Month: January 2014

Birthday surprises

I left for Atlanta right after New Year’s day, on January second.  Grammie needed to get to the airport, so I decided to take the airport shuttle from Columbus to Atlanta with her, so I could spend some time with her one-on-one.  This also happened, however, to be the day before my birthday.  And I must admit…I was having a bit of a pity party on the way up to Atlanta.  Here I was, the day before my birthday, going away from family and not going towards friends.  School didn’t start for another 4 days; most of my friends were still out of town.  I didn’t even bother trying to plan anything; I just assumed that my birthday was going to go by unnoticed.  At least I’d get to see Elizabeth – she had already said that she would pick me up from the airport after the shuttle dropped me off.

So she picked me up, we got to my house, and she sent me up the stairs with my stuff, saying she’d be right behind me.  I still didn’t suspect a thing.  I heard her coming up the stairs behind me.  And all of a sudden the footsteps separated, and I realized that there was more than one person coming into my house.  Elizabeth had made a little mini surprise party for me!  She had contacted all of my friends to see who was in town – in the end it was only 2 people, but that didn’t really matter :).  So after I went up the stairs, she snuck in Matt and Courtney with her.  They had a cake, and sang to me, and it was just a lovely surprise.  Elizabeth even managed somehow to hide clues to a little scavenger hunt to lead me to a little birthday present – all while I was right there in the house!!  Either I was really out of it, or she’s reallyyyyyy good.  Maybe a little bit of both :).  Either way, it was a huge surprise…totally blessed the socks off of me!

The curveballs continued into the night and the next day.  That night I went dancing, and got to have a special birthday dance.  You can check it out in the video below.  The next day, my actual birthday, was full of little gestures in unexpected places that just meant so much to me.  Chris and Julia treated me to lunch.  A dance friend of mine met up with me to give me a scarf that he had bought for my birthday.  Several friends surprised me with a birthday dinner – which meant even more because the guy who had organized it, Michael, had lots of family stuff going on that would have given him plenty of excuses to not bother with making someone else feel special on her birthday.

L-R: Michael, Jonathan, Jessica, little Nicholas, and Matt

Then that evening Alan, the founder of Wicked Westie, took all of the volunteers to Andretti indoor racing.  It was his way of saying thank you for the help that we give him.  Andretti doesn’t just have indoor racing, though – it has a rock wall, ropes course, and an arcade, as well.  And we did it all.  It was such a blast.  I didn’t get back until almost 1:00 am, but it was totally worth it.  A perfect way to end my birthday – racing go-karts with my dancing friends :).

L-R: Doria, Hannah, Cherylyn, and me

L-R: Stefanie, Jennifer, Nichole, me, and Christopher

That’s me! 🙂

The whole gang

So that’s the story of how my dull birthday turned into the best one of my life.  It was humbling to see how well God wants to take care of me, if only I’ll stop planning everything and leave it up to Him.  Even in silly little things like celebrating one’s birthday.  I had lots of surprises this year for my birthday.  But the biggest surprise shouldn’t have been one at all.  The biggest surprise was just how blessed I am to have the people I do in my life.  People who give selflessly, who constantly put others ahead of themselves.  People who are willing to put my needs ahead of their own.  It shouldn’t have surprised me…but it did, nonetheless.  It really was quite humbling.  I’m so undeservedly blessed!

Be careful what you wish for

Many of you may know this, many do not; but about a year ago, I was falsely arrested and spent a night in jail before my bail was paid and I was released.  Actually, it was exactly one year ago today, which is why I finally decided to post this.  Seemed like a good way to commemorate what God’s done in my life over the past year.

Anyway, what followed after my arrest last year was a continuing saga of lawyers, court dates, tears, and stress before my case was finally dismissed and my arrest record expunged just a couple of months ago.  I agonized over whether I should write about this at all; while an unexpected and certainly unpleasant experience, I wouldn’t want to cause any unnecessary concern.  At this point I’m totally fine, and I’d honestly prefer to let bygones be bygones.

But I finally decided that my story needed to be shared.  And here is why.  The last year has not been just a continuing saga of court dates and stress.  It has also been an even stronger story of growth and redemption.  For nearly 6 months after that fateful night, I had felt God calling me to start working in some sort of prison ministry.  It’s not something I would have ever thought of before, but after having been inside and met and talked with the people in there, I just really felt like God wanted me to love on these people that, quite frankly, nobody else loves.  But regardless of how strongly I felt about it, it doesn’t mean I wanted to do it.  What I wanted to do was stay as far away from any prison or police officer as possible.

But I digress.  I finally relented and started the lengthy process required to get cleared to volunteer.  The last step was my arrest expungement, which didn’t go through until November, but after that I was officially cleared to volunteer.  My first time was a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been several times since.  I have to admit….I was quaking when I walked into that facility.  But by the time I walked out…I’m not sure how to verbalize what was going on when I walked out.

For all the prayers, all the journaling, all the talking through things that I’ve done over the past year, I wasn’t even close to prepared for what I would experience.  Regardless of my negative initial experience, I was reminded over and over again that people, even people in prison, are still people.  They’re humans with hopes and dreams and frustrations, just like you and me.  They’ve been through some terrible things – some because of choices they’ve made, many through no fault of their own.  But, at the core of it all, they still are just hurting, broken individuals like the rest of us, people who need to be loved on and shown God’s grace and compassion.

It was really an incredible, eye-opening time for me…probably the best therapy I could have ever gotten.  For all of my talk about the importance of open-mindedness and sensitivity to others, working in this this ministry made me realize that I had a whole lot of latent prejudices that I didn’t even fully recognize.  On multiple occasions, I found my heart absolutely breaking for people that I didn’t even know 3 weeks ago – people that, even now, I still only know on a first-name basis.

The old adage, “be careful what you wish for,” is equally true when it comes to prayer.  For many years, I have prayed that God would give me His eyes, that He would break my heart by what breaks His.  Well it seems that I myself needed to be broken before I could break for someone else.  But over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve finally come to the point where I can honestly say that I’m grateful for my arrest, and I’m really looking forward to going back to the prison ministry.  God truly does work in mysterious ways!

Extending the season

Well Christmas is over, the decorations have been put back into the attic for another year, the ball has dropped on December 31st, and I’ve started school again.  However, I’m not quite ready to let Christmas go just yet, so I’ve decided to extend the season just a little bit more by writing about my Christmas escapades from after my Oregon visit.

After returning to Atlanta, I hung out there for a few days.  I had bought tickets for mom and I to go see the Nutcracker ballet at the Fox theater the upcoming weekend, and there was really no sense in driving home to Albany only to turn around and come back up 2 days later.  I made the most of my time while I was waiting, though; the most memorable trip definitely being the one to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.  Every year the Botanical Gardens are transformed into a magical winter light extravaganza.  My camera, while very good, does not even come close to doing it justice.  But I did my best :).

Christmas went by in a blur.  I’m used to spending weeks at home over winter break; it was very strange only having a little more than a week in Albany before heading back to Atlanta.  Chris and Julia came down for a few days around Christmastime.  It was nice to see them.  Having the entire family together all in one place is getting rarer and rarer these days.

After they left, I had a few days with just the family before our old friends the Roberts came into town.  We played games, and went out to dinner once (and were rather silly while there – I’m somewhat surprised we didn’t get kicked out of the restaurant, hehehe), and read books…much the same as what we did once the Roberts got here, actually.  Except Josh also got his learner’s permit.  Oh…my…word.  Such a terrifying thought to think that my baby brother is driving!!  😉  Well, I suppose time does march on, doesn’t it?  It has to, or we wouldn’t already be a week into 2014 :).  Updates from my awesome birthday festivities coming up next!

Can you believe he’s got a license now?!?

The whole gang!!

Matt’s reading a book called “The man who loved books too much.”  I thought it was a fitting title 🙂