Kisses from God- Part 2, in which I am reminded He loves me

Brian wasn’t the only one that got Kisses from God while we were in Alaska. I got several, as well. (You can read about Brian’s here if you missed it.)

In order to understand my kisses from God, you have to know a little about me. I’m a photographer.  It’s about more than having a camera and knowing how to use it; it’s about experiencing life in pictures, to the point of thinking in pictures at times. While most people are distracted and pulled out of an event when they taking pictures, I am actually more immersed. I’m watching for that one, defining moment among everything that’s happening. Where is that one vignette in the midst of all the activity that best captures the feel of the moment? When is that one split second when something happens that captures the glory, fun, or whatever, of what is going on around me? I take photographs not just to record, but to remember and to communicate to others that aren’t there to experience it all first hand. This matters to my story, because without knowing this what happened to me won’t sound like much. It may not anyway, but trust me; to my heart, these moments were huge.

The first kiss from God came while we were at Hubbard Glacier. The cruise ship pulled into Disenchantment Bay and pulled as close as it safely could to the glacier and parked for a while so everyone had a chance to stare in amazement at the splendor. And stare we did. I of course stared mostly through my camera lens. I had mentioned to God that I’d love to see the glacier calve, something we didn’t see on our last trip. This time I was looking through my camera’s viewfinder, clicking like a crazy person, when all of a sudden, right there through my lens, I saw movement. A huge chunk of ice, about 250 feet tall, broke free and tumbled into the bay! I clicked like an even crazier person and managed to capture five or six photos of the event. During our short time there, we saw the glacier calve repeatedly in several different places, and I was able to capture a couple different sequences with my camera. My little photographer heart was soaring!

The next day we were in Juneau, and I got to fulfill a lifelong dream: to stand on the blue ice of a glacier. It was a three hour expedition that included several short helicopter flights, a dog sled adventure, and a walkabout on the icy surface of Herbert Glacier. My photographer heart was concerned because we weren’t allowed to take any bags with us. That means I had to strategically stuff extra batteries and cards, along with my wallet and other necessities in my pockets and hope for the best. Changing batteries and cards is not a big deal, except in the cold, with cold fingers, while whizzing across the snow on a dog sled, digging things out of your pockets, or wedged into a tiny helicopter… Yeah, could be interesting. In spite of my usual clicking like a crazy person (see above), both battery and card made it through the expedition. We had just returned to the airport and were waiting for the shuttle to take us back to the dock, and I started reviewing my photos on the back of my camera. I had only looked at about 10 images when my camera went dead. I started to cry. My battery lasted.  As in, there was JUST ENOUGH power to get me through. If it had died on the glacier, or in the helicopter, meh, it happens. It’s a pain, but it happens. But God kept that little battery running, making my expedition simple and carefree. For me. Because He loves me. That my friends, is a kiss.

The final kiss (at least that I’m going to write about here) happened in Hoonah, Alaska, the site of our whale expedition. As usual, I was (say it all together now!) clicking like a crazy person. I got photos of sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles, and whales, whales, whales. For three hours I clicked. The captain announced we had to return to the dock soon, so we would wait just a couple more minutes to see one final surfacing of the whales. This was the closest encounter we had yet with the beasts; they were close enough we could see the scratches and scars on their skin. Then, with a flick of their tail they disappeared for the final time and the captain returned to the wheel to head back to the marina. I looked down at my camera, and saw a flashing message on the LCD screen: CF CARD FULL. Yep. The card held exactly the number of photos I took of the wildlife! The EXACT number! A coincidence? Meh. I say a kiss from God.

So what do I believe God was saying through these kisses? These little things that I could have lived without: things that wouldn’t have destroyed the trip had they not happened? “I love you, daughter. I enjoy they way you experience My creation through your art. Go for it!” My heart is singing, and I still get a big goofy grin every time I think about all this. Little things that mean so much. He loves me. He really loves me.


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Kisses from God- Part 1, In which we both become blithering Idiots

Last week we took our second trip to Alaska in two years. We had such an amazing time on the first trip we just had to go back to share it with our kids. Amongst everything going on there were a few little incidents that were kisses from God. You know, those events or moments that weren’t by any means necessary but tap you on the shoulder as being put there by a loving Father to remind you of His love. Yeah, we had several. The most spectacular one was for Brian. I mean, we were all thrilled, but it was definitely put in place to touch Brian’s heart.

Brian has a thing for whales; for years he wanted to go whale watching. In fact, that was what prompted us to take our first Alaskan cruise: his desire to see whales in the wild. That first trip we had a beautiful time hanging out in a cove with one mama whale and her baby, watching them repeatedly bubble feed. This time was different. It took a while to find the whales, but when we did, there six of them. Six! One showed up just as we were leaving to wave its tale at us as we drove away in the fishing boat we had hired, but the other five swam around, spouting and showing off their tails. (The photo above is one of these whales when it was positioned just right in relation to the sun and us to make a beautiful spectrum appear as it spouted.) I didn’t know until later that Brian felt like, as awesome as the experience was, it was a little incomplete because we didn’t get to see bubble feeding. But God knew.

After a lovely lunch of freshly caught fish and chips sitting on a restaurant deck overlooking the water, Brian and Amanda decided to take a walk on the rocky beach below before heading back to the ship, and Adam and I opted to stay on the deck enjoying the cool breeze. I was enjoying the view, thinking back on the morning’s adventure, when I noticed something strange in the water. There was a ripple. A huge, circular ripple, not more than 30 or 40 feet off the shore. My first thought was that it looked like bubble feeding, but it obviously wasn’t, since it was so close to shore. I kept watching and noticed the ripple was intensifying, and finally saw a huge bubble along the ripple, and realized it was in fact a whale about to have lunch.

At this point 3 conversations broke out in my head. Conversation #1 was with Brian and Amanda. It was “Hey, guys, look! There’s bubble feeding just a few yards off shore right in front of you!” The second was with Adam: “Hey, look, Adam! Down there by where your dad and sister are standing. See that ring in the water? That’s bubble feeding. If you watch, you will see a whale burst up through the center of it grabbing a giant mouthful of fish!” The third was with myself: “I can’t believe there’s bubble feeding so close to shore, but there’s no other explanation. You need to pick up the camera, turn it on, and get the settings right. You need to hurry; there are just a few seconds before it’s too late.” Yes, I had all those thoughts, all at once, as the world seemed to switch to slow motion. In the heat of the moment, though, all I was able to say, while reaching for my camera with my right hand, pointing with my left hand, and pushing my wheelchair out of the way with my foot, was “Look look look look look!” Not very erudite, but it was effective. Not only did Adam manage to look just in time to see the whale above water, but 100-200 of my closest friends/total strangers heard and ran (yes, RAN) to the railing to see whatever it was that was causing the crazy old lady in the wheelchair to freak out.

Brian and Amanda had a front row seat (to everything except my freak-out). The whale surfaced directly in front of them. Not up the shore a ways, but directly in front of them. What I didn’t know until later was that Brian noticed the bubbles right away, and knew Amanda might not notice since she hadn’t experienced bubble feeding before. Being the good dad he is he wanted to say “Look, daughter. See that ring of bubbles? That might be bubble feeding. Watch closely and we might see a whale.” Instead, he pointed and said, “Bubbles bubbles bubbles bubbles bubbles!” Once again, not eloquent, but effective! Amanda looked in time to see the whole event unfold right in front of her. After that the whale swam along the shore a ways, gave us a wave of his tail, and was gone.

The whole family knew this was for Brian. It was God saying, “I know what moves your heart, son. I’m here. I love you.” Like I said, it wasn’t a necessary part of the trip. None of us prayed for it, or was even looking for it (before the babbling started, at least), but what a beautiful token of affection we were given that day! God is faithful and really knows how to throw a party!

Brian and Amanda, pointing excitedly as the whale swims away.

Brian and Amanda (lower left) watching as the whale waves good-bye


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Happy Birthday, Mattie Sam

Four years ago today I had one of those milestone birthdays generally celebrated in a big way, making big memories. I don’t remember what presents I got, or what my birthday dinner was. I only remember one thing: the phone call saying Matthias Samuel was about to enter the world. I spent the rest of the day checking my phone every five minutes to see if he had arrived. Much to my disappointment, he waited two hours past midnight to make his appearance, but I decided to claim him as my birthday buddy anyway.

Mattie was born with Down syndrome, which we knew he would be, but he also had a heart condition, as well as some other physical complications. He got an infection when he was four days old which almost took his life, and that was just the beginning. We almost lost him so many times during his first year that I lost track. Through it all, Mattie was busy being Mattie. This boy had a smile that melted the hardest of hearts. You know at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch’s heart grew three times its size? That’s what Mattie did for us. Two months ago, on August 21, 2014, Mattie Sam met Jesus face to face. It was sudden, and it was a shock. We are still reeling from it, in fact.

There are those who say Mattie should not have been born because he was sick. Did he suffer? Yes. But guess what? He also loved. He loved and was loved. He had joy, he gave joy. He learned, he teased, he grew, he inspired. Through social media thousands saw the pictures Mattie’s mom posted of him daily and grew to love him. I’ve heard many people say when they had a bad day they’d log on to Facebook just to look through pictures of Mattie until they felt better. That was our little Miracle Mattie. Through it all, he was a trooper.

His parents are also troopers. Life with Mattie was hard: really hard. But if you ask them they will say that yes, it was worth it. Yes, if they had to choose, they would choose to do it all again, a million times over. His siblings, ranging from the age of 7 to 23 also say it was worth it. HE was worth it. Yes, life with Mattie was hard, but life with Mattie was also beautiful.

We all wish we had more time with Mattie, but we are grateful for the time we did have. Just like Mattie, we learned, we loved, we grew. We’ll see him again someday when it’s our turn to meet Jesus face to face. Until then, we remember, and we celebrate. Happy birthday, Mattie Sam!


(The above photo is Mattie at the age of two. His mom wrote a beautiful book explaining tracheotomies to help the many children who were following Mattie’s life understand what that thing on his neck was. The book has been used to inform and prepare many families across the country)

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True Romance

Romance comes in many flavors. Movies and books show beautiful, “perfect” (pretty, impossibly thin, and with long flowing hair) princesses and “perfect” ( muscular, handsome, and large) princes. The Princess has a problem, the Prince rides in on his noble steed and rescues her, off to a castle where every day is sunny and there are servants who do all the work. There’s another type of romance, where the man lavishes flowers, jewelry, and chocolates on the woman for no special reason. There’s also the Taking Long Walks at Sunset on a Tropical Beach type of romance, the Giving Handmade Trinkets to Show You I Really Care flavor, and the I Wrote You a Poem Even Though I’m Not a Poet kind of romance. Now it’s even  supposed to be romantic when  a vampire loves a woman so much he wants to take away her mortal life. I admit to having a soft place in my heart toward all these definitions of romance; well, with the exception of that vampire thing. I’ll keep my own blood, thank you very much! While this is the stuff of fairy tales, after three decades of marriage I’ve discovered real life romance often looks very different.

Last week I had a whirlwind of medical appointments, including two with new practitioners. One of the appointments led to a medical procedure scheduled with less than 20 hours notice. The whole thing left me overwhelmed to the point of being pretty much useless for a while as I processed what was happening. My amazing husband got the next day off (while I was still talking to him on the phone) so he could be there for me. He took care of dinner that night, knowing the day had been hard on me, and the following morning he drove me to the procedure. I was in pretty rough shape when we got home, so he spent the next few hours sitting with me, watching me drift in and out of sleep, ready to call an ambulance or bring me chocolate, whichever emergency might come up.

That kind of love doesn’t show up in books or movies. It’s not exactly riveting, just watching someone sit in a room and watch someone sleep. But guess what? It is very romantic. Flowers are nice. Jewelry is nice. A box of chocolates is nice. But what, at the end of the day, is the romantic value of all those things? They say, “I love you. I want to be extravagant in showing how much I love you.” And guess what? So does taking a vacation day to sit and watch someone sleep, just in case there is the tiniest thing they can do for you. My husband spent one of his vacation days just to be there for me: to sit and make sure I was still breathing. (The ambulance emergency didn’t happen, but the chocolate emergency did. 🙂 ) He didn’t begrudge me the un-fun use of his vacation time. He didn’t find me not worth the effort, and he didn’t think I should be mature enough to not need his support. That, my friend, is true romance.

So, will someone be knocking at our door, begging to write our love story? Probably not anytime soon, but that’s just because the world doesn’t understand what true romance can, and should, be. The occasional gifts are nice, don’t get me wrong! I have yet to turn down a gift given out of love! It’s just that the flashy ones get all the good press, so it can be easy to miss the bigger expressions of a deep, abiding love. You know: the kind of love that is patient and kind, and keeps no record of wrongs. True romance.

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Physical Therapy Day 3, In Which I Learn Deep Water Walking is Harder than it Sounds, and Not Much Like Walking

I love going to the pool. I like the feeling of being in the water, and I like being able to exercise without feeling all sweating and disgusting. Because of this, when my physical therapist suggested I should skip walking the track and neighborhood for deep water walking, I was like, heck yeah! I don’t mind walking, I love being in the pool; I just hit the exercise jackpot!

For the uninitiated, deep water walking is where you strap on a really thick, wide, closed-cell foam belt, get in the deep end of the pool, and walk back and forth. The theory, in my case, is that this will allow me to get the benefit of walking while allowing the stress fractures in my feet to fully heal.

I had visions of walking nearly effortlessly around the pool, exercising my muscles while bobbing along like a three year old wearing floaties. That is, until Brian the Great asked the question, “So, if your feet don’t touch the bottom of the pool, how to you move forward?” Thank you, dear. Now I’m insecure… I googled it to learn how it works, and headed out first thing this morning, ready to have some fun.

The first sign I was in trouble was in getting the belt on. (The belt shall now and forever more be known as the Belt of Floundering.) My physical therapist had warned me to make sure it was tight enough that it didn’t ride up. I put it on, cinched it as tight as I could, and got in the pool. The belt was apparently afraid of the water, as it did everything it could to stay at the surface. If it weren’t for my armpits catching it, the Belt of Floundering might have slipped right over my head. I took it off while in the pool and discovered that trying to put something determined to float around your waist while up to your ears in water isn’t a good idea.

Once the belt was in place, I tried to walk. The therapist told me it was important to make sure I stayed completely upright and didn’t allow the belt to push me into a leaning forward posture. She failed to tell me the reason. Oh sure, she said something about it being bad for my lower back, but I learned the real reason. All it took was a little lean forward and the Belt of Floundering conspired to shove me WAY forward. As in, one degree more of leaning and I’m positive I would have ended up upside down in the pool, doing my best impression of a duck feeding on a lake. Bottoms up!

As for gently paddling around the pool, well, that proved to be elusive as well.  I soon discovered that the term “walking” is taken rather loosely in Deep Water Walking. It ended up being much more like Treading Water While Cross Country Skiing Up To Your Neck in Pudding. I was concerned that it would be a nuisance to turn frequently, since half of the pool was roped off for swimming lessons. I needn’t have worried. Any forward progress was so slow (and I’m convinced accidental) that I welcomed the turn in the middle of the pool just for the change in scenery. My arms were pumping, my legs were pumping, and there I was, in the middle of the pool, going nowhere.

Are we having fun yet?

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Is it Cold in Here?

Yesterday I woke up earlier than usual because I was cold. I mean, really cold! Anyone who knows me knows what a big deal this is. I was concerned, figuring I must be getting sick and running a fever. That was Amanda’s conclusion when I mentioned it to her. If Mom is cold, something is seriously wrong. I snuggled under the covers, and even pulled up the super-thick comforter that we only use to make the bed look pretty. I knew I’d get too hot at some point and end up tossing the comforter aside, but for now it felt nice. I was shocked when I woke up an hour later, still under the comforter and not too hot. That’s when I knew I was starting a fever.

I reluctantly crawled out of bed and pulled a sweatshirt over my pj’s and snuggled under a blanket into a comfy chair to watch the early morning news. And I was still not warm enough. When I was a little more awake, I started to think through the problem. I thought about the guy we had to the house the night before to sell us a new furnace. I thought, all things considered, it was a fairly convenient time to have the thing break, since we already a new one ordered that would be installed in a couple days. The guy we had at the house. Hmm… He looked at the old furnace. I wonder if he turned something off while he was checking it? So, I padded downstairs in my pj’s, sweatshirt and snuggly blanket (please note, it was a snuggly blanket, NOT a Snuggy!) and checked the thermostat. It was still set to “heat”. Huh. Bummer. However, it said it was currently a good 10 degrees cooler than it normally is in the house. “No wonder I feel cold! I’m not getting sick!” was quickly followed by “…so the furnace is dead.” Bummer.

I padded down the next flight of stairs to the basement and into the utility room, just to make sure there was no possibility of resuscitation. I stood looking at the Mighty Furnace Monster that was the possible cause of my agony. I stared at it; it stared at me.

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And I thought: “I’ve seen a couple different repair guys take off that front panel, and they make it look easy. I can do that. I wonder where the switch is, though. I’ve never seen them flip a switch. It must be one of those reach-up-to-the-inside-of-the-front-panel thingies. Or maybe a behind-the-trumpety-heat thingies that shoot flames into the peeling-metal-thingy-they-said-could-crack-wide-open-any-day thingy. That would be bad. Uh…” And with that, I headed back upstairs where it was slightly warmer to nurse my indignation at being woken up early.

I called Brian to tell him what was going on, mostly because, even though it wouldn’t make me warmer, I had decided that whining to someone would make me feel better. His response was quick. He said, “Did you check the switch on the unit itself?” I gave him my story of woe, of how I was too intimidated to open it up and start feeling around inside the thing to find the switch. He told me that I didn’t have to open the unit, confident that it would be easy for me to find. I headed back down the stairs, pj’s, sweatshirt, snuggly blanket and all. I entered the utility room once again, with absolutely no confidence that I would be able to find the magical switch.

Scroll up and look at that picture of the furnace again. Did you notice the obvious electrical box mounted on the side of it? Me either… Not only was the switch on the outside of the furnace, it was red. As in, if-you-ever-need-a-switch-there’s-no-way-you-won’t-see-this red. As in, if-Wiley-Coyote-ever-bought- a-furnace-to-drop-on-the-Road-Runner-the-switch-would-look-like-this red.

20130111_071008 adj

I mean, really. Who would make such a switch??? Although I suppose a better question is, what kind of person could possibly miss it???

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I entered the @EpiphanieBags Picture It photo contest! . The contest topic is “Green!” Here’s my entry. What do you think?

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