Thursday, January 23, 2014

Winter Song Travels -

This is a post of a fav photo, a fav update, and a fav song. :) 

One of my new favorite photos. Taken January 17th, 2014. A wonderful cold evening just sittin' on the dock of the cove. Watching the dolphins play and the birds fly by in the setting sun's rays. The wildlife refuge is a refuge of peace for me too. 

And the update: I'm flying out early-early tomorrow morning for my dear friend Meredith's wedding to her love: Graham. It's in NC and the temperatures make me shiver. haha. I'm so excited to be a part and be able to celebrate with them!! This was my Christmas present, by the way. I found a great priced ticket, and bought it! I'm staying with close family friends and I can't wait to hug everyone. :) I come back Monday morning (again at early-early time), and Monday night is Darby's wedding shower! Crazy! But I'm super looking forward to it all. :) Lots of love in a little time. 

And one of my favorite songs this year, covered by the amazing and wonderful Kina Grannis and Zee Avi.
I've been playing this for weeks. My family is probably tired of it, but I never am. I once played it on repeat for an hour so I could stay calm on a hard day. I love it. Enjoy listening!

"This is my winter song to you, the storm is coming soon, it rolls in from the sea. 
My voice a beacon in the night, my words will your light to carry you to me." 

And that's all for today. It's cold here in Florida and all I want to do is curl up with Lucy Mae and her flannel blanket and take a long nap....but I've got packing to do!! Ahh. One of my least favorite things to do. I'm always happiest once I get to my seat on the plane and feel the thrust of the engines and whoosh....up in the air. I love that feeling!!

Love you all and see you later,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Project 52 (4) -

Week 4

- An Honest Self portrait - 

I was beautifully reminded last night in a short sentence what peace is in the midst of great pain. 

"There is grace in every sorrow." 

With great loss and pain, we are reminded that in this, He is here. He is peace. He gives grace. We are not alone. 

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

Friday, January 17, 2014

My Project 52 (3) -

Week 3

Late afternoon today I was finally finished with school and everything I needed to do, and with a sigh of relief, I slipped away to probably one of my favorite places in FL - the wildlife refuge. I find I always leave with a quieter, calmer, and definitely: a more peaceful heart than I had when I got there. I walked out onto the dock and sighed. This was my first good look. The water was perfectly calm. It was the best way to end a hard, emotional week. I took many "new favorite" pictures, and I also found it very significant that I'm at my happiest in photography when I am out in nature: 
my first love. 

So that's my week 3 of my Photo Project 52! And also - this blog's 700th post!!! :) Neat, huh? 

With love always, 
~ Jean Marie ~ 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Miss Elise -

One week ago from today, my friend and one of the Godliest,
 most loving people I know left this earth for Heaven and left all of us with hearts aching from the sting of a huge loss.

And by aching I devastated as one can be while still living in hope and in the knowledge that He is sovereign and loves us so much and is working all things to the praise of His glorious grace.

And when shock and aching applies to me, that means I left the house as soon as I could, walked through the dark, got in my car, drove away and screamed until the tears took over and the pain became weeping that would not be calmed. It means I love deeply and I'll cry about this for years.

Cancer brought Elise low. It took her sleep and comfort and sometimes left her confused and without words and oh, how it plagued her body. But Cancer did not win over Elise, because Elise could never be won over by anything or anyone than she could by her beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Cancer did not win. God did. 

That alone satisfies my soul. But it does not take away the grief, because grief comes when you have loved, and I have loved much,
and when you think of Elise, it is impossible to know anything but love.

Photos taken June 2012, Monument, CO

Elise was one of THE most tender-hearted, compassionate, gracious, funny, sweet, kind, understanding, loving, sympathetic and intuitive people I've ever known. She met you in whatever sorrow you were in, tears would fill her eyes, and she would take your hand and impart wisdom into your life. She spoke Truth and nothing was higher in her eyes than that. She would rejoice with your joys, and pray for your worries and tomorrows. She was never rushed. She was always ready to listen, to understand, to be real with you. For all the years she was a part of my church, before our daughter church was born....she was as much a spiritual mentor as I've ever known.

She was dedicated to know people and to hear their stories and to love them as they were.
She was hands-down one of my favorite people to talk to, to share with, to hug. We loved hugs. :) She was one of the most amazing, genuine and wonderful people I've ever known and I never felt unloved or uncared for in her presence, and I think everyone who ever knew her would say the same.

So when we heard in July that the cancer was back, we prayed and wept that the cancer would not be something she could not fight. We asked it would be small. We asked it would die. We asked for mercies and a long life for Elise with her husband Joe, and two sons. Anyone who knew Elise knew she loved her husband and sons to distraction.

and it was......until it wasn't. 

and with one small update on a very frantic day, the world we hoped for came crashing down.

One more Christmas. Hospitals and Hospice. Meals and Visits if you can.

On the morning of December 20th, I saw on Facebook that Elise was in the hospital and visitors were welcome. I was going, there was no way around it. If I was invited, I wanted to be there. I turned on my worship music, got ready and walked out the door to get there as soon as I could. I bought flowers in the hospital gift shop. I asked for directions to Floor 5.

I cried in the elevator because I read Floor 5 was Oncology. I paced and sniffled and breathed hard.
And then I walked out of that elevator and down the hall and I knew it was the right room before I saw the number.....because from Room 550...laughter was spilling out into the hall.

I timidly walked into a room full of people....and rounded the corner to see Elise. I think it took her a few seconds to figure out who I was, since short hair used to be rare for me, haha. But then I smiled and she smiled and it took my breath away. From the hospital bed, she was the gracious hostess, as if I had come to her house to bless her - it had been a few years (thank God for FB) since we'd seen each other, and I think I just needed to drink in the sight of her for a little bit. We caught each other staring and would laugh about it, and soon ... it all settled in.

I kissed her cheek and gave her a hug, and soon - any and all conversation was free to cover. She said our parents had raised 2 sweet girls...and I said "The grace of God, right?" and that got a definite nod and a chuckle. We gave our homeschooling parents a run for their money, and she would know, because we were all in the same group, haha. "Worth it all..." even as she laughed. We laughed about our dogs and talked about food, because oh sounded so good especially because Elise wanted to be discharged because she wanted spaghetti for dinner. "I LOVE spaghetti" I exclaimed, and she widened her eyes and said "It's my favorite!!" and then we talked about spaghetti for another 5 minutes, because obviously. SPAGHETTI. And also obviously....hospitals can't make spaghetti like we wanted it.

We talked about Christmas cookies and all our favorite ones and the events we'd attended over the years
and how if we'd all show up with plates of these Christmas cookies, she wouldn't mind. ;)

And so between sips of water through a straw and asking "Another one?" and getting a wink in answer....I'd unwrap another Werther's Original Caramel Candies and pop it in her adorable waiting mouth. "These are the best..." I said, as the conversation trailed into what my Grandfather's coat held and what he always smelled like and the things he stashed in his car....which made Elise laugh.

Conversations with her were always special. I always felt like I had all the time in the world to talk to her because she gave me her full and undivided attention and made it seem like my story was the most important to hear. She made me feel so incredibly loved and like I belonged.
 Chatter flowed with her, but it always meant something.

And soon, some of the other visitors left, and her sons trailed out to get something to eat,
and her husband went to talk to some nurses, and I had alone time with Elise.

I pulled up a chair as close as I could get it, right by her head. And I draped myself over that high side of the hospital bed and gently pulled some of her wispy hair off her face. But oh, so gently did I move it. And I patted her cheek, and I heard her sigh, and in between asking about my family and how they were and catching up on life....she drifted off to sleep. My hand crept into hers because I couldn't bear to be apart.

And Elise, with her eyes shut, took my hand and grasped it with hers and held on with a strong grip.
 I tightened mine and her cheeks showed her smile before she drifted off again.

And I had time to really gaze at her and take in everything.

Elise, with her beautiful dark, shiny black hair.....and most of it gone.
Hair spread all over the pillow and the bed, and she's more beautiful than most women I've ever seen.

The Bible and books sitting on the windowsill and the sun bathing the floor in golden glory.

Her quiet breathing. The blanket snuggled on top of hospital sheets. The way her hand felt in mine.
Trying to memorize everything she just said so I wouldn't forget any of it.

She is back and forth between sleeping and awake, a few minutes here, and asleep again.

I'm blinking back tears and I'm softly singing over her -
"The Lord bless you and keep you....
the Lord make His face to shine upon you ... and be gracious unto you. 
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you...
and give you peace! And give you peace. And give you PEACE...."

She slowly wakes up as I go into the second verse and I say before I lose it completely in tears.....
"Elise. I keep thinking about those verses in 2nd Corinthians when it talks about the outward man is wasting away but the inward man is being renewed....remember that? And when it says "therefore we do not lose heart"... that's my favorite part. And it says the inward man is being renewed day by day....and it says do not look to what is seen, but to what is UNSEEN, because what is seen is temporary, and what is unseen is eternal!! I love that, Elise."

and like I knew would happen, she smiled and sighed. And then quietly with so much trust, my dear friend, who laid in an uncomfortable hospital bed with an incurable disease and had 1-6 months left to live ....
.... gripped my hand a little tighter and said "How can we do otherwise than to trust Him?"

If my quiet "Amen" was heard at all, it was amazing, because tears were coming fast then.

She drifted off again, and as it became impossible to hold back the tears any longer, I let them fall.
Such an ache and a sadness to think of losing her....and sooner than any of us wanted or understood.

I rested my head on my arm and looked at her hand in mine. Even though my shoulder and arm were screaming to be moved and were going stiff from staying looped over that hospital armrest, I wouldn't have moved for the world. Her grip was so strong on my hand, and I could have stayed that way for hours if I could. But as she woke up again, I told her how much she meant to me, what an encourager she has always been in my life, how thankful I've been for her, how loved I've always felt, how much God has used her in our lives, how she's been such a spiritual mentor to me, how dearly I love her and how beautiful she was in my eyes.

Then it was her turn for tears and then a time to fall into laughter as she joked if I didn't move my arm, it would probably fall off. My hand immediately wanted to hold that warm hand again, the minute it left that strong, loving embrace. What a gift it was to me, to be so pray over her as she slept, to sing over her, to share life with her, to be there for her in any way she needed.

And as her eyes were blinking to come awake again, opening and shutting; as I gazed lovingly into them with just a few inches of hospital bed keeping us apart, I whispered to her "You know I'm jealous, don't you? I wish I could go too." and she smiled, because oh, she knew. She told me how much she will love to be in Heaven, but was not greatly looking forward to death. Oh, Elise. So genuine.
She whispered "We are not done yet.....".

And as another dear friend made her way into the room and shared with her what an amazing friend and encourager Elise had been to her, more tears were we all hoped we'd have many more times, but taking full advantage of the sweet time we did have to tell her how much she was loved.

And right smack dab in the middle of me quietly talking to Elise's older son, Joe, and asking if Elise was in pain, and what the doctors said, etc...I realized the conversation had shifted to the husbands Elise and Becky had and what a support they were .... and right in the middle of this conversation, Elise turns to her husband Joe and locks eyes with him and says "And what a wonderful helpmeet He gave to me!". Our chatter swirled around them as Joe came up to Elise's side and their conversation hushed, becomes peacefully sacred, as he takes her hand and moves her pillow and bends over her and they share a kiss. And in that moment never has marriage seemed more real and holy and servant-like as Elise shoves everything about herself aside and delights in her husband and praises him and thanks God aloud for the man she has loved for so many years.

I think we all were watching, and taking it in, and still the moment was all theirs.

And as Becky left, I knew it was time for me to leave with many hugs and just a few more words and a few more kisses and laughing and teasing and "praying that you get discharged by 5! I'll be praying for 5!! Five would be great! And spaghetti for dinner!" ... and after one more very long look and one more "I love you so much." - I walked out of the hotel room and into that elevator and tried not to cry the whole way down.
 I was mostly unsuccessful.

As I walked from the hospital to the sound of sirens arriving at the ER; Elise on my heart, tears on my face and prayers on my lips, the sun was pouring out its late-afternoon delight everywhere, and I wondered at the amazing gift that I came to comfort and came away the one comforted. I'll always be thankful I had those 2 joy-filled and special hours with Elise. It will make seeing her again in Heaven that much sweeter to know that 20 days before she left this Earth for Heaven, I was sitting by her side and talking about how amazing it would all be when God would make it all new.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. 
Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. 
For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ~

The thing that comes to mind the most when I think of Elise is that through trials, God built trust in her heart for Him, and that through that trust, Elise lived a life of radiant JOY in Who He is.

"The best moment of a Christian's life is his last one, because it is the one that is nearest Heaven. 
And then it is that he begins to strike the keynote of the song which he shall sing to all Eternity."
~ C.H. Spurgeon ~

The very last, most very important thing we discussed was moments before I left. As I bent to hug her one more time, after I kissed her cheek and stayed oh, so close to her face, I said "So, besides TIME....what can we pray most for you for?" and she said "PEACE. Comfort and rest. And peace." .

and peace is what our Lord loves to give to His children. Elise knows peace more than we've ever known, she is more fully alive than we've ever been and she's more Home than we can ever dream or imagine. 

Please be praying for tangible, grace-filled, presence-knowing PEACE to rest upon and enfold Elise's husband, Joe, and their two sons, Joe and John and to come to all who have known and loved Elise.

Elise, I miss you already. I'll miss you for a really long time. My inward man is weeping, but I know I'll see you again soon and then it will be foreverThank you for loving me so deeply and so well. I love you so much.

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~

Friday, January 10, 2014

Five Minute Friday: SEE -

From Lisa-Jo Baker, the Gypsy Mama"On Fridays around these parts we like to write. Not for comments or traffic or anyone else's agenda. But for fun, for practice, for joy at the sound of syllables, sentences and paragraphs all strung together by the voice of the speaker. We love to just write without worrying if it's just right or not. For five minutes flat."

Today's prompt: See

~ Go ~ 

Just the thought of the word "SEE" sends my heart racing. It also sets my mind scrambling in a million directions. It's in a million songs and in a million ways, my heart aches to know it. To be able to do it. 

To SEE beyond this world into the next, and to SEE Him as He is, so I can love Him as I desire to. But I'm stuck here, with blinders on, not to mention a blindfold and I'm stumbling and falling and tripping and worrying and fearing and trusting and holding and begging....and I'm blind. 

Yesterday a dear friend who I think has seen this life more clearly than most.....went to Heaven to SEE FULLY what we all desire to see. She has seen Him. She has beheld the face we weep to see. She has gone from this world of blindness and sin to a world without sin and is filled with glory in every way.

Heaven is ... getting to open your eyes and behold ... what we've dreamed of since we knew to dream. 

And when her eyes were opening and shutting, and as I gazed lovingly into them with just a few inches of hospital bed keeping us apart, I whispered to her "You know I'm jealous, don't you? I wish I could go too." and she smiled, because oh, she knew. She was not greatly looking forward to death, but how very much she was looking forward to Heaven!! 

She sees Who she has longed for, has loved, has desired to know.
She is fully alive, well and more Home than we've ever been, and she SEES better than we can even imagine. 

Because she SEES the delight and the holy love in His eyes and it is reflected in her own. 

"As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness." 
~ Psalm 17: 15 ~ 

Congratulations, Elise. I'll miss you so very much and can't wait to SEE you again soon. 

"Faith is to believe what we do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what we believe."
~ St. Augustine ~ 

~ Stop ~

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

My Project 52 (2) -

Week 2

This has been a hard week. Especially yesterday, with the news that my dear friend and sister in the Lord passed away from cancer. I've been heartbroken. Today was the last day I wanted to take photos, but I needed something for my Project 52. As I sat in the car waiting for my Momma to be done in the grocery store, I noticed that I was twisting and pulling my necklace. 

I realized I do this a lot when I'm agitated, frustrated, stressed or sad. It seemed fitting to have for this week's photo. 

My necklace is from The Vintage Pearl, and its beads are made out of wrapped paper.
 Women in Uganda made it and every time I touch it, I think of them and what sorrows and joys their lives must hold. 

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Emily's 22nd Birthday! -

So this morning as I rolled over in bed, I was mourning that Lauren was moving away. 

"Today is the DAY. waaaaah. sniffle. i hate today."... and then I laid there a few more minutes and my eyes suddenly shot open and I bounded out of bed "TODAY IS EMILY'S BIRTHDAY.". hahahaha. 

Because even though we already put the guiltiest of guilt trips on Lauren for "WORST.FRIEND.EVER." for moving on Emily's birthday, and even though we've mostly (not really) forgiven poor Lauren for moving on poor Emily's birthday.....even though we love Lauren SO could she do this to us....blah blah....blah....I was still ecstatic for Emily's birthday. 

and then......AND THEN. I realized I had Lightroom stuffed full of images that came first. So I spent all morning editing and now...finally...down to Emily. One of my absolute favorite friends. 

Now. I know you know me. I mean, kind of....right? I have a lot and I do mean A. LOT. of favorite friends. BUT. I only have a few that I will write angry, frustrated, sobbing e-mails to. Aaaaandd she is one of the lucky few. Ah, friendship

December 21, 2013

Oh, but it's not just the sad either....
It's the hysterical stuff I found on Pinterest or a web site and ihavetosharethiswithyoubeforeidie things.
It's the rants and quotes and's the photos that almost never get posted anywhere.
It's the dreams and hopes and fears and worries and please pray for me's. 

It's the culmination of years of trust and love and hugs and grace. 
It's sharing life and squeezing hands at the graveside. 
It's letting them know what is really bothering you and loving enough to forgive and forget. 
It's coming around the corner and knowing they will hold you while you cry and no questions asked. 
It's extremely over-dramatic conversations, sarcasm and hysterical laughter at the drop of the hat. 
It's not only getting along....but knowing what the person likes and anticipating what they would need. 
It's the promise of time together and looking forward to it for WEEKS because you can't wait.
It is seeing the same thing at the same time and losing it because you CAN'T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED.
It is when love is written in the millions of e-mails and is heard over the phone over and over again.

It is tears and hard work and understanding and patience and love and comfort and peace and belonging. 

It is Emily. It is Tricia. It is Lauren. It is is lots of special heart friends I love. 

and gosh darn it....if I'm not crying already. 

(Lauren, babe. You are all of the above, and I'm never forgiving Alabama from stealing you away.)

One special thing that has been happening a lot with Emily is that right smack dab in the middle of a conversation, something will hit me and a light will go on. And something will click in Emily...and we will both say "Ok, talk to you later, gotta' go." and we go and write furiously these blog posts that have been locked up somewhere and need to be let out. I'm not even kidding when I say that we inspire each other to write and be real. It's like it all occurs to us at the same time and we laugh and say "Have to write this down!! Bye!". 

and I looove that. 

Emily is just flat out one of my favorite people to be with. EVER. I love her. 

June 28, 2013

I am more ME when I'm around her than most people. I adore her little family God has blessed her with. 
I love thinking back through all the memories God has given us together!! And I'm SO thankful God has given her to me as a best friend. 
Emily, you bless, encourage, uplift, inspire and love me. Thank you! Life is so much better with you as a friend. 

Happy 22nd birthday, Emily!!!!! I love you to the moon and back and all the stars in between. 

With love always, and long squeezy hugs,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

oh and for old times sake....our favorite song: 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

These Are the Cherished Times -

It is burning in my heart and it will not be quieted....I must write.

I think when one looks at life with only a few weeks or a few days left with a best friend (here's looking at you, Lauren, and the moving-to-Alabama-Hope family) ... you start viewing life differently. Seconds are treasured, times are established, moments are memorized. I found myself staring at Lauren for absolutely no reason last night and then realized my eyes were trying to memorize the way her face changes when she talks. Knowing you don't have much time with someone, whether by moving or by earth....changes priorities drastically. 

I've known it well, but I'm feeling it very much condensed these days, as a huge amount of events, happy and sad! are stuffed into a very small amount of time. I'm the emotional wreck in the middle, in case you missed me. The tears have been quiet, coming and going, but the meltdowns few. It is no longer the state of happy denial, but now the hurt of letting go. It is too much to even think of, even worse to write of. Writing it makes it real. 

I feel like I have intense sorrow coming at me from the right and unbelievable joy hitting me from the right, and in the middle is me in an explosion of emotions that doesn't know how on earth to live without going through every single emotion known to man. It's exhausting and wonderful and teary.

But seeing life as a whole in a small amount of time is...overwhelming and also grounding. And that amazed me today. That I could be grounded in the memories we've made and realize that because we cannot be separated from Christ, we really cannot be separated from each other either. Because we shall always be with the Lord, we shall one day....all be together again. It is a joyful knowledge to rest in when one has to say goodbye to those one loves. It is not a new knowledge. Just one I never applied to moving or "I will miss you when you move" goodbyes. 

This past December and the start of this January have been so FULL of good things and good gifts, and most of all, good friends. I've felt so loved, so cherished, so known, so cared for, so wanted, so free. 

In the second week of December, I had the wonderful opportunity to take a road trip with Molly from my house to hers in IL. In case you missed that, it was about 19 hours of driving. Let's just say, we made some profoundly fun memories that rarely involved sleep. 

She described it as having a Jean sized hole in her heart that she didn't know she had until I filled it up....and it was exactly to a T how I felt as well. I've rarely felt so quickly connected in a small amount of time. When she left, I cried on the porch in the freezing ice and snow on Shelby's porch, and had a mini-meltdown when I got back to FL because I missed her so much. We had such a grand, special time. Every hurt and sorrow and everything ever to talk about ... was talked about it. It was real, grace-filled, honest living. It's what friends are grounded into becoming best friends....for a long time, and I love her so much. 

It only continued to Shelby's house....and falling in love with her family. I would wake up in the morning in a happy bundle of blankets and tousled heads and knowing extreme fondness for my life at that moment. Teasing and laughter and scrambled eggs in the mornings....a million hugs and singing, sharing and knowing and just being together. When we got up early-early in the morning to say goodbye to Shelby, we pulled on our hoodies to avoid looking like we just got up, even though our faces tell of happy slumber, and wow, it was hard to give the one last hug. We are bonded, sure and true. 

On December 20th, Emily and I threw a Going-Away-Party for the Hopes (under protest, of course). It was oh-so-wonderful having the gang together...playing together, taking pictures together....I kept looking out across the sports fields as the sun streaked glory rays across the grass. I actually teared up at one point, yes, because it was just so wonderful to be all together, and I realized how much I take it all for granted (me, even, the introspective and memory-taking-and-maker). I took for granted how lovely it is to see the Hopes pretty much whenever I want. 

and I forget to remind my friends how dearly, how deeply I love them all. Like my Becs. 

It isn't until we have to say our goodbyes that all our fondest memories flood in with the tears and we realize how desperately we want to keep them here with us. And then we are overwhelmed because we know they can't. 

And oh, I've been so blessed, so richly blessed by the friends God has brought into my life. The best friends are more than I could ask for, they encourage, build up, hope with me, love me. The friends and acquaintances are joys to be around, truly we act like family when we are together. My friendships span from little ones to best friends' parents to honorary grandparents and I love that. 

God made us for community, and a community to serve and bless the body of the Lord. 

I have been more blessed than I could ever have dreamed. 

And wow, like Mr. Morse commented last night, I've been logging a whole lot of traveling hours recently. It's true. I've been more on I-95 and SR-46 lately than I would like. I'm sick of driving. 

But I wouldn't have given up one moment of December or this week for ANYTHING. It has been worth the caffeine-driven-Metoprolol-moments, it has been worth the quiet drives home in the dark, it has been worth stumbling to bed at 1am and getting up at 7am, it has been worth the insane crazy of packing and re-packing and making 4 batches of tapioca in one sitting for a party because I have been together with those I love. 

"Friendship is one of the sweetest joys in life. 
Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend."
~ C. H. Spurgeon ~

And because I realize more than ever these moments are fleeting, then I am holding onto these moments tighter than ever. I am putting a higher priority into watching them and listening to them and really entering into the conversation, or really taking a step back and looking around at everyone together. 

It has left me in tears every single time. 

Rarely do I look around the room and realize that this moment I will remember forever, but I've been having a lot of those lately. Usually it is Christmas or Thanksgiving....but when goodbyes and Heaven and separation seem so close all the time...oh, it changes you

I've realized SO much lately how blessed with opportunities I've been. A road-trip with Molly, time in FL with friends, just many impromptu trips to see people, a concert here, a Sunday there, hugs and conversations and chats and e-mails. They have all been treasured, stored away, for when I'm missing them. 

LtoR: Myself, Kaylee, our Lauren, McKenna & Lauren G (they are moving to TX as well!)

Not to mention all the weddings. I've attended 3 weddings in December, and 1 in January, and 1 wedding reception as of last night.
But I'll tell you what really drives it home. 

On December 19th, I went to a really sweet wedding of some friends of mine...I danced with my childhood best friend and laughed because I have no moves, but still have a blast; the next morning I got up and saw that my dear friend Elise A (who was one of the biggest spiritual mentors I had throughout my teens) was in the hospital (I've mentioned her HERE before - she has Stage 4 breast cancer). I went to the hospital and spent 2 joyful and tear-filled hours with her, often just leaning over the bedside to hold her hand and pray over her as she slept and to share with her when she awoke. And then the next morning was the going away party we threw for the Hopes. Talk about an emotional roller coaster. 

And it struck me anew and it struck me deeply how intertwined joy and sorrow fall together in this life.
How grace comes swift and sure, how tears fall hard and gentle, how trust in Christ remains strong and true. 

I've shared SO much laughter, so much joy, so much excitement. I've also shared tears, hurts, fears, sorrows, and the knowledge of goodbyes. I love one and hurt for the other. It just is that way. 

But the one sure thing I keep coming back to is that because we are grounded in the same memories, we will also still be grounded in the God Who gave us those memories, and we will have more memories together. Even if it is only one more. Even if it is 1,000 more. They will all come from the same One Who started the relationship in the first place - the Giver of every good and perfect gift - Jesus Christ. 

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." ~ James 1:17 

He gives with such an unfathomable love and grace that it leaves me weak at the knees. 

 And tearful at the sight of His meeting and holding Ryan Case last night. 

Some things cannot be put into words...and meeting someone you've prayed for for many months is one of them.
It was like the moment I first held Avery, the first time I held Georgia and the first time I held David. 

Perspective-changing, heart-altering, joy-giving, grace-present....LIFE. Life full and abundant. 
I love him so very, very much.
I adore his every move. I watch for the slightest unhappiness so I may fix it.
He is completely sweet and utterly precious. What a gift to Cody & Tricia & David. 

I spent today with my dear friends Holly & MaKenna & Shannon. We went to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and spent some extremely cold and windy and fun moments up there in the ... sky. We tromped around and ate lunch and sat in a fireplace and had the grandest old time. 

It was so strange though. Something hit me right before they came, and even though I didn't mention it until later, it stayed with me and reminded me of how precious time is. It was the first time I had seen them in a while.....the last time I had seen them - Avery was alive. That just brings tears, no matter how many times I think about it. 

And I caught myself staring at the way the wind moved the trees while I was half-listening to a conversation, and I felt my soul move with the wind that threatened to pick us up and hurl us across the sea, and how I wished it could take us straight to Heaven forever. My lovely friends' smiles and peace and joy blessed me so immensely. We teased and laughed and played and walked....but I couldn't help but remember the sweet weight of Avery in my arms when I showed him off to Shannon, Holly and MaKenna at FPEA, and oh, so hard to remember him as not here. 

Goodbyes change you ... but friendships often change you too .... in the most beautiful of ways. 

After feeling like loss and cancer have been chasing me around for weeks and taking out people I love...last night at the wedding reception and meeting Ryan, and the Lighthouse today was a blustery reminder that not all things that change will hurt. Some things will be known as pure JOY. 

Thank you, MaKenna, Shannon, Holly & Mrs. DeVore ... for today!! I love y'all!! 

So I wanted you to know that if I've been quiet at times when I would normally be shrieking and dancing, 
if I've dropped out of a conversation that normally I would be wholeheartedly entering into, 
if you've felt the silence of unreturned e-mails or missed messages or phone calls, 
if you've caught me with a sad look on my face when you are perfectly happy about something, 
if I give you the polite tired smile....

please know this - my life is changing right now, and it hurts so much. 
I hate goodbyes and I am saying them to people I love. 

But know this even more - I've loved every single second with you.
If I've yawned around you, I'm not bored, I'm tired. ;)
 If I forget your birthday or miss sending you a card for a hard anniversary, it's not because I forgot,
 but because praying for you is so much easier than writing out how much I care for you. 
If I'm distant and quiet, know that I still hear your voice and joy in seeing the smiles spread across your face. I love being with you.
But as I grieve and say goodbye, I'm hurting for all my friends who are saying it too. 

You are so loved, my dear friends....I know I'm so incredibly and deeply blessed by every single one of you. And tonight I couldn't not tell you for one more minute. God has used you and blessed me through you immensely. I cannot wait to see the memories God will give us all together. 

Because our lives are all grounded in Christ's love for us, we stay anchored together. 

"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
from whom the whole family in Heaven and Earth is named, that He would grant you, 
according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 
that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 
may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - 
to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,
 according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, 
forever and ever. Amen."  
~ Ephesians 3:14-21 ~ 

When I step back and look at all our memories, I am flooded with thankfulness for all the wonderful times we've had together!!!! The sweet thing is that I can see myself doing the same thing next January, and the next one after that, even. There may be sad times mixed in with our happy times ... but they shall all be treasured.

Because these are the cherished memories I will love to look back on.....for a long time. 

Please keep all of our friends in your prayers, as we have to say our goodbyes and
send off the Hopes with much love and hugs to 'Bama, and pray for the Lord's blessings upon them as they move.

Please keep Elise and her husband, Joe, and their two sons, Joe & John in your prayers.
Pray for peace and comfort to reign in their hearts as they spend precious time with Elise.

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

My Project 52 (1) -

Hey y'all!! 

Well I really wanted to do something like this last year and it just didn't happen. So when Emily started talking about doing a 365 photo project this year, I knew I could do my 52 project with her. Kind of. haha. I mean, I knew I couldn't do 365 days....I'd be overwhelmed and then frustrated with myself that I wasn't keeping up. But I definitely take photos weekly, and I thought it would be amazing to push myself to think about it during the week and try things I don't normally try. 

And I'm doing my own rendition of Project 52 - aka: I'm not following the normal rules because: 
A. I'm homeschooled and any chance I can get to rebel safely - I do. 
B. I don't like the normal rules. ;) hahaha. 

SO. My plan is to post sometime every week, no specific day. It will be whatever catches my eye, something that I love looking at over and over, or my favorite memory of the week. I can't wait!! I'm so excited about pushing myself further in photography, and having something doable for the year! 

Week 1

Definitely my favorite moment of this first week of January was meeting baby Ryan Dietrich Case yesterday. At all of 6 days old, and waiting for him for months and months, I could finally meet him and hold his precious and sweet self. As you can imagine, I'm completely and utterly in love with him. What a wonderful blessing from God. There is nothing quite like holding a newborn baby. I love you, Ryan! 

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Smoochiekins & The Boyfriend -

I titled this "Smoochiekins & The Boyfriend" because we all know who started the whole Smoochiekins thing on Facebook and who best of all loves laughing about it - it's Darby Sproul, y'all

And in case you lived under a rock or maybe were too engrossed in watching Parks & Rec. because you just realized it was the most hysterical thing you've ever seen in your life or maybe because you don't follow Darby on Instagram, then maybe you didn't know she had a boyfriend. Well she does. Or she did, rather. Because this past New Year's Eve....that boyfriend turned into her fiancĂ© and will be her husband in a few months!!!

Let me tell you about the first time I met The Boyfriend. Ok, no wait. It was the second time, but I'm pretty sure he didn't remember the first time because it was a called out "HIIII!!" as I was dragged some wild children. So, the second time. It was at a party, and Delaney had that twinkle in her eye.... and she says "Chris is here.". Ahh, Chris. The boyfriend. So I went looking for Chris because Delaney was busy (the details are hazy as to why). I looked around the room = no Chris. Then I went and looked outside = no Chris. So I went back inside. "Hey. How on earth do I find Chris?" .... someone told me to look for a Campbell vest but not Campbell. Well, that's easy enough. 

I went back outside.....staring people down and profiling them. Nope, nope, nopity nope Wait. Sweater vest! I ran over to see. Found myself staring at a Campbell sweater vest. I raised my eyes to see Chris. "Sweater like Campbell's, but not Campbell!! CHRIS! HI! I'm Jean Marie!". I'm sure he was wondering what sort of friends his darling Smoochiekins had. Or has. I was then immediately distracted by the glow Darby had on her face. Oohhh boy. "She's in love with the man." I remember thinking. 

And I was right. Because all I'd heard about since Chris was....uh ... Chris. In the middle of the Ligonier the middle of a sentence, and she'd be gone. Texting. "What?! oh. TELL CHRIS HIIIII.". Walking with friends...a phone call? "Who is it? it's Chris. I know it is. HI CHRIS."

And then they started courting. And we all joked about "Git 'er done.", because if Darby's Dad said it, then CLEARLY. Let's do this thing. I listened and prayed and of course, laughed like a giddy girl at all the sweet things and prayed for a good job and a wonderful courtship and everything I could imagine for Darby and Chris. 

Then on Sunday, Mom and I are walking up to St. Andrews with Darby and Maili. 

And Darby says "You know, you really should have waited with that engagement post until next week......" 
and I trip over nothing in the sidewalk because my brain is going a zillion miles per hour.
 Me: "You mean....what do you MEAN." Darby: "I just mean...maybe. Chris is here." 
Me: *screams* "REALLY?! Do you think he will propose?" Darby: "Maybe! I don't know!"
And then I stare at her not sure whether to scream some more (in the middle of a lot of people), or cry.
 I choose the third most quiet option and say "I'm so excited. I hope he does!" 

We get in the church and she motions me over to look at her phone and scrolls through a list of numbers....and says "Look! I have you on my "To Call" list when we get engaged!". And then I died from feeling so special. Ok, except I didn't die. But I almost cried. haha.
I stomped a little in excitement and grinned some more into her smiling face. 

So a few days later on New Year's Eve, I got up in the stinkin' early morning to watch my friend Libby fall out of a perfectly good airplane into the perfectly nice sky onto the perfectly BEST ground (where I was). I was there for support and hello......cheering them on from God's green earth and photos. It was a blast. The only way I'm jumping from a plane is if the plane is going down in flames and my only option at survival is parachuting to the ground, and that is the ONLY time. I mean, the plane has to be in a serious dive or stall or tailspin and the alarms have to ALL be going off, and someone has to kick me out and I'll scream the whole way down. 

Ok. Back to the other story now. 

So after I left the airport, I decided that I needed to decompress and headed out to one of my favorite places in the wildlife refuge to watch the manatees for three hours in the rapidly becoming colder and windier afternoon. I know this is a riveting story for you. The point is that somewhere in between photographing manatees and tracking deer and exploring sand banks that were possibly on the verge of dropping me into sinkholes and hoping that no rogue unhappy animals found me....I remembered to check my phone. And I had a missed call from Darby. And a voicemail that cheerily said "Hey Jean Marie! It's Darbyyyy. Call me. I love you! Bye." 


I ran around to different locations trying to get a signal to call back (I was on NASA land - NASA blocks cell phone signals). *Run over there* Nothing! GAH! *Run over here* NOPE. *step this way* noooo. *goes Lion King on it* notheeeng. why why whyyyy. WAIT. STAND STILL. THERE'S ONE. 

I finally found ONE BAR by straddling the yellow line in the middle of the road. I stood completely still, straddling two lanes, looking out for cars, and with my heart speeding up in anticipation, I called her back. 

Me: "DARBY!!!!" 
Darby: "You really should have waited a week on that engagement post..." 
Me: "Are you engaged?!!" 
Darby: "YES!!!!! He proposed at Crane's Roost!" 
Me: "When, when, WHEN!!?" 
Darby: "Less than an hour ago!!!" 
*Screaming and stomping and jumping up and down ensues on my end* 

I probably drove all the wildlife away....forever. And then more screaming and joy and questions.
 Me: "Ohhh, Darby. Did you cry?" Darby:"Yes!!" 
Me: "GAAAAAAH. So sweet!! I can't stand it!!  BEST NEW YEAR'S EVE. EVER." 

Then I realized they probably had more people to tell and so after telling her Congratulations a few more times and how much I loved her and thank you sooo much for calling me and that I was standing in the middle of the road to become roadkill for her because I loved her so much, we said love you's and hung up.

And then there was more sniffling happiness and twirling in the middle of the road until I realized an SUV was coming straight toward me and I should probably move if I ever wanted to see Darby marry Chris. 

And then I got home and died from the cuteness and sweetness because LOOK AT THEM. 
Photo by the amazing Delaney Mara. Their engagement shoot is stunning and perfect. 

In short, I'm so happy for my dear Smoochiekins that I'll probably be giddy about it for years. 
Congratulations, Boyfriend & Smoochiekins: Chris & Darby!!!! 

I. AM. SO. EXCITED. for you both!!! 
I love you, dearest Darby. *M-wah* Even if you have left the rest of us in the cold, dark night of singleness and are leaving us for Ark-Ansas. I've rarely seen you happier and more at peace than when you talk about Chris, and are by his side. What a great way to end out the year of 2013!! 

... and what a super fun thing to write about in the first post of 2014!! Happy New Year, y'all! 

 With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~