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$500.00.

A weekend away in an unknown destination.

Details to be given once you arrive at the airport with your carry-on bag.

Are you in?

I said YES!

Last fall, my friend Cindy decided to put together a Mom’s mystery trip. She’s the director of the private school where I teach and my kids take classes on Fridays. She’s also an experienced world traveler, having led several educational trips abroad for high school students, and done some traveling of her own with her family. She excitedly made the first announcement to see if anyone would be interested.

The responses ran from “YES, YES, YES!” to “Are you crazy? I’m not spending money to go on a trip without knowing the details!”

In the end, it was a chilly January morning when five excited women met Cindy at the airport with our carry-on luggage in tow. (A very special thank you to my mystery friend who made it possible for me to go on this adventure! I can’t thank you enough!) After we gathered around, Cindy announced we were booked on a non-stop flight to Miami where we would spend the night in a luxury suite before driving to the Port of Palm Beach the next morning to board a ship for a two-day cruise to the Bahamas! It was more than I ever hoped or imagined! WOW!!!

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2016 Mystery Moms

We arrived in Miami and drove to the Marriott on Biscayne Bay. It was beautiful! We settled in a bit then talked and laughed our way through dinner at Primo Restaurant near our hotel. My friend Veronica and I ordered different meals so we could share. Delicious! I also tried crab cakes for the first time and loved them. Who knew?

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Marriott at Biscayne Bay

After dinner we drove our minivan down to south beach and cruised past all the clubs. Can you picture it? lol We were so cool. The traffic was insane! We came back to the hotel and took some pictures of the bay (and each other) and hung out enjoying the cool breeze. What a beautiful night!

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Miami Sunrise over Biscayne Bay

The next morning, we headed for Little Havana to eat breakfast at the famous Versailles Bakery & Restaurant. I tried Cuban coffee (yuck) and took lots of pictures of the architecture and my breakfast. I’ll spare you those particular photos. Not having seen palm trees since I was a little girl living in California, I loved the drive to the port! You could feel the excitement and energy in the van as we planned possible activities: A glass bottom boat tour, swimming with the sharks (Ellison was the only one up for that adventure), shows on the boat, and of course, shopping.

Then we arrived at the port and our trip took an unexpected turn.

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.

As we were checking in, we found out Amanda had a copy of her birth certificate and wouldn’t be allowed to go on the cruise. The port only allows state-issued birth certificates or passports for re-entry into the United States. I suddenly felt like I had swallowed a pile of rocks. I have a military hospital issued birth certificate. Sure enough, when it was my turn at the counter, the guy practically rolled his eyes at me as he handed me my documents and told me no, I would not be leaving with my group.

Stunned, angry, sad, disappointed. I didn’t know what to feel. We were just told we needed an original birth certificate with a raised seal. That’s what I have. It’s the one I’ve used my whole life. But it wasn’t enough. It was a terrible mix up, and Cindy felt awful about it. My tender-hearted friend was beside herself trying to fix it.

It was a struggle looking into the sad faces of my friends. Everyone felt terrible. I love them and wanted them to enjoy their cruise. A few deep breaths and hugs later and they were off, leaving me and Amanda to form a new plan for a few days in Florida.

We were both in a bit of shock, but we pep talked each other into looking at it as another unplanned adventure. It worked! We had a blast! We decided to take lots of pictures and post them to Instagram so our cruising friends would know we were having fun, and they’d be included in our part of the trip too. We didn’t know they didn’t have internet and couldn’t see our pictures or share their own. My friend Ellison was the only one to interact with us at all, so now I’m convinced she’s either a spy, has her own satellite phone, or connections in high places. I’m leaning towards spy. 😉

Amanda and I found a nice place to stay in West Palm Beach and spent our two days walking, talking, going to the beach, visiting a state park, and attempting an Anthony Hernandez scavenger hunt. Our first night in West Palm Beach we happened upon a pretty cool wall mural of JFK, so I googled the artist and found out he had street art all over the city! (See above and check out his website, the ones below are other people’s art.)

The whole art district was pretty great. We stayed up late into the night talking, got sand all over the rental van, laughed, cried, shared the highlights of our lives with each other, ate great food, and relaxed.

And what is a trip to Florida without spending a bit of time writing at the beach and playing in the waves? The photo of my hands full of sand is me rescuing a stranded baby jellyfish. He’s the bluish blob on top. I carefully scooped him up and threw him back into the ocean and cheered him on with the hope he’d beat the tide.

Our vacation flew by and soon it was time to meet the other ladies at port and begin the uncertain trek back to Denver – which was in the middle of a snow storm. I kind of hoped our flight would get cancelled so we’d have another day with all of us together. I even bought this postcard and texted the photo to a few friends. Ha! No such luck. We actually arrived home early?!

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It was a fabulous trip! It was good that I didn’t have a plan, and even though it didn’t go according to Cindy’s plan either, I would do it again! And guess what? Last week, Cindy announced the next mystery trip is scheduled for February! I wonder how long it will take me to get my passport?

What about you? Would you go on a mystery trip?

Do you have any suggestions for great WARM places to visit while it’s freezing in Colorado?

 

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Storyline-Conference-Single-Header

I am in Nashville, Tennessee for Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference this weekend. Let me tell you how it all came together.

My Texas friends Chris and Allen, and my Colorado friends Luke and Jason, all attended Storyline and came away changed men. They don’t know each other but they’re all men I hold in high esteem, and they know me well enough to know that I needed to attend Storyline, and they told me so. Though I was hopeful, I knew it would take tremendous finagling and a small miracle to make that happen. And it did.

Luke emailed me a few months ago to let me know for the conference in Nashville would have a “pay what you can afford” option, and encouraged me to register. He and his wife wanted to help make this happen for me.

When we got our tax refund, I got online and registered, paying money that wasn’t “extra” but trusting that God and my extended friends and family would help make this a reality.

Chris has wonderful parents who have a time-share in Nashville, so he arranged for me to stay at a beautiful resort this weekend as their guests.

My friend Cherie gave me vouchers for two free car rental days with Hertz.

Luke rallied some other friends and they chipped in to pay for my airfare. (I want to honor them but don’t know if I have permission to publicize who they are.)

I had to come up with money for registration, the other 2 days of car rental, gas, food, and the deposits required. I’m a part of an AMAZING group of people! They’re generous, encouraging, and challenge me to leap beyond what I think is doable. I’m not a very good dreamer and tend to settle for less, so I am incredibly grateful for my people who push me to dream and pursue. I’m here in Nashville…pursuing.

Several years ago I attended a National Youth Workers Convention where the late, great Mike Yaconelli told us we tend to wear ourselves out at these things. We succumb to the pressure of attending every workshop and activity offered, sucking the marrow out of the experience so it was worth our money. He gave us permission to grab a bottle of wine and hole up in our rooms if that is what our spirits need. My spirit need both focus and rest this weekend.

I fell asleep watching a terrible movie last night, and woke up to a text from Benny. The hours in between were spent wrapped in blankets with the ceiling fan on and lots of pillows cradling my body. No dog scratching at the door, no children waking me up in the middle of the night, no saggy mattress that hurts my back, and no list of things I must accomplish today to keep life moving along. Just a dark, quiet, peaceful, beautiful room holding promises of the kind of rest that comes with stepping away from my daily routine for a bit. I chose to skip the pre-conference blogger’s breakfast this morning and wake up leisurely. No guilt. No regrets.

I’m heading out to the university for pre-registration and to find some lunch, but felt the need to blog first. I’m redefining and refreshing some things this weekend. I started this blog in 2004 and it’s morphed into several things over the years, just like me. It’s changed with my needs, wants, and pressures to be something other than what it is, and yet it’s still me and my journey.

The Open Window 2

My blog is an online window into my life. Not everyone wants that view, and sometimes I close the curtains for a bit, but I’m still here and I’m welcoming you to join me on my journey.

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As I sauntered down the jet way to the plane, I tucked my phone into my laptop case meant for the overhead bin. I silently told God I was ready to love on anyone He wanted me to, but if it was to be a quiet flight, my Kindle was primed and ready.

I chose a window seat and waited for the popularity contest to begin. If you’ve flown before, you know it’s true.  Do I sit by the mom with the baby? Between the two big guys who will squish me between them? The loud, chatty lady on her cell phone? I’m very friendly, but I’m a big woman and assumed I wouldn’t be at the top of someone’s list of seatmates for a 2 hour flight.

The loud chatty lady on her cell phone sat down in the aisle seat of my row. When everyone was aboard, we thought we’d beaten the odds and would be able to stretch out a bit with the empty seat between us. Then a middle-eastern man asked to sit with us. I didn’t understand the language he was speaking into his phone, so I pulled out my Kindle.

My personal space is pretty small, but I was uncomfortably aware of the closeness with the stranger sitting next to me, so I was leaning into the window as we prepared for take-off. He looked at me and smiled, so I smiled back and began the polite conversation about where he was headed and how his time was spent in Oklahoma. I was worrying the whole time that I was taking up too much space.

The conversation flowed easily with him as we talked about life where he lives in San Francisco, sweltering Oklahoma summers, and the fires in Colorado. I told him that I’d been working at a church teen camp for 2 weeks and he stared at me for a minute. “So, you are Christian?” his accent was thick and I had to pay attention to the words so I wouldn’t have to ask him to repeat himself. “Yes, I am.”

Him – “Are you Baptist?”

Me – “No, I’m just a Christian.”

“How is your faith? You practice it? You believe in Heaven and Hell?”

“Yes, I don’t quite understand it all, but yes, I believe and I think my faith is strong most of the time.”

“I was born Muslim. You know Muslim?”

“Sort of. Well, not really. I know that you believe in Allah and follow the prophet Mohammed. I believe in God and follow His son Jesus, whom you believe is also a prophet. Is that correct?”

“I believe in God and that he sent many prophets to reveal Himself, but there were 5 Major Prophets – Adam, Abraham, Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus.”

“May I ask you some questions?”

“You may ask me anything.”

We filled the next hour with conversation about faith and love and how they should be lived out. At some point I realized I was no longer leaning away, but we were leaning into each other, our heads bent together like old friends.

He told me of his move to the U.S. from Iran to go to university when he was a young man. He had always imagined America to be lush, green, and beautiful so he was quite shocked when he landed in Oklahoma City. 😉 He does think America is beautiful, but it took him a few years of traveling to figure that out. He spoke of his family and how proud he was of his children. He told me of visits back to his homeland and how disgusted he is with all of the violence. He asked about my family and politely listened as I rambled on about Benny and the kids, and of course, SEVENS.

I asked questions about the Muslim religion, requirements, customs, and what he thought of Muslims and Christians not getting along and sometimes hating each other. A sad look appeared on his face and he replied, “It is a very sad thing that God’s children would hate at all. I want peace. I want peace for all man. Guns and war should not be. My wife teaches my children to pray to God for peace. We need to teach our children not to hate and fight, but to love.”

This man shattered my preconceived ideas about Muslims. I shook his hand to introduce myself.

“My name is Shahzad. It means son of the king.”

“My name is Nikalas. It means victory of the people. I’m a daughter of the Most High King.”

He smiled at me. “Yes, you are.”

We were a picture of contrast, both of us throwing out questions to the other about our faith, families, and how we see our world. Him, a fifty something year old Muslim business man, and me, an almost forty-year old writer/homeschooling mom, finding common ground to stand on. Both of us parents of 4 children, trying to love the people God puts in front of us, and wondering how God will use us in the future.

He reached over and touched my tattoo sleeve. “You have such beautiful skin. Why you do this? “I did my best to explain why and what it means.

“So you do this before you believed?”

“Um, no. I did this because I believed. It’s part of my story. Part of who I am and what God has done in me.”

He frowned and shook his head a bit. “I think you are good, a beautiful woman, but I don’t understand.”

I smiled and patted his arm, “Thank you. And I’m okay with that.” And we both chuckled as we relaxed into our seats to prepare for landing. I couldn’t believe 2 hours had flown by. (I’m so punny.)

As we stood in the aisle waiting to unboard the plane, he turned and shook my hand again.

“It was an honor to meet you, Shahzad.”

“You remembered my name. And your pronunciation is very good.” He smiled. “It was an honor to meet you, Nikalas. God bless you!”

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In two weeks I’m headed to the beautiful YMCA of the Rockies for my first ever writer’s conference.  As I prepare for that few days away from my family, I am filled with excitement and a little apprehension. My friend Kristi and I will be staying in her cabin in Estes Park, and I will know a few people at the conference, but I’m intimidated by all that I don’t know. We talked about conference preparedness at one of my writer’s groups last week, which helped, but I’m feeling a strong need to be myself even if I might do things a little differently than some of the more experienced attendees. I want to fit in and yet stick with what works for me, you know?

The 4 day conference will be filled with making friends, general sessions led by phenomenal speakers, and what I’m most excited about, attending a variety of workshops.  There are so many to choose from! I started marking off  those I’m most interested in, and quickly realized I’m totally on the non-fiction track. I think that suits me. I’m looking forward to soaking up the knowledge the speakers have to share with me.  Here are a few of the workshops I’m planning on attending: Writing Compelling True Stories (Creative Nonfiction), Writing in the Niches: How to Identify, Connect With, and Maximize Your Audience, Map to Magazine Writing, and The Literature of Personal Disaster.

So where does the apprehension come in? Being asked, “So what do you write?” and not knowing how to answer. Do I say I’m a blogger? An anthology contributor? I know what I am NOT, and I’m still figuring out what I AM. Is it a good thing to be clearly defined? It is in the writing world, and I’m not there yet. I’m hoping this conference will give me some direction and confidence about where I’m headed. I’m going to do my best to leave my expectations at home.

All the talk I’ve heard about “selling yourself” makes me nervous too. I hear this is one of the more relaxed conferences where jeans aren’t totally frowned upon, which is good since that’s what I’m most comfortable wearing. I can dress jeans up a little with a cute shirt, so I’m going to dress like me and not worry about looking “professional” this time around. I’m not planning any meetings with Agents or Editors, so no business suits, but no pink fuzzy slippers either. 🙂

“Write His Answer” is the theme this year. The website says, “If you long for your words to make a difference in the lives of your readers, if your heart’s desire is to be encouraged and equipped to write about a God who is real, who is reachable, and who changes lives…”  Yes! That’s me!  Please pray that God will give me His direction in how to accomplish that goal like only I can.

http://writehisanswer.com/Colorado/

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