new year, who dis?

Oh gosh. It’s official. I’ve reached that point in life where I’m no longer allowed to say the stuff the cool kids are. Or have I?

Regardless of your perspective, here we are at the onset of what many are considering the year of clarity. Or, at least better vision? It’s 2020, people! We shall see!

She’s going down quick, Jim.

Here’s what I can tell you with no lack of clarity (i’m not even sorry for that one). The new year is upon us as is the new decade as is … 40 years for me on this planet. Now, I know the math doesn’t add up because I’ve been holding steady at 28 for several years now but I’m just going to boldly proclaim that I. AM. 40. And I’m friggin’ excited about it! How many other people get to jump right from their 20’s – the decade of growth and change and sheer naïveté about life – into their 40’s – the new 30’s?! This girl. That’s who.

It may also be possible that I want to forget my 30’s. But let’s not talk about that. Cool? Cool.

What I’ve decided is to stop viewing this imaginary line that stares me in the face whispering, ‘hey, don’t you even think for one second about crossing,’ and instead boldly step into some life I’ve not yet lived. Because what else is this life for? Let’s do some living, shall we?

With that, I opted to go somewhere I hadn’t yet been for my birthday. Connor had a youth group retreat and I literally had these few questions for myself to answer:

  1. Where have I not yet been that I’d like to go?
  2. What could I feasibly see and appreciate in under 48 hours?
  3. Where does Grand Rapids fly direct?

And that settled it. I booked a flight to Phoenix in the hopes of setting my sights on the Grand Canyon.

Now I know that many would have picked a warmer destination in January but why get warm for less than 48 hours? It’s a tease. And I’m also lily white. It wouldn’t have made sense.

I also just really wanted to get my camera out to take photos of something other than people. Don’t get me wrong. I adore taking portraits but there’s just something about the way God’s painted this world that just speaks right into my soul. I’ll also note that before I share what I captured that I don’t feel like I did this scenery justice. Not even for one second. But I enjoyed almost every moment of this 48-hour adventure with every ounce of my being. And I hope that at least a little of what I can share will make you wonder about an adventure of your own. Just look up direct flights. It’ll do wonders.

Day 1

GRR > AZA

I actually woke up at 2:30 a.m. (because who actually can sleep before a flight? and because I won’t admit how close that is to standard wake-up.) and the boyfriend (it’s my truck) and I headed out to jump on to our 6:30 a.m. flight. What’s cool about heading out west is that you get there just two hours after you leave home even though the flight is four hours long. Praise GOD for window seats and my level of exhaustion that let me doze the good majority of the flight.

When we landed, we deplaned outside (which is awesome in January, am I right?) and i headed off to Hertz to pick up my ride. Well, happy birthday to me because I was upgraded to a small Cadillac SUV (and yes, the boyfriend was jealous). But seriously? Can we just talk about all the nonsensical gadgets on new vehicles? I miss my key. And my turn dial radio. #oldladystatus

Anyway, the first stop that a good friend had referred me to was just over two hours north. So off we went … after I figured out how to put the car in drive.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I love detours. So, when I should have taken a right leaving the castle, I saw a sign for Fort Verde so I turned left instead. I was on a bit of a clock but it wasn’t far and well, it sounded neat. This detour would lead me to a sweet little historic park that cost me $7 to walk through for five minutes, HOWEVER, the nice park ranger people told me about the best spot to visit at the Grand Canyon and the best way to get up there so I now LOVE.THOSE.PEOPLE.

And, the park had a couple of cool views, too.

On the way back towards where I should have headed, I caught a glimpse of Montezuma from the road. So I stopped. The good news is that there are multiple places to pull off and … that it was a rental. Curb checks in abundance (that’s for you, dad).

The route north took me through Flagstaff (so cute) and off of the main highway (read: speed. i am speed). I stumbled upon this most adorable chapel and of course the only human in the world it made me think of was my Grandpa Lowman. He would have adored that little chapel. It gave me a chance to pull over and put some layers on and also to try and break in. Which you can’t. But it was still worth it! And when I drove away I took a peek behind me and smiled so big at the mountains in the background. I also heard once that it wasn’t real if you don’t stand in the middle of the road and take a photo. So I did that, too.


I drove through Williams and then up into Grand Canyon National Park. It was about 4:00 p.m. so I knew I didn’t have a ton of time (hello, detours) but my entire goal was to catch the sunset. Now, the good people at Fort Verde told me that I’d have to Google the point before arriving because service is poor and it’s not well-marked. They were right. And I’m glad I listened. But first I turned on to the road headed towards my tiny parking area and saw it … the Grand Canyon. And holy crap. I lost my breath. And then I cried. It was the.best. birthday gift (to myself). But now was not the time to stop! I had a point to get to. And it’s name was Shoshone.

I arrived and parked and was so jacked that I grabbed my camera, my extra backpack and my phone. That meant I left my flashlight, my compass, my portable charger and pretty much all good sense in the car. I didn’t remember that until I reached the point though so … it’s all good. Right?

I can’t really talk about how I felt up there. I’ve never felt further from humanity than I did in that moment and at the same time, I’ve never felt less alone. There were moments I could hear the wind and maybe a rabid animal or two (mom, that was for you. and i’m kidding) but otherwise, it was absolutely silent. It definitely was cold but after the near mile hike up there, I was just fine. And honestly, I had to be on my game because being solo that close to the edge of a cliff will definitely keep you on your toes. And then when your phone dies? Yep, even more aware. So this is the part where I felt like my photos took a nose dive but there are reasons! Like I said, I couldn’t have done it justice if I tried but I also didn’t want to drop my camera or myself. Regardless, I sat up there for about 45 minutes. Knowing my phone was dead and there would literally be no way for anyone to find me should an animal eat me, I decided to head back before the sun formally set. I will never forget (surviving) Shoshone Point.

Since the sun hadn’t set all the way and I needed a Starbucks, I headed back towards the main entrance. At that point, the crowd of people had dissipated and it was just me and some obnoxious teenagers (there’s that old lady coming through!). At this point, it was noticeably cooler and darker but I knew this would be my last view of the Grand Canyon because I had a full Saturday planned. Was I there as long as I’d hoped? No way. Was it enough to be what I’d hoped for? Without a doubt.

I actually had another two-hour drive left to get to my Airbnb for the night, thus the Starbucks. The best part was the drive. I saw probably 25 cars (or whatever, you get me). I stopped once because it was so, so dark and I’ve heard that many parts of AZ are zero light pollution. I’m here to tell you that is a very real thing. The sky had more stars than I ever knew existed. And then I got scared because it was so dark and so quiet and I knew my mom would be mad. So I kept trekking. I arrived to my place at about 9:30 and headed for bed not long after because I had planned on a sunrise stop near there. Because why would I not punish my old and feeble body with an early wake-up?!

Day 2

Page, AZ > Sedona, AZ

And that was worth it, too. So here again I felt like I could not capture what I was seeing. Maybe I should buy that special and expensive lens I would have needed? Or maybe … I’ll just remember it in my mind and you can appreciate the cropped photos. That is a much more feasible option. Either way, it was awesome. And the local gal that was there as early as I was gave me the good idea to go outside the fence and in her words, ‘travel at my own risk.’ So I did just that. It wasn’t as frightening as Shoshone but I definitely paid attention to my steps (for my mom).

The bummer about my trip north was that the canyon I’d hoped to see that would be less people-y apparently started selling guided tours last year sometime and I missed that little nugget so that was my one adventure fail but my local friend also told me about visiting the dam just up the road. So, before I headed back south, I detoured up there. Honestly? The dam itself felt kind of ‘meh’ to me but the walk down was so cool. I felt like a real hiker person! And a girlfriend at work totally gave me her hiking shoes so I even looked official. And this time, I brought the right gear (just for you, mom).

I’d heard a lot about Sedona so that was going to be the last area of the grand 48-hour tour. The drive from Page to Sedona was ridiculous. Like, my favorite part of Arizona is that everyone drives a Toyota (#4runner4life) and super fast (almost always 75mph speed limit). These are my kind of people. There are also so many pop-up communities on the side of the highway (read: tiny houses in abundance). On the way, I had to make a couple of roadside stops and a quick hike around this wicked cool trail surrounded by lava, pines and trees shaped much like I feel … kinda bent and saggy.

When I got on the drive towards Sedona, I stopped at Slide Rock State Park. The river that runs through it was as cold as locals suggested and I actually saw some young (and I’d have to imagine very dumb) kids swimming. I’m kidding. They weren’t that young.

The AirBNB I booked near Sedona required me to meet the host in person. That was … different. I wondered when I booked it, honestly, if it was a fit for me but I knew again that my time there would be short and I really liked the bed in the photo. Hey, I’m not terribly difficult to please. She also had a wicked beautiful view out her front porch. She also may have been watching Jeopardy as I was trying to retire for the night, had a rule about flushing before 5 a.m. and a beeping sound that meant my early wake-up became about two hours earlier because I literally couldn’t sleep. But hey, the bed was everything I hoped it would be. So we met and she gave me some Lindor truffles and I took off again for the Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout. That? Was incredible. And totally worth the $3 to the guy listening to 60’s rock far too loudly.

I’ll be honest. The hike at the lookout made me a bit late for the sunset I was craving but I headed towards the crossing I was planning to visit anyway. There were about 15 pregnant woman getting maternity photos taken so I found a quiet spot to snag a couple pics and then headed back towards Sedona because as I told Airbnb lady, all I wanted was a salad I could make myself. And man, did Whole Foods deliver! I’m seriously that high maintenance. It was honestly the first time I’d stopped for real food. Otherwise, I’d packed astronaut food in my bag so I didn’t have to plan for stops. Also, thank goodness I didn’t do restaurants because apparently it was MLK day weekend and literally everyone came to Arizona! I also love hiking because everyone else loves downtown Sedona. Birthday adventure win.

Day 3

Sedona, AZ > Phoenix, AZ > GRR

The only real bummer about the trip besides a lack of sleep and a hairdryer that second night was a delayed flight home. And finding out when I had been on the road for about 30 minutes which meant I was not about to turn around to head back and I’d have a lot more time at the airport. Apparently … Grand Rapids got all kinds of ‘weather’ and the plane was frozen to the ground. That’s at least what the counter agent shared when I cried, ‘whyyyyyyy?’ to her. Honestly, it was not a bad airport to wait around at. It’s about as big as Kalamazoo and they have outdoor seating. And it was nearing 60 degrees when I left. No worries, though. I landed (what felt like) twelve hours later and was thankful for the layers I took with me. See? This is why you do not find warm places for 48 hours lest you forget!

The very best part about the trip was coming home to a really happy kid who had just spent 48 hours with his youth group enjoying the arctic tundra of Big Rapids. He was good. I was good. Life. Was good.

Here’s to 40 (or whatever age you happen to find yourself this year). To stepping boldly over that imaginary line. Just don’t step over the edge. There’s no coming back from that.

And just for giggles, here’s a rough map reflecting my trip. I’m just thankful for unlimited mileage.

sunday drive

Note that I didn’t say Sunday driver, although, I can’t lie and say as of late, that I don’t relate to those I used to tease for driving all over God’s creation at a blazing 35 mph on a Sunday.

The only difference between those folks and myself is that I still drive at least five over the posted speed limit. It’s my rebel heart. But it is, in fact, Sunday. And I did, in fact, go for a drive.

See, meteorologists all over the dang place are using words like blizzard, snowmageddon and snowpocalypse. Or, maybe just winter storm warning but, semantics. All I know is I’m getting this weird vibe I may be homebound for the next several days. And instead of being stuck in a crowded Meijer with all the crazies stocking up for said storm (dear people: you had all weekend), I stuck myself in my car and headed towards the lake.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I figured it had been cold enough for some ice to form but I know of some other crazies who swam in Gun Lake just a week or two ago. I applauded their bravery as I watched from my couch with a blanket wrapped around my already double-layered inclined-to-be-cold body. But at that point, there was certainly some water. And Lake Michigan is like, way bigger.

I decided to head towards Fennville because there’s this sweet little roadside park that typically offers complete solitude. And after having started a bible study recently that’s blowing my mind, I wanted the time and the water to myself.

It was quiet as I’d suspected. It was also noticeably cooler and I’m really thankful I grabbed my mittens getting out of the car. I took my time going down the just barely snow-covered ice stairs. As I got closer, I realized that the ice had formed much further out than I’d anticipated. For a minute, I figured I’d stop where the other footprints had. But I saw an opportunity to walk closer to where the water still moved and I’m not sure if it’s that rebel thing or just stupidity but I headed down the few additional stairs that typically end at a sandy beach.

I knew the walk wouldn’t be easy but I had my good boots and the mittens and knew that both would aid in getting me as close to the edge of the certainly frozen area so I could snap a few photos. I only had a few close calls and I might have laughed at my seemingly constant desire to push fate. But it was so, so worth it when I arrived to the top of a relatively steep ice formation to look out over the water in the process of freezing and where it met the rest of the lake.

While the visual was stunning, the sounds were what got me. It was so quiet given I was the only dumb person in sight which allowed for me to hear the creaks and groans of the water just underneath the layer of ice, fighting the tension of freezing amidst the cold. And just before I left, the sun broke free from the clouds and gave my cheeks a reprieve from the bitter cold.

All of it was beautiful. After a tough week at work, some intense study and writing, and soul searching, it was exactly what my tender heart needed. It was my church today and I appreciate that God led me to that place to meet Him. I feel confident in saying if you ever need to meet God where He is, it’s easy if you go outside. Unless you’re in Michigan and it’s in the next several days … in that case, keep yourself safe and look out the window.

christmas

I am purposely being clear about the content in this post because well, it’s January now. I recognize that Christmas was #solastyear. And I also recognize that I just teased the village of Martin yesterday for the Christmas remnants that still flank the main street (but only in my Instagram story so it’s like it never happened).

I’m not gonna lie. I struggle with the holidays. It’s basically a month-long reminder of how life is different for us. There is grief and loneliness and a desire for solitude that doesn’t make sense in a time that should be joyful and filled to the brim with family and apparently, reindeer corn.

This year felt similar except that grief was exacerbated by the tragic loss of a young man in our community; a man I’d watched grow into a simply amazing husband and father. There was a celebration service held for him on a cold Friday night. His mom, dad, brother and sister spoke and I don’t think they realized how much they ministered to the many hurting hearts there. And our grief is a fraction of theirs. But my grieving heart felt held and reminded of the beauty in the brokenness. It might not feel like it’s supposed to be this way, but there is pure grace. And it’s all I need. (Scroll down to see how you can support the Pavlak family)

After that Friday night, I felt a shift in thinking about the remainder of the holiday season. Connor and I did our one of two shopping trips that weekend and we went to one of our favorite shops and wandered Eastown and it was perfect. Perfect because we weren’t at the mall (praise!) and because we were together shopping intentionally for those we love the most. Imperfect only because there is one store I heart big time and I swear every item with language on it in the store is inappropriate. And well, CJ is at an age where he starts laughing and I feel immediately shamed for bringing my child into such an establishment; however, they have amazing completely appropriate gifts! Such a battle.

The other big change this year was that our Christmas was on Christmas Eve. With schedule shifts in recent years, this was the first Christmas Day I wouldn’t see Connor and I was kind of a wreck about it. But, with the change in thinking, I decided that Christmas Eve was Christmas and that was that and we were going to enjoy the crap out of it. And you know what? We totally did.

I’ll also give a major shout-out to my family for being so flexible and willing to host Christmas on the Eve. And for the agreement we all had to avoid going insane with gifts this year. My parents asked that I donate to the Pavlak family’s education fund and that was the best type of gift to give. Otherwise, we all set limits and for the most part, stuck to them. I was so proud of us!

As usual, we read the story of Christ’s birth and ransacked the living room with wrapping paper. The one gift that was not.cool. was the stuffed dog my parents gave him. My mom and dad both acted like something big was going to happen so I got all excited and grabbed my camera and then we got a dog! A fake one. Lame.

We ate an amazing meal and got to do some church before CJ had to go for the night. As hard as Christmas Day (the real one) could have been, I just enjoyed it for what it was … an extra day off and more freaking food. #sweatpants

It all really just comes down to this choice we make and I’ve allowed myself to see the world from this place of pain for too many holiday seasons about where I should be and how far away I am from everyone else my age and … etc.; when, all the while, I do have so much to be joyful about. And again, I choose joy.

*As I’d mentioned, you can be a part of supporting the Pavlak family. Know that they are humble, sweet people who would only ever ask for your prayers, but if you are so inclined a fund has been set up to ease the burden on Kaitlyn and her two small children as they navigate life without Mitchel. https://www.gofundme.com/the-mitchel-pavlak-memorial-fund

seventh grade basketball

It’s still fairly difficult for me to believe Connor’s in seventh grade. It’s also still somewhat new to see him playing sports where there are scores and wins/losses (gasp!); although he told me that throughout elementary sports, the kids all keep track. How’s that for messing with the whole ‘nobody wins or loses, kids. you all get a ribbon for participating!’ approach?

Continue reading