Sunshine for the Soul

For the second day in a row, I woke this morning to rays of sunshine streaming through the blinds in our room, dancing on our bed and forcing our eyes to open to their beauty.  To say we've been missing the daily greeting of the sun around here is a massive understatement.  Since our return from "paradise" we came home to a literal dark cloud that has been hanging over Minnesota for weeks and months on end.  It's not been good and I don't think we've ever had a winter quite like this one, for several reasons.  
First of all, we've never enjoyed a 5 week escape from the daily grind, not to mention 3 weeks in warm and sunny Florida.  While that was an incredible gift that we will treasure for a long time, it was also a startling break from reality that made coming home again, tough.  We got so acclimated and accustomed to warmth and sunshine again, and we loved it!  It brought back sweet memories of living in Florida and North Carolina and planted thoughts like "You don't HAVE to live this way" in our heads.  We truly missed our "life" and friends and family in Minnesota, but I'd be lying if I said we didn't seriously second guess the weather we willingly endure every year.  

Secondly, when we left Minnesota on March 1st we drove away from snowfalls and ice-storms, anticipating a return 5 weeks later with the end of winter behind us. (Note-That was probably a big mistake on our part!) While we were away there were indeed storms and snowfalls, one after another, and we rejoiced in our great luck, thankful that we weren't there to live through it!  But as we began the great trek north, the temperatures weren't nearly as warm as we hoped and suddenly the storms we hoped were behind us became a threat again.  We literally left the sunshine in Florida and arrived just in time for the snowiest month of the year and days and days in a row with no sunshine to speak of, let alone even a glimpse at a blue sky.  Had we never left, we still wouldn't have loved it, but we would have endured it because we were used to it and knew an end would eventually come.  However, we did leave and we knew the joy of warmth again and the way vitamin D speaks to the soul. These gray, gloomy and cold days have been brutal to our once sunkissed souls!  

Finally, we have now endured the challenge of keeping growing, busy children happy and entertained through an endless winter in a small space.  When I say "endured" I mean something more like "barely limped through without killing one another."  It's not been easy around here.  Just like their parents, they miss the beach, miss Disney World and miss being outside.  In fact when I pulled their winter coats back out after a month of not wearing them, Carter looked at me and said, "What's this thing, Mama??"  

It's not been a great month!  I have never let the weather dictate my mood quite like it has this year, but I honestly think I've really been affected by some seasonal depression for the last few weeks.  Add another flu bug of some sort and our dog suddenly dying and it's been a real recipe for the blues.  But lest you think I'm only writing to complain and over dramatize everything, here is the crux of this post.  You may think my answer to this dilemna is simply that it's finally getting warm again and the sun is shining in Minnesota. Although both of those things are happening again, they aren't the reason for this fog to be lifting over my soul.  I'm just as susceptible to defeat as anyone else and even when I know the remedy for my sorrow, it doesn't always mean that I choose it.  I left a mountaintop month of spending uninterrupted, sweet time with my husband and kids, praising the Lord for each day, and basking in His incredible faithfulness to me.  I read the Word at leisure and delighted in it.  But when we came home and I grappled with the weather and a return to the responsibilities of daily life, I wasn't quite so quick to praise the Lord.  And I wasn't so willing to choose joy when it seemed easier to drown in complaints.  

In the last week or so, when I knew I had to grab hold of God and let Him shine some light on this darkness, I found myself in Ezekiel 37 remembering another time of dryness.  In the valley of dry bones, when death had set in and it seemed quite hopeless, the Lord gave Ezekiel the remedy for life.  He told him to "hear the word of the Lord" and in that hearing He, the living God, would put His very breath into those bones until they literally came to life again, tendon to tendon and bone to bone. It's an amazing account of a miraculous event, but it's as true today as it was in Ezekiel's day.  Happiness comes and goes; the weather is as predictable as a toddler's mood; and our circumstances are often beyond our control.  We can die to all of those things, enslaved to their power over us, or we can base our choice to remain joyful not in what happens or doesn't happen to us, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ.  We can look to the unchanging character of God, to the truth of His every word, and to His power over sin and death, knowing that He is our solid rock, certain and sure.  And doesn't that bring such hope to a weary soul? 

But the truth is, even in knowing the truth, until you make a deliberate choice to walk in it you are in essence rejecting it.  My years of enduring winter are not over.  There will be more winters to come, some that are long and icy, some that are refreshingly mild and some that have nothing to do with the weather but everything to do with the storms of the soul.  The truth of who God is will never change, but my choice to trust Him and rest in Him and look to HIM for my joy will always be mine.  I've always found it so comforting to read of King David's many emotions throughout the book of Psalms.  In a touching and real way, we find Him praising God, thanking God, questioning God, wrestling with God, begging God, trusting God, clinging to God, confessing to God, and delighting in God.  His poetic expressions are so true of the human experience.  Our circumstances can leave us wanting and unsettled, but when we look to God we find our bearing there, absolute truth and all manner of wisdom.     My dear friend shared with me and several other friends that the Psalms are essentially "how to command souls or how to bring our souls under God's authority."  I love that.  Sometimes we just need to set our feelings aside and remember that they are just that, feelings. They are a a healthy expression but they should not get a place of authority that they do not deserve.  

I had to reconcile that this Narnia state we seem to live in is exactly where God wants us and frankly, a place we love to call home.  Winter will come and winter will go, but my joy must remain in the Lord. And thankfully, that's not a feel-good, just "dig in and figure it out" kind of choice.  I don't have to sugar coat an April snowfall and pretend it isn't a serious bummer.  I simply have to come before the Lord and recognize that I am needy and He is God...and then let His Word breathe life into my dry bones.  He does it and I get to receive it.  Amazing, isn't it?  He is so gracious in all His ways, so faithful to His children in and out of winter.  

The sun is shining again in Minnesota, almost all of our snow is gone and the forecast for days to come begins with the number 7. Yes and Amen!!  It's long overdue and it's VERY welcomed!  But with or without blue skies, there is sunshine in my soul and it's the lasting kind that doesn't disappear at the end of the day.  As this week wraps up and April comes to a close in the next few days, I pray that you too will bask in the Son and if your bones feel dry, that you'll turn to the One who can breathe life into you again...He will do it and you can receive it. 

Blessings on your Thursday and greetings from warm(er) and sunny Minnesota!  
"This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!"  


Our Last Day of Magical Memories

Oh, you've been such good sports to endure all these posts!  Luckily, this is the last Disney post :) On our final day we packed in a FULL day of fun, despite some rainy skies.  We started at the Animal Kingdom, which was great because we (Travis and I) had never been there before, so it was all brand new to us too!
 We heard the Lion King show was fabulous so we made that our first aim once we got there.
 We've never seen the Broadway show but if this was a taste of it, I know it would be amazing!  This 30 minute show was perfect, long enough to be worth it but not too long to lose our kiddos.  It was full of singing and dancing and audience participation so we all loved it.  
We all got a kick out of the "theme" of this park and enjoyed the sights just as much as the attractions!
 The one thing we were really looking forward to was the Safari experience.  We fast passed it and walked right on, excited for what we might see!
Thankfully Disney thinks of everything and the Safari land is packed with animals!
 Crocodiles galore...
 Vultures sunning themselves, creepy!
I'm skipping lots of pictures of other animals to get to the "big" ones, like this one who happens to be Carter's favorite...
...a giraffe!
The kids were totally mesmerized, it's amazing how close we were able to be to everything we saw.  We were in open air jeeps and although I know there are probably a million safety measures in place that we couldn't see, I did wonder several times about what would really keep any animal from charging those jeeps??
We got to see several giraffes and some other things I didn't recognize just grazing in the savannah.
 Elephants!  We got to see a lot of them which was also incredible.  They are so much bigger than this picture makes them appear, so interesting to watch them!
 Can't remember what these are, but I'm just amazed at how Ava and I felt like we could reach out and touch them!
Again, so many pictures I edited from this post for your sake, but we had such a great time!  We really loved this and would definitely do it again!
 We left "Africa" and headed for "Asia" next...
 Gotta love the creativity of Disney!
 Beauty everywhere, kind of makes you forget you're in a theme park.
Loved those spring blossoms!
On our way to Dinoland USA, we spotted the Tree of Life and an even better surprise...Pocahontas, one of only 2 Princesses we had left to find!  I sent the boys ahead to have some fun in the Dino Dig while Ava and I stood in line to meet Pocahontas.
She was a fun autograph to get!  Ava loves her movie and she was thrilled to "meet" her!
Cute!  As we left Ava said, "Mom, where is John Smiff?"  Ha ha!
It's not often we pass large birds on the sidewalk...
After a few hours at the park, we met up with Trav's sisters and our niece and nephew.  With a few more adults in tow, we were able to leave Ava and Carter with Aunt Shaye while Aunt Katy, Dominic and Addie rode this roller coaster with Travis and I!
It was a great ride!!  And look at those blue skies!  Aren't they deceiving??  Right as we came flying down the last drop and slowed down into the "waiting station" a few large drops of rain began hitting us.  "How odd?" we thought, "doesn't look like rain??"  Almost as quickly as we said it, the skies opened up and DUMPED rain for a good 15 minutes.  It was no good!  We got soaked and we were packed like sardines in a little gift store trying to ride it out while Trav's poor sister was outside with the kiddos (who thankfully had the stroller to seek cover in).  It was such a bummer and we were all pretty wet by the time it was over.  
A fog set in and we decided it was time to "re-group" in the car and get some dry clothes!
Wet cousins!  Thankfully we had dry clothes for all of us in the van and some jackets too as it cooled off considerably.  We got ourselves all cleaned up then headed to Magic Kingdom for our final night.  We were going to keep the kids up late so we could do the Electrical Parade and the Fireworks show over the castle.  
Carter was THRILLED to be on the monorail again, probably his favorite "ride" at Disney!  He called it the "mondo-rail" and loved to tell us every time he spotted one speeding by :) 
It was still pretty dreary, but we were hoping the blue skies that were peeking out would hold back any rain.
 I just love Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.  It's so pretty and feels like you have stepped back in time.
It was fun to see the Castle lit in changing colors as the evening wore on.  Ava was MOST thrilled to be back near Cinderella's castle and she was all smiles the minute we got in the gates!
Who is ready for more fun??  Thankfully the stroller was mostly dry at that point, we knew we were going to need it to make it through the night.
Had to get the iconic shot of Walt and Mickey, and the bird perched on Walt's head!
Ready for our last night of fun in the happiest place on earth!
Dominic, Aunt Katy, Aunt Shaye and Addie Jo!  How fun to share the night with family!  
So pretty!  We were headed for dinner and had a window of time before the parade started to just do what we wanted.  Sort of.  The ONLY thing on my agenda was to find our last princess, Tiana, and get her autograph so that dang autograph book could be complete!!  Ha! I was NOT about to go home with ONE missing autograph! 
Well wouldn't you know it, as we were walking toward the Haunted Mansion and some dinner options, we passed Princess Tiana herself!!  She was about to go on a 20 minute break, so again, Ava and I stayed behind to be first in line while we sent everyone else to ride a ride.  Everything was rosy and we were 1 minute from Tiana coming back out again when once again, out of nowhere, the skies opened up and a downpour began.
And lucky us, we were first in line, out in the open with only this little toddler sized umbrella to cover us.  Yes, can you imagine the fun???  I pretty much bear-hugged Ava for 15 minutes under that thing, while the rain ran down my back.  I was NOT losing our spot in line, all the while praying it would stop and wondering if Tiana would even come back out??  What are the odds??  Our last Princess, our last night, 1 minute from getting what we need and now it's all in jeopardy??  OH the drama of it all??  Ha ha ha ha!!!
But seriously, I was slightly stressed.  It was raining so hard ducks were coming out of nowhere to stand in the river near our feet!
But then, the rain slowed to a tiny drizzle and suddenly the brave Princess and her Prince made our last dream come true by coming out anyway!  I could have kissed them.  I did thank them profusely for not giving up, they were the missing piece to our puzzle and I had one happy daughter because of it!
That is one BIG dress!
As I watched that autograph take place and got ready for the picture, all the stress of that book finally went away!
We did it!!  All the Disney Princesses and only one rainy experience to make it happen!
We ate and then we headed over to main street to stake our spot for the parade.  Isn't the castle just gorgeous at night??  I could have stared at it all night.
 The kids were doing great, considering what a long day it had already been!  They were such troopers, but there was certainly eye candy at every turn to keep them interested :) 
In my head I was hoping this would be cute, but after 2 downpours and multiple outfit changes, there wasn't much "cute" left!  Ha ha!

The changing colors of the castle were gorgeous, but they only kept us entertained for so long.  We were ready for the parade to start!!
Again, I got the whole thing on video and our kids have loved watching it again and again! 
Ava had a front row seat on the street with her cousins.  Such a big girl!
 The parade was great, but even better was a projection show they did on the castle and then fireworks!
 Nobody does it like Disney!
My favorite shot!  We were so grateful because although the skies were cloudy and there was a rumble or two, it stayed dry for the entire parade, projection show, and fireworks afterwards!!  We were blessed with great weather all week, but realized how quickly a storm can "rain on your parade!" Ha ha ha, sorry, had to do it!  Thankfully we had a reprieve for the whole show and it was wonderful.

Amazingly Carter fell asleep on my shoulder for the last couple of fireworks.  He was one tired baby and it was late!  But he held on as long as he could, sweet little boy!
What an incredible week of memories for us!!  Our Disney experience was wonderful, as great as we hoped and much more.  We still can't believe we were able to tack this on to our trip, but it was so worth it.  We are still talking about it almost daily!
These two little munchkins were officially worn out after 4 non-stop days!  They were exhausted for days to come, but that's the best kind of exhausted there is :) The minute the fireworks ended, the skies opened up again and rained on us for the whole trip to our car.  That part was not so magical!  Thankfully the kids were asleep for the whole thing but Travis and I were soaking wet, again!  Good thing we love Disney!!!  What a week...We are blessed!!