Shaken. Not Stirred.

The first thing I notice about Christchurch, New Zealand, is the construction. Everywhere.

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There are buildings adorned with scaffolding, detours and road closures and various broken and demolished infrastructure nearly everywhere I look.

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But I guess that’s what happens when the epicenter of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake strikes only 10 kilometers from the heart of a city.

I don’t have any experience with earthquakes other than a random small one that hit Virginia a few years ago, but when Natalie, Katy and I decide to go on a free walking tour of the city, I learn a lot more about the devastation and destruction they can cause.

“The earthquake that hit on February 22, 2011, killed 185 people,” explains Michael, our gangly, Kiwi guide. Our group of about 25 is gathered at the site where a building once stood housing several small businesses. “One hundred and fifteen of them died right here,” he says.

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Silence.

My mind races to thoughts of the victims, the families and friends they left behind and the emergency personnel who responded to the tragedy that day. I feel the heaviness in my heart. I can’t imagine what they went through, what they are still going through, but I assume that when an earthquake like that strikes, things are never quite the same.

While the breakdown of my marriage isn’t something that can be measured on a Richter scale, it also happened in 2011, and for me, it felt like an earthquake. The solid foundation I’d known, trusted and built my life upon was rocked. My confidence was crushed, my heart splintered and exposed and my hopes and dreams for the future cracked and weak.

Someone once told me that my experience doesn’t qualify as a tragedy. Maybe they are right. In the big scheme of things, I know that I am beyond blessed and my broken marriage is a drop in the bucket compared to what some people have to endure in this life. And yet, when something unexpectedly strikes your heart, there is damage, even if it’s not visible to the naked eye.

Five years ago my heart probably looked a lot like Christchurch after the earthquake. There was so much destruction, I didn’t even know where to begin. But I knew one thing: I wanted a quick fix. Either a wrecking ball to take it all out so I could start over again, or a whole construction crew to come in and tackle the repairs.

Turns out “heart work” doesn’t work like that. There was no giant crane or team of skilled men with hardhats and tools to sweep in and fix everything. While I had amazing support from incredible friends and family, I soon learned that what I really needed was only possible through God. I needed the divine Carpenter to work with me to clean out the brokenness and rebuild the fractured parts of my heart.

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He did, and He is. It isn’t easy and it’s not always enjoyable. Sometimes the buildings I think are salvageable God gently lets me know are “condemned.” The choice is always mine whether to hold on or make space to build something new. Something good, safe and healthy. And though I don’t always immediately opt for God’s way, I’ve learned that it is always infinitely better in the long run.

Today, my heart is still under construction.

heartWhile there is a lot of work left to do, I’ve been intentional about seeking peace, cultivating internal beauty and allowing my creativity to shine. And when I walk around Christchurch I see that they have done the same thing.

I love the beautiful murals they have painted on the sides of buildings and continue to add.

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The “tranquility parks” established around the city to allow space for people to relax and enjoy nature are brilliant.

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And the “Dance O Mat” (an outdoor space where you can plug in your phone to a rigged up washing machine with external speakers and have your very own dance party with a laminated floor, lights and disco ball) is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.

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These things wouldn’t have existed had there not been an earthquake. And while no one would ever wish for that tragedy, I can tell from the walking tour and the pride with which Michael shows us these things, that good has come from it.

The same is true for my life. I always joke that if God had given me a “brochure of life options,” I wouldn’t have chosen this one. But as Michael so eloquently puts it as he concludes the tour, “hope has made all the difference.” I couldn’t agree more.

On Easter Sunday, I celebrated my reason for hope – Christ’s victory on the cross.

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It’s hands down my favorite holiday of the year. One that reminds me again and again that nothing is impossible for God. After all, if He can overcome sin and the grave, He can certainly repair my wounded heart and bring beauty from the ashes.

Today, as I enjoy the botanical gardens here in Christchurch, I have peace and hope.

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I realize that while the earthquake had a tremendous affect on this city, it does not define it. Just like my divorce doesn’t define me. It’s something I’ll always remember, something that has shaped me into the woman I am today, but it’s part of my past.

I may still be a work in progress, but I’m also the beloved daughter of the Most-High God. I’m a daughter, sister, aunt and friend. Dreamer, dancer, doer. Ice-cream, popcorn and wine-loving world traveler. I don’t know what God has in store for my future, but I believe it will be exactly what I need to become the person He created me to be.

As I stop to smell the roses and I am thankful for the flowers and fruitfulness here and in my own heart.

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I’m thankful for the falling leaves, reminding me that seasons change…

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I’m thankful for the winding path I get to walk with those I love…

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And the unknown adventure that lies ahead.

Mexican Goggles and Matters of the Heart

“Ok, was it just me, or were those guys actually cute?” Rachel asked as we stepped outside.

“I know! They were good looking, and seemed really nice.” I said with surprise.

When we arrived in Mexico, Rachel and I made a discovery – there aren’t many attractive men here. And while I’m sure there are plenty of eligible bachelors in this country, they definitely don’t live in Baja. In fact, the majority of the population here seems to be well over the age of 60. At least in the circles that we’re running in.

Sometimes we’ve mistakenly thought that someone was cute, when it turns out they were only under the age of 50, and/or really friendly. We call this, “Wearing Mexican Goggles.” So because of this goggle-phenomenon, whenever one of us sees someone who might be attractive, we need to confirm it with the other.   And today, the two men we just met seem to fit the bill!

They’re in their early thirties, business owners and artists. Their English is better than our Spanish, which means it’s decent enough to hold a real conversation; and they were really polite and kind. So, they invited us to go out on a double date, and after we verified with Rachel’s running partner, Blanca, that they were in fact good guys, we said yes.

While this may not seem like a big deal to most, I don’t have much “dating” experience. I met my ex-husband when I was 18, married him at 22, and we divorced when I was 30. Since then, I’ve had two real forays into the dating world – the first ending with his broken heart, and the second, with mine.

So last summer, after my post-divorce dating bust, I prayed and asked God what I should do about relationships with men. His answer was clear – avoid them. Not forever, but for a season.

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Since Rachel was recently divorced as well, we both committed to spending the last half of 2015 single and unavailable for dating. So that’s exactly what we did.

I was in awe of the peace that this decision brought to my life. I used this season to examine my heart, and I began to see it as something alive and beautiful. I started to think of it as a flowing, fenced-in meadow. When I was in a good place emotionally and spiritually, the meadow was really fruitful. It fed me. And the fence kept the bad things out and the good things in.

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But throughout the past few years, I experienced significant heartache. And that pain started to wreak havoc on the meadow. It poisoned the lush ground that was once fruitful, and it bulldozed parts of the fence. And as that happened, I started to let the wrong things into my meadow.

It was clearly time for some repair work.

I thought that the best way to do this was to start from scratch. First, I re-examined and redefined my values, prioritizing honesty and integrity at the top. Then I started to align my actions. I became determined to lead a life where my beliefs and my behaviors are congruent. And this meant kicking everything out of my heart that didn’t belong there – the habits that weren’t making me the greatest version of myself, the people who didn’t have my best interest at heart, and all of the negative emotions that I carried around for years.

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It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

And when 2016 rolled around, part of me felt excited by the prospect of dating, while another part felt completely terrified. The last thing I wanted was for anything to damage the meadow I spent so much time repairing.

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But that’s where the fences come in.

Fences are my boundaries. Fences… not walls. My heart isn’t a fortress that needs to be defended; it’s a meadow that needs to be respected. Fences let people walk up to the border of my heart and gaze inside, and they let the light in my heart shine out for everyone to see. But they also have gates that only allow certain people to enter. And whomever I decide to date doesn’t get to waltz right in to my meadow and set up camp.

So when these guys asked Rachel and I out, I knew it was going to be a different experience. Not only because we were going dancing in downtown Tijuana, but also because I was in a new place emotionally. My heart is whole and complete, and my boundaries are strong and well defined.

Later that day the guys came to pick us up for our date. We went out to dinner in Rosarito and then, we tried desperately to go dancing in Tijuana. But it was Wednesday… so our options were pretty limited. We ended up at an empty club where the four of us danced like fools to a mix of Justin Beiber and Mexican Salsa. Then we followed that up with some good ole karaoke and a game of pool. The guys were sweet, fun and total gentlemen. I was surprised at how taken aback I was when he opened my car door, pulled out my chair at the restaurant and let me take his arm when I crossed the street.

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While I may not have much dating experience, I think that this is the kind I need. It showed me that I don’t have to “date” in the way that the world defines “dating.” I don’t have to treat it like a job interview for a potential spouse or a litmus test for sexual chemistry. Dating can be about getting to know someone for who they are in their heart. And I’m so thankful that God allowed my first dating experience in 2016 to be with someone who felt the same way.