give us some advice. It generally fell into two camps, either "marriage is going to be really hard" or "marriage is awesome!" We definitely appreciated the honesty of camp one but preferred camp two.

As we moved forward through our wedding and began life together you would be amazed at how many people began to tell us that our happiness won't last. People would ask how it was going and we would respond honestly with answers like, "Marriage is great! It's so much fun and we simply love getting to do life together!"

4 out of 5 people responded with, "It won't last."

No joke.

This was a slightly frustrating response. And here is why (although you can probably guess):

I believe that marriage is what you make it. I know that Cameron and I are young and we have just started out on this beautiful adventure, but as we change and our lives change, we can choose joy. I have seen plenty of couples lose the joy of marriage as time passed, but I have also seen many couples who are happily in love after 20+ years. The latter is what Cameron and I are choosing to believe in. We choose to learn, to grow, to find the joy and life in the adventures, no matter what comes our way. 

This doesn't mean we don't have bad days, we do. We fight, we get mad, we get frustrated. We disagree about silly things and important things, and sometimes (ok, a lot of times) I cry. Its just what I do. I have a soft soul.

(Funny side note: When Cameron got me noise-canceling headphones I was watching tv and he jumped on my back to hug me. This scared the mess out of me and I ended up crying inexplicably for about an hour. It happens. He was so confused lol.) 

But the disagreements, the hard days, the good times- it all works together to build in us a stronger foundation. We choose to place our foundation in Christ (which does take effort), to learn contentment (even when things don't go our way), to admit our wrongs (that's a hard one), and to choose joy. And no matter what people tell us, we believe that it will last! 

So here is to a marriage that is ever-changing, transforming, and growing. A marriage that lives every day in gratitude for what God has given us in each other (that was in my vows btw), and to growing old with the person that knows you better than anyone in the world and still likes you.

 I think a lady I met over break said it best when she emailed me the other day:

Things will be different, but in such a beautiful way.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Unceasing Brokenness

Brokenness and pain. Does it ever get easier to handle? Less impacting on the heart, the soul, the mind? Will it ever become a part of this life that doesn't tear at my emotions, causing a depth of sorrow that cannot be cured?

In my line of work brokenness is the day-to-day normal routine. As I have expanded my vision here in the White Mountains, I have simply increased the types of brokenness to which I am exposed. Instead of just working with abuse, neglect, and poverty, I am now seeing what happens when that brokenness from childhood goes unhealed. And it will break your heart even more than it has already been broken. 

A new facet of my ministry is in the world of drug addiction, a world I previously knew nothing about. As I get to know people in all stages of addiction, and as I read from those who have lived in this world so much longer than I, my heart swells with frustration that such depth of pain exists.

You can see the pain in the eyes of the addict. It isn't just the pain of a moment or one broken relationship. It is a pain that has become a part of them. The pain and disappointment defines them. To be rid of the pain is the greatest goal, but what are you without the pain that has defined your life? How do you live a life without that which you have become so accustomed to?

Drug addiction isn't just about making stupid choices. It is about trying to escape. What are they escaping? For a lot of people I have talked to it is past child abuse. I begin to tear up as I write this because it is so wrong and so not ok. Child abuse, especially sexual abuse, terrorizes these adults as they cling to anything that makes them not remember, not have the nightmares or the reminder of what happened to them.

What happened to them was wrong. And there has been no healing.

The question then arises, "Where was God??" "How could He let that happen to a little girl or little boy?" They ask with a frantic need for an answer, a need for some new truth to hold on to. 

But I don't have the answer. I can't fix a world so broken beyond repair.

But here is what I can do. Here is the one response I am capable of living out in response to their question.

I can show them where God is now

God holding them tight as they try to overcome their addiction. God surrounding them with people who will love them unconditionally, with no judgement for where they have been or what they have done. God giving them the strength and the ability to sleep through the night without nightmares, to say no to old friends and habits, to hold on when it gets hard.

And I can be a part of the new family, the new relationships, the ones that don't manipulate, lie, steal, or take advantage. And this new family can be the start of a new chapter, one with so much light after so much darkness. 

And it is in that love and support that I, at least, find my answers. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Big Tub of Love

If there is one joy in a wedding it is the love.

The love between a boy and a girl, the love between their families, the love of their friends.

Beyond all else, this was the most moving piece of our wedding day. 

The love made possible by our Savior was an aura throughout the event. It was as if a light shone from each person and into the world around us. I'm telling you as I look back this light of love permeated souls and made hearts swell (and I am not even being dramatic here. Ask anyone who was there). It was brilliant and beautiful and profound and it struck our hearts in a way that will impact us for years.

I am still overwhelmed by the love that emanated from that most wonderful day.

For Cameron and I, we have chosen to live in a small town in the mountains of Arizona in order to be faithful to the ministry God has called us to. A by-product of this has been finding it harder to have deep friendships that aren't the lovely teenagers we spend most of our time with. After a year of hard times, of feeling lonely and yet having each other, of struggling to find our place in this town that God has called us to, we arrived in Georgia to some of our closest friends all in one place. And trust me, being together with that many people who love us, it felt like coming home.

My goodness how we laughed for those few days. It came from deep down in our souls as we sat in the Bed and Breakfast we had rented with so many of the people we love so much, the ones who we don't often get a chance to see. Staying up way later than we intended simply because we refused to leave the fun, we basked in this unique opportunity to be surrounded by so much love. By the end of our time together our bellies ached and our cheeks hurt from smiling so much. It's the good kind of hurt though, the kind you never want to stop.

The fact that they were all there struck us with such love-force. Our friends had joined us from California, Indiana, Maryland, and Georgia to celebrate the love we had found in each other, and the love within these relationships was even more profound as our time together progressed and they supported us at every step.

And get this! Even more beauty was found in the fact that our friends began to fall in love with each other! (they were all there with their husbands and wives, so I mean this is an exciting friendship sense, not in a our-friends-will-marry-our-friends way). Our friends became friends and the laughter abounded and my goodness, it brought life to any place that we entered.

So as I stood on the stage of the sanctuary, looking into my eyes of the love of my life, I took a second to bask in the beauty of the moment. There was something so special about knowing that 4 girls were standing behind me with just as much excitement for this moment, a moment that God had made possible.

There is a movie called Stardust about a girl who is a fallen star and when she gets happy she glows. During our ceremony I felt like we were all glowing, a light of love, as we treasured this most important moment.

A big tub of love. That's what my mom called our wedding. And I would say that is a pretty accurate description. So many people stepped up to make it possible, and I am still filled to overflowing with all the goodness and joy. And as I wake up each morning next to my husband I am happier than I have ever been in my life. Because God has blessed me with more love than I could ever contain. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Katy Perry, Fire, and Marriage

Let me set the stage for you: Katy Perry's "Firework" is playing and I'm the only one on the dance floor. Granted it's my wedding, so I was in the mindset of It's my wedding, I'm going to dance if I want to! but it's a little weird to be doing firework hand motions all by your lonesome while a circle of tables sits around you. In fact, I had thought that my friend was going to stay, but she was all danced out so there I was, having the time of my life. As I lifted my arms into a sweet slow-motion firework motion I happened to spot Cameron right by the dance floor, so being as he was now my husband and therefore required to make a fool of himself with me, I pulled him in to join me in the spotlight.

In a split second, totally like in a movie, I watched as Cameron moved toward me. I'm clearly expecting him to just do some sweet hand motions with me but instead he grabs my waist and lifts me above his head. I'm not even kidding, it was a total Dirty Dancing moment, as if his super human happy marriage strength took over and all of a sudden there I was, floating around the dance floor in the air, like the magnificent dancer that I know in my heart I am. It was magical and hilarious and perfect all at the same time. I definitely felt like an ice-skating-firework-magical-princess.

It was one of my favorite memories of the party because it was so unexpected and such a hilarious moment, all to the background of Katy Perry's Firework. Hopefully it is a sign of what the rest of our lives are going to look like!

Speaking of fire, we definitely tried to light a Chinese Wishing Lantern at our reception, even though the winds were seriously higher than normal. But in the spirit of weddings and picture perfect photos I was determined. After 5 minutes of partnering with our photographer's husband to block the wind and the large flame that was beginning to flourish between us and the paper thin lantern, we decided she wanted to fly. With all the hopes and dreams and encouragement we could muster, we let the lantern into the air.

I guess the lantern is carried more by wind than good wishes, because it started moving straight toward a parked car. Let me remind you that this is a huge flame in the lantern, not a little sissy flame. So there we are- me, Cameron, 2 bridesmaids and 2 photographers- yelling and screaming at this lantern, "Go! Go! Up up up! Oh my gosh THE CAR!" The lantern misses the car by mere inches and heads straight into the road to catch the whole world on fire!

Cameron, full in his wedding suit, begins running toward the street as the rest of us contribute with a mixture of screams and laughter. When he catches the lantern he proceeds to stomp it out (in his fancy shoes) and then picks it up triumphantly. Little does he know, it's still on fire. Like flaming crazy fire. 

"Cameron!!! YOU ARE GOING TO CATCH ON FIRE!!!!" I am yelling as he looks to his side and begins to crazy stomp again.

"Mud puddle! Mud puddle! I found a mud puddle!" my bridesmaid yells and we finally avert all catastrophe with a bit of wet mud and a whole lot of laughter. It was a memory I will never forget as I realized that not every moment is like the Pinterest photos, but man, they can sure turn out a whole lot more fun.

Stay tuned for more details soon :)