Joy

It’s officially three minutes into our daughter’s due date and I’m flooded with emotions and thoughts that I want to capture before I fall asleep.  I actually just snuck out of bed to come write this post.  The last few weeks have been a blur of surreal excitement as we’ve made the final preparations for our girl.  There have been so many precious moments that I want to remember and jot down before I forget them all, but tonight I felt the need to share this while my sentiments are fresh.  I actually don’t know what to say or where to even begin.  I just know that my heart is full of overwhelming joy.

Just down the hall, my two oldest nieces are snuggled up sleeping in my guest room.  Ave, my ginger-haired and freckle faced teenager is wearing my t-shirt, and my AK with the cutest button nose and rosy cheeks asked to sleep in my warmest pair of socks.  I watched them a little closer today as they giggled and joked with each other.  It’s a lot harder these days, but I can still imagine them as young babies.  How did they get this big this fast?  I often wish that time would stand still or slow down just enough for me to remember every single detail of their smile.  Seriously, they capture my heart.

After I tucked them in tonight, I said a silent prayer hoping they know how much I will always love them.  I’m beginning to understand that the line drawn between being the fun Auntie that spoils them, and the responsible adult that wants what is best for them is delicate.  I’m thankful for so many years with them to “practice” being a parent.  I know everything will be different with my own, but they have taught me so much.  One thing that I hope I can teach them, and eventually our daughter one day, is that it’s okay if you aren’t always happy.  As much as we want to protect the sweet innocent ones in our life, they learn that all things aren’t fair.  We get hurt, there are difficult days, and things don’t always turn out the way that we want.  In fact, there will simply be times when we will be sad.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have joy.

There is a beautiful and glorious difference between happiness and joy.

Joy shines through the darkness.  Joy is fought for, gives hope, and fuels faith.

Tonight, I am filled with joy at the anticipation of Anderson Marie’s arrival.  I want her to know as soon as she can understand how thrilled we are for her to join our family.  I also want her to know that she has two amazing families that are forever joined through the miracle of adoption.  Charles, Ande’s birth grandfather has told me since the first time that we met that he gets his joy from seeing our joy.  He won’t let us forget that our excitement and gladness brings him comfort.  The Lord is taking an unfortunate situation and creating good.  He is turning our sadness into joy.

My heart may burst from all the joy that I can’t contain.  In these last few moments as we wait for the birth of our daughter, I’m going to soak up the time that I have left loving on my big girls.  They are helping the time pass quicker, and definitely keeping me busy!

Come quickly though, Ande, we are all ready to meet you!

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5

Advertisements

Worth the Wait

We are thrilled to finally get to share our news with you! AndeAnnouncement

It was a rare snowy day towards the end of January.  I was getting together the sugar and vanilla while Brad stepped outside barefoot to get the bowls of snow he’d collected.  We had just begun to make our snow cream when my phone rang from an unknown number for the third time.  I finally decided to answer it and was surprised to hear our case worker on the other end of the line.

We had been matched with a birth mother again!

Sugar was thrown on the floor and snow quickly melted as my spoon dropped to the counter.  I raced to grab a pen to try to write down everything my mind could comprehend.  As our case worker spelled out the details of this situation over the speakerphone, an unknown fear crept into my body like a paralyzing injury being replayed in slow motion.  All I could think was I can’t do this again. My heart had barely healed.

I knew in my mind that only the Grace of God would bring this unique situation to us, and would do it so quickly after our heartbreak.  Before ending our conversation with our case worker, we cautiously agreed to pursue this situation.  There were about two and half weeks from when we were selected, until we actually got to meet the birth family of our daughter.

Sitting around an old country table at the local Cracker Barrel, sharing brunch and exchanging stories, all of my fears were completely eased.  As hard as the last seven years of trying to start a family have been, it was all leading up to this.  

Worth the Wait.

This is Katelynn, and her parents Charles and Ann.

Hege's

Charles and Ann adopted Katelynn as a young teenager.  She came from unfortunate circumstances, overcoming many obstacles.  This is a low risk placement, though there are still no guarantees in any situation.  I share her story, with the permission of her parents, because her story is becoming a part of our story.  Our goal all along has been to give God the glory of this amazing journey!  There are some sensitive details that we choose to keep private, and will share with our daughter in due time.  However, we know that the Lord is using Katelynn and her parents, and this pregnancy for GOOD.

We are immeasurably blessed by the grace of God, and by those of you who have traveled this journey with us. We know that good things come to those who wait patiently on the Lord.  In all of happiness and gain, Christ is better.  In all of our sorrow and pain, Christ is enough. Our hope is now, and has been throughout this journey, that Christ be magnified.  Yesterday, today, and tomorrow Christ be magnified.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  Romans 8:28

Fail.

These are just a few, among many of the definitions of the word FAIL that I found online.

FAIL (verb)

1. to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved
2. to be or become deficient or lacking; be insufficient or absent; fall short
3. to lose strength or vigor; become weak

Unfortunately that is the most common term used to describe an adoption that has fallen through.  Failed adoption.  Ironically, there was absolutely nothing that I, or my husband, could have done or not done to prevent those series of events from happening.  Until recently there was nothing that could shake my burden of feeling like a failure.

The weeks following the phone call confirming our failed adoption placement were dark.  In the sense that I wanted to be isolated and I needed to mourn.  I have walked along several friends as they have faced the sorrow of miscarriages.  Many times I’ve heard it said that it is an anguish that you can sympathize with, but cannot fully comprehend until you survive your own.  The only thing that I can liken those somber weeks to, is my own miscarriage.

Having known the risks and the possible outcomes, as well as the potential emotions that I might feel, I foolishly assumed that since I was prepared for anything, I could face anything.  What I did not prepare myself for was the grief.  Much like during a pregnancy, we made plans and dreamed of things to come while we waited.

I had to grieve for my husband who wants to be a daddy.
I had to grieve for the empty nursery that I had decorated tirelessly.
The tiny clothes that were washed and hung in the closet.
The diaper bag was packed and waiting by the door.  The car seat buckled in the car.
There were countless subtle reminders that I had to pack up and put away because my grief was too much to bear.
My parents, siblings, and friends, all of whom were anxiously awaiting our tiny addition.
I grieved for them, I grieved for me, and I grieved for the baby.

The glorious bend in this story is that grief is just a step in the healing process.  The beautiful light that broke through my darkness has been God’s unending Grace.  Never once, has He left me alone in my grief.  His mercies have been new every morning, despite my insufficiencies or loss of strength.

Lord knew from the moment that we started our paperwork that we would face hardships and heartaches.  This adoption journey has been the biggest act of faith that we have experienced yet.  However, we have a great God who is working all these things together for GOOD. (Romans 8:28)  And for that reason, we continue on this journey, giving God the Glory!

A Closed Door.

It is finally over.  Bringing home this baby boy simply wasn’t meant to be.  I am devastated, heart broken, and completely disappointed; however I feel held.  I am comforted by your prayers, my faith, and the Hope that I have in Christ.

There were 17 days between the two phone calls from our case worker.  The first one being the call on November 5th from our case worker preparing us for the possibility that the birth mother that we’d been matched with was having doubts about placing her child for adoption.  We were struck with the reality of our worst fears and consumed by sadness. Those two and a half weeks were the most agonizing wait and test of patience that I have ever faced.

I cried for days.  I cried until I made myself sick.  I lost my voice and was sick to my stomach.  I made a pallet on floor of the nursery and took turns reading my bible, praying and crying myself to sleep.  I couldn’t eat, and I didn’t think I would survive the pain that I thought was going to swallow me whole.

When I got the second phone call, I didn’t crumble like I expected.  I don’t really think I cried, at least not immediately.  With a combination of grace and sympathy in her voice, our case worker told us that the baby had been born.  He was twelve days old and he had been with his mother this entire time.  Even though she’d had him, brought him home from the hospital, and was taking care of him; she was still unsure of her decision.  She had been avoiding contact with the adoption agency and was given a deadline of December 1st to make a commitment.  It wasn’t the outcome that we had hoped and prayed for, but we at least have an answer.

He is hers.

So now, this door is closed.  Literally and Figuratively.  We’ve packed up all things baby and put them in the nursery and closed the door.  It hurts too much to walk by and smell the freshly washed clothes or peek into the waiting crib.  The hallway seems a little more narrow without the open door.  Right now we are just sad and grieving.

I hope to write more in the near future to share my feelings and what our next steps are in this process.  Your prayers are still greatly needed, especially as we walk into this Christmas season.  Thank you for your encouragement and reminders of hope.

 

This isn’t over.

My eyes are just about as heavy as my heart.  It’s been weeks since I’ve had a peaceful night’s sleep; after the sun goes down is when my mind is most prone to wander.   The last  48 hours have been the worst yet.

Honestly, I’m having a difficult time trying to find the words to say and I know its not from the lack of sleep or the haze of confusion that follows it.   A few weeks ago we joyfully shared with the world that we had been chosen by a birth mother and that our long road to  become parents was nearing an end.  We also threw in a tiny disclaimer that even though things could change at a moment’s notice, we were choosing to tell our story in hopes that God gets all the GLORY.  

It appears that our fears are coming true, and that the “changes” we had hoped would not occur are becoming a reality.  We have known from the moment that we were approved by our agency that this scenario is a very likely possibility.  The birth mother is having doubts about her decision to place for adoption and is considering parenting.

I got the phone call from my case worker on Tuesday.  I had spoken to “E”, the birth mother on Monday and we talked about our plans to meet at the hospital on Friday.  Tomorrow, November 8th is her induction date.    We’ve known since last Friday that this child would be making a scheduled appearance.  We’ve been preparing for years to meet him.

Forgive me as I try to choose my following words carefully.  I want to chronicle this journey accurately, yet I want to be as transparent with you as possible.  I am completely heartbroken and terrified.  There is a physical pain in my chest that feels as if it might swallow me whole.

However, this is not over.  Here is what I know to be true:

My God is the same today as He was yesterday, and will be tomorrow.

He will not leave us alone in this very difficult journey.

Tomorrow, a new life will be brought into this world.  It is something that should be celebrated.  

This baby was created in the image of GOD.  I can allow myself to grieve for what may not come to be, but I will still have HOPE.

Like I said before, this is still far from over.  The birth mother can still change her mind again as quickly as she did on Tuesday.  Because she has asked for space, we will not be going to Charlotte to be at the hospital with her like we originally planned.  We will continue to pray for this young mother who has three more daughters at home.  We will pray that if she choses to parent, whatever initially led her to the decision of adoption has been resolved so that she can bring this baby into a loving and stable home.  If not, we pray that she makes a selfless decision for what is best for this child.

It is nearly impossible for me to pray that this woman make a decision that I could not do myself.  I can’t begin to describe the internal conflict I feel as I pray selfishly for the child that I have desired for years.  So I beg for your prayers now.  Pray for strength for everyone involved. Pray for this baby, the innocent party, that is relying on adults to make decisions that are in his best interest.  Pray for the birth mother that she will come to know Christ as her Savior.  Pray that no matter what happens, God is glorified!

I believe in the power of prayer!

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”   Matthew 17:20

The Final Piece: Adoption Puzzle Fundraiser

We are nearing the end of our very long wait of growing our family through adoption.  We are in the final stretch of bringing our son home, but there is still so much that needs to be done.  Namely, raising the final funds needed to pay the adoption costs.  I don’t like talking about the money side of things, but a typical Domestic Infant Adoption ranges from approximately $20,000 to $40,000.  We have done numerous fundraisers, and have been showered graciously by generous family and friends.  However, we are still only about halfway to raising our final amount which will be close to $29,000.  We are calling this puzzle fundraiser The Final Piece because we are so close to the end of this long journey!  The details are listed below.  If you have any questions please feel free to email me, speak to us in person, or leave a comment.

Please help us spread the word by sharing this post with others!  We are ready to be completely blown away by how the Lord provides through this fundraiser!

Adoption Puzzle Fundraiser

How the Puzzle Fundraiser Works:

In order to raise the necessary funds for our adoption, we are starting a Puzzle Fundraiser. Those who choose to donate to our Baby Broccoli Adoption Fund will purchase a puzzle piece(s). When all of the puzzle pieces have been purchased, we will assemble the puzzle and then have the name of the person and/or family donating written on the back.
After the puzzle is completed and all of the names have been written, it will be a wonderful keepsake for our child to see all of the people who were part of bringing him home.  We will continue this fundraiser until all of the pieces have been purchased, even if we get to bring our baby home before it is complete!
Cost of 1 Puzzle Piece = $10

You may choose to purchase a single piece, or if you want to donate a larger amount, you may purchase as many pieces as you desire.
How to Donate:

  • Click on the Donate button on the right sidebar and pay securely through PayPal
  • Mail us a check  (email me at libby.brock(at)gmail(dot)com for our mailing address)  
The Final Piece Adoption Fundraiser

The Final Piece: The puzzle that we have chosen for our Adoption Puzzle Fundraiser.

x-click-but21

Thanks for your support and for being a part of our story through your donations & prayers!

July 31

I had 426 days to imagine what this phone call would be like.

Any call from an unknown number would instantly send me into a frenzy.

I tried to fabricate random scenarios in my mind to prepare for anything.

Nothing I could have envisioned was as perfect as July 31st.

My sister, sister-in-law, and three nieces were visiting for a few days.  We’d had a lazy morning and were starting to get ready for our day.  As I went upstairs to get my shower, I noticed that I had a missed call & voicemail from an unknown number.  I started to get undressed as I listened to the message, not realizing I would spend the next hour pant-less  from all of the excitement.

{Now, I’m sure you are starting to understand what my excitement was all about, but before I go any further I need to say something.  We are choosing to share this information because we want to give God the glory.  Simply put, we want Him to be praised no matter what has happened or will happen during this journey.  Some may think sharing this news is premature since there are no guarantees in this unpredictable thing called Life.  We’ve never hidden from sharing the bad with the good, and we want you to share in our excitement, despite the outcome.}

As soon as I called my case worker back, she asked me to grab a pen & paper so that I could write down as many details as my mind could comprehend.  I had an out of body experience as I wrote, trying to understand what she was saying and mainly focusing on not passing out.  She described in explicit detail the circumstances surrounding the woman who wanted to choose us to raise her child.

The next pant-less hour is a bit of a blur as I asked her questions, called Brad to share the news with him, and tried to talk slow enough to explain everything to my sisters & oldest nieces.  My favorite part of the day, aside from that one phone call, was (after putting my pants back on…) gathering in a circle and praying by name for the woman who is carrying my child.

In everything that I tried to imagine about what that day would look like, I could have never dreamed that I would be surrounded by family.  The Lord, in His ultimate wisdom knew exactly what I needed in that moment.  I’m so thankful that His plans are better than my dreams!

Our son is due to be born on November 15, 2013.

I’ll be sharing more details soon!

The Difference of a Year

Fifty-two Weeks.

photo

I posted this picture on Instagram a year ago.  My caption had something to do with a midnight snack in the nursery.  I couldn’t sleep and I was using that time to pray.  It’s amazing the difference that a year makes.

Fifty-two weeks later, and when I can’t sleep I go pray in another nursery.  We’ve since bought our own house.  Those Animal Fun Alphabet flash cards line the wall above the changing table.  That little monkey sits on a different bookshelf, and that card holder is overflowing with many more notes of encouragement. And that ice cream…I can’t eat it because it hurts my tummy.

When this picture was taken, we were not quite into our fourth month of waiting on Baby B to come home.  I was convinced I wouldn’t have to wait longer than six months at most.  I had no idea how many more sleepless nights I would stay awake praying, pleading with the Lord to hear my cries.

I reluctantly admit that I wish I had chronicled more of those sleepless nights and all of the emotions that this last year and some odd months have brought.  I know that one day I will want to look back at this long wait and remember the tiny details, but part of me knows that it can be summed up with this one picture.  Waiting and Praying.

There are some details that pictures can’t capture.

Like the peace I feel when I know the Lord hears my cries.

The growth and maturing I’ve experienced from having to depend completely on Faith.

And the Hope that I experience from knowing my God keeps His promises.

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night that I may meditate on your promises. Hear my voice in accordance with your love; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your laws. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. Psalm 119:147-150

It’s amazing the difference that a year makes.

Ornaments for Adoption

We were incredibly blessed to be connected with Megan a few months back.  She contacted us because she was interested in doing a fundraiser to help us with our adoption!  How awesome is God, and how amazing is she to have such a burden for orphans?  Along with Megan’s giving spirit, she also has amazing creative talents.  During the holidays she made adorable ornaments to raise money.  Brad and I were finally able to meet her and her husband in person this week over dinner to say THANK YOU for all of their generosity.  If our guys didn’t have to get up so early, we could have stayed there all night and talked!  Ornaments for Adoption ended back in December, but I thought I would post my message to her blog readers over here too.  Thanks again Megan for everything!

I can’t begin this post without first thanking Megan for her thoughtfulness, kindness, and generosity.  Her burden to help others goes beyond a typical calling, and has been a blessing to our growing family.  Her servant spirit has touched the lives of people she may never meet on this side of heaven.  It does not seem sufficient to say that we are indebted to her for her precious charity. In actuality, Megan and I have never met.  We were strangers just a few months ago, but have been brought together through the common bond of adoption.  

Megan and I each have our own unique stories, but the beautiful thing about these stories is that they are wrapped and intertwined in the Gospel.  When we, any of us who have been transformed by Christ, tell our stories, we are telling the story of who God is.  The story that God has written in my life is not the one that I would have imagined, nor is it the one that I tried to plan for myself.  Though its a beautiful story, it is one that has been laced with heartache.

Despite the difficulties that we’ve faced through infertility, miscarriage, medical mysteries, and the weary waiting on our baby through adoption, there is at least one thing I’ve learned about heartache.  It is good.  Good in the way that failure is good, and change is good, and tribulation is good.  I’ve learned the hard way that heartache can come in the form of one of God’s greatest gifts.  It can be a useful tool.  Just like failure will teach us what not to do the next time, and change can be gut-wrenchingly scary but bring new joy, and tribulations make us stronger; heartache can push us to the edge of our faith.  It can devour us, pull us, berate us, and then remake us.  When we are finally standing on the other side of heartache, we can see how far we’ve come from the person that we use to be, to the person that we are now. 

Obviously, none of us can skip to the end and sneak a peek of our story, or even get a glimpse of the end of this chapter for that matter; however I can humbly say I’ve learned to embrace this thing called heartache.  I can come before you now and say that the heartache of losing our first baby has made me stronger.  The heartache of anxiously waiting for our next child has tested my faith and strengthened it as well.  When our heart aches, God aches with us, so it is not something we should run from.  We have been given a promise that we will never be left alone.  {Deuteronomy 31:6}

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of our story.  Through Ornaments for Adoption, you will always be a part of this glorious journey.  I can’t wait for the day that I get to put Christmas ornaments on the tree with a little chubby toddler in footed pajamas, and get to tell them of our story.  The story of how so many strangers and friends alike came together to help bring our baby home.  Merry Christmas and God bless you all for your kindness, support, donations, and prayers.  

Guest blogging at Re{de}fining

I’m excited to announce that I am guesting blogging today over at Re{de}fining.  My dear friend, Jenn, is doing a series on motherhood for the month of October.  She graciously asked me to share my journey to motherhood because not all of her readers, or women for that matter, have come to be a mother easily.  There are countless heartbreaking stories of women who have been trying for years to have a baby and just as many moms with empty arms due to miscarriages.  Jenn was thoughtful enough to consider this side of motherhood and wanted me to contribute to her series.  So, go check out her blog, and leave a comment to enter for a chance to win some of my jewelry!

a beautiful correlation: part 2

The parallels that can be drawn from my once-in-a-lifetime hike through a vineyard in Italy and the story of our journey through the adoption process are not that far fetched.  Even how I stumbled upon the simple connection of the two is barely enough to receive a second thought.  However, the comfort and hope that it has brought me through this recent darkness, is enough for me to want to share it with you.

 If I were to map out the path of my incredible hike in Italy and our adventure to becoming parents through adoption, a pattern emerges of familiar disappointments with pleasant surprises, heartache eased with joy, and pain comforted by hope.

When we began our hike, I saw the City on the Hill.  I was instantly discouraged.  It looked too hard to even take another step.  I wanted to give up immediately and turn around.

When we started our journey to parenthood, I daydreamed of what every step would look like since I was a little girl.  We found out early on that things were not going to be easy, and that we were going to have to find courage to continue. 

Because of the unknown, the beginning of my hike was dreadful.  It was quite pitiful how desperate I was to find an excuse to quit.  I was quickly exhausted, discouraged, and exasperated.  Thankfully, there were many people put along that path to encourage and comfort me.

After our struggle with losing our first baby, and the battle of two failed rounds of fertility medicine, I was left feeling hopeless, depleted, and weary.  Beginning the adoption papers was daunting, and the fear of our uncertain future was almost unbearable at times.  Thankfully, the Lord placed many people in my life that had traveled this road before us, and even some precious new & old friends that could walk along with us too.

Thankfully, right before the point that I was completely burnt out, there was a beautiful place of rest.  On our hike, this first came as I got a surprise glimpse of Manarola, and then as we took a longer break at the ancient cathedral.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”          Matthew 11:28

This breathe of fresh air came in the form of educational seminars held by our adoption agency.  It was a welcome break from the piles of paperwork and endless questionnaires.  During this process we were able to find hope in the encouragement from our case worker, we were surrounded by others going through the same steps, and we were inspired with testimonies from birthmothers.  It was just enough to energize us for the next leg of this journey. 

After each break, the journey continues.  The path gets a little bit more rockier, which usually means there’s a difficult road ahead.

I have a merciful and gracious Savior.  He alone is my Hope.  He never promised me that it would be an easy journey. Even when I don’t know what the next turn will be, He gives me a glance of my past.  A beautiful reminder of how far I’ve come, and how He has never left my side.

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”  Isaiah 41:13

Naturally, I had an image in my head of how I presumed each of these journeys will play out.  Ideally, there are things that I expect to happen and things that I want to happen.  My hike in Italy is just a beloved memory now.  It played out so differently than I expected, but looking back, I would not have changed a single thing.  I would gladly take every painstakingly miserable step again.  Because through it all I found beauty and learned a few lessons about myself.

However, about this adoption journey… I fear that it is far from over. There are so many ways that I wanted this to play out.  If I’d had my way, there would be a baby in my arms right now, probably drooling on me as I typed this.  Eventually, one day I’ll be thankful that it didn’t work out my way.  Because that view of looking back and seeing how far I’ve come-through lonely nights, heartaches, tears, and empty arms-that view is worth it all.  And it’s always more beautiful than I could have imagined.  

It’s been a rough few weeks dealing with my emotions and my impatience.  By comparing these stories, I’ve reminded myself of how glorious the journey can be.  I’m going to try to enjoy this adventure a little more and try not to skip to the end.                                              I wouldn’t want to miss out on anything marvelous along my path.  

a beautiful correlation: part 1

I’ve been doing a little reminiscing lately.  A few days ago would have been our sweet Baby Brock’s third birthday.  It’s hard to comprehend that it has been that long, yet some moments feel like I just blinked and found myself where I am today.  Two years ago this week we were wandering the streets and beaches of Italy celebrating my twin brother’s wedding to his lovely bride.  To remind myself that it wasn’t a dream, I just happened to comb through a few of the thousands of pictures that we’d taken.

Somewhere in the middle of swimming in the rocky Mediterranean Sea and the fine dining of the Rehearsal Dinner, I began to see a beautiful correlation between our adoption journey and one of the hardest things I’ve ever made myself do.  As the analogy of these two grew stronger, the Lord whispered some comfort into my soul. And He gave me a glimpse of the Hope that is to come.  Please bare with me as I find the words to explain the revelation of my heart about this beautiful, challenging, and glorious journey of adoption that we are traveling.

One of the most difficult {physical} challenges that I have ever faced in my life took place while vacationing in Italy.  I am no athlete in any sense of the word.  The biggest joke of my life was that I was employed as an elementary school P.E. teacher for a solid year.  On our trip to Italy, I was not completely out of shape. It would be safer to say that I never purposely found leisurely entertainment (including physical activities) that would stretch the boundaries of my comfort bubble.

Nonetheless, I found myself all the way across the world getting ready to take a hike in a vineyard.  There were promises from multiple sources that it would be a casual hike, nothing too difficult for a former P.E. teacher like myself.  Our tour guide, in his rich Italian accent, did his best to explain that his grandmother made this hike twice a day, and she was in her upper 60’s.  The first part of the hike was enough to leave me winded and dreadfully pessimistic about the outcome of the next several hours.

If you notice in the first picture collage, at the top you will see a city on a hill.  Volastra: The City of Olives.  The name alone was enough inspiration to keep going.  I causally asked Mr. Accent if that was where we were going.  With a handsome Italian smile and broken English, he encouraged me that we would make it there eventually.  Had I known what I know now, I probably would have turned around and enjoyed a nap from my room with a ridiculously gorgeous view of the ocean.

After we’d made the tedious climb through the alleyways of Manarola, our chosen city in Cinque Terre, we found ourselves at a pathway made of stairs.  These stairs were hundreds of years old.  They seemed harmless enough, but the stretched for miles.  And miles, and miles.  Alongside these stairs was the occasional hut that was used by the vineyard workers.  Some were old tiny abodes.  We were completely surrounded by what seemed like ordinary brush and bushes.  If you looked closer at many of these tiny trees, you would see the olive trees beginning to bearing their fruit.  There was also the grape vines that were one week away from harvest!

These steps began to get the best of me.  I started to take longer breaks and my excuses to stop and take picture became more frequent.  I was reminded by my Italian friend that this was not meant to be a race.  He encouraged me to take my time, despite being embarrassed that I was slowly trailing far behind the others.

During one of these breaks in our hike among the olive trees, my tour guide and faithful cheerleader pulled me and my husband (who had wisely chosen to keep my pace instead of following the crowd) into a little cove off the path.  I’m sure the rest of our group had already passed this point because they were out of sight.  Oddly enough, I remember there being some construction tape.  We crept around the tape carefully; perhaps it was there as a warning but we dared to go on.  We pulled back a few branches that surprisingly revealed a glimpse of the blue-green ocean.  Despite having legs of jelly and gasping for air, that sight was a beautiful taste of hope.  Being on the long trail, I failed to realize how far we had come.  I think our tour guide knew the encouragement that the spectacular view would bring to me!  Little did I know, we had so much further to go.

Not long after that beautiful glimpse, we came into a city.  This city was full of more beautiful alleyways, better views of the ocean, but my favorite was the church.  Inside, the walls told stories of centuries long before my time.  It seemed to stand there as a haven of rest for so many who had taken that long journey before me.  As the entire group rallied together again, I was encouraged and even excited to keep following this path.  I was still very unsure of where it was taking us, but the promise of more magnificent views were enough to keep me going.

After we left the city, we began to take a more rugged path.  It was rocky, narrow, and a little dangerous.  We left the safety of the familiar steps, and began our excursion on the mountainside.  The views during this part of our journey were much more spectacular.  We could clearly see the city of Manarola behind us.  I was constantly astonished at how far we had come.  It literally took my breath away to know that I had already made it that far, and not only I had survived but I was wanting to go further!  The pictures truly do not do justice to the beauty of this city or the color of the ocean.  Before this experience, I thought places like this only existed on postcards.

At one point on our journey, the pathway became so narrow and dangerous that I found myself scared.  I was scared of the unknown; I was scared because I know myself so well, and I  do lack a certain amount of grace.  I was surrounded by friends and family, and the comfort of my husband was a mere arm’s length away.  But that did not completely erase my fears.  We were able to laugh when the hard part was over.  Even as we look back now, our memory erases so much of the apprehension.

Somewhere along that long journey we found ourselves stepping in line and keeping up with the pace.  We were traveling downhill. However, I soon realized that I wasn’t as discouraged, or winded, or near death as I thought that I would be by the end.  Each step brought something beautiful to look at and something glorious to appreciate.

Remember the City on the Hill?  I had long forgotten about it.  What I had hoped for so desperately at the beginning of this seemingly endless journey was indeed our final destination.  Here, we got to sit down and rest. And celebrate.  In true Italian fashion, we celebrated with a wine tasting!

The entire group seemed to savor the last few steps home.  I, more than anyone, took each humble step with thankfulness.  So thankful to have made it despite my fears and my inability to do it on my own.  I can definitely say that I have never had to do anything that physically challenging in my life before or since then.

The sun was beginning to set as we made our way back into Manarola.  On the horizon we could see the rain clouds rolling in.  Sweet relief after such a warm day.  We quickly showered to get ready for the rehearsal dinner, and spent the rest of evening talking about a journey that we will never forget.