Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Goal Recap - How'd I Do?

At the beginning of the year, I set some goals for myself. The year progressed and a lot of things happened in the Athanas household this year:
  • We bought a house that we absolutely love.
  • I hit a huge weight loss milestone - even in the midst of the holiday season.
  • Steve was able to travel for business twice, which he loves. 
  • I started to use my cookbooks more and blogged about it.
  • We sent our fish to a better home where they could be better taken care of and we gave our 90-gallon tank away to a single mom who wanted to set one up for her child. 
  • Steve and I both experienced rebuilding/healing of relationships in our immediate families, which has been pretty cool.
  • God answered our prayers for additional volunteers for the youth ministry more than we ever could imagine - we'll end 2010 with a staff of 8!
Home Sweet Home - Athanas Homestead, Est. 2010
    There are lots of other things that were of note in 2010, but those are the things that immediately are coming to mind as I reflect on the year. However - this post is not about those awesome things. It's about how I did on my goals. Our friend John said once that when you set goals, transparency in goals is important - so I'll be honest as I go through each of these and let you know how I did without any fluff.

    1. I set out to read the entire Bible in a year: Well... if this were a complete pass/fail - I would absolutely fail. I did not read entire Bible this year. Having said that - I will say that just setting this goal at all did draw me to God's word more than I ever have been drawn in the past. I spent more time reading scripture this year than I ever have, and in fact got so caught up in Psalms one morning recently that I lost track of time and was late for work! I think that there are two things that did not happen that would have made this goal a complete success that I will definitely keep in mind for next time.

    1. I did not set out with a plan. With all the reading plans out there to read the entire Bible in a year, do you think I looked at ANY of them? Nope. Not a one. If I decide to reset this goal - this is one thing I would definitely make sure I had in place.
    2. I did not set aside time each day to read scripture. Without proper time, no goal can ever be achieved.

    Again - I don't consider this goal completely missed as I did spend significantly more time in God's word than I ever had before. That in and of itself makes me feel that something was accomplished here.

    Almost... but not quite...

    2. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would finish more crochet projects in 2010. Yeah right sure. I'm not even going to attempt to bring some positive spin to this - I did NOT complete more crochet projects this year than last. However - if I play my cards right - there's a very decent shot that I will complete a larger project I've been working on for a while for a gift before the year is out. Stay tuned... I'll let you know. I can't reveal it quite yet because, well, it's a gift.

    3. Read and complete more books! This one I definitely did, and I'm psyched about it. Two of my favorite passtimes/hobbies are reading and crocheting; reading has been since I was a small child. According to my Goodreads tally, I completed a total of 13 books this year. That's 9 more than I completed last year, so I really kicked this goal's butt. Very excited about that! My favorites that I read were "Snowflower and the Secret Fan", "The Shack", "The Vertical Self", and "Before Green Gables". I'm wondering if I can beat 13 books for next year... do I toy with fate and reset this goal for 2011?

    4. Participate in and Complete a 5K race: Well... any of you who know me and/or read this blog know that I did this one in November. I ran in my first 5K with my friend Laura and completed the race in 37 minutes and 48 seconds. I was so pumped. I also closed out the year with a great milestone for myself this morning on the treadmill - I was able to jog for 38 out of 45 minutes I spent on the machine, and completed the 5K portion of my workout in just about 36 minutes. Considering how boring running on a treadmill can be, I was pretty pumped about this. I'm giving all the credit to my new running pants I got at TJMaxx last night.

    Finished! Check one off the list...

    So - I would give myself about a 75% on the year, which is better than most people do with their annual goals. I'm excited to think about and establish goals for 2011 - I have a really good feeling about next year!

    What about you? What goals did you achieve this year? What are you thinking for 2011?

    Tuesday, December 28, 2010

    Mission Cookbook: COOKIES!!!

    It's been a while since I have partaken in a bit of cookbook-cooking, so when it was time to bake my Christmas cookies I busted out the old "New Better Homes and Gardens" cookbook to select what tasty treats I would bake up for the holiday. The problem with baking cookies is that when you are trying to pick out what to make - they all sound so stinking good. I landed on fudgy cappuccino cookies, lemon-pistachio biscotti, and traditional fudge as the recipes I would snag from the book. A trip to the store to gather up the ingredients I was missing for the task and I was ready to go!

    Because the fudgy cappuccino cookie batter needed to chill for 3 hours, I made that first. The main ingredients for that were unsweetened cocoa, instant coffee granules, sugar, and flour. I whipped up the batter making sure to follow the instructions carefully, covered the bowl with tin foil and popped it in the fridge.

    Lick the batter for the cappuccino cookies? Heck yeah I did!
    Next I got to work on the fudge. I got the ingredients measured out, in the pan, turned the pan on to heat... and discovered that my candy thermometer was busted. Devastating. This meant that for my first go at traditional fudge I would need to trust a timer and since I'm not an expert at candy making - the missing of the candy thermometer would turn out to be a bit of a bummer.

    Boiling fudge mixture.
    Fudge post-boiling with butter & vanilla added.
    I followed the directions as best as I could without the thermometer, but as I mentioned this one piece of equipment being missing turned out to be a bit of a bummer. When the timer went off after I added the butter & vanilla, I returned to the fudge to discover that it had already set. Since the directions explicitly stated to NOT stir initially but wait until the temperature had dropped to stir in the butter & vanilla - this meant that I had fudge with a topping of butter. Not good. I turned the heat on to try and re-liquify the fudge, but this did not work out too well either - it made the consistency grainy. The butter was incorporated though, so I removed it and placed it in the pie pan to set. What I ended up with is more like the best tasting fudgy sugar cubes you'll ever eat rather than delicious fudge.

    Mmmm... crumbly fudge.
    After my disappointment with the fudge, Santa Steve felt bad and left me a new candy thermometer in my stocking so I can try it again. I was appreciative of this - especially since the new thermometer isn't encased in glass, so there is much less chance of breakage.

    I didn't get any process shots of the lemon-pistachio biscotti because truthfully I forgot, but I have to say that I love making biscotti. It's incredibly easy to make and even though it's a bit time consuming (biscotti basically means twice-baked cookies) it's well worth it in the end. The ones I made were drizzled with a homemade lemon icing at the end as well - so good.

    Lemon-pistachio biscotti with lemon icing - waiting for the icing to set.
    My favorite cookie of the bunch turned out to be the fudgy cappuccino cookies. To quote Steve, these guys are "spot on". They're dropped in sugar before baking and they are just absolutely delicious. I could seriously eat a plate of these by myself, but I was wise enough to realize this after trying one when they came out of the oven and made sure to give some of them away in the cookie gifts.

    And the winner is...
    Baking Christmas cookies is always a fun project to do, and finding recipes that you really enjoy both eating and baking make a huge difference. I know that these cookies will probably be in my permanent rotation of Christmas baking, they were quite tasty.

    What kinds of cookies do you like baking at Christmas time?

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Doesn't Anyone Know????

    As I've kind of navigated this Christmas season, I've noticed that there are a lot of people who are desperately seeking that "Christmas Spirit". That sense of joy that we're just "supposed to get" the moment we plug in the lights on our tree. For many this year that sense of jumping joy just hasn't struck some people yet - at least if my Facebook news feed is any indication.

    With this lack of Christmas joy this year, I've been putting a lot of thought into what the "Christmas Spirit" is "supposed" to be. Every year I make sure to watch the "Charlie Brown Christmas" special when it comes on, and I have to admit that as an adult I have a totally different take on all things Charlie Brown. You don't realize it as a kid watching the old Schultz-created cartoons, but the dialogue in Charlie Brown episodes is incredibly mature and adult. As a kid I watched that special and thought: Yay! Christmas play! Yay! Jesus is born! Yay! They decorated the ugly tree!

    But now I have a different perspective; the entire special is a reminder to each and every one of us that Christmas is not about the plays, the perfect Christmas tree, or a stuff-filled list to Santa Claus.

    No matter where you land in your faith, there is one thing that cannot be denied: Without Jesus, there never would have been a Christmas. It's in the word - CHRISTmas. Even before I was solid in my faith I realized this. But our culture has turned away from that and turned instead towards finding the perfect gifts, making sure that our parties go off without a hitch, and creating more stress than God EVER wants us to have in our lives. In fact - throughout the Bible we're told NOT to worry, NOT to stress, and that through Him all things are possible.

    And every year, through the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, ABC runs this aged Christmas special featuring the Peanuts gang. Not only do they run it, but they run it twice. It's like they realize that we need a reminder of why we celebrate Christmas. We wait with bated breath every year for the climax when Linus calmly tells Charlie Brown what exactly Christmas is after his outburst.

    "Doesn't anyone know what Christmas is all about?!?!"

    Last week we wrapped up a series with our youth group about the gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus. Steve wrapped it up with a talk on myrrh and what it means and why it was there. He landed on this point: if Jesus was just a regular rabbi, there would be no Christmas. We don't celebrate Christmas because He was born and because He taught the folks in the Middle East all sorts of cool things. We celebrate Christmas because of what happened on Easter.

    So... unto us a Son was born. A Son who would die so that we could have a relationship with God again, in spite of our brokenness and our faults. That is where we should be looking for our joy, and more that likely if we stop long enough in looking there - we'll find that Christmas spirit we're looking for.

    Merry Christmas, everyone.

    God also gifted us with Josh Groban's voice. Here he sings "O Holy Night" - my favorite version of this song.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    The First of Many

    When Steve and I were house hunting, I would always make sure to talk to my mom about houses we were considering putting an offer on. During these conversations, she would always ask me the same question.

    "Do you know where the Christmas tree is going to go?"

    This, apparently, is one of the key indicators in finding the right house. For us, it was the Christmas tree and our China cabinet that we inherited from Steve's grandmother - but none the less, the Christmas tree became a factor in our house search. When we found this house and took our first tour, we knew immediately where the tree and china cabinet would go (this, of course, did not stop my indecisive woman nature to change my mind and eventually end up at the same place we said both would go in the first place).

    Right around the end of October, Steve and I had settled in and our house finally started to feel like home. I think it was the moment we came here after our vacation that it really sunk in for me; when we got upstairs and put our bags down, it had that "aaaah" feeling of home. Decorating the house for Christmas made it even further feel like home. It wasn't that feeling that we'd had in our first and second apartments of just putting decorations up wherever. No, this year there was planning and much more thought and care put into decking our halls with our own touches. We made this house our home for Christmas, and even though we toyed with the idea of doing something other than being in our new home for Christmas this year - once we looked around at everything, we knew that we wanted to spend our first Christmas in our new home IN our new home.

    Here are some of the shots of what our place looks like, all decked out for Christmas:

    Bienvenue! Welcome to our home!

    Our foyer trimmed with "pine" garland.
    Our tree and the stockings "hung by the chimney with care".
    We put candles in our windows.
    A couple of shots from our kitchen.

    I wanted to share this with you because for some reason decorating our home for Christmas put a stamp on something for me. I'm - we're - settled. Growing up we moved around a lot, but I remember when my parents bought their last house in Methuen in my sophomore year of high school. That first Christmas I knew in my heart that was going to be home for a while - and it was home for me until my parents moved to Tennessee and it was time for me to start my life with Steve in 2005 (even though that was still a time of transition because of college). I did the math once, and I think that if you count the moves in college, I moved on average once every 2 years from 1985 til 2005.

    But now I'm actually settled, and I don't feel like I'm going to constantly be in transition. We're married, we're hoping to start a family here, we've already had people to dinner here and laughter and love have already echoed off of our walls. Feeling settled and having roots is an amazing feeling for me, and for some reason being in our first home solidified that for me. I know we won't necessarily live here forever, but we will for a while - and there's a lot to feel blessed about and to be grateful for in that knowledge.

    Now, I know that a home is not defined by what your four walls are... but for a girl who did a lot of moving around at a young age and had a lot of uncertainty surrounding some parts of her life for a time... well, truthfully, no words can express fully how it feels to be settled. To know that your marriage will last, to know that you're not going anywhere for a while - it's truly an amazing feeling.

    I don't take it for granted. I thank God every day for the blessings He's given me in my husband, our marriage, and the home we've been given - He has shown me that He indeed provides, and He is good.

    Oh - and I know where our Christmas tree will always stand as long as this house is our home.

    New Home - 2010

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    *Blink Blink Blink*

    In August 2008, I weight 225.6 pounds.

    For as long as I could remember, my doctors told me that I needed to lose weight. The physicals and bloodwork I had in 2007 and 2008 indicated that my weight was starting to effect my health - insulin resistance was setting in and my "good" cholesterol was out of balance.

    When I got married in 2007, I knew I couldn't continue to be heavy forever. I wanted to be able to run around after our kids and didn't want to be the butt of too many "your mom's so fat that..." jokes as they got older.

    So, after a bit of discussion, Steve and I decided to set out on a journey together to change our lifestyles. Right before Labor Day in August of 2008, we resolved to get our weights down to a healthier level. We started off by spending a few months eating less, then after our first 10-15 pounds were shed we got gym memberships and started exercise. We worked with our doctors to set goals for our weights, and both my PCP and OB/GYN advised that I should be between 135-145 to be "healthy" for my body.

    This was not going to be easy, I knew it from the beginning.

    I have been through streaks of weight loss, vacation weight gains, plateaus, sinus issues that prevented me from exercising, stress eating battles... you name it. For the last 6 months or so, I have been in the plateau of my life. I was convinced my body would not let me drop below 153-155 pounds, no matter what I did.

    All along the way on this journey, I knew that if I could just get to 150 I could make it to the end. 150 pounds would mean that I was in the homestretch before I hit the top of my goal range. I could get very excited at 150 pounds, it would mean that the goal was seriously attainable.

    But still that stupid plateau persisted. 153-155 pound range, no matter what I did. No matter how hard I exercised or skipped out on office cake when it appeared.

    Oh yeah - and the holiday season with all of its parties and ridiculousness just started, by the by.

    This morning I got on the scale and blinked. I got on again because I didn't believe it the first time. Still not believing it - I got on and off again.

    Third time - no change. The scale was not lying or having a malfunction.


    150.0. On the button. Three times in a row. I had to take a picture to capture the moment.

    Two years and almost 3 months later, I hit the magic number I was waiting for.

    And now... I'm in the final lap of the race. Come on, goal range!

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    The Strength of Mary

    The other night Steve and I watched our first Christmas movie of the season - "The Nativity Story". I absolutely love this movie and every time we watch it something different strikes me about the story. It's kind of similar to what people say about scripture meaning something different and being fresh every time you read it - only, in this case it's a theatrical adaptation of scripture and not the scripture itself.

    This year as we watched the film, there were a few things that hit chords with me. The biggest thing that has gotten into my brain and made me reflect quite heavily is the strength and bravery that Mary had throughout the entire story of Jesus' conception and birth.

    But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

    “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

    The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” 

    “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. 

    Luke 1:26-38

    Can you imagine how scared Mary was to be standing before this angel being told that she was going to carry the Son of God? Not only had she been tapped for potentially the greatest task ever to have been given by God of all time - she had not yet been married to Joseph for a full 12 months. At the time, brides and grooms were to be separated for a full year to allow the bride time to prepare for marriage; sexual relations were not allowed until the wedding night and were an integral part of the wedding celebration. To become pregnant before this time was up could subject her to stoning at the worst and criticism and ostracism at the least.

    But Mary had faith in God. Regardless of how scared she very likely was, she continually stood in the face of her critics knowing that God had her back. This is the type of faith that we should strive to have - total, complete trust that God does indeed have a will for each of us and that he wants us to have a hope and future. (Hello... Jeremiah 29:11 anyone? I love that verse...)

    Mary's strength and courage not only gave her the ability to stand in the face of family and villagers who surely looked down upon her, but it gave her what she needed for the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem at the time of the census. I've not been pregnant yet, BUT - I have lots of friends and family who have been. It does not look comfortable at all and I've heard tell that things like long car rides and plane rides can be downright torturous for the woman with child. Now, for those of you who have been pregnant and seen the movie: Has your heart gone out to poor Mary who has set out on a several days journey propped up on the back of a donkey? Why did she do this when she could have stayed home with her family during the census? Being as it was still in the 12-month period, this was certainly an option for her.

    If you've seen the movie, her reason is simple: "Joseph is my husband." Ladies - here is another area in which Mary is an inspiration for us. She is an Ephesians 5:22 woman (as my friend Jamie would say); these four simple words show a loving submission to her husband. It didn't matter that she was super preggo and could have stayed nice and comfortable with her own family - without even blinking, she hopped up on the donkey and hit the road with her husband. She trusted and had faith that he would take care of her on their journey AND that God would protect and provide for them; clearly she was right since he got her all the way to Bethlehem seemingly without incident. She was led by the father and the Father of her child and let them do so with full and complete trust and faith.

    Now let's get to the part that really blows my mind as a woman. Again - I've not been pregnant, I've yet to have children, but I know lots of people who have. A phenomenon I've noticed among parents - especially new ones - is an immediate protection of their children. A lot of parents are hesitant to let others hold their babies or bring them out places where there might be dangers or let others even touch their new kiddos. I am sure that with my first child I will have one or more of these same things and further I think that this is TOTALLY normal.

    Mary... well... if you've seen the movie, you've seen the interaction with her and the shepherd who has come to see the newborn king. As he leans in to see the baby, he hesitantly reaches his hand out to touch him - probably thinking that this woman was not going to let him (a nasty, dirty, lonely shepherd) touch her brand new baby. Is this how beautiful Mary reacts? Does she give him a rotten look and pull her baby in closer to her bosom?

    Heck no! Mary recognizes that this child - this beautiful, amazing child - that she has been carrying around for the last 9 months is NOT HERS! It is God's child. It is the Son of Man. This child - this child is a gift for everyone. And (at least in the film) she tells the shepherd this: "He is for all mankind. Everyone has a gift." The look on the actor who portrayed the shepherd's face is absolutely beautiful; he does a fantastic job of portraying what I can only imagine all of the shepherds who arrived there that evening felt. Tears of joy, faces of awe, staring down at this strong, courageous woman and the baby who would grow to become our Messiah.

    Man oh man.

    Mary is an amazing picture of who we should try to be as women. It's like she took Proverbs 31 and made it hers... God saw this, and God knew Mary's heart was true to Him. I pray that I can grow to be more like Mary; to have the courage and fortitude to trust in God and His will regardless of the circumstances. Thank you, Mary, for your example.

    Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed is your soul among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Top 5 Christmas Movies

    The Athanas home is ready for the Christmas season. Pandora has been set to Christmas music, the tree is up, wreaths have been purchased (one from the local Boy Scouts that will be delivered later this week), and the house has been decorated. The only thing left to do is pop some popcorn and entertain ourselves with some of our favorite Christmas movies. What do Steve and I love to watch around the holidays? Well... here are my

    Top 5 Favorite Christmas Movies

    A Christmas Story: Who doesn't love this movie? Who didn't want a Red Rider BB Gun as a kid as a result of this movie, even if for just a second? This is one of the most classic, most quotable Christmas movies of all time. If you've never seen it don't worry - TBS plays it for 24 hours every Christmas, so you can certainly catch it if you've got basic cable. If not - check your local library and put a reserve on it. You'll laugh and you'll become nostalgic... it's that kind of movie.

    One of my favorite scenes - If you've never seen the movie, don't watch it. It's kind of a spoiler.

    The Nativity Story: This is a more recent film that came out a few years ago. It documents the story of Mary & Joseph relatively closely to how it is relayed in the Bible and is really a beautiful film. There aren't any subtitles, and the woman they cast to play Mary does an amazing job. A must see if you're looking for a film to help you refocus on the reason for the season (as it were).

    The trailer for "The Nativity Story"

    Love Actually: I love a good romantic comedy, and I also love a good romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant. This is a heart-warming story (or really... interrelated stories) with lots of British Accents, hilarity, and a drunken singer who sings a terrible song that becomes a hit. This is a fantastic movie for cuddling up on the couch with a glass of wine and a big bowl of popcorn with your significant other on a chilly winter evening.

    The trailer for "Love Actually"

    The Polar Express: A movie based on the children's book of the same title, the story behind the film is a great parable for faith and believing. Tom Hanks does an awesome job as the Dad/Conductor/Bum/Santa, and if you read the book as a child you'll agree that the artwork is spot-on. We saw this in the theaters and made sure to buy it the next Christmas season. Such a great film.

    Embedding was disabled by request, but my one of my favorite parts of the movie is the "Hot Chocolate" number. You can view it by clicking here.

    It's a Wonderful Life: This movie actually does have a ranking in our household - number one. This is a great movie that reminds us about giving, the joys of living a life for others, and how we can have an impact on the people around us. I seriously cry at the end of this movie every year. We watch this one as close to Christmas as we can since it's our favorite and it's the only one of our movies that we make sure to save as a date-night film. If you've never seen this movie - you MUST.
    The scene where George Bailey gives his speech in the boardroom - great glimpse into his character.

    That rounds out the movies that are on my must-see list every year. I will say that there are a few others that I get excited to see around this time of year - "Elf", "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", "A Christmas Carol" with Patrick Stewart, and "A Muppet Christmas Carol" are a few of them. For whatever it's worth, Steve contends that "Die Hard" is also a Christmas movie... I'm not so sure about that, but we'll probably watch it anyways.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    "Good Morning Love..."

    When we moved to our new town, one of the first things that we did was to go ahead and get library cards. I have always loved the library for a variety of reasons and was very excited to be getting back into the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC). Library networks make getting all sorts of media - books, CD's, DVDs - for free incredibly accessible.

    One of my absolute favorite things to do with my library card is take advantage of the selection of music available. I love to listen to all different things and experience different kinds of music. I've always said that I have quite a crazy taste of music (if you don't believe me, check out my Pandora profile) and so the library is a great way for me to sample different artists, compliations, and genres.

    During my last trip to the library I took out 4 CD's:

    • John Legend - "Evolver"
    • The "Walk the Line" soundtrack
    • Black Eyed Peas - "Monkey Business"
    • A CD of ocean noises

    I have to say that my favorite of this particular round was the John Legend CD. I am strongly considering renewing it and maybe getting myself a copy at some point. The songs are fantastic, his voice is so smooth, and the piano/jazz musical sounds of the disc are just really great to listen to on the drive home from work. Talk about unwinding.

    I wanted to share with you my favorite song on the CD - "Good Morning". It reminds me of those weekend mornings when Steve & I wake up, the sun is coming through the blinds, and getting out of bed is difficult. Listen, enjoy, and if you're married - be inspired. This song just makes you want to cuddle, I'm warning you.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Don't Be Afraid

    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... (Ephesians 5:25)

    I stared up at the wall and froze. Tears flowed down my cheeks. I tried to slow my breathing, but it wasn’t happening. This 15-20 foot scaling wall stood before me, two fellow orientation leaders at the top encouraging me that they would help me over. It didn’t matter - my fear of heights was kicking in. It wasn’t the climbing and getting down that freaked me out - it was standing up there without a harness, knowing that I could fall at any time that was causing my panic.

    My friends came around me and tried their hardest to encourage me, but that didn’t matter either. Suddenly, this guy who I’d never met before that day wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts came towards me. He grabbed my hands, looked in my eyes, and said in a firm tone: 

    “You can do this. I know you can. You can get up that wall, you can stand up there, and you can get down. I know you can. I’ll be on the other side waiting for you.”

    And with that - he walked away, went around to the other side of the wall, and waited. I felt somehow calmer, turned around, and climbed the wall to the cheers of the rest of the staff. Sure enough, that same guy was at the bottom of the wall on the other side, arms crossed looking up at me, making sure I was OK. He was still there when I got down just like he promised, and gave me a big smile and a pat on the back. “See?” he said. “I knew you could do it.”

    Ten years later I was sitting in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a ledge in between the Rock N’ Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror. My chest was tightening. My breathing was getting shallow. I looked at the Fast-Pass in my hand for the Tower, looked up as screams came from the windows that were opening and closing, and knew exactly what was happening. My darned fear of heights was kicking in again - which wasn’t unusual for this ride, but this was worse than normal. Even though most of my brain knows that the Tower of Terror isn’t really freefall - it’s actually a series of cables PULLING you down, not dropping you - each year getting on the ride is a process of conquering my fears. As a result (and a secret love of all things horror) - it’s my favorite ride.

    March 2010 was a bad time for me to gear up to get on the ride, apparently.

    Steve walked towards me coming out of the bathroom and noticed I wasn’t quite right. “What’s wrong?”

    “My fear of heights is kicking in. I don’t know why. It’s bad though - this isn’t how I normally get before getting on this ride. Usually I’m just a little nervous.”

    He took a deep breath and paused for a moment, thinking. Then that look came back on his face that I’d only ever seen once before. He took the Fast-Pass from me, grabbed my hand and said “Come on. We’re going on it right now. We have the Fast-Passes so you won’t have to wait in line long. You’re not going to let the panic win, this is your favorite ride.”

    We headed right into the line and didn’t wait more than 5 minutes before the stoic cast member opened the doors to the elevator. We got in our seats, put on our seat belts, went through the ride opener, and heard the magic words:

    “You have just entered... the Twilight Zone...”

    THUD.... then Steve my hand... then the elevator moved...

    Steve & I in front of the Tower of Terror

    For those who have never been on the Tower of Terror, Disney simulates a free-falling haunted elevator with a mind of its own on this ride. It does this by using a cable pull that pulls you down and pushes you up in a computer generated random pattern. No two times that you ride the Tower of Terror will ever be the same. From an engineering perspective - it’s actually really cool. I’ve been on this ride at least a dozen times.

    This was the first time that the ride went UP when the elevator went dark when I’ve been on it. Not sure if that’s of any remarkable note or not - I just know I thought it was interesting that in my time of panic of being dropped... I first went up. (There’s probably a separate devotional in there somewhere... but anyways...)

    When the ride was over and Steve had recovered from his vertigo (that he lovingly suffers every year for the benefit of me not needing to ride this thing by myself), he looked at me and asked how I was doing. When I said I was fine, exhilarated, pumped, and glad I went on the ride... he smiled, put his arm around my shoulders, and said “See? I knew you could beat that panic. Wanna go again?”

    I took one look at my husband’s pale white face and I made the executive decision - no. Once a year is good enough - I beat my fear, I got my excitement in, no need to make him further ill. 

    See here’s the thing... neither Steve nor I are always great at filling our parts for the perfect Ephesians 5 husband and wife. I’m a stubborn person that isn’t always great at submitting and trusting my husband (Eph. 5:22) - and Steve is a stubborn person who is more pragmatic and task-oriented than constantly in tune with emotions, so turning to “love” isn’t always his immediate nature (Eph. 5:25).  But most of the time and ESPECIALLY when it counts - my husband is absolutely fantastic at loving me as Christ loved the church. 

    Up until the time we started dating, whenever anyone mentioned Steve’s name - to me he wasn’t that goofy kid that always wore Hawaiian shirts and liked to play with computers. To me - he was always that kid that helped me over the wall. Someone who stepped up and showed me care and was the only person who was able to penetrate through my panic to help me get over my fears, to ease my mind. At the time - neither of us knew that we’d be married 7 years later and that the same thing that happened that day would happen again in the middle of Disney World.

    But God did.

    That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination! (John 6:16-21)

    My fear of heights is like a boat in a storm to the apostles. And in the middle of my panic on those rare occasions when it sets in - I can count on my husband to reach out his hand, look in my eyes, and with loads of love he’ll lead me through the storms. It won’t just be my fear of heights. There might be times when money will be tight, when our relationship might be rocky, when my parents will be sick, when we might have issues with our future children and I will be uneasy, probably even panicky. But I know that when I panic - Steve will take my hand...

    He will say as Jesus tells us: “Don’t be afraid. I am here.”

    And for that - I am blessed.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Believing Without Seeing

    I'm the kind of person who needs things explained and proven. I watch the Food Network to watch and learn ideas for cooking and why things work well together. When Steve tells me about his day at work, "Good" or "Bad" is never enough. I need to know details, and when I don't understand something about his geek-job - I practically beg him to spell it out so I get it. Recently when Steve tried to surprise me with a trip to Jamaica for my birthday, I needed the proof that we weren't going to Vero Beach. I needed to see the emails, the flights, the hotel confirmations. I needed to see the evidence.

    So you can imagine what it was like when a little over 4 years ago I started to explore my faith and determine if following Jesus was the right decision. He was a great man, for certain. A powerful teacher. But Messiah? Really? Died for our sins? Yeah right sure. How do we know that the people we healed weren't audience plants like you see at a magic show or one of those crazy hucksters who are taking advantage of people's faith for money? Please - I thought. I prayed: God - I believe in you. But faith in Jesus? Show me why I should. If He was real - show me.

    God listens to your prayers and answers clearly when He has something important for you to understand.

    Not long after that we were talking with our pastor and he recommended the book "The Case for Christ." I ignored that recommendation until at least 5 other people also said that I should read the book. If you've never read it, it's actually pretty interesting. It was written by a former atheist journalist who set out to proof Christ's non-existence. His wife had recently committed her life to Him and was driving him insane; this book was supposed to put an end to it, once and for all. Indisputable proof that Jesus as Messiah was garbage. What he ended up finding, however, was indisputable proof of the exact opposite - he could not find anything that backed up his original mission. In the end, the evidence was so strong FOR Jesus that this atheist journalist who lived his life forming opinions on cold, hard facts ended up converting to Christianity. It's kind of like a modern-day C.S. Lewis story.

    At the end of the book, I was stunned. The girl who needed proof had it in her hands in the form of a former atheist's accidental journey to God's love. I had my proof that Jesus existed... and the seed to grow my faith had been planted. But I still had doubts - I wasn't there when Jesus walked the earth. I wasn't there for all of these miracles He performed. And how do I KNOW He loves me? I am the kind of person who needs love SHOWN to her - just saying "I love you" isn't enough.

    Again - God pays attention to your heart and when He wants you to understand something, He won't give up.

    Photo by Katrina, from Flickr

    Soon after I was thinking these things over, God brought me to the text about Doubting Thomas. Thomas was the disciple who did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, and needed to see the wounds in His hands in order to believe. So - what happened when Jesus presented His hands to Thomas? As Jesus always does, He gave Thomas pertinent words of wisdom:

    Jesus said, "So, you believe because you've seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing." (John 20:29 - The Message)

    Ever since I read that verse, it has been a constant reminder of what faith is. Believing without seeing - it is trust, it is knowing with your heart what your eyes cannot lay eyes on. It reminded me of a conversation that my mom, brother, and I had when I was in high school. Mom was trying to explain to my brother what faith was (he was going through some Boy Scout faith declaration thing) and I kept arguing about it. Finally (he was about 11 or 12) he asked why I wouldn't just believe what Mom was saying. Her answer: "Your sister is a very analytical person and needs to see all sides of a thing. Questions aren't bad."

    How do I know Jesus loves me? That was the last question I had to tackle. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks - the cross, plain and simple. Why do I say it hit me like a ton of bricks? I got the concept that Jesus died for our sins - that was easy. But God knew I needed to be SHOWN what Jesus did for us to really grasp and understand.

    God pays attention to our hearts and shows us what needs to be seen for us to get His points.

    The first thing that was shown to me was a graphic description of the medical aspects of Jesus' torture and crucifixion. For those with weak stomachs that won't click the link hidden in those words: the bottom line is that historians agree that crucifixion is the worst form of execution ever concocted by humans. Not only that - but Jesus' crucifixion with the preceding torture that he endured is the worst crucifixion ever documented.

    If that description wasn't enough... you can watch the whole thing unfold in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". 

    I cried my eyes out when I saw that movie. All of these things solidified my faith - I had all that I needed now to know that Jesus existed, that faith is required to have a relationship with God, and that Jesus absolutely loves me and each one of us individually. With each lash and hammering of nails, He was taking on every lie we've ever told, every gossipy thing we've ever said, every hurt we've ever caused. All of that junk for all of mankind (and it's a LOT) - up there on that cross.

    Sometimes I cry when I take communion, thinking of what He did for us. What He did for me.

    Now, I know I'm not perfect. I've hurt people in my life. I say stupid things and do stupid things and don't always act selflessly. I don't always think and act as Jesus has called us to act - Growing is a process. With it comes screwing up and learning and forgiving and repairing and reconstructing and then repeating the process. It will never end - I will forever be growing in one shape or another.

    But I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, and I know that if each day I take steps to be and act and do as He has called us to - that each day I will grow in my faith, I will become closer to Him, and I can be the light in the darkness. All of my missteps are forgiven, and all I have left is to be His hands and feet in the world - to show the love He has for us to others so that they may know what I have grown to know.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Gobble Gobble

    With a new house comes new traditions, and this year Steve and I will be hosting Thanksgiving for his family. His parents, both sisters, and one of their boyfriends will be joining us for a turkey and all the trimmings. About a week or so ago, Steve mentioned that since I hadn't made a turkey before, it might be a good idea for me to do a practice run so that I know what to expect on the big day. He went to the market, got a turkey, and yesterday was the big day.

    Danielle's First Turkey!

    When I got back from a couple of errands, I did what every woman does before they cook something for the first time that they've eaten a million times - I called my mom. She verified that the cooking should be about 20 minutes/pound at 350 degrees, and reminded me about stuffing the bird so that it doesn't collapse. Now, I have no idea if that's an old wives tale or not - but I knew that I wanted to stuff it with some "aromatics".

    I chunked up some celery, gala apple, and sweet onion. They were tossed together in a bowl with about 1 tbsp lemon juice, rosemary, and crushed garlic. I stuffed them in the bird along with 2 good sized sprigs of sage and 2-3 cinnamon sticks. I wasn't sure how it would make the bird taste, but I had a darn good feeling it would smell great coming out of the oven.

    Bird stuffing ready to go.
    While I was getting the bird ready to be stuffed (removing the giblet packet, pulling the neck out of the cavity, and washing it down), I was thinking about how much the process of preparing a turkey reminded me of my Thanksgivings growing up. I would often help get the stuffing ready and stuff the turkey to get in the oven. Those thoughts reminded me of how much I love the fall - and as I had that thought I looked out the window and saw this:

    There was a beautiful picture of fall right in front of me that I got to look at while I was getting the turkey done. The sky was clear and the air was crisp. An amazingly perfect fall day - the perfect day to cook a turkey, the ultimate fall comfort food.

    Once I was done being distracted, I stuffed the turkey and tied it up. I didn't have any twine so a quick search of my yarn stash showed that I did indeed have some plain white cotton yarn that would do the trick. If you don't like looking at raw meat - scroll past the next picture that demonstrates that I can sufficiently hog-tie a stuffed bird.

    As the turkey was cooking, our house smelled absolutely delicious. The smell of turkey permeated the air and just made our house reek of comfort food. I made up the stuffing, got the vegetables ready, and 2.5 hours later I called in the TRU (Turkey Removal Unit - aka Steve) to take the turkey out of the oven.

    Steve taking out the very first Athanas Family Turkey

    Steve cut up the turkey after it rested and we sat down to enjoy my very first turkey. The breast was a little bit drier than I would have liked, but it wasn't totally dry and overall the turkey was good. I served it up with cornbread stuffing, broccoli and carrots. After dinner we enjoyed the apple pie that our guests had brought - it was quite good.

    What was really cool about my serving up a practice Thanksgiving turkey is that our guests had brought with them a really cool housewarming gift. Our dining room set was inherited from Steve's grandmother. When she sold her house, one of the things that she disposed of at her garage sale was the dry sink that was a part of the set - it just wouldn't fit in her condo. When we bought our house, her friend Pat emailed me and said she wanted us to have the dry sink back. Steve's family always had Thanksgiving at Grams' until she passed away, and now that we have a house and will be hosting Thanksgiving ourselves - we'll be able to do it using the same full dining room set and the same china that his family has always enjoyed Thanksgiving with.

    The dining room set - together again!

    My first turkey was - I would say - a success. We're enjoying the leftovers tonight in the form of barbecue turkey sandwiches (currently simmering in the crockpot) while watching the Pats vs. Steelers football game. I am even more excited than I was before for Thanksgiving - it's a definite reassurance to know I won't screw up the main event of the meal!

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Run, Baby, Run!

    At the beginning of the year, I laid out a few goals for myself and one of them was that before the year was out I would run in a 5K race. A little bit later in the year, I identified what that race would be and then as I continued to work towards adding more running into my routine - I realized that I CAN run and I ENJOY running. Yesterday... all of those thoughts came to fruition when I laced up my shoes and hit the pavement to run in my very first 5K race ever!

    I was super blessed to have my good friend Laura join me in the 3.1 mile race around Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, MA. I had kept my fingers crossed all week that there wouldn't be any rain - there wasn't, but Laura & I both had coughs. Neither of us were going to let that stop us from enjoying the fall day and jaunting around the lake.

    Laura & I before the race - ready to go! I don't know who that other chick is, but she has a number - so she must have run too. Good job, other chick!
    When the horn blew, we started out at a good comfortable pace. During the race, Laura was a great encourager every step of the way. We talked about lots of different things, she was understanding when I needed to walk, and pushed me to go just a little bit further before I took breaks. The jaunt around the lake was really pretty - both the lake and the houses we passed - and because it was relatively flat it was a great way for me to try out a competitive 5K. When we reached the orange cones and started to come to the finish line - I didn't believe it when Laura said "We're under 40 minutes!". I turned the corner and saw for myself; the clock was at 37:30 and ticking! As we crossed the finish line - I watched as the clock ticked over to 37:48. I was so excited - I wasn't expecting to be less than 45 minutes with my cold, never mind a good amount under 40 minutes!

    Here is one of the NE 65+ Runners that beat us. Behind him you'll see a red vest - that's me! You can tell I'm still running at this point.
    Me & Laura right after we crossed the finish line. Whoo hoo!

    Once we were done, we got our t-shirts and some free snacks. We waited for our official results to post (they got mine wrong - but whatever - they said I did better than I did) and then we headed with our moral support (AKA - husbands who cheered us on) to get some lunch. I really enjoyed the race and having someone to run with made it even better. We both are excited to do another race sometime in the future - maybe in the spring - and better our times.

    The sense of accomplishment of finishing a 5K was amazing. I wanted to just tell everyone I saw - "Did you know I ran a 5K today? Do you know I used to hate running?". I refrained, but it really was an incredibly feeling. I'm so grateful for Laura for running with me and for Steve for being willing to stand at at the finish line waiting for me with a camera, a kiss, and a big hug.

    Time to start researching for springtime 5Ks! Anyone know of any good ones in Eastern MA?

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    12 New Things - Snorkeling!

    Since I was surprised with a trip to Jamaica for my 30th birthday, I made an executive decision to change my list around a bit (edits can be found on the original list here), so for October my "new thing" was snorkeling!

    Why do I have "new thing" in quotations? Well, last year we went to Jamaica and I attempted to snorkel once before, so it doesn't make it entirely new. The problem was that I didn't breathe properly and instead of being calm and trying to figure it out - I panicked. And when I panic, I become afraid and averse to trying the thing I panicked about again because I hate the feeling of fear that comes along with a mild panic attack.

    Leave it to my husband to know when to push with something. As part of the surprise trip, he went on Amazon and bought us each a dry snorkel & mask set (meaning a snorkel that will not open if it goes underwater). Because he knows me well enough to know that when I get nervous all I need is a bit of coaxing to realize everything is going to be OK, he went in the pool with me two days in a row before anyone else got in to give me a "snorkel lesson". Day one was mostly learning to breathe above water in and out of my mouth with the snorkel, and day two was actually spending time swimming with the mask & snorkel. When I asked for a day three (there was my nervousness) - Steve looked at me for a good minute and said "OK, I'll sign us up for tomorrow's 9:30 snorkeling session".

    Out in the open water. Oh boy.

    Terrible picture of a nervous me on my way to snorkel. Barrington is driving the boat. He rocks.

    The boat took us out a couple of miles to a dive site with a coral reef and a sunken ship. Everyone threw on their fins and hopped off the sides of the boat... except me. I was having a hard time manipulating my flippers, and when I finally got my legs over the side of the boat - I felt my chest start to tighten and I looked at the water. The panic was starting to set in - but then I heard Steve from about 10 feet away calling me. I looked up and he was smiling, and reassured me that he wasn't going anywhere until I was in the water. So... I took a deep breath, and jumped in.

    ...and swallowed a ton of sea water, which resulted in about 3-4 minutes of coughing to get it out of my lungs and passages. Good work, Danielle.

    Once I was done returning the ocean to its rightful spot NOT in my body - I looked around and saw Steve 5 feet away from me. He looked at me and smiled, said "You can do this, I'm right here." I put my face down in the water, and Steve stayed right beside me with words of encouragement until I was comfortable pulling away from him on my own.

    Look, Mom! No hands!
    Just keep swimming...

    We were out in the big blue ocean for about a half an hour before they called us back in. I kept my face down the whole time, and my reward was lots of hugs and smiles from Steve. What was really cool about the whole experience was that I was able to see a whole part of God's creation that humans don't typically get a chance to see. I was a silent, floating observer to the whole world down below in the deep. I saw beautiful fish swimming in coral reefs, and even had a small school swim by about a foot beneath me (I stayed still as they passed by). I understood why Steve had so loved the experience last year, and am actually a bit excited to go snorkeling with him again. I love that we have one more thing that's so cool that we can do together. 

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Can't Do This Fully... But...

    Because I just heard about this idea yesterday and my birthday is today... I didn't really have a ton of time to get the word out about it.

    However... I love the idea and hope that I can remember it for next year.

    I read yesterday on Mark Batterson's blog about this concept of giving up your birthday to causes close to the heart of God. Specifically, the cause referenced is one that provides clean drinking water to communities around the globe that don't have it - something that is huge. I've been reading "The Hole in Our Gospel" and in it Richard Stearns of World Vision talks about how big of an impact having clean drinking water can have on a community. It can be the difference between being able to have access to health care and education and not having that access; those are things we take for granted as Americans.

    So... I know it's short notice, but I am hoping/wondering if you would consider donating towards one of the causes below in honor of my 30th birthday.

    Charity Water:  This is an organization whose mission it is to get clean drinking water to areas that need it. As I already mentioned - having access to clean water can have a giant impact on the community. The link to their organization can be found here: Charity Water.

    St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital: Steve and I firmly believe that every child deserves a shot at having a fun, rich childhood. Because of that we have donated regularly to St. Jude's for years. If you become a Partner in Hope (monthly gift of $30.00 or more) they will send you heart-touching stories of children whose lives have been touched by the amazing work that St. Jude's does. The link to St. Jude's can be found here: St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

    Sponsor a Child: There are several places that you can reach out to in order to sponsor a child. This allows a child to have access to medical care, education, and nutritious food. Steve and I sponsor a child through Servants for Haiti, a group that several of our friends are actively involved in. I also know people who sponsor children through Compassion International. This is such an important thing to do for kids who might not otherwise be provided for. Their websites can be found here: Servants for Haiti, Compassion International.

    If you are moved to donate to any of these causes, that's awesome. These organizations have powerful missions and are making great changes to the people of the world. If you know of anyone else who might be interested in donating to these causes or sponsoring a child, feel free to send them the link to this post.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Turning Thirty

    Tomorrow is the first day of my thirties. Last Friday I woke up and felt energized; I knew it was going to be a good week. After all - the last week of your twenties HAS to be awesome.

    Friday-Saturday: I had the opportunity to attend Beth Moore's "Living Proof Live" with some amazing ladies. What a powerful evening and morning that was - there's something spectacularly moving about hearing 2800 people singing "Amazing Grace" a-capella followed by a message reminding us to keep an eye out for the treasures that God gives in life. My friend Elyse had a great blog post this week that basically encapsulated the feeling we had coming away from the event. It took a few days to sink in for me, but it was an amazing reminder for me to slow down. For me, the most powerful point that she gave the women in attendance was that "Our treasure got thrown out in the same trash as our time." What a great message it was and I hope that I do not do what is so prone to people who attend these conferences and lose the inspiration - it's so important that I don't.

    Beth Moore - That shirt cracked us up, but her passion was awesome.

    Sunday: In the middle of Sam's Club I got a phone call from my good friend Priscila; that evening they would be having an impromptu campfire and we should come over. What a cool thing - just a few phone calls and they had a campfire party! There were a ton of people there, lots of good food and great conversation was had by all. We stayed until a little after 10:00, but I was in awe of what a cool thing can happen with a few phone calls, some meat, and a pile of wood.

    Burn, baby, burn!

    Monday: I had texted a few of our students on Sunday night to see if they wanted to come over for homemade chicken soup and some girl time. What I got was an impromptu mini-birthday party! They came to the door with flowers, cake, and a card - they even lit candles that said "30" and sang "Happy Birthday". As if the awesome conversation wasn't enough - they even convinced me (read: made me hold true to my promise) to go out with them and "jam". Incase you're wondering, "jamming" is driving around with dance music playing, singing and car-dancing. Yes, I jammed. I do a mean backseat cabbage patch. You have NO IDEA. After that - I got to watch the Patriots KILL the Dolphins with a 41-14 victory. That's right. A palindrome win.

    The card plays "Celebrate" - yes, I danced when I opened the card. Twice.

    Tuesday: GIRLS NIGHT!!! Steve babysat our friends' two little girls for a couple of hours while my friend Laura & I kidnapped our friend Jennifer for some Mexican food, margaritas, and Coronas. It was so nice to get out and have an awesome meal with some of my closest girlfriends. That time is so valuable - and to think that I got it twice in the same week (we also had a wine & girls night after Friday's Beth Moore event) is just an awesome blessing. I value those friendships so much.

    I had to leave my phone with Steve so he could call us incase anything happened (he forgot his). When I got it back, there were 2 cute kids on my wallpaper picture.

    Wednesday: Nothing special happened on Wednesday. Just a bunch of cleaning. Why? Because some woman who decided to give birth to a little girl 30 years ago is coming to visit. The nerve. Make me clean my house. (Kidding - I'm actually PUMPED for my mom to come visit this weekend!!!!)

    Thursday: I went to work very excited for today to be the last day of my 20's. Around 2:00, it was time for "The Coffee Train" - 3 or 4 of us women on the aisle who go and get an afternoon beverage of warmth (be it tea or coffee) at the office Keurig. When asked if I wanted to go, I said "Sure, let me just go to the ladies' room first." Upon return to my aisle of the cube farm - 6 or 7 of my co-workers jumped out of cubicles and sang "Happy Birthday"! I was presented with a cake and a card - the cake went very well with my Green Mountain French Roast decaf. This was followed up by an amazing evening at youth group - so much fun playing Charades and spending time with our staff afterwards.

    "There's cake? I guess I'll stop by..."
    In a few minutes I'm going to head to bed and snuggle up with my awesome husband, falling asleep in his arms and thusly ending my last week of my twenties. I'm SO incredibly excited for my thirties. A few weeks ago when I was reading through some scripture it occurred to me that Jesus started His ministry when He was thirty. Now, I'm not by any means saying that I'm going to go out and change the world - but it did give me pause and force me to think. I can do amazing things. I've gotten out of my awkward stages. I can really start life now.

    Tomorrow I turn thirty. I plan on treasuring more and breezing through without attention less. Tomorrow is a new beginning, the start of a new decade and a new phase of life. I am incredibly refreshed and energized for it.

    Bring it on, Thirty.