#mizealand: Auckland, Hobbiton, Matamata, Tongariro

There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go. – J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m going on an adventure! 

Well, here I am. After years of daydreaming, months of planning, and weeks of high anticipation, we made it to New Zealand. I will attempt to properly convey how absolutely incredible this trip has been in the past four days.

We woke up very early on Friday morning after a restless night’s sleep and left for the airport. Our good friend Michael was kind enough to drive us. As we were pulling away, I noticed that I forgot to put my glasses on my face and wasn’t wearing my contacts. It was *almost* a horrible way to start the trip.

We flew from Atlanta to Los Angeles and had a long layover at LAX. I thought this would be a good idea for a number of reasons: our luggage could get lost, our flight could be delayed, etc. However, I added the first item on my “what I will do differently next time” list — stay out of LAX as long as possible.

LAX is a terrible place to have a long layover before an international flight. I won’t bore you with the details, but trust me. LAX, if you’re reading this, get it together. Terminal B is a nightmare.

Toward the end of our terrible waiting game, we met a really nice girl from London named Candie who was flying to Auckland to visit her brother. The last two hours of our wait went by faster during our conversation.

After what seemed like an eternity, we boarded Air New Zealand flight 1.

We purchased premium economy seats — not first class, but a little nicer than economy. If you are every planning to fly to New Zealand, let me say this: these seats are worth every penny you will pay.

We sat in pod-like seats that reclined and were spacious and comfortable. We had complementary blankets, eye masks, pillows, and socks. Our flight attendant Deb was the BEST. Air New Zealand, if you’re reading this, Deb is a gem. Deb brought us hot towels which felt like heaven after spending the entire day in a stale, uncomfortable airport. We ate dinner on the plane (which was delicious) and fell asleep effortlessly.

I woke up a few times and looked out the window at the pitch-black night sky and our massive plane hovering over the Pacific Ocean. It was a little overwhelming.

Around 5am we woke up, looked out the window, and saw the most astonishing sunrise I’ve ever seen in my life. Blackness, and then a thin orange line fading to blue. It was breathtaking — and one of the first sunrises in the world for that day.

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If I take one more step, it will be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.

We landed in Auckland and had a remarkably smooth transition into customs and picking up our rental car.

Time for me to brag on Christopher for a few moments:

This guy drove a manual car with opposite orientation all over Auckland. And he’s been driving it all over the North Island of New Zealand. He’s a beast.

Anyway, we made it to our hotel in the Princes Wharf area of Auckland. We walked around and explored the city, fought jet lag, and had a good lunch at a pub while watching highlights from a rugby match. Auckland is a beautiful city. My biggest observation from Auckland is that it is the first place I’ve been both hot and cold at the same time. The sun is very hot; the breeze is very cold. It happens all at once. It’s an odd sensation.

We got settled into our hotel rooms around 4:30pm, sat down on the bed for just a minute, and woke up at 2:30 am.

We didn’t exactly plan for that to happen, but had no problem falling asleep and waking up at 6:30 am.

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In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. 

We left Auckland and drove straight to the Hobbiton Movie Set. The drive from Auckland to Matamata was absolutely gorgeous.  Miles and miles of rolling hills, alarmingly green grass, and sheep and cattle farms. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately, hills + twists and turns + riding as a passenger where I’m used to driving = carsick MC. As soon as we got to the movie set, I got a sprite and immediately felt better.

We loaded the tour bus at 12:15, and entered the magical set of the Shire.

Y’all.

This was surreal. That’s the best word we can use to describe it. Other than the hobbit holes, there is only one thing that is artificial in this land, and that is the oak tree above Bag End. Peter Jackson was pretty adamant about the oak tree being above Bag End.

Everything else was 100% Pure New Zealand.

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No filter, folks.

We wandered around the Shire, visited hobbit holes, took pictures, saw the party tree, and settled down in the Green Dragon with complementary beverages at the end of the tour.

I’ve loved Tolkien since I was a kid. I’ve read and re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I love the movies. These books were a huge part of my childhood, and no doubt shaped me in to who I am today. Being able to see this part of “Middle-Earth” as it was portrayed on film was truly astounding.

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Riddles in the Dark

The next day, we left Matamata and drove to the Waitomo Caves. This, again, was an astonishingly beautiful drive. Rain was starting to move in, so visiting caves ended up being the perfect thing to do.

The Waitomo Cave tour was incredible. We ventured down into the cave and saw the part known as the Cathedral. Parts of the formations looked like pipe organs, and the formations attributed to a nearly perfect acoustic sound. Our tour guide sang a traditional Maori love song and it sounded like we were in a professional studio. After the Cathedral, we walked a little further and got in boats for the rest of the tour.

These caves contain Arachnocampa luminosa: glowworms. They are unique to New Zealand.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the cave, so I borrowed this from the website. And this is exactly what we saw:

Waitomo_Glowworm_Caves_tour

[Photo from waitomo.com]
To be honest, it didn’t feel real. I felt like I was in a ride at Disney World or in the movie Avatar. It was astonishing. Thousands of little worms live in these caves and glow to attract food. They are beautiful.

Adventures are not all pony-rides in May-sunshine 

We left the glowworm caves and drove to Tongariro National Park. By this point, the rain was falling hard and visibility was poor. We pulled up to our hotel, Chateau Tongariro, hopeful to see Mt. Ruapehu in the background, but saw only gray. Rain and fog and clouds and wind.

We planned to visit the Tongariro National Park to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a day-long hike, one of the best in the world. When we arrived at the hotel, we saw that the track was closed that day and the next due to inclement weather. Bummer.

We ate dinner and went to bed, feeling a tiny bit disappointed but still overwhelmed at the amazing things we’ve experienced so far because we’re in New Zealand. 

We woke up and had a fantastic breakfast at the hotel. Bacon, sausages, all kinds of cheeses, crackers, pastries, croissants. Kiwis know how to eat breakfast.

Because we couldn’t do the crossing today, we decided to walk to the visitor center and see what else was in the park. We decided to hike to Taranaki Falls, and it was a good decision.

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SNOW!

I was not expecting to take a hike in a snow-covered volcanic valley today. The rain we got yesterday has morphed into snow/sleet. Toward the end of our hike, we got hit pretty hard with some sleet and strong winds. My legs are still stinging.

By this point, I’m sure you are wondering why am taking the time in the middle of my trip to write such an intricate post. Well, right at this moment, I am sitting in a big comfy chair in front of a fireplace in the lobby of our hotel watching the snow fall from our window, which is what I’ve been doing for the past two hours. The locals are flummoxed by this weather. It’s spring over here — think if Americans saw a huge snowfall in May.

Christopher is across from me reading The Hobbit. It’s cozy and wonderful.

We’re here at Tongariro until Friday. Fingers crossed for clear weather so we can do the crossing. If not, we do have some time at the end of our trip and we might try to fit it in, but we’ll play it by ear. At least we’ll have a beautiful drive to Wellington on Friday.

Kia ora!

-Mary Chase

a long-expected party

I cried the entire way home from work yesterday.

It’s not the first time I’ve done that. I’m a firm believer in a nice ugly cry every now and then. Whether it’s a frustrating day in the office, feeling homesick for my family, or hearing “Oblivion” by Bastille on my Spotify shuffle, sometimes I burst into tears. I usually feel better after it happens.

I cry when I feel too much of any emotion. I think I have a certain capacity for emotions, and when they surpass my limit, it’s like putting too much water in a pot to boil pasta. Sometimes it bubbles out all over the stove.

And to be honest, I wouldn’t say I cry often or it’s easy to make me cry; these tears are hard-fought.

But when I’m really angry, I cry.

When I’m really homesick, I cry.

When I’m really happy, I cry.

(I can’t believe I’m putting this on the Internet, but I cried when Mississippi State beat Auburn this year. I really don’t know what came over me — I just knew I was feeling so happy for my alma mater, I couldn’t do anything else. But that’s another post for another time. Hail State.)

In my case yesterday, I was feeling really loved and really luckyOverwhelmed with the most sincere gratitude I’ve ever felt. Blessed beyond my emotion limit.

Tomorrow morning, Christopher and I will be flying to Los Angeles, and on to Auckland, New Zealand, to spend three weeks traveling and exploring the country. When we first met, one of our first conversations we had was about our bucket list destinations. Things we want to do. Places we want to go. New Zealand was one of our several wildest dreams.

We fell in love. We daydreamed. We planned. We saved. And through circumstances that were nothing short of divine intervention, we gave our dream a date and bought plane tickets to New Zealand.

And now it’s here.

I want to say to everyone who has loved me, supported me, and shared life with me for the past (almost) 24 years, thank you. If you had told me four years ago that I’d be embarking on a three-week journey to New Zealand, I probably would have laughed. I want you to know that I will not take this experience for granted.

To the people who grew up with me, thank you for putting up with my Lord of the Rings obsession. Thank you for encouraging me to embrace my passions rather than mute them. I recently cleaned out my room in the house where I grew up, and I took everything off the walls except for three faded Lord of the Rings posters. I think I owe it to 8th grade Mary Chase to leave those up while grown-up Mary Chase tramps about Middle-Earth.
(To be clear, yes, Lord of the Rings was a factor in wanting to go to New Zealand, but not the only factor. Relax.)

To my family, I will never be able to put into words what you mean to me. Ever. No matter how long and eloquently I try to write, words will constantly fail in expressing my gratitude and love for you. I don’t know what I could have done to deserve Morris and Pam Breedlove, Jayme Breedlove, Joe and Jo Ann Moss, Larry and Pam Mize, Meredith and Zack Reuter (and Scarlett), Bernice Swann, and everyone else we love so dearly. Thank you for supporting our dreams and sacrificing so much to make them happen. I love each of you more than you know.

To my friends, thank you for listening to me talk about New Zealand for the past year. I know it probably got annoying six months ago. Thank you for loving me and allowing me to share life with you. Thank you for spoiling me rotten with early birthday presents when it’s quite possibly the last thing in the world you could have spent time and money doing (looking at you, Erica Lanham, Meredith Yackel and Hayley Catt). Childhood friends, CentriKid friends, college friends, Atlanta friends, Barre3 friends, NAMB friends, and everyone in between: Thank you for enriching my life with your friendship.

I would like to personally invite anyone reading this to join us on our journey. I’ll post pictures and various updates on Facebook and Instagram, and I’d like to blog a little while I’m there. Expect several retroactive posts.

Mary Chase:

twitter: @marychasemize
instagram: marychasemize

Christopher:

twitter: @chrismize
instagram: mizechristopher

Kia ora, and let the #mizealand adventure begin.

All my love,

Mary Chase

‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ – Bilbo Baggins

excitement

I’ve got to break this habit of creating 24 rounds of drafts before publishing a post. I spend weeks thinking about what I want to write on my blog. I put a lot of thought into it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to stop putting thought into things I write. I don’t want to cease putting thought into anything I do. But this needs to feel a little less formal – at least on my end. It feels scripted. Life is not scripted.

So here I am, September 5, 2014. Two days away from traveling to Boston for my first work-related trip. 19 days away from my mother’s birthday. 62 days away from hopping on a plane to New Zealand for three weeks.

If you had told me five years ago that I’d be where I am in this moment, I would have laughed in your face.

In the past week, I’ve had three specific moments of excitement that were so overwhelming — so consuming — that I almost burst into tears.

1. This trip of a lifetime to New Zealand is getting real. Two months from Sunday, I’ll be flying across the world to spend three weeks traveling throughout the entire country. Flights are booked. Itineraries are complete. My Trip It account says “Everything looks good!”

I planned this entire trip by myself. I didn’t go through a travel agency or planner. Ask me how that worked out on December 1 – but right now, I feel good. I feel like we’ve covered all the bases. I’m a logistical nerd, so planning this extensive trip felt more like a game than a chore. I loved it. I’m actually kind of sad the planning is over.

2. On October 24, I will get to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I’m obsessed with musicals. Ob-sessed. And Phantom has been on my bucket list since I was 13. I was listening to the Overture on the way home from work this week, and got choked up with excitement. Who am I.

3. Idina Menzel is releasing a holiday album. With that bit of news, I leave you to have a wonderful weekend.

atlanta: my first year

My peaceful Sleep Cycle alarm brought me from a crazy dream about flying back to reality around 6:00 this morning. I dressed quickly, kissed my husband and my dog goodbye, and left my cool Midtown apartment for the semi-dark, warm Atlanta morning. I walked a block to the coffee shop across from the place Christopher proposed to me, got a soy chai tea latte, and nostalgically waited near the infamous “arc” for the Atlantic Station shuttle. Lorde’s “400 Lux” lulled in my head while I gazed at the tall, shiny skyline that I now call home.

My heels clack on the concrete floor of the Arts Center MARTA Station. I smile dismissively at a group of Jehovah’s witnesses and walk down the moving escalator to the north bound red line train. Several stops and a bus later, I’m at work.

My name is Mary Chase Breedlove Mize, and I’m a city girl.

I may be laying it on thick with the narrative, but I’ve come a long way from my West Tennessee roots.

A few weeks ago marked one year of living in Atlanta. And since the world now thrives on the likes of BuzzFeed, here’s a list of 4 things I’ve learned while living in Atlanta.

4. People from Atlanta aren’t exaggerating when they talk about the traffic problem.
Traffic in Atlanta is horrendous. Highway 64 in Fayette County is a dream compared to the last three miles of my daily commute. The interstates here are crazy. Atlanta, for the most part, is a driving city. Over 6 million people live here. I live about 30 miles from where I work. I drive in the “opposite” direction of normal rush hour traffic flow since I live inside the perimeter and work outside of it – and there have been plenty of days when my commute home was 2 hours. I also often wonder what would happen if people drove less selfishly and with more common sense.

The silver lining, however, is enjoying the traffic in other places where the interstates aren’t gridlocked on a regular basis.

3. I’m surrounded by people who look, act, think, and believe differently than me (and I love it).
Atlanta is crazy diverse. It’s a city of homeless people and billionaires. Over 60 languages are spoken in 1.1 square mile of Clarkston, a suburb of Atlanta. I grew up in a small town. To put this in perspective, it was a big deal when a black student went to my high school. College, of course, brought it’s own diversity, but I was still in a bubble of sorts — I was around more people who were like me than people who were different from me. There’s a freedom that comes with the diversity of Atlanta. I can’t quite explain it.

2. I’m thankful for my hometown.
I can’t put into words how grateful I am for progressive parents who raised me to treat everyone–regardless of gender, age, or religion–the way Jesus would treat them. I love so many things about my small hometown. I miss walking into the courthouse and knowing all the clerks. I miss the quiet farmland surrounding my house and the smell of honeysuckle on summer nights. I’m grateful I can call Fayette County my hometown.

But for now, in this season of life, I don’t think I could go back to living in a rural community. I love the city. I love walking to places like the grocery store and the movie theater. I love Piedmont Park. I love the food. I love the concerts. I love it here.

1. People from Atlanta don’t call it “the ATL” or “Hotlanta.”
They just don’t. That’s for outsiders.

 

boss lady [part one]

Some leaders are born women. – Geraldine Ferraro

 

My first encounter with leadership was in the fifth grade.  On a steamy afternoon in mid-September, I paced around the side of my friend’s pool clutching her lime green land line phone with sweaty, trembling hands. My friends splashed around with “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by the Baha Men blaring in the background. For the twelfth time, I dialed the Homework Hotline.

This time, I heard an updated message from one of my favorite teachers I’ve ever had–Ms. Cathy.

“….and I’m excited to announce our class president is Mary Chase Breedlove.”

I was ecstatic.

During my time in office, I accomplished two very important acts of legislation:

1. Our class held a canned food drive for the local food pantry around Thanksgiving.

2. I drafted a permission slip for our guardians to sign so we could watch “Remember the Titans.”  (It’s rated PG).

From that year on, I actively sought leadership. I was class president through high school, and even served as the student body president. I was told over and over that I’m a natural leader. People told me I was blessed with the ability to lead – and I hope I never take that responsibility for granted.

Why do I want to be a leader? Is it about control? Power? Security?

Am I just bossy?

While society may agree with the latter (more on that later), I want to lead simply because I want to help others. I want to figure out how to make things work. I want to make life easier. I want to empower others by leading them with compassion and respect.

In 2012, I experienced my most challenging leadership role yet. From March until August, I served as the Camp Director for CentriKid Camps team 7. I was blessed with a remarkable team and an even more remarkable assistant director – who was also a female.

Women don’t always get the best rep as far as leadership in ministry goes. I had two summers of leadership positions with CentriKid camps, and in my experience, I felt like the organization supported, equipped, and encouraged women to lead.

Ellie (the assistant director) and I faced a myriad of challenges that summer. One of the lesser ones — albeit still a challenge — was gaining respect and authority as women leaders.

Our team was wonderful, but not perfect. I felt loved and respected by them, but I was more often than not viewed as the “mother.” Nurturing, caring, compassionate. I was the mother figure — I even had a nickname (Mother Mary).

I was deeply flattered by this – but at the same time, I was the mom. Not the Director. Not the boss.

A few of my staffers didn’t hesitate to speak up in situations where, if I had been a male, they wouldn’t have interrupted me. Sometimes they’d ask me to do things like throw away the trash they were holding – which I did, because I wanted to be a servant leader – but the sexism still stung.

As director, I was the final say. The big cheese. I was responsible for all camp operations – everything fell on my shoulders. I responsible for managing a team of staffers as well as leading the adult group leaders who came to camp.

Would you ask your boss or manager to throw away your trash for you? Especially if you’re the same distance away from a trash can?

I feel like they asked things like that of me because I was a woman. I doubt seriously that male directors had other team members asking them to throw trash away.

I came across some church group leaders who would question my every move. One even yelled at me for having to cancel a week of camp due to a massive storm blowing in and destroying power for thousands of people in the area. We had no power and there was a 105 degree heat index.

I’m also not the first female director to experience sexism and disrespect from staffers. In fact, my instance isn’t half as offensive as other female directors I encountered.

So here we are. 2014. United States of America. Home of the brave. You can video chat with someone halfway across the world driving 70 miles an hour down the interstate on your phone.

Yet women are still discriminated against in the work place and don’t earn the same amount as men in many circumstances.

Why is there still gender inequality? Why is there still male-female income disparity?

Is anyone else out there still flummoxed by this nonsense?

 

words matter

I’ve only had a handful of nightmares in my 23 years so far. I’m not a wild dreamer in the literal meaning – in fact, I rarely dream at night. If I do have a dream, it’s usually ridiculous.

Example: I had several strange dreams before my wedding. They were all the same. I went to pick up my wedding dress, but the seamstress dyed it red and turned it into a pantsuit.

Anyway.

Of the bad dreams I’ve had, there’s one I remember vividly.  I was back in high school with old friends – people who had a huge impact on my life while I was growing up – and we were hiking through the woods behind the football field of my old high school. Laughing, talking, reminiscing.

After a while, I realized we were hiking a mountain. I didn’t notice how high we were until we finally came to a clearing. When we reached the top, the wind was blowing so hard none of us could stand. We could only crawl. My hands were slippery.

I then realized the surface of the mountain was white and smooth. The mountain was also hollow: there was a huge hole in the center that was a dark drop thousands of feet down. My hands still kept slipping.

I soon realized the mountain was a tooth.

If I stood up, I would either slide down the cavity to my imminent death, or fall off the side of the mountain. I watched my friends fall away one by one.

Out of nowhere, a helicopter came and the faceless pilot threw a rope ladder down to me. My only way to survive was to jump off the side of the mountain and grab the ropes.

I pulled up as fast as I could and threw myself off the mountain with my arms reaching above my head, searching for the ropes, trying to beat the wind.

I woke up before I knew if I made it or not. I was panicking. Sweating, crying, shaking. I was flooded with emotions: fear, anguish, dread, even adrenaline. It took several hours for my heart rate to come down.

(Fun fact: I despise teeth-related things.)

Why would I share this creepy dream with you? Because I think it has tremendous meaning. I am certainly not one to live by dream interpretation. But I do think there’s validity in what our nightmares can teach us.

I once heard that the presence of teeth in dreams was a symbol for words. Have you ever dreamed about your teeth falling out? Perhaps they can be symbolic of the words you say, meant to say, or wish you hadn’t said.

In my case, I dreamed about teeth as a mountain. An obstacle.

Words can be obstacles.

I don’t know about you, but I often struggle with finding the right words to say–especially in a lose-lose situation. (Either fall inside the cavity or fall off the mountain). In my dream, the only way to live was a tremendous leap of faith toward the ladder.

Why did I have an anxiety dream about words?

Because words matter to me.

Words can make my spirit soar and cut me to the bone.

Examples:

The awesome gentleman who styles my hair told me once that I have a Downton Abbey face. He said I have timeless beauty. That will forever go down as one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me — and I don’t think he was intending to make my day, but he definitely did.

When I was in high school, I was at a store with a guy I liked for a long time. We were exchanging a shirt he purchased earlier. The cashier gave him his change back — some bills and small change. He said, “The change is for your girl — but she’s worth more than that.”

The guy I liked replied, “Nah, she’s not worth much more.” The cashier smiled at me apologetically.

(I knew how to pick them in 11th grade, didn’t I?)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know there’s a margin of error for word interpretation. I don’t consider myself a highly sensitive person. I don’t go around looking for ways to be offended by “hey, can you pass the ketchup.”

But I do fear that in this age of social media, our words become more and more empty. It’s so easy to berate and bully others behind the screen of a smart phone.

How are you using your words?

Do you find yourself defending things you say?

This was posted on one of my favorite websites – Humans of New York – and I think this gentleman sums up my thoughts perfectly:

“I’m learning to be more careful with my words. Words that seem meaningless at the time can end up having a lot of power. Seeds that you didn’t even intend to plant can fall off you and start growing in people.”

oops

Well, here it is a week after Fat Tuesday. Not one blog post.

That doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I have at least two very intense drafts, but I find myself being more guarded with my words here. I’m taking my time. I want to say things right.

I suppose that’s the juxtaposition of social media: say whatever you think whenever you want.

I put a lot of thought into all my posts – including social media – and I want to encourage everyone to do the same. More on that later.

I want to know something: tell me your top six favorite animated Disney movies. (But MC, isn’t it usually a “top five” kind of thing? Yes, but my blog, my rules. I have six.)

Here’s mine in no particular order:

The Princess and the Frog
Frozen
Beauty and the Beast
Mulan
Aladdin
The Lion King

author out.

forty days of rest

My, my, my. I haven’t written an original blog post since October.
That was last year.
I apologize.
I plan to return with several Sunday Book Club posts. I’ve done a lot of reading.
Here’s what else I’ve been up to, in quasi-chronological order:

November:
-I had my wisdom teeth removed — all five of them — and provided my dear husband and a few lucky friends with some post-anesthesia entertainment.
-I got to have lunch with Hope and Rose Stanphill and their father Steve. They have family in the Atlanta area. How amazing is that?
-I turned 23.
-I spent Thanksgiving with my family in Tennessee and had a wonderful week with them.

December:
-I started a new job – my first real job – at the North American Mission Board. My job title is Production Specialist, and I support video and visual design production. It’s been wonderful so far.
-I saw my first Atlanta concert in the Phillips Arena — Justin Timberlake. Let me tell you, Christopher and I had a blast.
-topher and I threw a big Christmas party at our apartment and discovered that it can fit 17 people semi-comfortably.
-I spent Christmas with the Mizes in Georgia – my first Christmas not in Tennessee. We had a family-wide nerf gun fight, so I’d say it was pretty great. (Seriously, though. Chris and I hit the in-law lottery jackpot.)

January:
-My sister Jayme spent a few days with me early in 2014. It was so great to have quality time with my sister in  the eastern time zone.
-I applied for/received my passport, because Christopher and I will be traveling to New Zealand for most of November 2014.
-Season 3 of Sherlock finally premiered in America, and I became a woman obsessed (again). If you haven’t watched Sherlock, you should.
-Chris and I adopted a Boston Terrier-French Bulldog named Dr. Watson from a rescue organization, and he has us completely wrapped around his paws.
-I spent about five hours on the road (to travel about 30 miles) in the Atlanta Snowpocolypse of 2014 (the first one). I was lucky enough to actually make it home — I had coworkers who had to abandon their cars on the road and seek shelter overnight.

February:
-I became an aunt! My sister-in-law had the most beautiful baby in the world on February 5th. Her name is Scarlett and she’s perfect.
-I finally spent Valentine’s Day with Christopher – first time in almost four years of dating. He cooked dinner and had three bouquets of flowers waiting for me when I got home from work. I made him a cookie cake. We watched House of Cards season one and the first two episodes of season two (holy smokes, by the way.) It was a wonderful weekend.

So here we are at March. March 2014 means that I’m two months shy of being married for a year. Time really does fly fast when you’re having fun. This first year of marriage has been the best year of my life.

March also means spring. I still consider fall my favorite season, but spring is inching up the list. I like the transitional seasons. Not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket.

And on this Fat Tuesday, the fourth of March, I’ve decided to take a break from Facebook for the Lent season. I’m not Catholic or Lutheran, but I do enjoy participating in Lent. Last year I gave up Chic-fil-A.  That was a tremendous exercise in self-control.

This year, I want to be more intentional in my fasting. I’m not just giving up Facebook – I’m going to replace the time I spend on Facebook with time writing on this blog. This will be therapeutic and productive — just ask my husband. He has to tell me to stop looking at social media sometimes, because he can physically see the frustration and anger building in my face as I read various posts.

I will very much have a presence online, and I plan to spend these 40 days writing things that are important to me–things that have been on my heart and in my head for a long time.

I’ll write about life, love, friendships, religion, politics, marriage, books, food, and everything in between.

I hope you will follow me on this journey, and that my words will give you inspiration, laughter, and perhaps a refreshing viewpoint.

And since I plan to publish this link to my Facebook page, I’ve bought an accountability insurance policy. I’m not going to say I will post every single day, but I will try.

If you’re giving up something for the Lent season, I wish you the best of luck.

Facebook, I’ll see you in 40 days.

Everyone here…see y’all tomorrow.

oh death, where is your sting?

This is a re-post from my old blog (marychasebreedlove.wordpress.com).

 

Written October 2012

I experienced so much this summer, and I promise I’m going to finish telling the story.  But right now, I just can’t keep this story in my head. I have to share it. It’s too beautiful to keep to myself.

This summer, specifically on June 27 and July 6, my heart was broken. I was wrecked.

And it was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced.

After two very incredible but very exhausting weeks of camp, we ventured to Eagle Eyrie Conference Center in Lynchburg, Virginia. Needless to say, our entire staff was looking forward to this trip. Eagle Eyrie meant three weeks of camp (which means no Ryder loading for a while), a conference center instead of a college campus, and our first large week of camp. When we arrived to the warm, welcoming staff at Eagle Eyrie and the hotel-style rooms and beds, we instantly felt at home.

Once we got settled in, I noticed a lot of mail had already been sent to campers who would be at camp the following week. Box after box and letter after letter were addressed to two girls: Rose and Hope Stanphill. The first thought I had was, “good heavens, those are some lucky kids.” They got more mail that week than I think I have in my entire life.

We set up everything and got ready for a huge week of camp. Some staffers from CK2 joined us that week along with our CK6 angels since the numbers were large (600+ kids) and we began registration.

Camp registration was something I looked forward to doing. I got to meet each church leader personally before the week started. I could hear the kids outside getting excited about the week. Our staff had the best night of sleep we’ve had since I think most of us were on Christmas break, and the weather was beautiful.

After about half of the churches arrived, the group leader from Point Harbor Community Church in Chesapeake, VA came to registration. I recognized Point Harbor because 1.) I thought it was a cool name for a church, and 2.) The mail addressed to Rose and Hope were under “care of Point Harbor Community Church.”

The group leader from the church was a wonderful, beautiful woman named Cathy. As soon as we met, I instantly liked her. She had a large group of kids–one of the largest during the week. During the registration process of CentriKid, there is a time for group leaders to share their children’s special needs with us. “Special needs” mean anything that our staff needs to know about–family issues, food allergies, birthdays, emotional issues–anything that could hinder them from having a fantastic week of camp. Every night of registration, our staff took time to read through every single special attention card, pray for the kids, and delegate staffers to invest in those kids a little extra during the week.

As Cathy was giving us the special attention cards, she stopped and directly told us about two. Rose and Hope Stanphill.

She explained to us that Rose and Hope’s mother was battling cancer. She has been diagnosed in late February/March, and the cancer was aggressive. Through tears held back, she told us there was a chance the girls could lose their mother this week.

I was stunned. Our staff was stunned. We made it our goal to make this week of camp the best week of Rose and Hope’s summer.

Tuesday, or the “first full fabulous day of camp” as we call it, rolled around and was fantastic. Kids were having fun and were learning about the Gospel. Doesn’t get much better than that. Cathy won the honor of Gold Metal Group Leader that morning, too.

Then on Wednesday, June 27, I woke up not knowing that day would be the most emotionally and physically exhausting day of my summer.

During the end of the second hour of recreation/bible study, I got a call from one of my staffers. I had been on the recreation field and heard the phrase “Hey MC, there’s some group leaders in the conference center looking for you.”

Any other day, that would not be a surprise to me. In fact, it would be a surprise if I went a day without group leaders looking for me.  (During the second week of camp, I answered 67 phone calls from 2:30 pm – 1:00 am)

But when I heard my staffer say that, I got the sinking feeling that something was wrong.

I headed over to the conference center, walked in the door, and saw all the group leaders from Point Harbor.

My heart dropped. None of us said anything. Cathy just came over and hugged me, and then tears came.

Rose and Hope’s momma had passed away.

We spent what felt like hours in the conference center. They were reacting to not just the loss of two of their students’ mother, but also the loss of a dear friend. They were grieving the loss of someone they loved deeply.

I made a few calls to people to help come up with a plan on how to handle what was going on–how to tell the girls, how to tell the campers.

Do we send the girls home?

When do we tell them?

How do we tell them their mother is gone?

After an hour or so, we came up with a plan. We would tell the girls after track times. I let the track time leaders know to bring the girls to the conference center before hang time. Ellie and I made a trip to Wal-Mart and bought about 12 boxes of kleenex.

Soon, we were all sitting together in the conference center. I asked a few staffers who had spent time with the girls to come with us. One of the group leaders, a wonderful woman named Bonnie, with beautiful anointed words, told the girls their mother was with Jesus now.

What happened next continues to leave me in shock.

When the girls heard that, the first thing they did was smile.

They smiled. 

They smiled because their mother was with Jesus. She was free from her suffering.

That was the first reaction from a third grader and a fifth grader.

Of course, the tears came. We sat together and cried. One of my staffers, Michael, prayed because none of us adults were capable of speaking. After a few minutes of sorrow, joy came in one of the most unexpected ways.

The group leaders offered to take the girls out to eat away from camp (which is a BIG DEAL when you’re a camper) to celebrate their mom’s life. I left the girls with Michael and Aaron and went with Cathy to tell the rest of Point Harbor about their mom’s passing.

I was so incredibly relieved at how telling the girls went. My stomach had been in knots about it for hours. As we made our way to their cabin, I wasn’t expecting this part of the day to be very hard.

But I was wrong.

Cathy, with beautiful words like Bonnie, explained to the kids what happened. Hope and Roses’ mom died today.

The kids were devastated. They had lost a mentor, a teacher, and an active role in their ministry. They were heartbroken. I had no idea the impact Rose and Hope’s mom had on the children of this church. The kids mourned in their own ways. I found myself in the middle of a cabin filled with sorrow and love for Hope and Rose.

I returned to the conference center, aching and drained and what seemed like years later, to find Rose and Michel in an epic discussion of Pokemon. They were laughing and talking together.

I was stunned.

God used something like a mutual obsession of Pokemon to ease the pain of one of the worst feelings one can feel. Aaron managed to pop a bag of chips in his backpack that had us all in stitches while the girls left for dinner.

We discussed with the church group that worship might be very difficult for the kids that night. We decided Hope and Rose shouldn’t attend, but they had none of it. After their dinner, they insisted on attending worship.

The theme for that night’s worship was “Take a Stand.” Daniel, our camp pastor (and a dear friend of mine), would tell the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s refusal to bow to the false god King Nebuchadnezzar demanded they worship. Daniel 3:18 was a key verse.

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Our God is able to deliver…but if He doesn’t deliver us, we will still not serve another god.

Wow.

In the time before worship, I sat in my room and cried. I cried until I physically couldn’t produce any more tears.

I thought about how Rose and Hope’s lives changed forever today.

I thought about the pain they’d face when they went home.

I thought about what their father was feeling.

I thought about how God didn’t deliver Helen Stanphill through the cancer, but rather from the disease.

I thought about loss the Point Harbor group leaders were feeling, and how they had to be strong for the broken kids.

While I was pulling myself together, I got a phone call. A camper fell down some rocks and we think she dislocated her knee. Minutes before worship started.

Seriously? Right now? You’re telling me that just happened?

Remember how I said in my previous post that spiritual warfare is real? It’s real.

Two ambulances showed up during worship that night. A worship service with a hurting church and two girls who lost their mother hours earlier. The potential distraction made me physically sick. I probably would have thrown up if I had been able to eat anything that day.

I waited at the end of the road with Ellie to tell the ambulance to turn their lights off, and arrived to see Amanda Kate, our rec leader (and a dear friend) literally holding this child’s kneecap. She was taken to the ER and treated, and was back the next day. Worship happened in spite of the distractions.

The next day finally came, and to my surprise, the girls wanted to stay at camp.

They wanted to stay at CentriKid. They wanted to play OMC. Rose was in the variety show that night.

Again, I was stunned.

That Thursday was arguably the best day of camp I’ve ever experienced. In the sorrow, there was joy. Cathy shared with me she was absolutely convinced their mother knew what she was doing. She didn’t want her girls to see her go. She held off until she knew they were at camp.

The day before she died, one of the group leaders had texted the girl’s father with an update about how much fun they were having at camp. Their dad read the message to their mom, and in her coma, she smiled. She died the next morning.

Apparently, I still had some tears left in my body.

Thursday night was the variety show for the campers who were in performance track times. Until the moment it happened, it never occurred to me that Rose was in the sign language track time.

I watched in complete astonishment as Rose beautifully signed “Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher.

Oh, death, where is your sting?
Oh, hell, where is your victory?
Oh, church, come stand in the light
Our God is not dead. He’s alive. He’s alive!

Rose was on stage signing these words the day after her mother died.

Death, where is your sting?

I was, you guessed it, stunned.

The next day was closing. Actually, it was “clopening” for us. Closing and opening. We had a weekend camp following this week of camp.

I didn’t want Point Harbor to leave. I didn’t want the girls to face what was in their near future. Rose and I connected Thursday night over ice cream and a mutual admiration for Star Trek (caveat: Rose is literally the coolest kid on the face of the earth). I wanted them to stay at camp.

But alas, they left, and we began our turnaround. We had a very smooth registration with awesome adults.

That night, while Ellie and I were getting a head start on filling up water balloons for the next day’s OMC, the sky turned black and the power went out. It didn’t come back on for a very long time.

A derecho came that night. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning after we spent the night on the floor of the conference center (it seriously sounded and felt like a tornado) and walked outside. I saw debris everywhere. Trees were down. Power lines were down.

This was bad.

This was very bad.

Remember what I said about spiritual warfare?

With the power out, there was nothing to do except go on. We ran the next (and only full day) of camp completely without power. No lights, no music, no sound, no videos, no air conditioning. The amazing people at Eagle Eyrie did everything they could possibly do to help us out.

The kids loved it. We moved chairs to the rec field and had worship outside, lit by the light of our van headlights. We still had running cold water. The weekend was a great week of camp. Churches who had never attended camp before told us they can’t wait to come back next summer.

Wow.

Since the power was out, we made an impromptu trip to Washington, D.C. for the Fourth of July. We ended up having to cancel the next week of camp because of the power outage. I was so happy to see my staff’s reaction–they were sad. They didn’t want camp to be cancelled. They thought I was kidding when I had to tell them. That was a proud moment for me as a director.

So in light of the darkness, we ventured to Hampton, VA to the home of Amanda Kate. We spent a few days with her incredible family and wonderful neighbors. We took showers, washed our clothes, and charged our cell phones. The people in her community completely showered us in love. It was a fantastic weekend.

It also just so happened that the Friday we were there was the day of Helen Stanphill’s funeral, which would be held at Point Harbor Community Church. Twenty minutes from where we were staying.

Myself and the ones who were close with the church that week decided to attend the funeral. We saw the girls, the group leaders, and the wonderful kids from the church.

Her funeral was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I dare you to read her obituary and not be floored, crying, and/or both.  It’s a good thing I had a few days to replenish tears, because I cried during the entire service. The celebration of her life was incredible. Cathy spoke about CentriKid and how, through the death of Rose and Hope’s mom, twelve of their students came to know Christ for the first time.

Wow. 

The next day, we attended Point Harbor’s night service. We went out to eat together. We had fellowship, laughter, joy, and wonderful memories in spite of the heart-wrenching circumstances.

For the rest of the summer, Daniel told Hope and Rose’s story on Wednesday night of worship. Hundreds of children came to know God through the death of Helen Stanphill at CentriKid.

I wish I had a way to sum up this experience, but I’m at a total loss for words. The power did come back on, and I will resume in the stories of our adventures (first, backtracking to Campbell week), but I wanted to share this experience with you all. It changed my life. I think about it every single day.

sunday book review: the silent wife

I read The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison over the weekend. I read several articles that compared it to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn–some said it was even better than Gone Girl. I was intrigued.

silent

This book is about the troubled marriage between Jodi and Todd. Each chapter alternates telling their perspectives of life together–a “his and her” kind of thing. The book doesn’t have a remarkable plot, but the way it is told is chilling. I personally enjoyed reading Gone Girl more, but it was still a good read and a psychologically-thrilling experience. And I stayed up way too late finishing it.

Good night.