Siete Anos

When the “Mexico” envelope in my sports bra drawer was overflowing with random bills, Joey took its contents to the bank to deposit. Then in December he secretly booked the trip we’d been saving up for since the week Finn was born. We knew in February 2012 that an escape from reality would be necessary as soon as we could afford it.

So last week, my love of seven years (TODAY!) and I kissed our munchkin goodbye and left him in the capable hands of my mom. Thank you, mom (and dad!).  And we boarded a plane for Cancun. Delayed by four hours, but who cares?! We hired a private driver to take us south to Riviera Maya. IMG_4875

Tipped said private driver and opened two ornate wooden doors into the beautiful world of rest, luxury and romance: Excellence Resorts Riviera Cancun. Big sigh of relief.IMG_4877

This was our second stay and we enjoyed it even more than our first three years ago. I’m 100% convinced that married couples need to get away. Somewhere stress-free and fun. On any budget. We highly recommend the Excellence Resorts–worth every penny!IMG_4889IMG_4924

I’m so for marriage.

It is our closest reflection of the Christ-human relationship that we can find on this earth. It demands self-sacrifice, love without stupid conditions and humility…three characteristics that make many of us–myself included–squirm in discomfort.IMG_4912 photo-1

Spa day...a huge slice of heaven!

Spa day…a huge slice of heaven!

The best marriage advice I’ve happened upon in my short seven years married to Joseph Earl is thus:

Re-fall in love with your spouse. Over and over and over again.

Joey is not the same man I married. And I am not the same woman he kissed at the alter. We’re a different version of ourselves. In most ways, we’re better and in some ways, perhaps we’re worse.IMG_4980 photo

But if we keep trying to get our spouse to be the person they were when we married them, we’re going backward, right? And I want to always be moving forward…adapting, changing, evolving into the woman God intended me to become.

I have to explore Joey’s most recent career aspirations, his favorite foods, what he’s ordering at Starbucks, his latest insecurities, what he thinks of spanking and therapy and video games for Finn, the things that are inspiring him, how many push ups he can do these days, and the ways I can say, “I love you,” more clearly.IMG_4963

It takes work, intention and tedious practice.

Saying "hi" to baby Finn on FaceTime. Heart melted.

Saying “hi” to baby Finn on FaceTime. Heart melted.

And some days I’d rather just come home from work, ask Joey how his day was, listening half-heartedly, while I cook a familiar recipe. Then veg on the couch watching a recorded episode of So You Think You Can Dance. And go to bed. It’d be easier than trying at my marriage.IMG_4985

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But Joey and I have seven years of sharpening and disagreeing and encouraging and laughing under our belts and I’m committed to spending seventy-times-seven more years re-falling in love with this man. This opportunity is a blessing I am well aware of.IMG_4983

Happy anniversary, Joey!

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Beautiful Things

At some point in April we plant seeds. Onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro (can you tell we like to make homemade salsa?!), basil, zucchini, brussel sprouts, broccoli, lemon verbena, mini snacking peppers, green beans…photo-4

And the following day Jersey jumps the garden fence and digs, scattering the seeds in the northeast corner. Every year.

And then sometime in May once we’ve had plenty of showers and tornado sirens, followed by plenty of sun-shining days, little plants peek up from the soil like submarines. First come the green beans. Then the zucchini. Peppers are always last.photo

Despite the hail storms, the days/weeks we forgot to water, Jersey’s destructive paws, amateur homemade compost, Oklahoma heat, lack of fertilizer, and general inattentiveness from me;

Something good always grows.photo-3

I’m crazy about the song, Beautiful Things, by Gungor.

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

photo-2I think about how my life is so much like our garden.

Despite my carelessness, I have too many blessings to count. My life often lacks the meticulous pruning that so often produces healthy buds and luscious fruit.

Yet something good always grows.

Spina Bifida feels a bit like chaos sometimes. Like the monster that crept under my son’s bed and stayed there. I’m often surprised that anything good can come of this menace.

But something good always grows.

Encouragement from a local news story about a three year old wheelchair racer, our therapist declaring that Finn is “so incredibly smart,” an SB cover story on a friend’s running magazine, watching a disabled friend ride his hand-cycle around the block.photo-5

Something good always grows. Even from our often neglected garden, the birth defect that crippled my son, and the dust of my life. Something beautiful.

Suit and Tie

…no not Justin Timberlake’s over-played but catchy hit song.

I’m referring to my dad, the one and only, Michael Rosell.IMG_1492

I was not much of a softball player. Off-season training was where I shined. Sprints, bleacher runs, plyo-metrics, planks and weight-lifting were my thing. Not hitting or fielding balls.

One particularly stifling game though, I will never forget. It was a HOT afternoon in San Antonio. I was suited up in my white and navy polyester Smithson Valley Rangers uniform (I wish I could find you a picture!). Clean and unstained by the dirt surrounding the bases…because I sat the bench. My coaches were former Nebraska Huskers coaches and expected nothing less than perfection from our JV team. The pressure I felt to please them literally crippled me on the field. I knew what to do and when to do it, but I couldn’t make my body obey my mind. Thus, I sat the bench because I was unreliable. Maybe I’d hit it to the fence; maybe I’d strike out.

Anyway…I remember sometime into the third or fourth inning, I glanced through the chain-link fence of the dugout to see my dad climbing the steps of the bleachers. In his suit and tie. He had snuck away from corporate America to come watch me “play.” He waved to me and I waved back, feeling terrible. He’d come all the way from work to sit on the scorching bleachers in his houndstooth suit, and my butt may not even leave this bench. I prayed that Coach Dagle would have sympathy on my dad and send me in to catch a pop up or something–something to make his trip worthwhile. I think I was up to bat a couple times and I must have done nothing of great significance because I can’t even remember. All I remember feeling was embarrassed.

After we high-fived the defending team and gathered our stuff from the dugout, I went to thank my dad for coming and apologize for being such a loser. But in true Mike Rosell form, with sweat dripping from his brow onto his paisley tie, he told me how proud he was of me and how he loved me and he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

I did nothing. Really. I was pathetic. But he loved me anyway and somehow I made him proud. I think my dad learned this kind of unconditional love from our Heavenly Father.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank you, Dad, for sitting on the bleachers of my life, rooting for me whether I am striking out or hitting a home run.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Paradox

I love the contradictions found in Scripture. Once they frustrated me, but now I find them fascinating; freeing.

The virgin birth. A King born in a trough. Die so you might live. Light in darkness. Jesus as fully God and fully man. Freedom with restraint. Re-birth. The Holy One suffers a criminal’s death. Love your enemy. Give to receive. First is last. Last is first. Empty yourself to be filled. Alpha and Omega.

One such paradoxical passage is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” Matthew 5:4.

“Blessed” in this verse can also be translated from the Hebrew word, “esher,” to mean “happy.” Hmmm…so when I’m at my lowest point, my most vulnerable state of despair, that’s when I’m truly happy? Seems cruel. Maybe it’s the contrast that creates the fulfillment of these emotions. Maybe I cannot fully experience happiness or blessing until I have tasted sorrow. Maybe my smile is brighter because I’ve mourned. Perhaps the one emotion heightens the other.

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We were just babies.

My parents bought me a cooking class at Central Market (gotta love Texas grocery stores-shout out to H.E.B.!) for my birthday several years ago. Joey and I chose a spot in the back of the classroom. We were the youngest students by about twenty years. IMG_1189We tasted some yummy dishes that day–seared scallops, gazpacho, tuna steak and escarole, lemon soup–but the culinary tip I remember most was that the best recipes have a beautiful balance of acidity and brine. Lemon and salt.IMG_1195They need each other. The one ingredient accentuates the other–they play off each other to create harmony in a dish.

I need happiness to appropriately mourn, and I need sadness to fully rejoice.  I think mourning matures our faith; it tempers the levity in our lives. Like capers and orange zest. Parmesan and lemon.

Though exhausting, unnerving, and oftentimes crippling, the sorrow I’ve experienced in the past two years has created in me a deeper, more authentic sense of blessing, happiness and gratitude.

Finn is my best teacher. He sure knows how to be happy. Hope this short video of his laughter brings you joy.

Finn in Swing from Joey Armstrong on Vimeo.

Thirty

I turned 30 on Thursday, June 6th.

Joey shoe-polished my car. :)

Joey shoe-polished my car. 🙂

It was a glorious day. Beautiful spring/summer weather. I trained eager and energetic clients, taught a fun spin class where they asked me 30 questions while we rode, trained my mom (a special treat), snuggled with Finn, took a road ride with Joey and enjoyed a long, slow dinner with fantastic friends at Packard’s New American Kitchen in Midtown OKC.

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Joey made the day special in so many ways: a banner, balloons, hydrangeas, and he made me wear this flashing birthday necklace at dinner.

photo-3My mom was in town all week, my dad came in for the weekend and Joey’s parents came down Saturday.

Nana Deb taught Finn how to make movies on the iphone.

Nana Deb taught Finn how to make movies on the iphone.

Fun with Nana Bec

Fun with Nana Bec

Sweet Laura made this for me! See Martha Stewart's website to make your own.

Sweet Laura made this for me! See Martha Stewart’s website to make your own.

I felt so special; so blessed and so thankful.

In thirty years, I’ve gained…a rock star husband and his family, a startlingly funny and joyful son named Finn Joseph and a new perspective on ability and disability because of him. A few fantastic recipes, a c-section scar and a collection of new wrinkles around my eyes and mouth. Life-long friends, an undergraduate and masters degree, a slower metabolism but a faster cycling cadence. A deeper understanding of God’s love for me but less understanding of His mysterious purposes. A heart teeming with gratitude for His blessings, and a hunger for another thirty years…or so.

Bovec: A Memoir

You say it, “Bo-vets.” It’s this gorgeous Alpine village in northern Slovenia, just south of Austria and east of Italy.

I always think about camping in Slovenia this time of year. In fact, Joey and I tented in our backyard on Sunday night. It was just what I needed after a stressful week. My “fix.”photo 1photo-1We lived in Slovenia for an entire summer exactly 5 years ago as part of Joey’s MDiv requirements. He wasn’t actually required to spend a summer rafting, rock climbing, hiking, canyoning (WILD STUFF) and sipping espresso…but he was required to get some cross-cultural missions experience.

And that’s what we did. We collaborated with the American missionaries in Bovec to provide a children’s VBS and continue the effort of ministering to local outdoor athletes. DSC04476

We focused on building strong relationships with the locals (several of whom we still talk to today).

DSC04483We told them the story of how Jesus changed our lives. And that He could change theirs too. We prayed for the city of Bovec sitting atop Mt. Svinjak after a nearly vertical 8 hour hike.DSC03906

Buds

Buds

Joey, Josh, Katy and I yelled for “pizza!” a good portion of the way down the mountain, knees throbbing, and stomachs aching with hunger. Cracker-thin, cheesy pizza and dark chestnut espressos were our comforts that summer. They were warm and familiar. A hug from home.

Kava Z Mlekom

Kava Z Mlekom

We made such fantastic relationships with the locals in Bovec. The kind of relationships where, by the end of July, they knocked on the glass of their storefront windows as we passed on the sidewalk, invited us to play Bocce or go to a festival, and gave us a ride from town to our campsite near the river about two miles away. They waved across the streets and we waved back, knowing all their names. Joey even played on the winning team in a local sand volleyball tournament.DSC04535

Bovec

Bovec

This was the summer we walked at least five-ten miles/day. Uphill. In the rain. We rock climbed several times a week and hitch-hiked from southern to northern Slovenia, relying entirely on the kindness of foreign strangers for their hospitality. DSC04317One particularly exciting car ride was from Osp, a small rock climbing town, to Vrpolje. We were literally piled into a toy car much like this one…euro-renault-twingo-470-080

…four of us in the back seat and three up front. No seat belts. The men who offered their vehicle were loud, boisterous Spaniards; firemen on vacation together. I knew in those moments that I wouldn’t be able to explain what that car ride was like, but that I wanted to remember it forever. Only one guy spoke broken English, and somehow we managed to relay to him that we’d like to be dropped off in the next town.

Vrpolje was a beautiful valley town tiered with lush vineyards and grazing sheep. DSC03703

The ruins of an ancient castle sat high upon a rocky crag, overlooking the village below with weathered pride.

Hiked to the castle...and couldn't quite get the camera timer to cooperate! :)

Hiked to the castle…and couldn’t quite get the camera timer to cooperate! 🙂

For the next several nights we slept in the backyard campground of one of the most hospitable families I’ve ever met. They offered us homemade prosciutto and wine, allowed us to eat out of their garden, and maintained the cleanest, most sparkly bathrooms. DSC03694DSC03699

The Kobals

The Kobals

We rock climbed in the morning, fell asleep in our hammock mid-day and played cards in our tent at night. Dinner was a loaf of crusty golden bread, 75% dark chocolate and fresh cheese.DSC03714

This summer changed my life. I felt so adult. So self-sufficient.

I was pushed WAY outside my comfort zone into tiny, stinky bathrooms without a flusher on the toilet. Into dark homes like caves where I was offered strange foods. Into tiny European cars that veered dangerously along steep mountain roads. Stuck in a tent while rain pelted the nylon for days on end. Tepid showers once or twice a week. Challenging, dangerous climbing routes. Difficult spiritual questions without easy answers. No transportation. Fierce homesickness. Frustration and fatigue and flight delays.

I needed Jesus and I needed Joey and I needed the generosity of strangers–people I would never see again but who etched their memory on my heart. Memories I especially think about the first week of June.