Category Archives: Reflections on Life

The Problem With Trusting God

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I’m an ordained elder.  For 13 years I was a pastor.  And if you test my spiritual gifts, one of them will be faith.  So it might surprise you to learn that trusting God is something I struggle with.

Perhaps the seeds of this struggle were planted when I was 11 and my father died from brain cancer.  I grew up going to church and when my father was diagnosed with cancer it was unreal.  Everyone I knew was praying for him to recover.  Yet, despite all the prayers and Bible verses that were quoted, my family watched him slip away from us.  I struggled, I grieved, but somehow my faith remained intact.

Then, the summer after my junior year in college I went on my first mission trip.  I went with an amazing group called YIM that did a fantastic job preparing us for the world beyond our borders.  During that summer I was confronted with the reality of the third world.  I learned about people who lived on less than a dollar a day.  I learned of people who were literally starving to death.  I heard the stories of those who were sick and dying from illnesses that could be prevented by a simple mosquito net or treated with drugs that were readily available to all Americans.

As an American Christian I had always been taught that God provides for his children.  I had memorized verses about God knowing exactly what we need and promising to care for us.  I had studied the passages about not worrying about what we would eat or drink.  I shook my head in agreement when I heard someone say “God always provides, right on time,” or “God didn’t bring you this far to leave you now.”  I accepted these things as truth.

But how could I look in the face of brave Christian brothers and sisters who were facing death and recite those familiar platitudes?  How could I say “don’t worry” to the mother who had no food to feed her children?  Or tell the young man dying for lack of basic medicines, “trust God, he will provide.”?  Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy to “just trust God.”

If God’s children were dying of hunger or sick and suffering in third world countries, what did that mean for me and my struggles?  Surely it wasn’t as easy as just “trusting God to provide.”  I’m not saying that I don’t believe God provides.  Or that I don’t believe God is good, loving, and cares about us and our problems.  I just believe that the way God works is more complicated than easy platitudes allow for.

Over the years I have found myself in many difficult circumstances which have tested my ability to hold onto my faith and trust God.  I have cried with friends who have lost loved ones.  I have faced incredibly difficult challenges in the ministry.  I have struggled as my son fights to overcome the trauma he experienced before he entered foster care.  I have faced extreme financial hardships.  And I have faced the loss of my daughter.  Life has not always been easy, and often I find myself struggling with the question of how to trust God in the midst of suffering.

Ultimately, I believe that God provides through us—the church.  When someone is praying for food to feed their children, clean water, or medicine for their loved one in a third world country, we as a church are designed to be the answer to that prayer.  When a mother admits she can’t buy milk, a man is homeless and eating from a trash can, a refugee is seeking shelter, or a friend asks us to pray for them, we are created to help. It’s not enough to tell those who are struggling to rely on God, or not to worry.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

So the next time you’re tempted to tell someone to “just trust God,” consider whether or not God may be trusting you to be the answer to their prayer.

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

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Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Have you ever woken up and no longer recognized the life you were living?  I mentioned in my last post that there were lots of changes in my life.  Some changes have been amazing and exciting, others are incredibly frightening and have left me feeling lost and unsure.  As a result, my entire life has been turned upside down and though I’ve wanted to blog about it, I’ve been a bit unsure about how much to reveal.  I’m still not sure about that.  So this is a beginning of a conversation I hope to continue one day.  I hope you will have patience with me as a struggle through this.

My trip down the rabbit hole began last December.  Life was pretty good.  I was working at a church I loved, with people I respected.  Little Man and I were progressing well, moving toward adoption, and enjoying our first Christmas season together.  I was expecting Baby Amaia to arrive in a few short months, and had been stocking up on the most adorable baby clothes and tiny little diapers.

Then the tornado hit.  Three weeks before Christmas I lost my job.  The job that I loved and was so passionate about.  And although I was beginning to struggle with the 60-80 hour work weeks I was putting in as a single mom, the news caught me completely off-guard.  There is a lot about that situation that I would like to share.  There’s a lot that I feel needs to be heard and understood.  But when you work in the church, things are complicated.  A whole-other-universe kind of complicated.  I was heartbroken, and angry, and insanely stressed.  Because apart from every other thing I was feeling, I was a single mom without a job, and when you work in pastoral ministry you can’t just find another job in town.  Continuing to work in my field would mean moving, probably out of state.  And moving would mean giving up my son and soon-to-be-born daughter, who were still in the foster care system.  And that was not an option.  So I went into full-on panic mode.

I applied for close to a thousand jobs.  I only got three interviews and no job offers.  Then on January 29 I got a call that taught me fear.  Baby Amaia’s bio mother was going into labor almost three weeks early and they had discovered multiple problems with the baby.  They didn’t expect her to survive the delivery.  As the foster parent I had no legal rights, and no way of knowing what was going on.  I waited and prayed all night.  Sometime the next day I learned she had survived the birth.  For two weeks I waited each day for news, hoping for miracles.  I was able to go see her in the NICU and was blown away by how tiny she was.  She was hooked up to dozens of monitors and IV tubes.  Then on February 12 I received the phone call that changed our lives.  Baby Amaia would only live a few more hours.  They had decided to take her off life support and she would not survive.  I rushed to the hospital and held my sweet girl for the first and last time, as I watched the life ebb from her body.  There are no words for the pain I felt that day, the pain that still haunts me.  I miss her every day.

After months of looking for jobs I decided to become a substitute teacher until I could find full-time work.  Subbing in an inner city school district was an eye-opening experience.  I have worked professionally with kids for 13 years but I had never experienced anything like that.  The challenges were incredible.  After a few weeks I was hired to stay at one elementary school where I rotated between all types of classrooms, from pre-k through 6th, from standard, to special needs, to emotionally disturbed.  The students pushed me to new levels of frustration and I came home with more than one injury.  But they also broke my heart and made me fall in love with them.

In March an unexpected blessing came.  Little Man’s biological mother suddenly and unexpectedly signed over her parental rights, naming me as the adoptive parent.  This cleared the path for us to begin moving forward with his adoption.  It’s a humbling experience sitting in the courtroom as a parent signs away their parental rights to make way for you to become the mother of their child.  To sit and listen as the judge asks “Are you sure?” in a hundred different ways.  At the end of the day I was free to adopt my Little Man and his case was officially transferred to the adoption department.

Then began months of waiting, bureaucracy, and frustration.  It seemed like everything was moving at a snail’s pace.  In the meantime I began to explore the possibility of moving back to Illinois to be near my family.  Being a single mom is hard without any family around.  With no family in New York I was at a bit of a disadvantage.  I’d always had a great network of friends and church members who served as my support system, but when I lost my job I lost about 95% of those people.  I had not only lost my job, I had lost my church and most of my friends.  Since I’d been exploring the possibility of going back to school and getting a second masters in teaching, school counseling, or speech therapy, having family around would be really nice.  Now that I was looking at adoption, moving to be closer to family was a possibility.

Finally, just a few short weeks ago, we finalized our adoption!  After 588 days in foster care, Little Man became part of his Forever Family!  I can now officially introduce you to Austin!

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After a year and a half, I can finally show you my adorable Little Man’s face!  Officially becoming a family is definitely the highlight of my year, and the best thing that has ever happened to me.  It makes all the struggles and pain of the past year worthwhile.  I am so blessed to call him mine, and so thankful God brought him into my life.

Austin’s adoption day was August 26.  I had decided it was best to move to Illinois, and we had been making plans prior to the adoption.  So a mere two days after the adoption we loaded up a truck full of stuff and the next day we pulled out of town.  We’ve been in Illinois for a few weeks now and everything has been a huge adjustment.  I’ve been living in large cities since I left home at 17.  Now I’ve moved to a small town where everyone knows everything about each other.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are no stand-alone Starbucks (although, thank God, there is one in a grocery store), big shopping areas, or fun attractions.  I’m also starting my job search all over again, this time in a small town with far less opportunities.  I’m renting a house for the first time and purchasing appliances, dealing with spiders and cockroaches, and discovering the [insert sarcasm] joys of living in a home that’s over a 100 years old.  I’m struggling with a school district that has been very frustrating to get registered with and just decreased Austin’s services significantly–from 10 times a week in a 5 hour program to 4 times a week in a 2 1/2 hour program.  And on top of all that I’m trying to unpack, make new friends, cook without a stove (going on 2 weeks now), acclimate Austin, and try not to freak out about how I’m going to survive until I find a job.

This is my life now, and I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.  So much of the past year has been overwhelmingly heartbreaking.  It has challenged my faith and left me in an emotional blackhole.  And yet, there are glimpses of beauty and hope.  Becoming a forever family is the best thing in my life.  Even painful things, like losing my job, have taught me to trust God and allowed me to see the beauty in spending time as a family–which was something we seriously lacked when I worked in the church.  I don’t know where this yellow brick road will lead me.  I have no idea what my life will be like five years from now–what I will be doing as my next career, where we’ll be living (because houses with cockroaches and zero storage space are not my cup of tea), or how far Austin will have progressed on his journey.  But I have hope.  The wonders of Oz await!

I feel pretty . . .

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The next topic on my blog challenge was to write about the best compliment I ever received and why it meant so much. Contrary to the title of this post, my favorite compliments have nothing to do with being pretty.

For those of you that don’t know, my first love was theatre.  In fact, my undergrad degree is in theatre, with a minor in vocal performance.  Back in college I walked off stage after performing a monologue in “The Good Doctor” and a fellow cast member told me “You inspire me.”  I’m not gonna lie, it felt pretty dang good.  Partly because that cast member was a professional actor who’d been being paid to act for years.  But if we’re being real, it probably had a lot more to do with the fact that I had a massive crush on him.  So maybe that’s not really the best compliment I ever received.

Then there was this time about six years ago I asked a parent I knew to write a reference for me.  I was applying to work as a nanny and I needed to have several written references.  Within her letter she wrote, “I believe Amanda would sacrifice her life and take a bullet for my kids.”  Awe.  It was awesome . . . and it really is true.  I fall in love with every kid I am blessed to work with and I’m so thankful that not only the kids, but also the parents, feel that love.

But probably my favorite complement came one day in college when someone came up to me.  I’m not really sure how she knew me.  Honestly, I can’t even remember who it was.  But she looked at me with a slightly curious look on her face.  Then she said, “I see Jesus in you.”  And that was amazing.  That’s my life goal right there.  For people to look at me and not see my occupation or IQ, not my dress size or faults, but to see the love of Jesus through me.

What about you?  What kind of compliment has made your day?

Catching Up

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It has been a crazy season of my life.  Then again . . . when isn’t it crazy in my life?  I like to spin the Merry-Go-Round out of control fast and just keep riding.  For those of you following my fostering journey, I’ve completed all the home visits for my home study.  They were nothing at all like what I expected.  I imagined a hundred different scenarios, tried to practice answers as if I was prepping for an interview.  None of my predictions were anywhere close to what actually happened.  My home study  consisted of two visits, each one about two hours long.  We sat at my kitchen table, had coffee, and the home finder asked me a list of questions.  A list which just so happened to coincide almost identically with the questions I answered in writing on the biography section of my application.  I went through my job history again, where I’ve lived, my family relationships, etc.  Then he wrote down my answers.  I wanted to go print off a copy of the biography section I’d typed up to save him (and me) from all that extra time, but I thought it might come off as rude.  One of my friends who works in the system said it’s to make sure I’m telling the truth.  At the end of my first visit he spent no more than 90 seconds walking through my home.  He wasn’t checking to see if anything was or wasn’t there.  No looking for CO2 detectors, food in the pantry, or medicines laying out.  He just made a diagram of the layout of my house for his files.  Most of that diagram was drawn at my kitchen table.  The second visit was much the same as the first, only no walk through.  If only I’d known how this was going to work I could have saved myself hours of time scrubbing windowsills and base boards.  At the end of the second visit he did ask a few questions that hadn’t been covered elsewhere and got a more specific list of what challenging behaviors and/or special needs I’d be wiling to take.  Then he told me we were done.  The next step was for him to type up his notes, send out my references (inside I was groaning realizing he still hadn’t done it), wait for them to come back, and have his supervisor sign off on approval.  Then he will come back and I will sign off on the home study report.  He told me I could expect to be approved by mid-January.  That was December 16.  I haven’t heard anything yet, but I do know several of my references didn’t receive a reference letter in the mail until last week.  Hopefully I’ll be approved soon.  This process is such a long one!

In other news, I thought I’d try to catch up on the blog challenge I started months and months ago.  It was supposed to take 31 days.  It may take me a year.  Anywho, the next challenge was to write about my dream job.  This is a hard one for me, because in many ways I feel like I have my dream job.  I love what I do, I love the people I work with.  It’s great.  But I guess if I were going to describe my dream job, I might have to take into account that there are a lot of things I love doing, that I don’t get to do very often.  So perhaps I need a job-rotation.  Like preschool centers where you get to go from one area to another and then back again.  No one has ever described me as ADD before, but writing this makes me wonder.  Anyway, if I could go back and forth between all my favorite types of jobs, here’s what they would be:

My current job as a children’s pastor.  I love getting to impact kids lives and help grow stronger families.  I also love that in my current job I get to be more than just “the kids person.”  I get to preach, teach, lead outreaches, and be a part of the team.  Did I mention how great my job is?

Working with the church in the Middle East.  I did this for a year and absolutely loved it.  I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the awesome food.  When I did this I taught a college course, worked with child sponsorship programs, taught English, led kids programs, and trained people to work with kids.  All of it was amazing.

Acting.  I miss this a lot.  There’s not too many opportunities for me to do this anymore.  I get to direct kids a lot, but I miss being on stage.  I’m dying to play Jane Eyre–anyone wanna resurrect that musical and cast me?  I look young for my age, I promise.

Wedding Planning.  I’ve always teased that if I quit my day job this is probably what I’ll end up doing.  I love the beauty and celebration of weddings, and I love planning events.

Author.  Writing is a life-long passion of mine.  I’ve actually written a lot, but just can’t seem to find the energy and do the work it takes to get published.

Teacher.  I love teaching.  I love being able to challenge people, open their minds to new ways of thinking, and help them grow.

Traveler I’m not sure what kind of job would let me travel all the time, but I am IN LOVE with traveling to other places–whether a new place in the US I haven’t been to or somewhere across the globe.

So that’s it.  What would your dream job include?

Holy Rollers, Crazies, and Completing Foster Classes

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Holy cow has it been a long time since I’ve blogged.  I’m sure I’m guilty enough to be hauled off to bloggers prison where they feed you bread and water and make you type on typewriters.   I do kind of have an excuse.  I promise I’ll share it at the end. Anyway, I just read back to my last post and it was on my first night of foster classes.  That was two and a half months ago!!!  Yikes.  But it’s fitting, because tonight was another memorable night in my foster care journey.

My last class.

I have completed my MAPP classes and am now on to the next stage of becoming certified.  Everyone keeps asking how soon I could get my first child and the answer is: I have no idea anymore.  I used to say about a month after my class ends was the soonest.  But all of that is dependent on how fast my homefinder wants to move.  Apparently there are two perspectives among homefinders.  One that believes you should help process potential parents through as quickly as possible, which means starting that process during their classes.  And the other which believes you should wait and see if the potential parents stick through the classes and actually decide to become parents before starting the process.  My homefinder is apparently of the second perspective.  So, while many of my fellow classmates have been meeting with their homefinders, I’ve yet to talk to mine.  And it appears that he may have waited to start my paperwork as well–and  that can take several months.  So . . . when am I going to get a child?

Who the heck knows.

After my first class I told you I was making guesses about who was going to drop out of the program.  I think everyone who I suspected would bow out did.  Plus a few others.  And then there’s the few random people who you’re skeptical of.  The people that you think, “Somebody else please notice that this guy is creepy with a capitol C!”  Or the people who blurt out comments and you look around thinking ,”Did anyone else notice the crazy that just spilled out?”  They stayed of course.

Tonight one of those people asked me what I do for a living.  When I told him I’m a pastor he looked at me and said, “I would never have guessed that.  I mean, you’re not a roller.”  Yeah, crazy.  I’m not sure if I should take his surprise as a supreme compliment or an epic failure.  Probably somewhere in the middle.

Anyway . . . I used to post pics of my latest foster kid purchases.  It’s been several months and so there’s been a lot of progress.  So instead of random pics, I thought I’d show you the kiddos room.

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You can just barely see the corner of the crib.  I’m planning on being available to take a wider range of kids, so I have both a twin bed and a crib.  I’m going to paint some artwork for the walls, and I’m still looking for a few more pieces of furniture.  (If you happen to know someone willing to sell a dresser that could also serve as a changing table and a small nightstand at a low cost, let me know!)  Mostly though, the room is coming together.  I have a closet piling up with cabinet locks, outlet plugs, baby towels, pajamas of all sizes, snack cups, baby monitors, kid-proof cups, bibs and tons of other stuff.  My Amazon wish list for my foster kiddos keeps growing, but the essentials are coming together.

In other news, the last two and a half months I have been incredibly sick.  (Hence the long hiatus from blogging.)  It started in September and for a couple of weeks I held out from going to the doctor.  My friends told me I probably was going to need gallbladder surgery and I was trying to wait for that until after I completed a huge event at work.  Probably not my wisest idea ever.  But textbook me.  Workaholic is my middle name.

Anyway, I completed the event and the next day went into my primary care doctor.  He agreed–I was probably going to need surgery.  He sent me home with orders for tests but told me he thought I’d end up in the ER for surgery that night before the test would even be able to be scheduled.  The next day I went into the ER (all kinds of craziness) and was admitted.  They were going to run another test, but the consensus was still the same–I’d probably have surgery the next day.  Only the next day they decided it wasn’t my gallbladder and they had no idea what it was.  So they kept me in the hospital for several more days. Doing absolutely nothing.  Running no tests.  Sending no doctors to see me.  Just me and my roommate who kept the TV on 22 hours a day listening to ear trash.  (“I know he’s cheatin’ on me and I’m ’bout to have his baby.  And so I went and slept with his brother.  So now nobody believes me ’bout whose baby it is.”)

After a week in the hospital I went home.  But I was still out from work for another week almost.  I kept going to doctors visit after doctors visit and test after test.  I’ve had a endoscopy, multiple blood work tests, Celiac’s test, CT scan, stomach emptying test, upper GI scan, sonogram, a HIDA scan, and on and on.  And I still have two more tests to go.  Ultimately they have found nothing.  But yet I’m still experiencing pain, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss.

Finally I decided to go see a Naturopathic doctor.  I’ve only been once, but so far she’s listened to me far more than all the other doctors and nurses I’ve seen in the past two months.  Combined.  She put me on a gluten-free, dairy-free, protein-rich diet with tons of supplements.  It’s only been about a week so I’m not sure if it will help, but I’m hoping.

So that’s my life, internet peeps!  What’s going on with you?

 

Blog Challenge: Day 9

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Today’s challenge is to write about your least favorite childhood memory.  For me, this is easy.  Not because the memory is easy.  It is my most painful memory, and this is perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever written.  But it’s easy in the sense that I don’t have to figure out what to write about.

When my dad turned 40 we threw him an “Over the Hill” birthday party.  Everything was decorated in black and featured tombstones with the letters “R.I.P.”  I have a photo of him standing in front of a cake, me holding his hand, while pointing to the tombstone with a goofy smile on my face.  It was all a great joke.

Until a few months later when he woke up in the middle of the night with what he thought was a migraine.  A migraine so terrible he told my mother to either shoot him in the head or take him to the ER.  That night our lives changed.  We learned that he had brain cancer and had six months to live.  And bad memories started piling up on each other like stinking garbage in the dumps of Rio.

There were memories of him seizing on the floor in our kitchen, while I sat by his head, watching helplessly.  Memories of him trying to carry my baby sister down the stairs in our home–we were all so terrified he would drop her, but none of us wanted to tell him he couldn’t hold his baby girl when every time might be the last.  Memories of a hospital bed being rolled into our living room as a makeshift bedroom was erected next to the front door.  Memories of well-meaning hospice workers handing me ridiculous books about kids who had leukemia, which I read diligently and catalogued under terrors that my father would endure.  Memories of us four kids being split up and sent to different homes to live as six months stretched into eighteen months and my mom dashed between work and the hospital an hour away that had become his new home.  Memories of visiting him in that cold hospital room when he looked like a different man.  When he could no longer speak.  When he didn’t even know who I was anymore.

But the worst memory, the memory that still haunts me, is that day my pastor sat beside me on the porch swing at his house.  I was staying with him and his family, and he was getting ready to leave for the hour long drive to Peoria where my father was.  He was going to visit dad and wanted to know if I’d like to come along.  I was playing with his daughter and I was having fun–escaping, for a few hours, the pain of being daddy’s little girl when daddy no longer remembered who you were.

“There’s no pressure,” he said, “you can stay here and play.”  And I so I choose to stay, and for a few hours I forgot about the pain.  I filled my eleven year old head with dolls and toys and other nonsense.

That day my father died.

That day when I choose not to go, when I choose to have fun . . .  That day was my last chance to see him, to hold him, to tell him that I loved him and I would always be his little girl.  That day I made such a cheap, meaningless choice.  And it is one I can’t seem to forgive myself for.

 

You can read about my friend Karla’s memory here.

 

Blog Challenge: Day 7

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And now for today’s real challenge . . . where have I lived and what was the best and worst part of each place.  I’ve lived a lot of different places.  You might remember from Day 2 that I’ve moved a lot.  Not all of my moves were to new towns, but several were–and there was something beautiful about all of them.  So, here are my hometowns . . .

1. Bourbonais, IL — Bourbonais is a “suburb” of Chicago–it’s about an hour south of the city.  I was born there and spent the first three years of my life there.  Honestly, I don’t remember any of it, but I’ve been back several times and my favorite part of Bourbonais is that it’s close to the city.  My least favorite part is that it’s not that exciting of a town.

2. Somewhere outside of Springfield, IL — Seriously, I have no idea where it was, other than it was a house next to a pig farm in central Illinois.  I lived there from the age of three to five.  My only memory of it was that sometimes we would come home from church and the pigs next door would have broken down the fence and invaded our yard.  And then we would chase the pigs around in our church clothes trying to coral them back into their pin.  As I look back, this sounds both disgusting and hilarious.

3. Monmouth, IL — This is where I spent most of my childhood.  I lived here for a year after living in Springfield, moved away for a year, and then moved back and stayed until I was 17.  Monmouth is a tiny town of about 9,000 in northwest Illinois.  It is a very quant lil’ place–old store fronts, beautiful old houses, and home to all the best and worst parts of my childhood.  I think the best part of that little town for me will always be family.  But second best is easily the amazing group of teachers I had growing up.  I had so many teachers, especially in high school, who profoundly impacted my life.  I think the entire English department of MHS is responsible for me turning out a book-loving nerd instead of a homeless delinquent.  The worst part of Monmouth?  Definitely it’s size and lack of absolutely ANYTHING fun to do (hence the strange tradition of cruising the 1/2 mile strip as the only form of entertainment).

4.  Cameron, IL — The one year we moved away from Monmouth our family lived in Cameron–a village about 10 miles outside of Monmouth with even less people.  A lot less.  Think 600.  Can you even call that a village.  Worst part? 600 people.  Best part?  The stunningly beautiful weeping willow tree in our yard.

5. Nashville, TN — Nashville is where I did my undergrad, and it is an incredibly cool town to live in.  The best part was clearly the amazing experiences I had there with people who have become life-long friends.  I loved my school–Trevecca.  But I also loved late night runs to Krispy Kreme, Pink Poodles at Fido’s Coffee House, SATCO, the tiny Caribbean restaurant with amazing beans and rice, incredible days at Centennial Park, the Old Spaghetti Factory, Shakespeare in the Park, music playing on every street, concerts in tiny venues, and so much more!  I honestly don’t think there was anything about that place that I didn’t love.

6. Raleigh, NC — One summer of college I lived in Raleigh.  It’s a really beautiful area, and I had a job that I never expected, but found really fun.  The best  part of my summer was that I spent it with an amazing friend.  Worst part was probably the traffic around the Triangle.

7. Kansas City, MO — I went to grad school in Kansas City.  It was a tough time to try to acclimate–I was going to school full time, working full time, and volunteering about 20 hours a week at my church.  The city was a place of wide disparity.  You could be in a neighborhood of million-dollar mansions and then drive 10 minutes and find yourself in a slum.  It was crazy.  There were some nice things about KC– the Crayola Museum and the Ice Skating Rink.  Best of all was my church.  Worst part– probably the disparity in economic status, the racism that occasionally roared it’s ugly head, and the state of child services.

8. Washington DC area — I didn’t actually live in the city, but close– I lived in Springfield and Burke and worked in Annandale.  This is a great area to live–there’s so much to do, the public transportation is amazing, there’s tons of museums and activities that are totally free, people tend to be more open-minded, and it’s just a cool place to be.  I have life-long friends from my time in DC.  The downside is definitely the cost of living.

9. Orlando, FL — I lived in Florida for three years, then moved away and came back for another year and a half.  It is an amazing place to live — Disney, Universal, cool theaters, beaches nearby, great weather . . . well, you get the idea.  The best part though was the people–I made some amazing friends there!  The worst thing was probably all the lizards.  And tree frogs.  And bugs.  And alligators.

10.  The Middle East — I lived for a year in the Middle East (in a couple of different countries).  Despite what you may have heard through the media, the Middle East is really an incredibly great place to live.  The people are so hospitable, the food is amazing and fresh, there are beautiful landscapes and treasures, and you’re forced to live a more relaxed life –which is incredibly beneficial for work-a-holics like me.  I made amazing friends, whom I’ll cherish forever.  And I actually talked more to my friends and family  back in the U.S. than before I left the country.  The worst part?  No bacon.  Just kidding.  Maybe it was the cost of computers.  (I had to replace my laptop while I was there and paid almost $3000 for a Dell.  Yikes.)  Seriously though, it was an amazing place to live, I loved it and hope I can return one day.

11. Fredericksburg, VA — Fredericksburg is a town about halfway between DC and Richmond.  It’s not that big, but has an inordinate amount of shopping and restaurants.  In addition to incredible friends, I also loved the downtown area of “the Burg” –it’s filled with really old buildings that have tons of charm.  The worst part was probably the stinkin’ cannons they would fire at those ridiculous Civil War reenactments.  (Seriously, in what other part of the world do people habitually celebrate a misguided war that they lost?)  Those cannons were often fired early on Saturday mornings about 1000 feet from my bedroom window.  Ugh!

12. Syracuse, NY — That brings us to the present.  I now live in Syracuse–the snowiest city in the country.  Which, let me say up front, is by far the worst part of Syracuse.  It is winter here for about 9 months out of the year.  At least, that’s how it feels. I hate it.  I miss my Florida sun.  But there are so many amazing things here.  Number one is the people–I love the people here, my friends, my coworkers, even my boss.  I also love the cool festivals that are always going on here.  Seriously.  There is a festival here almost every week.  A festival for every nationality, time period, food, or other craziness that you can imagine.  I also am excited about all the adventures that I haven’t yet tried.  Even with all the crazy snow and winter weather, I love it here.  It’s a great place to live.

And that’s it in a nutshell–all my hometowns.  What about you?  What’s the best place to live, in your opinion?

Here’s Karla’s itinerary.  We have both lived all over–and even shared a couple of hometowns.