In April, one of my best child-hood friends' mom died. I spent a lot of time with Becky's family. Her mom was like another mom to me, as was the case of many of my close friend's moms. While we may not talk on a regular basis, I have a deep love for my friend. And her family. I was heart broken for the sudden loss my friend was enduring. I longed to be home holding my friend's hand, listening, and simply loving her in her hurt. These are the moments when it SUCKS to live so far from the community I grew up in. Later that month, my Grandma was wanting to come for a visit. She's 90 and has never flown alone. My mom wasn't able to fly out and get her. It was an emotional tug on my heart and I told my mom I would go get her and bring her home (without consulting my leader husband). I am a blessed with a husband who agreed to send me last minute after spending much of our vacation and expenses on a recent trip to Ethiopia. Not just for one day to get my Grandma but for several days to hang out with my grieving friend.
In May, I just about ran onto the plane knowing this California girl was headed home to her roots. I was on cloud nine - literally. The airport near home is decorated to make you feel like you're in the Giant Sequoias. On cloud nine, in the giant sequoias, at home. It was perfect. And only the beginning. Another dear friend (okay, everyone I saw is a dear friend) and forever amiga picked me up at the airport. In my nasty-travel-stank, Nina and I headed straight downtown for the Art Hop. It wasn't really the Artsy part of it that I was interested in, but another dear friend, Oscar was there pouring wine as part of it. I'm so proud of Oscar's accomplishments, his sincere heart, his love for his children and it was great to see him. Re-live the moment with me... Nina and I sit down at some fancy place, pretending like we give a rip about the menu items, but really are just there to surprise Oscar. Oscar caught a glance of us out of the corner of his eye and gave us a half nod like he would any of his friends acknowledging their presence but in the middle of another conversation. Imagine the look on Oscar's face when his brain caught up with his eyes and he realized that friend a few tables away is the one who lives a couple thousand miles away. A quick hug and "hello" and Nina and I were back out the door. This rural Iowa country girl had been transported into the downtown city life strolling down the street where one guy promised us the cheap knock-off ray bans were real and another businessman was selling what I believed were stolen watches. To be honest, I was totally out of the comfort zone of this momma whose date nights are a weekly gathering with a group of friends studying the Bible. Walking into the the fun coffee place that seems to frequent every corner and the big red bulls-eye store, I was back into familiar territory. Oh Jesus, it's so good to be home. Thank you for giving me a heart that calls 3 places home and a friend that puts her to-do list aside to hang out with me. Following a long day, it was now late at night driving through streets I wasn't familiar with... that is until in the middle of city street lights we got into an area where became pitch dark. While I've been away for 11 years, I absolutely knew exactly where we were, passing the Fresno State Farm. A place I called home for four years. On that school farm, things grew and so did I. We continued down the road to Nina's home. My earlier frappuccino would typically be a recipe for a sleepless night. But not this night, I was exhausted and I crashed shortly after.
The next morning, a few of my girlfriends were able to meet up for breakfast. You can't imagine how much I enjoyed those few hours with a hand full of ladies I don't get to see near enough. What a treasure. It was so good to just be there with Becky. To hear her pain, to reminisce about her momma. Believe me, it wasn't all sad moments. It's amazing how a bond can stand the test of time and distance and that they allow me to walk back into their lives for a few moments. Later that day I joined Becky's family up for a trial run with the boat up to Pine Flat Lake. Back in the day, I learned to water ski on the river but those days are long gone and these days I don't spend much time in the water. That didn't matter to me. With a bit of apprehension of making a fool out of myself or of getting hurt, I tried wake-boarding. And for a newbie, I rocked it!!! Of course I can say that, this is my blog! Really though, I must share that I got up out of the water the first try and managed to single hand it. I might not have had the look of an experienced wake-boarder, I was having fun.
Usually when I go home, I spend a lot of time with my sweet and amazing friend, Kristine. After the lake, I finally met up with Kristine. We weren't too concerned that the restaurant was closing, us girls grabbed a table and ordered a meal. Eventually I ended up at my friend Mary's. One thing I love about my friends is that some of them have kids my age. These women invested in my life as a teen and loved me where I was at in life and I love these women! With an empty nest, except when the grandgirls are there, Mary welcomed me in for a few days:
Saturday was my maternal Grandmother's family reunion. My Aunt Anna is such a trooper taking care of all the details. Being home for a short period never allows for enough time to see everyone. Visiting with groups of people is so much easier. Being at the family reunion was perfect. I got to see cousins, meet their spouses and kids, and loved every moment of it. This is my Nanny and her baby brother:
My own siblings were there too. But I longed to spend time with just them. Before heading over to my brother's, I made a quick detour to Oscar's winery. Friends, I don't drink, but it was such a warm and inviting place. A beautiful deck is the perfect place to hang out during wine events. Jeremy, along with his bride, are classmates that are also friends of Oscar's. Newly married himself, Jeremy plays a fatherly-figure role in his nephew's life. I so admire that. Speaking of outstanding men who I admire, I left the winery to pick up my Dad and head to my brother's. My family is wonderful about opening their homes and providing a gathering place. Being this far away, I really don't have any interaction with my nieces and nephews. At my brother and sister-in-laws, we played Marco-Polo in the pool, and enjoyed hanging out together. Because I don't dare share a picture of me in a swimming attire, I'll share this one:
My sister-in-law has a sweet new camaro. A ride with the top down was absolutely necessary. Don't let me fool you. My brother drove the car. I was happy to be sitting with my dad and brother in a car! I took a picture while sitting in the driveway so I could send it to Ryan with the subject line of "topless".
One of my favorite things of being home is worshiping in the church I was raised to faith in. I don't know all of the people there anymore, but I know the Truth is spoken and I'm became a changed person because of it. This Sunday though, instead of worship at the church, I listened to it on the radio as I drove to another familiar town that holds lots of life memories for me. In a small cafe in downtown Hanford, I met my step-brother's family and my step-sisters family.
For a while on Sunday, I headed over to Paul's where Nina hosted a birthday party for Paul's granddaughter. Another home away from home. My freshman year I spent a lot of Friday night's with Paul's daughter and other classmates hanging out. As years passed, Paul became a close friend. A man that was like another father to me (I'm a lucky lady to have a father along with other men in my life that loved me). A man that could speak into my life and hold me accountable and pray for me EVERY.SINGLE.DAY for an entire year. It was a smashing party for a 6 year old. I loved seeing all the adults that love that child. Some of those folks were old friends who I've lost touch with. Did I already mention that I love my friend's parents? Nikki's parents were there. What a sweet treat. Joe gifted me a bottle of wine that we had given to our wedding party ten years ago. Again, the time was too short but it was so good to see all those friends.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon with Becky and family. I am blessed once again to be a part of their every day lives for a short while. Oh Lord, you are Truth and Love. Because of you, Lord, Becky and I can stand face to face after life and distance had separated us for a hand full of years. Becky married a man that loves her. He even put up with me for a few days and that's saying something! Thanks to Becky and Greg, we ventured out on a dune-buggy [sorry Becky, I know that's not the right term] to ride around the country side. I felt a little bit like an exchange student who's trying to experience all the fun things in a new community. At the same time I felt right at home as we roamed through empty irrigation ditches, and down the paths of newly planted orchards. Later, Becky's daughter snuggled with me on the couch while her son and I threw a football together and even played chess.
*****[as I sit here and type this two months after my trip, I'm grinning from ear to ear about the time I spent back in California. In perfect God timing, I just received this message from Nina via facebook:
Indeed, I am loved.]*****
Monday rolled around rather quickly. Granted, sleeping in each morning might do that. Thank you Ryan for keeping the kids solo. Thank you Mary and Scott for letting me take up residence at your place. By this point I was missing home but still hadn't seen near enough people. Thanks to face time, I was able to visit with my kids and send my hubby some fun pictures to share the trip with him. On Monday, I finally found my place on Kristine's couch. It was long overdue. In the midst of moving, she made time to hang out with me. Such a cherished friend.
Like many other friends, a few children are now part of our hang out time. I love those cuties. When Seth offerred me a strawberry out of his garden, I had to snap a photo of it.
That evening, I headed back to the city. I met Dina while in high school. She was my senior civics teacher. While a good student, I was ready to be done with high school and didn't have much time for many of my teachers. But Dina was real and I liked her. So much so that every-time I go home, I stop and visit Dina's classroom. Nina and Dina and I met up for the evening. We headed to this cool joint in downtown Clovis. More memories of time downtown at a sandwich shop and at the farmer's markets. As we walked in, I remembered the place I'd been before but had long forgotten about. I had my usual, even it had been 13ish years since I'd been there. While the food was good, the best part was catching up with Dina and Nina as we sat on her back patio after supper. With at least one more stop to make that night, I finally hit the road, pulling off the highway at another comfort place - my Daddy's house. We chatted a bit before it was officially TOO LATE and he and I both had an early morning ahead of us. Of course, I didn't go right to bed when I got to Mary's. She and I really hadn't had a chance to catch up yet. Mary wouldn't want me to brag, but again, this is my blog... Mary shared an amazing story of how she and her husband are investing in another couple. Loving like Jesus called us to love. Pretty soon, the clock was ticking 2:00am.
Lord, I am a blessed woman. You knew me before time. You know the number of hairs on my head. You bless me with my parents and siblings, those I consider family, those whose family I married into, and those you've entrusted us to raise. In addition to that Lord, you give me abundant joy. Not without struggles, but certainly worth bragging about. Thank you Lord for those friends at home who are the Hands and Feet of you Jesus. God I thank you for the opportunity to be in their lives for a few days and for the generosity of a husband who holds down the fort while I do so. My family and friends are a treasure. Thank you Lord. It's not always easy living so far away, Lord. You know that my heart's prayer many years ago is that I would follow where you lead me and that you would give me opportunity to make Your name great whether that be in the comforts of my childhood home town, my home here, or my home away from home in Ethiopia.
Three hours later, I was up and in the shower and ready to go. My time here was over and I was soon leaving the Swedish Village in the dark as I sped down the freeway to pick up my Nanny. Oh that sweet lady. She was so excited, or nervous, about travelling that she didn't get much sleep either. My cousins who've so graciously cared for her, carried her bags to the truck, and hugged and kissed her goodbye. It was so sweet to watch these grown men love on her, and maybe even shed a tear. And so began the long trip home.
Flying with an independent woman who doesn't admit her need for help was a fun challenge. I told her over and over again that I hadn't got to hold her hand for many years and just enjoyed being able to do that and other little things for her. Take note my children, you'll likely have to deal with this stubborn momma that way someday.
Home is indeed where the heart is. God has blessed me with a heart for more than one home. My hometown of Kingsburg, the home I've grown to love here in Iowa, and the home I will gladly go to someday in Heaven.