‘Tis the season of reflection and gratitude; the time of year we stuff ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie; and sometimes (half heartedly or distractedly) list off the miscellaneous things for which we’re thankful.
I talk a lot about my love and affection for this particular holiday. Part of it is nostalgic – Thanksgiving has traditionally been the holiday of family gatherings, cousin scavenger hunts, family portraits at JC Penny, and the annual viewing of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” But more seriously, I can’t help but reflect on the blessings of this past year. Not in a cliche, lame attempt at remembering to be thankful while devouring pumpkin pie. But with genuine gratitude because this year has been transformative.
2017 has been a rich and full year of personal growth, new friendships and opportunities. This time last year, we were still pretty isolated, hungry for community but very much alone. I think my husband and I (with a little more clarity now as hindsight is 20/20) realize some of the mistakes we initially made. We chose to live in base housing, a good 20-30 minutes from the civilization of Augusta and the church we were attending. We struggled to find a church, partly due to the fact that we didn’t really know anything about the community and what kind of church we wanted to attend. We only had one car, and work (for both of us) kept us on base, inhibiting our ability to get out, explore, and meet people.
But then we found a church. And we moved to a more central location. We bought a truck. We connected, diversified, willingly pushed ourselves outside of our bubbles of comfort. We stopped complaining about Augusta and began to recognize the benefits. We started frequenting the same coffee shops. We kayak and venture out to Saturday morning farmers markets. We go for walks on the many trails throughout North Augusta and along the Savannah River. We’ve discovered local breweries and decadent grits bowls. We take advantage of the many opportunities for day trips to Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta, Columbia, Greenville, the north Georgia mountains, and the South Carolina coast. We have an open home – one we hope is a haven and place of comfort to friends and strangers alike.
We’re learning that friendship and community are essential to healthy life and personal growth. How easy it is to be hindered by a narrow-minded view of the world without diverse and far reaching community. Wisdom, as Karen Swallow Prior writes in “Booked,” comes as a result of community. Isolation isn’t health for a number of reasons, particularly because it inhibits one’s ability to think outside of the box, engage in conversation, hear other’s perspectives, serve and love, and humbly recognize the world is so much bigger than what we’ve seen and experienced. Active engagement in community requires vulnerability and hard work. There’s the vulnerability that comes in asking an Instagram stranger out for a cup of coffee, or inviting people into your house – allowing them to cross over the threshold and trust they won’t judge the dishes in the sink, unfinished projects, and excessive dog hair.
I’m thankful for 2017 because I’ve learned I’m not through growing. I have not arrived at the height of knowledge or achieved the perfect friendships. I’m thankful for a year of being made of aware of how much I don’t know, for conversations that have pushed and stretched. For good books and podcasts. For a church community. For grits. For coffee. For new friends. For a renewal of my love of writing. For a husband who is a constant example to me of how to better love people.
A year and a half ago, I cried (sobbed) at the news that we were moving to Augusta. And now I cry for different reasons. I cry because God has been so good to us here in His provision of deep friendships and growing community. I cry because this full and transformative year would not have happened had we moved elsewhere. Now when we’re out of town or visiting family, I find myself missing Augusta – the place that has become our home.
Last week, I flew out of hot-and-humid Georgia to visit my sister in hot-and-dry Juarez, Mexico, the largest city in the state of Chihuahua on the border of El Paso, TX.
My sister has been living in the desert and working at a children’s home in the city for more than two years now, and I finally had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of her life there. I stayed at her little apartment, walked through her unpaved neighborhood, met some of her precious children, celebrated Independence Day, ate fresh and authentic tacos and churros, discovered a new love of street corn, drove hundreds of miles through the deserts of New Mexico and Northern Texas, hiked high peaks, watched the most breathtaking sunsets, wandered through an incredibly cheap zoo in my sister’s neighborhood (ligers – ligres – do exist), and enjoyed a glorious week catching up with my sister (who puts me to shame with her fluency in Spanish).
My week in Juarez had me reminiscing about my year in Colombia, South America. I miss Spanish. I miss the culture. I miss the hospitality and friendship extended from strangers on front porches. But Juarez is also incredibly different from the island life I experienced. There aren’t a lot of trees in the desert. The Spanish is clearer. The food is spicier. Neighborhood roads are full of pot holes and unmarked speed bumps. Mosquitos are large and temperatures are ridiculously high. But the desert is also one of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever observed. You can see miles and miles and miles without any trees obstructing the view.
On my last night in Juarez, Lydia and I drove to a look out point in the Juarez mountains, which overlooks Juarez, the border, El Paso, and the Franklin Mountains in El Paso. It was stunning. The often cloudless desert sky was full of low clouds that evening, reflecting the pink and purple hues of the setting sun. Every night, we witnessed the most glorious sunsets, whether from the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, or driving back from Guadalupe National Park in Texas. Every night, we had amazing views of flat desert, brown and rocky mountains peeking up in the back drop, all surrounded by a wide and vibrant sky.
All of our adventures included the most spectacular views. We drove out to Cloudcroft, New Mexico, one of the highest elevated cities in the U.S. (nearly 9,000 feet). We left Juarez with temperatures in the high 80’s (in the morning), drove two and half hours through mostly desert, and arrived in Cloudcroft where temperatures were in the 50’s. Cloudcroft is located in the Lincoln National Forest and the views are breathtaking. From the peak, we looked out over lush green forest. Further out is the valley where we could see White Sands National Park, and even further are more mountains. We left Cloudcroft and headed down the mountains to White Sands. A mere 45 minute difference and we transitioned from perfect fall weather to raging desert heat. We didn’t last long, just long enough to take a few pictures, take our shoes off, and run around in the sand before collapsing from heat exhaustion and thirst. The desert is not friendly to the stranger.
Throughout the week, I found myself underestimating the extremities of desert life. We would drive for miles and miles without seeing any evidence of human life apart from the paved highways. No houses. No gas stations. Not even a McDonald’s. We consumed what had to be gallons of water. Always thirsty and never completely alleviating our thirst. We drove out to Guadalupe National Park, the highest peak in Texas. Sheer rock rising out of the flat desert plain. Even the lesser, “moderate” trails were tough due to the elevation and desert heat, but the views made everything worth it.
And everyday we enjoyed authentic Mexican cuisine: street corn (elote), freshly fried churros, roasted al pastor, homemade tortillas, cilantro, pickled onion, and gorditas. My taco loving heart was so happy. And I discovered a new love for nutella-filled churros and elote (crunchy non-sweet corn in a cup, topped with hot sauce, cheese, and butter). The food was absolutely amazing and delicious (one week later and I’m still craving fresh tacos and churros).
But more importantly than stunning views and delicious food, was an amazing visit to my sister’s home in Juarez. Mission life can be challenging, lonely, and discouraging. It’s also important, rewarding, and necessary. Visiting our missionaries, participating in the culture, stepping foot in their communities, witnessing in person their acclimation, is an important part of supporting the work they do. There is often a disconnect between sending off family, friends, and church members to pursue missions or humanitarian efforts but still not really understanding the significance or motivation behind their sacrifices.
Lydia and I can relate in a lot of ways. Both of us lived abroad doing mission work for a time, learning a foreign language, adjusting to the culture, participating in the community. We’ve also experienced the loneliness that sometimes comes as foreigners in a country that is not our home country, struggling to overcome language barriers, at times being the only Americans at the mission or in our neighborhood. But we’ve also experienced the joy and beauty of cross culturalism and diversity; the holiness of breaking bread with people from different backgrounds, countries, and cultures, and being welcomed into their own communities and homes.
Monetary and verbal support means a lot to our missionaries. But I also know physically visiting encourages hearts in ways notes and donations can’t. I had the opportunity to witness my sister overcoming cultural barriers by loving on her children, neighbors, and coworkers. I heard her communicate with ease whether we were ordering churros, crossing the border, or chatting with her kids and neighbors. Even the desert life, which is hot and dry and difficult, is growing on her. She can recognize the issues in Juarez while also praising the people and valuing their dignity. I’m not saying it’s easy or that she never has difficult days – I know she does. But I’m also incredibly encouraged and just reminded of the things I learned during my own time in Colombia: that friendship and community is possible whatever the differences. I had conversations with so many people before I knew 30 words in Spanish. We’ve all been created with an ability to communicate. And through Christ, we truly can love our neighbors whether in Mexico, Colombia, or Augusta.
One of the things I love about Augusta is our proximity to so many interesting cities, like Columbia, Savannah, Atlanta, Greenville, Charlotte, and Charleston (just to name a few). We’re attempting to make the most of our time in the south and explore as much of the surrounding area as we can. A few weekends ago we drove up to Charleston for a spontaneous day trip. We did a lot of walking in the crazy South Carolina heat, ate some sandwiches at a local Laundromat/café and then headed back home.
Last week we finally had the chance to do a little more than a quick and rushed trip. My husband was sent to Charleston for a weeklong class, so naturally I decided to tag along for a few days (thank you, Navy, for the complimentary hotel room). I polled my Facebook friends and spent far too much time on Yelp to make the most of our meals and outings downtown.
Charleston is known for it’s amazing culinary scene – we finally had an excuse to eat our way around the city and we were not disappointed. So I thought I’d put together my own little blog post about my favorite coffee shops, eateries, restaurants, and general fun things to do and see when in Charleston!
Coffee: Tricera & The Rise
Coffee – the most important start to any day. When we visited New York a few years ago, I failed to plan ahead and research local Manhattan coffee shops. We found ourselves in the city on Memorial Day, and surprisingly nearly every coffee shop we passed was closed for the holiday! Good for them for taking a break, but I desperately needed a coffee fix in the city that is presumably overflowing with coffee and bagels. I’ve learned my lesson and now do plenty of research before visiting any place new. Spontaneity is great, but it can sometimes mean settling for Starbucks instead of a delicious, local and quirky coffee shop.
My friend Thea recommended Tricera Coffee on George Street (right off of King Street). I had just parked my car about a mile away right in the midst of a thunderstorm (accompanied by a torrential downpour). Tourists and locals were crowding under overhangs, ducking into Starbucks and Chipotle. I was tempted, but continued speed walking through the rain (praying my phone would stay dry enough because I’ve lost enough phones to water damage), and finally made it to Tricera to wait out the rest of the storm.
Tricera is quirky in that the theme is triceratops and dinosaurs, but not in a weird, I-just-stepped-into-a-five-year-old-boy’s-bedroom kind of way. It’s hipster and reminiscent of the kind of coffee shop you’d expect at Jurassic Park. Their coffee is great, but reviewers raved about the saffron latte, which is amazing. It’s expensive but creamy and delicious and worth trying at least once.
The second coffee shop I visited was The Rise Coffee Bar at The Restoration Hotel. It’s a small space with modern/industrial design and delicious iced coffee. Be sure to order the Rosemary Rise Latte (I’m all about obscure herbs and spices right now).
Breakfast: Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit
Brunch is my absolute favorite thing. When husband asks me what I want for my birthday, I always say I want him to take me out for brunch. Because of his schedule last week, however, we did not get a chance to experience a Poogan’s Porch or Hominy Grill classic Charleston brunch or breakfast. But I did grab a quick and easy breakfast on the go during some of my mornings of solo exploration.
My first breakfast (and newly discovered favorite biscuit joint in the entire world) was at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit on King’s Street (there’s now a second location at the Charleston City Market, which is open until 6 P.M.) I ordered the three mini biscuits (buttermilk, cheese and chive, and country ham). Words cannot adequately describe the perfection of these biscuits, so I’m not even going to try.
Donuts: Glazed Gourmet Donuts
Glazed Gourmet is arguably the best donut joint in Charleston (though it’s the only one I’ve ever eaten at, so I personally have nothing to compare it to). I love donuts, and I especially love unique donut flavors with a little more creativity than sprinkles or Bavarian cream. Glazed has the best flavors (I only wish I had time to sample each one): raspberry, blueberry cheesecake, honey bacon, lemon meringue. They do specialty donuts for things like the Eclipse and National S’mores Day. Glazed is located on King Street and is just a quick walk for the visitor center parking garage. Pair your donut with a cup of coffee and your day is bound to be pretty amazing!
BBQ: Swig & Swine
Husband and I ate our first dinner in Charleston at Swig & Swine – a delicious BBQ joint with THE BEST mac and cheese. We split the three meat plate and tried the pulled pork, turkey, and brisket. Everything was tender and flavorful. He ordered banana pudding to go and said it was the perfect way to end such a delicious southern meal.
When we started planning our Charleston trip, a visit to Husk was definitely at the top of our list of restaurants we wanted to try (confirmed by several Facebook friends who recommended this fine establishment).
I actually first heard about Husk while watching the show, “Mind of a Chef,” and was fascinated by the way Chef Sean Brock talked about the history of growing food. There is one particular episode where he actually makes his famous cornbread using pure, whole, and local cornmeal and ingredients. I remember thinking, “gosh, I want to sink my teeth into that!” After watching the show and learning more about the chef’s vision and love of food and pure ingredients, we were so excited to enjoy dinner at Husk and thankfully got reservations in the nick of time. The restaurant itself is like stepping back into time from the old house, to the two-story front porch (with the blue painted ceiling), the gorgeous wood floors, and giant windows. You’re seated and handed a beautiful menu, which changes daily. Servers bring rolls in classic Charleston sweet grass baskets. It’s magical.
We ordered the smoked country ham and biscuits (with house made pickles and dijonnaise) appetizer, served on a gorgeous wooden plank. Husband and I shared a sirloin steak with a side of the famous cornbread, and enjoyed a locally brewed IPA. Everything was thoughtfully executed and prepared. The whole point of Husk is to create food inspired by southern ingredients and dishes, and to show people that southern cuisine is so much more than fried chicken. We left with full bellies and happy hearts.
We didn’t visit museums or plantations or take carriage rides or buy souvenirs. We just walked with no agenda except exploration. I wandered in local bookstores and boutiques, sat in coffee shops, browsed the Charleston City Market for as long as I could stand the heat, walked along the Battery, waded in Pineapple Fountain, strolled through the French Quarter and along Rainbow Row, and made it out to Angel Oak five minutes before closing (just enough time to stand in awe, snap a few pictures, and get eaten alive by mosquitoes). There’s so much to do in Charleston and I’m looking forward to returning and possibly touring the USS Yorktown and maybe enjoying a food tour. At any rate, I can now say I love Charleston –the atmosphere, the architecture, the coffee, and the food.
Friendship is a funny thing. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes friendships completely die out, never to be rekindled. Others may fade but remain significant. I especially appreciate the friendships that last – even without phone calls or Christmas cards or frequent visits. I’m learning to appreciate and give thanks for the friendships in my life that have truly endured through decades. Though they look different now (years later), though some are more “Facebook friendships” than real life friendships, they still mean the world to me.
This weekend, husband and I traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to witness my middle school best friend get married. I haven’t seen her in at least eight years, and it’s been even longer since I’ve seen her family (seven siblings who are all grown now). It was a sweet time of catching up, rehashing old memories, talking about mutual friends and our awkward home school years.
I feel incredibly blessed that some of the best friendships I’ve ever had still remain in my life, even if it’s only through the occasional Facebook message or wedding ceremony.
When we moved from Boiling Springs to Burlington, NC, I thought my life was over. I was 12 and incredibly emotional, insecure, and terrified of starting over. As we said goodbye to our dear friends (who drove with us to help us move in), we said hello to a new family (the very same day) – who would later become my own family. The strange boy standing in the driveway with the oversized shirt and glasses would become my husband. Sixteen years later and that boy would accompany me to Fredericksburg to witness my dear friend (who helped us move in and said a tearful goodbye 16 years ago) marry the love of her life. Isn’t life funny? Everything comes full circle. And though friendships change, I never want to forget the gift that friendship is.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Fredericksburg, please go. Please. The area is beautiful and we welcomed the break from hot and humid Augusta (the evenings are already cool up in Virginia!).
We spent Saturday and Sunday morning walking around, meandering through historic streets, taking in the beautiful architecture, and scenery. According to the official website, there are more than 100 boutiques, antique shops, book stores (my favorite thing), art galleries and studios just in the downtown area! Downtown Fredericksburg is on the Rappahannock River, which is a short walk from the city center.
Another perk – parking was a breeze (and it’s free). We’ve visited enough cities in the last year where parking has been incredibly stressful and expensive (New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, etc.), so I pay attention whenever we visit downtowns with free and easy parking!
Brunch: There are so many amazing restaurants in Fredericksburg, but unfortunately we did not have the time (or money) to try all of them. My belief is that you can’t really experience a new place without experiencing the local cuisine. Thanks to the recommendation of some friends (and Yelp), we decided to eat brunch at FoodE, a rustic farm-to-table eatery located on Princess Anne St. in downtown Fredericksburg. The restaurant is housed in a historic building with gorgeous hardwood floors, high ceilings, and giant windows. And if you’re lucky (like us) you may be seated in the vault.
Menu recommendation: Chicken & Waffles (moist and tender, perfectly seasoned and crispy – absolute perfection)
Donuts: Donuts are my love language. I love donuts – I rarely eat donuts but I love them. And when I visit a new city and learn that there’s a local donutery (donutery?) creating their own versions of delicious and creative donuts, naturally I want to visit and sample them myself! We enjoyed a late breakfast at The Sugar Shack (on the outskirts of downtown Fredericksburg) Sunday morning. Fun fact: there’s a coupon on their Yelp page for a FREE house donut (you’re welcome). The donuts are fluffy (not flat and sad like Krispy Kreme donuts- sorry Krispy Kreme fans) and delicious paired with coffee or a Yoohoo.
Coffee: My sweet friend, Lindsey, introduced us to Agora Downtown Coffee Shop & Used Books. Coffee and books are two of my favorite things, so this was instantly a favorite little discovery. The shop is quirky but cute and artistic, with local art displayed on the walls, and shelves of books and pottery for sale. It’s a great place to sit and talk, sip an iced latte, and relax.
An amazing weekend with friends and delicious food. A new city, and new adventures.
“It’s easy to impress me. I don’t need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I’m content.” [Maria Sharapova]
There’s a coffee shop in town that serves the best grits I’ve ever eaten – and they’re only $5.99 a bowl.
Now I know shrimp and grits is a staple southern coastal dish, but this particular bowl is even better. Its simple, cheap, surprisingly creamy. Hot grits, topped with melting pimento cheese, crumbles of real bacon (note: not bacon bits), avocado and Cholula hot sauce. The combination is absolute perfection.
Something happens when unappetizingly cold, mayonnaise-y pimento cheese melts into hot grits. The bacon adds a whole level that only bacon can add. And the avocado makes it healthy. Just kidding – it’s not healthy. But the calories are worth it. It’s the definition of comfort food.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve found that this is no ordinary menu item. And certainly it’s no ordinary grits bowl. It’s a bowl that brings people together in mutual murmurs of awe and admiration. It’s a meal that leads to full stomachs, copious cups of coffee, and good, deep conversation.
As spoons scrape the sides of our grits bowls (getting every last bite), and locally made bread dips into the stringy pimento cheese and bright green avocado slices, as we slightly crunch freshly fried bacon, we also find ourselves listening to one another. Sharing our hearts. Talking about our new town (since so many people in Augusta are transplants themselves). Asking questions. Swapping stories. Sometimes shedding a tear or two.
It’s only been a few months since I made this delicious discovery, but now I recommend it to everyone. When meeting up with acquaintances for coffee, I suggest the grits bowl.
Grits and conversation – two of my favorite things.
Several months ago I wrote this post about our experience “church shopping” here in Augusta, which was written from a heart of love and concern. But also (if I’m being honest) genuine longing and loneliness. I craved community and fellowship. I desired friends. I desperately wanted to be known and know others.
Last summer was long, hot, and lonely. And I remember thinking, just three more years and we can get the heck out of this place and hopefully land in Colorado or Washington – some place with no bugs or humidity.
But slowly, things started to change. And little by little, community began to happen. I guess it started in small ways. Like in the first month when my husband’s sponsor, a young and single sailor, came over for dinner (our first guest in our new base house). And in June when we sheepishly went to our first FRG meeting – fighting my own insecurity as a brand new, unknowledgeable Navy wife. In October we went to our first military ball, and in November, we found our church (which we officially joined in December).
Relationships here took time to cultivate, community took time to discover, the loneliness took some time to dissipate.
When you move a lot, there is a temptation (even as an extrovert) to keep people at a distance and avoid deep connections and meaningful relationships. That’s something husband and I talked a lot about in those initial weeks and months here. There was the question: what’s the point of investing when we’re just going to move and start all over again in a few years? But really what a mistake that would have been. We would have missed out on countless blessings, beautiful friendships, and significant opportunities. I absolutely love this reminder from Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be ALL there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
We are not even guaranteed tomorrow, let alone three years from now. But we are here. Today. Right now. So we should be ALL here, investing, giving, serving, loving the people and community we find ourselves in. How easy it is to give up on the search for community when it’s sometimes hard to find. But then again, community isn’t always what we expect it to be. Sometimes it’s the homeless man downtown who engages you in conversation, or the barista who remembers your order, or the mailman, or the waitress, or the grocer, or your neighbor. Community happens wherever there are people, and sometimes we can be completely shocked and happily surprised to discover community in the most unlikely of places.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve been blessed to be in fellowship with some amazing people. The Lord led us to a church where we’ve seen Acts 2 played out everyday. Community is not only happening within the walls of the church, but outside. Down the street. In the neighborhood. Person by person.
My heart is full of gratitude as I’ve been reflecting on the Lord’s kindness. My perspective has changed dramatically. Though I still long for travel and adventure, we’ve found a home here. The place I was so discontented with nearly a year ago, is now precious to me. I’ve been reminded to never give up on community.
God desires His people to be in community, to have fellowship and work towards common goals, breaking bread together and opening our homes to one another. It might not happen right away. You may have to fight for it, extend invitations and even be rejected. But don’t give up on it, because through community comes ministry. Through hospitality comes a genuine display of love for others (though they be strangers or old friends).